I just came across this question that has already been closed: Why don't interviewers ask the applicant to read some code?

I agree that the question as it was worded wasn't very constructive but I think that if it had of been cleaned up, it could have provided some useful answers for programmers, both interviewers and interviewees.

Robert Harvey was very quick to dismiss this question as off-topic and link to the FAQ. Fair enough, but our FAQ doesn't specifically say no interview questions that relate to programmers even though Robert Harvey states so in the comments.

I think there are many things in technical interview that wouldn't be relevant to other disciplines. But, are the questions generated by technical interviews useful to all programmers, I not sure.

Either way, our FAQ as it is now, doesn't have a clear stance on interview questions. We have an interview tag that seems to be well used, but the majority of questions using this tag are closed. If these questions don't belong here, I feel we should be clear about that upfront. Remove the tag and update our FAQ. If there are cases where they fit this site, we should outline it in the FAQ.

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    Nooo! I just barely earned the interview tag badge! Commented Aug 29, 2012 at 20:24

4 Answers 4


No, we should not outlaw all interview questions in the FAQ

Career questions are allowed providing they apply to programmers specifically. This includes interview questions.

Mark Trapp phrased this well in his answer to another post about career questions:

First and foremost, any career advice questions need to relate directly to software development; general career advice questions with no relation to software development or where software development is a minor facet of the question are off-topic. A good way to test this is to ask the question, "Would the answer to the question be materially different if a non-programmer answered it?" If no, the question should be closed as off-topic.

In fact, our faq even contains an image to explain this:

enter image description here

In this particular case, evaluating a candidates ability to read code is not something that applies to "All Careers" or "Just You", so I don't see a problem with this question being on the site.

  • I think the problem here is not interview questions per se, but the tag, that offers a false sense of legitimacy to sub par questions, similarly to how [homework] used to. [interview] questions are widely varied, both quality and topicality wise. For example there are a lot of them that are actually design questions, and the tag serves nothing but to point out the (mostly useless) information that they were asked during an interview. Who cares, if the question is a good one?
    – yannis
    Commented Sep 5, 2012 at 6:19
  • @YannisRizos You know my opinion this. I think the tag wouldn't be such a problem if the site was named something that more accurately reflects the site's scope. An [interview] tag on a site named Programmers suggests a much broader context than an [interview] tag on a site called something like Software Development. One implies that interview question about programmers are on-topic, while the other implies interview questions about software development are :)
    – Rachel
    Commented Sep 7, 2012 at 15:45
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    Please lets not go there yet again. The tag is a problem with the current scope and name of the site, and that's the problem we are trying to solve, without having the option of changing either the scope (within this discussion) or the name (ever) of the site.
    – yannis
    Commented Sep 7, 2012 at 16:01

The only interview questions I can think of that are unique to our profession are actually technical / conceptual questions (thus on topic on SO / ProgSE) that just happened to be asked during an interview. The rest are either off topic by virtue of not being unique to software development, or very non constructive.

That said, I don't think we have a clear stance on interview questions, and the majority of them is open, we currently have 374 open ones and 108 closed ones. Almost 4 out of 5 are open, I think we really need to closely inspect the tag before completely denouncing an entire category of questions. A lot of them might just be mis-tagged [interview] when they are only tangentially related to the interview process, and obviously there might be others that slipped through the cracks and need to be closed. And there might be some that are truly about the process, and are absolutely on topic (although I doubt it).

Let's clean up the tag first, and worry about the FAQ later. Worth noting that cleaning up [interview] was first (?) mentioned more than a year ago.

  • While I agree with some of what you write, I disagree with your last paragraph. It seems far more efficient to fix the cause of the problem before cleaning it up, not afterwards. Otherwise you'll just get more questions by the time you get around to editing the faq, and people asking why their question was closed when it appears to be on-topic in the faq. I think you're just trying to convince more people to help cleanup tags with promises of things like "faq modifications" :p
    – Rachel
    Commented Aug 29, 2012 at 16:27
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    @Rachel No, I think going through the questions and cleaning them up is essential. We can all theorize about whether some interview questions belong or not, but unless we go and see what our existing questions are about, and if we want them or not, we won't have a clear idea of what the community wants.
    – yannis
    Commented Aug 29, 2012 at 17:23
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    @Rachel: You can do your part by voting to close new interview questions as they occur, and pointing people to this question by way of explanation. Listing every possible thing that is off-topic in the FAQ won't scale; your FAQ would be ten pages long. Common sense rules the day here; career advice is off-topic, and this includes interview questions of a general nature. Commented Aug 30, 2012 at 14:46

No, interview questions should not be banned via the FAQ. As long as they're properly redacted and fall within the topic they are as viable as any other questions.


As a corollary to the Interview questions, there is also the issue of the Homework question, which again is not specifically covered by the FAQs

Personally, I find some of the Interview questions, and even some of the Homework question threads quite interesting (and maybe even have learned from them) - and if (when?) I have something useful to add, I will do so.

But banning Interview (or Homework) questions out of hand would be a wrong move, IMHO

  • 2
    FYI We treat homework questions the same as with every other question, we expect them to show prior research and effort (and of course be about a software development problem). Do you disagree with that policy? Keep in mind that the site's target audience is professional programmers, and although we don't ask for credentials at the door, is it so bad to require some minimal effort from askers?
    – yannis
    Commented Sep 5, 2012 at 6:14
  • No, @Yannis, I don't agree with that policy. Any question has to be On Topic for the forum. I was disagreeing with the notion of banning Interview questions outright, and extending that to Homework.
    – Andrew
    Commented Sep 5, 2012 at 21:35
  • Yikes... :s/agree/disagree/ :(
    – Andrew
    Commented Sep 10, 2012 at 9:13
  • Hm, let me clarify: This question was about declaring interview questions off topic. The consensus seems to be against that proposal, and that's that. Banning homework questions wasn't part of the discussion. We have blacklisted the homework tag few months ago, because people used it in a less than ideal way (this is homework, I don't have to show any effort). It's perfectly ok to ask homework questions on Programmers, provided you show at least some minimal effort to solve your own problem, just as with every other question.
    – yannis
    Commented Oct 3, 2012 at 18:58
  • Hi @Yannis... I think we are in violent agreement here :)
    – Andrew
    Commented Oct 4, 2012 at 5:58

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