Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Show Up for Class, Learn the Questions on the Final (or Interview)

Even though I went to the University of Chicago, unofficially known as the place "where fun comes to die," some profs had a sense of humor. Physics professors would sometimes "joke" about the sort of problems that would likely appear on the final, and the joke was that those problems (or nearly identical ones) would appear on the final. If, even with the hint, you still didn't prepare how to solve the problem, then the joke was on you.

In that spirit, I'll share my two favorite (at the moment) interview questions for senior- and lead-level tech job candidates. First:

What's interesting about RSS?

I'm not looking for what RSS stands for, how it works, what library you'd use to parse it, or who invented it, although those might make excellent lead-in questions. Or fallback ones if you have no idea how to answer the real question.

The real question is about the significance of RSS ... to the industry, to building applications, etc. You don't have to like it. Tell me why it's no good. Tell me how you'd do it differently, and what the tradeoffs are. Tell me about the alternate formats and why they exist. Or tell me why it's saved the Internet. Either way, show some real thought process. I know it sounds obnoxious to read -- heck, it sounds obnoxious to write. But hundreds of absolutely stumped interviewees with overblown resumes have taught me it's necessary.


"I always thought that Smalltalk would beat Java, I just didn’t know that it would be called ‘Ruby’ when it did." — Kent Beck.
What is Kent saying here?

Notwithstanding this page, which claims to have verified the quote, it could be apocryphal. Doesn't matter (though it's not bad if you know who Kent Beck is or at least recognize the name).

I want to know what you think the quote means. At the industry level, what's the significance of Smalltalk? Ruby? Why are they being compared? Why are they distinguished from Java? At the nuts-and-bolts level, what might it hint at in terms of improving Ruby performance?

Anyway, it's not the answer, it's the thought process that matters.

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