Is HackerRank useful? Understanding coding assessments

Coding challenges have become all the rage during developer interviews and have made sites like HackerRank extremely useful. 

Companies are using coding tasks as a way to screen out potential applicants who don’t meet their standards. They are a pretty controversial topic in the programming community because these challenges rarely transfer over into relevant developer skills. 

Overall, HackerRank is extremely useful for job applicants because it prepares you for the type of questions you will be asked during the technical stages of your interview. Most employers now use platforms like HackerRank to narrow down their candidate list so it allows you to get ahead. Getting familiar with it and practicing these tasks beforehand is crucial.

However, there is some controversy around the efficacy of these tests and whether they pick out the best developers. Or just the people that have memorized and practice certain problems enough times.

Let’s first take a look at what HackerRank is, then how HackerRank is useful and the different types of people that benefit from the platform.

What is HackerRank?

HackerRank is one of the leading technical assessment platforms for developers. All their questions are sorted by skill level and focus on key areas like data structures, algorithms, and language-specific questions. 

Companies use it to test potential candidates with coding challenges and technical interviews. Developers use it to prepare for potential interviews and upskill on new languages and learn things like data structure and algorithms. 

They also host coding contests where contestants compete to solve a specific problem and rank at the end of the event.

How is HackRank useful?

The reality is that if developers don’t know data structures and algorithms they may struggle to get a good job.

HackerRank and other sites like it have become extremely useful as they allow candidates to practice the type of questions they will be asked at a technical interview. 

In this article, we won’t discuss the validity of the tests as a barometer of technical prowess as that is still open for debate. We also won’t discuss whether you should focus on technical challenges or learning a language, as there are merits to both. 

Instead, let’s why HackerRank is useful for various aspects of programming and how you can take advantage of it. 

Interview Prep

HackerRank is most useful when preparing for job interviews. Companies like PayPal, Lyft, and DoorDash use the platform to administer tests. So, getting a feel for the platform beforehand will give you a major advantage.

Aside from knowing your way around, they have plenty of different skill-specific questions for you to answer. Plenty of candidates have even been asked the exact questions they have practiced on HackerRank.

Practicing the questions beforehand can help you look competent when the interview rolls around. Even if you can’t solve a specific question being able to demonstrate your logic is also a big plus.

They even have an interview preparation kit that has the most common types of questions alongside helpful videos to prepare mentally for the big day. 

Coding Practice 

Developers looking to brush up on specific skills also find HackerRank useful. They have skills like functional programming, databases, regex, and shell available to learn. As well as more language-specific tutorials for JavaScript, C++, Java, and Python. 

Some of the questions may not apply directly to your day-to-day. However, they all help you think logically and apply reason when tackling incredibly important issues.

HackerRank also has a wide range of problems which is good for broadening your skillset, often we can get stuck solving similar issues in our day jobs. For new developers, it allows you to put some of the theoretical knowledge learned in the classroom to the test against real-world practical questions.

Once you have picked up a new skill HackerRank offers certifications to prove to employers that you are competent in this area.

Different Tracks

There are a wide array of different tracks you can head down on HackerRank. These tracks are essentially different skills to practice. However, each skill is then broken down into subdomains to give you in-depth knowledge of each area.

They also have full-length tutorials that help you flesh out a specific skillset. These include 10 days of statistics, 10 Days of JavaScript, and learn to code in 30 days. 

It means that HackerRank is useful to a wide range of developers and doesn’t cater to one specific area. 

Verified Solutions 

Other platforms also offer up solutions to their coding challenges, for example, CodeWars does it via a voting mechanism.

The HackeRank solutions are useful because they come with detailed videos outlining how to get to the answer. The solutions are also verified so you know you are watching the best way to solve the problem.

It’s a good system and suits those who are just starting our or want to understand the “why” behind some solutions.

Cost

For people on a tight budget HackerRank is awesome because it’s free. Unlike many of its competitors, they don’t charge developers to use the platform. More difficult questions aren’t behind a paywall and you don’t have to take out a monthly subscription to view the answers. 

Instead, they make their money by charging companies to stage technical interviews and coding challenges on the site. The pricing model is based on how many candidates a company wants to field a month and what they need access to. 

Who would find HackerRank beneficial?

HackerRank can be useful for several reasons which we have discussed above. But now let’s look at the different groups of people who stand to benefit from using tools like HackerRank.

Employers

More than 2000 companies use Hackerank including Dropbox, TransferWise, Morgan Stanley, and VMWare. They have become the defacto testing platform for a lot of the tech industry. 

The tool allows companies to administer tests, complete interviews, review scores, and even provide feedback. HackerRank is useful to employers because it means they don’t have to create their own bespoke solution to test the mettle of their potential employees. 

Companies can focus on what type of skills they want developers to demonstrate, rather than having to create their own testing solution.

Job Applicants 

People applying for jobs stand the most to gain from HackerRank. It allows them to center their efforts around what they will be tested on during the interview. Rather than having to worry about what technology to learn next.

There is an enormous library of relevant questions but you will be answering them on the same platform as in your interview. The familiarity can help you relax at crunchtime and help you demonstrate the best you have to offer. 

Companies have now even started hiring directly from HackerRank coding competitions. It means if you do well at one of their competitions a big tech company could come in ann swoop you up. Applicants can also select the specific companies they want to hear from and hide from their existing employer. 

HackeRank also has a jobs board where many of the top tech companies in the world post openings. It’s fast becoming a one-stop-shop for people looking to find a new job.

But make sure to diversify your sources of learning when applying for jobs. HankerRank is a useful tool but doesn’t limit yourself to one platform. 

Developers

Developers looking to improve their coding ability make up a large percentage of the userbase on HackerRank. More than 11 million developers use HackerRank to practice solving problems and improve their coding ability. 

Regardless of whether you are a beginner or a team lead, there are likely some problems you haven’t come across before on HackerRank. 


They may not help you with your day-to-day tasks but they can help sharpen your analytical thinking. Exposure to different types of problems is eventually going to have some crossover when you stumble upon a relevant real-world issue.

However, it shouldn’t be your go-to resource if you are just picking up the basis of a language or are looking to build a particular project.

Is HackerRank useful for learning to program?

HackerRank is a great platform for interview-style algorithmic challenges and will help you think more logically. 

However, HackerRank is not useful when it comes to learning to program. Having a good score on HackerRank doesn’t mean you are a fantastic software engineer. 

Building out a product from scratch does not require the same skillset as solving coding challenges. It doesn’t provide you with the ability to weigh up different approaches, evaluate a variety of technologies, or create something. 

Learning to code should be done via a multitude of resources. From online courses and YouTube videos to books and paired programming. You may pick up some syntax on HackerRank but it isn’t going to teach you to put together a Twitter clone. 

There are beginner questions on HackerRank but the expectation is that you know how to code. The platform is beginner-friendly but not for people who can’t write a line of code.

Get to grips with a programming language first, then head over to HackerRank. Otherwise, none of it will make sense and you are essentially wasting your time. 

Learn by building

The absolute best way to learn to use a new programming language is to build projects with it. Ideally, build projects around things you are interested in or solve small issues you face daily.

When you start out learning JavaScript to become a developer can be stressful and demotivating. By building projects you stay engaged and have an end goal to focus on. 

In contrast, writing algorithms on coding challenge websites is likely to frustrate and demotivate you. 

You won’t know enough to understand what you don’t know yet. So you can go round in circles. 

Use HackerRank to land a job

Once you have got a few projects under your belt and got a portfolio set up, then head over to HackerRank. By this point, you’ll have enough technical experience to discuss your projects in your interviews. 

What you need now is to focus on the technical aspects of the interview. These can come in the form of technical tasks which you are sent away to do. Or more commonly questions on a coding assessment platform. 

Most jobs will rarely require you to fix a problem in the same way as you do on LeetCode or HackerRank. They just don’t match the reality of problem-solving on the job. However, you will definitely be asked these types of questions in the majority of programming roles.

If someone competing for a role knows more about answering algorithm questions they are likely to stand out in the technical stages. Top FAANG companies expect candidates to be able to nail these types of questions, so a solid technical interview will go some way to landing you the job you want. 

There is a shift in the industry to more open-ended interviews but the reality of the job means you are always going to be tested on your technical ability. 

Alternatives to HackerRank


If you are looking for alternatives to HackerRank, I’d recommend the resources below. It is always good to vary up your learning sources. By using different coding challenge sites you can get exposed to a wider array of questions. 

  • Full Stack Cafe – Fantastic choice for a wide range of coding languages, They have hundreds of problems to solve as well as language-specific questions you might be asked in an interview.
  • AlgoExpert – Their hand-picked questions with solutions in nine languages have enough to keep even the most experienced developers going. The data-structures crash course is also a big bonus.
  • Code Chef  – Awesome program that will help you nail algorithms with a focus on interview prep. They even having coding competitions with big prize giveaways.

Conclusion

Hackerank is an incredibly useful tool for those preparing to interview at a tech company or brush up on their algorithmic abilities. The questions help you think logically and get you in a problem-solving mindset. 

However, when learning to code I’d avoid HackerRank. The questions are difficult for complete newbies and are likely to demotivate you. You should first focus on nailing the basics and then go on to worry about data structures and algorithms. 

Resources