Why Leetcode is Dead and Pair Programming for Interviews is the Way Forward

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We’ve all experienced the job application which required us to do an online coding test. You have to brush up on your algorithms, data structures, time complexity, and by the end of it you’re cramming as if it was a university exam! Now that we’re the ones usually interviewing candidates, a good question to ask is: “are online coding tests the best indicator of a candidate’s proficiency and competence?” In this talk, we’ll explore:

  • - The pitfalls of Leetcode-like tests

  • - What we should be looking for in candidates

  • - How pair programming is the best way to see how a candidate would work with the team

  • - Plus a little mini demo on a remote pair programming interview




Mo Khazali
Mo Khazali
32 min
09 Mar, 2023

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Video Summary and Transcription

The Talk discusses the problems with online coding tests and the benefits of pair programming interviews. It emphasizes the importance of hiring and growth, including creating a positive interview experience and considering the cost of hiring. The job of a software developer extends beyond coding and requires multiple skill sets. Pair programming provides a more accurate assessment of skills required for software development. The Talk also covers implementing a tennis scoring system and customizing pair programming interviews for different roles and levels.

1. Introduction to Hiring and Growth

Short description:

Hello everyone. Today, we'll discuss the problems with online coding tests, the benefits of pair programming interviews, and the importance of hiring and growth. We'll also explore the ideal candidate traits and the mismatch between online coding platforms and required skills. I'll share my personal experience with pair programming interviews and their impact on my career. Let's dive in.

♪♪ Hello everyone. I am super excited to be giving this talk at Tech Lead Conf. Thank you for taking the time to join us. So, today, we're going to be taking a look together at what's wrong with online coding tests, why leetcode is dead, and how including a pair programming interview can revolutionize your entire interview process.

So, I want to start off by giving an overview of what we're going to be talking about today. Firstly, very quickly, why does growth matter? And why should you focus on interviews? Two, what are you looking for in the ideal candidate? What are the key characteristics, traits, skillsets that you should be targeting? Knowing that, thirdly, what are the skillsets that online coding platforms like leetcode, like HackerRank are actually testing? Do these match up well to the skills that you need to be looking for in a candidate? And lastly, we'll go in-depth on the whole pair programming approach.

So, a little bit about myself and where I work at. My name is Muhammad. I am the head of mobile at a company called Theodo, based in the UK. Theodo is actually a global consultancy with over 600 people spread across the UK, France, US, and Morocco. We help clients build digital solutions to some tough strategic challenges. Things like self-service and retail journeys, to e-commerce platforms for second-hand clothing, or building Challenger banks from scratch. So, if you're interested in learning a little bit more about Theodo or just wanting to have a chat, please feel free to shoot me a message on Twitter. I'm always down to grab some coffee either in person or have a chat virtually.

On a personal note, the reason I really wanted to give this talk was actually because of my own journey in joining Theodo. So, my decision to join the company was largely influenced by my own pair programming interview. It was a real enjoyable experience that pushed me over the line. It got me to say yes and actually join Theodo and the team that we have. So, the impact of it is very much felt in my own personal career. And I'm now one of the people who conducts the pair programming interviews. So, we've come kind of full circle. And it's really something that I enjoy. So, I'm very excited to share it with you all today. Let's jump into it.

What is the importance of hiring and growth? Not gonna spend too much time on this, but really if you look at it, you can split it up into three categories. One is team quality. This might seem very, very simple. But a high quality of hiring will lead to higher quality of teams. So, without having a well thought out and good quality interview process, you risk having false positives. So, maybe hiring the wrong candidates, someone who's not a fit to the team or doesn't have the skill sets that you were requiring.

2. Importance of Hiring and Growth

Short description:

Having an effective hiring system is crucial for hiring the right candidates and avoiding false negatives. The hiring process can impact a company's reputation, so it's important to create an enjoyable and positive experience for applicants. Additionally, the cost of hiring, including the pay for candidates and the time spent by interviewers, should be taken into consideration. When looking for candidates, it's important to focus on their ability to write maintainable and understandable code, as code is read more often than it's written.

Or you'll have false negatives. And that's not hiring the right candidates. Sometimes having a system that isn't effective will make you lose out on some really good candidates that could have potentially been a very valuable asset to your team and to your company.

Secondly, company reputation. I remember when I was a graduate and I was looking for jobs, one of the things that came up regularly amongst my peers was certain companies are difficult to apply to. Why take the time? They had a bit of a reputation for being a little bit difficult and not enjoyable processes to go through. And hence it was kind of known amongst the student community, you probably don't want to spend your time applying for them or it's really difficult. Hiring process can have really positive and really negative impacts for the reputation of the company. And throughout that whole interview process and throughout hiring, you can utilize it as an opportunity to get to know more engineers, learn about people's experiences, share your own experiences. And it's a really good opportunity to just get to know more people in that whole interview and hiring stage. So it's good for reputation and also a good opportunity for you to get to know more people.

And lastly, cost. So if you're starting to look at being an EM or a tech lead, one of the important things that you're going to have to be grappling with is cost. So that's anything from the cost of the pay for the candidate. More short term, there's the cost of a deaf team that are going to be interviewing the candidate. The cost of their time that they're spending to go through these interviews with your candidate, see if they're suitable or not. And then in the worst case scenario, if the candidate wasn't suitable and you needed to rehire after some point, the cost of needing to rehire obviously can be quite heavy as well. So with all of that in mind, we can have an overview of why hiring and growth is important and why we need to focus on this. What should we look for in a candidate? I've got some of the sun rays and the lone figure to give this kind of grandiose, holy vibe. So this is a perfect candidate. I'm sure at some point, we've all heard of this concept of the 10X developer. It's the developer who can deliver at 10 times the speed with one tenth of the lines of code. I'm glad to say that after extensive research, I have come to the conclusion that the 10X developer is a lie. It's a total facade. It doesn't exist. And throughout my research about the 10X developer, I actually landed on this really cool quote that I liked, which was, code is read four times more than it's written. So if you write easy to reason about code, then it pays off dramatically in the future. I think it really encompasses a few key factors about what is important when you are looking to hire a candidate. You want someone who is able to write good code, code that will be maintainable and understandable by others, by more senior members in the team, more junior members in the team, and code that is ultimately understandable and reasonable by others in that team. And that is what will make that 10X payoff in the long term, because that code is going to be reviewed and looked at so many times in the future and in the lifecycle of a code base.

QnA

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What led you to software engineering? 
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What would be your three tips for engineers to level up their career? 
First, be patient. I often see posts on Twitter or LinkedIn about developers who were promoted to a senior position after a year. And while this is wonderful, I think we forget that each company has a different standard for what constitutes a senior developer, and everyone's journey will be different.
Second, don't be afraid to ask questions. If you try your best to solve a problem or answer a question you have, but you can't figure it out after a reasonable amount of time, ask a team member or mentor for help.
And lastly, invest in the right resources for learning. When I started my journey, I didn't know which platforms worked for me to learn. Now, I have a few trusted platforms such as Frontend Masters, Free Code Camp, or Level Up Tutorials that I go to when I need to learn a new skill.
You're currently working as a software engineer at Spotify. What does a typical day of yours look like there?
I begin my day answering emails. Then we have a team breakfast and a standup remotely as we're all still remote at Spotify. After that, we might have a web tech sync with the other squads in our business unit. The day usually includes some form of pair or mob programming, depending on the work stream. 
My team always has Fika, a traditional Swedish coffee break, scheduled every afternoon. Every couple of Fridays, we have team games planned to release some stress. 
Also, I tend to have a lot of free time to focus, which is nice but makes for a boring answer to this question!
Do you have some rituals or tools that keep you focused and goal-oriented?
I'll admit that I've been struggling with staying motivated in the time of remote work. I've been remote with Spotify since onboarding a year ago, but my team is wonderful, and they help me when I'm down.
Apart from that, I use Todoist to keep track of my tasks, and, naturally, I listen to Spotify while working. But other than that, not really. Maybe I should adopt some new tools to keep me on track!
My current favorite Spotify playlist is Brand New Chill: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/37i9dQZF1DX6uQnoHESB3u?si=380263b3c853442e
I also love Chillout Daily: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/7ozIozDp260fjNOZy1yzRG?si=66d6c839ec9b458a
You wrote a book called De-coding the Technical Interview. What was the impulse to do it?
I wanted to give the community a manual of the essentials of computer science knowledge to ace the technical interviews. The book covers data structures like stacks, queues, or linked lists, tackles algorithms, and deals with systems design. You'll also learn about the interview process from start to finish, get tips on how to submit an amazing take-home project, or understand how to problem solve. You'll also gain knowledge on the frontend coding skills needed to excel at a frontend interview.

If you could stress one piece of advice on surviving a technical interview, which would it be?
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What's the single best practice everyone who writes code should follow?
Remember that while you are technically writing code for computers, you're also writing it for humans. Your code should be readable and have as little complexity as possible without sacrificing accessibility or performance.
In addition to the book, you co-host the Ladybug Podcast. What inspired you to enter this field, and what are the podcast's main topics?
We talk about everything tech and career on the podcast, from Java and GraphQL to how to start a business and cross-cultural communication. The podcast is a way for me and my co-hosts to share our experiences in tech, having taken different paths. And I'm really glad for doing it — it has allowed me to meet so many incredible people, learn many new things, and support my dream of teaching.
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My technical interview book was a huge feat for me as well as my courses with LinkedIn Learning on building a tech resume. I enjoy creating things that help other people advance their careers, so I'm also proud of my courses with Frontend Masters on design systems and CSS.
***
Follow Emma on Twitter
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What led you to programming?
I had a friend when I was a teenager who was really into it, and he tried to teach me. But I just couldn't get it — it didn't make any sense to me. So I never really thought I'd get into programming, but I liked computers a lot, and I ended up going to school for electrical engineering. 
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What is the most impactful thing you ever did to boost your career? 
Committing to creating high-quality content. That might sound obvious because I'm a full-time educator now, but I would not have gotten my job at PayPal if I hadn't been so active with my blog. In fact, lots of my jobs came out of me being involved in the community around meetups, conferences, or open-source projects. 
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I don't think too much about the content other people are creating. And I don't often consume it. My ideas come from the things that I'm working on, things that I'm learning myself, or — when I was working with a team of developers — the things that I had to remind people of in code reviews regularly. Anytime that I would have a code review comment that was pretty long to describe my position, that was an excellent opportunity for a blog post. Also, if people ask me about a topic regularly, I'll make a blog post rather than answer that question multiple times.


What would be your three tips for engineers to level up their career? 
The number one thing I tell people is to be a nice person. I know that sounds fluffy or silly, but it cannot be overstated. You will get so much further in your career and just in life in general if you're a nice person. That doesn't mean that you take people being jerks lying down, but how you interact with others is out of kindness. You could be the best engineer in the entire world, but if you're not a nice person, you will not reach your full potential or accomplish your goals, whatever they may be.
Second, it's just as important to decide what you are not going to learn as it is to decide what you are going to learn. You could jump into countless things — and there are successful people who are polyglot programmers, but I can't speak to that a whole lot. All I can tell you is that in my experience, focusing on specific things that I want to be truly good at has worked out great for my career. That doesn't mean that I closed myself off to other things. With my website rewrite, I have been doing a lot of dev ops-related work and a lot of back-end stuff that I've typically not been involved in. You want to keep your head up on what's going on outside of what you're doing so that you know what direction to go in when you come across problems you need to solve. However, finding a focus on what you want to be good at has helped me a lot. That way, you feel a little less stressed.
And the third one? 
Learn how to learn effectively. It's a three-step process: you consume, build, and teach. The consumption of newsletters and Twitter and whatever inspires you, but you don't want to spend too much time doing that — implementing it into actually building something matters. This happens naturally if you work at a company, but maybe you're not making the things you want to learn, so you may want to start a side project. The building phase is where you get experience, but you also want to solidify that experience. How? You start teaching. You don't necessarily have to teach it to people, it could be stuffed animals. The goal of the teaching is to retain in your mind what you've learned through the building process.
What are you working on right now? 
The big thing I'm working on right now is a rewrite of my website. It'll be much more than just a developer portfolio — I'll have user accounts, and there'll be fun things that you can do with it. And because it's more than just a website, I'm using Remix, a new cool framework in the React ecosystem. I'm also working on updating my material on TestingJavaScript.com and a TypeScript course as well. 
So, whatever I'm working on, it ends up resulting in lots of opportunities for content.


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I have a notepad where I keep all of my notes of what I'm going to do for the day so that when I'm checking things off, I'm not distracted notifications. I've tried apps for that, and that does not work well for me. 
I also am a firm believer in inbox zero. I have my work inbox and my personal inbox, and I keep them both at zero. And I kind of use that as a to-do list. 
And if I'm not feeling excited about working for some reason, I will often hop on my Onewheel, which is an electric skateboard that only has one giant wheel in the middle. It's just a total blast, and I'll hop on that with my backpack and a charger, and I'll go to a Starbucks or a park just to declutter my mind.
What things in the React universe are you excited about right now?
React version 18 is coming out soon. The experimental version is out there, and it's fun to play with. I'm just really thrilled that it's no longer a concurrent mode but concurrent features that you can opt into. Cool things like that will enable React server components in the future. 
But the biggest thing I'm excited about is Remix. That's huge. It eliminates a lot of problems that are solved well other tools, but when I'm using Remix, I don't have those problems, so I don't need those clusters.
You already said that teaching is an integral part of the learning process, and you stand your word since you're also a full-time educator. What inspired you to enter this field?
I have been a teacher for as long as I can remember. I grew up in a church where you talk in front of your peers from a very young age, and my mom was an elementary school teacher, so teaching has just always been a part of me. 
I really just enjoy sharing what I'm learning with others. As far as teaching technical topics, I gave my first workshop when I was still a student at Brigham Young University. With my fellow, we taught how to use AngularJS, and I got Firebase to sponsor pizza so they would show up, and that was pretty fun.
Then I started teaching on the side at egghead.io right after I'd graduated. That was when I first got a paycheck for teaching. And I realized that teaching could be quite lucrative and support my family and me as a full-time endeavor. So I did it — I quit my job. I'm a very risk-averse person, so I'd done teaching as a side hustle for four years just to verify that I could make this work.
When TestingJavaScript was released, and I got that paycheck, I realized that I didn't need my PayPal salary anymore. I could just focus my daytime on teaching and give my evenings back to my family, which was a nice trait.


Apart from that, how has teaching impacted your career? 
Earlier I mentioned that pretty much all of my jobs came because I was perceived as an expert. After the first job, where I was an intern and then converted into full-time, I never applied to another. I worked for four different companies, and they wouldn't have recruited me if they didn't know who I was and what I was doing. My content is how they knew who I was — I just made it easy for them to find me. Teaching made that impact. It made my career. 
We talked about React and Remix. Are there any other open-source projects that you'd recommend keeping an eye on or contributing to?
I have some myself. React Testing Library is probably the biggest one that people are familiar with. And if React isn't your jam, then other framework versions of the testing library. 
React Query is also really popular. If you're using Remix, you don't need it, but if you're not, I strongly advise using React Query cause it's a stellar, fantastic library, and Tanner Linsley, the creator, is a stellar and fantastic person. 
What pieces of your work are you most proud of? 
Probably the biggest thing I've ever done is EpicReact.Dev. It has helped tens of thousands of people get really good at React, improve their careers and make the world a better place with the skills that they develop. My whole mission is to make the world a better place through quality software, and I feel like I've done that best with Epic React. 
There are things that I've built at other companies that are still in use, and I'm proud of those cause they've stood the test of time, at least these last few years. But of everything, I think Epic React has made the biggest impact.
***
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What led you to software engineering?My background is in digital marketing, so I started my career as a project manager in advertising agencies. After a couple of years of doing that, I realized that I wasn't learning and growing as much as I wanted to. I was interested in learning more about building websites, so I quit my job and signed up for an intensive coding boot camp called General Assembly. I absolutely loved it and started my career in tech from there.
 What is the most impactful thing you ever did to boost your career?I think it might be public speaking. Going on stage to share knowledge about things I learned while building my side projects gave me the opportunity to meet a lot of people in the industry, learn a ton from watching other people's talks and, for lack of better words, build a personal brand.
 What would be your three tips for engineers to level up their career?Practice your communication skills. I can't stress enough how important it is to be able to explain things in a way anyone can understand, but also communicate in a way that's inclusive and creates an environment where team members feel safe and welcome to contribute ideas, ask questions, and give feedback. In addition, build some expertise in a specific area. I'm a huge fan of learning and experimenting with lots of technologies but as you grow in your career, there comes a time where you need to pick an area to focus on to build more profound knowledge. This could be in a specific language like JavaScript or Python or in a practice like accessibility or web performance. It doesn't mean you shouldn't keep in touch with anything else that's going on in the industry, but it means that you focus on an area you want to have more expertise in. If you could be the "go-to" person for something, what would you want it to be? 
 And lastly, be intentional about how you spend your time and effort. Saying yes to everything isn't always helpful if it doesn't serve your goals. No matter the job, there are always projects and tasks that will help you reach your goals and some that won't. If you can, try to focus on the tasks that will grow the skills you want to grow or help you get the next job you'd like to have.
 What are you working on right now?Recently I've taken a pretty big break from side projects, but the next one I'd like to work on is a prototype of a tool that would allow hands-free coding using gaze detection. 
 Do you have some rituals that keep you focused and goal-oriented?Usually, when I come up with a side project idea I'm really excited about, that excitement is enough to keep me motivated. That's why I tend to avoid spending time on things I'm not genuinely interested in. Otherwise, breaking down projects into smaller chunks allows me to fit them better in my schedule. I make sure to take enough breaks, so I maintain a certain level of energy and motivation to finish what I have in mind.
 You wrote a book called Practical Machine Learning in JavaScript. What got you so excited about the connection between JavaScript and ML?The release of TensorFlow.js opened up the world of ML to frontend devs, and this is what really got me excited. I had machine learning on my list of things I wanted to learn for a few years, but I didn't start looking into it before because I knew I'd have to learn another language as well, like Python, for example. As soon as I realized it was now available in JS, that removed a big barrier and made it a lot more approachable. Considering that you can use JavaScript to build lots of different applications, including augmented reality, virtual reality, and IoT, and combine them with machine learning as well as some fun web APIs felt super exciting to me.


Where do you see the fields going together in the future, near or far? I'd love to see more AI-powered web applications in the future, especially as machine learning models get smaller and more performant. However, it seems like the adoption of ML in JS is still rather low. Considering the amount of content we post online, there could be great opportunities to build tools that assist you in writing blog posts or that can automatically edit podcasts and videos. There are lots of tasks we do that feel cumbersome that could be made a bit easier with the help of machine learning.
 You are a frequent conference speaker. You have your own blog and even a newsletter. What made you start with content creation?I realized that I love learning new things because I love teaching. I think that if I kept what I know to myself, it would be pretty boring. If I'm excited about something, I want to share the knowledge I gained, and I'd like other people to feel the same excitement I feel. That's definitely what motivated me to start creating content.
 How has content affected your career?I don't track any metrics on my blog or likes and follows on Twitter, so I don't know what created different opportunities. Creating content to share something you built improves the chances of people stumbling upon it and learning more about you and what you like to do, but this is not something that's guaranteed. I think over time, I accumulated enough projects, blog posts, and conference talks that some conferences now invite me, so I don't always apply anymore. I sometimes get invited on podcasts and asked if I want to create video content and things like that. Having a backlog of content helps people better understand who you are and quickly decide if you're the right person for an opportunity.What pieces of your work are you most proud of?It is probably that I've managed to develop a mindset where I set myself hard challenges on my side project, and I'm not scared to fail and push the boundaries of what I think is possible. I don't prefer a particular project, it's more around the creative thinking I've developed over the years that I believe has become a big strength of mine.***Follow Charlie on Twitter

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Module 9: Next steps: networking with peers, upskilling, changing the world
Module 10: Freelancer AMA
Landing Your Next Developer Job
React Summit Remote Edition 2021React Summit Remote Edition 2021
121 min
Landing Your Next Developer Job
WorkshopFree
Sadek Drobi
Nouha Chhih
Francois Bohyn
3 authors
Renaud Bressant (Head of Product), Nathanael Lamellière (Head of Customer Success and Solution Engineer), Nouha Chhih (Developer Experience Manager) will be looking at the different developer jobs that you can accounter when looking for your next developer role. We'll be explaining the specifics of each role, to help you identify which one could be your next move. We'll also be sharing tips to help you navigate the recruitment process, based on the different roles we interviewed for as recruiters, but also as candidates. This will be more of an Ask Us Anything session, so don't hesitate to share your thoughts and questions during the session.