Not saying all brilliant developers cant communicate, but if you focus on how smart someone is, you may miss the opportunity to hire a really valuable person who develops your next great product. Or who ends up being a great team builder or business liaison.
Here are some alternatives to consider instead of relying on a set of stump the developer questions.
1) For most tech companies you can find common interview questions out on the Web. Even before the Web, I remember developers finding ways to share intelligence on preparing for interviews. Now its too easy to find this information and cram beforehand.
Its okay to use this approach as part of the evaluation, but as a weeding out tool, I dont think its the best route. Thats exactly what happened to this candidate. In her nightmare Google interview even though her writing skills seem to show she has something to offer that Google is missing out on.
2) Im a big fan of situational interviews. Id much rather know if a person can handle the intensity and unique circumstances that are prevalent in a turbo-charged development environment. Instead of focusing on logic questions, ask the candidate what they would do in a realistic difficult situation. After all, writing code isnt just about math and logic. Creativity is something that can be less tangible and only surfaces when a developer is in a pickle.
3) How about communications skills? I know there will be some eyes rolling from techies who are just looking to be left alone to be brilliant. At most companies, interpersonal skills really do matter because you arent coding in a vacuum. You have to find a balance of people who can code like a banshee and those who can code very well, but who really know how to bring teams together, successfully promote ideas and interface with business users.
4) Whenever building a team, you cant just focus on individuals. You need to holistically look at the team and how they will mesh. Therefore, personality comes into play. You could have a candidate take a Myers-Briggs type of test or you could just ask them what were you like in high school? Its amazing how people let down their guard when they start talking about their formative teenage years, and ta-dah their true personality surfaces.
I just believe that the more complete person you hire, the better off you are in the long run. Granted, you need a couple geniuses for technical breakthroughs that us average Joes might never invent. (Apologies to my very smart college roommate Joe!)
But be careful, because that deer caught in your headlights might be the young buck who brings more than an amazing intellect to help your company build a world-class software development team.
Eric Spiegel is CEO and co-founder of XTS, which provides software for planning, managing and auditing Citrix and other virtualization platforms.