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Facebook Programming

Gnarly Programming Challenges Help Recruit Coders 177

Hugh Pickens writes "George Anders writes that companies like Facebook are finding that old-fashioned hiring channels aren't paying off fast enough and are publishing gnarly programming challenges and inviting engineers anywhere to solve them. 'We developed this theory that occasionally there were these brilliant people out there who hadn't found their way to Silicon Valley,' says Facebook engineer Yishan Wong who volunteered to draft puzzles so hard that he couldn't solve them. The problems aren't the superficial brainteasers that some companies use, like estimating the number of basketballs sold every year or why are manhole covers round, but developing sophisticated algorithms — like ways of automatically seating a clique of people in a movie theater, given that best friends want to be side by side and rivals need to be far apart. David Eisenstat has compiled an unofficial guide to the Facebook Engineering Puzzles. Our favorite: 'Liar, Lair,' seems particularly applicable to slashdot: 'As a newbie on a particular internet discussion board, you notice a distinct trend among its veteran members; everyone seems to be either unfailingly honest or compulsively deceptive,' says the description of the problem. 'You must write a program to determine, given all the information you've collected from the discussion board members, which members have the same attitude toward telling the truth.'"
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Gnarly Programming Challenges Help Recruit Coders

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  • No, not "gnarly" (Score:4, Informative)

    by Animats ( 122034 ) on Thursday October 20, 2011 @06:40PM (#37784642) Homepage

    Actually, you want programmers who are good at design and reliably competent, but not overly clever, at code. "Cute" code is very '70s.

    Incidentally, the "why are manhole covers round", which appeared on the 1971 Comprehensive Examination in Computer Science at Stanford and was widely copied from there, is almost always misunderstood. While it's nice to have a lid you can't drop through the hole, that's not the reason. Many modern covers are rectangular. [] It's because manhole covers and their matching rings are 19th century technology, from the day when casting, planing, drilling, and turning were the main metalworking operations. Those limit the shapes you can make cheaply. Look at a steam locomotive built prior to 1920. Every machined surface is circular or flat. Manhole covers were made by casting with a single clamping on a lathe to clean up the outside edge. Similarly, the matching rings were cast and got a quick trim on a lathe to true them up. This gives you a matched pair that won't rattle or clang.

    Cleaning up an inside rectangular edge requires a milling machine, which was an exotic precision device until about 1930 or so.

    So that's why manhole covers are round. Low manufacturing cost.

  • Re:(facepalm time) (Score:5, Informative)

    by ywong137 ( 2490226 ) on Friday October 21, 2011 @12:21AM (#37787554)
    Hi, I'm Yishan Wong. First, has anyone else here ever been quoted in a book or online publication and had it end up making you look like a douche when that's not at all what you meant? Especially when you spent like hours talking to your interviewer and they paraphrase it down into words you didn't actually say? Well, please don't hate until it's happened to you. Secondly, I should obviously clarify. The quote makes it sound like we were thinking, "By Jove, what if it's possible that there's intelligent life outside of Silicon Valley!" That's not what we were thinking! C'mon! Rather, the situation is more like this: it's pretty obvious that there are great engineers everywhere. The problem is, if you're a startup in the Valley, your recruiters don't go looking outside the Valley for you. It's just this insular thing where everyone is trying to recruit (poach) from everyone else. It becomes a zero-sum game of talent competition for a limited pool. We were this tiny startup that no one took seriously so we couldn't compete against the other players in the Valley (e.g. Google, who was crushing everyone else at the time at recruiting). So instead, we're like, "Okay, we should figure out a way to get all the talented people *outside* the Valley to join us, because we can't win the in-Valley echo-chamber local recruiting game." The problem is, as I noted above, recruiters aren't really going to work very hard trying to find some random guy in Portland, Maine, they just try to hand you resumes of local people at other Silicon Valley companies (especially the kinda-crappy contingency recruiters we were working with back then - we were small, we didn't have uber-headhunters with a global reach or anything). So we needed a way to reach these "brilliant people" "languishing in ordinary tech jobs who hadn't made it to Silicon Valley." The recruiters don't even know to look there. If you're brilliant and you're in the Valley, the recruiting machine is so strong that you'll inevitably get swept up into some company or other. But if you're in some podunk town and you're brilliant, that's not likely to happen. You just get a regular tech job where you end up being unusually productive. No recruiter is going to come looking for you, because recruiters look for big-name experience keywords (e.g. "did he work at Microsoft/Google/Apple" etc) or sexy technology keywords on your resume. If you're brilliant but in an ordinary tech job, you might have not have the Hadoop keyword on your resume (you might not have an online resume at all because hey, you have a fucking job already) because your crappy ISP job doesn't need to crunch terabytes of data. But you're still smart enough to do it. I know this because I'm from Minnesota, and before I happened to move to Silicon Valley because a girl I liked said that I should, I worked at an ordinary tech job just like Evan Priestley (the guy they mention in the article), where I was just an unusually productive guy. So we needed to find people like that, because the current system wasn't doing it, even though it was obvious to all of us from the Midwest or wherever that smart people are hidden in little pockets everywhere. So yeah, we "developed this theory that occasionally there were these brilliant people out there who hadn't found their way to Silicon Valley." Unfortunately I guess it came out sounding like the opposite of what we meant. :-/ ---- PS: if you're reading this while procrastinating your crappy job at a small-time firm where all your work is too easy for you and you're like the smartest guy there, you're basically who I'm talking about. ;-)

"I prefer the blunted cudgels of the followers of the Serpent God." -- Sean Doran the Younger