Thursday, June 20, 2024

Is Whiteboard Coding Dead? Alternatives in Tests

Last Updated on October 6, 2023


A. Brief overview of whiteboard coding

Whiteboard coding is a traditional method of assessing coding skills where candidates are asked to solve problems on a whiteboard.

B. The debate about its relevance and alternatives

However, in recent years, there has been a growing debate about the effectiveness and relevance of whiteboard coding in tech industry hiring.

C. Thesis statement

This blog post aims to delve into this debate and explore whether whiteboard coding is still a valid method of assessing candidates’ coding abilities.

We will also discuss alternative testing methods that can be employed to provide a more comprehensive evaluation of candidates’ skills.

Whiteboard coding has been the go-to method for assessing coding abilities for many years.

It involves candidates attempting to solve coding problems on a whiteboard, simulating real-time coding situations.

However, the relevance and effectiveness of this method have been questioned in recent times.

Critics argue that whiteboard coding does not accurately reflect real-world coding scenarios and may put undue pressure on candidates, hindering their performance.

In response to this debate, alternative testing methods have emerged.

These methods aim to provide a more authentic assessment of candidates’ coding skills.

Code pairing, for example, involves working on coding problems collaboratively with the interviewer, allowing for a more realistic evaluation of problem-solving abilities.

Take-home projects have also gained popularity, allowing candidates to complete coding tasks in their own time, replicating actual work conditions.

The question arises: is whiteboard coding dead?

While some argue for its abandonment in favor of alternative methods, others believe it still holds value.

Proponents assert that whiteboard coding assesses the ability to think on one’s feet and communicate ideas concisely.

However, the counterargument emphasizes the need for a more holistic evaluation of candidates’ skills, including teamwork and collaboration, which whiteboard coding may not effectively capture.

Basically, the relevance of whiteboard coding is a topic of ongoing debate.

While it still has its supporters, alternative testing methods that provide a more authentic assessment of coding skills have gained traction.

Assessing candidates for technical proficiency must evolve, considering factors beyond coding alone.

The next sections will examine the pros and cons of alternative testing methods, shedding light on their effectiveness and potential implementation. Stay tuned!

The Relevance of Whiteboard Coding

A. The traditional use of whiteboard coding in technical interviews

Whiteboard coding has long been a staple in technical interviews.

It involves candidates being given a whiteboard and marker to write code and solve programming problems in real-time.

The interviewer observes, assesses, and discusses the candidate’s thought process and coding approach.

While this method has been widely adopted, there are alternative approaches that can be considered in modern tests.

B. Benefits of Whiteboard Coding

Whiteboard coding has its merits. It allows interviewers to evaluate a candidate’s problem-solving skills in real-time.

By observing their approach, the interviewer gains insight into their ability to break down complex problems and develop logical solutions.

The process also provides a platform for discussion, allowing interviewers to delve deeper into the candidate’s thought process and evaluate their understanding of the problem and potential solutions.

Moreover, whiteboard coding offers a unique opportunity to assess a candidate’s communication and collaboration skills.

The ability to explain and articulate one’s coding approach is crucial in a team-based work environment.

Whiteboard coding allows interviewers to observe how effectively a candidate communicates their ideas and collaborates with others.

These skills are essential for successful teamwork and project execution in the tech industry.

C. Criticisms of whiteboard coding

However, whiteboard coding has received its fair share of criticism.

One common criticism is the stress-inducing environment it creates.

The pressure to perform in real-time, with an interviewer closely observing, can cause anxiety and hinder a candidate’s ability to think clearly.

This artificial setting may not accurately reflect their true coding capabilities or problem-solving skills.

Additionally, whiteboard coding may fail to replicate real-world scenarios.

Coding in a controlled environment with limited time constraints and no access to references or resources differs greatly from the actual working conditions of a software developer.

In real-world scenarios, developers have the luxury of programming environments, libraries, and tools to aid them in their work.

Whiteboard coding may not accurately reflect a candidate’s ability to develop solutions efficiently and effectively.

D. Alternative Approaches to Whiteboard coding

In response to these criticisms, alternative approaches have emerged.

Take-home coding assignments have become increasingly popular.

Candidates are given a problem statement and are asked to complete the coding task at home within a given timeframe.

This approach allows candidates to work in a familiar environment, with access to resources and the ability to think and code at their own pace.

It better simulates real-world scenarios and provides a more accurate measure of a candidate’s coding skills.

Another alternative is pair programming interviews, where candidates work alongside an interviewer on a shared screen or in a coding session.

This approach allows interviewers to observe a candidate’s coding abilities in a collaborative setting, replicating the teamwork aspect of a real working environment.

It also fosters better communication and provides a more accurate assessment of a candidate’s coding skills and problem-solving approach.

Generally, while whiteboard coding has long been the traditional approach in technical interviews, it has its advantages and disadvantages.

While it allows interviewers to assess problem-solving skills and understand thought processes, it can induce stress and fail to replicate real-world scenarios.

Considering alternative approaches, such as take-home coding assignments and pair programming interviews, can provide a more accurate measure of a candidate’s coding abilities and problem-solving skills.

Read: Automating Code Review in Coding Tests: Pros and Cons

Arguments Against Whiteboard Coding

A. Arguments claiming whiteboard coding is outdated and ineffective

Whiteboard coding has been the traditional method used by many companies to assess coding skills during job interviews.

However, there is growing recognition that this practice may be outdated and ineffective.

This section presents arguments against whiteboard coding and highlights alternatives that provide a more accurate assessment of a candidate’s coding abilities.

Firstly, whiteboard coding does not reflect actual coding experience.

The act of coding on a whiteboard is performed in an artificial environment and fails to mirror the collaborative nature of coding in a real-world scenario.

It puts unnecessary pressure on candidates and may not accurately represent their true capabilities.

Additionally, whiteboard coding focuses primarily on syntax and algorithmic problem-solving, ignoring other crucial aspects of coding proficiency such as debugging skills and familiarity with existing codebases.

B. How whiteboard coding doesn’t reflect actual coding experience

Furthermore, studies and examples support the claim that whiteboard coding may not accurately predict job performance.

Research has shown a weak correlation between whiteboard coding performance and job success metrics, indicating that excelling in a whiteboard coding exercise does not guarantee success in real-world coding tasks.

Prominent companies like Microsoft and Amazon have acknowledged this issue and have shifted their interview processes towards more practical coding exercises to better assess a candidate’s skills.

Take-home projects and pair-programming sessions are two alternative methods used by companies to assess coding proficiency.

Take-home projects allow candidates to work on real problems at their own pace and demonstrate their ability to develop the entire software solution.

Pair-programming sessions simulate a collaborative coding environment and provide insight into a candidate’s communication and teamwork skills.

These methods offer a more accurate understanding of a candidate’s coding abilities and their compatibility with the company’s work culture.

C. Studies supporting the claim that it may not accurately predict job performance

In addition to empirical evidence, many successful programmers have expressed their frustration with the emphasis on whiteboard coding in interviews.

They argue that it does not accurately reflect the demands and challenges of real-world software development.

Coding on a whiteboard is fundamentally different from coding on a computer with integrated development environments and relevant tools.

Furthermore, coding in the workplace often involves teamwork, project-specific constraints, and interaction with existing codebases – factors not captured in a whiteboard coding exercise.

Essentially, whiteboard coding has long been the standard method for assessing coding skills during job interviews.

However, evidence suggests that it may be outdated and ineffective.

The arguments presented against whiteboard coding highlight its limitations in reflecting actual coding experience and accurately predicting job performance.

Employers should consider alternative coding assessment methods, such as take-home projects and pair-programming sessions, to better evaluate a candidate’s coding abilities and suitability for a specific role.

By adopting more practical and comprehensive assessment approaches, companies can ensure they are making informed hiring decisions and attracting top talent.

Read: The Role of Coding Tests in Data Science Interviews

Is Whiteboard Coding Dead? Alternatives in Tests

Alternative Testing Methods

A. Alternative coding tests conducted on computers or online platforms

Previously, whiteboard coding tests were the standard method used by companies to assess coding skills during the hiring process.

However, alternative testing methods have gained popularity and are now being used by many organizations.

B. Advantages of computer-based coding tests 

Computer-based coding tests offer several advantages over traditional whiteboard coding tests.

Firstly, they provide a more realistic coding environment, as developers are accustomed to coding on computers rather than on whiteboards.

This allows candidates to showcase their true coding abilities and problem-solving skills.

Furthermore, computer-based coding tests can better assess a candidate’s coding skills through automated grading systems.

These systems evaluate code against predefined criteria, providing objective and consistent evaluations.

They can also analyze factors like code readability, performance, and efficiency, which are difficult to assess accurately during whiteboard coding.

Overall, computer-based coding tests provide a more accurate evaluation of a candidate’s technical abilities and coding potential.

C. The use of take-home coding assignments or open-source contributions as alternative assessments

Another alternative to whiteboard coding tests is the use of take-home coding assignments or open-source contributions.

Candidates are given a specific coding task to complete within a certain timeframe.

This method allows candidates to work on the coding assignment in a familiar environment and at their own pace.

They can apply their problem-solving skills and showcase their coding abilities without the pressure of a time-constrained, high-stakes test.

Take-home coding assignments also provide an opportunity for candidates to demonstrate their creativity and showcase their coding style.

They can experiment with different approaches, implement best practices, and showcase their ability to work on a complete project from start to finish.

Open-source contributions, where candidates contribute to existing projects, also provide an alternative assessment method.

This allows employers to assess a candidate’s ability to collaborate with others, adhere to coding standards, and contribute effectively to a larger codebase.

In general, alternative testing methods such as computer-based coding tests, take-home coding assignments, and open-source contributions offer more accurate assessments of coding skills and provide a realistic preview of a candidate’s capabilities in real-world coding scenarios.

Read: Python Coding Test: Essential Tips for Success

Case Studies and Success Stories

A. Examples of companies or organizations that have shifted away from whiteboard coding

  1. Google – Google no longer relies heavily on whiteboard coding during their interview process.

  2. Basecamp – Basecamp utilizes alternative testing methods to evaluate candidates’ coding skills.

  3. Atlassian – Atlassian has introduced coding challenges as an alternative to whiteboard coding.

B. Success stories of companies that have adopted alternative testing methods

Many companies have found success by moving away from whiteboard coding and implementing alternative testing methods.

Some notable examples include:

  1. Zapier – Zapier revamped their hiring process by incorporating take-home coding assignments and technical interviews focused on real-world scenarios. This resulted in improved candidate experiences and a higher quality of hires.

  2. GitHub – GitHub replaced whiteboard coding with pair programming exercises and code review sessions. This change not only reduced anxiety for candidates but also allowed for a more collaborative evaluation process.

  3. Netflix – Netflix adopted a coding project approach, where candidates are given a task resembling real work. This approach enables candidates to showcase their skills in a more realistic setting.

C. Anecdotes and testimonials from developers

Developers have expressed their preferences regarding whiteboard coding and their positive experiences with alternative testing methods:

“I always found whiteboard coding interviews extremely stressful and artificial. I prefer take-home assignments that closely mimic the actual work we do.” – John, Software Engineer

“Pair programming sessions allowed me to showcase my communication and problem-solving skills better than traditional whiteboard coding interviews.” – Sarah, Full Stack Developer

“The coding project assigned to me during the interview process was challenging but enjoyable. It gave me a real sense of the work I would be doing if hired.” – Michael, Frontend Developer

These anecdotes highlight the positive impact of alternative testing methods on developers’ experiences and the overall hiring process.

By examining case studies and success stories, it becomes evident that many companies are shifting away from whiteboard coding in favor of alternative testing methods.

The success stories of companies like Zapier, GitHub, and Netflix demonstrate the positive outcomes that can be achieved by adopting these alternatives.

Furthermore, the testimonials from developers emphasize the preference for alternative methods and the benefits they provide in evaluating candidates’ skills accurately.

It is clear that the future of coding assessments lies in utilizing alternatives to whiteboard coding.

Read: Mastering the Art of Dynamic Programming for Coding Tests

Balancing Pros and Cons

A. Importance of Finding the Right Balance

When it comes to assessing coding skills, finding the right balance between traditional coding assessments and alternative methods is crucial.

While traditional whiteboard coding may have its benefits, relying solely on this approach may limit the evaluation of a candidate’s abilities.

Traditional coding assessments, such as whiteboard coding, provide a structured environment for evaluating a candidate’s technical skills.

It allows interviewers to observe the candidate’s problem-solving abilities, coding proficiency, and logical thinking.

However, this method often puts candidates under pressure, creating an artificial environment that may not accurately reflect their true capabilities.

B. Combining Whiteboard Coding with Alternative Methods

To overcome the limitations of whiteboard coding, it is essential to consider alternative assessment techniques.

One approach is to combine whiteboard coding with other methods, such as take-home coding assignments or pair programming exercises.

Take-home coding assignments give candidates a real-world problem to solve at their own pace, providing a more accurate representation of their coding skills.

This method also allows interviewers to assess a candidate’s ability to write clean and maintainable code, which is crucial in real-world scenarios.

Pair programming exercises involve having candidates collaborate with interviewers on a coding problem.

This approach provides insights into a candidate’s communication skills, teamwork, and ability to adapt and learn from others.

It also allows interviewers to evaluate how candidates handle code reviews and incorporate feedback.

C. Implementing a Balanced and Effective Coding Assessment Approach

To implement a balanced and effective coding assessment approach, companies and interviewers can follow a few best practices:

  1. Define the assessment criteria: Clearly define the skills and qualities you are looking for in a candidate. This will help guide the assessment process and ensure a holistic evaluation.

  2. Use a mix of assessment methods: Combine traditional coding assessments with alternative methods, such as take-home assignments and pair programming exercises, to gain a comprehensive understanding of a candidate’s abilities.

  3. Provide clear instructions and expectations: When using alternative assessment methods, ensure candidates understand the task and expectations. Communicate the evaluation criteria and any specific guidelines for completing the assessment.

  4. Consider real-world scenarios: Design assessment tasks that closely mimic real-world scenarios and challenges candidates are likely to encounter in the role. This will provide a more accurate assessment of their skills and suitability.

  5. Offer support and feedback: Provide candidates with the opportunity to seek clarification or ask questions during the assessment process. Additionally, offer constructive feedback to help candidates improve their skills.

By finding the right balance between traditional coding assessments and alternative methods, companies and interviewers can ensure a more accurate and comprehensive evaluation of candidates’ coding skills.

This approach promotes fairness and increases the chances of identifying the most suitable candidates for the role.

Ultimately, whiteboard coding alone may not be sufficient to fully assess a candidate’s abilities.

By complementing it with other assessment techniques, interviewers can gain a more well-rounded understanding of a candidate’s skills, problem-solving approach, and compatibility with the organization’s working environment.


Main points discussed in the blog post:

  • Whiteboard coding may not be as effective as it once was in assessing coding skills.

  • Alternative testing methods, such as take-home projects and pair programming exercises, are gaining popularity.

  • The question of whether whiteboard coding is dead has been acknowledged, and alternatives have been explored.

The blog concludes by emphasizing the importance of adapting and evolving coding assessment practices.

It is crucial to consider the needs and preferences of both candidates and companies.

By embracing alternative testing methods, companies can ensure a fair and comprehensive evaluation process, leading to better hiring decisions.

Candidates can also showcase their skills in a more realistic and less stressful environment.

Finally, the goal is to create a win-win situation where the best talent is recognized and companies find the perfect fit for their teams.

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