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Strategy when interviewing a prospect PM?

Hi!

Tomorrow I'm facing the task of interviewing a prospect Program Manager. We are currently 5 Software Design Engineers in the dev department and we seriously lack a Program Manager.

I've some experience in interviewing prospect SDEs, but I feel I shouldn't apply the same interview methodology when it concerns a PM position. He is an ex Microsoft employee and of course he knows the MS way to interview people (a way that we try to adapt). He has been both dev lead and PM at Microsoft.

I wonder if you have a cookbook recipe for my situation or just some advice on how I should approach this prospect?

Unsygn
Thursday, April 22, 2004

In a nutshell, ask design questions and look for thoughtful answers that explore an understanding of tradeoffs, user empathy, and a deep understanding of what computers can and cannot do.

"Design a spice rack for blind people"
"Design a better UI for a car stereo"
"Imagine that your car always knew the speed limit on the road you were driving on. Design a feature to take advantage of this."

etc.

Joel Spolsky
Fog Creek Software
Thursday, April 22, 2004

"Imagine that your car always knew the speed limit on the road you were driving on. Design a feature to take advantage of this."

The car could automatically notify the police everytime you speed!

Josh No-Spam Jones
Thursday, April 22, 2004

There's a car I wouldn't buy! (except maybe for a teenage son).

Remember one goal of business is to make the customer happy, not the authorities, government, etc.

Aussie Mick
Friday, April 23, 2004

"Design a better UI for a car stereo"

1) I wish the radio presets didn't care what band they were on. I hate the way I have to change the band to AM before I can access my AM presets, and then change the band back again to acccess the FM ones.

2) Normalise the volume so when changing from tape or cd to radio the volume doesn't shoot up.

Do I get the job?

Matthew Lock
Friday, April 23, 2004

"The car could automatically notify the police everytime you speed!"

Why bother the police. Just deduct any speeding tickets in real time from the bank account.

And to make it perfect install a fine-o-meter in every car, so you can see the speeding fine increase as you go over the speed limit.

Jan Derk
Friday, April 23, 2004

Hmmm. Not sure that would work in the long run. You'd increase a culture where the rich pay to speed, and create a new class bound society based on your average mph...

Andrew Cherry
Friday, April 23, 2004

If it knew the speed limit on the road, it could automatically change your number-plate so that speed cameras couldn't ticket you!

Mr Jack
Friday, April 23, 2004

Speed limit thing:

-Traffic help (radio reports, GPS map, alternate routes, AM tuned to traffic channel, cell phone/on star dials CalTrans) pops up when you've been seriously under the limit for a long time

-Glowing line on the speedometer at limit

-Special key for your 16 year old, which turns on limit excess
tracking (or for grandma that works the other way)

-Optional data-sharing module so Rita Responsible can get lower insurance rates (or so Darren Dui can get his keys back)

-Interface with laser/radar detectors so they only sqwak at
you when there's a cop around *and* you're 10+ over the limit

Ryan Tate
Friday, April 23, 2004

Smart cruise control (obvious).

Earliest legal ETA display in the dash (Assuming you could input your route).

Optimal route readout (assuming that the car knew the max speed of ALL routes)

Combine with the states speeding fine structure to determine a calculation algorithm to determine the financial risk of being nabbed by the man for having a heavy foot.

Combine with weather sensors to calculate an optimal safe speed given weather conditions

Warning light for drivers passing through 15 mph school zones (assumes that the car also knew WHY the limit was set where it was)

[This is fun]

Ran Whittle
Friday, April 23, 2004

Does a PM generate and guide design decisions or does a PM manage resources to guide projecs to completion?

I'd expect the latter, and would then expect the questions to be focused on the prospect's management skills and philosophies, and not his ability to conjure UI designs.

Or are those questions handled by someone else, and more technical questions needed by they developers to make sure the PM can function in the group and help work through technical challenges?

DaveF
Monday, April 26, 2004

the former.

Joel Spolsky
Fog Creek Software
Tuesday, April 27, 2004

DaveF:
"Does a PM generate and guide design decisions or does a PM manage resources to guide projecs to completion?"

Joel:
"the former"



We've now had the interview and I must say that his PM experiences from Microsoft leaned ore towards "latter" above. Or something in between. He'd typically sit down with a dev lead, a senior SDE and a test lead to work out a very high level design, which would form the basis of the detailed design performed by the individual SDEs responsible for this and that area.

Thanks for the Q suggestions!

Unsygn
Wednesday, April 28, 2004

"Design a spice rack for blind people"

... I'm from Eastern Europe, and when interviewing with Microsoft, they asked me to design an elevator for an elementary school.

Little did I know that in the US, children are not allowed to use elevators on their own, have tens of safety features installed for them, and are treated like little retards.

I used the elevator alone, without adult supervision, since I was 6 years old. So I didn't know that a kid has to have a lot of safety features.

I didn't get into MS after all, and I'm glad I didn't. I started my own company, etc.

I think that their interview process is interesting, but sometimes inadequate and absurd.

For example, I consider the question about moving mount Fiji an absurdity.

Jim
Monday, May 03, 2004

Speed limit thing:

Enables surface-surface missiles when the tw*t in front of you is 2 mph under the limit.


Tuesday, May 04, 2004

I think the idea is that you have to ask what sort of things kids would need in an elevator. They'd probably tell you eventually that the US treats kids like they're idiots. (This is the country that invented Barney that we're talking about here.)

And I'd say the moving Mount Fuji one is to psych you/see if you can handle problems without skipping straight to the solution i.e. show us you problem-solving.

Matt
Tuesday, May 04, 2004

"the former"

Ah. From my experience in aerospace, I understood that title as the person who takes care of budgets, staffing, and logistical concerns. They have a technical role, but the main responsibilities are administrative.

DaveF
Wednesday, May 05, 2004

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