In 2015, fresh out of college, a developer who goes by the name Hashoshi showed up for a job interview.
It's fair to say the technical portion didn't go so smoothly.
Though a recruiter told Hashoshi he'd be asked to code in one language, during the actual interview he was handed a marker and asked to write code on a whiteboard in a different programming language. Two other people stood behind him, watching his every move.
"That was a bloodbath, as I tried to code in a language I didn't know," Hashoshi told CIO Dive.
The problem wasn't the developer's skills, but rather the test used to measure them.
"Those interviews, especially for people out of school, are terrible," said Hashohi, who now works as a blockchain developer. "They don't accurately portray someone's skills."
But the makeup of technical interviews is changing.
Faced with the pressure of fulfilling talent needs, companies are getting creative with the way they administer technical interviews and evaluate talent. Some introduce take-home assignments and add pair programming exercises into the mix.
Whiteboard tests fail to mimic the environment in which those skills would be used. This makes them a poor predictor of candidates' skills, said Maria Chung, VP of People at HackerRank, in an interview with CIO Dive.
"There has definitely been a shift over the past decade in how companies conduct the interviews," Chung said.
As industry takes steps towards diversity and inclusion, interviews have become more tailored to the roles candidates would assume on the job.
"This can be achieved in a number of different ways, from testing candidates in the languages and coding environments they are most comfortable with, to removing whiteboard tests in favor of video interviews, real-time coding challenges and take-home assessments," Chung said.
While their efficiency is the subject of debate, whiteboard tests — a staple of the hiring process at Google — aren't exactly going away.
"At first view it seems people have broken away from [the whiteboard test], but we've just been having more discussions about it," Gayle Laakmann McDowell, author of "Cracking the Coding Interview," told CIO Dive. "I don't see it going away anytime soon, because we haven't found anything else that scales as well."
One change McDowell identifies is a renewed understanding of the importance of transparency. These days, candidates are more frequently kept in the loop about what tests will be administered, rather than have obscure questions sprung on them.
"People don't just go into an air-gapped room to code."
When done well, McDowell said whiteboard tests can be reasonably effective at spotting problem-solving skills in potential hires.
But Michael Morris, CEO of Topcoder, said in an interview with CIO Dive, the efficiency of whiteboard tests is limited, because they can offer binary results about people.
"You know if they code or can't code, but you don't get accuracy on how good they are," said Morris, whose technology company runs an online coding skills assessment platform.
Efficient hiring practices look at many aspects beyond a person's technical abilities. Employers increasingly thirst after talented people who also come equipped with soft skills, even if the workplace of the future relies heavily on automation.
The problem with whiteboard tests is that they can't offer that level of context when evaluating potential hires, and may lead to a mismatch between employee expectations and skills they can show on the spot.
"I've hired people based on intellect and ignored red flags about how they may not be a fit from an organizational culture standpoint," Morris said. "That's been a mistake every time."
Pair programming, online assessments and take-home assignments are alternative strategies companies are considering as they evaluate candidates' skills, McDowell said.
"You know if they code or can't code, but you don't get accuracy on how good they are."
CEO of Topcoder
These alternative options let companies offer interviewees a different experience, which can be helpful.
"Pair exercises are great," said Hashoshi, who now works full-time as a developer. "I can't remember a time where I sat down and, without any help or online resources, gone and solved a problem on my own. People don't just go into an air-gapped room to code."