How to Conduct Code Reviews and Whiteboarding Interviews Virtually

June 23, 2020

Remote interviews present all sorts of obstacles, the most obvious being a technical glitch or failure. Compound those setbacks with visualization restrictions and conducting a virtual code review might sound, well, crazy. But the pandemic doesn’t negate an employer’s need to see candidates draw out solutions to technical problems.

That’s why these three tech professionals have rethought their approach to whiteboarding while remote. They rely on software tools like HackerRank for its advanced features and ensure that both parties have their video turned on, even while screen-sharing. 

“It’s important to think about how to evaluate the same skills in different ways, as opposed to trying to force old methods into a virtual interview,” Kensho Software Engineer Ben Cohen said. 

Most of all, he and Boston engineering managers Rojay Wagner and Sam Mankiewicz have been approaching these sessions from a place of empathy. Doing so has involved deciding which questions lend themselves to the current environment and being a little more lenient about careless mistakes. 

 

Shutterstock
Shutterstock
Rojay Wagner
Technology Manager

Vistaprint Technology Manager Rojay Wagner isn’t as concerned with the tools engineering candidates use to convey their knowledge in virtual interviews as much as he is with the content itself. He is concerned, however, with making sure potential employees see themselves fitting in at the e-commerce marketing company in its entirety. With that in mind, Wagner said his team has instated virtual lunch breaks over Zoom so interviewees can meet with current developers and get any culture questions answered. 
 

What tools or technology do you use to conduct code review and whiteboarding interviews virtually?

We use Zoom to conduct virtual behavioral interviews. For coding exercises, we prefer HackerRank for the advanced features, including a shared online coding environment, syntax highlighting and built-in test cases. The software also provides users with the option to either create your own questions or choose from a large question library. 

Specific to whiteboard exercises, we allow candidates to choose the application they’re most comfortable with and share their screen. For these types of exercises, we want the candidate focused on communicating their ideas rather than using a tool they may not be familiar with.

 

We use Zoom to conduct virtual behavioral interviews.’’ 

How do you adapt the format or content of these types of interviews when conducting them virtually?

We shifted from traditional whiteboard-style interviews to more structured questions on HackerRank. We found that candidates appreciate the additional structure, and we can evaluate their responses more consistently.

We also made it a point to examine the entire interview process, not just our technical questions. When a candidate comes on-site, a group of engineers takes them to lunch and provides an opportunity to learn more about life at Vistaprint. We felt that this was an important part of the process, so we created a virtual lunch break where candidates can still meet with our engineers and get their questions answered.

 

What’s your single best piece of advice for engineering leaders who are now tasked with handling technical interviews virtually?

Don’t assume your on-site questions and processes will work remotely. Conduct a mock interview to test not only the questions but also the technology and logistics. Friction points will become apparent, and you can adjust as necessary.

 

At kidney care provider Cricket Health, CTO Sam Mankiewicz asks all interviewees to turn on screen-sharing capabilities while they are running through their code review. Mankiewicz says that body language gives him a good read into how that person will work with the existing team as a functioning unit. 

 

What tools or technology do you use to conduct code review and whiteboarding interviews virtually?

Our interview process includes three stages: writing code in some form, a longer pair programming exercise based around adding a small feature to an existing app, and a code review exercise of somebody else’s solution for that same feature. The first stage is an initial tech screen with a handful of short programming questions. It’s done via codepad because it allows us to look at the same screen at the same time and actually run the code, too. We can also have others on the team look at the solution later on if we really need to. 

For the larger pair programming exercise, we provide the repo ahead of time (but not the complete prompt), so candidates have a chance to prepare in a less stressful environment. We allow them to use whatever editor they’re most comfortable with to minimize the chance that the tools get in their way of putting their best foot forward.  

We use Bitbucket for our SCM and do the code review exercise through that interface too. It’s useful for the interviewers to be familiar with the tools they’re using as well, and we’ve done mock interviews to practice how we deliver the prompts.

 

How do you adapt the format or content of these types of interviews when conducting them virtually?

We’ve always done the tech screen virtually, so the only real change has been starting to do the code review exercise over Zoom. All the other Zoom tips you’ve read these past few months apply here too. But perhaps the most pertinent to a software engineering interview is to make sure that both sides have their video turned on, even while screen-sharing. Our most successful interviews always end up being more of a dialogue than a performance. Being able to read the body language of the other person is key to that.

 

Our most successful interviews always end up being more of a dialogue than a performance.’’ 

What’s your single best piece of advice for engineering leaders who are now tasked with handling technical interviews virtually, and why? 

Have clear, objective criteria for what you want candidates to demonstrate for you during the interview. There’s a lot more to software development these days, especially in a larger team setting, than just writing code that works. If you’re clear about that within your own team, it makes it easier for interviewers to evaluate candidates in a standardized way, no matter what distractions might pop up in a virtual interview environment.

 

Ben Cohen, software engineer at Kensho, is keeping external stressors, like the current economic landscape, in mind as he interviews candidates. He said that he’s more forgiving of careless mistakes than he normally would be and that the whole team has had to simply go with the flow. 

 

What tools or technology do you use to conduct code review and whiteboarding interviews virtually, and why?

For coding interviews, we use HackerRank’s CodePair solution. We like its wide selection of supported languages, good syntax highlighting and autocomplete and great recruiter tooling.  

For situations where we need more of a whiteboard, I’ve been using a website called AWW app. It’s “touch-friendly” for candidates who want to draw on a tablet, has a lot of tooling for shapes and arrows, which is useful for system diagrams, and is comparatively easy to use.

 

How do you adapt the format or content of these types of interviews when conducting them virtually?

We had a big sit down where we took a look at our pool of questions and tried to decide which ones are remote-friendly. I think it’s important to realize that some questions really require scratch paper and that you’re not going to be able to replicate that online. For example, any exercise where you have to try to explain a shape or pattern is much harder to give online. Ones where you have to manipulate data or numbers are pretty adaptable.

 

Don’t try to shoehorn your in-person process into a remote environment.’’ 

What’s your best piece of advice for engineering leaders who are now tasked with handling technical interviews virtually, and why? 

First, manage expectations. People are often interviewing from non-ideal situations and are also under a lot of stress. This pressure is likely to manifest itself in your interviews. I’ve tried to be more forgiving of careless mistakes as well as distractions and work at a slower pace than folks usually would. Second, don’t try to shoehorn your in-person process into a remote environment. Certain things just won’t work as well. It’s important to think about how to evaluate the same skills in different ways, as opposed to trying to force old methods into a virtual interview.  

 

Jobs from companies in this blog34 open jobs
All Jobs
Data + Analytics
Dev + Engineer
Internships
Marketing
Operations
Product
Project Mgmt
Sales
Data + Analytics
new
Vistaprint
Waltham
Marketing
new
Vistaprint
Waltham
Product
new
Vistaprint
Waltham
Marketing
new
Vistaprint
Waltham
Operations
new
Cricket Health
Cambridge
Developer
new
Cricket Health
Cambridge
Product
new
Vistaprint
Waltham
Marketing
new
Vistaprint
Waltham
Sales
new
Cricket Health
Remote
Internships
new
Kensho Technologies
Cambridge
Internships
new
Kensho Technologies
Cambridge
Internships
new
Kensho Technologies
Cambridge
Internships
new
Kensho Technologies
Cambridge
Developer
new
Vistaprint
Waltham
Developer
new
Kensho Technologies
Cambridge
Data + Analytics
new
Vistaprint
Waltham
Data + Analytics
new
Kensho Technologies
Cambridge
Developer
new
Vistaprint
Waltham
Developer
new
Cricket Health
Cambridge
Developer
new
Kensho Technologies
Cambridge
Data + Analytics
new
Kensho Technologies
Cambridge
Developer
new
Kensho Technologies
Cambridge
Developer
new
Kensho Technologies
Cambridge
Data + Analytics
new
Kensho Technologies
Cambridge
Project Mgmt
new
Vistaprint
Waltham
Operations
new
Vistaprint
Waltham
Data + Analytics
new
Vistaprint
Waltham
Developer
new
Vistaprint
Waltham
Developer
new
Vistaprint
Waltham
Operations
new
Vistaprint
Waltham
Developer
new
Vistaprint
Waltham
Data + Analytics
new
Kensho Technologies
Cambridge
Operations
new
Cricket Health
Remote
Operations
new
Cricket Health
Remote

Boston startup guides

LOCAL GUIDE
Best Companies to Work for in Boston
LOCAL GUIDE
Coolest Tech Offices in Boston
LOCAL GUIDE
Best Perks at Boston Tech Companies
LOCAL GUIDE
Women in Boston Tech