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Are Brain Teasers Good Hiring Criteria?

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the manholes-are-round-to-accommodate-ninja-turtles dept.

Programming 672

theodp writes "Your brain teaser prowess may win you a job at Google, but the folks at 37signals don't hire programmers based on puzzles, API quizzes, math riddles, or other parlor tricks. 'The only reliable gauge I've found for future programmer success,' explains 37signals' David Heinemeier Hansson, 'is looking at real code they've written, talking through bigger picture issues, and, if all that is swell, trying them out for size.'" Those of you who have hired employees: have you seen correlation between interview puzzle success and job competency? How should an interviewee best handle these questions?

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Well, they're a good indicator of intelligence (5, Insightful)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 2 years ago | (#38609202)

If someone is giving you one, they're probably not very intelligent.

Re:Well, they're a good indicator of intelligence (5, Funny)

dgun (1056422) | more than 2 years ago | (#38609298)

I agree. But I would prefer a puzzle to questions like "where do you see yourself in 5 years" and "what are your goals". I want to answer "My goal is to get hired. Why else would I answer such stupid questions?"

Re:Well, they're a good indicator of intelligence (5, Insightful)

jimbolauski (882977) | more than 2 years ago | (#38609408)

I agree. But I would prefer a puzzle to questions like "where do you see yourself in 5 years" and "what are your goals". I want to answer "My goal is to get hired. Why else would I answer such stupid questions?"

Those questions are more pertinent to MBA's where your ability to pile on BS in a believable way is an important skill.

Re:Well, they're a good indicator of intelligence (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38609526)

Yet when the people hiring are other programmers or (as in my case) artists, they still feel the need to ask these questions because that's how they THINK they should be interviewing people.

How do you think I got my job? I BSed my way through their stupid questions and when they finally asked pertinent programming questions I answered intelligently. From what they told me afterwards most people managed to BS the first set and failed on the second.

THEODP IS AN IDIOT! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38609694)

He keeps submitting complete NONSENSE summaries about INANE webpages. We might be looking at 10 per week or so. And of course, the fool, Soulskill, always lets a few through.
 
Slashdot, Slashdot--what has become of you? Does anybody else in here feel the way I do?
 
Some sunny day...

Re:Well, they're a good indicator of intelligence (5, Insightful)

w_dragon (1802458) | more than 2 years ago | (#38609490)

The 5 years question is really just asking if you intend to move up the management or technical ladder. If I'm looking for someone who may eventually become a software architect and a candidate tells me they want to be a VP in 5 years I may think twice before hiring them.

Re:Well, they're a good indicator of intelligence (5, Interesting)

JoeMerchant (803320) | more than 2 years ago | (#38609672)

There's a technical ladder? Anywhere I've ever worked, it's more like a stool - start a decent distance off the floor, then go nowhere.

Re:Well, they're a good indicator of intelligence (5, Funny)

MagusSlurpy (592575) | more than 2 years ago | (#38609712)

Go nowhere? You can always get too excited and knock the stool over!

Re:Well, they're a good indicator of intelligence (4, Funny)

AngryDeuce (2205124) | more than 2 years ago | (#38609556)

God I always hate those fucking questions. "Why did you chose to apply with us?" Because I need a fucking job! Why else do people apply for a job? Why is that not enough? "Where do you see yourself in five years?" Uh, gainfully employed? Do my life goals really matter to whether or not I can fill this position? What if I saw myself working at the fucking circus in five years, would that have a bearing on whether or not I was hired? Why? "What are your goals?" To make enough money to pay my bills with a little left over for fun once in a while? Is that too mundane?

Man, I despise interviews. I fantasize about going all Peter Gibbons in Office Space [youtube.com] every time someone asks me one of these stupid, irrelevant questions, but my sense of self-preservation reigns in those crazy ideas.

Re:Well, they're a good indicator of intelligence (5, Interesting)

ShieldW0lf (601553) | more than 2 years ago | (#38609668)

God I always hate those fucking questions. "Why did you chose to apply with us?" Because I need a fucking job! Why else do people apply for a job? Why is that not enough? "Where do you see yourself in five years?" Uh, gainfully employed? Do my life goals really matter to whether or not I can fill this position? What if I saw myself working at the fucking circus in five years, would that have a bearing on whether or not I was hired? Why? "What are your goals?" To make enough money to pay my bills with a little left over for fun once in a while? Is that too mundane?

Man, I despise interviews. I fantasize about going all Peter Gibbons in Office Space [youtube.com] every time someone asks me one of these stupid, irrelevant questions, but my sense of self-preservation reigns in those crazy ideas.

Personally, when someone asks me why I chose to apply with them, I've got a very good reason. When someone asks me "Where do you see yourself in 5 years", I tell them the truth, and then I ask them what they will do to help me get there. If they answer wrong, I walk. And when they ask me to engage in meaningless work so they can judge me, I tell them they're welcome to judge my portfolio, but if they want me to start problem solving, the meaningless of the task is irrelevant... they're still going to have to pay for it.

You can weed out most bad employers in this way. Not all of them, but most. It helps if you have 3 months salary in reserve for emergencies like you should so you don't end up entering a bad situation out of desperation.

Re:Well, they're a good indicator of intelligence (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38609726)

I ask those questions, and it is exactly to weed out people like you (and in fact the answers have actually made me say no to candidates in the past).

I have a passion for what I do and in my experience, the best people for jobs where I work are ones who share that passion. We already have people who treat it as a 9-5 job and pretty much all of them are "ok". The ones who stand out are ones who think of it as more than just a job to pay their bills. If you intend to work just to get by, that is all you will ever do at the job.

Re:Well, they're a good indicator of intelligence (1)

ozbon (99708) | more than 2 years ago | (#38609704)

The best answer to "Where do you see yourself in 5 years" is always "Doing your job. Only better." It won't get you the job, but it's always a great answer. As for "What are your goals?", I normally respond with something along the lines of either "They're the things I want to achieve", or "They're the milestones on my way to being better". Not exactly helpful answers, but correct nonetheless. Which *really* annoys interviewers.

Re:Well, they're a good indicator of intelligence (5, Funny)

Frohboy (78614) | more than 2 years ago | (#38609734)

I agree. But I would prefer a puzzle to questions like "where do you see yourself in 5 years" and "what are your goals". I want to answer "My goal is to get hired. Why else would I answer such stupid questions?"

I believe Mitch Hedberg said that to "Where do you see yourself in 5 years?" in an interview, he replied, "Celebrating the fifth anniversary of you asking me that question!"

Re:Well, they're a good indicator of intelligence (5, Insightful)

ILongForDarkness (1134931) | more than 2 years ago | (#38609342)

Perhaps. The article says "looking at real code" is better. Again perhaps. For example the problem there is: did they really write the code, if so how long did it take? Did someone else suggest fixes etc? You don't know. I mean 300 lines of beautiful C is all fine and dandy but if it took you 3 months to write it and half of it is cut and pasted from the web how good is it really?

What brain teasers hopefully do is take a problem close to the types of things you see in the job. Even though it is all programming different companies either due to industry or existing infrastructure/policies tend to have different types of coding "puzzles" that come up again and again. Hopefully this test problem is one you haven't seen before and they get to see how you approach something you don't already know how to solve, how close to a good design do you get on the first interation, if they point out a problem how you go about fixing it etc. All real world important stuff to know about someone.

Re:Well, they're a good indicator of intelligence (2)

ehack (115197) | more than 2 years ago | (#38609504)

Last time I looked, average programmer productivity was rated at -counterintuitively- 10 lines per day, so 300 lines of PRODUCTION GRADE C code would be a very good contribution for 3 months. And in fact cut and paste of well- tested code that gets the job done would definitely be a BETTER thing than the self-invented wheel your average 14 year old kid would write.

Re:Well, they're a good indicator of intelligence (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38609604)

Last time I looked, average programmer productivity was rated at -counterintuitively- 10 lines per day, so 300 lines of PRODUCTION GRADE C code would be a very good contribution for 3 months.

10 lines per day I can believe, especially if you're talking about edits to an existing code base and including testing-revision. But do you only work 10 days a month?

Re:Well, they're a good indicator of intelligence (4, Insightful)

Whorhay (1319089) | more than 2 years ago | (#38609538)

Is using code snippets from the internet really an issue? Is there a good reason to re-invent the wheel, pulley, block and tackle, lever, wrench, lightbulb and whatnot every time?

Time constraints could certainly be a problem if it takes longer for someone to lookup a solution and implement it than if they just come up with the solution themselves and implement it. And there are legal issues with copying large chunks of code, but I wouldn't think that banning it wholesale is a very productive way to go.

Re:Well, they're a good indicator of intelligence (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38609698)

Not necessarily, but if pasting snippets is saving you lots of time, it's probably because you didn't take the time to read and understand it properly. This will come back and bite you.

Whole libraries or classes that are well tested: sure. But if you need to hack the code or its immediate surroundings, you will usually end up spending around the same amount of time as just reading the snippet for inspiration and reimplementing it to fit your context.

Typing is not the bottleneck in programming, understanding and testing is.

One upside might be if the code is written by someone with a better sense of style than you. This is rarely the case with internet snippets, and if it is, you can replicate that too.

Re:Well, they're a good indicator of intelligence (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38609548)

I agree about the time lengths, and problem solving skills. However,

... half of it is cut and pasted from the web how good is it really?

would depend on the job I am hiring for. So long as no laws were breached and proper licensing was observed (did he keep proper headers and attribution? did he contribute his modifications back to the community?), what difference does it make to me whether he wrote himself a brand new wheel or if he simply did an import wheel?

Re:Well, they're a good indicator of intelligence (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38609582)

It at least tells you that the person can recognize good code. ;)

Quite an important thing. Even if he is not quite there yet he will be soon.

A Job for Jobs (1)

Kamiza Ikioi (893310) | more than 2 years ago | (#38609610)

Perhaps. The article says "looking at real code" is better. Again perhaps. For example the problem there is: did they really write the code, if so how long did it take? Did someone else suggest fixes etc? You don't know. I mean 300 lines of beautiful C is all fine and dandy but if it took you 3 months to write it and half of it is cut and pasted from the web how good is it really?

They recognized the beautiful code is a sea of crap that is the Internet, added to it, and made it beautiful. Would I hire someone who could spot that useful code, even if they didn't write it, and could add to it and still make it beautiful? You mean, would I hire Steve Jobs?

Re:Well, they're a good indicator of intelligence (1)

JoeMerchant (803320) | more than 2 years ago | (#38609718)

I mean 300 lines of beautiful C is all fine and dandy but if it took you 3 months to write it and half of it is cut and pasted from the web how good is it really?

3 months is on the slow side, but cut and pasted from the web is just as good as, if not better than, regurgitating it from old textbooks or imagination - as long as you're not running afoul of license issues.

Re:Well, they're a good indicator of intelligence (1)

moderatorrater (1095745) | more than 2 years ago | (#38609730)

Don't use a "puzzle", use a problem you're encountered in your own code base (possibly changing the details but keeping the core problem). Then have them iterate it, fix problems, adapt it to different situations, etc. It's takes a little while, but as long as the problem is fairly simple at heart (string manipulation, factorial, data structure, whatever), it should be possible in a reasonable amount of time.

Re:Well, they're a good indicator of intelligence (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38609356)

If someone is giving you one, they're probably not very intelligent.

So, in your opinion there are no intelligent people at Google?

Re:Well, they're a good indicator of intelligence (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38609412)

Correct. Because every single employee at Google is required to give brain teasers to potential hires.

Re:Well, they're a good indicator of intelligence (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38609522)

Correct. Because every single employee at Google is required to give brain teasers to potential hires.

If you have seen the interview loops at Google, it probably isn't that far off..

Re:Well, they're a good indicator of intelligence (4, Insightful)

leonbloy (812294) | more than 2 years ago | (#38609394)

In my experience: They're a moderately good indicator of a special kind of intelligence; which is not a very useful indicator in the typical hiring process.

Puzzles help to distinguish programmers from lawyers. Not to discriminate good programmers from bad programmers.

Re:Well, they're a good indicator of intelligence (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38609470)

TFS is extremely misleading. First off, it's not like an interview with Google consists solely of puzzles, and if you answer them correctly they just hire you. It's part of a screening process, to look for people who have intelligence and think quickly on their feet. Once they've filtered down to those types of people, you move on to typical interview questions, like looking at code. It's obviously not appropriate for all companies, but it works for Google for two reasons: 1.) Everybody wants to work for Google, which gives them the luxury of being able to use extra screening processes. 2) They're not a typical, hierarchical company. The ability to think quickly and independently is crucial to success there.

Re:Well, they're a good indicator of intelligence (0)

elsurexiste (1758620) | more than 2 years ago | (#38609488)

I'm missing my mod points right now...

Ah, well, I'll give you a virtual +1...

Re:Well, they're a good indicator of intelligence (5, Insightful)

asliarun (636603) | more than 2 years ago | (#38609594)

If someone is giving you one, they're probably not very intelligent.

I completely disagree, or at least, your statement is so broad it is untrue.

Brain teasers are just like any other interviewing tool - what matters is how you use the tool.
As an interviewer, if you use brain teasers to determine *how* the candidate is attempting to solve the problem, you are probably doing it right.
If you are using the brain teaser to tick a box in your checklist based on the answer, you're probably doing it wrong.

The really neat thing about brain teasers or puzzles or the bizarre questions you sometimes encounter like "How many pigeons are there is Manhattan" is that they are a very good way to judge someone's unstructured problem solving ability. How someone approaches this kind of a problem is a good proxy for their ability to debug hard technical issues or their problem solving ability in general.

Making a statement like "hire a programmer based on their programming ability" is also an obvious statement to make, apart from being a bit grandiose (look at us , we are cool because we are contrarians and we swim against the tide). The reason why many interviewers resort to other techniques is two fold - one, lack of time or other constraints that prevent the interviewer from directly testing a programmer's programming ability, and secondly, judge the non-programming aspects of the candidate like how they react to an ill-defined problem or a fuzzy situation, how well they will get along with others, how much of a self-starter they are etc.

Or, if I put it another way, if you are not hiring a programmer on the, to quote, "code they have written", what are you doing, hiring candidates on their baking skills? I get what 37signals is saying and all this got messed up to begin with when HR took over the interviewing process from programmers (especially in large companies). However, the other statements that are flying around about how *any* non-programming related question is stupid is also frankly, over the top.

Re:Well, they're a good indicator of intelligence (1, Insightful)

August_zero (654282) | more than 2 years ago | (#38609640)

Puzzles with subjective answers can show a number of traits in a potential employee. People with overly rigid communication styles or those that fail in the ability to see through analogies are going to be a pain in your ass because they often can't get along well with or understand others in a work environment.

Honestly how many autistic spectrum IT people do you really need?

If the job involved solving puzzles... (4, Informative)

JoeMerchant (803320) | more than 2 years ago | (#38609658)

If you're hiring a sales guy, your interview should test his persistence, resilience, likability, and perhaps ability to hold his liquor.

If you're hiring a customer service rep, your interview should test their patience, politeness, and thoroughness at collecting information.

If you're hiring an engineer, solving puzzles is part of the job, brain teasers are one quick way to gauge how a potential hire will respond to the kind of task the job requires.

As for hiring HR staff, I'm not really sure how to judge them, other than the fact that any good person I've ever encountered in HR didn't stay in the job for long.

Fuck yes. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38609252)

Once again 37signals cuts through the bullshit. Brain teasers during interviews are an HR fad. Show the code.

Re:Fuck yes. (1)

tempest69 (572798) | more than 2 years ago | (#38609540)

Yea, because no applicant would find good code, mask it up a bit and pass it off as their own.
Always check if they can think on the spot- I hate being in the room with a senior executive and the subject matter expert next to me can't come up with any alternative ideas to solve crisis X.

Test (2)

alphatel (1450715) | more than 2 years ago | (#38609256)

Two employers offer you jobs. One asks you a teaser and expects a solution but lies, the other asks for experience and references and expects performance but tells the truth.

What do you ask the parrot that lies about the job the truthful parrot is offering?

Re:Test (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38609292)

What do you ask the parrot that lies about the job the truthful parrot is offering?

How much do you want to pay me?

Re:Test (4, Funny)

sakdoctor (1087155) | more than 2 years ago | (#38609362)

Two applicants apply for a job. One loves teasers and would happily work for the company forever for low pay but lies, and the other will flip out and murder you with corporate stationary and always tells the truth.

What do you ask the water cooler that can only glug once for yes and twice for no about the applicants?

Re:Test (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38609494)

"Hey, water cooler, am I allowed to ask if they're African or European?"

It's important to understand (1, Insightful)

AdrianKemp (1988748) | more than 2 years ago | (#38609266)

Google isn't giving brain teasers to find good programmers. They're giving brain teasers to find creative technical people who can come up with the next big ideas.

Re:It's important to understand (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38609366)

Google isn't giving brain teasers to find good programmers.

Google does *not* give brain teasers for engineering positions, and haven't been for the last 5+ years.
The WSJ article is based on urban legends, and *very* dated information.

Re:It's important to understand (2)

stanlyb (1839382) | more than 2 years ago | (#38609368)

The "next" big ideas??? NO. You failed the test. For google to look for the next big ideas, they first have to actually have some big ideas, which has not yet happened, and is not going to happen soon. I realize that most of the kids believe that making a good program requires only one big bright idea, in the time span of 5min, but the reality is that the "big" idea happens when you finished the project, when you are able to grasp all the cons and pros of your decisions, when you are actually able not only to make it work, and to make it fast, but actually "make it right". KISS bro, and keep watching "hacker" movies.

Re:It's important to understand (1)

AdrianKemp (1988748) | more than 2 years ago | (#38609710)

You know that one good scene from that shitty Adam Sandler movie about him going back to school; the one where the contest judge gives the whole long speech about everyone being dumber having heard what Sandler has just said?

Re:It's important to understand (2)

ILongForDarkness (1134931) | more than 2 years ago | (#38609410)

Yep. There are few companies I know of that can afford their devs to not be creative though (perhaps healthcare and military being the exception since they are highly speced out systems up front usually). Customer has a problem and dev/support can figure out to do it with existing program but if they aren't smart enough to come up with a better workflow/software to fix that repeating customer problem more cleanly your program will continue to be a piece of crap for example. For small companies creativity is what they need because they don't have a dedicated designer/architect etc so they need someone that can say, oh wait why don't we completely flip the approach to the problem around and use hadoop to make this run faster or something. Lastly: it is rare that a company is hiring someone that they just want to be a dev they want them to grow and be more valuable, some day lead a team, a project, etc. A company owner usually is dreaming how big the company will get if the company grows 10X than some of the people that are working for you now need to be able to become managers/architects.

Re:It's important to understand (5, Insightful)

jythie (914043) | more than 2 years ago | (#38609414)

Actually, I would wager they are giving brain teasers as an amusing way to cut down the number of applicants. I think programmers and hiring managers tend to like the questions because they are fun to give, but they are also a quick way to sort through people who look pretty similar on paper. When you have that kind of application volume, figuring out how to reduce it becomes pretty important for one's sanity, but like any other HR technique, it is designed to reduce the pile, not find the best applicants.

Re:It's important to understand (1)

stanlyb (1839382) | more than 2 years ago | (#38609516)

There is better and faster way to cut down the number of applications. Just split it in two piles, then take one and throw it your favorite recycle bin. Simple, yes? Now you have to pay me for my "big", "bright" idea. PROFIT.

Re:It's important to understand (2)

Wovel (964431) | more than 2 years ago | (#38609562)

Then they are even dumber than we expected. Seriously? Think about what you are saying. There is little correlation between brain teaser ability and intelligence. There is no correlation with creativity.

He best wy to find mart creative people is to engage candidate in unscripted conversation with smart creative people. I may be a chicken and eg problem, but goofy tests are not the answer. It is childish and lazy. Most highly intelligent or creative people would not even consider taking a childish test.

I know some of you are saying, "hey! I took a test like that for my job.". Just know, what I said is true. ;)

Re:It's important to understand (1)

Whorhay (1319089) | more than 2 years ago | (#38609686)

And how does a brain teaser have anything to do with finding creative people?

There is still typically only one correct answer. All it would be accomplishing is finding the people clever enough to figure out the answer. Honestly giving someone a few hundred lego's and asking them to build something with a non-specific goal stated, is probably a better test of creativity. Or asking them to write a story from their childhood and embellish it, or make it up entirely.

Bring puzzles as an applicant (4, Interesting)

Nidi62 (1525137) | more than 2 years ago | (#38609276)

Bring the puzzles as an applicant to the interview, and ask the interviewer to take them. If the company puts someone who isn't even smart enough to do brain teasers in a position as important as interviewing and hiring, then the upper management probably isn't very intelligent either.

Re:Bring puzzles as an applicant (2)

joshamania (32599) | more than 2 years ago | (#38609446)

Yeah...cuz I'm gonna take my smartest employees and put them in HR...

Re:Bring puzzles as an applicant (4, Insightful)

w_dragon (1802458) | more than 2 years ago | (#38609536)

HR shouldn't be interviewing for technical positions beyond a basic initial interview to ensure that the candidate actually exists and wants to work for the company.

Re:Bring puzzles as an applicant (2)

L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) | more than 2 years ago | (#38609542)

No, but I might put a technical person on the interview panel. They don't even have to ask any questions; Just be there to gauge the responses, maybe answer questions the applicant may have (and gauge the nature of those questions). Even if they have no sway on the hiring policy, they may demonstrate that the employer cares enough about who they hire to get a technical view of the applicants. That in itself shows that your potential boss won't be a PHB, even if that's who you're interviewed by.

Re:Bring puzzles as an applicant (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38609600)

Usually the brain teasers are not given by HR but by the actual team lead.

Re:Bring puzzles as an applicant (1)

stanlyb (1839382) | more than 2 years ago | (#38609546)

That's very good idea, and every time i had to ask stupid puzzles i actually had the enormous desire to give them my own puzzles, and if they don't give the correct answer.....then what!!!!

Re:Bring puzzles as an applicant (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38609736)

Bring the puzzles as an applicant to the interview, and ask the interviewer to take them. If the company puts someone who isn't even smart enough to do brain teasers in a position as important as interviewing and hiring, then the upper management probably isn't very intelligent either.

Uh, yeah, good luck with that... I'd show you the door. Your attitude sucks. You come across as a prima donna. That's the last think I want in my group. I don't care how good you are at coding...

How should an interviewee best handle... (1)

sakdoctor (1087155) | more than 2 years ago | (#38609300)

How should an interviewee best handle these questions?

Soul sucking corporate culture ahead. Run away before they hire you.

I'd imagine one of DHH's hiring critiera... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38609306)

As long as the applicant's ego is substantially smaller than DHH's, then you've got a shot.

Weeds out weak candidates (3, Insightful)

Mannfred (2543170) | more than 2 years ago | (#38609332)

Every organisation has different needs, but even so "looking at real code they've written, talking through bigger picture issues" takes time, and an initial interview with more basic questions should probably be there to weed out the weakest candidates (unless the people in charge of recruitment interviews have nothing else to do and want to look busy, of course).

I had a hedge fund ask me physics problems (5, Interesting)

WOOFYGOOFY (1334993) | more than 2 years ago | (#38609336)

I had a hedge fund ask me a physics puzzler problem for a job as a Java developer.

Needless to say unless you spend time puzzling over this specific type of problem you don't have the skills to answer them.

The impression I had was they were going through a dog and pony show of "trying to find a candidate" for their position. I am not sure what they were up to. Whatever it was, they weren't looking for a candidate for the advertised position.

There was an absolute reek of duplicity, insincerity and dishonesty about every single employee I met on that interview, starting with the prostitute-cum-receptionist who greeted me to the project manager who wouldn't look me in the eye to the interviewer who looked over my resume (which had only a distant physics class) and said "we're not going to ask you about programming, I can see you've got that down, we want you to solve some puzzles" and sprang on me some physics puzzles I could only solve if I were a physics major.

I couldn't wait to get out of there.

I saw that ad for a few more months online. I always wondered what they were up to.

Re:I had a hedge fund ask me physics problems (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38609426)

Usually the people who put out the job requirements, versus those who do the interviews are completely different people with different agendas. A manager my identify the need for a java developer, but he may assign another senior developer to do the interview. The interviewer may want to come off as smart and intelligent, or maybe he's worried about his own job or he might be on an ego trip.

Re:I had a hedge fund ask me physics problems (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38609436)

(Quant) hedge funds want people who can do code AND quants. Physics majors are among the best bets for that, so failing that they perhaps just wanted to see if you got the quant down

Re:I had a hedge fund ask me physics problems (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38609450)

I work as a quant in the hedge fund industry and use puzzles in the reverse way described here to weed out physics and math/finance majors that can't program well enough. I give them a programming puzzle (rather than a physics or math puzzle) and grade their performance. I am usually not hiring these people for their programming skills but I cannot afford having a math whiz that requires support from professional programmers in order to be productive. The most productive quants in my industry are the ones who are also programming whizzes.

Re:I had a hedge fund ask me physics problems (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38609460)

Protip: Don't list physics on your resume if you don't want to talk about it in an interview.

Re:I had a hedge fund ask me physics problems (1)

Walking The Walk (1003312) | more than 2 years ago | (#38609566)

... looked over my resume (which had only a distant physics class) ...

Why do you have a physics class on your resume if you're not looking for a physics-related job? I weed out applicants that had cluttered up their CVs with every little thing they had ever touched. And I make it a point to ask questions related to every skill you have listed; it's the only way to filter out the liars.

Re:I had a hedge fund ask me physics problems (1)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 2 years ago | (#38609568)

I always wondered what they were up to.

Places like that hire salesmen, not programmers. They WANT programmers, mind you. They even ADVERTISE for programmers. But in the end, they hire the first good-looking slick guy who comes through the door and gives them a great sales pitch on himself. Then two years later, the project has never materialized, the slick salesman has long since moved on to his next mark, and they're wondering why it failed.

It Depends (2)

wisnoskij (1206448) | more than 2 years ago | (#38609338)

Brain Teasers definitely test something.
If for example you are applying to a brain teaser solving/creation company then it would be ridiculous not to have to solve a few to get in.
If you are using one to test mental flexibility, well that can be as useful as being able to churn out well made and documented code, for the appropriate job.

NO! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38609348)

The last time I was tasered it'd hit me in the ass and it didn't make me smarter...

Puzzles aren't to test programming skills (5, Insightful)

joshamania (32599) | more than 2 years ago | (#38609364)

The brainteasers are there to see if someone is smart. Could the employee escape from a paper bag if necessary? I'd say these puzzles are important for finding creative problem solving and would be just as useful if not more useful in a manufacturing/fabrication/maker type of job.

Think of that American drilling team that drilled the hole to free the Chilean miners. That engineer's rig wasn't meant to do what he did with it. Can't aim it? He aimed it with a hack. Hole's plugged? Fixed it with a hack? Don't have a 28" drill head for this rig? Let's hack one together in a week. If that guy with the big brain didn't pick up the phone and say "hey"...those 33 guys would probably have been entombed for half a year if not forever.

Dude did it in one month with a toolbox full of hacks. Fucking brilliant.

Re:Puzzles aren't to test programming skills (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38609454)

Could the employee escape from a paper bag if necessary? I'd say these puzzles are important for finding creative problem solving and would be just as useful if not more useful in a manufacturing/fabrication/maker type of job.

I couldn't agree more. In fact, depending on the job, I don't actually care if the candidate solves it on their own. If they can take direction and get there and, more importantly, understand how they got there, that's all I'm really looking for.

Re:Puzzles aren't to test programming skills (5, Interesting)

jythie (914043) | more than 2 years ago | (#38609466)

The problem with brain teasers is they do not test if someone is smart or if they will be able to hack a situation.. they test how well the subject metathinks the test creator. They are artificial situations where the test creator has thought of both a problem and solution, and really only tests if the subject is good at figuring out how the test writer's mind works. It is kinda like reading a mystery novel... you are not solving a mystery, you are solving a writer's thought pattern.

Re:Puzzles aren't to test programming skills (1)

Wovel (964431) | more than 2 years ago | (#38609622)

Good thing his employer did not require brain teasers? How do I know that? A smart NS creative peron worked there.

Only Brainteasers, doubt it..... (2)

angus_rg (1063280) | more than 2 years ago | (#38609376)

Anyone can write code, but not everyone has the ability to think outside of the box. Brain teasers are probably a great way to weed out those that aren't creative, provided you follow them up with questions showing they know how to do the job.

I serriously doubt Google doesn't follow up with relevant skill questions. Fail the brain teaser first; you save interviewers time, and leave no question to why you didn't get the job.

Didn't Microsoft give up on those? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38609382)

I've heard in several places that Microsoft used to ask such questions (during the 90s,) but stopped using them after it became obvious that they didn't identify more-qualified candidates.

Interesting that Google has allegedly picked up the practice. (Didn't they use to ask more programming/theory questions?)

Re:Didn't Microsoft give up on those? (2)

stanlyb (1839382) | more than 2 years ago | (#38609596)

You have to ask whether google actually has any competent developer at all....

My thoughts and reply (5, Interesting)

ircmaxell (1117387) | more than 2 years ago | (#38609390)

I actually wrote a blog post on this very subject this morning (I pushed up the publishing when I saw this). The post [ircmaxell.com]

In short, I disagree. I find brain teasers invaluable. But not in determining skill, but in determining personality and how a candidate behaves when they are faced with a challenge that they aren't familiar with...

Re:My thoughts and reply (1)

TheRealMindChild (743925) | more than 2 years ago | (#38609618)

I was looking to comment on this as well. In a functional situation, a brain teaser isn't necessarily there for you to solve (or even have an answer), but rather how you approached it, identified the issues, and the ideas on how to approach said issues.

Re:My thoughts and reply (1)

nightgeometry (661444) | more than 2 years ago | (#38609642)

Most of the people who use them (myself included), seem to apply this logic. Maybe when people hear of puzzles being used in interviewers they just don't get that?

Re:My thoughts and reply (0)

stanlyb (1839382) | more than 2 years ago | (#38609654)

Man, or Girl, let me enlighten you, when anyone is facing something unfamiliar, he/she PANICS. I repeat, EVERYONE. In order to grasp what i am talking about, you need to read a few thousand lines of text about psychoanalyze, physics, maths, philosophy, history, social engineering........oh, wait, forget it, don't do it, it is sooo boring, just keep giving short, 5min puzzles.

Re:My thoughts and reply (1)

ircmaxell (1117387) | more than 2 years ago | (#38609702)

Absolutely. But do they let that panic take over their thoughts? Or do they push that down and try to approach it rationally? In that 5 minute puzzle I can get insight. Sure, I won't know the full story on the person, but that would take years of knowing them to get. So in the span and constraints of an interview, I find it to be absolutely worth while...

They may end being disability determination (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38609402)

Repace high school diploma with BA or CS BA (aka no tech schools) and you end up with discrimination

The real issues are with jobs that say need a 4 year BA for jobs like mail room.

As for IT jobs bypass people who went to a tech school (that are a better fit for people with learning disabilities) or who have done alot of learning on other jobs / on there own can be seen as violating the law.

Not only that I have seen job ads that ask for -Minimum ACT / SAT Scores and -Minimum GPA 3.0 Now that sounds like even more of away to passover people who have learning disability's who may not be good test takes but can do a job

community college is also a other place that for some people who have learning disability's Is a better fit then other colleges but most of them MAX out at 2 years.

http://www.businessinsurance.com/article/20111206/NEWS07/111209935

“Under the ADA, a qualification, standard, test or other selection criterion, such as a high school diploma requirement, that screens out an individual or class of individuals on the basis of disability must be job-related for the position in question and consistent with business necessityThus, if an employer adopts a high school diploma for a job, and that requirement ‘screens out' an individual who is unable to graduate because of a learning disability, that meets the ADA's definition of ‘disability.'”

The letter, written by EEOC attorney adviser Aaron Konopasky, goes on to say, “Even if the diploma requirement is job-related and consistent with business necessity, the employer may still have to determine whether a particular applicant whose learning disability prevents him from meeting it can perform the essential functions of the job with or without a reasonable accommodation.”

JIM COLLISON

"Employers should not fear the EEOC warning. In fact, employers should use it to focus their attention on identifying the actual essential qualifications needed to perform a job...and how to assess whether or not a candidate has these qualifications. Because education has been so dumb-downed in the last 50 years, a high school graduation diploma or a high school equivalency certification simply is not evidence that an individual possesses the essential qualifications to perform a job. The same is true for many if not most post high school degrees. Check out the new book "Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses" by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa. Also check out the new Skills Gap research report from A.C.T. showing that just having a diploma or certificate is no evidence an applicant possesses the foundational skills of reading for information, locating information, and applied math needed for almost every job today. Jim Collison, President, Employers of America, Inc."

Problem solving (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38609424)

Perhaps Google is one of the companies who invest a lot of money into their recruiting process?
Perhaps Google is famous for analysing all available data, including backtesting their hiring decisions, to design their hiring practice?
Perhaps Google is looking for someone who is able to solve problems, and demonstrate they are able to think logically, structure their steps, and reach conclusions?
Perhaps Google is not just looking for programmers who efficiently produce code, but architects who do well in situations that are new to them?
 

one thing you don't want to do (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38609432)

Tell the interviewer how elite you are, or the number of boxes you've p0wned

I've never liked Brain Teasers (3, Funny)

doconnor (134648) | more than 2 years ago | (#38609438)

I've never liked Brain Teasers. Every time I try one I keep thinking about how I would write a program to solve it.

Re:I've never liked Brain Teasers (2)

SteveFoerster (136027) | more than 2 years ago | (#38609528)

If you're interviewing for a programming job, would you really want to work somewhere where that's a disqualifying answer?

Ask them to program something specific (3, Insightful)

brucmack (572780) | more than 2 years ago | (#38609440)

I guess we combine the two approaches: we send our candidates small coding problems to solve. So we see real code they create and have a standardized way of comparing it to what other candidates have provided.

It works really well at filtering out people we don't want to waste time talking to, and gives us a starting point for the technical interview. It isn't useful for deciding whether or not a candidate should be hired, since there are many other factors that come into play.

My system is simpler (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38609444)

Can you last 5 minutes in the Octagon?

Yes, we do quiz questions (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38609458)

Where I work, we give candidates a quiz, but it contains questions that we really do expect a competent candidate to answer.

Stuff like "how many conductors are there in a Cat 5 UTP cable". We have had applicants for Network Engineer posts that cannot answer this question (not just fluff it, literally cannot answer it).

Even then, we take it as another data point: something to consider alongside how they performed in a face-to-face interview. Someone who scores highly *might* be good, but then again, they might know someone who has already answered the quiz; someone who scores low might be poor, but equally might have been suffering from interview nerves.

I ask candidates puzzles (5, Interesting)

nightgeometry (661444) | more than 2 years ago | (#38609512)

But the idea isn't to get an answer - and I am very up front that I don't care about the answer, and I already know it anyway. What I do want to see is how someone approaches a problem that they don't know how to solve. I had one candidate ask me the answer, I already know it after all - immediately top of my hiring list, and she was an awesome hire. Another asked if they could use google on their phone - again a pretty much perfect answer. The puzzle is completely irrelevant, the ability to question, put forward ideas and not just say 'I don't know' or, even worse, go completely silent and get embarrassed that you don't know, is pretty fucking critical. IMHO.

I also look at samples of previous work, and we make all candidates carry out real world tasks along side us.

No. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38609514)

Most real-world problems are not brain teasers.

It depends on how they are used (2)

Diss Champ (934796) | more than 2 years ago | (#38609520)

I've been at my job 10 years now, and if I interviewed for it or a similar one now would expect (and do well at) a detailed technical interview. But it is in a very different area than what I studied in school- when I was being interviewed, we all knew that what the interviewers needed to discover was whether I could learn what I needed quickly and then apply it to designing new things. They already knew I didn't know it yet. I didn't even know Verilog (I do the digital side of mixed signal chips).

The best question was a quick lesson in how one of the main building blocks of many of our systems works, followed by questions about implications and what would happen if various broad changes were made with the architecture.

But the puzzle questions (usually requiring broad math and science knowledge, no one asked me elephant in the fridge type questions) were a good way to get at whether I had a broad knowledge base and could apply it to new things.

So they have their place, probably more for people crossing fields than those doing something they are experienced with.

linked lists still common (1)

Killer Instinct (851436) | more than 2 years ago | (#38609550)

A few weeks ago in a tech iv (phone) with a "vice president of software engineering" I was asked "How would you find the middle of a linked list, using the most efficient method." It was for a web development position, for a small company who does medical instruments. I must admit from the beginning the guy was arrogant as hell, dropping his title on me no less then 3 times in the first minute, but i tried my best to stay focused and keep iv. My answer was "Why would i ever use a linked list? in 15 years of software development, hardware integration, mixed with web apps, etc. I have never used a linked list for anything" I have heard about linked list in university, many years ago, and did some stuff with them in a class once, but never in industry. I called the shop back and told them i wouldnt take the contract if they did offer me it, a IV is a screening process for the interviewee as well..sometime u just know it will be hell working for someone like the arrogant ass.

anyone else use linked lists on a regular basis?

Re:linked lists still common (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38609738)

I really don't. I have used one once on purpose for a personal project where I felt it was necessary. However on the two straight up developer positions I interviewed for, there were a ton of questions related to linked lists. I think its just a qualifier that you have had more then the second CSC class in college.

I also got alot of questions relating to polymorphism in one of those interviews. They asked alot of confusing questions that made no sense, that were meant as gotcha's and trick questions. This was to make sure you understood the concept, but no questions that pretained to knowing how the concept worked. When I pressed back because I couldnt answer them (they responded negatively to my confusion, and I said its because the questions didnt make sense, they admited there trick questions), they stated its because they use a ton of polymorphism in the position I was applying for.

I've used them, but not in the convential way (2)

lupis42 (1048492) | more than 2 years ago | (#38609558)

When interview product support people, I've used some extremely hard puzzle questions as a test, but I'm never looking for a correct solution - I'm watching to for signs of freezing/panic when confronted with something unexpected, and I'm looking for the applicant to be able to: ask clarifying questions if needed, remain calm, and when presented with a portion of the answer, be able to apply it further. But that's partly because the job was support of a complex product with a large number of components that can interact in unexpected ways. Being blindsided by a customer question isn't uncommon, and being able to reason through the process and explain the steps as needed meant that the customer wouldn't have to call back a week later having gotten themselves into the same boat again.

Skip the brain teasers (1)

confuscan (2541066) | more than 2 years ago | (#38609586)

Brain teasers are just another fad. In fact, if the interviewer is asking you about your resume/experience then there's another HR fail. The interview is the corporation's one chance to judge your character and personality, e.g., chemistry. Your resume and references show you're a hot shot programmer. Are you also a psychopath who will reek havoc and destruction through the organization? Most HR organizations and hiring managers don't get that and simply spend the interview rehashing your resume. When they do that, the candidate is in control.

Remembering My Organizational Psycology Course (1)

Thelasko (1196535) | more than 2 years ago | (#38609612)

I took a class in organizational psychology back in college. Once of the sections was on best hiring practices. From what I remember, the best correlations to job performance were:(in order from best to worst)
1. aptitude tests (can you learn the required skills)
2. work examples (do you know the required skills)
3. Structured interviews (same questions given to each candidate)
4. Unstructured interviews (on the fly questions)
5. Resume/ CV
6. Personality test
7. Drug test
8. Honesty test

The last two had very poor correlation to workplace performance. For the best results, use the top 3.

Re:Remembering My Organizational Psycology Course (1)

Thelasko (1196535) | more than 2 years ago | (#38609676)

P.S. I may have 1 and 2 switched. However, my point is, brain teasers (i.e. aptitude tests) and work examples are both good indicators of workplace performance. Don't use methods 4-8 to select new hires (unfortunately most companies do!)

Only useful (1)

james_van (2241758) | more than 2 years ago | (#38609620)

if administered properly. As someone who has done hiring, my process is as follows: "Meet and Greet" - sit down and chat for a bit, see if I (and the people I work with) can stand to be around the person and have a reasonable conversation with them. If you don't have basic communication skills and can't carry on a basic conversation, you won't last here. Even in software dev, you need to be able to interact with the outside world in a meaningful way. So we weed those out first. "Show me the code" - show me some code that you've written. Bring me some examples of what you're capable of. I'm going to ask you questions about the logic flow, reasons why you laid things out the way you did, how long it took to write, etc. "Write me some code" - I'm going to give you a task that is related to what we do at this company (not some meaningless, trivial code exercise, but something that you will experience working here) and a timeframe, then review what you write. I will again ask about logic flow, code layout. If you don't finish, that's ok. But give me a good reason why. If it's something you were unfamiliar with, show me the steps you took to get up to speed. I don't honestly care whether or not you know how to use every arcane little function of a language, I care about how well you can get the resources you need, learn on the fly and adapt to new situations. Lastly, "Brain Teasers" - yeah, I use them. Not cause I care about how creative you are or cause their trendy and cool, but because I want to watch you think. I want to see how you handle pressure. Best answer I ever got was a guy told me he didn't know much about the topic of the teaser (it was engineering related), but he had a friend who was a engineering professor that he would talk to about it, but the consult with his friend would cost $500 and could he bill that to me? I laughed my ass of and hired the guy on the spot. Because, on top of all the skills he had and the ability to think on his feet and learn new things, he had some balls. That's how I do it. And it works really well for me, but I know I'm not the norm. Most companies would never allow a process like this. It's to bad though, we've had a lot of success this way.

Gotta dance (2)

wandazulu (265281) | more than 2 years ago | (#38609626)

To quote Bob Fosse: I don't want people who want to dance; I want people who *need* to dance. That is what I look for during an interview, someone who clearly loves what they do and doesn't just sit around waiting for orders or just did whatever was told of them. I typically ask them about a project they were on, and if they get into the details, even if it's not exactly specific to programming but that they understand the "big picture", as well as their role in it, and look to see the eyes light up. It's especially Then I move on to the question that a lot of people don't expect, surprisingly, but is very telling: "What got you into programming?" Any flavor of "because it's really really cool" works; sadly a lot of responses are "it was either this or becoming a lawyer | dentist | whatever".

Google does NOT use brain teasers (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38609628)

Stop repeating that myth. There were none in my interviews, and after being hired and attending interview training, we're explicitly asked not to use them.

In general the answer is No (1)

hAckz0r (989977) | more than 2 years ago | (#38609664)

There are many kinds of intelligence and any 'brain teaser' plays upon elements which may have no bearing on the job being sought. If any questions are asked during an interview, or brain teasers given, then those should have a direct relationship to the subject matter required for the position. Anything other than that is going to give a biased result and is probably closer to drawing straws than to real science. Having a greater amount of one kind of intelligence or creativity may give an edge to the person being interviewed but it is not a direct bearing on competency for most job positions. If you are hiring based on creativity you should test one way, and mathematical skills for another. No singular test is perfect, but it should best be tailored towards the qualities required to fill that specific role. Test for what is important, as someone with a 250 IQ may not stay in that secretarial position for very long, even though they got all the answers correct on the test.

Sort of (4, Interesting)

Megane (129182) | more than 2 years ago | (#38609696)

If you're using brain teasers as pass-fail criteria, then you're stupid. And if you're using them in an interview process that lasts less than an hour or two, you're even more stupid. They can be good for understanding a person's thought process during problem solving, but that's it. It's not the answer, but how they come up with it. That being said, the "how many gas stations in such-and-such city" where you have to pull estimates out of your ass are not good for choosing programmers, so don't even go there.

I used to work for a big company that you've probably heard of. When we interviewed people, our group had a brain teaser that we liked to use, probably because the answer (and there was a fixed, definite answer) was not the obvious one. And we got to draw pictures of it on the white board while asking it. But it was the programming test that really mattered to our group.

First of all, we had them do it on a white board in front of the group. (This was after all the individual interviews were done, and we had warmed up the group part of the interview with a brain teaser or two.) We weren't looking for getting API parameters in the right order, just that you could do the algorithm on the fly, and in a less than quiet environment. (typical cubicle farm level noise from us chatting to each other during this) We didn't even care what language they wanted to write in, the point was getting the algorithm right. And if they got something wrong, we would tell them how the output would be wrong, and let them fix it. Again, the goal was to see how they write code, and show us how, not that they could spit out the right thing from memory.

First was to implement strcpy. Any C programmer (our stuff was mostly C++) should at least understand how strings and pointers work to build something around *p++ = *s++ with a loop. So you probably got an off-by-one error, so what, we point it out, you fix it, but you at least got the basic idea right if you got even that far. Second was to write code to copy a file, since you should also be able to understand how to get data in and out of files. Then we would ask how to make the file copy faster, since most people would try the one-byte-at-a-time approach, and you ought to know about buffering, too. Finally, reverse a singly-linked list. This is something that any CS student should learn in their second year Data Structures class. Not to memorize it (because it's kind of pointless to memorize such a function), but to figure out how to do it from scratch. If your degree says "Computer Science" on it, you should be familiar enough with how to walk down linked lists to at least make a decent start on this one.

Well, guess what. The fresh out of college CS grads generally failed horribly, especially the ones that had been weaned on Java, where you don't have to deal with pointers like you do with C and C++. It was really stunning and even sad to see people fail at this. (The EE grads did much better, FWIW.)

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