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Tech Job Interviews Are Out of Control

IN 2022, FEELING burned out by the pandemic and a five-year sprint at a cloud storage company, Catherine decided it was time for a break.

Catherine, who uses the pronouns they/them and asked that their full name be withheld due to the sensitive nature of job hunting, had adequate savings and a partner with health insurance. So Catherine spent five months hiking the 2,650 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. By the end of 2023, they were ready to look for another software engineering job. But the hunt for work proved harder than the hike.

In one recent interview, Catherine was given a take-home assignment: Build a desktop app from scratch, connect it to a mock-up of a backend system, and provide extensive documentation of each step. After spending the entire day coding and still not completing the task, they withdrew their job application. “If the company had asked me to add a new feature to an app in that time frame, that would have made more sense,” Catherine says. “I thought, maybe this is a sign.”

It was a sign—of how the tech industry has made technical interviews more punishing, part of a wider pullback from Silicon Valley’s famously coder-friendly culture. After pandemic hiring sprees, tech companies reversed course in 2022 as interest rates began to rise, making sweeping layoffs and cuts to office perks. Now managers have turned the hiring process for technical roles into more of a gauntlet. Long gone are the days of Google HR managers prompting candidates with clever brain teasers and Silicon Valley engineers easily landing jobs with six-figure starting salaries.

Nearly a dozen engineers, hiring managers, and entrepreneurs who spoke with WIRED describe an environment in which technical job applicants are being put through the wringer. Take-home coding tests used to be rare, deployed only if an employer needed to be further convinced. Now interviewees are regularly given projects described as requiring just two to three hours that instead take days of work.

Live-coding exercises are also more intense, industry insiders say. One job seeker described an experience where an engineering manager said during an interview, “OK, we’re going to build a To Do List app right now,” a process that might normally take weeks.

Emails reviewed by WIRED showed that in one interview for an engineering role at Netflix, a technical recruiter requested that a job candidate submit a three-page project evaluation within 48 hours—all before the first round of interviews. A Netflix spokesperson said the process is different for each role and otherwise declined to comment. A similar email at Snap outlined a six-part interview process for a potential engineering candidate, with each part lasting an hour. A company spokesperson says its interview process hasn’t changed as a result of labor market changes.

“The balance of power has shifted back to employers, which has resulted in hiring getting tougher,” says Laszlo Bock, who ran hiring at Google as SVP of people operations for 10 years and is now an adviser at the venture capital firm General Catalyst.

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