To Quiz or Not To Quiz

Recently we’ve been using simple quiz questions while interviewing for our programming openings. This wasn’t a decision taken lightly – we researched what all the best-in-the-field companies do, and took the ideas that made sense to us, for the way we work.

I have been literally shocked at the outcome.

Candidates I thought were terrific have completely fallen apart when asked simple first year programming assignments (of the 5 lines of code variety). I’ve received blank pieces of paper, incomprehensible scribbles, and lots of answers that are just plain wrong. (I’ve also recieved plenty of excellent answers)

In some cases where a promising looking candidate has screwed up I’ve asked candidates to go home and try to solve the problem and send me the answer – giving them a second chance as it were. And they simply haven’t bothered to email or correspond at all. They just bail – which is confirmation that they aren’t the right candidates for us.

We ask simple first year programming questions that can be completed in 5 or 10 lines of code. We expect answers to be done in C, and we ask that the work is done on paper – this is tricky for some people.

As a baseline, I asked all our current programmers on staff to complete the same quiz question – using only pencil and paper. Admittedly, there is a lot less pressure for these guys, but it vettes the questions themselves as “doable” and reasonable. And, I got some cool answers too – some completely different ways of solving the problem.

So, if you are interviewing with us, please be prepared for a bit of programming fun!

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