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Sep. 18th, 2007

A few days ago, I found a phone screen page from Steve Yegge, who was with amazon.com at the time of its writing, and is at Google now. It's rather long, containing mostly programming questions. I get the feeling he is not too sympathetic to people who haven't done something in a few years, even if it hasn't been required. This attitude is immature, IMO. I wonder what some of these people will do a few years from now if they find themselves like me, not having worked on some things for a long time, and expected to remember them as if I'd done them just yesterday? (I hope they're saving up all their money.)

There was one question I wanted to focus on because the answer given depends on the way it's asked. The question was to find all the web pages in a directory that have phone numbers. Granted, he did specify that the syntax of phone numbers was either (xxx) xxx-xxxx or xxx-xxx-xxxx. If no syntax is given, the interviewee should probably ask questions about the syntax before diving into coding. But this makes it a design, not a coding question. I knew how to do that, but I had to refer to a Perl regexp man page because I forgot the syntax for scanning a given number of digits. I used to do this sort of thing regularly when I programmed in Perl every day, but I haven't done that since being at AV. (FYI, the people I worked with at Nominum did not like Perl, but I don't remember a lot of Python because I didn't use it much. I don't list Python on my résumé, and if anyone asks me about it, I explain that I didn't use it for very long.)

Now if I were interviewing someone for a job like I had at AV, I might ask a question like this, but I would at least allow someone to use a reference book or man page if they asked, because I myself have to do that (as do many other people). Steve Yegge mentions that his team was asked to produce this in two days. I've been asked to produce such results in two hours (or less), and did so, but I was always in a position where I could use documentation when I needed to. No one chided me for needing documentation. (FWIW, I don't know if in this particular case, phone interviewees were not permitted to use documentation, but there were times at my onsite interviews that I wish I'd been allowed to use documentation because the answers I gave were not as elegant as they'd otherwise be with documentation.)

I'm starting to get the feeling that a lot of the job openings today are primarily for coding, and not for design or architecture. (As one of Michael Mahoney's papers points out, most of the types of things I've been discussing such as theory and principles of computing fall under architecture.) The type of coding required is very specific and not amenable to discussion. It is a lot more difficult to get design or architecture jobs because they require a lot of current background and experience in specific technologies. An exception is if you start your own company; then by definition you are the architect and designer. I've also heard companies like Cisco prefer to buy small companies and integrate them into their product lines, rather than incubate these projects themselves. Nevertheless, the companies that want coders and can't find them should be specific in their descriptions to the US Congress about the actual job requirements. The US Congress should be suspicious of claims that people with design/architecture backgrounds, or people who haven't done heavy coding recently cannot fill these jobs.

Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
jessiehl
Sep. 19th, 2007 01:39 pm (UTC)
I was asked several of those coding questions, and a few of the others, during my job search.

I would probably have said "grep" for the one question, but I would have had no idea about the syntax. However, he did say that if they got grep they were probably all right.

He seems to not care that not all jobs require all of the skills he wants. Then again, he's basing them off of what's needed at his company.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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