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Programmers Are Confessing Their Coding Sins To Protest a Broken Job Interview Process (theoutline.com) 1001

A number of programmers have taken it Twitter to bring it to everyone's, but particularly recruiter's, attention about the grueling interview process in their field that relies heavily on technical questions. David Heinemeier Hansson, a well-known programmer and the creator of the popular Ruby on Rails coding framework, started it when he tweeted, "Hello, my name is David. I would fail to write bubble sort on a whiteboard. I look code up on the internet all the time. I don't do riddles." Another coder added, "Hello, my name is Tim. I'm a lead at Google with over 30 years coding experience and I need to look up how to get length of a python string." Another coder chimed in, "Hello my name is Mike, I'm a GDE and lead at NY Times, I don't know what np complete means. Should I?" A feature story on The Outline adds: This interview style, widely used by major tech companies including Google and Amazon, typically pits candidates against a whiteboard without access to reference material -- a scenario working programmers say is demoralizing and an unrealistic test of actual ability. People spend weeks preparing for this process, afraid that the interviewer will quiz them on the one obscure algorithm they haven't studied. "A cottage industry has emerged that reminds us uncomfortably of SAT prep," Karla Monterroso, VP of programs for Code2040, an organization for black and Latino techies, wrote in a critique of the whiteboard interview. [...] This means companies tend to favor recent computer science grads from top-tier schools who have had time to cram; in other words, it doesn't help diversify the field with women, older people, and people of color.
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Programmers Are Confessing Their Coding Sins To Protest a Broken Job Interview Process

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  • by John Smith ( 4340437 ) on Wednesday March 01, 2017 @12:47PM (#53954195)
    Would be a trial (as in free trial). Throw a fairly standard problem at them, but not one with a simple, common place implementation. Drop them at a computer with internet access, give them a couple hours, and see what they have at the end of it. It's not perfect, but it's probably a better way to evaluate skills.
    • by Calydor ( 739835 ) on Wednesday March 01, 2017 @12:51PM (#53954229)

      And obviously watch HOW they get to their solution, ie. not by connecting to a chatroom where they have a bunch of friends waiting to help out. Looking up snippets, checking parameters and syntax etc. would obviously be fine, that's what you'll be doing in daily work anyway.

      • by JoeMerchant ( 803320 ) on Wednesday March 01, 2017 @01:10PM (#53954417)

        If the "friends" are always available and willing to help, then I don't care - use them, get paid.

        There's an incredible resource of programming advice available through Google and the various help boards - being able to effectively leverage that resource is a skill far beyond the value of solving obscure statistical riddles about colored marbles in jars.

        • by alvinrod ( 889928 ) on Wednesday March 01, 2017 @01:41PM (#53954789)
          If you're basing hiring on whether or not someone gets the correct answer to a statistics problem, you're probably hiring wrong. Instead, if you're using it to evaluate how a person approaches solving a problem, what steps they take, how they go about verifying if their solution is correct, what questions they ask about the problem, etc. then the problem itself really doesn't matter. In fact, it would be better to give them something impossible just so you get the added kicker of seeing how they react to that because management will sure as shit ask for impossible things from time to time.

          Hell, you could even give them a computer to see how they search for information. If I'm really stuck on something, after five minutes I start searching online as a rule because occasionally the solution requires some obscure piece of information only found in the errata or there's a bug that hasn't been patched yet and there's no point banging my head against the wall if someone else has already done that. Someone who has good Google-fu and can quickly find the information they need may well be more valuable than someone who could eventually work through the problem on their own, but only after spending 3 hours on what could have been solved in 3 seconds.

          I'd be a little leery of someone who always needs friends, because if they aren't available they might make new friends at work and then you've got someone who's eating up other developers time and hurting their productivity. However, interview processes shouldn't be about knowing answers to esoteric or eclectic problems, but rather making sure the individual has a healthy approach to solving problems, because that's what you're paying them to do. If the code is really boiler plate, you can probably just get a machine to generate it.
      • by infolation ( 840436 ) on Wednesday March 01, 2017 @01:16PM (#53954493)
        USA Airport Immigration has recently started putting programming questions to travellers who claim to be software engineers. In one case they asked the traveller Python questions. [news.com.au]

        (Not to be confused with the Monty Python questions [theguardian.com] the UK immigration authorities ask.)
      • "Hmm, he spent an hour and 55 minutes on Faceplace, then googled for the solution, and this result is apparently cut and pasted from stackoverflow. Well, I guess he's no worse than anyone else we've hired."
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Would be a trial (as in free trial). Throw a fairly standard problem at them, but not one with a simple, common place implementation. Drop them at a computer with internet access, give them a couple hours, and see what they have at the end of it.

      It's not perfect, but it's probably a better way to evaluate skills.

      We give potential applicants a take home programming problem and ask them to send us the result a couple of days later. We then quiz them on their work to make sure they did not get someone else to do it.

    • by JoeMerchant ( 803320 ) on Wednesday March 01, 2017 @01:07PM (#53954377)

      I've seen interviewers (one "remote work" from the Philippines comes to mind in particular) use this technique to get free work: dangle a job offer, present a thorny, nigh intractable, problem as the "interview process," get applicants to submit various solution approaches and even complete solutions - choose the best, use it yourself - never hire anyone.

    • by beelsebob ( 529313 ) on Wednesday March 01, 2017 @01:10PM (#53954419)

      Honestly, I see all of the complaints above as whines by people who don't understand what a whiteboard interview is.

      * If I ask you to write a sorting algorithm on a white board, I am not asking you to by rote copy out a bubble sort - in fact, if you do it by rote, I'm likely to go "oh, well that was uninformative, he didn't solve any problems, he just copied something out" (and that's why I'm unlikely to ask you to sort things, but instead, something more obscure)
      * If you "don't do riddles" then I actively don't want to hire you - the entire purpose of a software engineer (i.e. not a flunky programmer) is to do riddles, all day, every day. If you don't want to do that, you don't want to do the job I'm interviewing you for.
      * If you need to look up how to find the length of a string in python, I don't give any shits. I don't care if you write x.length(), x.size(), x.count, length(x), I'm asking for you to solve a problem, not get the code in the exact shape it'll compile in.
      * If you don't know what NP complete means, I don't care. Of course I'm going to probe a bit into whether you can analyse the performance of your code - that's absolutely part of the job, and something I need to know you can do. But not knowing what one term means is not going to not get you hired.

      Long story short - don't assume that everything in a whiteboard interview should be taken literally. I don't want to find out if you can write exact algorithm x perfectly so that it will compile. I want to know if you can solve a problem, and can talk rationally about your solution, its trade offs, its performance, etc.

      • by jordanjay29 ( 1298951 ) on Wednesday March 01, 2017 @01:23PM (#53954563)
        So make the expectations clear. Isn't that what you would do for an employee on a daily basis? Stacking the deck against the candidate by asking an academic-style question and not expecting an academic-style answer is a poor method for getting a good result. Just be open in the interview by stating up front that you're not looking for A-grade answers or code that necessarily compiles perfectly, but conceptual understanding and to see a candidate's coding process.

        Maybe you already do that, but hopefully others who don't will start so the interview process can become a more useful measure.
        • Maybe I've been lucky. I've never ever ever been to one of these white board coding interviews where someone has not made it clear that what they're after is seeing how you work, not perfect code written on a whiteboard.

        • This is what we do in engineering interviews, flat out say that we are more interested in the thought process than the correct answer.

          We have a standard question of drawing a schematic for a linear AC/DC conversion. The last person we employed was also the only one who got the answer wrong. It was a trivial mistake in drawing, but his self checking of the answer is diverting no other candidate attempted.

      • by markus ( 2264 ) on Wednesday March 01, 2017 @01:47PM (#53954841) Homepage

        I would vote you up, if I had moderator points today.

        I am in full agreement. Whiteboard tests are very informative and they often are the easiest part of any interview. I usually ask candidates a problem that they can demonstrate with pencil-and-paper or with everyday objects. Yes, this could be a sorting problem, or it could be a simplified subset of long-hand multiplication, or it could be a resource pooling problem, ... . It's things that they intuitively understand how to do in the real world, and I want to see if they can transfer this simple task to something that remotely looks like working code. If they remember the basic tools and concepts of what they learned in their first semester, that certainly helps (and I am worried, if they don't remember that much), but I agree with you that rote memorization doesn't give me any useful insights. And yes, I fully expect that this is a dialog and I'll have to keep dropping hints and answer questions as we go. That's actually another thing I test for. Asking for help is good.

        Same as you, I don't care about correct use of the API or of the language's syntax. Heck, I have accepted pseudo code, and I have accepted code where somebody wrote C and Java simultaneously -- with a little bit of Ruby sprinkled in for good measure.

        I do expect though that candidates have a solid sense of the scale of their problem. They have to be able to explain how many resources they need and how performance goes up when there are millions, billions or even more data sets or users. This might not be needed for every job opening, but in this day and age it is needed for many -- including the ones that I do interviews for. In other words, I expect a high-level understanding of algorithms, of CS theory (e.g. big-O behavior), and of fundamental engineering concepts (e.g. estimate latency of operations, estimate caching performance, ...).

        These are things we actually need for a candidate to be successful in their work. And there are literally thousands of candidates applying for each job. It only makes sense to sort through them and find the candidates who can do the work.

      • by lgw ( 121541 ) on Wednesday March 01, 2017 @02:28PM (#53955317) Journal

        you "don't do riddles" then I actively don't want to hire you

        There was a famous case at Microsoft about the time they stopped doing stupid puzzles. The interviewer asked some stupid puzzle about perfectly rational pirates diving treasure. The interviewee took out his phone, call his 10-year old son, who solved the puzzle on speakerphone, then walked out of the interview.

        You may have enjoyed such puzzles as a kid yourself. Grow out of that in a professional setting. Ask something job-related. Surely you've had an interesting problem ever at your job - ask the candidate how they'd solve it.

        Same for coding problems - ground your coding problem in a scenario that might ever come up at work, and be open to outside-the-box solutions to the real-world problem that dodge the specific coding problem you had in mind.

      • by doom ( 14564 ) <doom@kzsu.stanford.edu> on Wednesday March 01, 2017 @02:46PM (#53955533) Homepage Journal

        Long story short - don't assume that everything in a whiteboard interview should be taken literally.

        But this is the old "we don't necessarily expect you to know the answer, we just want to see your mental processes as you attack the problem"-- and that's complete garbage. If the interviewer is asking you trivia that they've got memorized, they're not going to be impressed at you flailing around trying to work it out from scratch.

        Myself, I've started refusing to try to answer questions like that-- this won't get me hired, either, but I feel better for not making a fool of myself for the interviewer's amusement.

      • Arrogant prick, meet arrogant bitch. When you write "the entire purpose of a software engineer (i.e. not a flunky programmer) is to do riddles, all day, every day", you contradict yourself - you've just defined a flunky programmer.

        It's bullsh*t like this that makes me glad I no longer have to deal with asshole bosses who don't know shit, and don't know they don't know shit.

        Think of it - before the Internet, people didn't do "cut-n-paste coding". You actually had to have large quantities of code between yo

      • by ET3D ( 1169851 ) on Wednesday March 01, 2017 @04:34PM (#53956807)

        I've been working in software development for about 30 years, and I've never solved a single riddle. I'd bet that 99.99999% (and I'm being generous) of all software developers have never solved a single riddle as part of their work. I solved a lot of problems, developed algorithms, designed, analysed and optimised systems, but never encountered riddles.

        Riddles are questions with simple answers which are deliberately obscure. They are rarely encountered in constructing something that requires rigorous thought and creativity, which is what software development is.

    • by Qzukk ( 229616 )

      That was my very first job interview out of college. They sat me down with emacs and a screen recorder and asked me to write, compile and test several basic programs while they were talking to the next prospect. Very relaxed process, I liked it, but they decided I wasn't a good fit for the job .

      My next job interview was with a company that asked me to implement a binary tree class. There was no whiteboard, no computer, no paper. I had to recite to them verbally the class with methods for adding, removing

    • Indeed, out of ~10 companies I interviewed last year (among FitBits, SkyCatch and other) - there was only one that did "open laptop" interview: LeapMotion.

      They asked if I use Windows or Mac or Linux, than offered a laptop with opposite to my answer. They gave me a task opposite to my day experience (using different build system) than asked to create a shareable library project. I could use whatever I want - rip the code out of GitHub, use google etc. 10min later after I solved it they were happy and I was t

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 01, 2017 @12:49PM (#53954215)

    I have interviewed many people and I don't believe in trick questions. Programmers are not supposed to memorize every algorithm. They should understand how to attack and solve a problem. I was always more interested in their thought process rather than if they get the right answer. How they look at the problem is more important

    • by glenebob ( 414078 ) on Wednesday March 01, 2017 @12:58PM (#53954307)

      Isn't bubble sort a trick question?

      "Please implement bubble sort."
      "No. That would be stupid."
      "Good answer."

      • by CaptainDork ( 3678879 ) on Wednesday March 01, 2017 @01:09PM (#53954393)

        Mod +1, Insightful

      • by SharpFang ( 651121 ) on Wednesday March 01, 2017 @01:17PM (#53954505) Homepage Journal

        No, BubbleSort has perfectly valid application!

        if (x.length() < 4)
        {
              if(x[0]>x[1]) swap(x[0],x[1]);
              if(x[1]>x[2]) swap(x[1],x[2]);
              if(x[0]>x[1]) swap(x[0],x[1]);
        }
        else throw( wrongSortAlgorithmChoiceException );

        (yep, BubbleSort is about the fastest sort algorithm for tiny sets of data.)

        • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 01, 2017 @01:25PM (#53954589)

          Bubble sort is also good for almost sorted datasets (pretty much n in this case). It's used for very fast broad phase collision detection where overlaps are detected during swaps. Since the sort happens every timestep, the endpoints stay pretty much sorted and the broad phase collection detection runs in near n time.

          • by markus ( 2264 ) on Wednesday March 01, 2017 @01:59PM (#53954977) Homepage

            I am not sure why you got downvoted.

            You are absolutely correct. There are cases where bubble sort is entirely applicable and in fact preferable. I don't require a candidate to have memorized the exact implementation of bubble sort (why would they; that is in fact something you can look up). But if a candidate can meaningfully discuss performance characteristics and explain why a certain algorithm would do better or worse in a specific situation, then that's exactly what I am looking for.

            It demonstrates a better understanding of how computers actually work. For some tasks, it is perfectly acceptable to treat a computer as a black box and to fully rely on very abstract high-level APIs. And there are in fact advantages to this approach. But there are plenty of problems where this results in horrible scalability problems that can never be fixed afterwards. And in this day and age, we need to know how to scale to millions or hundreds of millions of users. A software engineer who doesn't understand these concepts is not a good fit for the openings that I am looking to fill.

          • by lgw ( 121541 ) on Wednesday March 01, 2017 @02:30PM (#53955343) Journal

            Bubble sort is also good for almost sorted datasets (pretty much n in this case). It's used for very fast broad phase collision detection where overlaps are detected during swaps. Since the sort happens every timestep, the endpoints stay pretty much sorted and the broad phase collection detection runs in near n time.

            This. I've used bubble sort before professionally. Need a hand-coded-in-assembly sort for a small, nearly-sorted data set? Bubble sort is the answer. You're trying to solve the problem at hand, not show off.

    • by gosand ( 234100 )

      Trick questions are great - not to get a right answer, but to just see how they answer the question.
      I have interviewed many people in my career as a manager, from developers to QA to project managers.

      One thing I always try to do is gauge their responses. I ask candidates to tell me about a time they failed, that they really screwed up.
      It is surprising how many people give some non-answer because they think you want to hear that they don't screw up. I love when people tell me a really good one, all the bet

  • SubjectsSuck (Score:5, Insightful)

    by aardvarkjoe ( 156801 ) on Wednesday March 01, 2017 @12:53PM (#53954253)

    in other words, it doesn't help diversify the field with women, older people, and people of color.

    While there are some good reasons to dislike "code on a whiteboard" interviews, this is not one of them.

    • by GuB-42 ( 2483988 ) on Wednesday March 01, 2017 @01:12PM (#53954439)

      It is always about whiteboards. Blackboards are never given a chance.
      There is no way such an environment could help diversity.

    • Look at who is saying it, and it's easy to spot the stupidity

      Karla Monterroso, VP of programs for Code2040, an organization for black and Latino techies

      Created less than a year ago. "Oh, look, let's create jobs for ourselves by exploiting minorities in the name of diversity." By 2040, there won't be any techies, not in coding, not in networking, not in much of anything.

      Also, it recycles outdated content from 2015

      Our Entrepreneurs in Residence (EIRs) will spend a year launching a company as well as connecting communities of color to their local entrepreneurial ecosystem. This program will be piloted in three cities in 2015: Austin, Chicago, and Durham with partners Capitol Factory, 1871, and American Underground, respectively.

      Guess that didn't work out too well or they'd be bragging about it. And what a "diverse" bunch of minorities they cater to - young black women and young latino women. That's it. Men, old

  • Same (Score:5, Informative)

    by darkain ( 749283 ) on Wednesday March 01, 2017 @12:56PM (#53954275) Homepage

    Hi, my name is Vince. I interviewed for Amazon, specifically for their PHP API for AWS development team. Despite an entire background of 10+ years of developing front-facing PHP APIs for other businesses, plus having a major part of my code available for public review on GitHub, I failed their interview process because they wanted me to write a specific type of searching and sorting algorithm, by hand, on white-board. This type of code would never have been used on the job, ever. Yet this is what they interview on. The job was to build a PHP API so PHP developers can call basic PHP functions, and the library would translate them over to HHTPS calls to AWS. All of the complex computing/searching/sorting is handled by the existing AWS services.

    • Hi, my name is Vince. I interviewed for Amazon, specifically for their PHP API for AWS development team. Despite an entire background of 10+ years of developing front-facing PHP APIs for other businesses, plus having a major part of my code available for public review on GitHub, I failed their interview process because they wanted me to write a specific type of searching and sorting algorithm, by hand, on white-board. This type of code would never have been used on the job, ever. Yet this is what they interview on. The job was to build a PHP API so PHP developers can call basic PHP functions, and the library would translate them over to HHTPS calls to AWS. All of the complex computing/searching/sorting is handled by the existing AWS services.

      Amazon did you a favor by not hiring you. Ending up there would have stressed you out beyond belief with lower pay and a toxic environment. I've not worked there myself, but known many who have, and you are better off without them.

    • Re:Same (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Registered Coward v2 ( 447531 ) on Wednesday March 01, 2017 @01:17PM (#53954523)

      Hi, my name is Vince. I interviewed for Amazon, specifically for their PHP API for AWS development team. Despite an entire background of 10+ years of developing front-facing PHP APIs for other businesses, plus having a major part of my code available for public review on GitHub, I failed their interview process because they wanted me to write a specific type of searching and sorting algorithm, by hand, on white-board. This type of code would never have been used on the job, ever. Yet this is what they interview on. The job was to build a PHP API so PHP developers can call basic PHP functions, and the library would translate them over to HHTPS calls to AWS. All of the complex computing/searching/sorting is handled by the existing AWS services.

      It's not just the coding side that is broken, most interviews are; at lest what I've seen from both sides. From my experience, what really counts is being able to answer yes to the question "Would I want to spend 8 hours sitting next to this person on an airplane seat?" I can read a resume and assume most of it is true or at least not overly hyped, verify it with a question or two and ask a question out of left field simply to see if you can think on your feet; but that doesn't really tell me if you can do the job, nor would 8 hours of grilling. If I think I can get along with you then I can help you learn the job assuming your resume is reasonably accurate in regards to your skill set; if you are an insufferable jerk than I really don't care how good you are, go make someone else's life miserable; life's too short and work hours too long to deal with you.

  • by fahrbot-bot ( 874524 ) on Wednesday March 01, 2017 @12:58PM (#53954305)

    "Hello my name is Mike, I'm a GDE and lead at NY Times, I don't know what np complete means. Should I?"

    Hey Mike, I once worked for the NY Times Shared Services Center. And, generally, no.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 01, 2017 @01:01PM (#53954329)

    There's always that one guy on the interview team that would rather stroke his own ego by asking a "trick question". 100% of the time it will be either on an obscure function or feature of a language that may be used once in a career, or it will be so poorly worded as to be unrecognizable. I really don't believe that any other profession runs into this problem. With 40 years experience, an extensive resume, 100's of successful projects, I'm still treated like I graduated yesterday and am "tested" on what I know. It's insulting and companies need to stop. I'm at the point in my career that when the "trick question" person hits the white board, I ignore them and redirect the conversation back to the people asking real questions. If you are an interviewer you'll do yourself and the potential hire a much greater service by either presenting them with a challenge you've recently overcome or asking them to narrate one they've recently overcome.

    IOW - trick question guy, knock the shit off, you're annoying the rest of us. It is much more important to determine the prospects problem solving methods and skills than their fluency in the programming flavor of the month.

    • by Hodr ( 219920 )

      With 40 years experience, an extensive resume, 100's of successful projects, I'm still treated like I graduated yesterday and am "tested" on what I know. It's insulting and companies need to stop.

      Funny, I have literally half that resume (20 years of successful projects) and I never get "tested" for interviews. Every interview I have is along the lines of "So Hodr, we heard about you from X who said you were a key player in the success of project Y. Let me tell you about all the wonderful benefits of working for us here at Z Corp."

  • by Jeremi ( 14640 ) on Wednesday March 01, 2017 @01:01PM (#53954333) Homepage

    "Show me an example of a program that you wrote and are proud of"

    (and then go over the program with them to make sure they understand how it works and why they wrote it the way they did)

    The proof is in the pudding.

    • Rebuttal: Only for stuff they owned or is now available as open source. The stuff I am most proud of is owned by a medical company and I can't show it to you. However, I would certainly be willing to talk you through it without showing you the code.
  • by Greyfox ( 87712 ) on Wednesday March 01, 2017 @01:03PM (#53954343) Homepage Journal
    I did some interviews for a company I worked for a few years back, and my goal for those things wasn't so much to see if they could complete the problem successfully. My goal was to see if I thought the guy I was interviewing would work well with the team. I kept lowering the bar on the programming problem until it was a string reverse, which is just ridiculously simple. Even more so, I allowed the person to do it in the language they felt strongest in. For a couple of the OO scripting languages, that could be as easy as string.reverse(), and I would allowed it if anyone had ever said that. Even so, I was deliberately ambiguous about some things -- did I want the string reversed in place? Were there any error conditions I wanted returned, and should those be exceptions or return values? I had answers prepared, if any of them had ever asked me. I also had a very nice whiteboard, which they would almost to a person go up to and start crapping code onto, immediately. If they'd interacted with me and the whiteboard a bit before doing that, I would have actually stopped them before they'd written a single line of code.
  • by mcrbids ( 148650 ) on Wednesday March 01, 2017 @01:03PM (#53954347) Journal

    I'm an employer. I've interviewed nearly everybody we employ at my company. And treating a hiring interview like a rote memory exam is a terrible way to qualify a potential developer hire!

    What do programmers actually do? Try testing that!

    We do "whiteboard style" for part of our interviews, but only to cover basic comprehension of algorithms. More than anything, we look for basic familiarity with logic structure, and the demonstrated ability to solve problems. Our coding section of our interview process is in the subject's language of choice, including pseudo code, and is "open book" - we want to see what happens when the dev runs into a problem they don't already know! (Critical test: can they come up with a working, supportable algorithm for a problem they don't yet already know an answer for?)

    After 20 years of programming experience, I STILL routinely look up the order of arguments for function calls via Google. Who cares to remember when Google has the answer in 0.10 seconds?

    Test what the devs will actually DO in an anticipated normal work day and make your decisions based on that.

  • by CaptainDork ( 3678879 ) on Wednesday March 01, 2017 @01:06PM (#53954367)

    ... I was interviewing a lady for a clerk job at Mobil Oil, where she'd be doing data entry.

    I was looking for:

    1.) Dedication to accuracy and detail
    2.) Willingness to work overtime
    3.) Ability to get along with others

    She was a single mom who was hungry to work; liked people; her children were almost grown, so she had the time.

    SHE FLUNKED THE GODDAM TYPEWRITER TEST!

    Typewriter? I told HR I didn't have a goddam typewriter -- test her keyboard skills.

    Nope.

    That was in the mid-Dilbert years at Corporation.

    • ... I was interviewing a lady for a clerk job at Mobil Oil, where she'd be doing data entry.

      I was looking for:

      1.) Dedication to accuracy and detail 2.) Willingness to work overtime 3.) Ability to get along with others

      She was a single mom who was hungry to work; liked people; her children were almost grown, so she had the time.

      SHE FLUNKED THE GODDAM TYPEWRITER TEST!

      Typewriter? I told HR I didn't have a goddam typewriter -- test her keyboard skills.

      Nope.

      That was in the mid-Dilbert years at Corporation.

      You gotta love it when HR decides who you can hire. I once was asked to apply for a job at a company I was currently doing work for as a consultant. They had to post the job and HR decided I wasn't qualified enough, even though I was currently doing it, to forward my resume so the hiring manager couldn't offer me the job. As a result, I stayed on as a contractor at 1.5x the pay and they didn't hire anyone.

      • by RevDisk ( 740008 )
        Every time I've been in charge of hiring people, I firmly tell HR not to screen the resumes. If I really distrust HR, this is the first candidate I'm hiring at that company or randomly sampling, I set up a one-off email address and send in a barely qualified resume. If I get it, HR is following instructions. If I don't, I ask the VP of HR why his or her department is not following directions. They can schedule people, handle directions, do all the other grunt work.

        Initial screening bad resumes takes me s
  • by TeknoHog ( 164938 ) on Wednesday March 01, 2017 @01:06PM (#53954369) Homepage Journal
    and I don't know what "truth" means. I look up things like "democracy" and "separation of powers". I don't do riddles.
  • by bartle ( 447377 ) on Wednesday March 01, 2017 @01:07PM (#53954375) Homepage

    These technical interview approaches aren't very good, in my opinion, because they basically assume that the beginning and end of all software development training happened in a second year algorithms class. Algorithms are very cool, I understand why people want to talk about them, but they represent a minority programming challenge in today's world.

    Speaking only for myself, in a given month of coding I may only have to consider which algorithms I should use once or twice. The rest of my time is spent on GUI design, communicating with coworkers, working on documentation, and switching between projects. Putting aside the value of algorithms in an interview, how can the interviewer ascertain all of my other software development skills if we spend 2 hours mapping trees on a white board? I would argue that they can't, and by asking technical questions about algorithms or brainteasers, they really aren't properly evaluating the skills of a professional software developer.

  • No Notes (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Jfetjunky ( 4359471 ) on Wednesday March 01, 2017 @01:09PM (#53954399)
    This reminds me of one the anecdotes I picked up from one of my college engineering professors in regards to his philosophies on tests:

    "Would you fly in an airplane forcibly designed in one hour with no notes?"




    And before someone starts busting my balls, yes students should learn the underlying fundamental mechanics of the subject matter. It's more of a protest of the unnecessary aspect of memorizing the details that have no bearing on someone's understanding.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 01, 2017 @01:10PM (#53954411)

    As a CS professor, I find the use of these kind of review processes kind of contradictory.

    In education, we often based pass/fail on two hours long exams where the student has no access to outside information. Then companies say that's not how the real world works. CS evaluation sucks!

    We change to continuous evaluation or project based learning, where student has longer time (well, certainly not 2 hours in a closed room) and can access external resources. You know, like the real world. And now it's companies the ones evaluating candidates the old fashioned way!

    Let's go back further in time and go for corporal punishments...

  • by bbsguru ( 586178 ) on Wednesday March 01, 2017 @01:17PM (#53954499) Homepage Journal
    If you surveyed the 500 most [influential | prolific| successful] programmers in the field today, across all specialties, you would find no more than 5% of them would do well in such a test.*

    Programming is not about rote procedure. It is about finding a way to accomplish a goal.

    Clean and efficient code is a bonus, but not mandatory. Complying with any else's definition of Good Practices may be a consideration, but only to the ones making the definition. Working well with a carefully assembled maximally-diverse team may be helpful, or may be something to overcome.

    In any event, rule # 1 is paramount. Get the job Done. Everything else is value-add, at best.

    *Statistics independently verified by Slashdot

  • by rockmuelle ( 575982 ) on Wednesday March 01, 2017 @01:21PM (#53954545)

    What I've always found funny about this interview process is that the assumption is always that the interviewer knows the correct answer(s) to the question. It's painful when they don't.

    Years ago I interviewed at Google and was asked a question about bit counting (some variation on "given a bit vector, wat's the fastest way to count the number of 1s?"). I quickly answered, "well, if your processor has a population count instruction, stream your vector through that and accumulate the result in a register". Having just evaluated bit counting methods as part of my Ph.D. dissertation, I knew this was the fastest way to do it, assuming the instruction was available (it's not on x86, but is on Power/VMX and most DSPs support it as well).

    After I got a blank stare back from the interviewee, I said, "Oh, you were looking for the lookup table answer". We could have left it at that, but he went on to explain using some very convoluted logic how the lookup table would actually be faster than using a dedicated instruction and that my answer was clearly wrong. I mentioned a little bit about the number of cycles required for each approach, but he had none of it. In his mind, I had the wrong answer, even though my second answer was what he was looking for.

    It was at that moment that I realized Google was not going to be a good place to work.

    -Chris

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by sttlmark ( 737942 )

      Yeah, you probably should have just left it at that instead of trying to explain the optimal answer... Interviews are often performed by junior level guys who are out to prove are smart they are (open-minded senior devs are too busy and valuable to do the the initial screening pass). To get past the first tier, sometimes you just have to swallow your pride, pat them on the head, and congratulate them on how clever their "fastest possible" solutions are.

      By the way, Intel supports a POPCNT instruction now (st

    • by pr0t0 ( 216378 )

      You ran into the "I work for Google and you do not, ergo I am correct and you are not." ethos that is rampant there. Didn't you know? They have the correct answer to every problem. That's why Spaces is such a huge hit; and how they've been able to maintain a single, unified messaging platform all these years.

    • by jittles ( 1613415 ) on Wednesday March 01, 2017 @03:49PM (#53956309)

      What I've always found funny about this interview process is that the assumption is always that the interviewer knows the correct answer(s) to the question. It's painful when they don't.

      Years ago I interviewed at Google and was asked a question about bit counting (some variation on "given a bit vector, wat's the fastest way to count the number of 1s?"). I quickly answered, "well, if your processor has a population count instruction, stream your vector through that and accumulate the result in a register". Having just evaluated bit counting methods as part of my Ph.D. dissertation, I knew this was the fastest way to do it, assuming the instruction was available (it's not on x86, but is on Power/VMX and most DSPs support it as well).

      After I got a blank stare back from the interviewee, I said, "Oh, you were looking for the lookup table answer". We could have left it at that, but he went on to explain using some very convoluted logic how the lookup table would actually be faster than using a dedicated instruction and that my answer was clearly wrong. I mentioned a little bit about the number of cycles required for each approach, but he had none of it. In his mind, I had the wrong answer, even though my second answer was what he was looking for.

      It was at that moment that I realized Google was not going to be a good place to work.

      -Chris

      I decided not to work for a company after an experience like this. The interviewer asked me a question, I solved it adequately. He then tried to claim that my answer was not sufficient because it didn't handle certain words in French. The guy didn't know that the character in question was covered by extended ASCII and claimed that I had to use UTF8 to handle Latin languages. As someone who is bilingual, I knew this was not the case. I gently suggested that the character was in the extended ascii table and he got very defensive. So, I conceded that perhaps he was right (even though I knew he was not), and proceeded to answer the question using UTF instead of extended ascii. That guy was going to be my new manager, had I accepted the job. I had no interest in working for someone who could not handle being wrong.

    • by ndykman ( 659315 ) on Wednesday March 01, 2017 @08:39PM (#53958735)

      I posted a similar comment to this effect. Also a PhD holder, and if I answer a question directly and without pause, it means I really know a good answer. Otherwise, I will ask some questions and explore like everybody else.

      Seriously, I've had people tell me recursion is terrible and knew nothing about tail call optimization, or if they heard of that, they don't understand exactly what it means. Never mind I took advanced coursework on programming language semantics where we had to formally define it. Now, if you asked me for a formal definition, I would look that up, because it's been a while,

      Add in the fact I don't have the PhD from the right schools, so for a few, it can't be that useful, and I really wish it wasn't near impossible to find academic appointments.

  • by The Evil Atheist ( 2484676 ) on Wednesday March 01, 2017 @01:22PM (#53954551) Homepage
    I don't get the impression most interviewers know what they are looking for. Just like with software, testing in general is hard. You have to understand what you're really testing for and whether your tests actually tests for those qualities and rules out anti-qualities.

    I find it hard to take anyone who thinks these coding tests really test for anything.
  • by Walt Sellers ( 1741378 ) on Wednesday March 01, 2017 @01:25PM (#53954593)

    Technical expertise is only one part of the whole picture. But it may be the part people thrust into the interviewer chair are most familiar with. Sometimes the interviews feel like a final exam and I wonder if they interviewer had final exams pretty recently.

    I have been known to point out these annoying little things to my colleagues when we are hunting to fill positions:

    Do the candidates' personalities mesh well with yours? Do you think you can stand being around them and working with them day after day?
    Will they be reliable?
    Do they seem easy to train? They will need to learn how this group does business and works together after all.
    Do they express curiosity when they don't know the real answer?
    Do they make things up to fake an answer? Or do they say "I don't know the answer, but based on my experience I would guess this..."?
    Do they communicate well? Do they listen well?

  • by ErichTheRed ( 39327 ) on Wednesday March 01, 2017 @01:35PM (#53954719)

    From the IT side of the house, I can say I've been there. In the development world, it's the whiteboard test, but in the IT world it's a tool-matching exercise and trivia contest. I freely admit that I have a very bad memory and constantly look up information unless it's actively used in my daily work. I feel the field of IT is too broad for one person to remember even the basics of _everything_. I've failed interviews because I couldn't recall some trivia questions, and I've done well on others when I was given the chance to demonstrate skills I'm comfortable with. Worse yet, I've gotten shut out of interviews because I haven't used the exact brand and version of some tool they have in the toolbox, regardless of how easy it is to pick up on the job.

    In an IT context, matching a laundry list of tools, platforms and software isn't going to get you the right candidate. I hate to self-promote, but I've been told by many employers that the reason they like me is my willingness to dig in and learn new stuff, then document what I know and teach people before moving on to something else. One example I like to cite is that this is essentially the 4th time I'm relearning Citrix XenApp at a level deep enough to do a new deployment -- when this is done I'll get assigned some other project working with a completely different tool set. Some people in our field are experts in Foo but not Bar, or worse yet, specific Foo 3.6.1 experts. There are products that I work with daily (Citrix XenApp, SCCM, etc.) that are easily full time positions, and are so complex that people get to be tunnel-vision geniuses on them. Same goes for platforms -- there are Cisco configuration and management experts who go so far down in the weeds that they can't see things like SDN and hybrid network gear slowly taking over. They'll continue to get paid a lot for quite a while, but eventually the contracts and FTE positions will dry up as the product is phased out. Look at how different a typical SAN engineer's job is these days compared to the times when you had to be an EMC or NetApp savant to get things functioning.

    If you're looking for someone fresh out of school, the whiteboard interview is only going to get you a sense of whether or not the candidate absorbed basic concepts from their computer science degree. In IT, most of us don't come from CS and end up here because we're crazy people who like complexity and troubleshooting/firefighting. Smart employers recognize this, but often you get programmer-style interviews when you are trying out for a spot at a software or IT services company.

  • by Tempest_2084 ( 605915 ) on Wednesday March 01, 2017 @01:46PM (#53954835)
    When I was interviewing for my current job I got asked one of these types of questions. I was honest with the interviewer, I told them I had a vague understanding of the concept, but I'd have to look up or ask someone how to actually implement it since it's not something that I'd ever done before. I figured I had nothing to lose by being honest since I wasn't going to be able to BS my way to a solution anyway. The interviewer appreciated my honesty and said that collaboration and being able to find solutions to problems you don't have the immediate knowledge to do were important and I eventually ended up getting the job. I'm not sure if that's what they were actually looking for or if they liked my other skills so much that they were willing to overlook it. To this day I've never come close to having to program what they were asking me to do in that interview.
  • Hello, my name is... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by uncqual ( 836337 ) on Wednesday March 01, 2017 @04:14PM (#53956591)

    Hello, my name is Anonymous Coward. I am a software developer.

    I was talking to you about a database kernel position which is a field I have spent much of my career in and in one case was a key member of the design/coding team developing the initial (and several subsequent) releases of a revolutionary enterprise class scalable DBMS which is still being sold over thirty years later and in production at many of the biggest companies. You, of course, must have known that because you contacted me and, unusually, I decided to stop by and chat with you because I have a soft spot for startup companies, database, and engineering managers who look around seeking talent themselves rather than relying solely on recruiters. You asserted that your startup was developing an enterprise class scalable DBMS system so it seemed like it might be interesting.

    You then asked me to write, on the whiteboard, a 'debit/credit' function that took three arguments and returned, IIRC, the amount transferred (admittedly that was a little odd). The first two arguments were account objects (passed by reference if I recall) representing the source and destination accounts respectively and the third argument was an amount (presumably in the same currency as both accounts were maintained in) to transfer (a float if I recall -- that, of course, is likely stupid in itself when dealing with currency).

    I, understandably, was perplexed -- you must want something more than this simple function (I'm not fresh out of high school looking for a summer job) and I tried to get more requirements out of you and got none except when I asked if this function was to provide its own concurrency control or if a higher level would have insured both accounts were sufficiently locked you said something like "Okay, you need to provide the locking" and agreed that I could assume existence of "Acquire/ReleaseWriteLockAccount(AccountObject)" functions.

    Okay -- so I'm thinking this is a concurrency problem, no problem (still lame, but okay...). Obviously I need to deal with deadlock potential so I ask if I there is some unique attribute of each account (you didn't give me a description of the account object's public members) that had a well defined order that I (and other developers) agreed to use to order locks when locking multiple accounts to eliminate or at least reduce deadlocks. You weren't prepared for the question so I asked if I could assume (I think) that the account number was a public field, unique among all accounts, and supported the LessThan operator with traditional semantics. You said, sure.

    I wrote the code making sure to lock the accounts in order of account number, transfer the funds, unlock correctly and return the required value.

    You were not happy -- what you really wanted me to check, it turns out, was that the source account would not end up with a negative balance and fail to do the transfer and return 0 as the result.

    What you didn't seem to realize is that in the real world cash balances on individual accounts go negative sometimes. In fact, at that instant, I had one (of multiple) accounts at one brokerage firm which had had a small negative cash balance due to an inter-account transfer out for over six months and no one cared because I had multiple accounts at that firm with a net value of well over a million dollars and cash balances (well, "cash equivalents"), overall, of a few hundred thousand dollars.

    Both of us made a decision in that discussion. You decided you didn't want to hire me. I decided I would never work for you or your company as I didn't want to risk working on/at a team/company which was so poor at evaluating people and would pass on good developers who know how the real world works and would likely hire unqualified people who answered your kindergarten questions the particular way you wanted.

    Of course, I was glad that we both made those decisions because your company seems to have never got past a very modest A round and seems to have disappeared off the face of the Earth quietly.

  • by manu0601 ( 2221348 ) on Wednesday March 01, 2017 @09:57PM (#53959167)

    Confession: I run technical tests when recruiting IT persons. But it is on a computer, with Internet access, and looking up documentation or forums is fine.

    In fact, using Internet or documentation to find something is a very good indicator that the candidate has skills and experience.

  • by RogueWarrior65 ( 678876 ) on Thursday March 02, 2017 @10:57AM (#53961739)

    Way back in the 1980s, one of my physics professors told the following joke:
    The trustees of the university want to find out if the professors really knew their stuff so they came up with a question: What's 2+2?
    They go to the math department and the professors there said, "Oh, that's easy. It's 4."
    Then the go to the physics department and the professors there said, "Oh, it's 4.000000000 with an uncertainty of another decimal place."
    Then the go to the engineering department and the professors there said, "Just a minute while I get my handbook."
    Finally, they go to the accounting department and the professors there look around to see if anyone can hear them and then the whisper, "What do you want to be?"

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