Replacing One Bias for Another

The traditional technical interview is flawed, but a solution that replaces one bias with another is no better

Posted by Tejus Parikh on March 23, 2015

Most software engineers know that a technical interview has as much in common with real life working on software as Guitar Hero has to do with playing in a rock band. To worsen the situation, the traditional technical interview rewards certain skills and characteristics that can often lead qualified candidates out in the cold. Jon Evans wrote an article detailing an alternative approach. However, all Evans proposes is to substitute one set of bias and false rewards with another.

Evans makes a pretty good argument for why the current state of technical interviews is flawed, but his proposal is no better. There are two key statements that highlight the issues:

Now, this does require one huge prerequisite: every candidate must have a side project that they wrote, all by themselves, to serve as their calling card.

and

And lest I be accused of talking the talk without walking the walk: I am very happily employed as a full-time software engineer; I travel a lot, and I write books, along with this here weekly TechCrunch column; and I still find the time to work on my own software side projects.

Evans' solution may be fairer to women or minorities, but at the expense of individuals with spouses and families. That's not adding to diversity.

Evans falsely assumes that since he leads a full and busy life yet still has time for side projects, everyone that is passionate about software must be in the same boat. What he doesn't realize that guest blogging and travel are very different than the daily responsibilities of being a good spouse and parent. Coupled with a demanding job, a lot of talented engineers don't have time for a side project. Before you overlook them, you also might want to consider that engineers with families are likely the most experienced.

I would find it troubling that an engineer's single greatest professional accomplishment is something that they built by themselves in their spare time

All this also over looks the fact that focusing on side projects as a measure of value is a little misguided. First, very little real programming involved building something without help and input from others. Secondly, I would find it troubling that an engineer's single greatest professional accomplishment is something that they built by themselves in their spare time.

Which isn't to say that I'm against side projects; far from it. If your resume comes across my desk, your Github is one of the first things I'll look at, along with your blog, Linkedin, and Twitter. But if you don't have any of those, it's not a big deal. If there's something on your resume that I find interesting I'll still give you a call.

The ugly reality is that any hiring process that includes hard and fast rules is going to exclude qualified candidates.

Side projects, just like whiteboard coding, answers to brain teasers, and a technical interview, are just one view into the real person on the other side of that interview table. The ugly reality is that any hiring process that includes hard and fast rules is going to exclude qualified candidates. Diversity in our field can only happen if hiring managers evaluate the entirety of the person and find reasons to say "yes."

Original image is CC-licensed [original source]

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Tejus Parikh

Tejus is an software developer, now working at large companies. Find out when I write new posts on twitter, via RSS or subscribe to the newsletter: