I had essentially no coding experience when I started my present job. I was able to truthfully say on my resume that I had years of exposure to several languages, but I really did not know anything about actually coding in any of them. Something that has struck me, both about myself as I gain experience and about other, far more experienced coders, is that coders tend to accumulate a bunch of source code that they then bring with them from place to place. This lets them develop things similar to those they have seen before far more rapidly. From a hiring perspective, it serves as a portfolio. This guy that came to work on my team had an enormous library of carefully tuned C, reimplementing essentially the whole of libc, because he thought windows libc was bloated and slow. We hired him on the basis of his interview, but had we seen his library, we probably would have just lashed him to a desk and had him start immediately.

Whenever I am involved in any programmer hiring decisions, I will always ask for a portfolio. Lots of people won't have it, and that will say a lot about them-namely, that it is likely they did not write anything worth carrying with them. I will also ask what they hack for fun. If the answer is "nothing", the liklihood that they are a workaday programmer or a larval manager is very high.

Speaking of managers, there is a corollary for them. Managers accumulate people as they work. The quality of those people will say a lot about them.