How to handle the whiteboard challenge
The whiteboard challenge is something that is sure to strike fear into the hearts of any would-be IT professional. It’s intense, it’s quick, and it can leave your head reeling unless you know exactly what to do.
So what's the whiteboard challenge?
The whiteboard ‘live coding’ challenge is all about you thinking on your feet and making decisions. Your aim is to show the interviewer that you have the kind of technical knowledge required to work for them.
What most commonly happens is the interviewee will be expected to workout a problem in some code. The candidate is allowed to have a whiteboard to show calculations with. The whole thing usually lasts around an hour. Everyone on the other side of the table, and there may be many - will judge your performance.
It’s worth pointing out that the panel is really looking for evidence of problem-solving skills and working under pressure. This is why they ask you to outline the response on the board. What’s interesting is that you can quite easily prepare for the challenge just by understanding the company well. It may not mean that you can work out which challenge they will set, but you can go a long way towards understanding the requirements before you set foot in the room.
There is a very good chance, for example, that they will set you a challenge that simply tests your ability to do the kind of jobs they need doing. So if you know how the company operates, and more importantly if you know the role you are applying for, you should expect a challenge that is completely doable from your point of view.
The principle is clear. If you are applying for a job that requires you to fulfill a particular role or manage a process, chances are you will be expected to solve a coding problem in that area.
However, if you are applying for an entry-level position, it is worth bearing in mind that your task might be ‘entry-level’. This could mean some simple coding in areas that are relatively easy compared to those that require specialist knowledge. This may seem obvious,but some people walk into such a coding challenge expecing to really flex their coding muscles, when all they have to do is come up with simple solutions.
So do your homework on the company and the role before you start preparing for any whiteboard challenge.
Some further points
It is worth bearing in mind that companies who have a whiteboard challenge session are simply testing your problem-solving skills. If they throw you a curveball, they will want to see that you can deal with that and come up with the goods.
This is why some companies actually tell you the problem beforehand. They are fine with doing this because they are looking for someone who is able to outline and solve the problem on the whiteboard.
Be aware that you will not have your laptop or other devices to hand, so you will have to rely on your ability to think your way through a problem. But don’t be intimidated. If you know the job and the company, you should be able to produce a response as good as any other applicant.