It’s Not Just A Programming Problem.


Over at CodingHorror, Jeff riffs on problems hiring for development positions, when many interviewees aren’t able to answer the most basic of code questions.

Well, I’m sure this is a common story in any skills-or-knowledge-driven industry where there’s a minimum bar. For example, we have similar issues when hiring infrastructure support people. We typically advertise for senior staff with 5+ years experience.

The resumes we see are often filled with excitement-inducing hyperbole: “25 years experience on Windows NT-based systems!”“Wrote the book on TCP/IP!”; “I like computers!”

In my experience, it’s statistically likely that if someone lists strong-to-godlike TCP/IP skills, chances are they won’t be able to describe a 3-way handshake.

One of my colleagues developed a pretty good canary question for people wanting to support Windows and claiming years of AD experience: “What tool do you use to manage Users and Computers in Active Directory?” He estimates 75% of interviewees fall at that hurdle.

In my last job, when it was more topical, we’d open by asking NT Domain candidates to name a couple of NetBIOS node types (yes, I was employed there a long time ago now), and for bonus points, how they were different. Anyone getting that question right was basically technically OK’d and breezed through the other questions; they just needed to impress us more than the other (two from thirty) people that got it right.

As a quick suggestion to prospective employees at any firm where I’m an inteviewer: a good portion of the interview is likely to involve going through your resume (this isn’t a marketing job, you know!), so if you’ve put something in there, please do expect to be asked questions about it!

This post brought to you by the numbers 3 and 5, and the word “fizbuzz”. Weird.

Comments (3)

  1. Anonymous says:

    Hey Jodee, it’s my soapbox, I can misremember what I want!

    And if you’re right, well, that’s just sticking to the plan, isn’t it?

    There was still a chance that someone might have forgotten the WINS acronym but…. nah, you’re right, it probably was a bit OTT.

  2. Jodee says:

    Actually I seem to remember it was "What is WINS?" as the canary question.  When they didn’t know what WINS was, you STILL asked the NetBIOS node types question.

    I also remember when you were going through somebody’s resume and they had put as one of their hobbies "Producing high quality midi music files", to which you were commented: "I think I’ll be the judge of that".  

    I’m sure they felt even more at ease after that.

  3. Bob says:

    "Producing high quality midi music files"

    I am adding that to my resume today.