December 27, 2004

New job quiz: what's this post mean then?

A lot of discussions have been circulating about how to separate out the good guys who know stuff from the chaff that talks the talk but can't walk, even before the google cats test circulated. I recently figured out a great test for any payment systems person. Hand the prospective engineer any relevant post as written by Lynn Wheeler (and Anne, allegedly) and ask the candidate to explain it. If they can, hire them because they've obviously done enough to see what he's on about! If they can't, scratch that candidate, as they haven't got that "been there, done that" track record.

But, even better, I came across this little gem buried deep in one prospective employment exam. I'm not sure how to use this, yet, but I'm thinking on it.... Comments welcome!

Anne & Lynn Wheeler writes:

[huge snip...]

a little tale out of school. after the initial encrypting modem testings, all products from the company with phone jacks had deeply recessed contacts. one of the first testers for this home/travel/hotel encrypting modem was a corporate VP ... who apparently had been an EE in some prior lifetime. He was trying to test out the modem and stuck his tongue on the contacts to see if there was any current. unfortunately, the phone decided to ring at that moment. the result was an edict that all phone jack contacts had to be recessed so that people (especially corporate VPs) were unable to touch them with their tongue.

Posted by iang at December 27, 2004 03:24 PM | TrackBack

that particular reference was cross-over from sci.crypt to alt.folklore.computers related to crypto in the 80s.

there is actually a subthread along the job interview lines running in comp.arch newsgroup ... a small snippet of the thread

more of the thread can be found using google groups ... this gets some amount of the thread:

Posted by: Lynn Wheeler at December 27, 2004 06:02 PM

A better test would be to ask him to punctuate the message. I am so tired of those damned ellipses. There's a reason God invented the period, semicolon and comma.

Posted by: Cypherpunk at December 27, 2004 06:48 PM

You see, Cypherpunk, you just didn't get hired :) In those posts there is a lot of camouflage, but also just enough meat that if you happen to have travelled that path before and have had that experience, it's easy enough to reverse-engineer. Or, it's enough to permit someone with a bit of book knowledge to speculate and stumble about and speculate on the content.

But, the first part of the test is that the ellipses and punctuation filter out the impatient. There is no security in impatience, it requires detail, perseverance and an innate distrust of whatever anyone else tells you is the party line.

I used to ask a question of my people, back in the days of C:

How big is an int?

The answer is one of the following:

a) it's 16 bits long (or it's 32 bits long)
b) it's the machine's natural register size
c) it's no smaller than a short and no longer than a long

The first answer, if expressed in an interview, meant that the person had done some programming in C. The second answer meant that they had done enough to move from machine to machine, which was pretty much required for serious C programming. But the third answer meant that they knew enough C to have read K&R and read it several times and in depth.

I generally hired anyone who got b), and didn't hire anyone who got a). I rarely came across anyone who got c) !

Posted by: Iang at December 27, 2004 07:15 PM

The best answer to that question is
d) sizeof(int) bytes long
which means the person has some chance of writing portable code and knows an indispensable language feature.

Posted by: Fred at December 27, 2004 07:59 PM

LOL! yes, that would get you hired. That is indeed the point, a good interview question allows the programmer to express how much he knows and what is worth knowing.

Posted by: Iang at December 27, 2004 08:44 PM

the volume of my postings has actually declined quite a bit from 20 years ago (but the types of complaints haven't changed much). at that time, a researcher was brought in .... sitting in the back of my office for 9 months ... taking notes on all my conversations, as well as having copies of all my incoming and outgoing email as well as logs of all instant message activity. the detailed analysis, besides becoming a corporate research report, also turned into a stanford phd thesis ... joint between AI and language departments ... and the material for subsequent books and papers. I think that the thesis claimed that I exhanged email with avg. of 275 different people per week (for the 9 months of the study).

couple past posts mentioning study and title of at least one of the books AADS NWI and XML encoded X9.59 NWI Definese Dept Criticised on Internal Credit Card Fraud Title Inflation Would the value of knowledge and information be transferred or shared accurately across the different culture?????? Pardon my ignorance, Big Ideas, where are they now?

Posted by: Lynn Wheeler at December 28, 2004 02:46 AM

That reminds me, as long as I'm griping, another pet peeve is those long lists of utterly off-topic and useless links at the end of every post. I used to try to follow them, and it was always, what's this got to do with anything? It's like there's a random-link generator which gets activated in place of a sig file.

I'm sorry to be mean, but I've been struggling through these unstructured, meandering postings for years. The information content, if any, is so deeply buried among these stylistic quirks that I don't even bother any more. I suppose if you're trying to keep up email conversations with 275 people a week you can't take the time to make your messages focused and meaningful.

Posted by: Cypherpunk at December 28, 2004 01:48 PM

It took me the entire reading of your post to work out you were talking about the LynnOGram, not the blog. You're infected ;)

Posted by: Iang at December 28, 2004 04:43 PM
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