"Why I'm Testy About Tests"
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  1. #1
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    "Why I'm Testy About Tests"

    For an interesting opinion piece about why standardized tests are not a good determining factor when hiring new employees, read Paul Kimmel's latest article:

    http://www.codeguru.com/columns/VB/article.php/c10283/
    Last edited by CG Susan; July 29th, 2005 at 10:46 AM.
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    Re: "Why I'm Testy About Tests"

    I know that I get frustrated with companies that use HR departments to give people technical tests and then use the results as a screening tool.

    The second job I ever had involved a technical test using C. I didn't know the answers to half the questions. There were things about pointers to address to pointers to static locations that needed to be dynamically allocated, etc. etc... The levels of indirection were twisted so that it wasn't simple.

    I ended up saying that I didn't know the answers to several of the questions, but then discussed the questions and speculated based on what I did know. By the time we had walked through the test, I'd learned quite a bit about some of the obscurities in C. I also ended up getting the job.

    What helped to get me the job was the fact that I didn't claim to know answers I didn't have as well as the interest I showed in wanting to learn the answers. It showed a level of aptitude on my part.

    The scarey thing was that I realized many months later that all the obscure things I'd been question about were actually in use on the project we were building. oye.

    As to there being too much to know..... I gave up trying to retain everything there is to know technically a long time ago. Just look at the number of classes and such in the .NET Framework. Nobody can be an expert on all of it. If you also mess with VC++ and MFC, you add on top of that. Throw in a little bit on Java and you could sink ships with the amount of information. 99% of it, however, can be found quickly so there is no point in allocating brain cells for it. I may not be able to answer a question immediately, but give me 5 minutes and I bet I can

    Brad!

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    Re: "Why I'm Testy About Tests"

    Using HR departments to give tests over the phone is only usefull if the tests are multiple choice, as otherwise they have to interpret your answers if they don't match exactly the answers that the tech people give them.

    But in general I've found that tech tests are hit and miss when it comes to getting the job. I've had tests, such as on C, where I've got fewer than half the questions right and got the job. At the other extreme I've got 23/25 and not got the job!
    Kevin

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    Re: "Why I'm Testy About Tests"

    I've heard before about the interviews at Microsoft, and I agree with Kimmel that it may be the best test, but not all companies have and army or people that can afford spending an entire day with a single person. Imagine a company with 5, or 10, or 20, or even 50 employees, spending one day with each person. Just not feasible, IMO.

    As for questions like
    why are manhole covers round? How would you move Mt. Fuji? How would you go about counting all the stars in the sky?
    I've heard (from friends) about similar questions asked in interviews at a big IT company in Timisoara. Personally I was a little bit disappointed on how the interviewers reacted at some answers. When you ask how would you move mt. Fuji I think you should be a little bit opened for the solutions provided.

    PS: If someone asked me how would I move the Fuji mountain, first I would ask:
    1. How do the people of Japan feel about it?
    2. Are you aware of the enviromental implications of the task?
    3. Why does it need to be moved?
    4. Where does it have to be moved?
    5. What is the timeframe to move it?
    6. Are you sure the beneficiaries can pay the bill?

    Depending on the anwers I could formulate an answer. And with a little hope the interviewer would start to doubt about this project before I answer.
    Last edited by cilu; July 30th, 2005 at 10:34 AM.
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    Re: "Why I'm Testy About Tests"

    Quote Originally Posted by cilu
    PS: If someone asked me how would I move the Fuji mountain, first I would ask:
    1. How do the people of Japan feel about it?
    2. Are you aware of the enviromental implications of the task?
    3. Why does it need to be moved?
    4. Where does it have to be moved?
    5. What is the timeframe to move it?
    6. Are you sure the beneficiaries can pay the bill?
    Depending on the anwers I could formulate an answer. And with a little hope the interviewer would start to doubt about this project before I answer.
    Interesting... How would the answer change depending on how the Japanese felt?

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    Re: "Why I'm Testy About Tests"

    Quote Originally Posted by Rigel
    Interesting... How would the answer change depending on how the Japanese felt?
    If they objected to the project, then my guess is that you'd have to introduce some kind of mind-controlling agent into Japan's water supply prior to moving Mt. Fuji.
    Quote Originally Posted by Brad Jones
    Interesting.....

    My first thought when reading this comment was that interviews are not for telling the truth, but rather, are for telling the people what they want to hear so you can get the job. ((More importantly, they are to find out if the company is one you really want to work for.))
    I agree that a certain amount of tact is probably called for, and perhaps that was lacking if Zeb was as blunt in his interview as he was in his post, but still, I don't think it's necessarily wrong to criticize the interviewing process if they ask you for an opinion on it. If they don't want to hear anything critical, then that question is just an invitation to spout some obsequious nothings. And of course, your point about finding out if the company is one you want to work for may very well have played into Zeb's response; if he felt the interviewing process was so ineffectual, maybe he got the impression that day-to-day work at that company would be equally so.

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    Re: "Why I'm Testy About Tests"

    Quote Originally Posted by cilu
    If someone asked me how would I move the Fuji mountain, first I would ask:
    1. How do the people of Japan feel about it?
    2. Are you aware of the enviromental implications of the task?
    3. Why does it need to be moved?
    4. Where does it have to be moved?
    5. What is the timeframe to move it?
    6. Are you sure the beneficiaries can pay the bill?

    Depending on the anwers I could formulate an answer. And with a little hope the interviewer would start to doubt about this project before I answer.
    No no, cilu. If someone asking you these and really needs to move Fuji mountain, never will hire you.
    That's because, analyzing each point of your answer the deadline can be planned after one or two ice ages, it's nosense to explain in details.

    However, there is a quick way to move the Fuji mountain:

    Hire a dozen of interview consultants. For sure the probability that at least one knows how to do it is touchable.
    Not like the tens of thousands developers who did not descover untill now a more trivial question: "Why is a manhole cover round?".
    Last edited by ovidiucucu; August 7th, 2005 at 10:01 AM.
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    Re: "Why I'm Testy About Tests"

    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Kimmel
    To get hired at Microsoft (at least for the job I was interviewing for), one had to get a unanimous thumbs-up. I got a thumbs-up from everyone who interviewed me but one developer. He said I seemed too much like a manager, which from developers is not a compliment. My secret belief is that he wasn't impressed that I didn't know what string-interning was. (****! Foiled by a fact again.)

    The worst part about the string-interning question is that it was a pre-screening question. I'd been asked the same question during the pre-screen interview, and I forgot it when asked during the Redmond interview a week later. (String interning is how strings are stored internally to conserve memory and is why strings are immutable in .NET.) The truth: During the pre-screen I determined that string interning was beyond my control and a truly irrelevant fact except for the .NET compiler writers, so I immediately discarded the factoid.
    Well, I have few former colleagues working for Microsoft, but cannot ask them about the interview because, of course, they sign some papers to not reveal the secret of round manhole.
    What I know from another one recently applied for. Each of those thumbs-ups is necessary to step to higher level of the interview.
    If indeed, at the higher level a real developer can show a "thumb-down", all my respect, I'm throwing my hat.

    /keep ahead and don't give up!
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    Re: "Why I'm Testy About Tests"

    Quote Originally Posted by ovidiucucu
    Not like the tens of thousands developers who did not descover untill now a more trivial question: "Why is a manhole cover round?".
    But the answer is simple: Because manholes are round.

    And just in case this is followed by the question "Why are manholes round?": Simply because tubes with a circular cross-section are structurally the most stable...

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    Re: "Why I'm Testy About Tests"

    I must agree that tests are a poor way to evaluate the abilities of a programmer. So, why are they so popular? I'm always thinking the world of computers is not run by computer people but by business people - not by geeks but by MBAs. I also believe the sensibilities that drive both may not only be different by complete incompatible. I wonder if this has anything to do with it.
    Last edited by Paul Rice; July 30th, 2005 at 11:10 PM.
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    Re: "Why I'm Testy About Tests"

    About those facts: I think it's much better to ask "how'd you design such thing?" if respondent doesn't know the answer. Sensible answer to such question is what matters, not knowing the original fact.
    "Programs must be written for people to read, and only incidentally for machines to execute."

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    Re: "Why I'm Testy About Tests"

    Talking about tests and business people:
    A friend went to a bank (for a non-IT related position) and he was asked the following:
    "You are on a zeppelin with two friends and the zeppelin starts to lose height. In order not to crush smne has to fall off the zeppelin. How would you convince your friends that you should stay on it."
    The guy answered:
    "I would not try to convince none of my friends. I would be the one to fall first."
    The manager smiled and said "Interesting. It was the first time I got such an answer."
    He failed the interview (of course).
    I really believe the guys in this bank are total morons.
    Last edited by panayotisk; August 1st, 2005 at 08:36 AM. Reason: clarify position
    Extreme situations require extreme measures

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    Re: "Why I'm Testy About Tests"

    Quote Originally Posted by panayotisk
    "You are on a zeppelin with two friends and the zeppelin starts to lose height. In order not to crush smne has to fall off the zeppelin. How would you convince your friends that you should stay on it."
    "Because I'm a banker and, after lawyers and estate agents, if there's one thing the world doesn't have enough of, it's bankers!"

    Back on subject... I once had an interview where i had to sit a full day of tests, then at the end of it they sat each candidate down in front of a panel of interviewers. The first question the panel asked was "what did you think of todays testing?". I then proceeded to say how poor I thought it was, that the tests did not test for aptitude, and the only thing the test was going to show was which candidate had the biggest ego.

    They thanked me for my time and that was it. But I thought my analysis was correct. Some of the tests were group things - as a group we had to solve a task. All that happened was that half the group started shouting. The thinkers would try to calm things down and get things organised, but would constantly be overidden by the people trying to prove what great "leaders" they were. And after the alloted time, nothing had actually been done.

    At the end of the day, the organisation had spent countless dollars testing candidates, but I can't see that they actually learnt anything about 90% of them

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    Re: "Why I'm Testy About Tests"

    Quote Originally Posted by Zeb
    I then proceeded to say how poor I thought it was, that the tests did not test for aptitude, and the only thing the test was going to show was which candidate had the biggest ego.
    Interesting.....

    My first thought when reading this comment was that interviews are not for telling the truth, but rather, are for telling the people what they want to hear so you can get the job. ((More importantly, they are to find out if the company is one you really want to work for.))

    (That is not to say you should lie-- because you shouldn't. It is only to say that answers in an interview should be a combination of what you believe, but presented in a manner that fits with what you believe works with the organization and people you are interviewing with. )

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