6 Key strategies to complete a Technical Assessment

A DrakkenTech, are committed to giving opportunities to developers from tough backgrounds and to empower them with both soft and hard skills. We have some wild stories about taking on interns that cannot even explain what a “function” or a “variable” is. 

After processing these experiences, we have realised that we do not position ourselves as an organization that teaches our employees basic coding concepts. So, we got serious about technical assessments.

In the coming weeks, we will share more about our journey in developing a rigorous yet lean technical assessment, and we also want to hear your thoughts on the subject. 

But for now we will just share some tips to developer candidates who are coming up on a technical assessment, whether with us or elsewhere.

Before your technical assessment

Hover over the boxes to read about experiences that we’ve had that led to this tip.

1. IDEs

Double-check that your Integrated Development Environment (IDE) is up and running smoothly and ready to support the questions you will have to answer without any hiccups. This includes making sure all necessary libraries are pre-installed and working properly.
We had an instance where a candidate opted to use an online IDE, and while it may seem convenient, it’s not as effective as a regular IDE and they struggled to complete certain questions, hindering their performance significantly. Additionally, we've encountered cases where candidates' local IDEs malfunctioned, causing unnecessary stress and affecting their ability to complete the assessment successfully.

2. Audio and Video

Verify that your audio and video settings are in top-notch condition to facilitate clear communication during any potential virtual interviews (like we do). Also make sure you can share your screen where applicable but most importantly, make sure your wifi is working properly.
Having audio and video for an online assessment is essential, well it is for doing a technical assessment at DrakkenTech. We ask our candidates to make sure their audio and video is working and that they are able to share their screens with us, however the amount of times we've ended an assessment due to poor audio and video is still shocking to us. And it's not like we don't prepare them, it's actually one of the very first things we ask them to prepare yet it's one of the most common challenges we experience.

3. Wifi and your environment

Most importantly, make sure your wifi is working properly. Secondly, minimize distractions by finding a quiet and well-lit space where you can focus solely on the assessment at hand.
Picture this: we've scheduled a technical assessment, we are ready to start, only for it to come to an abrupt halt because of unreliable wifi. The numerous times we've dealt with poor internet connections throwing a wrench into our workflow have consistently surprised us.

During your technical assessment

4. Understand the task clearly

Carefully read through the question that’s given to you and make sure you understand the requirements and constraints of the question. Pay close attention to additional information and ask for clarity if there is something you don’t understand.
In our experience, some candidates hastily read through a question and immediately plunge into it. Because of this, a candidate overlooked an important requirement. For example, having your code create a folder instead of manually creating the folder. The rush to answer questions without reading and understanding it can result in a seemingly straightforward question, become more of a challenge than anticipated.

5. Plan your approach

After you understand the what, think about the how. Before writing any code, take a moment to devise a clear and efficient strategy for solving the problem. It helps to do this process out loud, this way the interviewer can hear your problem solving firsthand. Also try to break the question down into smaller subproblems, it can help you minimize potential errors.
We've seen that when candidates hastily dive into a question without thoroughly understanding its requirements, they often overlook crucial details or confuse themselves. We have seen strong candidates completely botch their assessments with seemingly straightforward questions. By just jumping into a question, they get tripped up and struggle to rectify a simple issue.

6. Stay calm and relaxed

Maintain your composure and confidence throughout the assessment, even when you’re facing a challenging problem or time constraint. Stay focused on the task at hand, and remember to breathe deeply, stay organized, and approach each problem methodically. A calm and relaxed mindset fosters clear thinking and optimal performance.
Based on our experience, candidates often find the entire setup, particularly our observation of their problem-solving process, quite intimidating. This sometimes leads to increased stress levels, resulting in them not performing or solving problems as they normally would for example, we had a candidate start crying and another just stare at the screen. Both got completely overwhelmed and froze.

We asked our Director (Pieka Grobbelaar), to give you some extra advice. Here is what he had to say:

Should candidates touch-up on their skills or go “test” their knowledge? What do you think is the best practice is?

I would say to do things like HackerRank or something that follows a similar format. I’m not sure it would be helpful to read up or dust off all your coding knowledge because there is so much ground to cover, whereas a couple of exercises would be better.

If you got stuck on a question, what would you do / how would you approach the situation?


If I don’t immediately know the answer, I would break the problem down into smaller steps, which I think any developer should be able to do. You then take the first step and Google an answer. That is of course if you are allowed, otherwise at some point you’ll have to cut your losses and tell the interviewers you don’t know and move onto the next question.

How would you mentally prepare before a technical assessment?

As I said previously, I don’t think “studying” is the way I would prepare, but mentally I would prepare for it the same way I would prepare for an exam. On that note, I have it on good authority that to study hard the day before and get a good night’s rest, is better that putting in tons of “extra hours” the night before, at the cost of sleep. Adequate sleep will afford you more much-needed clarity of mind during the assessment.  Also, don’t stress yourself out too much. Rather see the assessment as an exciting challenge and opportunity.
I would even go as far as to create an environment for myself where I would feel more relaxed, comfortable and calm.

If during the technical assessment you got overwhelmed with stress, how would you calm yourself down in that moment so that you can finish the question?

This one is hard for me to answer because I quite good at sidestepping downward spirals over a stressful situation, but I suppose I would try to slow down and regain composure, mental composure also. Maybe even ask for a three minute break to just stand up, go outside, breathe a couple of times, and give yourself a little pep talk. And I would like to add something I learned from Stoic Philosophy and that is: rather than telling yourself “You got this”, because sometimes you don’t, you should tell yourself it’s survivable or that it’s “not that deep”. Even if you fail the technical assessment, exam or whatever dismally, you’ll survive and there’s always tomorrow and there’s always another opportunity.

What advice would you give to someone you cared for that is will soon undergo one of these technical assessments?

I would tell them to make sure they’ve been coding for a couple of weeks in advance. Make sure that you’re “code fit”. Don’t take a couple of months off after you’ve graduated your course, and then go two or three months without coding, and attempt a technical assessment with little or no preparation. That’s just looking for trouble. 
Lastly, I would say to read this blog 🙂

So, stay focused, stay calm, and approach each assessment with confidence. Happy coding and goodluck for all your future technical assessments!

 

– DrakkenTech

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