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An idea for interviews

...just came to me recently.

Give an applicant a list of five questions and an internet terminal - they have five minutes to find the answers.

Questions like:
1) What is the origin of the song "Rule Britannia"?
2) How do you tell the sex of a sheep?
3) What gauge wire do the Seattle trollies use?
4) How many pages in the LA phone book?
5) What frequency power do they have in Osaka?

(These are off the top of my head - I'm sure 3-4 geeks could come up with a great list in an hour)

The point of the exercise - how well do they search? I'm starting to think that the ability to run a good search quickly is related to the ability to code. All the geeks I know can google anything in under a minute, while to "mundanes" this is like magic. I've actually have friends mention something they're looking for during a phone conversation, and I've got the answer before they finish talking - they're shocked, admitting they spent over an hour online looking. Some non-geek friends I IM with think I have some kind of "magic list of links" because I can always paste a link in answer to a question.

So it would be an interesting exercise. (BTW, the problem with finding the answer to #2 should also indicate experience and awareness of corporate surroundings... [grin] )


Tuesday, March 02, 2004

I don't know what the relationship between coding skills and search skills are, but I have noticed that search skills are kinda like understanding pointers.

Some people just get it, others get it eventually and others still will never get it at all.

BTW, I couldn't find the number of pages in the LA phone book with a quick search myself. 

The trolley one took some digging.

The others were basically a simple google search away, although the sheep one should be more specific.  At what point are you trying to determine the sex?

So, do I get a prize or something?

My modification of this would be to make the questions technical in nature.  If the job invovles MS tech, see if the applicant searched MSDN itself or uses google's "site" search.

Steve Barbour
Tuesday, March 02, 2004

>> 2) How do you tell the sex of a sheep?

But you *should* be worried if he knows this one up front.
Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Not really.  He may have raised sheep.

I can go on for hours with trivia about chickens myself.

BTW, if you're ever thinking of going into the natural egg/poultry business, don't.  :-P

Steve Barbour
Tuesday, March 02, 2004

So *do* chickens have lips?

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Can anything with nipples be milked?

G. Fokker
Tuesday, March 02, 2004

"How do you tell the sex of a sheep?"

By the kilt-burns.

Jimmy Jo-jo
Tuesday, March 02, 2004

"Can anything with nipples be milked?"

As a male human, I can assure you the answer is "no".

Insert half smiley here.
Tuesday, March 02, 2004

There is no LA phone book. Listings for LA take up an entire bookshelf. For the central city itself, last time I visited there were three volumes just for that section. For the rest of the LA area, there are probably 14 phone books.

LA is too big
Tuesday, March 02, 2004

At birth, Rams have penises. If they are adults, Rams have a very distinctive look and are larger that ewes.

Steve, what's your objection to the natural egg industry?

Country Bumpkin
Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Way too much work for the amount of return.

Not to say that a good living couldn't be made off of it, but my wife and I decided that for our purposes "natural" would mean what a normal person would expect it to mean, free range supplemented with non manufactured feed (e.g. grain).

Turns out that chickens don't lay a whole lot of eggs if they don't get a good blend of the right nutrients, like that found in the cheapo egg laying feed you can get at the local co-op. So I spent a lot of time futzing around trying to figure out what was missing from their diet.

Plus, catching chickens is a lot harder than it looks, and when the hens free range they have a nasty habit of laying eggs in the last place you would expect them to.  We had a few unpleasent surprises and swore off easter egg hunts for a while.

Then there's the issue of getting to them in the morning in the winter to make sure the water isn't frozen, and making sure they all get back in the coop at night to make sure the local predators don't get them, etc.

Like I said, you really need to love animals before doing something like that.  I thought I loved animals, but the chickens removed that delusion for me.

The geese on the other hand were great.  They were like white two legged dogs who also kept the lawn mowed, although they did make it necessary to "wash" the yard once or twice a week.

Steve Barbour
Tuesday, March 02, 2004

BTW, I don't know the answers and didn't do the searches - just picked them off the top of my head. Obviously the sheep one is to see if they try searching for "sheep sex" which I'm *guessing* (again, I haven't tested it) should return a few hundred pretty nasty links and very little usable information.

"My modification of this would be to make the questions technical in nature.  If the job invovles MS tech, see if the applicant searched MSDN itself or uses google's "site" search."

Nope - this is an aptitude test, not a knowledge test. The idea is to see if they can find out things they've never had to find out before, not if they know the nooks and crannies to look. Perhaps it's a subtle difference, and maybe not an important one, but it was a distinction I wanted to make.


Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Yeah - the proper answer to #4 is "*which* LA phone book?"

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

I found three of them really easy (a minute total for all three) and two really hard.

The sheep question:
I agree that the question should be clearer.  I can tell you how to determine sort sheep DNA so as to choose the gender of your lamb. How to tell apart some adults (size/curliness of horns, not all have horns though).  How to tell apart gender from the bones of a dead one.

I presume that there are certain uhh anatomy checks that could be made that would be more definitive, but my search criteria didn't return anything along these lines so apparently I just don't get search.

The LA phone book question:
Not sure how to answer without more information, and actually I wouldn't be able to answer this even for my own city (same problem, but not the same magnitude).  See

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Anyone care to educate us search-impaired types? What strategies did you use for each question?

1.  (Song origin) - Fairly easy, as far as the words are concerned; haven't found anything about the music.
2. (Sheep gender) - need more info about when you want to determine this. If you want to know the gender of an adult animal, all you need is a basic knowledge of mammalian biology, no searching needed.
3. (Trolley) - The problem is that nobody cares about how thick the overhead wire is; 'gauge' is used to refer to track width, and the Seattle trolleys are trackless.
4. There is no "the" when you're talking about L.A. phone books.
5. (Osaka power) - the easiest of the lot, took all of 1 minute, tops.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Philo wrote:

>How many pages in the LA phone book

About 83. Oh you did not mean Los Angeles, Costa Rica? :-)

Might work if all you wanted to hire was librarians or monkeys to work on that sorry msn search engine

Code Monkey
Tuesday, March 02, 2004

OK, for the "search impaired", here's what I used, enclosed in angular brackets (since quotes might be part of the search)

First one was trivial: <origin of the song "Rule Britannia">. It's the first hit.

Sheep - you *obviously* want to avoid sex. <sheep gender> would not be enough to find meaningful articles. (Tried it - top 10 are all cloning related). <determine gender of sheep>, article #6. (It even tells you how to do it at a distance. Do I get bonus points?)

Trollies: First, you remember (or let google tell you), that it is "trolley", not "trollie". <Seattle trolley gauge wire>, hit #8 or so.

LA - the question "which book" is appropriate. Missing info.

Finally, Osaka took about .1 seconds: <power frequency osaka>

My personal search strategy is to just type in the question literally, and then widen it from there. That's way more effective than narrowing it down, at least for me.

It's not a question about "getting" or "not getting" search engines, though - it's a question how often you use them in your daily work.  On the other hand, that's a valid criterion for a software developer - you *should* be googling a lot.

Robert 'Groby' Blum
Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Agreed on googling for code, but as I've been thinking about this for the past few days, I've really been analogizing "ability to search" with software development - the ability to sidestep the logical, abstract what appear to be concrete issues, branch, regroup, and move forward again, etc.

Those may not have been the best questions - the questions should be ones where the answer doesn't just pop up from a simple search on the question. Something where you have to think of synonyms or how to narrow or widen the question. Maybe something where you have to use two different search engines (like a reverse phone book, then google with those results)

The whole point being to see *how* they search and if they can do the scavenger hunt thing.

Again, I don't *know* that this would be a worthwhile aptitude test, but it's interesting to think about...


Tuesday, March 02, 2004


This is a weaker version of "Move mount Fugi" or  "How many dentists are there in the United Stated ?"

Its weaker because although being a good web searcher (and Im the best) requires an analytical, lateral problem solver mind it also requires some experience with web searching and knowledge.

For example simply knowing google groups can search usenet archives is a real advantage and not knowing may not be indicative of the person lacking in what your looking for.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

A more worrying thing is that the real skill is not being able to quickly find information on the internet. A primary school student can do that.

It's your ability to quickly filter what you find for likely validity.

After all, the sarcastic phrase "I've read it on the internet so it must be true" was coined for a reason! Some people really do believe any old crap they read on the internet (and even worse, refuse to believe anything they haven't read, no matter how much you try to explain the logic to them)!

Sum Dum Gai
Wednesday, March 03, 2004

The answer to the phone book question is "Enough to hold the number of people/businesses/etc. who wanted to be in the phone book on the day that the data was collated, plus a smaller number of pages for an index, contents pages, adverts, etc."

"Which book" my arse
Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Eh. Robert's strategy is almost exactly what I followed, but with much less success. In fact, I just tried his search terms for the trolley question, and still haven't found the gauge of the overhead wire, for any trolley system anywhere in the world. What am I doing wrong? Or is it that everybody else is automatically converting the somewhat nonsensical question of electrical wire thickness to the more logical question of track gauge?

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

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