A QA interview exercise – read code in different languages

In this post, we are sharing an exercise we use to interview QA engineers. We have a slideshow that shows code in about 13 different languages. The candidate has to guess what each code snippet does. This exercise has proven to be useful in differentiating between QA who are fundamentally scared of code from the ones who are comfortable with code but do not want to write production-level code because it is not required for their jobs.

Why we created this exercise?

Qxf2 mostly interviews and hires senior QA engineers with 12+ years of experience. We do this because many of these folks have really good testing skills. However, we notice that many of these candidates have not had a chance to stay hands-on in recent years. This is because they got promoted within their companies and in many firms, a promotion to management means you lose touch with being hands on. This presented an interesting problem for us when interviewing such candidates. How do we make sure they are not scared of learning new things? The slideshow in this post is one solution to this problem.

The exercise

How to give this exercise?

0. This exercise takes about 20-minutes.
1. When you interview a candidate, use the text in the initial slides to set the context for them.
2. Carefully observe their reaction.
a. Many times, we find people that are genuinely not interested in learning new things show non-verbal clues that they are uncomfortable.
b. Other times, the good candidates, seem relieved that you are asking them to read (and not write) code and you will observe a positive shift in energy.
3. As you go through the exercise, keep quiet and let the candidate talk. There are usually stretches of silence as the candidate tries to figure out the exercise. Don’t interrupt.
4. You might want to encourage candidates by telling them that you do not know all these languages either.
5. Ask the candidate how they arrived at the answer.
6. Show up to 5 languages of your choice and stop. We find that we are able to judge the tech affinity of a candidate within 5 languages.
7. If the candidate simply refuses to engage (it happens!), be kind and move on. We usually inform the candidate that we use this exercise to judge their tech affinity. But if they are uncomfortable with the exercise, we tell that we will note that down and we proceed to other interview questions.

Note: Please do not be condescending and judgemental. Interviews are stressful for many folks. Doing new things while being observed is even more stressful. Be kind.

Design notes

a. We chose 13 popular languages. You can make a copy of the slides and modify it to include whatever language you want.
b. For about half the slides, we put source URLs that will give hints to the QA as to what the code does. If a candidate uses the words in the URL to guess what the code does, then you should take it as an additional indicator that they are a sharp and observant QA
c. We limit the time given for each slide to 2-minutes. We found this is the happy medium between rushing the candidate and elongating the interview.

If you end up using an exercise like this, please share your experience in the comments below.

Arunkumar Muralidharan

I want to find out what conditions produce remarkable software. A few years ago, I chose to work as the first professional tester at a startup. I successfully won credibility for testers and established a world-class team. I have lead the testing for early versions of multiple products. Today, I run Qxf2 Services. Qxf2 provides software testing services for startups. If you are interested in what Qxf2 offers or simply want to talk about testing, you can contact me at: mak@qxf2.com. I like testing, math, chess and dogs.

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