Uneven Playing Field: Examining Preparation for Technical Interviews in Computing and the Role of Cultural Experiences Conference

Lunn, SJ, Ross, MS, Hazari, Z et al. (2021). Uneven Playing Field: Examining Preparation for Technical Interviews in Computing and the Role of Cultural Experiences .

cited authors

  • Lunn, SJ; Ross, MS; Hazari, Z; Weiss, MA; Georgiopoulos, M; Christensen, K; Solis, T


  • While starting a career may be challenging in any field, in computing the process tends to be aggravated by requirements of digital portfolios and technical interviews that necessitate coding extemporaneously. During the programming components, candidates are expected to offer a solution, while also giving consideration to the choice of algorithm and its time complexity. Although intended to assess the competency of the job applicants, the process is often more akin to a professional examination. Applicants are encouraged to prepare months, or even years before they begin looking for a position, an expectation that neglects to consider the obligations and responsibilities students already have. Moreover, this presumption can result in an unequal divide between those who have the time to commit, and those who are unable to do so. To examine students' preparation for technical interviews and their own cultural experiences, we administered a survey at three metropolitan universities in Florida. Specifically, we utilized social cognitive career theory to examine: 1) Students' preparation practices for technical interviews; 2) The impact of cultural experiences on preparation time; and 3) The relationship between preparation and job attainment. To address these topics, we used descriptive statistics, Shapiro-Wilk tests, Wilcoxon rank-sum tests, and Kruskal-Wallis tests. We also applied the community cultural wealth model to interpret our results. We observed that, in our sample, White students began preparing earlier for technical interviews, spent more time preparing, and received more job offers than non-White students. Females also spent more hours preparing on average, and received more job offers than students that did not identify as female. However, female, Black/African American, and Hispanic/Latinx students were more likely to have cultural experiences that would impact their availability to prepare, including non-computing related jobs, caring for a family member, or ongoing health issues. While we do consider the support mechanisms students may leverage to overcome obstacles, in general, these results emphasize the larger issues in existing hiring structures, and demonstrate the importance of not treating students as a monolith. The findings from this work are intended to inform educators about how to better prepare students to succeed on technical interviews, and to encourage industry to reform the process to make it more equitable.

publication date

  • July 26, 2021