Coding Interview – what are they looking for?


The coding interview. Let’s be honest, this fills most people with dread. What comes to mind? A whiteboard? A coding test? Groups of people peppering you with questions?

Let’s breakdown what you might come across in a coding interview and what they’re really looking for:

Whiteboard test

A lady drawing on a whiteboard during a coding interview
The dreaded whiteboard test

Google popularised the whiteboard test in a coding interview (we have them to thank) and it’s now quite common to come across this.

Coding is quite a creative career. As such, employers are typically trying to assess how you approach a problem and your creative process. I know it can feel daunting to approach these kinds of tests if you’re shy or introverted.

Tools

Low stakes whiteboard practise

Practise whiteboarding and public speaking in low stakes settings. If you already have a job then offer to run stand up or speak in a meeting? Ask friends and family if you can practise in front of them. Believe me, it’s harder in front of people you know, you’ll feel embarrassed and silly but those people can support you through it. The more experience you gain, the easier this will be.

Be honest

Another thing people forget to do is tell people they’re nervous. Be open and honest, tell the interviewer(s) you’re nervous, moreover, it’s ok to ask for their help. When I’m interviewing, I will quite often offer the candidate the opportunity to do tests before the interview, for instance by email. Likewise, I’ll send a digital whiteboard link if that’s required. I hate tests and normally cave under the pressure and I want to give them the best shot at the interview.

Coding test

This is so much easier to practise these days, there’s a proliferation of tools online. Here’s a couple that I really like:

  • https://www.codewars.com/ There’s an employer’s equivalent tool called qualified – code wars is more fun and a way to practise katas but it looks like the same tech behind the scenes.
  • https://leetcode.com/ Another very popular platform, similar vain to code wars but more employer focussed.

Practise makes perfect with these tests, the best solution here is just keep doing them.

Questions in the coding interview

Before getting to actual questions you might be asked, I want to talk about the reason behind them.

What are interviewers looking for?

I can’t speak for all interviewers but I like to ask questions in the following categories:

Technical understanding

  • Requirements gathering and understanding.
  • Testing, Team working & writing the code.
  • CI
  • CD
  • Post deploy testing
  • Alerting and monitoring.
  • Production.
  • Cloud tech – configuration as code.

Career and team fit

I’m constantly assessing this in an interview but team fit is really important. Can I work with this person? Can my team? What else are they bringing to the team? If I’m interviewing for a larger organisation, would they fit in another team?

What are you looking for in a role? Good things to ask here are questions about the company. Or, other things you’re looking for in a role such as: support developing in your career, training, flexibility etc.

Example Questions

Rather than repeat the great work already out there, there’s a great list of questions here that I’d recommend you read and think about.

Need help preparing for your coding interview?

I offer interview preparation sessions and coaching to help you get the role you want. If you’re interested in taking one please get in touch below.