The Startup
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The Startup

Take-home Coding Assignments Are a Waste of Time

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels
Gonna have to “Nope” that idea! (This card is from “Exploding Kittens,” brought to you by the fine folks behind The Oatmeal)
  • A promising candidate abandons the hiring process because the at-home project was onerous or annoying → any assignment must be well-contained, not too long, and engage candidate interest.
  • Many candidates lack quiet time outside of work and cannot commit to homework→ such a program must be developed to minimize bias.
  • We give candidates a significant project assignment, but our evaluation is always a wishy-washy “the code looks ok, but it could be better” → there need to be upfront criteria where it’s possible to score as very good or as very bad; “meh” adds no signal and is a waste of time.
  • The “at-home assessment” isn’t really a project, it’s just a series of small online quizzes to test narrow language skill and filter out people→ ugh, that’s a terrible candidate experience, and it’s hard to validate that such quizzes aren’t filtering out good people or accepting mediocre ones.
  • It must be sized correctly: it’s an interesting project that’s bigger than a quiz, but not more than about 2 hours, and it can be scheduled flexibly.
  • It’s an interview, not a filter: there must be consistent scoring criteria and the ability for a candidate to dazzle; it’s not just a check-the-box gate.
  • Your team trusts and pays attention to the exercise: people read the code critically, and it factors into the hire/no-hire decision.

Focus on the in-person coding exercise

  • There is plenty of opportunity for the candidate to write code.
  • 90 minutes in length is the sweet spot between being able to go in-depth while not exhausting everyone.
  • To succeed, the candidate has to engage with the interviewer as a peer.
  • The setup puts the candidate at ease; instead of facing a blank slate and an antagonistic interviewer, they start with with skeleton code and a collaborator.
  • After giving this problem to a few candidates, it’s becomes pretty clear how to evaluate what bad-ok-good looks like.

Incorporate any at-home exercise into the overall interview



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Chuck Groom

Consulting CTO open to projects. I’m a serial entrepreneur, software engineer, and leader at early- and mid-stage companies.