Live Coding vs. Take-Home Assignments: Which is Better?

February 1, 2023

Live coding and take-home assignments are two common types of assessments used in software engineering interviews. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages, and the choice between them depends on several factors, including the company culture, the position being hired for, and the interviewer's preference.

Live Coding Assessments

Live coding assessments typically involve the candidate solving a coding problem or implementing a feature in real-time, either in-person or remotely using a code editor or collaboration platform. A candidate is typically given a set of technical challenges or problems to solve within a limited amount of time, while a hiring manager or interviewer observes and provides feedback.

The advantages of live coding assessments are that they provide a more immediate evaluation of the candidate's coding skills and problem-solving ability, and they can simulate the pressure of real-world coding scenarios. A candidate's ability to think on their feet, their ability to work under pressure, and their ability to communicate their thought process effectively. Additionally, live coding assignments can provide a more realistic assessment of a candidate's skills and abilities, as they are required to solve problems in real-time, similar to what they would do on the job.

However, some candidates may find live coding assignments to be stressful or intimidating, particularly if they are not used to coding in front of others or if they are nervous during the interview. Additionally, live coding assignments may not provide a comprehensive view of a candidate's skills and abilities, as they may be limited by time constraints or other factors. Here are other reasons why live-coding assignments may be a disadvantage:

  • Anxiety and stress: Live coding assessments can be stressful for some candidates, especially those who are already prone to anxiety or nervousness. This can lead to a less accurate representation of the candidate's true coding ability.
  • Time constraints: Live coding assessments often involve a time limit, which can put pressure on the candidate to complete the task quickly. This can result in a rushed and potentially incomplete solution.
  • Difficulty level: The difficulty level of the coding challenge may not be representative of the actual work the candidate would be doing in the job. If the challenge is too difficult, it may not accurately reflect the candidate's coding ability, while if it's too easy, it may not provide a comprehensive evaluation.
  • Lack of context: In a live coding assessment, the candidate may not have access to the same resources and information they would have in a real-world coding scenario. This lack of context can make it more challenging for the candidate to complete the task and may not provide an accurate representation of their ability to work on real-world projects.
  • Technical issues: Technical issues such as internet connectivity, software compatibility, or hardware malfunctions can impact the candidate's performance during the assessment, leading to an inaccurate evaluation.

Take-Home Assignments

Take-home assignments, on the other hand, are coding challenges that the candidate can complete on their own time, usually within a specified time frame, and then submit their code for review. 

The advantages of take-home assignments are that they give the candidate more flexibility and control over the assessment process, and they allow them to showcase their coding skills and creativity in a less stressful environment. Take-home coding assignments give candidates the flexibility to work on the assignment over a longer period of time, usually a few days to a week. This allows them to work at their own pace and put more effort into the task, potentially resulting in a higher quality solution. A few other advantages:

  • Simulates real-world work: Take-home coding assignments can simulate real-world work, as the candidate has time to research and think about the problem, collaborate with others, and write clean, maintainable code.
  • Fairness and consistency: Take-home coding assignments can provide a more consistent evaluation process as all candidates are given the same task to complete. This can help eliminate any bias or unfairness that may occur in live coding assessments.
  • Access to resources: Take-home coding assignments allow candidates to use their own resources, such as textbooks, online resources, or colleagues, which can lead to a more accurate representation of their ability to solve problems in a real-world setting.
  • Reduction in stress and anxiety: Take-home coding assignments are often less stressful than live coding assessments, as candidates can complete the task in their own time and in a less pressured environment.

However, it's important to ensure that the task is appropriate for the role and level of experience being evaluated, and to provide clear instructions and expectations to all candidates. Take-home assignments can be time-consuming for both the candidate and the interviewer, and the candidate's ability to complete the task may be influenced by their access to resources, such as internet and programming tools.

Which is Better?

Ultimately, the choice between live coding and take-home assignments depends on the specific needs and goals of the company and the position being hired for. Some companies may prefer one approach over the other, or they may use a combination of both to get a more comprehensive evaluation of the candidate's coding skills and problem-solving ability.

Engineering interview candidates may have different opinions on technical take-home assessments, depending on their individual preferences and experiences. Some candidates may appreciate the opportunity to demonstrate their technical skills and problem-solving abilities in a more controlled and comfortable environment, without the pressure of a live interview. They may also appreciate the opportunity to take their time and work through complex problems without interruption.

In Conclusion

It's important for employers to carefully consider the purpose and format of take-home assessments, and to communicate clearly with candidates about what is expected of them. Providing clear guidelines and feedback can help ensure that candidates feel supported and valued throughout the assessment process, regardless of their individual preferences or experiences. They may argue that coding assignments can help to filter out candidates who may look good on paper but lack the skills needed to perform well on the job.

Some may have concerns about the fairness and effectiveness of coding assignments. Some candidates may feel that coding assignments are too time-consuming or too difficult, particularly if they are already balancing a busy schedule. Others may feel that coding assignments do not accurately reflect their skills or experience, or that they unfairly advantage candidates who have more experience or a more privileged background.

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