My own geek hiring tips

Justin James at TechRepublic has 10 interview questions to help make the best geeky hire. I think some of them are close, but a couple are downright dangerous (at least from the candidate's perspective). Here's my take on his 1010.

1: Star Wars or Star Trek?

James is confused. He thinks that a wishy-washy candidate is showing a lack of bottle. Nonsense. If I were interviewing and the candidate said that they liked them both, but... Star Wars was great until the prequels, and Star Trek is still really good if you ignore Voyager and the reboot, then I'd consider that a solid geeky answer. They the extra point if they say that DS9 was the best ST series ever.

10: Who shot first, Han Solo or Greedo?

James is absolutely correct on this one. If the candidate noted that this was the moment they parted ways with Lucas in the prior question, then you should hire them immediately. The interview is done.

11: Movie or the original?

I can't really disagree with James on this one, other than his example canon. Very few of my favorite books have been made into movies, so this would be difficult, especially because I'm not a movie buff. But if they noted that Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone has a different (and better) title in great Britain, and know what trainers are, the candidate passes this question.

100: What are ten of “Weird Al” Yankovic’s greatest songs?

I wouldn't hinge my interview on knowing "Weird Al" but if the candidate can even hum a few bars of "Happy Birthday" or "Xmas at Ground Zero" then maybe James has a point.

101: Remember when Steve Jobs started KoalaSoft?

This is the worst advice on the list. Interviewers should never intentionally trick their candidates. As a job candidate who has been tricked on accident--dude was signing PO requests during my interview, and on top of that we were supposed to be discussing the company, and this friggin' muckety-muck gave me a technical interview after his staff had grilled me, then lectured me on human philosophy (users vs makers, my god, it's like he'd read a 'book' once)--I can tell you that it feels terrible. Beware of this advice as a hiring manager. It sets up a very bad relationship from even before you've hired the person. They can't trust you, and you've given them good reason not to. Lastly, the example is terrible. Nobody under thirty knows that Steve Jobs founded NeXT after Apple, since NeXT's existence was shorter than the half-life of the Higgs Boson.

110: How will you bribe the gamesmaster?

This implies that all IT personnel know Dungeons & Dragons and it's role-playing derivatives. It's a bad question, and like the prior one, sets the candidate up for failure. The only out is the Kobayashi Maru--change the rules. As the candidate, insist that as game master, you don't accept bribes, why, do you? Then walk out of the interview and find a place that gives a shit about its candidate's technical skills.

111: What were the original Intel Pentium CPUs most famous for?

Who gives a shit. What a dumb question. Negative eleventy billion points for James.

1000: How would you describe the “real programmer”?

I don't get this question. Just like I don't get the premise (What is a real man?) I'd never heard of The Story of Mel before reading this list, and since it's never come in conversation prior to this with other programmers, I'm just going to have to assume that James pulled this from his arse. The story is terribly written and shouldn't serve as a model to anyone--"most pessimum?" sheesh. Bad Latin, no carborundum for you! (nor should men attempt to kill lions with their bare hands, Siegfried-and-Roy-tiger-attack anyone?)

1001: Who is your favorite artist/musician?

The Decemberists. A candidate that cannot say that immediately is very close to terminating the interview. If they say The New Pornographers, they're back in the game, if only because the name of the band is exactly the stupidest thing that they should say out loud in an interview. Cajones count.

1010: Who was Gary Gygax?

Even dumber than number 1000. That I knew the answer makes me feel dumber, not smarter. The better question would be: What instrument do you play in rock band? Then fire up the Wii and let the real interview begin.

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At 7/5/10, 9:17 AM, Blogger Charles Céleste Hutchins said...

Haha, I know att the old school geeky one. Well, aside from who shot first. But NeXT is important, it's the basis of Os X and they invented Objective C. NeXT still lives! Really! (Disclamer: I purchased a copy of NeXTSTEP in the 1990s.)

Also, if you don't know the story of Mel, it's like you never read the hackers dictionary.

In seriousness, though, these questions are like a how-to practice subtle discrimination. Native-born americans, people in their 30's and white people are much more likely to know the answers. This is like, "how to avoid those pesky diversity laws without looking like you're doing so." These kinds of questions, which really have nothing to do with the job, are exactly the sort of questions that a company with a good inclusion policy will explicitly discourage.

At 7/7/10, 8:53 AM, Blogger Crinis said...

I hadn't thought of the discrimination angle, but you're right Les! So you and I are OK for these questions, but women and Indians are out-of-luck. I assumed that James wrote them tongue-in-cheek and I seriously doubt that any hiring manager looking to hire competency and talent would use use list. Then again, I've worked in some pretty shitty IT depts...


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