Darkened Software

Companies your programming test is your first impression

by on Mar.10, 2009, under Industry, Interviews, Programming

A lot of companies are sending out programming tests even before setting up a phone screen.  Not a problem with this in general the only thing nice about the human phone call is it helps makes a good first impression of the company.   But i understand that for very desirable companies that could be a very big and costly expenditure of time.  So using programming test to weed out those you do not want invest any money on is fine.

But then you have to make sure your programming test is the right first impression you want to give the candidate.  Having done some interviews lately I still see lots of companies are making this mistake.  The programming test is poorly written, confusing instructions, not appropriate in content and leaves the candidate not wanting to work there to the point of just throwing the test away.

An example of a poor first impression:

Here is the test.  Remember:
– You *must* use C for this. C++ or any other language is not accepted.
– Speed is a factor, the sooner you get it back to us, the better.

int scrabble_move(char *board, char *tray)

Then they go on to explain the rules of scrabble, how to score it and provide a test bed to run your function in to see if you get the right answers.

Right from the start I am done with this company

  1. Why would you force me to programming in a old language such as C, what other crazy outdated rules do you have at your company that I will be forced to work around just to get anything done.
  2. The subject matter itself is questionable, what is their intent with this test, are they looking to find people that like scrabble?  Who is it trying to weed out…   In the end the test is about recursion, coping some data structures and knowing C.  All stuff you could know right out of school as long as you understand scrabble.
  3. Your making it a speed test on a subject matter I may or may not be familiar with.  I had never played scrabble in my life, I am at quite a disadvantage because I have to go research this just so I can understand the problem I am solving.

An example of a good first impression:

Memory Manager
Solution Requirements
Your solution should compile and be capable of managing a variable number of
allocations and deallocations, with no requirements for deallocations to be in
the same order as the allocations. However, a pointer will never be deallocated
more than once.

You should provide implementations of the five functions within

Right from the start I am happy with this company

  1. Every programmer knows about memory managers even if they have not written one before, there is no confusion about the topic of how it is suppose to work.
  2. It is in a modern language.
  3. It is a real world problem in console games, memory management and fragmentation is important.  This test in a very small way says they realize what is important in game development.  Not just giving you filler work.
  4. Most experienced console programmers have most likely had to write custom memory managers in their work so this test is targeted, it will be completed quickly by the seniors and more slowly by the juniors.  It is not perfect but it will do a better job weeding out than the one above.

If your making programming test, do not just grab one off the internet, or just find the first hard problem someone comes up with.  Make sure you understand what it says about your company, just what skills your looking for and if it will effectively weed out the people you want.

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2 comments for this entry:
  1. angainor

    Great post!

    I am currently seeking a job in the game industry, and the first company that replied to my application had sent me this scrabble thing. I was like ???? But it was my first interview chance and I wanted to give it a shot. After 3 hours of dealing with messy syntax of C, I gave up and grabbed a beer… Maybe the purpose of these tests are: “If the guy is determined enough to complete this test, he really wants to work with us…” Whatever, now I am gonna enjoy my beer and search the internet for more “diablo 3 release date” rumors. (By the way, I would really appreciate if you have any advises for starting a career in the game industry)



    I completely agree with both of you. I got the same test as well, have almost 5 years of experience in the games industry and don’t why people still have retarded tests like this. I think I spent the first hour thinking about how to go about and and the second hour on what to reply to them coz I had lost interest in this crappy test.
    The third hour I spent recollecting moments from Transformers 2 and Megan Fox 😀
    Don’t think I am going to get this test done, I no longer want to work with them, not that I WANTED to work with the at the get go.

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