How to survive a tech challenge

Tech challenges? Here are some tips on how to survive them as a trainee software developer

Rachel Dolan
Rachel Dolan
4 mins read
Woman in sports gear sitting on rock overlooking trees with laptop

I’ve been working at JDLT as a Full Stack Developer for a year now, but it doesn’t seem like so long ago that I was facing the much-feared tech challenges during my job search in the world of software development.

This post is not about how to ace your tech challenges - as I certainly didn’t ace all of mine - but rather some tips on keeping your cool and staying on track.

🕵 Do your research

A big part of my technical challenge anxiety was not knowing what lay ahead, and so feeling like I had no way of preparing. If it’s a big company, chances are that other software engineers will have posted about their experience of the interview process on Glassdoor. And if so, you should be able to get a feel for what kind of challenge it will be, i.e, whiteboard, remote, etc.

👨‍💻 Practise

As a trainee developer it can be easy to lack confidence in your abilities, and the best antidote to this is to practise. Some companies will make their code challenge public and it's worth having a look through GitHub and giving a couple a try. Otherwise sites like Codewars and exercism host a plethora of free puzzles for you to solve. If you’re not sure where to start, then brushing up on the basics always helps. For me, the 'Array Cardio' in Wes Bos' Javascript 30 really helped to boost my confidence.

👁️‍🗨 Read the job spec first

Code tests can be fairly open ended and there are a number of ways to achieve an end goal. Employers are often not just looking for whether or not you can do something, but how you go about it, to see if you’re a good fit for them and their business and are interested in the technologies that they use. I knew that JDLT’s front end is written in React – so I used React in the test!

🙀 Don’t panic

Always easier said than done, and many times I’ve scoffed at this advice. But take your time when reading through what’s being asked of you. It’s easy to rush into the task, especially if there’s a tight deadline, but you may not be delivering what’s been asked for.

🛠️ Do it yourself

Whilst there’s nothing wrong with asking for advice, you’re being judged for your work. No one wants to find themselves being quizzed in an interview on work they haven’t done, or delivering work way beyond your level of ability and then actually being hired and expected to deliver that standard of work within a development team from day one.

📝 Write a Readme

In my first ever tech challenge I didn’t progress to the next stage. The senior dev who sent me the instructions had been really friendly over email so when I heard that I hadn’t progressed I took the opportunity to ask for some feedback. And one thing he said he really liked was that I’d written a Readme explaining how it worked and my process, which was especially important given that I couldn’t finish in the time given. Which brings me onto my next point…

❔ Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback

Not everyone you ask for feedback is going to give it to you, but there’s no harm in asking, particularly if you feel like you’ve got on well with the interviewer. Of course different employers are looking for different things, so take any feedback with a pinch of salt, but particularly if you’re just starting out, feedback can be really valuable and help with the next tech challenge or job interview.

🗻 Change your perspective

After my first tech challenge I was feeling a lot less apprehensive about doing more, and I found that I’d inadvertently ended up learning about an area of programming that was completely new to me... And with the one that followed I found I experienced the same again, and so on it went and my technical skills continued to increase.

💯 Go for it!

Overall my experience of tech challenges were nowhere near as scary as I'd imagined. At the end of the day it's a test, with potentially an exciting opportunity on the line, so there's bound to be some trepidation, but hopefully at least one of these steps can help to put some of these fears to bed.

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