Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Note to people interviewing me for a job: Can you please knock it off with the extraordinarily vague questions? I used to think that "Why don't you tell me a little about yourself?" was a bad one — possible answers: "My favorite color is blue," or "I'm not a mermaid," or "I am composed of cells." — but somehow I managed to go for two interviews yesterday that were just a succession of questions each more nerve-wracking and non-specific than the last. Like, "Let's say I gave you a program, or a part of a program. How would you come up with some testing procedures for it?"

And I'm sitting there, sweating, with a giant question mark tattooed on my countenance. It's the computer geek equivalent of asking, "How can you tell if something is good?" and, even though you know it's not really the path to the right answer, all you can think to do is dredge up the scattered memories of that Aristotle class you took sophomore year of college.

We also had, "How would you go about familiarizing yourself with the components of a program?" and the venerable, "Tell me some ways you might improve a particular algorithm." In the world of theoretical computational modeling, we have a concept called undecidability, which is a shorthand Zen kind of non-answer that means that the question is faulty and its answer exists outside the boundaries of space, time, and logic that govern our universe. There's a part of me that wants to cut the interviewer short — when he asks how I'd design a program, I know what he means to say is "How would you design the program that we're hiring you to work on? Our team of twenty spent the last year and a half refining the design, but why don't you take half a minute and come up with your own ideas? — mu like a cow and fast until I acheive Buddha-nature.

Not that I mind being thrown some sort of counter-intuitive koan... in the middle of an interview... when I'm already on edge. Okay, I do mind it, but because it's the wrong time to wrap my mind around the inherit contradictions: I'm at this interview to provide the prospective employer with information, but I'm asked to do so via a method that's not merely uninformative but, by definition, meaningless. Ask me what a hashtable is, or what's my experience with SQL, or where I'd like to be in five years but I'm begging you: let there be an answer that makes sense!

That being said, our second candidate for most irritating interview question ever: "Tell me about a time, either in school or on the job, when you had to work in a team and you had a disagreement with someone else in the group. Tell me how you handled it." How do you freaking think I handled it?! I clobbered my corporate adversary on the head with a chunk of rebar and buried the body in Greenpoint — problem solved! Oh, wait... since I'm not sociopathic, I guess we just discussed the issue and came to a consensus through a meeting of minds.

But I think our winner for retarded, annoying interview question is still the venerable, "If you had a box, what would you put in it?"