I recently waxed all didactic over at Slashdot about what you should and shouldn't do when hiring some schmoe programmer. I got a few replies, and a number mentioned something along the lines of where this guy was heading, though his is the most exaggerated example. In brief, they say that not everyone is free to bring home their code from work for copyright reasons or what-have-you, and therefore have nothing to show in an interview.

These replies have bothered me for two reasons. First and foremost, you're looking for someone who's passionate about programming. These people will have some crappy homebrew creation to bring in, pretty much no matter what. Oh, sure, I bet there are some brilliant programmers who leave their work at work and don't even have a PC at home ("Cable modem? Telephone? Shortwave is a real man's means of communcation..."), but I'll willingly discriminate against them for the time being.

My second concern, however, is that there are vocal people out there who won't even bother whipping something up for an interview. How badly can they really want the job? I mean, it's nothing at all to get excited about, but this app I wrote to help make player graphics for the Atari 2600 literally took a few hours over two nights' worth of spare time. It's nothing great, but it is sample code I wrote, and enough to get an interview started.

I'm saying this now because I've just been handed another applicant's code (the boss finally realizes my asking for examples of someone's code isn't a bad thing! Victory!) and it's way below what I'd expect to see. There are two example files, and in one the comments plainly state this person is just the last to have modified the file. This is a long way from being something that can help me figure out how good a coder they are. Other comments say horribly encouraging stuff along the lines of, "Cross your fingers and hope this works."

Look folk, at the very least, clean up your code before an interview. It's not that tough. If you can't bring anything home from work, write up some utility that's a means to an end, and make sure it's clean code without code commented out. Look at this example code the same way you look at a resume. Care about its presentation, not just that it compiles.

I guess I shouldn't complain. At least this person has told me that they are, more than likely, a "No Hire".