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Tech interviews should be like a terrorist interrogatory

Pollirrata Oct 10

During my entire career I’ve been in a lot of tech screenings (both sides of the desk), and one common pattern I’ve noticed is that, in many of the cases, the interview is just a standard questionnaire about the technologies required or desired for the position. What is the point with that? The best that you can get with that is filter candidates that were too lazy to get prepared for the interview.

This is not 1990 anymore, when sharing information globally represented a challenge for most of people. Many of the questions in these type of interviews are already posted in some website, go check yourself: just search in Google (or your preferred search engine) “interview questions [fill in here with the desired technology or language]” and you will get plenty of results (unless your desired technology is some esoteric programming language like LOLCODE).

Following scripted interviews does not help the interviewer nor the candidate at all. On one occasion, when I was being screened for a developer position the interviewer said  “Well, lets proceed with the database questions”. Since it had been a long time that I had worked with databases directly I said: “Well, it’s been a long time since I worked with databases so I think I’m not in good shape for that”. His answer was “It doesn’t matter I need to ask all the questions anyway“.  What is the point of this? Why do you want to follow a predefined standard script?

This makes me think that

a) The interviewer is not “tech enough” to be able to make his own questions
b) The interviewer is too lazy to go deeper
c) The interviewer does not care about the real impact of the process (it might be a routine task that he must do, either for ego or obligation)
d) The company does not care really care much about the proficiency level of the people is hiring, or it is ignorant about the impact of doing so
e) All of the above

So I really mean that tech interviews should be like a terrorist interrogatory, because what you really want is to get the truth about what the candidate is capable of doing. You need to push hard to determine what is the real background of a person, the challenges he has passed through, how have he sorted them, etc. How can you get this with a standard questionnaire? You need to start following the path the candidate is giving you with the answers, not just saying “Very well, next question”. He might have memorized some stuff just to make people think he is an expert, but you shouldn’t be fooled by flamboyant answers; they might hide more ignorance than the simple ones.

In order to be capable of performing this type of interviews, the person really needs to have a strong technical background, so he can be capable to move through the answers of the candidate and be able to determine if he is the right person for the position. Sadly this is not the case on many companies, where Senior positions are get by “years-after-college” instead of real “years-of-experience”, but I’ll let that topic for another post.

If you are a candidate and the interview you are going through is just a bunch of standard questions, follow the wise advice of Scott Hanselman: excuse yourself and run.




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