Hiring · Technical Recruiting

Would you use a code problem to hire a technical co-founder?

Mike Whitfield Sr. Software Engineer, EPAM, Google

November 5th, 2016

I've tooled with stuff like this in the past, previously starting a hacker meetup one could only find by decrypting a message programmatically. You can see an example here: http://goo.gl/ZGZNTh

When it comes to writing code, my assumption is that a CTO is uninterested about anything outside problem solving. Part of the job means looking at status codes, uptimes, major system failures, ongiong development, etc. Even when frustratingly applying for work, there should be solid people that will look at a giant puzzle block of code and solve it for the sake of solving it. This is my assumption, what do you think?

I know technical people can't be baited, but we technical people periodically find ourselves seeking employment to better align with what we want to build. Again, this is my assumption. What do you think?

I'm very happy and willing to help someone set up an automated coding test such as this if that's an interest, but I'm also interested in what people think about when using this technique for hiring. If you have experience with automated code tests or worked in a company with this sort of screening tool that'd be great to hear about your experience with :)

Robert Gezelter Principal, Robert Gezelter Software Consultant

November 5th, 2016

Frankly, I think there is a mismatch between the problem and the responsibilities.

I can think of many hackers who would revel in solving the problem who would not be suitable for the responsibilities of a CTO (and vice versa).

Technical strategy, architecture, and operations are critical responsibilities for a CTO. These skills do not tend to surface in small to modest problems.

Scott McGregor Advisor, co-founder, consultant and part time executive to Tech Start-ups. Based in Silicon Valley.

November 6th, 2016

You can test non tech cofounders in a similar way. Ask them to generate a leads list, create a product video, or more famously: "sell me this pen".

Glenn Gutmacher State Street has diverse financial career-enhancing next moves for you. Contact me to learn more! 617-664-5692 @gutmach

November 7th, 2016

Opinions from techies at various levels on this topic run at length in the comments thread at https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12825953 - it's a mega comment thread, so here's my Cliff Notes version (I'll start my list/array with zero since this is about coding): 0) it's easy to cheat on tests, 1) senior developers feel insulted having to do basic coding tests, 2) but many people with 10+ Yrs exp can't code fizzbuzz so you need a way to weed them out, 3) plus so many inflated resumes that you need a testing solution that scales, 4) but there are less insulting ways to evaluate coding skill, 5) but you would need someone more technical than your avg recruiter to administer the alternatives and that doesn't scale. Admittedly, this was a commentary on HackerRank's testing system (people were commenting on http://williampross.com/became-hackerrank-1-two-hours/) so may not pertain exactly if you are creating something more custom.

Scott McGregor Advisor, co-founder, consultant and part time executive to Tech Start-ups. Based in Silicon Valley.

November 5th, 2016

I have used coding assignments to triage technical applicants. I learn a lot about what interests them, what they know and where they want to grow from the submissions. I also think that when you make assumptions you unnecessarily limit yourself from finding the candidates who challenge your beliefs.

Keiron McCammon

November 6th, 2016

I think a proven track record of creating/building/architecting software systems/solutions is a better indicator of the abilities of someone at CTO level, even if they've never held the title before, they should be senior enough to have proof points of their coding/leadership abilities. If you're hiring a more junior/mid-level, then coding tests would be fine.

Also, I think your characterisation of a CTO as "uninterested about anything outside problem solving" is way off...I've been a CTO over 16 yrs and consider myself a product guy first and foremost. I see my role as a business leader first who happens to be a deep technologist and can bridge the gap between business and technology...a coding test is like seeing if the CFO can create a spreadsheet, yes it's an important skill but kind of misses the point.

And before anyone asks, yes I still code...my bias is you should never hire a CTO that doesn't still code (at least in startup land).

Simon Brown

November 6th, 2016

This is interesting but as a potential (hopefully competent) technical co-founder I'm interested in finding some way of measuring the competence of non-techie potential co-founders. How can I get a 'feel' for their experience/commitment? 

Carl Hansen Global Corporate Services at CBRE

November 5th, 2016


kraig Into ICOs, fintech and saas

February 21st, 2017

This is fine if your cofounder is just in charge of hacking, they are kickass developer and you have someone else to take on the other parts of the Cto role