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Long story short, I'm an English Graduate working in marketing looking to switch to a developer role. I've been learning code for around 2 years now, and do quite a bit of HTML/CSS/JavaScript in my current role. I've been applying for around a month, and just had my first interview. The people were really nice, but my concern is that they didn't ask to see any of my code, and didn't ask me to code at all in the interview.

Is this normal? I'm concerned that without knowing my ability, they may begin to expect more of me than I can offer. I'm in a job I'm fairly happy with right now, and the interview made me slightly concerned that I'd rather stay put where I am. They seemed more concerned with checking whether I would be happy to work long hours and travel, so I'm rather confused about the whole thing. Any help is much appreciated.

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    Judging by the interview, I think you're hired as junior level so they are okay as long you can learn and can put a lot of overtime, usually for me this is no go since I hate overtime. Also the interviewer seems know what they getting into they just want developer that can learn and put a lot of extra time for them if you're okay with this I don't see any reason why you should refuse. On separate note did they give you a job description maybe you'll be sales representative for their software and not developer. – kirie Dec 9 '15 at 8:57
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    As a senior programmer I can tell you this: you can't really asses a person's technical skills until you've worked on a real project with him. – Agent_L Dec 9 '15 at 14:20
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    Have you actually been offered the position? It would negate the need for the speculation in several of the answers so far. – Mark Booth Dec 9 '15 at 14:46
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    Comment, because its just based on my personal experience, but sometimes the companies that don't depend on code examples are the best companies - they actually understand that you'll need training at entry-level regardless. But sometimes they really don't know what they're doing as well, not even enough to realize some companies use tests to gauge coding ability. I have only encountered the first situation when this happens, but maybe I'm just lucky. – DoubleDouble Dec 9 '15 at 17:21
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    I'm surprised nobody mentioned the Joel's test. The number 11 seems right on point: joelonsoftware.com/articles/fog0000000043.html – dyesdyes Dec 9 '15 at 21:50
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You're going in at a very junior level - they might not actually care if you can code well

You're an English graduate doing a bit of development in a non-technical role, you have no formal training in development of any kind - why would you be an expert?

The company isn't looking for someone who's already producing high quality output - if they were they'd be looking for someone who has several years of commercial experience. What they're actually looking for is someone who has enthusiasm, some basic ability, and who they can train up themselves to work in the way they want.

They didn't ask for code examples because

  1. They can probably already predict the quality level pretty accurately (send me 4 code examples of people of different experience completing a coding task, along with 1 of your own, and I'd be 95% confident I could pick out yours)
  2. They intend to change and improve your skills dramatically in the next 6 months or so anyway, so who cares?

For a junior developer, attitude is usually more important than technical ability - often too much technical ability without the business acumen to back it up just leads to an over-confident developer who doesn't understand the bigger picture and causes issues on a project.

Besides, you're likely cheaper than a CS Graduate :p

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    Last line is the textbook punchline. Well done. – Mindwin Dec 9 '15 at 12:52
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    Cheaper than a CS grad - na, in my experience CS grads go in thinking they already know everything, whereas an English grad is ready to learn what the industry needs. – gbjbaanb Dec 9 '15 at 20:24
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    Yes but that's not as funny... – Jon Story Dec 9 '15 at 20:28
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    @gbjbaanb english graduates have more chance of being able to communicate to an acceptable minimum as well. An alarming percentage of the science academics that I have encountered are an embarrassment. – Gusdor Dec 9 '15 at 20:57
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    I'd contend that's not true, many scientists are some of the most articulate people around - if anything I find many English grads overdo things in communication. Besides, that's filtered at the interview stage... – Jon Story Dec 9 '15 at 21:56
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You're not looking at a high level coding job, the most likely scenario is the work they have for you to do doesn't require much more than a general knowledge so code samples are not a big issue.

Or at least that's what their technical people told them. I have found with some companies that they just assume competence because the people doing the interview sometimes wouldn't know the difference if you showed them a good and bad code sample.

Quite possibly if you pass this step you will taken to task on technical stuff in the next, so be prepared. I see no reason to pass on the job.

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  1. Half of all developers have less than 5 years experience. (Developer numbers double every 5 years)

    You have as much experience as about a quarter of all developers in the world. If you are applying for a junior developer position, you will have as much experience, if not more, than your competitor candidates.

  2. Most organisations recruit via interview process. They ask you questions, you assert particular claims about your experience and knowledge. They take non-verbal cues around the way you state your claim to assess their credibility.

    Unsurprisingly, only 40% of recruitments by interview process are successful.

    The process you have been through is both regrettable, and par for the course. Don't be too put off by it.

  3. Generally speaking, you can take poor - but very commonplace - recruitment processes as a proxy for the other management processes the employer will use.

    If they use the braindead, provenly inadequate interview process to hire, what other processes that will affect your day-to-day life as an employee will be braindead and counter-productive?

    Then again, as long as most employers are like that, chances are you'll end up at an employer like that. Unless you make the specific strtegic decision to avoid joining such firms.

  4. Always remember - an interview is a chance for you to assess an organisation's suitability as your employer. It is a key tool for you to vet prospective employers - not just a tool for them to vet prospective employees.

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    Excellent answer Euan M, do you have any citations for the statistics quoted here? – Mark Booth Dec 9 '15 at 14:41
  • Good points in general, but worth noting that #2 doesn't always apply to Junior hires. There are companies, often in finance/banking, where lack of coding experience is acceptable and somewhat desired. These companies are willing to train you themselves to make sure you can do things their way with their tools. Critical thinking and mathematics skills are all they are looking for in those cases, so no coding exercises or portfolios are needed in the interview process. – cdkMoose Dec 9 '15 at 17:54
  • "braindead, provenly inadequate interview process" - where is that coming from? In my experience, hurling code assignments and exams at junior candidates serves to shaft their confidence for the rest of the interview. – Gusdor Dec 9 '15 at 21:01
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    Of course, 93.47% of all statistics are made up. – Euan M Dec 9 '15 at 21:10
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    @gusdor Make sure to shove an appropriate level of coding exercise at junior developers, sensitively framed. If the exercise is killing the confidence of the candidates you should be interested in, it's being done wrong. (It's fine to kill the confidence of the no-hopers mind you. But make sure you have a good way of discriminating between good and bad. The worst thing of all is to just randomly terrify some of the candidates, but not others). – Euan M Dec 9 '15 at 21:19
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Job interviews are a two-way street: you should be evaluating the company and the position on offer just as much as they are evaluating you as a candidate. Whenever something is unclear about a position, that's a sign that you should be asking a question. Ideally you reserve your questions for the actual interviews, but if you forgot about a potential deal-breaker it's fine to send a follow-up email asking for clarification.

From your post, I get the impression that they haven't actually given you an offer yet so at this point you should not be thinking about whether to reject it if they make one but about what to ask in the next interview. If they have made an offer, it's reasonable to list a few follow-up questions and call or email the hiring manager about them before you consider accepting/rejecting/negotiating. Any company that doesn't want to answer reasonable questions from potential hires is using horrible hiring practices and is probably not a company you want to work for.

As for coding tests specifically: not all companies use them, especially for entry-level positions. Instead these hiring managers rely on your resume, work history and what you say in an interview to determine your skills and experience. They'll later use your references to make sure you're not inflating your skills. For many developers this is vastly preferable to having to take a pop quiz or wasting time on coding projects.

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    Downvote: anything I can do to improve this post? – Lilienthal Dec 9 '15 at 12:55
  • Make it better, obviously </salesman> – Gusdor Dec 9 '15 at 21:02
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They seemed more concerned with checking whether I would be happy to work long hours and travel, so I'm rather confused about the whole thing. Any help is much appreciated.

Firstly, don't assume this was the only interview you'll be attending. Chances are, if you made it through the first interview, the second will focus more on technical details and test your ability to code. Your interviewer was most likely a manager or a HR person, these people don't know how to code or how to judge code, because they don't need to. Thats why the first interview focused on non-technical aspects of your qualifications.

If this was your only interview, the position might be trivial enough that your future manager/coworkers think that anyone with genuine interest can pick it up soon enough, in that case ask yourself if you want such a position, and if you do, go for it.

Its important to note that many companys think long term when hiring a junior coder: They know it will take time to get you up to speed, but they won't mind. The reason they are looking into hiring enthusiastic amateurs is because a) they can pay less at the start, b) an amateur with decent personality and soft skills is 100x more valueable then a proper coder with neither and c) getting started on coding really isn't hard, and they know.

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I'm concerned that without knowing my ability, they may begin to expect more of me than I can offer. I'm in a job I'm fairly happy with right now, and the interview made me slightly concerned that I'd rather stay put where I am. They seemed more concerned with checking whether I would be happy to work long hours and travel, so I'm rather confused about the whole thing.

This makes you seem rather unsure of your plan to switch careers. And it sounds like your interviewers got some sense of that, too.

Changing careers from something like marketing to development can be a big deal. In order to determine if you are ready for this, spend some time and think it through.

  • Do you know what is involved in development as a career?
  • Do you understand the differences in hours, travel, etc that are involved in this particular job?
  • If you are fairly happy in your current job, why are you considering changing?

Whenever I have interviewed someone for an entry-level job who wants to change careers, my biggest concern is if they know what they are getting into or not. Many folks come to tech jobs knowing the positives, but not understanding the negatives. Some of them leave very quickly, when the reality starts to become known.

Think it over. Be ready to answer interview questions about why you want this job. Then you may be less confused.

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I will try to explain what I look for in My Company when hiring an entry level developer. Maybe that will help.

First, I don't expect you to be able to code at all. If you could write code it wouldn't be entry level. In fact I usually go so far as to disqualify any applicants that "tout" code or education making them right for the job.

Second I look at education. I rule out anyone with a multi-year degree in "coding" or "computer science". Bonuses are giving to people that list relevant "work shops" or "boot camps", so long as there are not too many. The general idea is that I don't want to have to un-train someone, or fight with them about an established policy. They are entry level and thus know nothing about production level code.

Finally, I try to asses attitude and logical thinking ability. For an entry level developer these are far, far more important then any education (for mid and high level devs too) or experience.

The idea candidate shows that they understand that they are just starting off and that they are not there to make sweeping design decisions or restructure the entire code base. They also show a desire to learn and the ability to grasp concepts and "learn on their own". They also should show a backbone. Devs in teams have opinions, and they need to be able to stick up for theirs while at the same time be willing to learn from (and teach) others.

I would never ask for a code sample for an entry level position. If your not "overqualified" then there is no way you could submit to me a good code sample. I would also ask more questions about how you meat deadlines, or do research then about rather you would use an for loop or an each loop. I might use a few words like "Instance Variable" or "Iterator" to see of you have some idea what it means, but probably not.

In summary, it's far more important that you show an ability and willingness to learn how to do things in This Company then any ability your learned in school or on an outside project.

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One thing that doesn't seem to have been mentioned is that you may be called back for another interview.

This first interview (if there are more than one) may have been simply to check if you were a suitable candidate for the office/environment/company and may not have had any technical minds conducting the meeting.

Subsequent interviews or tests may follow to determine whether or not you're actually suitable for the specific role.

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I think it really depends on whether you really want to steer your career towards development or not. Your concerns are somewhat valid - it's not probable that the interviewers overestimated your ability, but they may have overestimated your motivation. That is, they expect you to invest a considerable amount of effort and time to become a decent developer in the months to come.

If you're dreaming about becoming a dev, that's a perfect opportunity you should not miss. If not, I suggest you carefully evaluate the pros and the cons before accepting.

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