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  1. #1
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    Best/Worst Technical Interview Questions

    Hi, folks. I'm working on an article for DevSource.com that I think will be fun and useful, and I'd like your help.

    Every techie here has been on a few job interviews. It's tough, from either side of the desk, because you're trying to prove that you're brilliant in a subject that isn't suited to a song-and-dance. You can talk about projects you've worked on; you can claim expertise with certain tools and languages; you can wave around references from clients or previous employers. But that rarely helps you demonstrate what you're best at -- whatever that is.

    And then an interviewer asks a lame question that doesn't even approach that goal, such as, "What are your three greatest strengths and three greatest weaknesses?" As dumb as it is, the interviewer doesn't know what to ask; what he really wants to know is if you'd be a comfortable person to sit next to, 40+ hours a week, and if you're just BSing about what you know how to do.

    Like I said: everybody's been there. We've all encountered *good* questions in an interview. We've all tried really hard not to roll our eyes when we're asked something pointless or offensive. So I thought I'd write a short article listing the best-and-worst, which you've asked or heard or heard of (which could also be a fun distraction here).

    For example: the best job app I ever encountered was for a tiny compiler optimization company in Maine. The written form had the basic background questions, then some rather strange questions and a few brain teasers. The point of the latter wasn't to see if you could deal with engineering trivia, but to see how you addressed the problem. (That might have bugged me, except I knew the company owner -- we'd played D&D together, which is how I met him -- and he meant it. Playing a fantasy role playing game is another way to learn how someone solves problems and copes with frustrations, but that's another discussion.)

    Anyway, a pair of questions on that list were the best I ever encountered, and I have used them when I've done journalistic interviews with famous people: "What's the most important thing you learned in school? What's the most important thing you learned outside of school?" Imagine for a moment that you had to answer those questions; they sure poke a hole through the puffery, don't they? You can only answer them as yourself, not with a "what makes me look good?" answer.

    I did take that job in Maine. The company policy was that *all* the files were open, and everyone was free to look through them. So once, while waiting for a long compile, I pawed through the Interviews folder. I was astonished by the range of answers those two questions elicited. The company owner (who filled out his own form) had written "recursion" as the answer to the second question; someone else wrote "the importance of God and my family." That doesn't tell you *everything* about the person, but it sure tells you something.

    The _worst_ interview question wasn't addressed to me, but was given to my husband. He was interviewing for a compiler job at, er, a large developer of commercial software. The developer who interviewed Bill asked several questions like, "How would you design a language parser?" and got very detailed. Those might have been relevant... except that it immediately became obvious that the developer/interviewer was asking Bill to debug the code he was working on right at that moment. I don't think it's part of an interview to do the other person's job.

    So: what are the best interview questions you've heard? The ones you'd hate to be asked? Tell me what they are, why you judge them so highly or so poorly. I'll compile them, try to find some commonality (such as "brain teasers"), and turn them into an article. Ideally, it will both make you groan, and also help you say, "Hey, that's a good one to ask, the next time that HR puts me on the interview schedule."

    Timewise: I'm hoping to pull this together by the beginning of next week. Please tell me how to refer to you in the article (the ideal is name/title/location, such as "Esther Schindler, a VB programmer in Phoenix"). While I bet this could be a fun discussion here, feel free to write to me privately (esther at bitranch.com).

    Esther Schindler
    editor, DevSource.com

  2. #2
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    Re: Best/Worst Technical Interview Questions

    Hi Esther,

    This thread covers some of that...

    http://www.sqaforums.com/showflat.ph...e=0#Post331893

    I hope this helps,
    Aaron Fager
    Software Test Engineer

    If builders built buildings the way programmers wrote programs, then the first woodpecker that came along would destroy civilization.

  3. #3
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    Re: Best/Worst Technical Interview Questions

    I think that the dumbest question I've ever been asked, occurred may years ago while applying for an entry level opening and receiving an offer at the end of the interview: "The position pays $35k, but I think I can get you $45k. Which would you prefer?"

    Right, well, I want to stay in a lower tax bracket so I'll take the $35k. Duh!
    Personal Comment

    Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.
    ~ Winston Churchill ~


    ...Rich Wagner

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    Re: Best/Worst Technical Interview Questions

    That does help, but I can't quote someone from another thread! (It would be tacky anyway)

  5. #5
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    Re: Best/Worst Technical Interview Questions

    That's a wonderful example!

  6. #6
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    Re: Best/Worst Technical Interview Questions

    I used to look at ads offering 401K and think "Wow, software development pays well!"

    Of course, I wondered why it wasn't just 400k, I would settle for that...
    Aaron Fager
    Software Test Engineer

    If builders built buildings the way programmers wrote programs, then the first woodpecker that came along would destroy civilization.

  7. #7
    Moderator JakeBrake's Avatar
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    Re: Best/Worst Technical Interview Questions

    Best: How have you handled conflict with a) your supervisor or manager, and b) your peers?
    (context = interview for FTE years ago. I did get the job. <font color="blue"> </font> )


    Worst:

    Refer to the first item here:
    Worst

  8. #8
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    Re: Best/Worst Technical Interview Questions

    What makes that the best question, Jake? (I can make a guess, but I don't want to put words in your mouth.)

  9. #9
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    Re: Best/Worst Technical Interview Questions

    It caused me to take stock of past conflict-related learnings, do a self-assessment on the spot, and cite some examples to the interviewer. I felt comfortable that past experience had taught me fairly well to that point and that I knew there was no end to learning in that domain. That is what I communicated to the interviewer.

    I think it the most important soft skill which, is why I think it the best question I've been asked. I also think it is a skill that is as elusive as the silver-bullet development methodology.

    It takes awareness that conflict is brewing and skill to defuse it, and - practice - practice - practice - refinement - refinement - refinement.

  10. #10
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    Re: Best/Worst Technical Interview Questions

    I use Jake's favorite question a lot as it's one of my favorites too. I can't speak for Jake, but I like it because conflict is inevitable in a job. Many people can handle it alright if they have to, but there are also a good number of people who can't handle it in the slightest.

    Some of the no-so-hot answers I've gotten in the past:
    - Thinly veiled resentment even years later
    - Team lead who handled a minor conflict with ruling with an iron fist (people were showing up slightly late to work, so instead of talking to them he wrote a script which captured the time people logged into their computers and posted it daily to an interal website!)
    - Can't think of anything. Either completely oblivious to any interpersonal matters, have overstated their responsibilities (when it comes to interviewing senior testers or managers), or has no opinion/doesn't raise serious issues when they see them/yes-man.

    Absolute worst question I ever got -- and it wasn't even a question -- was an interviewer who said "So tell me about yourself". That was his only "question".

    I can't think of a single best technical question I've been asked.

    I don't know if I'd agree with that being the worst interview question, estherschindler. I will often use current or past situations like that in interviews. I'm not expecting anyone to 'do my work' for me but to see them talk through something that is applicable to the job and see if they have the right mindset. It's not so much what they answer, but how they answer that I look at though.

 

 
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