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I have an idea that I think is ethically okay and works out as a win-win for both users and the SO community. Here it is, let me know what you think:

  • you invite a promising candidate in for an interview
  • s/he doesn't have an SO history (never contributed anything or minimal at best)
  • as a mechanism for measuring (a) communication, (b) competence, (c) practicality, etc you have him/her sign up with a new account and contribute as much as possible in a 24 to 48 hour period (adjust the period accordingly)
  • you then evaluate the performance (review the content of the contributions, see what kinds of questions s/he answers, etc -- quantitative and qualitative measures)
  • obviously, you consider other key factors in addition to this before making your decision: portfolio, coding samples, etc. this is just another metric.

I don't consider this SO abuse (it's actually the opposite), I also don't want to assume I've thought of all the angles of this.

So what do you think? Ethical? Unethical? Good/bad for SO?

share|improve this question
Interesting idea. I, for one, can't see anything blatantly wrong with this; just don't use reputation as a metric, but the level and quality of the actual answers given – Pëkka Jan 23 '11 at 18:55
I think it's prone to allow some magic tricks. With a few accounts or friends, the candidate may ask questions targeted to his/her convenience. – Dr. belisarius Jan 23 '11 at 19:20
The abuse is in subjecting any candidate to a 48 hour interview test without reasonable compensation. – Uphill Luge Jan 23 '11 at 19:27
You really wanna hire a programmer that doesn't have a SO account? :-) – Darin Dimitrov Jan 23 '11 at 20:08
@Hans: applying for the job is completely optional, would you rather answer a bunch of crafty interview questions that benefit no one or answer REAL questions that benefit someone? – Kelly Vista Jan 23 '11 at 20:48
Right, I'd flip them the bird when they subject me to a test like this. Which is the rub, an interview is also the time for a candidate to find out if he likes the job and the company's way of doing business. And a company that thinks my time isn't worth anything is not a company I want to work for. I expect to be compensated for my time. A job, SO is just a hobby. – Uphill Luge Jan 23 '11 at 21:11
I have to agree with Hans here. Any good interviewer(s) should be able to do a decent job of measuring communication, competence, and practicality by simply spending those four hours ASKING the candidate relevant questions. This idea, while interesting, is prone to abuse and really isn't fair to the candidate. The interview should stay in the office. – Tyler Treat Jan 23 '11 at 22:02
Folks, thanks for the feedback. Just to clarify: never said this process had to be 48 hours (I said "adjust accordingly" above) - could be 2 or 4 hours; also never suggested that this be a substitute for other questions or this should be any more important. I have interviewed lots of folks for positions in my group in the past and we have tried various design / code review / pair programming techniques to measure problem solving + competency + communication and we are sometimes left desiring more, so I thought this might be a good option. Still think it is, but I respect objections. – Kelly Vista Jan 23 '11 at 22:41
This should be on – TheLQ Jan 24 '11 at 1:02

It would be a good test if the job's duties were to be a person who answers SO questions. Otherwise IMO it would be better if the interview were more related to the job (e.g. more centred on their past experience and your future job description/requirements).

share|improve this answer
+1, thanks for the feedback. – Kelly Vista Jan 23 '11 at 21:57
@Kelly Another difference is that on SO you answer whatever questions you want to (your choice), whereas in a job you answer whatever questions you're required to (less choice). – ChrisW Jan 23 '11 at 21:59
That's actually part of the point of the exercise. See what people feel comfortable/confident answering. See how they can be constructive in their critique (or not). SO is like public e-mail between developers, so I find that kind of transparency to the participation helpful. – Kelly Vista Jan 23 '11 at 22:01
Some companies/employers apply that filter before the interview, by saying they prefer candidates with open source experience (i.e. some publicly visible track record). Anyway, I think that a person's SO persona might be interesting if you're looking to hire them ... but if you think it's essential, then perhaps restrict your search to include only people who already have an SO track record. It's not the best interview technique/topic, IMO. – ChrisW Jan 23 '11 at 22:18
I appreciate your feedback, even though I disagree. I think problem solving and communication are key skills to measure (in addition to competency) and SO is a great platform for demonstrating that. – Kelly Vista Jan 23 '11 at 22:33
Is most of your job's problem solving and communication done via writing? In my experience, within a team, problem solving and communication are more often face-to-face (which I think is a different skill from what SO can demonstrate). – ChrisW Jan 23 '11 at 22:40
We have both and these days, I think distributed development is quite common. Still, I don't have an SO mechanism I can simulate in the office and detailed games like that often come off unrealistic and make candidates nervous because of the social pressure from people they don't know. In contrast, SO is real and gives candidates a chance to really deliberate w/o watching a clock. I would much rather be able to watch a candidate work comfortably in order to gauge true capability. – Kelly Vista Jan 23 '11 at 22:46
I agree that 'working comfortably' is an important aspect of the work environment and of a candidate's performance, and often an important difference between a typical interview (unsure, less comfortable) and 'real life' (successfully embedded in a team). – ChrisW Jan 23 '11 at 22:56

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