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I don't have time to do the coding tests that would get me a new technology job

I work in the technology function of a major bank and I would like a new job. However, the process of getting one is taking up all my free time. 

Interviewing for technology jobs in finance has become an anxiety-inducing time sink. There is no consistency in process – even between teams at the same bank or fund. For the first stage I’ve seen written tests where you have to sit in the office, I've seen traditional technical phone screens, timed HackerRank tests, live coding algorithm interviews via a platform like CoderPad, a simple discussion with the hiring manager, and - what is becoming more common in finance, the take home test.

It's the take home tests that are killing me.

Popular in Silicon Valley, take home tests emerged in part as a response to the backlash against “whiteboarding” – the practice of writing code on a whiteboard during an interview situation. They make perfect sense from a company's perspective as all the time is spent on the candidate's side. The company has no need to do anything except to review the results, which doesn’t take long. The take home coding test is essentially a free filter.

This isnt what I've been used to. In an interview a waste of time is at least shared between the two parties. In coding tests, you're all alone. Worse, I've heard of friends being given very specific problems and requirements for their take home tests - raising the suspicion that the tests are a cheap way of solving an actual business problem.

In the past few months I've wasted a lot of life on these programming homework questions. Each time, a company has said, “spend a couple of hours on this”, and in the same set of instructions specified that they want to see “production quality code”. I’m sorry, but production quality code does not happen in one or two hours. All of the problems I’ve tackled have been a minimum of two days’ work. The problems are contrived and require a degree of research on the best way to tackle them. For example, when I was in process for a boutique investment bank I had to implement a read-biased in-memory temporal data store that could be interacted with via a command line interface. That’s a whole application, and it took me four days to complete. Fortunately, all of my homework submissions have been successful, but I’ve heard of many developers who've submitted and heard nothing at all.

Personally I think these at-home coding tests and homework questions are a huge burden. Fresh graduates and early career professionals can probably spare a weekend to work on imaginary problems that may or may not land them an interview. For programmers with young children it’s a much bigger sacrifice. That’s two days of not being able to interact and engage with family at home. And the two days of homework come after working long hours during the week. For mothers with young children or those with other caring responsibilities it must be especially difficult.

Take home tests are not all bad though, under certain conditions. When a homework question leads straight to an onsite interview I’m ok with doing it – particularly if it avoids algorithm whiteboard hazing (but many companies still do it anyway).  I’m less happy to do a take-home coding test when it leads to just a phone interview – it’s a lot of time sunk before even talking to anyone at the company.

We technologists have brought this upon ourselves. We have made our lives unnecessarily difficult. Do accountants have to balance a fictitious companies books or find the most efficient way of structuring a company’s taxes in multiple jurisdictions before being allowed to speak to the hiring manager? Not that I've seen.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

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AUTHORKian Malone Insider Comment
  • Al
    Alex Yu
    12 August 2022

    Just went through this kind of coding exercise from an invetment bank interview. Totally agreed your points. Have no many emails sent back and forth in order to clarify ambiguous requirements...The question looks like a real business problem but requires three days to give a production ready solution...It's simply waste of time.

  • ri
    rick brownlow
    21 April 2021

    There are coding platforms out there which address a lot of these issues mentioned, where tests have been created by reputable developers with developers in mind. I'm talking about Geektastic. Geektastic use a team of accredited developers to assess the code and question why developers chose to do something a different way and provide valuable, honest feedback while vetting out the best candidates for a job at the same time.

  • Mi
    Mike Brown
    10 March 2021

    Them: "Let's move on to the tech screen...where I smugly base your competency on contrived nonsense I just made up up the night before that has absolutely nothing to do with the day to day of this job or how production software is actually developed instead of getting into in-depth conversations about your work and what we do here...."
    Them: " Write a function that returns the square root of a number....."
    Me:" Writes function that does this"
    Them: "uhm...without using the STL math library"
    Me: "That's stupid...why would I do that? When would I ever do that ?"
    Them: "We just want to see how you would go about solving problems...."
    Me:"Oh...I dunno..the same way I went about solving when I got my Masters in Software Engineering...the same way you likely solve not wasting time on nonsense like this? Thank you for your time, but this isn't going to work".

  • jo
    jonathan rowe
    4 February 2021

    I'll take a take home test every time, if it's way too ambitious and time consuming then perhaps that's a sign that the employer should be avoided?

    I still have PTSD from a ritualistic code hazing a few years ago and don't ever wish to repeat the process ... Ironically I got an offer but didn't want to work for someone who employed such methods.

    People seem to forget that the interview process is a 2 way street.

  • _T
    3 February 2021

    This is why you should get TF out of technology as a career and start building something with those skills for yourself.

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