Tim Allen on 11 Feb 2009 06:51:57 -0800

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Re: [PLUG] OT (but not really): Tough Interview questions

I've done a lot of interviewing over the years, and yes, there are
quite a few questions you simply can not ask. When it comes to
technical questions, however, I think just about anything is fair
game. My expertise is LAMP, so when interviewing, I always ask three
kinds of questions: easy, hard, and ridiculous. I intentionally ask
ridiculous questions just to see how the candidate will react, and
whether they'll admit not knowing it or try to feed me some nonsense
to get through it. I've always got a lot more respect for people who
honestly say, "I don't know, but I could research that" or "I'm not
sure, but it sounds like it may mean [x]."

One of my favorite questions for MySQL people - who tend to be more
self-taught than formally trained - is "What is a Cartesian product
and when can it be useful?" Fairly ridiculous, you learn it in DB
theory 101, but never really use it in practice. Another classic to
ask programmers - although too popular now - is asking someone to
write a function that increases the value of a passed integer variable
by one, without using "+" or "-", to see how well they know bitwise
operators. Again, not something you'd ever really use, but the
reaction is valuable information to see how an engineer will handle

I know I'm not the only one who uses techniques like these; I'd advise
that you should never be ashamed to say "I don't know" during an
interview if you don't know. Shine when you get the questions you can
absolutely nail, but never B.S. your way through an interview. "I
don't know" might be the correct answer!


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