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How to crack the coding challenge

Sharon Florentine | Nov. 9, 2016
Coding interviews are nerve-wracking, even for programmers with a computer science or engineering degree. They are even scarier if you're a self-taught programmer. But using blind coding challenges can help boost your performance and even the odds.

Even for the most seasoned software engineer or developer with a background education in computer science or engineering, completing a coding challenge or a technical screening can be nerve-wracking. Now, imagine you’re a self-taught developer -- the anxiety levels skyrocket.

But formal education in computer science, software programming and/or engineering is not mandatory, and in the current IT talent war, the need for those credentials is diminishing further. Many self-taught coders are just as competent as those with a formal degree. The trick is getting past the unconscious biases levied against those without a degree.

“From talking to self-taught programmers, I’ve found that one of their biggest sources of fear is the knowledge that they don’t have a degree. Non-traditional candidates are really intimidated by technical screenings, coding interviews, because they’ve been made to feel they’re not qualified without that computer science degree. But I don’t feel that’s true,” says Gayle Laakmann McDowell, founder of technical career consulting firm CareerCup and author of Cracking the Coding Interview.

What’s more important than having a degree, McDowell says, is being able to crack the coding interview, a completely manageable undertaking if candidates understand what they’re up against.

“Companies really don’t have a problem with interviewing and hiring self-taught developers; what they do have a problem with is interviewing everyone out there who claims to be a great programmer without any way to gauge whether or not that’s true. Bringing in someone who might not be good at it is just a costly, inefficient waste of everyone’s time, so providing an objective platform to measure skills can help calibrate talent,” says Tigran Sloyan, CEO and co-founder of the coding challenge platform CodeFights.

Platforms like CodeFights and HackerRank can help even the odds that self-taught developers are given the same consideration for jobs that their degreed counterparts are, because applicants are measured based on their merit and technical ability.

Practice makes perfect

In fact, research data from blind coding challenge platform HackerRank, which measured performance of around 2,000 developers on their platform, reveals that programmers who completed 20 practice challenges on the site -- equating to roughly 10 to 20 hours of practice -- performed twice as well on skills assessments as programmers who didn’t take the challenges.

“For this study, we looked at practice submissions of over 2,000 developers to find patterns of folks who went directly from assessment to earning an onsite interview. By learning the correlation between the number of practice coding challenges solved and the pass rate on a coding assessment, we can quantify the amount of practice you need to pass a coding interview. According to our data, developers with at least two years of experience, who practiced even just a little (20 challenges) increased their chances of getting an onsite interview by 50 percent. Junior developers who solved 20 challenges, increased their chances by at least 15 percent,” says Ritika Trikha, PR and content manager at HackerRank, in a blog post about the research.


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