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The Interview Anti-Loop and the Warren Harding Error

April 22nd, 2010

A couple non-traditional considerations when preparing for a software development interview.

Prepare for the Warren Harding Error, Thin Slicing, Snap Judgements, and rapid cognition.

The Warring Harding Error as described by Malcom Gladwell:

Many people who looked at Warren Harding saw how extraordinarily handsome and distinguished-looking he was and jumped to the immediate – and entirely unwarranted – conclusion that he was a man of courage and intelligence and integrity. They didn’t dig below the surface. The way he looked carried so many powerful connotations that it stopped the normal process of thinking dead in its tracks. The Warren Harding error is the dark side of rapid cognition. It is at the root of a good deal of prejudice and discrimination. It’s why picking the right candidate for a job is so difficult and why, on more occasions than we may care to admit, utter mediocrities sometimes end up in positions of enormous responsibility.Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

As Developers (and Generation X / Yers) we tend to buy into the ideal that “on the internet no one knows your a dog”, an ideal that’s been seared into our minds by Sesame Street and the like. An ideal where sunny days, chase the clouds away, where knowledge, technical skill, and communication should outweigh appearance – a place where being a dog, human, or giant harry elephant should be irrelevant. Unfortunately that’s not reality. Clean up for your interviews, put away those circa Cobain sneakers, and pack in the facial jewelery. Warren Harding (considered one of the worst US presidents) may have been elected based on his appearance. First impressions matter.

Beware of the Interview Anti-Loop

The Interview Anti-Loop as described by Steve Yegge:

when I was at Amazon … We eventually concluded that every single employee E at Amazon has at least one “Interview Anti-Loop”: a set of other employees S who would not hire E. The root cause is important for you to understand when you’re going into interviews, so I’ll tell you a little about what I’ve found over the years.

First, you can’t tell interviewers what’s important … they believe they are a “good interviewer” and they don’t need to change their questions, their question styles, their interviewing style, or their feedback style, ever again. …

Second problem: every “experienced” interviewer has a set of pet subjects and possibly specific questions that he or she feels is an accurate gauge of a candidate’s abilities. The question sets for any two interviewers can be widely different and even entirely non-overlapping. …

The bottom line is, if you go to an interview at any software company, you should plan for the contingency that you might get genuinely unlucky, and wind up with one or more people from your Interview Anti-Loop on your interview loop. If this happens, you will struggle, then be told that you were not a fit at this time, and then you will feel bad. …

And then you should wait 6-12 months and re-apply. That’s pretty much the best solution we (or anyone else I know of) could come up with for the false-negative problem. – Get that job at Google

Author: Adam Kahtava Categories: Interview, Musings Tags:

Getting a Job at Google: A Web Developer Fizzbuzz

May 24th, 2008

Back when the web turned 2.0, AJAX was all the rage, and gas was cheap, a Google recruiter contacted me. We worked through a couple screening interviews – I explained how I was a .NET / ASP.NET / C# developer with some experience with Java and PHP, I described how C# was somewhat similar to Java. Things went great, I moved on to the next step of the process – writing code (a JavaScript widget for Gmail) with a 2 day (weekend) hard deadline. At the time I was wearing JavaScript diapers, but tried the exercise anyways – I'm still convinced the recruiter confused my Java / C# experience with JavaScript. Anyhow…

The Google Web Developer Exercise:

Web Developer Exercise

Attached are three states of a new contacts widget. This widget will be used across Google and may be anywhere on the page. Designers will also use this in mocks for usability tests. Create the HTML, CSS, and JavaScript for the widget as described in the image. Your solution must work in Firefox v1.5+ and IE v6+. Bonus points for a solution that degrades nicely on older browsers.



After my first attempt, I concluded that:

  1. My JavaScript knowledge was embarrassing
  2. Dynamic programming languages like JavaScript using prototypical inheritance were awesome – as a monocultured .NET developer I had sorely been missing out
  3. Framework Web Developers (ASP.NET, Ruby on Rails, and so on) aren't really Web Developers – we depend on a framework (an API) as a crutch, where the law of Leaky Abstractions is very real, and often when it rears it's head we use our golden hammer (our multipurpose language of choice), but there are better tools at hand
  4. Web Developers claiming n years of experience need to at least know JavaScript, CSS, HTML / XHTML, a server-side language, and some XML / XSL – NOT just a single multipurpose language or framework
  5. Innovation can only happen when you become one with the technologies surrounding your realm – for example: Jesse James Garrett probably would not have publicized AJAX had he been an exclusive ASP.NET developer. Diversity is essential for innovation

In retrospect this exercise is brilliant, it's a more complex derivation of a Fizzbuzz exercise, which effectively weeds out the knowledgeable candidates from the n00bs. JavaScript is notorious for being one of the world's most misunderstood language, many developer (and the ASP.NET Framework) still use JavaScript techniques from the old days of Netscape. For example: <a onclick=”return false;” …, or <a href=”Javascript: do something;” … are common DOM Level 0 inline techniques that should be avoided. These techniques have been replaced, but finding developer that use these JavaScript techniques can be hard.

By having a developer complete this exercise you effectively determine that the they understands these concepts:

  • Cross browser compatibilities and work arounds for both JavaScript and CSS – with a preference given to feature detection (object detection) vs browser detection, an understanding of the different event handling models between browsers
  • An understanding of the separation of concerns – JavaScript, markup, and CSS should be separate files, or at least separated within the document
  • Event registration and listening – DOM events, the different browser event models, no inline level 0 event declarations, no pseudo JavaScript protocol inline declarations within markup
  • An understanding of functional languagesclosures, namespaces, lambdas, recursion where necessary
  • Node manipulation – creating, swapping, removing elements
  • Knowledge of non-obtrusive JavaScript techniques
  • Importance of modular / compartmentalization of CSS and JavaScript – defensive programming techniques that minimize the risk of interfering with other scripts and elements within the page, part of the non-obtrusive techniques, how to avoid global variables
  • An understanding on how to debug JavaScript from both IE (link) and Firefox (link)
  • JavaScript code conventions – naming conventions, statement conventions
  • CSS naming conventions
  • General DHTML / AJAX techniques – showing and hiding elements
  • A gauge on their attention to details and UI design intuition – what their gut tells them to do when things aren't spelled out

My latest crack at the Google Web Developer Exercise:

You'll have to visit my site (view this blog post outside a RSS reader) to view the code in action.

The code: GoogleExercise.js, index.html, GoogleExercise.css

Today I'm wearing JavaScript training wheels – feel free to comment on the code, I'm always looking for improvements and suggestions. I did take a couple shortcuts on the CSS / UI side of things as I was focusing more on the functionality.

Using one of the AJAX Libraries (like jQuery) we could certainly do this exercise in significantly fewer lines of code.

Today I still think about Getting that job at Google, Yahoo!, Amazon, or Microsoft. How well do you know JavaScript?

Update: I redid the Google Exercise using jQuery and more semantics, you can find my latest version here: The Google Exercise Revisited: Semantic Markup with jQuery.