If you’re reading this, you’re likely thinking of applying to join Springboard’s Software Engineering Career Track, or maybe you’re just curious how a programming challenge works.

For many of you, this might be the first time in your life that you do something like this — a programming challenge or technical skills survey that assesses your current programming skills. In order to become a professional software engineer, you’re likely to encounter this situation. 

Tips to prepare for programming challenges and technical skills surveys:

  1. Familiarize yourself with the testing platform
  2. Practice common programming challenges
  3. Understand the basic syntax of the programming language
  4. Stay calm and focus on the challenge 

First, be aware of the testing platform. A lot of different platforms are used, but HackerRank is standard, and it’s the one Springboard uses for vetting candidates through the Software Engineering Career Track. Get used to doing programming challenges with its console. I recommend that you try a few easy to medium-level programming challenges to get a sense of how they work. The more familiar you are with your test environment, the better your results will be, and the faster you will get to the actual code rather than being stuck within the environment itself. 

Second, practice with common programming challenges and interview questions, and think through different algorithms and approaches. Here are a few common programming algorithms and problems that you might encounter in a programming interview or challenge:

  1. FizzBuzz challenges: As the article linked explains, a frequent programming challenge that interviewers will ask people to do is to print out a series of numbers that fit the FizzBuzz game used to teach children division rules. The critical thing to consider here is that most programmers and developers will get to a solution eventually, but it’ll take them a lot of time. It’s best to practice with time and environmental constraints.
  2. Array questions: A lot of programming challenges revolve around your understanding of foundational data structures and how they can be manipulated. Dive into this set of questions to confront algorithm questions around arrays (lists of variables) and show you know how to manipulate lists and create new ones, or how to slice them for particular bits of information. Array questions — from reversing an array, sorting it or trying to find an element in an array — tend to be questions hiring managers ask to test your knowledge of loops and data manipulation. Expect to see quite a few of those questions in any programming challenge. 
  3. General programming and data structure problems: Use this list of questions to practice a variety of programming challenge problems that often show up in interviews, from linked lists to working with strings. This is a bit more advanced than is required for a skills survey like Springboard’s, but it can be good practice for coding interviews in general — and you can always scale down your practice to skills surveys (it never hurts to work with something more advanced to get the basics down). 

Third, if you’re not familiar with the programming language that’s being tested, look up the basics of the syntax, and play around with it for a bit so that you know the basics.

The Springboard technical survey will test your knowledge of JavaScript ,for example. You can practice in HackerRank’s environment with their 10 Days of JavaScript challenge which will help you build your muscle towards a medium-level JavaScript programming challenge on the platform. You’ll run from everything from basic console.log commands to print things, all the way to defining complex functions in JavaScript. Make sure you have a handle on the technology before you are tested on it. 

The 10 Days of JavaScript resource might actually be the best to put your skills into practice, as opposed to the more theory-based questions above, and it can be a good resource to help you warm up with a platform like HackerRank. 

When you’re taking a programming challenge or a technical skills survey like the one Springboard administers , it’s also important to remember the following tips so you can optimize your chances of  passing:

  1. Make sure you can dedicate your full focus to the programming challenge or skills survey. Choose a time slot where you will have minimal distractions.
  2. Settle into the best setup for you to do focused and productive,, and start the challenge when you feel most ready.
  3. Don’t get nervous — work through the problems that come up methodically and use the skills you’ve practiced. 

With enough practice and the right mentality, you’ll ace anything that comes your way — including the skills survey for Springboard’s Software Engineering Career Track