Pay For the Coding Interview

How much money are you expecting out of the coders you interview?

I recently got asked to do an 8 hour project as a coding demonstration for a potential job. Against my better judgement, I took the time out to build and deploy their project, a very basic API built with Tornado and Elasticsearch deployed on Amazon using Chef and Fabric.

In deciding to take on the interview question, I realized I could potentially end up more financially invested in the interview process than the actual interviewing company. And things actually ended up worse than I’d anticipated:

8 hours @ $125 / hr (coding demo)            = $1,000
2 hours @ $125 / hr (interviewing)             = $250 


1 hr @ $125 / hr (writing and posting job) = $125
1 Post on Stackoverflow                            =  $350
2 hours of Interviewing  @ $125 /hr          =  $250 


This is why hiring is so broken. You’re asking me to invest $1,200 in proving to you that I’m actually capable of delivering code. I have no problem with you verifying that I can, in fact code, but don’t expect me to do it for free.

With multiple interviewees, the investment differential grows even worse. The cost of posting a job goes down, and the value of the code written by the interviewees goes up.

You can easily see $10,000 worth of wasted code time in a typical interview process, spread up amongst 10 people being interviewed under your code test. 

This is the reason your company can’t find talent. Because talent isn’t willing to pay $1,200 worth of coding time to prove that they’re not full of shit.

Again, against my better judgement, I wrote the code anyways.

When I submitted my code, I was told I would receive further instructions within 24 hours from the lead programmer.

Instead, a full 2 days later, I was let know the coding position had been filled by someone who started the interview process two weeks ago. There was no dialogue with the lead developer, and no feedback on the code I had written.

At least I learned something.

If you want to interview me, you’re going to pay for my time.

20 thoughts on “Pay For the Coding Interview

  1. The same thing happened to me and RackSpace/OpenCloud. They sent me a list of stuff they wanted done. I was told it was to see how well I knew Python and if I could program. I thought ok I’ll do it. I validated the code worked before I sent it in and waited for the day or so I was promised.

    After I submitted the work they never got back to me! A week later I chased down the HR person and asked: “Well?”. He told me the development team said “No’ without so much as an explanation! I was so pissed that I invested my time and they weren’t even polite enough to return a call promptly!

    I left by telling him that if he worked for me I would have fired him finding out what transpired. Looking back I have decided not to do them. I’ve even walked out of interviews after being told there will be programming exercises during the interview. I tell them they could have done a search of my name and found all the open source I created!


  2. Did you write it in their primary language and ask what architectures they deployed on before writing your implementation?

    Did you find out the language the lead developer preferred for that type of project?

    Did you ask more questions to try to foster more involvement and communication between you and the firm or was that not even possible?

    • They actually had their own target language and architecture, which they insinuated would be best for me to develop in.

      Yes, Python.

      Yes, was supposed to get some sort of response upon submission of code, received none from the lead developer.

  3. Interesting point; I also have been disappointed when I got contacted by a recruiter, went through the selection process, were asked to do some coding, did it, delivered it and got no feedback at all, not even a negative one.
    Needless to say I crossed out both the company AND the recruiter.

  4. What a big headead load of crap. It’s probably your narcissistic attitude to coding and probably life in general that kept you from being hired.

    • Actually, valuing your time is one of the greatest attributes you can have as an employee. In order to earn money at this level, you’ve got to constantly ask yourself if you’re maximizing the value of your contributions.

      You’ve got to contribute at least double what you’re getting paid an hour to make it worth the company’s time.

    • I work as a freelancer on occasion, and $125 / hr is a quoted rate. It’s a billable rate, and yes, I’ve earned it and delivered more than $125 of value per hour to the people I worked for. It’s called leverage, and it works.

      • What you’re failing to realize and what the parent points out is that you’re overvaluing your time so you should probably go back to the drawing board with your time valuations.

        You just admitted that you don’t work constantly so assuming that interviewing is an opportunity cost all the time is basic overvaluing at best, fictitious at worst. Yes, there is an opportunity cost to interviewing, but it’s nowhere near your estimates unless you’re working 8-10 hours every day you’re interviewing.

        • Sorry, I wasn’t clear.

          I also have my own projects I work on, (I also sell software) and I never really have any “free” time. I’ll freelance for the right company and the right project.

          If a company wants to borrow my time, this is the direct cost (at least) to my other software projects I run on my own.

          But none of this matters. What matters is much the market bears for programming consulting. As a matter of fact, it bears much higher rates than what I quoted.

          So if a company looks over my code history, and decides that yes, I am worth interrupting for a potential job, why shouldn’t I value my time at what I could otherwise be billing another company?

          I’m not exactly at the beach.

  5. Hi K.P.,

    There are some companies that pay for projects that will test your ability – I do suggest that you ask for payment (which is very fair) if the company is giving you a complicated project that takes more than an hour. If the company refuses to do that, it means that you should reconsider your decision to work for this company.

    You’re also forgetting to add one thing: 1 hour of interviewing/person – which can add up to 20 hours if the company is interviewing 20 people.

    Also I would like to mention that 1 hour seems to be very optimistic for writing a job ad – usually this takes much longer (the bigger the company, the longer it takes) and requires a lot of approvals.

  6. Your code is not worth 125$/hr before you prove it is, and the best way to prove that is through homework.
    No 2 hour interview would ever show your worth.

  7. Thanks for sharing your story. If I am in the same situation next time, I’ll write some code which is composed of working code and mocking code. So it will save me some time but still can prove that I’m not full of sh*t.

  8. I don’t expect to be compensated necessarily, but I may get to that point. I got involved in one of these ridiculous rabbit chases almost two years ago with a company that has a product named after a metal that claims to accelerate your app development on mobile platforms.

    I had to install their product and get it building, not a minor feat in and of itself given how far behind their docs were on that topic. Then I had to try and figure out two bugs they assigned me from their worklog. I succeeded with one but didn’t find the bug in the other case, in the end the other developers felt that one was too obscure anyway and they didn’t expect me to get it.

    Total time spent, at a guess, maybe 15 hours total for all this… Plus multiple interviews etc. But then at the end they were happy and wanted to offer me the job. Only they couldn’t pay what I said I needed and the manager I had spoken with said wouldn’t be a problem before I went down this time suck. So they completely wasted my time in the end and seemed astonished that I was unwilling to take a pay cut to come join them.

    • I feel your pain.

      My new approach to these “distractions” is to put them out there in the open. I ended up learning a new platform, and got a chance to practice using Chef.

      I figure a blog post explaining how to do a full API deployment with source code will at least help other people.

      Thanks for your story.

  9. I let this happen to me once, but never again. There’s billions of people on this Earth and more are becoming internet connected. I don’t have time to not get hired, so I just send my website and a heads up. One employer in a limitless world will never be more than just that. In the end, I’ll still be here if they still need me. No sleep lost.

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