The Dumbest Ways To Interview A Developer

Companies seeking good developers often ask some remarkably dumb interview questions. What’s the worst question you’ve ever been asked?


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What's the dumbest interview question you've ever been asked? Write it in the Comments section below.

If you were required to write code after becoming intoxicated, could you do it? Would you write better code? Worse?

This is exactly how Facebook selected their first interns, if we are to believe The Social Network movie. Who knows if it really happened or is a techie urban legend? Perhaps it truly contributed to selecting developers who supported Facebook’s meteoric rise.

Honestly, it seems ridiculous to me. Would you really want your developers coding drunk? What did this prove?

I will admit that I have written code with a buzz on (in college, of course). Surely it wasn’t my best effort – as proven by the lousy grade the assignment received. Certainly, alcohol should not play a part in evaluating someone’s coding capability.

Evaluating talent in a short time period associated with the interview process is challenging (with or without alcohol). Over the years, I have been through a lot of interviews on both sides and experienced many interesting approaches.

I personally have been asked a lot of dumb and irrelevant interview questions. Since it is already difficult to find the best developers in hot markets like mobile and social computing, interview questions should be crafted that not only help screen out the unqualified developers but – probably more important – don’t tick off the best developers.

It is fair and hopefully obvious to ask developers questions that directly relate to their claimed expertise. As I pointed out in a recent article, it is reasonable to use Google to look up common methods of solving problems during day-to-day work. Googling doesn’t diminish a developers capability, it enhances it.

However, developers should be able to answer the basics in an interview – without Googling.

What they shouldn’t have to answer are really dumb questions or go through irrelevant exercises. This just wastes everyone’s time.

One interview approach that’s essentially wasted time is to use brain teasers. My java-developer brother-in-law was recently lamenting about a so-called brain teaser that was asked of him during an interview. I forget the exact wording, but it had to do with figuring out what light switches controlled which light bulbs if you couldn’t see the bulbs as you operated the switches.

What the heck do light bulbs have to do with writing java code?

Plus you can go to sites where the most common brain teasers are asked and memorize answers. I found the light bulb answer on my first Google search. Or someone who interviewed at that company may have shared the brain teaser on their Facebook page.

Sure, developers need to have a sound ability to think through problems. However, I’d argue that this capability is more applicable to designers and architects. Developers typically need to take specifications that some designer created and turn it into software. Therefore, the ability to solve a brain teaser isn’t the greatest indicator of a great developer.

Then there are the “no win” questions. The purpose seems to be to box someone into a corner and see how they respond. This happened to a friend of mine who was on his third on-site interview with a software firm. All had gone swell and he was in the final interview with one of the founders when he was asked this question”

“Would you ever quit this job or leave the company?”

My buddy Joe was totally taken off guard. He had studied and prepared on how to answer the toughest interview questions, but not this one. With his future on the line, he evidently said the wrong thing. The exchange went something like this.

Joe: "What do you mean?"

Mr. CEO: "I only hire people who believe in the company and go the extra mile."

Joe: "I am your man. I am passionate, hard working and take pride in my work."

Mr. CEO: "But would you ever leave?"

Joe: "Well, I am not sure how to answer that question. I imagine that if the company and I continue to have a 'win-win' relationship, then no, I would not leave."

Mr. CEO: "What if someone offered you twice your current salary?"

Joe: "I don't know, maybe, I would consider that if things aren't going well here for me."

Mr. CEO: "Then, sorry, we can't hire you. I only want people who will be here for the long haul." That was it. Basically – don’t let the door hit you in the rear on the way out!

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Tags: programmers, developers, IT Jobs/Salary, developer salary, IT job interview

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