Hiring Good Developers

Hiring software engineers is easy, hiring good software engineers is hard. Due to the nature of software engineering, there is no clear or objective way to measure the skills of an engineer. Companies try to determine skill based on questions and online skills assessments. The problem with this approach is that it doesn’t highlight quality skills of a good software engineer.

Online Skills Tests

Online skills assessments typically provide a question to a software engineer and a time limit to answer this question. Sites like HackerRank provide a great platform for these types of tests. The engineer is generally not allowed to look up information (on the honor system) and the question doesn’t typically relate to the work the developer will be doing if hired. This type of skills assessment is reminiscent of college exams and doesn’t typically allow the creative freedoms normal working environments grant.

Homework

I’ve been part of take home assignments and have developed hiring processes that include a take home assignment with an accompanying code review. The intention is to allow the developer to showcase their engineering talents then showcase soft skills (like group presentations) and their ability to accept feedback and explain their work. While this isn’t fool-proof and doesn’t provide a subjective solution to the hiring process, it does showcase talent. The code review is meant to also prevent an unskilled engineer from copying another solution. Unfortunately, this too has some drawbacks: the developers that spend the most time on a take home project have a better quality product.

Solution?

Limiting time on homework projects is more of a suggestion as it is not enforced and favors those who spend more time on the project. This isn’t possible for some who have a full time job and family to tend to. Skills assessment tests favor those who regularly practice assessment tests and isn’t necessarily a good measure of their skill set in the work environment. Perhaps a different solution is necessary. Perhaps a timed, “open book” live coding exercise is better. All input could be tracked through the web console to get an idea of the developer’s thought process behind their work and could be played back (maybe at 10x speed) to watch it all unfold. This type of format would relieve the candidate of time related stress while also allowing the creative process of the candidate to shine. Sure, there are some trade offs to this approach, but isn’t solving problems why we all got into this business? This seems to be the hardest to solve.

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