Friday, 2 June 2017

Tech Job Interviews... Derp

I'm not saying who for, and I'm not saying what for, but over the last three months I've been on a little spree within the jobs market for my kind of career, I've been through phone interviews, technical tests and face to face meetings.

And I've noted a pattern in how things to, they go one of three basic ways...

The first is that the interviewer likes how I hold myself, how I present myself, but they've read nothing about me.  Now this is a large blog, I've written a book, and I publish quite a lot of information about how I work and what I do... To not read this is tantamount to negligence, either on the part of the interviewer or the recruitment folks putting you through for a role.

When I find myself in this situation however it lends itself to my favour, as I can answer questions posed to me, and beware that as thorough as the opposite party aimed to present themselves they've already demonstrated to me that I have to tick the boxes in their filter live, so to speak.

The next is that they've read the information about me but then they don't like me, either how I come across in person, or just some trivial problem like a technical tests; more about those in a moment.  Finding myself in this situation can be tough, for instance having a near four hour interview experience, face to face, meeting not one, not two but three lots of people and being invited to tour the work space, you'd be forgiven for thinking "I think I'm in here"... Just to be told "no" later (yes this actually happened, because I told a chap I don't like TDD, and he frothed at the mouth a little).

The final is where the interviewer has no interest in you as a human being, you have to tick the right boxes, and that's it.  I've had this twice recently, out of very many tests and interviews, one verbally and one via a written form.  Many years ago I graduated, and I walked as a new (one of the first in the UK actually) graduates with a pure software engineering degree... This essentially means I use a computer as a tool, to communicate, to process or gather information, whether I leverage that with C++, Python, Word or just as a paper weight makes no odds to me, so long as the task is done effectively, in a maintainable, secure and under-budget manner.  However, I walked into a room with five other people and was handed an A-Level maths paper... I sat there looking around the dingy room, looked at the paper's title and just got up and left.

This final situation is perhaps the hardest to explain, unless you've been there, you are you, you are a value you are an idea, you are a font of experience and the culmination of your life to date, you are not completing an A-Level maths paper, you are not writing a bit of data processing, you are certainly not some online multi-choice quiz.

But doing these menial tasks proves to someone that you know what you're doing... Apparently?  In the latter case it's almost as though the online quizzed expect you not to just google an answer... I myself would much rather just state "don't know"... but above that I'd rather NOT perform such odd tasks.

If I were to hire staff today, I'd sit down and talk to them, the CV is the main filter, do they have any skills I desire?  Do they have any insight or experience which is of use?  Talk to them.

Then, once I'm happy at the personal level I'd not ask them to perform some monkey tricks, I'd just hand them production code, or a snippet there of... "Comment on this", openly, freely.... The spelling, the layout, the coding approach, any bugs, any suggestions.  But I would not do this without knowing who they are, and never without myself being there, being a personal touch.

I don't know, maybe it's the vogue of today, maybe it's a never ending spiral, but it appears to me that slowly we are divorcing ourselves from one another, online.  This maybe something important to note, the most successful online communities, or sites, involve interacting with one another, take facebook or snapchat as examples, you don't get in there at the ground floor by asking impersonal questions in a static box.  You get the young, the scared, the ones willing to please answering those questions.  The rebels, the technologists like me, we tear up the rule book, we're here to innovate, not tell you where a non-mutable variable is attemptedly being assigned to in a subroutine to make you feel better.


  1. Have you considered that sometimes employers might throw you into a difficult situation in an interview to see how you handle it. It's not how you do in the test but how you cope with it. In that scenario walking out the room would be the point you fail the test. It is very rarely just about your technical skills, if you can't flex your personality during a 1 hour interview how flexible will you be while doing your role? Anyway good luck with your future interviews and consider this comment in a constructive way.

    1. Good afternoon commenter of mystery, thanks for the comment, I think my point has not come over, I was (and am) exacerbated by the inflexibility of the interviewing process... As for flexibility, being able to admit "I don't know" but going to look it up, or going to ask "why" is pretty important, and I've found a thread of thought in those grilling others whereby they hold the power, disenfranchising the interviewee. I'll not go as far as saying that interviewees are repressed, but there is a distinct lack of encouraging people to think outside the box.

      In the post above I really talk about a web-driven test which put you into a literal guided trench run, you did A which led to B which then had to lead to C. "Could you get to C Quicker" was never on the radar.

      Going further, once I noticed this kind of aptitude test demanding immediate knowledge, I figured "How often would you not look something up, when you don't know?"... Libraries, Google, Wiki's that's why they exist after all, it's why human society developed writing after all, undermining that in a test takes the candidate out of their comfort zone.

      Hence why my approach would be to "comment openly" or "freely", rather than a rigid test of A, B and C....

    2. I'm in conflict with my thoughts on this, I'm a fan of hackathons which mean you can hire really proven technically brilliant people. However that's only half the skills you need. There is almost no better test of soft skills than a demanding formal interview. It evaluates your communications skills and your ability to deal with a high pressure situation.

      I agree that testing people have memorised syntax is pointless. It's your ability to speedily google that and understand quickly which matters.

    3. Aye, I think it's that last point, which you make more eloquently than myself... Interestingly, earlier in the year (I hope they don't recount this) I had a technical interview, where I sat in front of a laptop with a chap, and he and I totally and utterly clashed, both technically and from an opinion point of view.

      My openness ideals, perhaps my expectations were totally at odds with his concepts, my idea of formal method, prototyping and release often to drive through a problem, and my distaste for test driven development, immediately soured the conversation.

      I knew technically I didn't want the job, but I went on for a further three hours (yes three) of having to converse with other members of the team, the development manager and essentially I invested in the people, not the technological approach the first chap would, I knew, insist upon.

      Not that I don't have wiggle room, but that he did not.

      In essence, I think people are people, I'm certainly myself, and lucky enough to be able to pick up or put down roles or ideas I don't invest myself in.