Paul Graham famously stated that the key aspect that killed early-stage companies was hiring programmers with poor coding skills. Today, with the accelerated digitization in a post-covid world, there is a huge shortage of Tech Talent. The demand and competition for developers with new-age programming skills has never been higher.

Sourcing developers is a hard task for a tech recruiter. If you add to that, phone screening, interview scheduling, and follow-ups, it becomes more stressful. With strict deadlines, tech recruiters may look to “fill-the-vacancy”, rather than hire developers with the right coding skills.

Parameters to evaluate a Developer’s Coding Skills

Evaluating developer skills is both an art and a science.

Before delving into the pre-hire evaluation of coding skills, it’s imperative to understand the right rubrics to evaluate a developer.

This not only helps look past mediocre developers but also helps differentiate a great developer from a good developer.

Irrespective of the work experience, here are the top 5 essential skills to evaluate for any developer.

  • Problem Solving Aptitude
  • Language and Framework Proficiency
  • Debugging Skills
  • Communication Skills
  • Pragmatic Code Structure and Optimization

Traditional v/s Modern Ways to screen developer

Technology and candidate preferences have evolved over the past few years. The market has shifted from being a company-driven market to a candidate-driven market. Job applicants are more choosy than ever.

With changing times, it’s imperative that companies shift to evaluating developers in a modern way.

The Traditional Methods

The Traditional Methods to evaluate a Developer resembled the following 3 steps –

  • Step 1: Resume evaluation by Recruiters. Most recruiters looked for certifications, pedigree, past organizations. If it ticked the box then candidates were shortlisted for further rounds of interview.
  • Step 2: Companies arranged for multiple rounds of interviews. It included off-site telephonic interviews and onsite whiteboard challenges.
  • Step 3: Decision-making was ad-hoc and hinged on the hiring manager’s preference. No standardization or benchmarking of candidates.

Modern Methods to evaluate a developer

  • Step 1: Move beyond resume: Most developers don’t have a formal degree in Computers. GitHub, StackOverflow, or Online Coding Tests are used to screen for skills instead of resumes.
  • Step 2: Interviews are focused on culture fit. Pair Programming allows developers a chance to work with the team on a real-world challenge. It additionally allows hiring managers to understand the personality and communication skills of the applicant.
  • Step 3: Decision Making is democratized. If 3 out of 4 individuals feel the candidate is a strong fit, only then an offer is rolled out.

3 Methods to evaluate coding skills during the hiring process

Check Candidate Portfolio

The best candidates almost always have a portfolio of work to showcase. A well-crafted professional portfolio includes open-source contributions, Github, and Stackoverflow contributions along with links to personal side projects.

Top talent in technology is passive. A good starting point to analyze a candidate’s Github and Stackoverflow profiles. You can analyze their programming language preference, repositories, and open source contributions.

Additionally, all developers visit programmer Q&A sites like StackOverflow to search and answer technology-related questions. As a recruiter, Stackoverflow has a large source of information about the candidate which is open to the public. A developer’s Stackoverflow reputation depends on accepted answers, bounty hunting, and upvotes to answers. Since all these are peer-rated and strictly anti-spam, it is automatically objective in nature.

Here are some top portfolios by Rafael Caferati and Jordy Ruiter

Coding Assessment to evaluate programming skills

Candidate CV can’t always be trusted. Hence it’s best to gauge the level of skill and expertise possessed before shortlisting them for an interview. This problem is largely solved using Coding Assessments.

Coding Assessment has evolved to become a critical part of the tech hiring process. Especially for entry-level candidates or those who don’t possess a strong portfolio.

These coding skill tests can combine hands-on coding challenges along with conceptual multi-choice questions. An industry-validated coding skill test can evaluate a developer of the following topics –

  1. Data Structures and Algorithmic challenges
  2. Language and Framework specific challenges
  3. Open-ended system design challenges

The aim of the assessment test is to screen candidates based on job-related skills. It would raise a red flag if the candidate is unable to answer fundamental questions related to skills that are a requirement on the job

Ideally, a coding assessment must be administered before the interview round. Coding skill assessment software allows recruiters to roll-out test invites and auto-generate a performance report based on candidate coding skills.

The primary reason why recruiters use a coding assessment platform in their tech hiring process is to standardize and benchmark their applicants in a bias-free manner. It ensures that all candidates are treated fairly and go through a meritocratic process. Additionally, the hiring manager’s time is saved and they only look at qualified candidates.

Pair Programming Interview

Pair Programming Interview is a live coding exercise where both the interviewer and interview code on an online shared IDE.

Traditionally, most coding interviews used a Google Doc or a whiteboard. Each pair programming interview consists of 2 actors – the driver and the navigator.

In this 30-60 min interview, the Interviewer acts as the navigator, while the candidate is the driver. In other words, the hiring manager articulates the problem statement and observes the code written by the interviewee.

While online coding assessments filter out the unqualified candidates, live coding interviews test real-world coding, collaboration, and communication skills.

The main benefit of using pair programming coding interviews is that it allows the hiring team to work alongside their potential hire on a real-world problem, as against an abstract whiteboard challenge. It is a 2-way engaged collaboration where the candidate identifies the problem, clarifies any assumption, and discusses possible solutions before implementing it.

The way forward for Tech Hiring

Developer screening may seem daunting. However, it can be simplified to a large extent with the right tools in place. A good coding assessment and interview software coupled with a nifty applicant tracking system can help you identify the dream tech talent.

First-round automation using coding tests, followed by a quick 30-45min pair programming interview is the best way to gather data points to make a tech hiring decision.

Author Bio

Amrit Acharya is the Founder at Xobin – a leading Coding Skill Assessment Tool. For the past 6 years, Amrit has helped design the coding assessments used at 600+ organizations for screening and evaluating tech talent. These assessments are used to screen over 1 million candidates every year. Amrit writes about entrepreneurship, recruitment optimization, hiring strategies.