Recently I read a post by Alex over at The Daily WTF… err… I mean Worse Than Failure. The article explained many of the tactics that the industry now uses to weed out candidates by giving them brain teasers during an interview. Alex explained in only a way that Alex can that, having a candidate that builds a water displacement scale for a Boeing 747 to measure its weight instead of just calling Boeing is probably not the guy that you want working on your project. The programmer that solved the riddle of how to find out the weight of a Boeing 747 probably fits in to the category of “A Complicator”. A complicator is basically a person that takes the most simplest problem and turns it in to an engineering disaster.
The job interview that Alex posted as an example was:
During a screening interview, I was asked how I would design a bike fit for someone visually impaired. I responded something to the effect of, “What, like, for blind people?”, and she answered yes.
I thought for a moment and then I responded, “Well.. a blind person riding a bike doesn’t sound like a very safe idea, so I would make the bike stationary, maybe with a fan blowing in the person’s face. He probably wouldn’t even know the difference.”
She was speechless.
The reason why I am blogging about this is because I had a similar experience, in my Senior year at Penn State, to the one that Alex posted about. I like all other students was looking to find my first job and I was going on interview after interview with big and small companies a like. The one interview that I remember the most was an interview with Microsoft, mostly because at the time I thought somebody was playing a horrible joke on me.
I met with a representative from Microsoft that had a very think Indian accent, so it was very hard enought to understand the questions he was asking me. So I needed to ask him to repeat the question 3 or 4 times each and every time. For the life of me I don’t understand why Microsoft would send a representative, of the company, out to interview candidates, that obviously had trouble communicating to the majority of the population in the United States. That wasn’t the issue I was blogging about, but I thought I would explain the full interview. After a few basic questions about my resume he got in to the brainteaser question.
If you could design a better gas pump, what would you do?
Before I start with the explanation I gave him. The Fall semester of my Senior year my professor gave the class the exact same question verbatim, as a design project for the class. After much thought about how you would design a better gas pump the whole class didn’t have any ideas. You could only redesign the actual gas pump, none of the back room features or anything like that. So it is obviously a tough question, and even my professor that asked the question really didn’t have a good answer, and the question was pretty much scrapped and we were given a much smaller assignment that could be completed with the month we had left in the class.
So back to the interview. I gave all the stupid answers that you might think of, Color Display, Robotic Arm, Touch Screen, etc, nothing really mind blowing. Even ventured some good ideas for the back room such as automatic police notification of license plates that were wanted in relation to a crime, however like in my class I could only deal with the actual physical pump. I also asked the interviewer what he would do, but he dodged the question. Or at least I thought he did because I still couldn’t really understand him.
I didn’t get the job and my only regret was that I didn’t tell him that a class full of very intelligent Senior IST students and one professor couldn’t come up with an answer in 2 months.
So my advice to my readers is that if you ever come across a similar situation give the practical approach as Alex describes, because a good coder uses the simplest solution to a problem, not the most complex.