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An Interview Quandry

by dws (Chancellor)
on Oct 11, 2003 at 18:07 UTC ( #298528=perlmeditation: print w/replies, xml ) Need Help??

Imagine that you've been through two rounds of interviews for a job that involves some Perl coding. The first round includes a technical screen. You're given a whiteboard marker, and asked to sketch a solution to a fairly basic problem (one that gets at whether you can do simple stuff, like basic I/O, regular expressions, and some data accumulation and presentation using hashes.)

You pass the first round. You later hear that many prior candidates have crashed-and-burned during the technical screen.

In the second round, during a non-technical screen, you're back in the same room. You notice on the way in that the code now on the whiteboard isn't yours. During the course of the interview, you glance at the board a few times, first noticing that there is one outright bug, then that whoever wrote the code didn't understand autovivification, and then that they made a minor gaffe in a regex.

Do you point these problems out to the interviewer? Why (or why not)?

Replies are listed 'Best First'.
Re: An Interview Quandry
by BrowserUk (Pope) on Oct 12, 2003 at 02:41 UTC

    This thread reminds me of a rumour I heard when I first did work for IBM. The story went that they often arranged interviews in the period running up to lunch, and if the candidate looked promising, offer to stand them lunch in the company resturant prior to continuing in the afternoon. When sitting down to lunch, the candidate was watched to see if they used additional salt and pepper. If they did so without having tasted the food first to see if it actually needed it, this was considered a black mark, indicative of an impetuous and/or imprudent (sp?) personality.

    Following lunch, the candidate would be informed that the company policy was for no alcohol on the premises, but that there was a sport club bar in the grounds where this rule was relaxed and was taken along to "see the facilities". Once there, the interviewer would ask the candidate what he would like to drink!

    The "correct answer" -- fruit juice, a small beer, coffee or "Nothing thanks." -- varied depending upon the teller, but all choices had some significance and it wasn't always a "bad thing" to opt for the beer, or the safe bet to go for coffee.

    I can see how the "left over" white board code could be construed into some kind of "psych test". And any response, could be a double-edged sword. You say something and you could be perceived as arrogant. You don't, timid or lacking confidence. You do, "Why was he nosing around the room". You don't, "Did he miss it?"

    If I noticed, I might say something like. "Interesting. That's not the way I would have done it!" as a parting shot.

    That is, if the idea that it might be some kind of "secret test" didn't cross my mind, because if it did, I am quite likely to react quite differently.

    If I could confirm the idea that I was being "secretly evaluated", I might seriously question myself if this was a place that I wanted to work!

    It's a bit like the old standby. "Why do you want to come to work for us?". The best answer in my opinion, whether as an interviewer or an intervieweƩ, is: "I'm not sure that I do yet. That's why we are interviewing each other isn't it?". Too smug?


    Examine what is said, not who speaks.
    "Efficiency is intelligent laziness." -David Dunham
    "Think for yourself!" - Abigail
    Hooray!

      When sitting down to lunch, the candidate was watched to see if they used additional salt and pepper. If they did so without having tasted the food first to see if it actually needed it, this was considered a black mark, indicative of an impetuous and/or imprudent (sp?) personality.

      The version of the story I heard attributed this to Henry Ford, but the idea is the same. If someone starts making adjustments to food before they take the time to evaluate whether adjustments are needed, that might be an indicator that they'll make arbitrary adjustments in other things, like project requirements or schedules.

      I'm curious about the IBM rumours, where you working there before 1993? I've heard some horror stories prior to Gerstner becoming CEO, but haven't heard any about the period since.

        I was contracted to IBM, at various sites, pretty much continuously from '86 through '95. I remember "The Biscuit Man"'s appointment in '93. Coming, as it did, shortly after the extreme trauma following the company posting it's $5 billion loss in 1992, the impact of his arrival (at my grunt level) was pretty much masked by the policies that had been put in-place by his predecessors. Particularly 2 savage rounds of the Skill Rebalancing Option (SRO).

        As an external, especially in the midst of such blood-letting, I was more tuned to keeping my head below the parapette and doing my best to remain employed.

        I will say that from my viewpoint he did remove some of the stuffiness that had been present in my rare escursions at the senior managerial level, but beyond that, I could really say I personally noted much change.

        I think that the summation of his IBM career that I read somewhere (maybe The Times), when he retired in '01, "Good Manager. Poor Entrepreneur." is probably pretty accurate.

        I was working abroad from '95 on, so I pretty much lost touch with the internal view from that point.


        Examine what is said, not who speaks.
        "Efficiency is intelligent laziness." -David Dunham
        "Think for yourself!" - Abigail
        Hooray!

Re: An Interview Quandry
by liz (Monsignor) on Oct 11, 2003 at 18:29 UTC
    I would point it out at the end of the interview, probably on the way out, depending on how the inteview went. Something like "by the way, I assume you noticed that there are some problems with this code...".

    I don't think I would mention it during the interview, unless specifically asked. It would distract from the goal of the interview, namely me ;-)

    But then again, I haven't done too many job interviews (as an interviewee) in my life. I have done a lot of interviews trying to sell projects. I'm not sure whether these different types of interviews would require the same skill set.

    Liz

Re: An Interview Quandry
by tilly (Archbishop) on Oct 12, 2003 at 01:32 UTC
    I saw this in your journal and already gave my answer in a /msg. But here it is for the public.

    I would be inclined to say, Am I supposed to notice that there are problems with that code over there?

Re: An Interview Quandry
by BUU (Prior) on Oct 11, 2003 at 18:31 UTC
    Granted I have absolutely no experience in this matter, but heres my take:

    I wouldn't point out the errors unless the interviewer specifically asked me about it. Knowing what I did about the previous stage, I would assume that he had just given someone else the 'first stage' and they didn't pass, but he just left the white board up. If he asked I would be more then willing to point out the mistakes, but I would, by default, assume the interviewed knew all about the mistakes on the board and pointing it out would just be irritating.
Re: An Interview Quandry
by pg (Canon) on Oct 11, 2003 at 19:54 UTC

    This does not bother me, as it is generally irrelevant. As you already passed the technical screen, so your tech side on Perl has been recgonized already, pointing out those little bugs does not give you more scores. Especially something like autovivification, is even not a bug, some people can choose to disregard the autovivification feature in Perl for style reasons.

    If there is a situation prompts you to mention it during or after the interview, there is no harm to mention it, but don't mention those intentionally. If I am the interviewer, and sense that someone is too eager to show off just because of some really trival stuff, I would strongly doubt how deep the person is both in terms of tech and personality, and put him to the bottom of the queue.

      Especially something like autovivification, is even not a bug, some people can choose to disregard the autovivification feature in Perl for style reasons.
      Can you give an example?
Re: An Interview Quandry
by Marza (Vicar) on Oct 11, 2003 at 22:06 UTC

    As with every answer; it depends on you

    My experience is that when an outsider is coming in, people tend to erase boards of anything they should not see

    I would have asked about it and then explained the corrections.

    Most likely if you are going to be working in a team setting, they may have wanted to see if you will point out possible mistakes to your coworkers.

    There are strange tests in interviews, I remember reading about a shipping company looking for a radio operator. The room was full of applicants and one guy heard morse going over a speaker. It basically said that if you understand this, go to room B. He did that and was hired on the spot.

Re: An Interview Quandry
by Abigail-II (Bishop) on Oct 12, 2003 at 01:36 UTC
    I wouldn't bring it up for several reasons. One reason is already mentioned by others. The other reason is, is that the second interview is non-technical, so, presumably, the people I interview with are less technical as well (managers, HR, etc (but that's not to say some managers aren't technical). So, why point out mistakes about something that was likely made by another candidate?

    Abigail

      The other reason is, is that the second interview is non-technical, so, presumably, the people I interview with are less technical as well.

      If the second interview was with your prospective second-level technical manager, would your answer change?

        Probably not, unless there's something being discussed in the interview where it makes sense to comment on what's on the board.

        Abigail

Re: An Interview Quandry
by Juerd (Abbot) on Oct 12, 2003 at 08:33 UTC

    I would be unable to not say something about it. I'm someone who keeps correcting people on IRC, and I'm much like that IRL. It would be a good test for the employer too: if they don't want someone who speaks when they see something wrong, I would probably not like to work there.

    Juerd # { site => 'juerd.nl', plp_site => 'plp.juerd.nl', do_not_use => 'spamtrap' }

Re: An Interview Quandry
by Anonymous Monk on Oct 11, 2003 at 21:53 UTC

    I'd just bring it up in a conversation as a sidenote. Interviews shouldn't be heavily structured and formal. I would have doubts about hiring anyone that hesitated to point out an error.

Re: An Interview Quandry
by moxliukas (Curate) on Oct 12, 2003 at 12:10 UTC

    I would most likely mention it in the interview. However I would mention as a sidenote or on my way out at the end of the interview. I'd probably say something along the lines of "I would have written the code slightly differently" and explain why. It is possible that the code was written by a current employee (or an interviewer) and not neccessarilly written badly on purpose so this could in a way discredit them, but I don't think the famous Douglas Adams saying "noone likes a smartass" applies here. At least I wouldn't want to work in the environment where that saying was true.

Re: An Interview Quandry
by jacques (Priest) on Oct 12, 2003 at 00:56 UTC
    It depends on the location of the whiteboard. If it is across the room or behind the interviewer, I would not mention it.
Re: An Interview Quandry
by Aristotle (Chancellor) on Oct 13, 2003 at 12:48 UTC

    The tales of covert evaluation procedures had me thinking for quite a while. I wondered how one could ever know how to react correctly. The whole concern irked me all along though - I passionately hate playing games like this.

    My conclusion is that you have to decide on your goal: do you want this job, or are you looking for a job that's "for you"?

    Since I decided that I want the latter, my answer is: I'd ask whether the interviewer is interested in comments on the code on the blackboard - it might be written by another interviewee who was rejected, f.ex, or be completely out of scope of the interview for a number of other reasons. If I'm given the go-ahead, then I wouldn't hesitate to mention my observations, just like I want others to mention theirs to me. If I'm then rejected for that reason, then it's not likely an employer I'd want to work for in the first place.

    Makeshifts last the longest.

Re: An Interview Quandry
by runrig (Abbot) on Oct 12, 2003 at 18:56 UTC
    You notice on the way in that the code now on the whiteboard isn't yours.

    I might casually ask how many people they're interviewing that day, and if it leads to talking about what's on the whiteboard, then I might give my opinion about what's on the whiteboard. Then again, what's on the whiteboard might have been written by your next boss (and not another interviewee), and you may have to be careful about what you say about the code (if you want the job, that is) :-)

      Then again, what's on the whiteboard might have been written by your next boss (and not another interviewee), and you may have to be careful about what you say about the code (if you want the job, that is)

      Might you want to know in advance whether people in that environment have fragile egos?

        When interviewing people, I have on occasion given the candidate a print-out of a snippet of my code with a couple of egregious bugs and with my name on the first line, and asked them what they think - could they program in this style and so on.

        I want to employ people who won't be afraid to tell me when I screw up.

Re: An Interview Quandry
by chaoticset (Chaplain) on Oct 15, 2003 at 17:44 UTC
    Probing gently never hurts. Stare at the whiteboard for a few seconds when there's a lull in conversation, and they'll probably bring it up themselves. Their first statement about it will either be unnecessarily casual -- "You looking at the whiteboard?" -- completely casual -- "What are you looking at?" -- or guarded and suspicious -- "Are you reading that whiteboard?"

    At which point you know the appropriate reply.



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