On Hiring and FizzBuzz

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I read an excellent article today called, “This is why you don’t hire good developers” written by Laurie Voss, CTO of npm.

In the article, Laurie has a lot of great advice for conducting technical interviews for developers as well as some things that you shouldn’t do.

As I said, it’s an excellent read and I agree with almost every point in it, but I did take issue with one point.

People ask questions in interviews about obscure syntactical features of programming languages, or details of popular APIs. The famous fizzbuzz test simply asks “are you aware of the modulo operator?” If the answer is “no” then they are probably a pretty weak candidate, but it provides exactly 1 bit of data. Yet people will spend twenty minutes on it in an interview, a huge waste of limited time.

I happen to like the fizzbuzz test. Jeff Atwood of Coding Horror fame said the following regarding it:

I am disturbed and appalled that any so-called programmer would apply for a job without being able to write the simplest of programs. That’s a slap in the face to anyone who writes software for a living. -Jeff Atwood, Why Can’t Programmers.. Program?

See, it seems like saying fizzbuzz is a test of whether or not someone understands modulo is way off. Let’s take a look at what basic fizzbuzz is:

Write a program that prints the numbers from 1 to 100. But for multiples of three print “Fizz” instead of the number and for the multiples of five print “Buzz”. For numbers which are multiples of both three and five print “FizzBuzz”. -Imran Ghory, Using FizzBuzz to Find Developers Who Grok Coding

Does that sound like something that just tests knowledge of modulo? It is also testing knowledge of looping, conditionals, and most importantly basic problem solving.

Take a look at Trello’s fizzbuzz problem that they list on their developer careers page, it asks the applicant to take a look at a hashing algorithm and find the original string from an output hash. It is considerably more of a test of basic problem solving than it is a test of modulo.

I know that if I am looking for a developer that I want to work with, I want to make sure that she has an excellent knowledge of requirements and understands and can explain her problem solving process.


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