Coding Tests – Online vs Take-home 

by Codeaid Team

Finding good developers has become more difficult and you have to kiss a lot of frogs to find a prince or a princess.

This is where testing software engineers as part of the hiring process comes in handy. You don’t want your technical staff interviewing all the time, so it’s better to have a good testing strategy in place. Effective developer testing can help you reduce the number of technical interviews, and help you hire the right person.

There are many types of tests used in the hiring process, and they can be divided into two camps – coding and non-coding tests. In this article, we will focus on the former ones, showing how coding tests could be useful for your hiring processes. Below, we will discuss both online and take-home tests to help you understand the strengths and applicability of each type.

Online Tests – Pros and Cons

Writing code is an essential part of what software engineers do and it is the aspect of their job that is most easily tested. If you want to hire a good developer, we recommend using a reliable online testing platform as a part of the hiring process. Most platforms will offer either online tests or take-home tests, although a few offer both.  

Online tests require the test taker to take the test online, in a web browser. The goal of these online testing platforms is to have a controlled testing environment.  In such an environment, testing can be timed and tracked.  All test takers work in the same environment, so there are no toolset differences or advantages. However, it is an artificial environment. Tests are single session and are relatively short – usually no longer than 2 hours. Such tests are useful, but are not without limitations:  

  • Since work is done in a web browser, there is no connection to Git and usually no ability to connect with databases or external servers.  
  • They do not fully reflect the real-world tasks that the developers would face if they were hired. 

On the other hand, the detailed tracking does allow for session playback and some behavioral analytics. 

Shortly, online tests are extremely useful in screening your applicants, especially in cases when you have a lot of them. The downside is that these coding tests do not fully-represent the real working environment.  

Take-Home Tests – Pros and Cons

Take-home tests give test takers more freedom in that they let them take the test “home” into their development environment for “real-life” coding assessments.  The reasoning behind this testing strategy is that the most accurate result will be achieved if testing is done using the toolset that a developer knows. This also allows developers to take breaks and resembles how work is done in a professional setting more accurately.  

Since take-home tests are not constrained to an artificial browser environment, all the elements that are part of the normal development ecosystem, such as Git, databases and web services, are available. This means that the tests can be longer, more complex, and better reflect the work environment. The downside is that tracking them becomes more difficult and strict timed testing is not possible. 

Testing Developers: Take-Home or Online Tests?  

Candidate pool and urgency of your hiring decision both factor into which modality is more appropriate for testing developers. If you have an urgent hiring need, then online testing is better as the tests are short and you could theoretically test and interview a candidate on the same day.  

Online tests are also better choices when candidates may be reluctant to do any testing, such as when trying to hire a senior developer in Silicon Valley. 

Take-home tests, on the other hand, are best when you need assurance that the candidate is high-quality, and you want to test them more thoroughly. If you are concerned about cheating then take-home tests are the way to go as it is much harder to cheat in all its various forms when taking a longer, more complex test. Take-home tests may also be the only choice when you want to test certain types of skills, such as advanced architecture expertise. 

If you have a candidate pool, where either type of test would work, then the decision comes down to what skills you want to test during the hiring workflow. If you want to use developer testing just to filter out candidates, and plan to have the remaining candidates go through a tough interview process, then online tests are probably sufficient. However, if you don’t plan to do interviews, or want the test results to have equal weight with an interview, then you should implement take-home tests. They are more in-depth and will yield more information about the candidate’s skills, attention to detail and motivation. 

Testing, interviewing, and reference checks – all these activities yield different information and give you a complete picture of a hiree.  Finding good developers these days is tough but suffering through a bad employee experience is even tougher. We hope that this article will help you implement the right type of tests in your company and hire the right developers for the job.  

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