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Will the Solve-the-Riddle Hiring Trend Affect IT?

Cliff posted about 8 years ago | from the practical-skills-vs-pedigree dept.


An anonymous reader wonders: "It's probably harder to find a good developer, than for a developer to find a job. Seems to be a Google-riddle trend; rather than caring about references/diplomas/resumes, employers are using solve-this-and-you-have-a-job approach, not even caring about any usual information. Does that give decent graduates/talented unexperienced devs/homegrown coders a chance at the corporate job, or does it alienate potential matches?"

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It Seemed to Work for Bletchley Park (5, Insightful)

eldavojohn (898314) | about 8 years ago | (#16096966)

From the Wikipedia [] entry:
Some 9,000 people were working at Bletchley Park at the height of the codebreaking efforts in January 1945, and over 10,000 worked there at some point during the war. A number were recruited for various intellectual achievements, whether they were chess champions, crossword experts, polyglots or great mathematicians. In one, now well known instance, the ability to solve The Daily Telegraph crossword in under 12 minutes was used as a recruitment test. The newspaper was asked to organise a crossword competition, after which each of the successful participants was contacted and asked if they would be prepared to undertake "a particular type of work as a contribution to the war effort". The competition itself was won by F H W Hawes of Dagenham who finished the crossword in less than eight minutes.
Solving a crossword in under 12 minutes was the entrance exam. That's interesting. I remember reading about this in Simon Singh's The Code Book [] in the Chapter on Alan Turing.

I think the ability to solve puzzles is tightly correlated with the skill set desired by IT. Because it takes an inquisitive and unrelenting mind to hit the hardest puzzles. If they like to do this for fun, surely they can do it well for a living.

Perhaps it's even more important than the education because of the way IT problems arise? I constantly tell my boss that I complete the crossword everyday at work without fear of repurcussions. I feel this keeps my mind nimble and prepares me for the day.

Isn't a college degree just a symbol that says, "Look, a whole bunch of people with good reputations threw a bunch of puzzles at me. Some were hard, some were easy, but overall I did well enough to pass through these puzzles. I retained some of the information and processes but that's not really important. What's important is the fact that I'm able to solve problems and paid to do it for four years."

So, in the end, I predict this will have little or no effect on the IT world at all. In fact, I think it's a better shift towards hiring the most qualified person. For financial reasons, I went to the University of Minnesota but people on the East coast imagine a backwoods podunk frozen tundra instead of an institution of learning when I mention it. If I'm a good puzzle solver, it shouldn't matter.

Re:It Seemed to Work for Bletchley Park (3, Insightful)

networkBoy (774728) | about 8 years ago | (#16097253)

You're making too much of it.

The average network diagram is so convoluted that it can not be accurately put on paper. Having a mind that can actually grasp what's really going on is a rare thing. It's simply another puzzle to be solved.

Re:It Seemed to Work for Bletchley Park (4, Insightful)

Aladrin (926209) | about 8 years ago | (#16097438)

You hit the nail on the head there, twice.

Real IT problems aren't as easy as the Sunday crossword. The problem being that different people are good at different puzzles. But if you're bad at problem solving, it'll show up in your lack of ability to solve puzzles.

Even our small network here at the office was ugly to diagram out. I was amazed at what a pain it was. And the guy who installed the IP-based phones could not do his job until he drew it out on the whiteboard. We ended up fixing his drawing, then revising it several times as we re-ordered the office a bit for convenience. But we had to draw EVERYTHING for him. With extensive labelling. And we also had to call things by the names he learned in school. It had to be 'FQDN' and not 'domain name' or he'd be lost. (He did eventually figure that one out and start correcting us when we just said 'domain name', though.) He's exactly the sort of 'tech' the puzzles would have made sure they never hired.

Relying solely upon the puzzles is as crazy as relying on any other single part of the interview process, though. Our office is extremely smooth, and most people get along with most everyone else. A year prior to my hire, the office was not like this. Most people hated coming to work, including the owners. They instituted a personality test during the interview process and things got better quickly.

Just 1 more thing to help weed out bad apples, that's all.

Re:It Seemed to Work for Bletchley Park (5, Interesting)

Monkelectric (546685) | about 8 years ago | (#16097465)

Yes and no.

Out here in Orange County, IGN Entertainment is infamous for their tests. I went in and nailed the interview. The next level to advance to was a test. The test was to implement a small web server (GET/HEAD commands basically) in C++ using *no external libraries of any kind*. They stated the test should take 3 - 4 hours. The specs were extremely vague and any attempt I made to get clarification was met with "do what you think is best".

They also mailed me the test late on a thursday evening, and were calling asking where it was the following monday morning. Problem being I was currently working 50/60 hours a week as well, and it just happened to be the weekend I was moving :(

I ask you then, how is anyone who currently *has* a job and perhaps a family supposed to complete a test like this? It seems like the most talented candidates would *HAVE* jobs and therefore find it much more difficult to complete the test. I rushed the program together because -- what choice did I have? It did not represent me well.

Looking back, the only appropriate response on my part would have been to say "Your requirements suck, and this is not a 3 to 4 hour job. Thanks but no thanks." The entire thing was a waste of their time, waste of my time. Maybe that was the test, to see if I'd tell them to fuck off.

College is a game (3, Interesting)

nuggz (69912) | about 8 years ago | (#16097518)

Isn't a college degree just a symbol that says, "Look, a whole bunch of people with good reputations threw a bunch of puzzles at me.

No, it's mostly proof that you can play the game.
There are two games.
1. The technical education which is the following game.
They ask a question.
You determine what the real question is.
You find the right book.
You read how to answer the question.
You answer the question.

2. The People game.
You learn how to make people happy and play the politics and admin game. I think this is the real reason most education administrations are described as a nightmare, it's actually part of the learning experience.
Later you play the sales/job interview game. They're pretty much the same, only the product changes.

Oldest riddle of all... (2, Funny)

Presidential (805793) | about 8 years ago | (#16096981)

"Where shall we have lunch?"

--Douglas Adams

Re:Oldest riddle of all... (1)

Tweekster (949766) | about 8 years ago | (#16097062)

The answer is always chinese...

Re:Oldest riddle of all... (1)

Larry Lightbulb (781175) | about 8 years ago | (#16097370)

Time is an illusion, lunchtime doubly so.

Re:Oldest riddle of all... (0)

lessthan0 (176618) | about 8 years ago | (#16097503)

Of course, you don't need to solve the oldest riddle of all to perform the oldest profession of all.

Websense (4, Funny)

gEvil (beta) (945888) | about 8 years ago | (#16096986)

Hmm. Websense blocks because it falls in the 'sex' category. Now I'm really curious about what this riddle is...

Re:Websense (5, Funny)

grub (11606) | about 8 years ago | (#16097036)

It's just the goatse pic with "How?" printed below it.

Re:Websense (1)

Wow-AnotherNick (1002090) | about 8 years ago | (#16097507)

I'd think the question would be "Why?"

Re:Websense (1)

Lazbien (788979) | about 8 years ago | (#16097045)

Well, one could assume that if they are trying to hire developers with a riddle, it would be sex based. If they can answer it, truly they are l33t.

Re:Websense (1)

MustardMan (52102) | about 8 years ago | (#16097125)

well yeah, they'd want the riddle to be something a developer has no previous experience with.

Re:Websense (1)

AKAImBatman (238306) | about 8 years ago | (#16097100)

It's probably the domain name. I'm guessing that your blocking software looks for intentional "sex" misspellings. So it thinks that is an intentional misspelling of

I've used them (2, Insightful)

Cybert4 (994278) | about 8 years ago | (#16096988)

Well, I tried to do riddles when I was hiring at a technology company. I liked to do mathematical ones that couldn't show any cultural bias. For example, deriving the quadratic formula. Or proving that the square root of two is irrational.

I like this. It's a lot better than the usual asking for "ten years in a five year old language". Cool trick too. I wonder how many people won't even get to the "view source" option!

Re:I've used them (2, Insightful)

iapetus (24050) | about 8 years ago | (#16097168)

By the sounds of it you did show a cultural bias - towards people with a background in pure mathematics. If the work required that, then it's fair enough, but it shows next to nothing about problem-solving abilities. I dislike this - and not just because I didn't study pure maths to any particularly high level.

Re:I've used them (4, Insightful)

RingDev (879105) | about 8 years ago | (#16097334)

While I appreciate the unforgiving rock solid logic that is math, asking someone who has been out of math based education for a number of years to prove the irrationality of sqrt(2) is a bit of a stretch.

I'd much rather go with a series of standardized logic questions (pattern recognition, basic math story problems, etc...) and one question buried in the test that is intentionally vague or poorly worded. Because well defined problems are easy, it's the problems that are not well defined that really test us in IT. Seeing how a potential employee handles themselves in a confusing situation is just as critical as how they handle themselves in a well defined situation. I would stay away from anything that depends on a complex understanding of any given topic, because at this point, we're not looking for someone who has the quadratic formula memorized, we're looking at someone who can look at a situation and pull values from that situation to plug into a formula.


Deriving is key for quadratic formula (1)

Cybert4 (994278) | about 8 years ago | (#16097553)

The point is deriving. I don't care if anyone memorized it.

Re:I've used them (1)

Surt (22457) | about 8 years ago | (#16097563)

Let's see. I've had no math for 10ish years. Suppose that the sqrt(2) were rational. So it can be expressed as (a/b) with a,b integer and a^2/b^2 = 2. So a^2 = 2*b^2. Suppose b is odd, then b^2 is odd, and 2*b^2 has a decomposition containing only one two, which cannot be the square of an integer as we claimed, as the square of any integer containing a 2 in its decomposition will have an even number of twos in its square.
Suppose b is even. Then the square of b contains an even number of 2's in its decomposition, and 2*b^2 contains an odd number of 2's in the decomposition, which poses the same problem for a.

Wooo ... 4 minutes. I guess I get the job, but I don't think I want it.

Moo (3, Insightful)

Chacham (981) | about 8 years ago | (#16096993)

Guvf vf xvaq bs fvyyl, ohg vg vf n avpr jnl gb svaq ng yrnfg *fbzr* gnyrag.

Re:Moo (4, Funny)

gEvil (beta) (945888) | about 8 years ago | (#16097073)

For those of you confused by the gibberish above, you can solve it by using the key in the subject line. The process involves adding and subtracting each subsequent character value in the key. Since 'm' is the 13th character, you start by adding 13. From there you subtract 15 ('o' is the 15th character), and then you add 15 again. This gives you a final rotation value of 13. You can then apply that to the message to decrypt it.

Hang on a tick... (1)

Rachel Lucid (964267) | about 8 years ago | (#16097130)

You encrypted a message in ROT-13 and expect people to have trouble with it?!

Re:Hang on a tick... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#16097483)

That breeze you felt a bit ago was the joke zipping over your head.

Re:Moo (1)

Chacham (981) | about 8 years ago | (#16097161)

Heh, cute. :)

Re:Moo (1)

Gattman01 (957859) | about 8 years ago | (#16097279)

Or you could just treat it as a simple substituion and break it that way, like I did.

Get out (-1, Troll)

guruevi (827432) | about 8 years ago | (#16097293)

and please leave your geek badge at the desk.

If you don't know that what you just described is purely rot13 encoding, then you shouldn't be here. You should also be able to write a correct function without any help in your favorite programming language.

I for one, encode all my information in Dual-ROT13, this makes sure that people snooping will ignore it since I wouldn't be THAT dumb.

Re:Get out (1)

DesireCampbell (923687) | about 8 years ago | (#16097522)

"I for one, encode all my information in Dual-ROT13, this makes sure that people snooping will ignore it since I wouldn't be THAT dumb."

Small potatoes, I write in quadruple-reverse-ROT13.

Re:Moo (1)

treeves (963993) | about 8 years ago | (#16097432)

How did you solve that so quickly?

Re:Moo (3, Informative)

sirsky (53613) | about 8 years ago | (#16097460), copy and paste.

Re:Moo (1)

Red Flayer (890720) | about 8 years ago | (#16097499)

Or just recognize the key in the subject line... this isn't the first time that subject line and ROT-13 have been used in a comment on a story tangentially relating to codebreaking...

Re:Moo (1)

42Penguins (861511) | about 8 years ago | (#16097089)

V pbaphe.

Re:Moo (1)

miscz (888242) | about 8 years ago | (#16097546)

Rot13 is way too easy :)

Can't solve the puzzle, so you're trying Slashdot? (2, Interesting)

AKAImBatman (238306) | about 8 years ago | (#16096999)

Well, that was fun. For about 10 minutes. Then I got bored. :P

Or more precisely, I don't need a job in Quebec, nor do I particularly want to work with PHP for a living. So I wasn't particularly interested in submitting my resume and 'PHP code'. Still, it's kind of a neat site. I would encourage companies looking for high-end talent to do more of this as a recruitment effort. After all, it had me intrigued enough to solve their little puzzle (even if it was overrated) despite not looking to work for them.

Unfortunately, the comparison with Google is poor. Google requires that you have a Masters Degree (PhDs are preferrable) before they even give you their test. Then they're so secretive that they may never get back to you even if you complete their test perfectly. You'll never even know why they didn't get back to you, despite a promise to start an interview process after the test.

As a result, the two don't really compare. :)

P.S. The Prove Your Worth site really does track your movements via (some rather ugly looking) Javascript. So move carefully.

Re:Can't solve the puzzle, so you're trying Slashd (2, Interesting)

bladesjester (774793) | about 8 years ago | (#16097369)

I don't know. I don't have a master's and I've been contacted by two Google recruiters that were interested in me...

Re:Can't solve the puzzle, so you're trying Slashd (1)

AKAImBatman (238306) | about 8 years ago | (#16097404)

Did they ever get back to you?

Re:Can't solve the puzzle, so you're trying Slashd (1)

bladesjester (774793) | about 8 years ago | (#16097468)

Actually, I told them I wasn't interested. I don't want to live in Cal and I don't really care for the working practices that I've heard there having talked to people.

I've done the startup thing before. Insane hours are not my thing. Crunch time happens, but every day should not be a crunch. Life is for living. Even though you should enjoy your work, there are more important things than being at your desk for excessive periods of time.

Re:Can't solve the puzzle, so you're trying Slashd (1)

Breakfast Pants (323698) | about 8 years ago | (#16097473)

I think the important bit is that if they categorically don't go after anyone without a masters then they wouldn't have contacted him in the first place.

Re:Can't solve the puzzle, so you're trying Slashd (1)

bladesjester (774793) | about 8 years ago | (#16097583)

That was indeed my point.

The first time, I said I was interested and it ended up not going anywhere (though, amusingly, I did get mentioned on hiremegoogle). The second time was after I had heard more about the work environment, so I told them I wasn't really that interested (plus the fact that California doesn't really appeal to me.).

They were actually quite nice about the whole thing, so I later talked to a friend of mine who was interested in working for them (and who I thought would have been a really good match), and forwarded the recruiter's contact details to him.

Re:Can't solve the puzzle, so you're trying Slashd (1)

treeves (963993) | about 8 years ago | (#16097490)

Maybe you only *thought* you completed the test perfectly. ;-)

Answer (3, Interesting)

kevin_conaway (585204) | about 8 years ago | (#16097007)

I suspect that its not necessarily that you solve the riddle this instant, they probably want to get an insight into how you think and how you solve problems.

Problem solving is a huge part of developing software and an important quality to have in a candidate

Re:Answer (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#16097320)

Politely saying you don't know the answer is still a good sign. I gave a prospective hire a riddle with multiple right answers. It was a "which piece of code is better and why". I just wanted to see how he thought. He totally freaked. "I can't believe you'd decide who to hire based on this!" The fact that he lost his cool over something so trivially convinced me I never wanted to work with him.

The question that trumps riddles (2, Funny)

plopez (54068) | about 8 years ago | (#16097015)

"What have I got in my pockets".

Considering the resemblence of hiring trolls to Gollum, it seemed appropriate :)

Re:The question that trumps riddles (1)

gEvil (beta) (945888) | about 8 years ago | (#16097160)


Re:The question that trumps riddles (1)

DaveV1.0 (203135) | about 8 years ago | (#16097448)


Moo (0, Offtopic)

Chacham (981) | about 8 years ago | (#16097020)

Source of linked page:

<!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Transitional//EN" " al.dtd">
<html xmlns=""><head>

<me ta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=iso-8859-1">
<title>Prove.Your.Worth.</ti tle>

<link href="data/default.css" rel="stylesheet" type="text/css">
<style type="text/css">
.style1 {
    font-size: xx-large;
    font-style: italic;
.style3 {color: #CC6600}
<script type="text/javascript" src="data/overlib.js"></script>
<script type="text/javascript" src="data/overlib_bubble.js"></script>


<div id="full">
<table id="main" align="center" border="0" cellpadding="0" cellspacing="0">
    <td id="content-left"><img src="data/bg-ds-tl.png" alt="" height="600" width="10"></td>
    <td id="content">
        <div class="top" id="top-main" style="position: relative;"><img src="data/splash.jpg" alt="Prove.It" height="300" width="730">
            <div id="ribbon"></div>
        <div class="left" id="left-main">
            <div id="whatbox"><div id="what-t"><div id="what-b"><div id="what-l"><div id="what-r"><div id="what-bl"><div id="what-br"><div id="what-tl"><div id="what-tr">

            <p>Follow the <span class="style3"><mistake>little</mistake></span> yellow brick road... </p>
            <div class="item" id="purpose">

&nbsp;<em>BozosLiveHere</em><br />
              <br />&nbsp;Firstly, you must invoke a hidden form.<br />

              <br />&nbsp;Fill out the form, but make sure you submit it properly
                <br />&nbsp;and pay attention to clues. <br />

              &nbsp;For each attempt is inspected carefully and meticulously.
<br />&nbsp; </div>
            </div></div></div></div></div></div></div></div></ div>

          <div id="pitches">
                <div class="pitch">
                  <p><em>?p=begin&amp;mistake=[answer here]</em></p>

        <div class="right" id="right-main">

            <div id="dynamic"><div id="dyna-t"><div id="dyna-b"><div id="dyna-l"><div id="dyna-r"><div id="dyna-bl"><div align="right" id="dyna-br"><div  id="dyna-tl"><div id="dyna-tr">
                <div class="item">
                <p align="center" class="style1">:)</p>

            </div><a href="javascript:;" onMouseOver="return overlib('If you have stumbled on this site by mistake or were referred to it, consider this: We are a looking to hire a dedicated <b>PHP automation developer</b>.<br><br>Experience/education  is a plus, but not a requirement. Location is <b>Montreal, Quebec, Canada</b>; but we are willing to talk to all applicable applicants.<br><br>This is <b>ideal</b> for young, striving individuals that want to work for a growing company with a very vast internet application development portfolio.<br><br> And yes, <b>everyone</b> is given a chance. We care more about the person than the resume/diploma.<br><br>Passing the test is the only way to submit the resume and once you do that, we will contact you and answer any question you may have. Thanks.', ABOVE, LEFT, WIDTH, 400, BUBBLE, BUBBLETYPE,'roundcorners');" onMouseOut="nd();">(about this site)</a>&nbsp;&nbsp;
        <div class="bottom" id="bottom-main">
        <p>&#169; 2006 VS Inc. <br>
        </div>    </td>

    <td id="content-right"><img src="data/bg-ds-tr.png" alt="" height="600" width="10"></td>
<script type="text/javascript">
  document.write('<scr'+'ipt src="'+( new Date()).getTime()+'" type="text/javascript"></scr'+'ipt>');
</s cript>

Re:Moo (1)

AKAImBatman (238306) | about 8 years ago | (#16097076)

And the point of posting that was... ?

I think "View Source" is the first thing that we all tried. The question is, did you advance onto more complex analysis techniques (such as tools that would show the page structure AFTER the embedded Javascript code ran) in an attempt to fully understand the page before you made an attempt at solving the puzzle?

Re:Moo (1)

Chacham (981) | about 8 years ago | (#16097177)

And the point of posting that was... ?

A) For the people for whom the site was blocked.
B) Common area for critique.
C) In case the page goes down.

The question is, did you advance onto more complex analysis techniques

Yes. The "mistake" is a tag in the script. Add it after the published URL, and it goes to the next form.

Re:Moo (1)

AKAImBatman (238306) | about 8 years ago | (#16097285)

A) For the people for whom the site was blocked.

1) If the site is blocked, giving them the source won't help them much.
2) If they can't find a way to get around a block, they're not very good at what they do. ;-)

B) Common area for critique.

It's the source code. It's gibberish that happens to have meaning to a computer. You wouldn't post an entire copy of Hamlet just to critique the existentialist meaning behind "To be or not to be" line, would you? No, you'd quote the relevant sections, then make your point.

C) In case the page goes down.

See #1 above.

Yes. The "mistake" is a tag in the script. Add it after the published URL, and it goes to the next form

You didn't answer the question. While the solution you gave is correct, did you take the time to understand the page fully before jumping on ahead? For example, do you know which tool is being used to track your movements? Is it first party or third party?

Part of being analytical is to do the analysis correctly. Shortcuts invariably mean that mistakes will eventually get made. Especially since the puzzle doesn't end there.

Re:Moo (1)

Chacham (981) | about 8 years ago | (#16097467)

1) If the site is blocked, giving them the source won't help them much.

But it will let them see what the article is talking about.

2) If they can't find a way to get around a block, they're not very good at what they do. ;-)

That much is true. :)

It's gibberish that happens to have meaning to a'd quote the relevant sections

A) The whole paghe is relevant
B) Any browser can show it
C) HTML code is not gibberish.

did you take the time to understand the page fully

No, silly. That's why i posted it here.:P

Job ad with the word [young] is illegal in Canada (1)

swit (600376) | about 8 years ago | (#16097480)

re: (excerpt):
        We are a looking to hire a dedicated PHP automation developer.
        Location is Montreal, Quebec, Canada;
        This is ideal for young, striving individuals that want to work............

I can't cite the specific section of Canadian law that makes this illegal
(and rightly so), but it is the SAME section that would also disallow this:

    "This is ideal for WHITE, striving individuals that want to work......."

Hooray advertising. (1)

cbiffle (211614) | about 8 years ago | (#16097059)

Having interviewed at a number of these companies (Google included), this "riddle" emphasis is dramatically overstated.

So, then, what could the point of this submission be? Perhaps to drive posters to this website?

Bah. Screw 'em.

Solution (5, Informative)

mikeumass (581062) | about 8 years ago | (#16097063)

Re:Solution (1)

cs02rm0 (654673) | about 8 years ago | (#16097150)

That was what I thought was obvious, but no.

Re:Solution (1)

cs02rm0 (654673) | about 8 years ago | (#16097167)

Oh. I pasted the URL into firefox and it put an & in which obviously screwed it up.

Re:Solution (2, Informative)

Nos. (179609) | about 8 years ago | (#16097151)

That's step one, step two is to automate the reply to the form in step two. Not incredibly difficult, and they give you hints on what to use to do it (fscok, curl, snoopy). Since it requires you to use POST, its a little more than just manipulating the URL, but like I said, its not incredibly difficult.

That being said, this is probably not a bad way to screen out those who are incompetent. It would narrow the field down at least somewhat.

Re:Solution (2, Insightful)

Qzukk (229616) | about 8 years ago | (#16097299)

The interesting thing about it is that not only does it test the applicant's ability to use various PHP tools (in a roundabout way) it also forces awareness of some of the stupider things people do in their site designs. Hidden values in forms that are expected to be secure because you can't see them in the browser, aren't. People can post anything to your form from anywhere, not just from the page you thought they should be coming from, and so on.

That said, I've done the kind of automation that they're looking for, and all I can say about it is that if my "targets" for scraping had tags like <mistake> that told me the important parts, my job would be five billion times easier. Especially if the tag was always the same. Nothing like setting up a script that logs into a website, "navigates" to the page I want and read the parts of the page that were interesting to me, only to have the company completely redesign their website... now if only companies would use SOAP.

Re:Solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#16097355)

please could you tell me more about this second step and how to exactly do it... i know i am qualified for this job as i'm good at copy/paste and even know the keyboard shortcuts for both

ps: i tried googling for your keywords but don't understand the resulting pages, so thank you for helping me having this job.

Re:Solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#16097420)

It's easy. See here [] for a description of automation. All you have to do is is build a robot that manipulates the keyboard and mouse of a computer terminal to input the form. Name the robot PHP (this is important.)

Re:Solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#16097157)

Having looked at the source again after you posted that, I can safely say: *groan*

You gotta have a gimmick (1)

Hahnsoo (976162) | about 8 years ago | (#16097081)

It seems like a gimmick to me, although I do find the historical anecdotes interesting. Puzzles appeal to the ego of those solving it, but may not actually test the appropriate skillset of the potential candidate. I can recall about a half a dozen TV shows and movies that had similar gimmicks for the hiring practices of their employees (e.g. "Men in Black"). Most of the time, it's a plot device to bring the "fish out of water" character into the fold. Then again, maybe that's entirely the point of the puzzle.

Re:You gotta have a gimmick (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#16097335)

Or, Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, "you're the first one who survived the interview." Personally, I want to go for a job like that, even though I don't do well in interviews.

The concept is wide spread (1)

Thansal (999464) | about 8 years ago | (#16097086)

I have a friend who is an Electrical Engineer. Around the time of him graduating college (3 years now I think) he had a few interviews where a large part of it conssisted of him being given a schematic of something random, and them asking him what it was and what was wrong.

All these types of applications arr just apptitude tests. Can you troubleshoot/maintain/repair/improve our stuff? If you can, and can prove it, here is a job.

Personaly, I tihnk they are an ideal priliminary screening technique. After that you follow up my making sure they seem like a reliable individual, have the other skills you need, etc etc etc.

Re:The concept is wide spread (1)

Doctor Memory (6336) | about 8 years ago | (#16097308)

I had this at a company I worked for previously. It was under the auspices of a C language test (yeah, this was awhile ago), but after some fluff questions there was a block of code and two questions: What is this code supposed to do? and Why doesn't it work? And it was interesting how often variations of that same block of code turned up in the system we were writing.

Much better than the "quiz" I had to go through at a small start-up, which basically consisted of testing my knowledge of Java garbage-collection minutiae (for a Java app development position). Hint: don't test prospective employees in-depth knowledge of things that have nothing to do with the job they'll be performing. The guy they eventually hired was a JVM internals guru, but didn't turn out to know too much about performance tuning a distributed application, which is what they needed him to do...

Think fast (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#16097107)

Some of the timed problem solving questions don't necessarily work for everyone. I usually do most of my problem solving in background. Usually I get the solution around 3 a.m. I never write down the solution and I always remember them. At least as far as I can recall.

The big problem with job riddle or puzzle questions is sometimes they're more about the interviewer than the interviewee. When the question can't be answered, the interviewer can show off how smart they are. So maybe on these questions, you don't want your answer to be too clever.

Puzzles are okay (1)

rolfwind (528248) | about 8 years ago | (#16097111)

if they are related to the actual job. I don't expect a history/language riddle for a programming related job, etcetera - as that won't tell you much.

That said, there is so many variables what makes a good/valuable employee that basing a hiring decision solely on one riddle can be silly.

But it's not going to affect IT any. I have the impression that some companies have always been a bit silly in this area, and some companies always had their feet on the ground and don't go for the latest fad/nonsense.

I remember that in 2003, several newspaper articles proclaimed that Graphology was going to be the next greatest thing in hiring.

I like this (1)

Travoltus (110240) | about 8 years ago | (#16097117)

Prove to me your talents. That's what I need. That and a criminal background check that comes up negative.

Re:I like this (5, Interesting)

BenEnglishAtHome (449670) | about 8 years ago | (#16097202)

and a criminal background check that comes up negative

Is your hiring policy so brain-dead that any blot on a criminal background check is an automatic disqualifier? Or is a potential candidate given a chance to explain? We live in times when it seems that everything is illegal. No one gets through a day without doing something illegal. No one gets through a month without committing a serious crime. (Well, at least that's true if you have a half-way fun sex life.) Is your requirement for a negative background check absolute? If so, why?

Re:I like this (2, Insightful)

MindStalker (22827) | about 8 years ago | (#16097314)

1) It proves you are good enough not to get caught.
2) If they tell you to do something illigal they don't want it comming back to them in the terms of "You hired a known felon..."

Re:I like this (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | about 8 years ago | (#16097537)

Seems to me having a few felons around would be a good for plausible deniability.

Riddle me this... (1)

RyoShin (610051) | about 8 years ago | (#16097138)

Riddles are good at proving problem solving skills, but don't necessarily show prgramming or IT eptitude. Someone who solves a riddle fast is more likely to be able to fix an unknown problem with little background, and while that is good a better employee would be able to keep the problem from happening in the first place.

Riddles are a good test and gauge a person better than "you went to this school for this time period, got these grades, and then went on to do this job for a few years", but they don't make the other information useless.

Re:Riddle me this... (1)

Chacham (981) | about 8 years ago | (#16097198)

Riddles are good at proving problem solving skills, but don't necessarily show prgramming or IT eptitude.

Or the ability to spell "aptitude". :)

/me ducks and runs for cover.

Re:Riddle me this... (2, Funny)

RyoShin (610051) | about 8 years ago | (#16097240)

I didn't misspell nothing. I made up a word. Shakespear did it, so can I!

"eptitude" means "idiot shouldn't work here".

(Actually, I'm rather drowsy from some new meds, so burn away.)

Re:Riddle me this... (1)

Chacham (981) | about 8 years ago | (#16097270)


I actually had to look to make sure that it didn't mean anything. :)

Re:Riddle me this... (1)

peragrin (659227) | about 8 years ago | (#16097232)

while I agree with you for programing, IT, in genral is trying to figure out which part is bad out of so many possible combinations, ranging from hardware to software layers. Solving a riddle may not prove your worth as a programmer, but it won't hurt it either. it shows you can see things from more than just GIGO.

Re:Riddle me this... (1)

Opportunist (166417) | about 8 years ago | (#16097351)

Well, in today's IT world, your chances are high that you're hired for fixing code rather than for writing new code. More often than not, I was hired for maintaining and expanding existing code than for writing code from scratch. So yes, your ability to understand a problem, find its source and fixing it is definitly high on the "want-to-have" scale of IT companies today.

Re:Riddle me this... (1)

nuzak (959558) | about 8 years ago | (#16097360)

> Riddles are good at proving problem solving skills

They're good at a particular set of problem solving skills.

Let's see, what did I do yesterday ... Tracked down a rogue remote reconfiguration that hosed a lab box, aided by my knowledge of PAM and experience with where to look in syslog. Suggested some variance analysis datamining to fine-tune an antispam rule retraining algorithm. Explained the differences between a DFA and NFA regex engine to a new guy and how backrefs will blow it up.

I am the go-to guy in my department for all manner of technical questions. And you know what? I suck at crosswords and all manner of brainteasers. Any would-be employer giving me one of those will find me walking out the door.

Smells like an ad... (1)

assantisz (881107) | about 8 years ago | (#16097149)

feels like an ad... and the riddle is not really challenging.

Riddles work (3, Informative)

grapeape (137008) | about 8 years ago | (#16097173)

Its how I landed my current job. Resume wise I have an unrelated degree, few certifications that are still valid but many years of experience. The companies owner saw my resume and noticed an application I had listed was a relatively obscure one that they were having trouble with. I was asked to come in as a consultant for a week and fix the problem for them. I had everything fixed in less than a day, they were impressed enough that I was offered a full time job on the spot.

Riddle solving evens the playing field for those that are skilled but may not have the resume to reflect their skill level. I know most hate the old saying that "those who can do and those who cant teach" but many times book smarts doesnt translate into real world performance. Being able to display the smarts and tenacity to tackle a problem head especially after others have tried and given up instantly gives you a "value" to the potential employer. I think most that dont like the idea arent comfortable with the idea that someone with a lesser resume might actually be better in real world situations.

Pay less attention to the answer (1)

Enry (630) | about 8 years ago | (#16097176)

Pay more attention to how you got to the answer, even if it's wrong.

Years ago I went through something similar during an interview. VP of sales comes in, hands me a piece of paper, pencil, and calculator and asked me to figure out how many gas stations were in the US. Came back about 10 minutes later and we discussed how I got to my answer and how we got to his. Both of ours were reasonable, though we were probably both off the actual number. I think he just wanted to make sure I came up with something in the time instead of a random guess.

Got the job, and no, it wasn't in sales.

As long as they do it for every other employee.... (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#16097185)

    "The bad news is that you failed the puzzle exam, the good news is that if you can make this power point slide animate annoyingly while playing music, you're hired."

    "Here's a knife and here's your mother, stab her and I'll give you $20."

Corporate Lawyer
    "Look outside and tell me it's raining (it's sunny). Now write the most incomprehensible sentence you can. When you are finished, Bob the CEO wants to talk to you about another test."

    "See these two piles of cash on my table? When I turn around, you have five seconds to hide one so that I can't find it."

    "Tell me again how this pen in my hand can cure cancer?"

    "I have several baggies of what appears to be baking soda on my desk, when I come back at lunch, they should be gone."

    "When I say it's all your fault, you say ok. It's your fault."

Technical Support
    "This button on the phone transfers the caller to another support person. Can you press it?"

Office Assistant
    "Do you have experience with the mentally handicapped or young children? Meet Bob, your new boss."

From a recent graduate.... (1)

antialias02 (997199) | about 8 years ago | (#16097194)

In terms of companies I've looked at working for lately, a strong majority wants "A Bachelor's Degree and 2+/5+ years of experience in ________." I'm a fast learner and a good problem solver with a broad background, but I might not have had 2 years of working expertise in ________ - but that doesn't mean I can't learn it and become proficient quickly. Many employers aren't that interested in that kind of employee: they seem to simply want someone who can come in and just "work." This kind of test, I think, does give recent grads/employment n00bs a chance to step up to the plate and get an edge in so that we can actually start getting that experience other employers will require later.

Apply! (1)

Cybert4 (994278) | about 8 years ago | (#16097332)

Using it during school or for personal projects counts. Just apply! Don't be discouraged by anything. If it's really a longshot, don't spend much time on cover letters. But putting your name in the hat never hurts.

Re:From a recent graduate.... (1)

DaveV1.0 (203135) | about 8 years ago | (#16097501)

Contact them and see if they would be willing to do a trial period at a reduced pay rate. Say 3 months at half the going rate. Then, a review and if they keep you, another 3 months at 3/4th the going rate. Then another review and if you are acceptable, you continue on at full pay rate.

Re:From a recent graduate.... (1)

kevin_conaway (585204) | about 8 years ago | (#16097556)

Where are you looking for work? The company I work for routinely hires entry level developers and trains them

Of course, the expectation is that you will stay with the company for a period of time to actually give them proper ROI

even worse (1)

Desolator144 (999643) | about 8 years ago | (#16097210)

One of my teachers said that back in the day she sat down for an interview and the guy gave her a hundred or so page printout of the program they were using writtin in Basic or some ancient thing like that. Then he told her to read it and explain to him how it worked in summary. She didn't get the job and I don't think anyone did. Needless to say, he wasn't an IT department guy, he was a hiring guy.
Whenever companies decide on some ridiculous hiring style, I say forget them. If enough people boycott a stupid hiring trend, it goes away. Though I do think solve the riddle style ones aren't half bad because if you can't solve it, you shouldn't get a job (as long as it's a riddle related to your job area) though they should base it on more than that.

Re:even worse (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#16097354)

writtin in Basic or some ancient thing like that
Aren't you that kid who was bragging about how he wrote some app in VB in a day that nobody else could even write in C++?

AtheaHealth Does this too (1)

sr. taquito (996805) | about 8 years ago | (#16097217)

For their developer positions they email you a problem which has no solution because of insufficient data. So I wrote a program that would model the problem and ask for the missing data. That got me an interview but someone who wasn't a recent college grad was in the running as well and got the position (or so they say!) I do really enjoy the idea of having to solve a puzzle though.

It filters for one type of person (5, Insightful)

pauljlucas (529435) | about 8 years ago | (#16097225)

Does [solve-the-riddle] give decent graduates/talented unexperienced devs/homegrown coders a chance at the corporate job, or does it alienate potential matches?
If I do say so myself, I'm a pretty good software architect and developer. However, I don't do well under the kind of pressure typically experienced at a job interview when asked to solve oddball problems in real-time. Often, my biggest insights come when I'm not consiously thinking about the problem, e.g., while in the shower.

Those who do well at solve-the-riddle interviews are certainly intelligent and can solve problems, but it's not necessarily true that they can solve ill-specified problems -- real-world problems that need solving aren't usually as completely specified as a riddle or puzzle.

There are other ways to conduct interviews that yield good candidates. Get the person to talk about his past work -- technical people who have done good stuff love to do this with great enthusiasm. You can then ask about trade-offs in thei designs and implementations. You can usually figure out whether the candidate was a key player in the work being discussed.

Another way is to describe a real-world problem facing your company, but without actually asking the candidate anything. A good candidate will be interested in yoru problem, ask questions, offer suggestions. If the candidate just sits there, s/he's not a good candidate.

Re:It filters for one type of person (3, Insightful)

starfishsystems (834319) | about 8 years ago | (#16097574)


There are certainly tech support jobs out there which consist primarily of what we might call solving puzzles.

Generally, however, a technical person needs to be broadly competent, needs to have strengths in both analysis and design, needs to communicate well, needs to be able to manage relationships effectively, needs to be able to organize and prioritize effectively under directions which can be incomplete or ambiguous.

The best technical people are not just able to address the issues in front of them, they use them to generate leverage in making progress toward larger goals. They have to articulate and negotiate for those larger goals, which means they have to be sensitive to interests of other individuals, and to the potential for alignment and conflict among them.

These requirements hold especially for more senior positions. It's fine to be able to solve puzzles, but that's not most of the job. And as anyone with hiring experience knows, it's far more successful to gain senior people by letting them rise through the ranks than it is to hire them from outside the organization. Unless you make a point of attracting and hiring people who have that potential, you can risk ending up mostly with a whole bunch of puzzle solvers.

Even scientific research, which obviously tries to solve some very hard puzzles, is mostly driven by collaboration. I've seen generations of compuer science grad students come and go, and the ones that go furthest are invariably the most collaborative. Out of the practice of collaboration they seem to have an easier time understanding their work in context, and they seem able to pick up all the other necessary management skills along the way.

Is it legal to do this? (2, Informative)

Animats (122034) | about 8 years ago | (#16097229)

To submit your resume, you have to construct a URL manually. The Angelides campaign in California is in trouble for doing that on Governor Schwartznegger's "speeches" site, where all they did was to look at the directory of available audio and listen to it, instead of just listening to the stuff that had external links.

If anybody cares, tle [] gets you to their stupid form.

Re:Is it legal to do this? (1)

fatwreckfan (322865) | about 8 years ago | (#16097305)

I don't think the second page is the end of the challenge.

Re:Is it legal to do this? (2, Informative)

Animats (122034) | about 8 years ago | (#16097326)

And then you have to build up the URL as if some app had built it. The arguments are

p="auto_submit"&hash="number you get from form page"&referer="URL of form page"...

There's more, but you get the idea.

Re:Is it legal to do this? (1)

Nos. (179609) | about 8 years ago | (#16097399)

Ahhh, but they also want attachments, which means you can't do it with a simple GET request.

Attatch txt/rtf/doc? (1)

Cybert4 (994278) | about 8 years ago | (#16097302)

Ech, doc. Apparently they are not as progressive as it seems.

Some more relevant questions: (3, Funny)

192939495969798999 (58312) | about 8 years ago | (#16097339)

1. Sales has agreed to build a system, and the client's already signed off on a fixed price payment. You have 1 month to build it until the budget runs out. There is no spec, no design document, and no way to confirm any given feature. What do you do?

A. Build as fast as possible and hope for the best.
B. Cry and whimper like a baby, because you're completely screwed.
C. Pitch a fit to management/slashdot/etc about what sales did.
D. Burn the place down.
E. All of the above.

Re:Some more relevant questions: (1)

EEBaum (520514) | about 8 years ago | (#16097558)

F. Jump ship.

Re:Some more relevant questions: (1)

DaveV1.0 (203135) | about 8 years ago | (#16097578)

F. Steal all the money and then burn the place down to cover your tracks.

It's a good filter (2, Interesting)

Opportunist (166417) | about 8 years ago | (#16097415)

Actually, I got my job that way. Basically, the catch was that they contacted me, and my interest came on when I saw that they used riddles to filter applicants.

It is a good filter when it comes to separating those who have relevant skills from those who are good at pretending. You can't cheat at "riddles". You can't talk and weasle out of them. You can't impress the interviewer. Don't forget that in HR, few if any people have relevant coding skills. Now, you want to hire a coder. The HR guy hasn't the foggiest what assembler or an export table is, but he should hire someone who can read assembler and understand foreign 80x86 code. How should he do it? Would you rather have the HR guy listen to someone rambling about his "achivements" and qualifications, or do you hand him a paper saying:

What does this do:

(together with the correct answer, of course).

Which strategy do you think will give you the better qualified applicants for the final examination?

Fundamental technological skill (1)

RomulusNR (29439) | about 8 years ago | (#16097419)

Problem solving and creative thinking is an essential skill in technology, whether you are a developer, administrator, QA, etc.
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