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I am currently in the process of interviewing for a software company A. After passing the first round interview, I was invited to the next round, which was a collection of short coding tasks. They told me I should use whatever programming language I was the most comfortable with and let them know so they could stub out some functions that I would complete for the next interview. I told them my preferred language, which is not one of the languages that they work with at the company.

When I first looked at the tasks, I noticed that it was clear that whomever had written the tasks did not have a very solid grasp of language I asked to program in. I finished the first two tasks regardless of this and then got to the third task. It was very poorly designed and badly written enough that I struggled to make progress on it. They thanked me for my time and said they would let me know about the next round in a few days.

The questions didn't sit right with me. I talked to a friend that works at the company and explained my frustrations and they told me that the company was testing out a new question and this was the first round of interviews with the new questions. I explained to them the problems with the starter code and they agreed that it was poorly organized and wouldn't pass their own code reviews if submitted. I was a little shocked by this, but I understand that companies need to revise and update questions consistently. I then considered emailing back my interviewer, whom is a senior software engineer at the company, with some revisions to the starter code and some reasoning behind the revisions. Is it a good idea to send this kind of revision to an interviewer after the interview?

Today I received an email saying that I had made it to the next round of interviews. Would it in any way have affected my position if I had sent that email?

Edit: For clarification, the questions weren't erroneous, they seemed like they were written by somebody who knew how to program, but had to Google how to do just about anything in the language I used.

  • @TymoteuszPaul I am still considering sending the email. I don't know how to accurately describe this, but I would like for the question to be fair for people that are interviewing in the future that use the same language as me. – mkamerath Sep 14 at 17:49
  • they may decide that since it's not a language they use at the company, that it makes more sense to disqualify it from interviews and just interview on experts in the languages they do use. There is no way of predicting the outcome and no sure benefit to you. – Kilisi Sep 14 at 17:51
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    @mkamerath then why not do it AFTER you become member of the company? What do you expect to gain from rocking the boat during the interview? – Tymoteusz Paul Sep 14 at 17:53
  • I agree with Tymoteus, if/after you get the job YOU will be the company expert in that language. – Kilisi Sep 14 at 17:54
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    @mkamerath I'd also add another potential risk. If the interviewers aren't familiar with your preferred language, then you are risking them not understanding your solution. With that said, I'm surprised that they allowed you to choose your preferred language. – Peter M Sep 14 at 20:44
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In the future, a good thing to do if there's a badly posed question is to ask for clarification while you're doing the task.

I've encountered a similar situation before - a company using a new interview format, and their take-home coding question wasn't as complete as they hoped. I asked for clarification on the unclear points, the same way I would for ambiguous/badly understood requirements in my day-to-day work.

They were thrilled that I'd asked, I got the job, and (I found out years later) my submission for the task actually ended up being given to future interviewers as an example of a high quality answer.

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  • Nice answer, this seems a good strategy if the situation warrants it. Too late for the OP, but for others perhaps. – Kilisi Sep 15 at 4:12
  • I did actually do this. I asked if I could change some class members to better reflect the problem. They said it was ok, however, I only had 20 minutes left to complete the last problem and didn't want to spend 10 of it fixing their mistakes so I focused on getting as far as I could – mkamerath Sep 15 at 4:19
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    @mkamerath At work you will get these badly defined issues it is much better and useful to ask for clarification. There is a good case for asking these badly posed questions as a test. – mmmmmm Sep 15 at 9:53
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Would it in any way have affected my position if I had sent that email?

Maybe, maybe not. But there is no point correcting an interviewer unless you imagine it will end positively for you. Some personalities would feel offended, defensive or even threatened by an unsolicited email like that.

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    For what it's worth, I'd personally be quite happy getting an email like that. The intention of tests should be to allow interviewees to showcase their skills, not to showcase the interviewer's confusion – bytepusher Sep 14 at 21:44
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    @bytepusher but some people wouldn't, there is no need to take the risk – Kilisi Sep 15 at 0:35
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    But risk of not finding out that person/company you presumably going to work with can't take non-positive feedback sounds worse... Indeed if one actually needs that job the weights of risks should be different. – Alexei Levenkov Sep 15 at 4:09
  • @AlexeiLevenkov it's just one person, not the company. Likewise finding one individual who does take constructive criticism doesn't mean everyone in the company is fine with you correcting them. – Kilisi Sep 16 at 7:18
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It was very poorly designed and badly written enough that I struggled to make progress on it.

Don't point out a mistake. Ask for clarification. Psychologically this is very different.

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No, don't send that email. At least not until the interview process has finished (positively or not).

You state in your question the company doesn't use the language you asked for questions to be written in, so I wouldn't be at all surprised the code is not as you might expect it to be written.

Was the coding exercise with someone (ie pairing) or was it a case of "here you go, you've got x minutes"?

If a pairing exercise then by all means ask for clarification (not the same as saying it's wrong and risking ego denting) as you discuss what you're doing, while you do so.

If it's a case of being left alone to do code, do what you can.

It may be that the question was built as it was to see if you'd reach out for clarification during task as much as look at your development skill.

If you get hired, some good companies will ask for feedback on the recruitment process. This would be your opportunity to discuss perceived issues with the assignment.

Sending an email during the process may land with someone who appreciates feedback (particularly if not their usual language) or it may land with someone who struggles to accept 'criticism'. Either way, I'm not sure it would be of any benefit, in the 1st case the writer of the question doesn't know your language so it wont be much other than a "oh right, ok". In the latter it may damage your prospects.

I certainly wouldn't submit corrections unless it was unworkable code.

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That's what you get for using ArnoldC.

Would it in any way have affected my position if I had sent that email?

I once was given a code test where the exercise was wrong. I emailed the hiring manager and he found that they had made a mistake. He sent me modified instructions to account for it. Not a big deal in my experience.

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    Where did he say he used ArnoldC? – nick012000 Sep 14 at 22:18
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    I didn't, but I took this as a tongue in cheek answer that I thought was pretty funny. – mkamerath Sep 15 at 1:14
  • @mkamerath Exactly. – HenryM Sep 15 at 10:59

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