Whiteboard Interviews

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Updated August 24, 2022
Technical Recruiting and Hiring

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A whiteboard interview is a technical problem-solving assessment that takes place in real time and typically involves a candidate writing code and sometimes diagrams on a whiteboard while onsite.* A similar kind of interview can be done in person with pen and paper.

controversy Whiteboard coding questions are controversial in the industry and their merits are hotly debated.* Whiteboard coding questions do not accurately mimic the environment that a candidate will usually work in—they have no access to a compiler, editor, or reference material as they normally would. They also bias toward candidates with fresh, detailed memory of a language or library and against developers who prefer a more iterative model of writing and testing code incrementally. Reacting to these potential flaws, Hiring Without Whiteboards provides a popular, extensive, collaboratively sourced list of companies that don’t use whiteboard coding.

important Looking at whiteboarding more broadly, however, can dissolve what appear to be inherent constraints of the format. As more than one senior engineer put it to us: “No one is good at coding on a whiteboard.” Accepting that can be the start of something interesting. If hands-on coding tells you what an engineer knows and how they use their knowledge, whiteboarding interviews may better cover the whywhy does the engineer make each choice? When conducted well, whiteboarding gives signal on an engineer’s communication and collaborative abilities, as well as how they think through problems and theorize solutions.

story “The whiteboard is just the visualization mechanism and is useful in any talking interview. The whiteboard could be a laptop. Generally the whiteboard is just a way of drawing things. It’s a visual mode of communication.” —Scott Woody, former Director of Engineering, Dropbox

Physically writing a lot on a whiteboard can be unfamiliar or stressful for those who’ve not done it much. A helpful alternative is to offer a pencil and pad of paper to a candidate who is not comfortable on the whiteboard. This requires that the interviewer be able to sit next to them to review and discuss as they write.

Hands-on Coding Interviews

Hands-on coding interviews include all formats where a candidate uses a computer and not a whiteboard. They are often part of an onsite, but can also be conducted remotely.

In a hands-on coding interview, an interviewer will give the candidate a technical problem; the candidate will typically use a code editor to solve it. This provides signal on whether a person has done this kind of work before, the nature of their coding style and problem-solving style, and what practical set of skills they have. Because most programmers are more comfortable with writing code than completing a task on a whiteboard, hands-on interviews move along more quickly, allowing you to go deeper and get more volume of signal.

Pros and Cons of Hands-on Coding Interviews

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