A prospective supervisor is interested in me, and has asked me for programming interview. As I have been told, his research group does a lot of system programming, and he is seeking a good programmer.

I have no industry experience in programming, though I have programmed for assignments, projects, and a Master's thesis. I know that, as a computer scientist, it is essential to have good programming skills. I tried to search for some tips about programming interviews for prospective PhDs, but could not find anything.

Does it differ from industrial interview? Did anyone have similar experience? Any references or tips?

  • This is the first time I've heard of this. By "academic" do you imply that you have never programmed before but have only discussed topics, or do you mean that you have only programmed the petty assignments that come with a Bachelor's program? Commented May 23, 2014 at 13:04
  • @JonathanLandrum I have programmed my assignments, projects and master thesis implementation. I even taught programming in lab as a tutor. But all this is incomparable to industrial programmers who spend 8 hours daily dedicated for programming.
    – Hawk
    Commented May 23, 2014 at 13:06
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    In that case you should be fine. I don't know what country you will be attending school in, but in the US where I am from, it is not uncommon for PhD students to only have a Bachelor's level of programming ability. But even in Europe, with a Master's degree, you are on par with everyone else. Commented May 23, 2014 at 13:09
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    I think you have much too high an opinion of "industrial programmers who spend 8 hours daily dedicated for programming". Some of these people are excellent programmers, and some of them are not. Commented May 24, 2014 at 18:43
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    Thanks for sharing, but it would be better if you formulate your edit as an answer, so that it can be upvoted (and also accepted by you).
    – xLeitix
    Commented May 26, 2014 at 11:26

1 Answer 1


I had the interview yesterday. I would like to share the experience as it might be useful for anybody who might go through similar kind of interviews in the future.

The interview was via Skype with an outsourced software engineer (not the prospective supervisor), and we used shared .doc file to solve two programming problems about strings. By the way, most of programming interviews I had (mostly industrial and this academic one) pretty much involve strings manipulation and sometimes data structure.

The interview lasted for an hour whereby I was given 20 minutes to solve each problem and 10 minutes to discuss. The general impression was positive. The concept was always known, yet I needed some practicing to make my code works. I was given the choice to choose the programming language I like to write in.

I would say, bachelor level of programming is enough. You will just need to revise and practice a little bit your information. You might need to focus on the logic you follow more than the small details that differ from language to another.


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