Programmer Employability – Would HE Prepare You for a Guardian Developer Job Interview?

A post on the Guardian developer blog – The Guardian’s new pairing exercises – describes part of the recruitment process used by the Guardian when appointing new developers: candidates are paired with a Guardian developer and set a an exercise that assesses “how they approach solving a problem and structure code”.

Originally, all candidates were set the same exercise, but to try to reduce fatigue (in the sense of a loss of interest, enthusiasm or engagement) with the same task by the Guardian developers engaged in the pairing activity, a wider range of exercises were developed that the the paired developer can choose from when it’s their turn to work with a candidate.

The exercises used in the process are publicly available – github: guardian/pairing-tests.

Candidates can prepare for the test if they wish but as there are so many tests it is possible to be given an exercise not seen before. It also gives an idea of the skills the Guardian is looking for, the problems do not test knowledge on method names of a language of choice but instead focus on solving a problem in manageable parts over an hour.

One example is to implement a set of rules as per Conway’s Game of Life:

Requirement Cards:

  • A cell can be made “alive”
  • A cell can be “killed”
  • A cell with fewer than two live neighbours dies of under-population
  • A cell with 2 or 3 live neighbours lives on to the next generation
  • A cell with more than 3 live neighbours dies of overcrowding
  • An empty cell with exactly 3 live neighbours “comes to life”
  • The board should wrap

Other’s include the parsing and preliminary analysis of an election results dataset, or a set of controls for a simple robot.

So this got me wondering about a few things…:

  • how does this sort of activity design compare with the sort of assessment activity we give to students as part of a course?
  • how does the assessment of the exercise – in terms of what the recruiter learns about the candidate’s problem solving, programming/coding and interpersonal skills – compare with the assessment design and marking guides we use in HE, and by extension, the sort of assessment we train students up for?
  • how comfortable would a recent graduate be taking part in a paired exercise?

It also made me think again how unemployable I am!;-)

In passing, I also note that if you take a peek behind the Guardian homepage, they’re still running their developer ad there:


But how many graduates would think to look? (I seem to remember that sort of ad made me laugh out loud the first time I saw one whilst rooting through someone’s web page trying to figure out how they’d done something or other…)

(Hmmm… thinks: could that make the basis of an exercise – generate an ASCII-art text banner for an arbitrary phrase? Or emoji?! How would *I* go about doing that (other than justing installing a python package that already does it?! And if I did come up with an exercise and put in a pull request, or made a contribution to one of their other projects on github, would it land me an interview?!;-)

Author: Tony Hirst

I'm a Senior Lecturer at The Open University, with an interest in #opendata policy and practice, as well as general web tinkering...

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