David Heinemeier Hansson, a well-known programmer and the creator of the popular Ruby on Rails coding framework, was the one who started it.
Hello, my name is David. I would fail to write bubble sort on a whiteboard. I look code up on the internet all the time. I don't do riddles.— DHH (@dhh) February 21, 2017
“Hello, my name is David,” he wrote on Twitter. “I look code up on the internet all the time.”
Immediately, other techies picked up the meme. “Hello my name is Sadiksha, I am working on rails since 2011. I don’t know migrations syntax to add/remove column, I google it everytime,” one coder said. “Hello, my name is Tim. I’m a lead at Google with over 30 years coding experience and I need to look up how to get length of a python string,” tweeted another.
Hello my name is Sadiksha, I am working on rails since 2011. I don't know migrations syntax to add/remove column, I google it everytime. https://t.co/sIMUFoeG7r— Sadiksha Gautam (@sadikshagautam) February 26, 2017
Hello, my name is Tim. I'm a lead at Google with over 30 years coding experience and I need to look up how to get length of a python string. https://t.co/TZZeckGPyw— Tim Dierks (@tdierks) February 26, 2017
Hello my name is Mike, I'm a GDE and lead at NY Times, I don't know what np complete means. Should I? https://t.co/QbrNDBZXs8— Mike Nakhimovich (@friendlyMikhail) February 21, 2017
The sentiment had clearly struck a chord. Hansson, also known as DHH, was alluding to the common practice of what he calls “whiteboard algorithm hazing,” in which potential hires are put through a grueling interview process that relies heavily on technical questions.
Hello my name is Jon, I'm the Android lead at Phunware. I can't read an input stream without copying and pasting code from stack overflow. https://t.co/EsZWcTP1Us— Jon F Hancock (@JonFHancock) February 21, 2017
This interview style, widely used by major tech companies including Google and Amazon, typically pits candidates against a whiteboard without access to reference material — a scenario working programmers say is demoralizing and an unrealistic test of actual ability.
“The only world where you would actually need to be able to recall an algorithm would be a post-apocalyptic one, where the hard drives of all the computers connected to the internet were fried, and all copies of foundational academic papers and computer science textbooks had been reduced to ashes,” coding instructor Quincy Larson wrote in a blog post. “Whiteboard interviewing is a discrete skill, much like being able to remember Pi to a thousand decimal places.”
Google: 90% of our engineers use the software you wrote (Homebrew), but you can’t invert a binary tree on a whiteboard so fuck off.— Max Howell (@mxcl) June 10, 2015
People spend weeks preparing for this process, afraid that the interviewer will quiz them on the one obscure algorithm they haven’t studied. “A cottage industry has emerged that reminds us uncomfortably of SAT prep,” Karla Monterroso, VP of programs for Code2040, an organization for black and Latino techies, wrote in a critique of the whiteboard interview. “An individual can spend thousands of dollars learning the cultural norms necessary to get themselves into a desk at a technology firm.”
Hello, my name is Molly. I'm a successful Android developer and I routinely forget to declare new activities in my manifest https://t.co/pVXdVMJPgO— Molly King (@MollyATX) February 23, 2017
Those speaking up on Twitter now appear to be predominantly white and male. However, this style of interview has been repeatedly criticized for contributing to the industry’s diversity problem.
Hi. I'm Estelle. I've been developing websites since 1998. As a woman in tech I don't announce my code shortcomings for fear of consequences https://t.co/rEFKEO7ec7— Estelle (@estellevw) February 27, 2017
The process “freezes out many of the people who are underrepresented in the software development field,” Larson wrote. “If you’re busy working and raising kids, you want to spend as much of your scarce time as possible learning to code — not performing rote memorization that won’t matter once you start your job.”
Hello, my name is Erica. If I told you what things I still have to Google, you'd try to use it as "evidence" that I'm not a "real" engineer. https://t.co/vhCgSyzM4H— EricaJoy (@EricaJoy) February 27, 2017
This means companies tend to favor recent computer science grads from top-tier schools who have had time to cram; in other words, it doesn’t help diversify the field with women, older people, and people of color.
There’s evidence to back this up. In December, Aline Lerner, one of the founders of Interviewing.io, a service that lets people practice for technical interviews and even interview for some companies anonymously, wrote a blog post titled “You can’t fix diversity in tech without fixing the technical interview.”
“After drawing on data from thousands of technical interviews, it’s become clear to us that technical interviewing is a process whose results are nondeterministic and often arbitrary,” she wrote. “We believe that technical interviewing is a broken process for everyone but that the flaws within the system hit underrepresented groups the hardest.”
Some companies, including Foursquare, have already dropped the whiteboard interview. Perhaps DHH’s meme will inspire more.