Diversity of Thought in Software Engineering

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By: Lizzie Clark, Lead Tech Recruiter

Enova team members pitch their new interview question idea at Enova’s interview process Hackathon. 

Since the beginning, Enova’s Tech team has recognized the role diversity of thought and experience plays in building a great team. It’s what enables us to continually innovate and improve. However, about a year ago, we realized that we had let unconscious bias in the form of specific skill sets creep into our interview process. This kicked off a project to review every aspect of our process and ensure we stayed true to our commitment to diversity.

Since we had been using the same core interview questions for a few years, we started there. We took a deep dive into our technical interview questions and, after reviewing our code writing and code reading sections, realized that some of our questions had programming language and technical domain bias. We are a mostly-Ruby shop, so it makes sense to have our questions geared towards Ruby developers, right?! No. This would make sense if we only hired Ruby engineers, but last year alone we hired folks from strictly PHP, C++, Java, Go, Swift and .NET backgrounds in order to bring diverse viewpoints and backgrounds to the table.

While it’s natural to want to hire people who have the same technical skills as yours or better in the same tech stack, more of the same doesn’t move the needle. Besides, technology changes all the time. Instead we need different ways of thinking and problem solving. The specific skills can always be taught through our custom Baseline training.

So how did we break away from our old habits, get new ideas and start fresh? An internal interview process Hackathon. We knew that we could leverage our talented people to generate new questions that would both ensure we were hiring the right people for the job while also allowing for great diversity of backgrounds and technical experience.

The team and I decided not to limit our invites to just Software Engineering teams. We invited our other groups in Tech, including Infrastructure and TechOps, as well as our Analytics team, to participate. We did not want to preach diversity of thought without walking the talk.

The rules were simple: participants submitted ideas to the Hackathon Committee. The top finalists were selected and announced. Those finalists were given a week to come up with an interview question within some guidelines. Participants were advised to spend no more than three hours on writing up their question. Our guidelines were that the questions:

  1. Have no programming language or technical domain bias
  2. Properly assess code writing and/or code comprehension skills
  3. Create a positive candidate experience
  4. For bonus points, involve “Pairing,” which combines code comprehension and code writing exercises. (In the Pairing session, we envision the candidate getting an existing piece of code, comprehending the code, then ask the candidate to add a new feature.)

After the question creation, we had the Hackathon “Shark Tank” where teams pitched their ideas to the entire Tech and Analytics team. The three teams with the most votes received prizes. We also gave out an additional award to one of our technology managers, Zamir, who displayed the most coding spirit of them all.

Our goal was to receive quality interview questions that removed bias to build a question bank. We achieved this goal, but what was fun to see was that amidst the competitive environment, collaboration overshadowed competition. Several of the finalists even spent time writing up solutions to other finalists’ questions!

To ensure we’re removing bias as much as possible, we’re still testing the new interview questions but hope to implement them in the next month or so. Our new technical interview questions are only one component of our overhauled interview process. Stay tuned for another blog post that details the other changes we made in order to ensure we’re building a team full of people with diverse backgrounds, thoughts, skill sets and ideas.