Was I too harsh?

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Re: Was I too harsh?

Postby EvanED » Tue May 29, 2012 6:20 pm UTC

Pesto wrote:This was not a high pressure situation.

If she was unemployed and not just looking for a better job, you can bet your ass it was a high pressure situation -- probably higher pressure than anything you actually encounter on the job.

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Re: Was I too harsh?

Postby Aaeriele » Tue May 29, 2012 6:21 pm UTC

Pesto wrote:I don't buy any arguments about "handling pressure." This was not a high pressure situation.

As many people have mentioned already, an interview is often inherently a high pressure situation. You really shouldn't be so dismissive of that.
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Re: Was I too harsh?

Postby freakish777 » Tue May 29, 2012 7:17 pm UTC

Pesto wrote:Frankly, I don't care.


Do you think attitudes like this might contribute to your boss' assessment of you being too harsh?

Does such an attitude send the signal to your boss that you are not "leadership" material? Whether that leadership material is Management or Technical Team Lead, you have a better idea than I do. What makes you so sure that the interview you conducted was all about the person you were interviewing (and the position you were interviewing candidates for)? Clearly that's what it was mostly about. But to think it was all about that would be short sighted.

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Re: Was I too harsh?

Postby Yakk » Wed May 30, 2012 12:01 am UTC

By the way, did the applicant have access to a computer to do the coding test? A debugger and compiler?
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Re: Was I too harsh?

Postby Xanthir » Wed May 30, 2012 12:29 am UTC

Pesto wrote:I don't buy any arguments about "handling pressure." This was not a high pressure situation. I gave her a task to complete, and let her set about completing the task.

I'll just state that you are absolutely wrong here. For a lot of people, interviews are extremely high-pressure. It doesn't matter how much you try and make them feel at ease, or the surroundings, or anything. Interviews are just intensely stressful for a lot of people.

If you don't feel the same, great (I don't, either), but believe me when I tell you that your experience does not generalize.
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Re: Was I too harsh?

Postby Steax » Wed May 30, 2012 1:27 am UTC

Forget technical abilities, interview pressure boils down to even low-level concepts like language and communication. It's why you hear people splutter and fidget slightly when you're interviewing them, try to apologetically fix things that don't need fixing, and are constantly scared they're making some sort of mistake. Some people are just nervous, excited, scared, or a combination of that.

And sometimes it only comes in certain parts of the interview, triggered by something like a question they didn't expect or trying to remember something they're sure they remembered.
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Re: Was I too harsh?

Postby HungryHobo » Wed May 30, 2012 7:48 am UTC

Can't think of many things more high-stress than an interview. last time I had a day with two two hour interviews I had to squeeze the sweat out of my shirt.
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Re: Was I too harsh?

Postby ImagingGeek » Wed May 30, 2012 12:54 pm UTC

Pesto wrote:
ImagingGeek wrote:But what did she fail - a test of skill, or a test of handling pressure?

Frankly, I don't care.

Then you should be happy I'm not your boss, cause I doubt you'd last long in either organization I operate in.

Pesto wrote:I don't buy any arguments about "handling pressure." This was not a high pressure situation.

To be blunt, you are wrong. It is well established that interviews are both high stress, and poor predictors of future performance. Like I said before - you should read a book,or take an HR course. The other option is to carry on as you are - assuming your attitude at works resembles the one here, I can assure you that any competent boss will realize you're not upto HR roles quite quickly.

Pesto wrote:I gave her a task to complete, and let her set about completing the task. Her task was a test of the skills she would be expected to employ every day on the job.

And, as was pointed out repetitively over this thread, in-interview tests are notorious for not working. This is why many companies use probationary periods - its a backup to an interview process known to be faulty. Moreover, your assessment lacked any clear criteria - lets not forget,. the interviewee did (according to you) produce code and ID a bug in it. That's not an inability to code.

I've said it once, and I'll say it again - you are wrong. And if you want to be successful in your HR roles I'd strongly urge you to actually learn something about what constitutes an effective interview and what doesn't. I provided a good resource earlier in the thread; I'm certain you can find others more specific to your area.

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Re: Was I too harsh?

Postby Steax » Wed May 30, 2012 12:59 pm UTC

Anecdotal add-on: I see less than 1/5th of the people I interview do something even close to "write code, identify a bug, and work back on it before proceeding". The vast, vast 80% majority just write code, assume it's working perfectly, and even after a soft prod like "what would happen if I feed it an empty array?" they'd often reject the very possibility that their code was flawed.

I'm not saying it's enough to make a person pass, but that's an already extremely good sign of a semi-competent person.
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Re: Was I too harsh?

Postby Ben-oni » Wed May 30, 2012 5:22 pm UTC

Steax wrote:Anecdotal add-on: I see less than 1/5th of the people I interview do something even close to "write code, identify a bug, and work back on it before proceeding". The vast, vast 80% majority just write code, assume it's working perfectly, and even after a soft prod like "what would happen if I feed it an empty array?" they'd often reject the very possibility that their code was flawed.

I'm not saying it's enough to make a person pass, but that's an already extremely good sign of a semi-competent person.

Sounds to me like the standards for semi-competency are really low.

And I don't buy the arguments about interviews being innately stressful. Collegiate examinations are fundamentally stressful, and every CS grad is assumed to have been able to solve exactly this problem under such circumstances. During the interview process, she was clearly unable to demonstrate fundamental skills that ought to have been mastered under similarly stressful circumstances.

Why do you apologize for her? Do you have some reason to want competency standard reduced?

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Re: Was I too harsh?

Postby darkone238 » Wed May 30, 2012 5:53 pm UTC

Ben-oni wrote:
Steax wrote:Anecdotal add-on: I see less than 1/5th of the people I interview do something even close to "write code, identify a bug, and work back on it before proceeding". The vast, vast 80% majority just write code, assume it's working perfectly, and even after a soft prod like "what would happen if I feed it an empty array?" they'd often reject the very possibility that their code was flawed.

I'm not saying it's enough to make a person pass, but that's an already extremely good sign of a semi-competent person.

Sounds to me like the standards for semi-competency are really low.

And I don't buy the arguments about interviews being innately stressful. Collegiate examinations are fundamentally stressful, and every CS grad is assumed to have been able to solve exactly this problem under such circumstances. During the interview process, she was clearly unable to demonstrate fundamental skills that ought to have been mastered under similarly stressful circumstances.

Why do you apologize for her? Do you have some reason to want competency standard reduced?

So let's assume that the level of stress in an interview and the level of stress in a college exam are the same (I'd argue they're not). If I write code that is mostly correct, id a bug, but don't fix it, I get (oftentimes very high) partial credit and still pass (depending on how well I do on the other measures of success in the class). I don't get the exam back saying "You can't write code. You're expelled from the university." You seem to imply that in order to pass college every student should get 100% on every exam, having never made a mistake, and if they make a mistake on one question of an exam, they should be kicked out. Please correct me if I'm taking the wrong thoughts from your post, but this seems to be what you're implying by making the comparison.

Also, you state that you don't feel that interviews are innately stressful, and then fail to provide reasoning why (especially since you admit in your final statement that the stress level is similar).

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Re: Was I too harsh?

Postby EvanED » Wed May 30, 2012 6:19 pm UTC

Ben-oni wrote:And I don't buy the arguments about interviews being innately stressful.

Are you willfully being difficult?

Collegiate examinations are fundamentally stressful, and every CS grad is assumed to have been able to solve exactly this problem under such circumstances.

Collegiate exams are usually one of a couple exams making up a portion of a class grade in one of many classes. Each exam poses a very small portion of your overall collegiate success, in other words. An interview can make or break whether you have a job which will pay your rent.

And furthermore, an interview is more akin to an oral exam, which many people actually do find far more stressful than written ones, and at least in the US, are almost never done. (I don't think I've ever had one outside of language classes, and not counting presentations which are very very different -- and still stressful to many people.) And even beyond that, practice contributes. If you're a new grad, you've been taking exams for over a decade and a half. You've been doing interviews in your field for what, a couple years (if you had an internship)? And have been doing high-stakes interviews since... well, never, for many people.

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Re: Was I too harsh?

Postby Yakk » Wed May 30, 2012 6:33 pm UTC

Ben-oni wrote:Why do you apologize for her? Do you have some reason to want competency standard reduced?

Because he's a witch, silly.
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Re: Was I too harsh?

Postby Ben-oni » Wed May 30, 2012 7:08 pm UTC

EvanED wrote:
Ben-oni wrote:And I don't buy the arguments about interviews being innately stressful.

Are you willfully being difficult?

darkone238 wrote:Also, you state that you don't feel that interviews are innately stressful, and then fail to provide reasoning why (especially since you admit in your final statement that the stress level is similar).

Don't put words in my mouth. I didn't say they're not stressful. I said I don't agree with the argument that stress justifies incompetence.

EvanED wrote:Collegiate exams are usually one of a couple exams making up a portion of a class grade in one of many classes. Each exam poses a very small portion of your overall collegiate success, in other words. An interview can make or break whether you have a job which will pay your rent.

Bull. Who applies for only a single job?

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Re: Was I too harsh?

Postby Zamfir » Wed May 30, 2012 8:08 pm UTC

There are many people who would be good at a task under normal working conditions, and bad under interview conditions. A smart employer recognizes such people. A lazy employer dismisses them. There's no need for 'justification'. You're simply recruiting for a job where stressful social situations are not an important aspect, so you should not give that aspect too much weight.

Pesto's employer had enough suitable candidates, sothis time they could afford to be a bit lazy. But Pesto's boss clearly knows that they won't always have that luxury. Next time they might need someone quick, and all candidates have a blemish of some kind. Then it becomes important to separate the ones who are really bad from the ones who are bad at interviews.

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Re: Was I too harsh?

Postby darkone238 » Wed May 30, 2012 8:17 pm UTC

Ben-oni wrote:
EvanED wrote:
Ben-oni wrote:And I don't buy the arguments about interviews being innately stressful.

Are you willfully being difficult?

darkone238 wrote:Also, you state that you don't feel that interviews are innately stressful, and then fail to provide reasoning why (especially since you admit in your final statement that the stress level is similar).

Don't put words in my mouth. I didn't say they're not stressful. I said I don't agree with the argument that stress justifies incompetence.

EvanED wrote:Collegiate exams are usually one of a couple exams making up a portion of a class grade in one of many classes. Each exam poses a very small portion of your overall collegiate success, in other words. An interview can make or break whether you have a job which will pay your rent.

Bull. Who applies for only a single job?


"And I don't buy the arguments about interviews being innately stressful. Collegiate examinations are fundamentally stressful, and every CS grad is assumed to have been able to solve exactly this problem under such circumstances. During the interview process, she was clearly unable to demonstrate fundamental skills that ought to have been mastered under similarly stressful circumstances."

Emphasis mine of course. Tell me again how I put words in your mouth? Your first statement says you don't buy that interviews are innately stressful. It's not my fault you worded it this way if that's not what you meant.

Secondly, I still fail to see how someone doing mostly-well in an interview environment equates to incompetence. Very few people write perfect code the first time and people naturally make mistakes. That's why there are things like code reviews in the real world. If competence is measured by being 100% perfect under every situation, I've never met a competent person and I don't expect to.

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Re: Was I too harsh?

Postby Steax » Thu May 31, 2012 12:27 am UTC

Everyone's covered the other bits, so...

Ben-oni wrote:
Steax wrote:Anecdotal add-on: I see less than 1/5th of the people I interview do something even close to "write code, identify a bug, and work back on it before proceeding". The vast, vast 80% majority just write code, assume it's working perfectly, and even after a soft prod like "what would happen if I feed it an empty array?" they'd often reject the very possibility that their code was flawed.

I'm not saying it's enough to make a person pass, but that's an already extremely good sign of a semi-competent person.

Sounds to me like the standards for semi-competency are really low.


Yes. Yes they are. When 4 out of 5 people (remember, these were already the few people who actually passed the fizz-buzz questions) cannot identify and mention a bug, I would call that a good qualifier for competence.

We can argue about people's stress levels in interviews, but I simply cannot make a case against the fact that very few of my candidates are able to identify bugs at all. And bugs being the fundamental thing that belies programming problems, I do think I'd want my programmers to be good at dealing with them, don't you?

(As covered by the others, though, I strongly disagree that an interview isn't stressful. It's one of the most stressful things people go through - your finance depends on it, it determines a good chunk of your future, and, most prominently, in comparison with educational things, you don't know when you'll get another chance. Every failed interview is going home saying "sorry, I failed" to your family, finding another way to scrape through, and hoping another chance comes up. It's a nightmare scenario for many, so please don't undermine people who find interviews stressful.)

Ben-oni wrote:Do you have some reason to want competency standard reduced?


World domination, of course.

Well no. I don't. It's just how things are, seeing from the candidates that walk through my door.

(And as for added data, I've interviewed about 60 people in the last 12 months. Not a huge dataset, but still quite a few.)

Ben-oni wrote:
EvanED wrote:Collegiate exams are usually one of a couple exams making up a portion of a class grade in one of many classes. Each exam poses a very small portion of your overall collegiate success, in other words. An interview can make or break whether you have a job which will pay your rent.

Bull. Who applies for only a single job?


Many people when there aren't many jobs available.
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Re: Was I too harsh?

Postby sourmìlk » Thu May 31, 2012 3:40 am UTC

When my dad is hiring online, he'll often have the interviewee go through a few basic filter questions. This mostly just eliminates CV spam, and it doesn't sound like the OP's interviewee would have had trouble with those questions.

Reversing a linked list is reasonably basic, but arguably too difficult for an interview. I am normally not for being soft on people, but the interviewee did a reasonably good job that she could have perfected given a chance to debug on an actual computer. My dad will generally just ask the person to write a recursive factorial function. (It's unfortunate that many potential programmers can't do that. One person who couldn't figure it out later emailed my dad an iterative function that computed a factorial.) I like the factorial test better because there's less room to screw up little things and edge cases like happened in the OP's interview: it demonstrates a basic understanding of programming concepts without requiring that a person debug her code in her head.

This is really more an expression of personal preference though, or perhaps an expression of my dad's thoughts on the matter. I don't specifically know what kinds of questions work in what interview situations because I haven't ever hired somebody. I've been hired, but without an interview. So take what I say with a shaker of salt.

Ben-oni: often times people may not apply just for a single job, but only really be qualified for one. The company I work at recently hired a new person who had, as Liam Neeson would say, a particular set of skills. These skills weren't getting her a job elsewhere (though she was certainly applying), so it was rather nice that we had a position that worked well for her. Had she botched this hiring process, who knows how long she would remain unemployed?
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Re: Was I too harsh?

Postby ImagingGeek » Fri Jun 01, 2012 3:08 pm UTC

Ben-oni wrote:And I don't buy the arguments about interviews being innately stressful.

And you are 100% wrong. There is extensive psychological research on social stresses - including the stresses of job interviews. Their results are universal - job interviews represent some of the strongest stressors people experience in life (its right up there with job loss and dealing with the death of a close relative), and these are concordant with the hormonal and biological changes one expects of stressors (cortisol, HPA activation, etc). In fact, job-interview stress is so powerful, and consistent, that mock job interviews have become a default methodology for psychologists and neurologists studying stress responses (it's called a Trier Social Stress Test). Some references:

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/ar ... 1112000658
http://informahealthcare.com/doi/abs/10 ... 0701850262
http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1 ... 011.605122
http://www.springerlink.com/content/lw38164v52984046/
http://pss.sagepub.com/content/20/11/1394.short
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/ar ... 6X10000644

Ben-oni wrote:Who applies for only a single job?

No one, but we're talking about interviews, not applications. Most people apply for numerous jobs, but its not uncommon for dozens of applications to lead to one or two interviews.

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Re: Was I too harsh?

Postby Ben-oni » Fri Jun 01, 2012 4:50 pm UTC

ImagingGeek wrote:
Ben-oni wrote:And I don't buy the arguments about interviews being innately stressful.

And you are 100% wrong.

Again, don't put words into my mouth. I didn't say they're not stressful. I did, in fact imply that they are. I said I don't believe the argument predicated upon that fact is valid.

ImagingGeek wrote:No one, but we're talking about interviews, not applications. Most people apply for numerous jobs, but its not uncommon for dozens of applications to lead to one or two interviews.

And when they fail those one or two interviews, they'll put out dozens more applications, representing maybe a day or two of work. On the other hand, failing a final examination at school can put one's academic progress back four to six months.

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Re: Was I too harsh?

Postby ahammel » Fri Jun 01, 2012 5:36 pm UTC

Ben-oni wrote:
ImagingGeek wrote:No one, but we're talking about interviews, not applications. Most people apply for numerous jobs, but its not uncommon for dozens of applications to lead to one or two interviews.

And when they fail those one or two interviews, they'll put out dozens more applications, representing maybe a day or two of work. On the other hand, failing a final examination at school can put one's academic progress back four to six months.

It doesn't really matter if it's rational to be stressed out in an interview situation. The fact remains that lots people find job interviews really stressful; much more so than exams. ImagingGeek cited empirical data to that effect. Those people may perform poorly in an interview situation, regardless of whether they would make good employees.
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Re: Was I too harsh?

Postby webzter_again » Fri Jun 01, 2012 7:09 pm UTC

for what it's worth, or not worth, I hung up on a phone interviewer who started asking for trivial CS algorithms. In his case, I believe it was something like identifying where two linked lists with a common trunk diverged. Interviews like this may be useful and if they're useful to you in growing your team then more power to you.

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Re: Was I too harsh?

Postby Xanthir » Fri Jun 01, 2012 7:11 pm UTC

That's just bad on you. As many of us have said in the thread, "trivial CS algorithms" are not trivial for a lot of job applicants, because a lot of the people who apply for programming jobs are literally unable to program. Asking someone to solve something super-trivial is a basic way to weed out people who actually know *something* about programming from those who are just wasting your time.
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Re: Was I too harsh?

Postby EvanED » Fri Jun 01, 2012 7:34 pm UTC

Ben-oni wrote:...failing a final examination at school can put one's academic progress back four to six months.

On the other hand, it probably won't, unless you've done poorly in lots of other low-stress (or at least relatively low-stress) environments throughout the semester.

Heck, in the course I taught, you could technically get a zero on all three exams in the class and still walk away with a C. And that's certainly not atypical in my experience.

(Edit to quote less to make it clear what I'm replying too.)
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Re: Was I too harsh?

Postby DaveInsurgent » Fri Jun 01, 2012 7:47 pm UTC

Xanthir wrote:That's just bad on you. As many of us have said in the thread, "trivial CS algorithms" are not trivial for a lot of job applicants, because a lot of the people who apply for programming jobs are literally unable to program. Asking someone to solve something super-trivial is a basic way to weed out people who actually know *something* about programming from those who are just wasting your time.


This seems odd; if you scrutinize their answer then you risk aliening an otherwise good developer who hasn't had to think about some basic stuff in a while in favour of someone who either has only rehearsed (or only knows) basic, interview-type questions. If you don't scrutinize the answer, then it doesn't seem to pay any reward. So isn't it better to talk about more complex things?

The type of question I'd like in an interview would be something like, show me how you might implement a blog - start on the whiteboard, illustrate entity relationships, see if the person understands entities, roots, value objects (most developers don't) and then dynamically move on to some (pseudo?) code depending on what intrigued you / concerned you.

I guess I'm a little nervous, because I work at a company that is laying people off in droves and I'm hoping that if I do find myself in an interview seat, I'm not going to be evaluated, deeply, on what I do with a linked list, but rather my understanding of more complex software craftsmanship practices.

In fact, I'd go as far as to say that if you're not an entry-level developer and you still have a firm working knowledge of the intricacies of data structures (or more specifically, their implementations) and you don't work in an embedded/platform context, you're probably not as good a developer/engineer as you think. There's way too much other stuff to keep in the front of your mind.

Most of the responses to this thread have me hopeful, and sound like there's plenty of compassion for the nervous interviewee. No doubt I am going to encounter a few "elite" interviewers who want to trash me over basic comp-sci knowledge. I don't think I'd want to work near or for them anyway... so perhaps it is useful that we all agree to disagree so that each side of the fence can stay away from the other ;)

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Re: Was I too harsh?

Postby Steax » Fri Jun 01, 2012 7:53 pm UTC

Ben-oni wrote:
ImagingGeek wrote:
Ben-oni wrote:And I don't buy the arguments about interviews being innately stressful.

And you are 100% wrong.

Again, don't put words into my mouth. I didn't say they're not stressful. I did, in fact imply that they are. I said I don't believe the argument predicated upon that fact is valid.


Then I have absolutely no idea what you're saying.

Ben-oni wrote:And I don't buy the arguments about interviews being innately stressful. Collegiate examinations are fundamentally stressful, and every CS grad is assumed to have been able to solve exactly this problem under such circumstances. During the interview process, she was clearly unable to demonstrate fundamental skills that ought to have been mastered under similarly stressful circumstances.


"Collegiate exams are stressful. CS grads are assumed to have solved this kind of problem under such stressful circumstances."
"[Separate implication that interviews are stressful.] In the interview, she was unable to solve the problem."

Are you therefore implying that she was never able to pass a collegiate? (More on this later.) Or... something like that? It doesn't matter. We're pointing out that no, an interview is for more stressful than a collegiate exam. When that equivalence breaks, your whole argument falls apart.

And regardless, that argument is flawed from the get-go. A single success at a collegiate doesn't imply that a person could happily go about reciting things of that level without stress, much less with it. If you don't see how flawed your statement is, think of it this way: If I lost my job (at an unrelated event and issue) and was dealing with the stress, and you came up to me and asked a simple programming question and I missed a corner-case answer, could you then accuse me of "not supposed to have passed as a grad student"?

Also, you're making the assumption that every programmer passed a collegiate. I didn't. A vast number of programmers I work with didn't. A tiny number of programmers even come from CS. They come from everywhere. I have, honestly, seen little correlation between department and skill. It's almost always an issue of self-dedication to the art. (In fact, I'd say that non-CS students tend to be better because they learned this stuff out of their own motivation.) Rejecting a candidate because "ha, you would've failed your collegiate exams" is just a bad idea.

webzter_again wrote:for what it's worth, or not worth, I hung up on a phone interviewer who started asking for trivial CS algorithms. In his case, I believe it was something like identifying where two linked lists with a common trunk diverged. Interviews like this may be useful and if they're useful to you in growing your team then more power to you.


As Xanthir said, that's standard practice to figure out if you're worth following up on or not.


DaveInsurgent wrote:
This seems odd; if you scrutinize their answer then you risk aliening an otherwise good developer who hasn't had to think about some basic stuff in a while in favour of someone who either has only rehearsed (or only knows) basic, interview-type questions. If you don't scrutinize the answer, then it doesn't seem to pay any reward. So isn't it better to talk about more complex things?


Sure, you you can talk about complex things later, usually in person. By basic interview questions, we mean basic, like "print out every number from 1 to 20" basic. We're not talking linked lists and stuff like that (which was why we disagreed with Pesto on that particular choice, though he later clarified that most candidates were indeed able to do it, making it a valid choice). Once the interviewer gets that out of the way, and concludes that this candidate is worth their while, then they can move on to the good stuff.

The reward is you get to save time on the bad candidates.

Funny thing about rehearsing for basic interview questions: it almost never works. I don't really understand why, but I can tell instantly if they've read a book about it, and I usually prompt them to make a slight change to their code (for example, in a "print out every number from 1 to 20" function, I then ask to replace "7" with "banana"). I think it's in the pace in which they write the code, without hesitating or pausing like I'd expect them to.
Last edited by Steax on Sat Jun 02, 2012 12:59 am UTC, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Was I too harsh?

Postby webzter_again » Fri Jun 01, 2012 8:19 pm UTC

Steax wrote:
webzter_again wrote:for what it's worth, or not worth, I hung up on a phone interviewer who started asking for trivial CS algorithms. In his case, I believe it was something like identifying where two linked lists with a common trunk diverged. Interviews like this may be useful and if they're useful to you in growing your team then more power to you.


As Xanthir said, that's standard practice to figure out if you're worth following up on or not.


It very well could be, and if it works for someone hiring then by all means they should continue doing it. Starting with my first programming job 19 years ago (part-time programming contract job when I was 15) up until my current one, I've worked for nine companies and interviewed for exactly one of them. Interviewing is a crappy way to figure out if I want to work for a company or not so I generally avoid it.

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Re: Was I too harsh?

Postby sourmìlk » Fri Jun 01, 2012 9:29 pm UTC

Evidence was linked: interviews are universally stressful. Once relevant, empirical data is presented, the discussion is over. We must side with the empirical data. That's why I like science. When it proves things, it proves the shit out of them.
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Re: Was I too harsh?

Postby Xanthir » Fri Jun 01, 2012 11:00 pm UTC

DaveInsurgent wrote:This seems odd; if you scrutinize their answer then you risk aliening an otherwise good developer who hasn't had to think about some basic stuff in a while in favour of someone who either has only rehearsed (or only knows) basic, interview-type questions. If you don't scrutinize the answer, then it doesn't seem to pay any reward. So isn't it better to talk about more complex things?

It only sounds contradictory if you read it shallowly.

A lot of people who apply for programming jobs are idiots who literally have no idea how to program. So, in the interview you should definitely have them solve a trivial problem or three right in the beginning, just to avoid wasting your time.

However, interviews are one of the most stressful events in many people's lives, so you shouldn't grade those solutions too harshly. If there are fencepost errors or missed cases, who cares? The point isn't to have them write production-level code, it's to have them write any code, at all. It's obvious, even if someone is very nervous, if they know more-or-less what they're doing and have experience with the language.

After you've gotten that silly intro part out of the way, then yeah, go ahead and ask the other types of questions and let them show off their knowledge. If you did the first part well, it should hopefully have calmed them down a little, and many people will be relieved to step away from the whiteboard or whatever and just chat about design and such.
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Re: Was I too harsh?

Postby DaveInsurgent » Sat Jun 02, 2012 2:19 am UTC

idiots who literally have no idea how to program.


Ugh, I know this has to be true, but I kick myself for taking so long to start writing software professionally. I cowboy coded from the age of 10, took online C++ courses from our local college under my fathers credentials at 12/13, but then farted around in high school and didn't go to post-secondary and instead worked horrible shit paying jobs for years because I didn't think I could be good enough... I am 27 now and finally in the profession, but still! Wasted time..

that, and I'm working with people who think that Map<String, Map<String, ArrayList<Object>>> is "object-oriented programming" (taken from production. 11-parameter method, 3 of which were this type of map) and I'm just baffled because I don't think I an by any means an exceptional programmer (evidence on the 'net and in books clearly demonstrates otherwise) but I consider myself leaps and bounds above these peers.. so are you saying it is not unreasonable to think that these people are just... bad at their jobs?

More importantly - are you saying there are jobs where this isn't the norm because those people are filtered out? If so, good god man, where?!

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Re: Was I too harsh?

Postby Steax » Sat Jun 02, 2012 2:27 am UTC

Yes - and it's a fairy common occurrence throughout the industry. I separate them into two camps, however: those who just can't code, and those who won't improve. Your coworkers sound like the second category. And since I'm short on time, checkout this article.
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Re: Was I too harsh?

Postby Xanthir » Sat Jun 02, 2012 3:24 am UTC

DaveInsurgent wrote:More importantly - are you saying there are jobs where this isn't the norm because those people are filtered out? If so, good god man, where?!


I know this probably isn't helpful, but: Google. ^_^
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Re: Was I too harsh?

Postby sourmìlk » Sat Jun 02, 2012 4:20 am UTC

DaveInsurgent wrote: Map<String, Map<String, ArrayList<Object>>>

I really have to ask: what exactly was this supposed to do?
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Re: Was I too harsh?

Postby EvanED » Sat Jun 02, 2012 4:26 am UTC

To be fair, assuming that's Java, because of the lack of typedefs you either have to do that or write a bunch of boilerplate crap to wrap the types you're interested in. Assuming that having something like that in the first place is reasonable, which is not at all an unreasonable assumption.

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Re: Was I too harsh?

Postby sourmìlk » Sat Jun 02, 2012 4:34 am UTC

Steax wrote:Yes - and it's a fairy common occurrence throughout the industry. I separate them into two camps, however: those who just can't code, and those who won't improve. Your coworkers sound like the second category. And since I'm short on time, checkout this article.

I'm having a tad bit of trouble categorizing myself. I think I'm in the 20%, but I'm also aware of the Dunning-Kruger effect. For example, the fact that I have an ubuntu partition, have been coding since age 11, and just today told my boss that he should check out the cool new C++11 features indicates that I'm in the 20%, but (and I think this is the most damning bit) I don't involve myself in open source projects at all. Is that a serious deficiency on my part?
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Re: Was I too harsh?

Postby Aaeriele » Sat Jun 02, 2012 4:40 am UTC

sourmìlk wrote:I'm having a tad bit of trouble categorizing myself. I think I'm in the 20%, but I'm also aware of the Dunning-Kruger effect. For example, the fact that I have an ubuntu partition, have been coding since age 11, and just today told my boss that he should check out the cool new C++11 features indicates that I'm in the 20%, but (and I think this is the most damning bit) I don't involve myself in open source projects at all. Is that a serious deficiency on my part?


No, that's just something you choose not to do.

You don't have to do everything described to be part of the 20% portion, just a reasonable portion of it.
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Re: Was I too harsh?

Postby sourmìlk » Sat Jun 02, 2012 4:50 am UTC

Yay, I'm awesome as always!

(Interestingly, of the 14 types, I am without a doubt the Lazy Programmer).

My dad was a programmer for a while, but he got tired of it, and stopped in about '89. It's funny because he's never defined a class or used a template or generic or made an application that functioned beyond the command line. But he was definitely in the 20%. He told me a story of how, when he was a Sys Admin for Lehman*, his users were complaining of intermittent connection problems. He and a friend / coworker chained together several programs in the Unix pipeline that successively polled connection data, charted it, and then graphed it. They noticed it was a nigh-perfect sin wave with a period of 90 seconds. A bit of router configuration later and the problems disappeared. I think if you can come up with a solution like that, and not just build software to spec, that puts you easily in the 20%.


* - Every company my dad has worked at no longer exists. Various software firms in the 80s are gone. Sun has been absorbed by Oracle. Lehman brothers collapsed. WaMu merged with chase. My dad drove his startup into the ground. BP Logix's future isn't looking bright.**
** - Note to shareholders: that was a joke.
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Re: Was I too harsh?

Postby Steax » Sat Jun 02, 2012 5:01 am UTC

sourmìlk wrote:
Steax wrote:Yes - and it's a fairy common occurrence throughout the industry. I separate them into two camps, however: those who just can't code, and those who won't improve. Your coworkers sound like the second category. And since I'm short on time, checkout this article.

I'm having a tad bit of trouble categorizing myself. I think I'm in the 20%, but I'm also aware of the Dunning-Kruger effect. For example, the fact that I have an ubuntu partition, have been coding since age 11, and just today told my boss that he should check out the cool new C++11 features indicates that I'm in the 20%, but (and I think this is the most damning bit) I don't involve myself in open source projects at all. Is that a serious deficiency on my part?


As Aaeriele said, yes. The mere fact that you're already thinking about this, talking about it on a forum with other programmers, and you're aware that you're not getting involved in those projects is enough to put you in the 20%.

I find an easier way to imagine the 20% to be from grade school students. You know there are the active 20%, and it's not just in sciences - sport stars, activists, leaders, mini-entrepreneurs, while everyone else tags along. Nobody's good at everything, but just a small portion is good enough.

(for the inevitable opponent: we're not strictly talking 20%. It's just a way people refer to it - you have the "active" programmers, and by definition pretty much everyone on this forum, or who reads blogs for leisure thought-food, or who experiments with stuff, etc... are members of that group. Then you have the "just to get by" programmers. You know these people. They come in the morning, do their cubicle work, follow the rules, finish the day's list, and go home in the afternoon. Check out my linked article for more. Luckily, nowadays most of these people have been shunned to tech support work, or for in-house teams, or for governments, and stuff like that. They're not actually bad - they just see programming as a day job.)
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Re: Was I too harsh?

Postby DaveInsurgent » Sat Jun 02, 2012 5:03 am UTC

sourmìlk wrote:
DaveInsurgent wrote: Map<String, Map<String, ArrayList<Object>>>

I really have to ask: what exactly was this supposed to do?


So, it was part of an internal tool that aggregates information from multiple defect tracking systems and multiple version control systems used at the company, for a given software release, and presents them in a single place:

The outermost Map used the key String to identify which defect tracking system the inner Map was related to, so when they were iterating over each Entry in the (outer) Map, there were if/else if blocks checking if the String key was .equals() to "jira" or "otherSystem" etc. and then processing them differently, e.g. using different database connections. Then for the inner map, each key String was the identifier of the defect in whatever nomelclature was relevant to that system, and the ArrayList<Object> were different things, sometimes Long, sometimes String, sometimes an actual instance of a class, depending on which system, but all related to software changes. That didn't matter, since the outer String and it's related if/else if statements delegated the inner Map off to functions that knew they could just (cast) everything to what it 'knew' they would be.

Anyway, in addition to that, there were different contexts (source control system / software components) that had special or funny rules, e.g. needed some data from another teams stored procedure - in order to serialize all this in to inline HTML via a StringBuilder in a servlet - and so (thankfully?) rather than nesting in ANOTHER Map to put some more magic tokens to denote logic/branching, we instead go different arguments and some copy/paste and we're good to go.

It worked more or less (especially because no one is actually capable of validating the output, there are no requirements and no actual stakeholders) but I was told it was now a "library" (this 11 parameter, 1700 line method that spits out HTML) that I was to use to generate Microsoft documents (of yet more undefined requirements) that conform to very strict corporate branding guidelines. Oh, but first it needed to be updated to accomodate comparing two versions of software together, not just a single version of software.

So I'm about three weeks in, I've completely refactored (does it even count as refactoring if the original source file is intact?) to interfaces (Component, Change, Defect) and the servlet returns XML that is built in to HTML in the AJAX handler, and the document generation uses the same domain objects as the XML serializer.. I don't know if I should be happy with myself or sad with my situation.

And just because it feels good to get it out: we have more 'library' code that is, of course, entirely public static methods with no less than 5 parameters each, always coded to implementations (ArrayList), never interfaces, and some will open a database connection if you don't specify one, some will close the one you do specify, some will ignore it and open their own and others will just use it and fail if you don't specify it. That's when we're not invoking static methods from JSP that create database connections, call PHP to build HTML, etc.

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Re: Was I too harsh?

Postby sourmìlk » Sat Jun 02, 2012 5:10 am UTC

Spoiler:
Image


Also this
DaveInsurgent wrote:It worked more or less (especially because no one is actually capable of validating the output, there are no requirements and no actual stakeholders)

Reminded me of a time I was writing a small traceroute for a client constantly complaining about connection issues. The traceroute ran from our server to whoever goes onto the webpage with the raceroute, and was intended to show that the connection only started going slowly on their end. They shut up after that. But before I started coding it, my dad suggested just writing "printf("It's on your side.");"

I laughed at him for thinking we still use printf.
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