How companies are resisting

As coding tests are increasingly used to validate a developer’s skills during the hiring process, the issue of cheating and code plagiarism is gaining more and more attention. Meanwhile, recruiting companies and human resource departments are under increasing pressure to fill open developer positions as they struggle to keep up with business demands.

The shift to remote workforces and remote hiring practices, spurred in large measure by the pandemic, has also increased the potential for cheating and code plagiarism among potential hires. Vivek Ravisankar, co-founder and CEO of HackerRank, said his company saw a 37% increase in plagiarism attempts compared to pre-COVID plagiarism activity.

However, there are several ways hiring managers can get ahead of plagiarism. One way is to administer a coding challenge that does not have just one correct answer, but instead allows multiple solutions.

“By doing so, you reduce the chance of getting a copied answer, but more so, you also get a more complex view of how the candidate thinks about problem solving, and even what programming techniques they might use. to do so,” Ravisankar said. “Another good rule of thumb is to look for intangible skills, like code quality, when reviewing code.”

On the technology front, companies can use machine learning (ML)-powered plagiarism detection tools that are built around specific inputs and candidate behaviors. “In our own assessments, for example, our plagiarism detection was able to reduce false positives by 60% without any negative impact on the number of true positives detected,” Ravisankar added.

Besides code similarity, which is an input, Ravisankar said his company’s tools also look at other behavioral cues, like how long it takes a candidate to reach a good solution, various activities during the evaluation, etc.

A complicated problem

HireVue senior vice president of product, Ricky Simmons, pointed out that plagiarism in job reviews is a complicated problem. For starters, it’s common for developers to look for existing code solutions as part of building software. But where is the line between research and plagiarism?

“It’s common practice for a software developer to use other people’s solutions readily available online when looking at a problem,” he said. “This reduces development time and increases reliability because solutions don’t need to be developed from scratch.”

He said the first non-technical way to discourage plagiarism is to level with candidates on your expectations. “What is considered plagiarism and what is considered effective use of existing code? ” he said. “Determine it and share it early in your hiring process.”

Once you’ve established expectations, the best way to discourage plagiarism is to use a technical assessment solution: HireVue offers such a product, called CodeVue, which uses measurement of software similarity (MOSS) to flag probable plagiarists.

“This, combined with a digestible timeline of a candidate’s activity within the assessment, helps paint a more complete picture,” he said. “This timeline will show when the code was pasted into the solution and allow the human reviewer to judge whether it meets expectations or is potentially plagiarism of someone else’s work.”

Finally, to avoid plagiarism and make the best hire, Simmons recommends that all assessments should always be tracked, with the assessor asking the candidate to explain their solution and how they got there: “You can also follow up during interviews follow-up with a discussion of the applicant’s responses and deepen their portfolio of projects.


Another method to uncover plagiarized code is to equip your hiring teams with a basic understanding of plagiarism patterns. Typically, this pattern usually looks like this:

  • The contestant does nothing at first (idle; read challenge details).
  • Browser focus disappears for a while (searching for an answer).
  • The candidate pastes a large amount of code.
  • The candidate quickly passes the tests without modifying the code.

“With the ever-increasing demand for technical skills, there will unfortunately be more opportunities for cheating by people willing to exploit desperation to hire,” Simmons said.

Elli Ferguson, a database administrator at a major bank with more than two decades of coding experience, also noted that there are only so many ways to write a specific line of code. “Some things I’ve seen is that hiring managers will try to ask for a coding example that’s too specific in order to limit the scope and size of the job,” she said. “But if you make it too specific, then there’s only one way to write it. How is someone not going to write it like everyone else wrote it?

She adds another problematic tendency among recruiters: plagiarizing the questions they ask developers: “They will take their questions from a stock exchange site, but they expect a single answer, but they must have an answer that corresponds to the question they plagiarized”. themselves.”

Ferguson said another way to spot plagiarized code is to look at comments, which are not executable parts of code and have their own characteristics.

“You can tell by code based on my comments, and I can recognize someone else by lines of code, especially if they commented on it,” she said. “So some hiring managers may actually be missing the key to determining whether or not this code was plagiarized.”

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