Mastering Coding Challenges

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Finding and hiring the right developer for your team can be challenging. Many organizations use coding challenges in their interview process to see which developers walk the walk. 

The only issue is that many of these organizations administer coding challenges in the wrong way.

Proving competency in software development takes more than solving a few trick questions. But this is what many companies do regardless.

A coding challenge is used to determine what kind of employee you might be hiring.

It illustrates a software engineer’s technical skills; their approach to problem-solving; and their ability to understand requirements and think clearly under pressure.

Ensuring that the coding challenge realistically reflects the goals and tasks that applicants would face in the workplace significantly increases the chances of hiring the best developer for the job.

Learn more about how to create your own coding challenge here. 

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What Are Coding Challenges?

Coding challenges are exactly what they sound like. They are a means of testing a software engineer’s gifts in front of a monitor. Coding takes up the mainframe of a software developer’s responsibility so it is important to make sure your job candidate can program efficiently. 

While some professional industries rely on a series of talk interviews to learn more about a job candidate, other industries stress the importance of finding candidates who can handle the job by putting potential employees right into the environment they will be working in.

The educational sector, for example, uses teaching demos to determine that a candidate has the aptitude to literally stand in front of a class and teach a topic effectively. Where it comes to software development, there are coding challenges.

Sometimes the coding challenge works in the format of a take-home test. Other times, developers will code in front of recruiters so they can get a better idea of how potential employees tackle the challenge.

What Are the Advantages of Interview Coding Challenges?

Coding challenges as an interview form carry a number of benefits. Besides simply testing your job candidates, there are discernible features of a coding challenge that make it better than just any traditional interview.

Trio does coding challenges throughout the hiring process. Initial interviewing begins with a small coding challenge and later, more technical interviews involve a more intensive challenge.

The co-founder of Trio Daniel Alcanja asserts that:

“It’s very important to watch how [a developer] codes, and how [a developer] is thinking about the problem.”

Here are some advantages of coding challenges.


Although a coding challenge is not a bonafide portfolio of work, it does provide a sample of a programmer’s high-quality work in a condensed presentation.

This is a more credible and effective way to understand a potential candidate’s skills than merely talking to them.

Diamond in the Rough

Every now and then you may come across a coder who blows you away. This means that in spite of their job history and experience, their work has far exceeded your expectations.

Knowing this, now you can put them in the position where they truly belong or hone their skills for further development.

Natural Environment

Talk interviews can be stressful. You know it. Everybody knows it. But still, it’s the norm. While this should be part of the hiring process, it does not need to be upheld as the most important part.

Coding challenges have the advantage of putting potential employees in an organic environment that will be replicated in the workplace. By stimulating typical conditions, developers can focus on what they know best – coding.

5 Best Practices for Coding Challenges

To get the most from a coding challenge, it must mirror a real-life software development concern. Challenges can include finding a bug in a problematic piece of code or building out a new feature and integrating it.

The coding challenge should have clear goals and measurement systems in order to objectively quantify a candidate’s performance. Coding challenges save the hiring company time while showcasing the technical skills of the candidates involved.

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1. Focus On Real Problems

Giving candidates real-life problems to solve will show how well they will do on the job and what impact they could have at your company. You can use the challenges that your business has overcome in the past or the issues your business is currently facing. 

These challenges will be more relatable than complex trick questions. It will also provide the candidate with an idea of what kind they’ll see on the job. This way they can also see if they’re a good fit for the position.

Generic coding challenges won’t be a good fit because they don’t target the specific skills that you are looking for or the particular problems that your business will face.

The more specific you get the better fit for the job you will find among your candidates. 

2. Includes Pair Programming

Pair programming is a type of screening process where your interviewer reviews each line of code as the developer writes it.

It is an interactive process where the candidate walks the interviewer through their thought process and explains how they solve the problem.

Pair programming is an excellent way to see how your job candidate collaborates. Collaboration is an essential skill for a great developer.

3. Keep an Open Mind

Getting the ‘right’ answer is not the only goal of a coding challenge.

A good problem will always have multiple solutions. The coding challenge is an opportunity to see how a candidate thinks and approaches the problem.

If they didn’t reach a viable solution, you can still see their skills in action and identify areas that might require some improvement. How a developer meets requirements and dissects the problem is what matters most.

4. Have Standards

Put job candidates on the same level by standardizing your coding challenge. Each developer should work on the same problem, with the same tools, and, if possible with, the same interviewer.

This helps to evaluate all applicants equally and simplifies the analysis of the results. If you have too many different variables, you might not be able to objectively compare each candidate’s performance.

5. Be Original

Don’t rely on coding challenges that come right out of the box. These can and have been reused, making coding challenges less of a challenge and more of a multiple-choice test.

Stick to using real-life problems that your business has encountered. Websites such as Glassdoor can also indicate if your test has been shared online.

How To Evaluate the Results of a Coding Challenge?

The idea of a coding challenge is to find the best developers and distinguish them from the ones who are not qualified for the job. So when the coding challenge is complete, how do you evaluate the results? 

Remember why you’re hiring for that specific position and how each candidate met the requirements of the challenge. Evaluate candidates’ process based on the steps they take to address the challenge.

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The idea of a coding challenge is to find the best developers

You should consider the work priorities that your team has. For example, if test-driven development is a priority, look at the job candidate’s unit test(s).

Make sure that a candidate has a clear understanding of the challenge requirements. Did they grasp all the details? Were they willing to ask for clarification to complete the problem? Were their mistakes due to a misunderstanding or to a lack of attention to detail?

After the challenge is complete, you should take some time to talk through it with the candidate to let them explain their decision-making process, as well as indicate how they handle criticism of their work.

While skills can be improved, an inadequate response to feedback, or inability to discuss the project and its results is a red flag. If you can, try to provide feedback even if you think that the developer is not a good match for your company.

There is a polite way of handling the hiring process. Thoughtful feedback provides the candidate with an overview of their performance and an indication of where they can improve in the future. By providing candidate feedback, you are doing them a favor and helping them grow.

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Coding challenges can help you filter out the highest quality engineers for your business. This will launch them into the day-to-day responsibilities of a professional software developer.

Trio uses specialized coding challenges to evaluate the developers we hire. With our process, you can trust that Trio developers know best and give you the best of their work.

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With over 10 years of experience in software outsourcing, Alex has assisted in building high-performance teams before co-founding Trio with his partner Daniel. Today he enjoys helping people hire the best software developers from Latin America and writing great content on how to do that!
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