Online Coding Challenges: How Companies and Candidates Use Them

Some people can’t resist a puzzle—and those people tend to make good coders. The most talented programmers have always used thought exercises to test their skills and channel their creativity. Some coders take up lockpicking. Others hone their skills with Rubix cubes, or games of Go and chess. What most programmers have in common, however, is a love of online coding challenges. 

While coders use online coding challenges to hone their skills, companies have another aim in mind—hiring the best possible talent. An online coding challenge is one of the best ways to attract good programmers, because it acts as an advertisement for the firm. If a company posts an interesting challenge, it must follow that it’s an interesting place to work. By sending out interview offers to people who complete the challenge successfully, companies can build a roster of interested candidates who have already proven their abilities.

What Are Online Coding Challenges?

An online coding challenge is a computer programming puzzle designed to test the skills of developers. Although companies often post these challenges as part of a hiring initiative, many online coding challenges are simply developed by other programmers as a pastime. You can find coding challenges on social media, on the websites of major tech firms and intelligence agencies, and on a number of specialized websites designed to host coding competitions.

Coding challenges themselves can cross many disciplines, but many of them will cluster around whatever seems to be the flavor of the month in terms of software development. Right now, you can expect a lot of software development challenges that center around AI, machine learning, and algorithms. One common challenge is this: given a dataset involving a large number of images, create an algorithm that selects certain elements within these images—dogs, cars, traffic lights, etc.

Other challenges might involve novel programming architectures such as containers, Kubernetes, and microservices. “Hackathon” challenges are also common—here, competitors are given a time-limited opportunity to either create a new application for a specific purpose or repurpose an existing application in an unexpected way. Lastly, there are specific challenges that ask applicants to demonstrate their mastery of programming languages such as Python, Java, or C++.

Prepare for Coding Interviews with Online Coding Challenges

If you’re beginning to apply to programming jobs, online coding challenges are a great way to start! You can start looking at the coding challenges promoted by your dream job right away, but we suggest starting small and working your way up.

The good news is that there are plenty of coding challenges that are tailored not just to your level of ability, but also to the kind of position you’re interested in. If you’re a frontend developer, for example, you’ll find plenty of challenges that are tailored to your skill set. Meanwhile, AI and machine learning specialists can find a large number of challenge websites designed to test their specific skills.

In addition, there are challenge sites designed specifically for those who have just graduated college programs or code academies. These sites are perfect for people who have learned the skills they need, but still need a way to demonstrate their mastery. For example, some of these sites work via a system of rank badges that demonstrate how many problems you’ve solved and at what level. If you’re still working on your portfolio or trying to find ways to build your experience, these websites are perfect.

Once you’ve begun to get the hang of coding tests in more low-stakes venues, you can begin looking at the challenges put out by the companies you’re interested in. It’s important to know that simply completing a challenge isn’t enough to guarantee a position—but it will definitely move your application towards the top of the pile. Be aware that interviewers will be looking at how you solved the problem, so be creative and document your thought process when possible.

Creating Online Coding Challenges for Interviewees

If you’re a recruiter and you’d like to create an online coding challenge, you’re in luck—there are more venues to promote these puzzles than ever before. Your challenge isn’t going to be promoting your organization. Rather, your challenge will be creating puzzles that pique the imagination and interest of the talented coders you’re trying to attract.

Here, it’s best to work with developers from your own organization. Ask them when they consider to be the most challenging puzzles that they’ve faced during their day-to-day careers. Remember to scale these challenges accordingly when translating them into the form of an online test. A challenge that stumps an experienced coder for several hours might simply be impossible for the more entry-level coder that you want to hire.

Lastly, you should design your online coding test and your interview process to dovetail. Your online test gave your applicants plenty of space to be creative, show their work, and solve problems in a unique way. Make sure that the rest of your interview process reflects this opportunity.

Online Coding Challenge Examples with CoderPad

Here at CoderPad, we have tools that make it easy for recruiters to offer an online coding challenge as part of the candidate experience. With our Take-Home Questions, you can build coding challenges that live on your website. Candidates can solve these challenges using a fully-functional IDE that includes support for dozens of languages, autocomplete/autocorrect features, and the ability to run code.

Using this feature, recruiters can create nearly any kind of challenge, including:

  • Create an API using data based on your business logic
  • Pass a frontend challenge using your own design systems
  • Build a game of Liar’s Dice
  • And more!

Get started creating online coding challenges based on the examples from our website or use CoderPad to get started designing your own!