Don’t ask interviewees to “speak” code over the phone

Don’t ask a potential candidate to “speak” code over the phone. I’ve had interviews like this before and they’re terrible. Any programmer worth their salt can see it’s very easy to write code like this:

But, it’s another thing to say it. “if space open parenthesis x percent five equal sign equal sign…”, you get the picture. You’d think it’d be obvious, but I’ve been asked to speak code on far too many interviews.

This is not natural. When you work, you type keys into a keyboard and you have an editor open. You can use your eyes to look back and see how many curly braces you need to close. You lose all of this when you speak code. Language is too ephemeral.

Even when you work remotely, you share desktops with the person you pair with. Even if you’re having a conversation about how to architect something, you have a whiteboard you can write on. But speaking code is not a technique you need to use, so it is an undeveloped skill. As such, when you test someone by asking them to speak code, you are not getting a good representation of skills that matter.

Pseudocode is better, but it’s not that much better. At least you don’t have to think about if what you’re saying compiles. But as an interviewer, you’ll have to ask a question that’s very simple to answer or else you’ll be facing all the same problems I brought up above.

So, what should you do instead? If you want to ask a coding question before you physically meet, tell them to pop up an editor in advance. This solves a lot of problems. If you want to go one step further, set up a virtual meeting and share a desktop with them. Then you can watch them code and pair with them remotely.

The closer your interview process is to an actual working environment, the better.

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