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paulc's avatar

How much sample code should you give when asked for it as part of a programming job application?

Asked by paulc (2919points) May 1st, 2008

When a potential employer asks for sample code, how much is reasonable to show them? Are there any legalities involved in sending them the actual code? Is it wrong to request to show them the code in person but not send it to them?

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6 Answers

adrianscott's avatar

I’ve recently gone through an interview process where they did ask to see some code that I’ve written, but didn’t ask to actually have the code sent to them. I would assume that a majority of businesses out there conducting these interviews really only want to see your coding style and whether or not you know what you’re talking about.

My recommendation is to spend a little bit of time building some application that relates directly to the company that you’re building it for, but nothing too refined so that they’ll want to take your code as their own. The idea is to show them the range of your skills and techniques and not much else.

I think I went a little overboard with my own demonstration (probably put about 10 hours into it, only to show it in about 3 minutes). If you’re serious about the job, you may want to spend some quality time putting something together.

I don’t think it’s wrong to request that you show them in person rather than just sending your code it. That way you’ll be able to have a discussion about it and explain why you did things the way you did. If it’s code that you’ve written specifically for this interview, then you shouldn’t have too much of a problem sending the code to them if they insist upon it too.

wildflower's avatar

I’ve never recruited programmers specifically, but I’ve interviewed and screened candidates where sample work was required and in a situation like that, I’d be happy to see a good representation of your approach (how clean, structure, etc.) and perhaps a demo of the code applied.
If they do want a full copy, I don’t think you’d be unreasonable to make sure you have your name, date, etc. on there and ask for a receipt (just in case). If you have to, make up an excuse that you’ve had bad experiences with this in the past.

robmandu's avatar

At most companies, when you sign on, you agree to the stipulation that any work product (i.e. code) you produce is the property of your employer. So, keep that in mind when sharing sample code with another company. It might not be yours to share.

Furthermore, be wary of solving difficult/complex problems in your submission… you might just be solving a problem for them for free.

xyzzy's avatar

My advice is to come up with some simple application (no more than a week’s work at most) and put it on sourceforge.net under GPL2 license. Pick something simple as you want to spend most of your time polishing the code and documentation (yes, documentation, and I mean something more than code commenting). Also make use of the bug tracking and version control functionality to further demonstrate your ability to follow ‘best practices’. This doesn’t take much more work to do, and will demonstrate far more valuable skills than any throwaway code could.

Then just put the url to the project on your resume. If someone is truly interested in hiring you, they will review the site before the interview. And as an added bonus, some people may actually start using your project and leaving feedback and/or bug reports. Dealing with that will further show an appreciation of the complete product life cycle and maintenance issues.

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