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Bzzt Questions

"Ech, state variables stink. Here’s a better python solution"

for i in range(1,100):

You can stop there. It's a fencepost error as was the original loop responded to.

For anyone asking what I call "bzzt questions" in interviews, do me two favours. First, read the chapter in programming pearls that talks about binary sorting. Second, read the classic from Dave Pickett about implementing a file copy function. Sometimes basic programming tasks are deceptively hard to get right.

What I'd really want are filters than tell me how it will take someone to step through a 50kloc code base to find a bug, or if they will actually do that. Whether they will accept counter-intuitive design advice from seniors on a team (since learning by experience is the lowest form of learning). Whether they have a tendency to cut and paste code (it can't just be changed). Whether they even known what a fencepost error is (the first step is knowing you have a problem). Whether they can detach emotionally from a problem to get unstuck ("I know it can't be that" == it's probably that). Whether they know why shipping against trunk is boneheaded (which trunk?). Whether they know how long the work will take (knowing what it takes to deliver code?). Whether they panic when presented with accountability. And so on.

I suspect the only real answer is a probationary period, and bzzt questions are possibly a premature optimization for that.

Oh and one other thing. If you think being a manager, a veep, or a director-of necessarily means dumbing down and leaving mere coding behind, please read what Peter Norvig writes in planes.

April 8, 2007 10:19 PM


Robert Brewer
(April 9, 2007 03:09 AM #)

Auditions are (depressingly) great for that. I point candidates at our current list of open tickets for their position, say "pick one you like" and get them to talk about how they would start solving it. They can read the conversation with the client, which is often quite a lot of back and forth, and ask me any questions they like.

I say "depressing" because, so far, not a single candidate has done anything other than jump to a conclusion and start telling me how they would implement the "obvious" technical solution. :(

Joel Hockey
(April 9, 2007 03:34 AM #)

Thanks for the pointer to Peter Norvig's latest entry. I wrote a sudoku solution a few years ago that I thought was pretty good until I saw his solution at http://norvig.com/sudoku.html. If anyone wants to learn a little about python and / or programming, I think it is a great case study.

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