Coding challenges: the good and the bad
October 4, 2023
min read

Coding challenges: the good and the bad

Luis Minvielle
Luis Minvielle

Coding challenges might be HR's go-to for testing a developer's skills, but the developer community agrees that they miss the mark. They're stressful, burn hours, and for what? Rarely is there decent pay for that time or solid feedback. So, it’s no surprise many developers are irritated by yet another task that doesn't take their time. 

This article breaks down the separate perspectives regarding coding challenges, showing what HR professionals believe they provide and showing why developers hate them. The reactions are opposite, so we’ve compiled the cons — from a developer standpoint — and the pros, from an HR view. These are the advantages and downsides of coding challenges for tech recruiting.

Coding challenges: Why do developers hate them?

Many developers have drawn a line regarding coding challenges and take-home coding tests, refusing to participate in these evaluation methods. This is why they don’t like them:

Time sink

From the developer’s standpoint, coding challenges can be a worthless, significant time sink, especially when multiple companies require similar exercises during the application process. Many developers are already engaged in full-time work or personal projects, making allocating substantial time to these tests challenging and an attested burnout formula.

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Lack of constructive feedback

Another critical issue candidates highlight on forums is the scarcity of feedback provided after submitting a coding challenge. After dedicating hours or even days to crafting a solution, developers frequently submit their work without ever hearing back from the hiring company. Developers who value continuous learning and growth find this aspect of coding challenges particularly disheartening.

Repetitive tasks

Take-home coding tests are not always tailored to a candidate’s unique skills or interests. More often than not, these challenges revolve around developing a standard API or solving common algorithmic problems. Facing the same coding tests job after job gets old, fast. Developers don't want another chore; they want to put into practice real skills on projects that fire them up.

Lack of value derived from coding challenges

For developers, coding challenges can feel one-sided. While companies gain insights into a candidate’s technical proficiency, developers often feel they receive little in return. In a live coding interview, candidates interact with potential team members and get a glimpse of the company’s culture. In contrast, take-home coding tests provide minimal interaction and limited exposure to the company’s working environment. The one-way nature of coding challenges leaves developers feeling like they are investing time without receiving any guarantee of a job offer, interview, or meaningful engagement.

"What is the most efficient way to store a md5 hash in MySQL?” I don't need to know this offhand. I need to know how to find out. That applies to all trivia questions.

Anonymous Reddit user

Unrealistic requirements

One of the common criticisms of coding challenges is the presence of unrealistic requirements. Often, developers are tasked with creating an entire production-ready application with complex features and extensive testing frameworks. Such demands consume significant amounts of time and can discourage candidates from participating, especially those with full-time jobs or other commitments.

Developers may focus more on meeting these extensive requirements rather than showcasing their problem-solving abilities. This can lead to a misalignment between the skills being evaluated and the actual job requirements, ultimately resulting in a poor assessment of a candidate’s true potential.

Potential bias in the evaluation

Coding challenges can skew results, favouring those familiar with specific tech over adaptable, broad-skilled devs. A narrow focus misses out on versatility. Plus, with unclear evaluation standards, unconscious biases sneak in, making assumptions on a candidate's dedication or skills. If the challenge requests an integration through a certain big tech cloud API, you’re assuming the candidate lives in regions that have servers nearby.

Source: Codersrank

An antiquated form of free labour?

The internet’s conversation boards, across any industry, seem to talk against unpaid tests because they consider them an ancient, old-fashioned way of luring jobseekers into working for free. Since tests could end up being code used for production, candidates have their reasons to be wary. Most of these claims are unfounded, it’s true, but it’s a genuine feeling HR professionals should be mindful of.

Coding challenges from an HR standpoint

While developers voice their reservations about coding challenges, recruiters and hiring managers often find these tests valuable gatekeeping mechanisms in the talent acquisition process, and for good reasons. Let’s explore an alternative viewpoint, highlighting the benefits of coding challenges from the employer’s perspective.

Streamlining candidate evaluation

Hiring for tech roles is often overwhelmed with applications. At least in theory, coding challenges give a straight, fair shot to measure skills. It's the go-to for HR to sift through the noise, compare, and spot the top talent quickly.

Identifying technical aptitude

Coding challenges are a litmus test for a candidate’s technical aptitude and problem-solving abilities. For roles requiring strong coding proficiency, these tests can effectively filter out applicants who lack the necessary skills to succeed. This helps recruiters narrow down the pool of candidates to those who have demonstrated their coding capabilities.

Time and resource efficiency

Time is gold in hiring. Live tech interviews drain HR resources fast. Coding challenges are the savvy alternative: they assess many candidates at once without burning manpower.

A fair evaluation of junior or entry-level candidates

Coding challenges can be precious for evaluating junior or entry-level candidates with limited work experience. In such cases, where a candidate’s professional background may not provide sufficient insights into their skills, coding tests can level the playing field and offer a fair evaluation based solely on merit. This helps employers identify hidden talent and allows promising newcomers to showcase their abilities.

Objective assessment

One of the challenges that HR professionals face when hiring tech talent is that they often lack the technical expertise to evaluate the candidates’ skills. This is understandable, considering they have to deal with different roles and domains, such as Marketing, Product, Operations, and Software Development. 

However, this also means they might miss some red flags, such as a candidate confusing JavaScript with Java, for instance. That’s why using a coding assessment tool can be a helpful way to verify that the candidates actually know how to code. At least, that’s the theory…

Creating a balance

Acknowledging the potential benefits of coding challenges as a gatekeeping mechanism is essential, as they serve a purpose in the recruitment process. Still,  it is crucial to strike a balance and address developers' concerns to create a more inclusive and effective hiring process.

Source: stxnext

Alternatives to coding challenges

Coding challenges are a common way to test a developer’s skills and creativity. But they can also be time-consuming and frustrating for both candidates and employers. How can you find the best developers for your project without wasting hours screening and evaluating hundreds of applicants?

At WeAreDevelopers, we offer a tech recruitment service that provides a curated list of candidates who have already passed rigorous coding tests and assessments. Partner up with us and streamline your hiring process by focusing on the most qualified and suitable developers. Book a call with us to learn more.


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