Lion of the Blogosphere

The last time I hired a computer programmer

with 47 comments

Our junior programmer (or whatever his title was, I forgot) was let go because he failed his “Public Trust” investigation, which we believe was because he admitted on his application that he had used marijuana in the past.

“Dude, don’t you know that you’re supposed to lie about that? You just don’t list anyone you did drugs with as a reference.” Being his supervisor for a year, I am pretty confident that he was a good honest kid and no danger to our national security.

Because we had a consulting contract with a security agency, we were only allowed to hire American citizens for the position. It turns out that it’s really difficult to find computer people in the DC area who are American citizens (and this was 14 years ago). The HR department kept giving me these resumes of people who weren’t American citizens. I told the HR person (a nice black girl who you would never think was black based on talking to her on the telephone) that all the resumes were from people who weren’t American citizens, and she said “you can’t decide that from the resume, I have to interview them.” Of course, I was 100% accurate on calling out who was an American citizen and who was not. Everyone in the DC area who had a foreign-sounding name knew the value of being an American citizen and would put it on their resume if they were.

“Why can’t you please put in the ad that only American citizens are allowed for the job?” She insisted that she couldn’t. From a legal perspective, she was wrong about that, it is allowed if it’s a job requirement, but I can understand how little appetite there is by HR to push the envelope on anything, even if the push is within very clear legal boundaries.

Once we found someone who was (1) an American citizen; and (2) willing to interview for an entry-level low-paid computer programming job, I would give them the coding test. I put them down in front of a computer, with Visual Studio.NET loaded, gave them the option of using either VB.NET or C#, and gave them what I thought was a very simple programming task. And they had complete access to the help text, so it didn’t require memorization of any arcane functions. (The ability to recite back arcane stuff is typical of most of the computer programming tests they give to job applicants, but my philosophy is that people should be allowed to demonstrate competence by doing rather than by reciting. People hiring computer programmers are obviously not influenced by the Supreme Court’s alleged prohibition on testing job applicants, and no one has ever gotten in legal trouble for such tests, as far as I know.)

One of the applicants was this pretty girl. With a nice body because she was a part-time exercise instructor. Believe me, she would have been hired instantly if only she could have passed the coding test. But she stared at the computer for nearly two hours, unable to do the simple assignment. Finally, feeling very sorry for her, I said some consoling words and walked her out.

The guy we did hire, a nerdy white guy, completed the assignment in five minutes.

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

August 8, 2017 at 10:49 am

Posted in Labor Markets

47 Responses

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  1. I went through on-campus interviews w/ corporate recruiters when I was getting ready to graduate undergrad in the mid ’80s w/ a BS in Computer Science, and was fortunate enough to be sent on for interviews with hiring managers at a large government defense contractor. I wasn’t required to take any formal programming test but did undergo many off-the-cuff programming questions. I got the job.

    After completing my MBA in 2000, I had a series of in-person, rigorous interviews, but no formal test, for finance jobs at Microsoft (Redmond, WA and Ft Lauderdale) and at Intel (San Diego X 2), but no job offers were forthcoming. I ended up at a mid-size commercial bank in the southeast.

    A couple of years later, when interviewing for another finance job, I had to submit three writing samples pre-interview and, once on site after being called in for an interview, I underwent two hours of writing up solutions to hypothetical management problems before the face-to-face interviews started. I accepted the underwhelming offer for the job. And my salary is the same today as it was before I started the MBA in 1998.

    E. Rekshun

    August 8, 2017 at 11:12 am

    • Compared to the West Coast, employers located in the Sunshine state probably don’t see a lot of Asiatics, given its geography, and its unpleasant demography and climate.

      JS

      August 8, 2017 at 11:43 am

    • MBAs are garbage. That’s what i keep telling Mugabe but he’s delusional.

      GondwanaMan

      August 8, 2017 at 12:37 pm

      • The value of an MBA is inversely proportional to your prior level of business experience. Also, the value of an MBA drops much more rapidly as you go down the list of top schools than the value of most other degrees.

        I think engineers do OK with an MBA, but the biggest beneficiaries that I’ve seen are teachers: relatively smart people who are absolutely clueless about business up to that point. If they apply themselves, they can use an MBA to correct the mistake of going into teaching and dramatically turn their careers around. They won’t become titans of industry, but they can quickly double or triple their pay.

        Wency

        August 8, 2017 at 2:26 pm

      • @Wency: Very insightful and true post!

        I did my MBA at a Top 30 traditional program ten years after undergrad at very low direct cost; mostly to get out of programming. It did allow me to get out of programming and do more interesting work, with more prestige and respect from my coworkers, and a better office and work environment. I had hoped to make it to the executive level but due to a couple of layoffs and blown opportunities, the “Great Recession,” crushing competition, and my own career-limiting choices, I never reached a six-figure salary nor senior-level management.

        E. Rekshun

        August 8, 2017 at 5:54 pm

  2. Perhaps you should contribute some stories to “The Daily WTF”: http://thedailywtf.com/

    IHTG

    August 8, 2017 at 11:25 am

  3. Well, this was prescient. A LotB post from 12/21/15 by “Lewis Murdock” –

    Stephen K. Bannon at Breitbart Radio (Sirius XM) is very interested in the topics of outsourcing and H1B visas. He discusses these issues frequently with a lot of passion and insight. As far as elected officials go, Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama) is probably the best around.

    E. Rekshun

    August 8, 2017 at 11:26 am

  4. ‘People hiring computer programmers are obviously not influenced by the Supreme Court’s alleged prohibition on testing job applicants, and no one has ever gotten in legal trouble for such tests, as far as I know.)’

    What’s that? How are you supposed to hire without testing? Are you sure?

    When hiring programmers I would always ask a question to which they wouldn’t know the answer. I didn’t need the correct answer, only a correct approach to solving the problem. That was the key by me: if you can’t think creatively, you are simply out, I don’t need you. Not once an Indian would look at me and go: ‘We haven’t learned this!’ Precisely! Your method is good for entry level programmers, but with xpirienced candidates you have to hold their feet to the fire. They gotta sweat a little.

    Yakov

    August 8, 2017 at 11:34 am

  5. “(a nice black girl who you would never think was black based on talking to her on the telephone)”

    In linguistics this is called “code switching,” she probably sounds different talking to her friends.

    Jeremy Cooper

    August 8, 2017 at 11:42 am

    • It’s extremely jarring to actually see code switching in real life, from educated professional to ghetto in nothing flat.

      Mike Street Station

      August 9, 2017 at 8:10 am

    • Unless she is not African American but rather from a family of new African immigrants. Those tends to “act white” and has very different culture comparing to African Americans.

      Hashed

      August 10, 2017 at 8:13 pm

  6. I always give a recursion problem. I just want them to write the body of a function that counts the number of nodes in a binary tree. (static int CountNodes(Node root){//your code goes here}) I am amazed at how hard this problem is for most people. The solution is 1-3 lines of code.

    I wonder if I should start asking something else. But we are a pretty technical company where we are dealing with trying to find solutions to NP complete problems.

    David

    August 8, 2017 at 12:02 pm

    • You mean for entry level applicants, right? When I was looking for my first job I was given exactly that problem to code in Quick Basic. The interviewer, a smart Jewish guy, looked at my code and said: ‘The code is correct, but not original. None of your answers are original.’ He was right, I’m low IQ and I know it. Didn’t get that job, obviously. But then I got a much better job and I was interviewed by a Gentile guy with a PHD, so go figure? Who knows? That PhD guy was a very original and creative thinker, so I dunno.

      Yakov

      August 8, 2017 at 12:53 pm

    • The interviewer, a smart Jewish guy, looked at my code and said: ‘The code is correct, but not original. None of your answers are original.’ He was right, I’m low IQ and I know it. Didn’t get that job, obviously.

      I thought Jews were supposed to be clannish outsiders who only help their own?

      The Undiscovered Jew

      August 8, 2017 at 2:45 pm

      • The only people who ever hired me were gentiles.

        Lion of the Blogosphere

        August 8, 2017 at 3:02 pm

      • With a law degree, you would get a lot of job offers in low level prole-law firms in NYC, many of them headed by Jews. This is one of the few advantages that Jews have over other ethnic Whites and racial minorities, when it comes to securing employment.

        JS

        August 8, 2017 at 3:21 pm

      • The only people who ever hired me were gentiles.

        I can believe that given how Jews are the least ethnocentric of all ethnicities.

        The Undiscovered Jew

        August 8, 2017 at 3:46 pm

      • ‘I thought Jews were supposed to be clannish outsiders who only help their own?’

        The Jews help their own, sure, but within reasonable boundaries. That company was full of orthodox Jewish braniacs, the CEO was a computer science PhD. I was out of my depth there and realy didn’t belong.

        When I was doing technical interviews for an American corporation, I was acting in the best interests of my employer and helping smart people to get a foot the door was part of it. Jews are supposed to help everyone. In Israel Arabs begars used to come to the Jewish neighborhoods.

        Yakov

        August 8, 2017 at 4:57 pm

    • Oh man I loved recursion. I wish my interviewer would have let me code. Instead I had to answer a question about pointers. I could use them but talked incoherently.

      So I stayed in marketing. *Sigh*

      Mrs Stitch

      August 8, 2017 at 4:29 pm

    • #include /* size_t */

      struct Node {
      Node *left;
      Node *right;
      void *data;
      };

      static size_t count_nodes(Node root)
      {
      size_t n = 1;

      if (root.left)
      n += count_nodes(*root.left);
      if (root.right)
      n += count_nodes(*root.right);

      return n;
      }

      snorlaxwp

      August 8, 2017 at 11:04 pm

      • Was curious to see if the <code> tag worked. Partially it looks like.

        #include <stddef.h> /* size_t */

        struct Node {
        Node *left;
        Node *right;
        void *data;
        };

        static size_t count_nodes(Node root)
        {
        size_t n = 1;

        if (root.left)
        n += count_nodes(*root.left);
        if (root.right)
        n += count_nodes(*root.right);

        return n;
        }

        snorlaxwp

        August 8, 2017 at 11:09 pm

      • So angle brackets can be escaped at least but it’ll eat both tabs and spaces. Good to know!

        snorlaxwp

        August 8, 2017 at 11:11 pm

      • And of course the parameter should be “struct Node root” – I’ve been writing too much C++ lately it seems.

        snorlaxwp

        August 8, 2017 at 11:17 pm

      • With correct formatting/minor syntax errors fixed, and a C++ implementation. Am I hired? (It’s a slow night…)

        https://pastebin.com/suHDGcDx

        snorlaxwp

        August 8, 2017 at 11:43 pm

      • You have to be able to speak Hindi.

        Lion of the Blogosphere

        August 8, 2017 at 11:47 pm

      • इसे रफू करें।

        snorlaxwp

        August 9, 2017 at 12:53 am

  7. I never gave coding tests, but I asked a few what I thought were simple questions. One I remember was “why would you use a double linked list rather than a single linked list?” I was amazed how many applicants had no idea.

    mikeca

    August 8, 2017 at 12:24 pm

  8. Maybe future programmers should read this blog. Or maybe not become programmers at all.

    GondwanaMan

    August 8, 2017 at 12:42 pm

  9. One of the applicants was this pretty girl. With a nice body because she was a part-time exercise instructor. Believe me, she would have been hired instantly if only she could have passed the coding test. But she stared at the computer for nearly two hours, unable to do the simple assignment. Finally, feeling very sorry for her, I said some consoling words and walked her out.

    Are you sure she didn’t fail because you were sexualising her and making her feel uncomfortable, you cisgendered white heterosexual male you?

    Magnavox

    August 8, 2017 at 2:12 pm

  10. But she stared at the computer for nearly two hours, unable to do the simple assignment. Finally, feeling very sorry for her, I said some consoling words and walked her out.

    There’s more than a few coders who get away with that.

    The Undiscovered Jew

    August 8, 2017 at 2:40 pm

    • I’ve only seen NAMs getting away with that and snoring while sleeping at the desk after lunch.

      Yakov

      August 8, 2017 at 7:20 pm

  11. The last time I hired a Financial Analyst. My top candidate interviewed extremely well and knew his stuff. He turned me down to go work for a REIT mutual fund at $40K more salary. The second candidate was a Moslem, friendly and polite, but with very poor English. A liberal female sales weenie in a nearby office told me I couldn’t reject him because of his poor English skills – I ignored her. I hired the third candidate – a young, smart CPA who turned out to be great.

    E. Rekshun

    August 8, 2017 at 6:05 pm

  12. ‘But she stared at the computer for nearly two hours, unable to do the simple assignment. Finally, feeling very sorry for her, I said some consoling words and walked her out.’

    This is a total waste. At my interview I ask 3 questions. One wrong answer and you are out immediately. If you get them all right, we can talk further. Once I was interviewing this girl and she got all of them wrong. So I go:
    – Thank you for your time. It was a pleasure.
    – The interview was so brief, you’ve only asked three questions.
    – Yes, but you’ve got them all wrong.

    About half the candidates would not make it through the first stage.

    Yakov

    August 8, 2017 at 7:03 pm

  13. I miss programming reading this post and comments, it’s a lot of fun. But I’m low IQ, I understand that smart people find it boring and I’m fine with that.

    Yakov

    August 8, 2017 at 7:30 pm

  14. This is why my university told us clearly indicate our citizenship status at the top of our resumes..

    Kaz

    August 8, 2017 at 8:05 pm

  15. Hmm, I got a TS clearance and admitted I had used marijuana on the application. I got asked about it in the interview. It was probably something else or maybe he didn’t seem completely forthcoming about details.

    I wonder how often people actually get asked to sit down and code something. It seems whiteboard problems are the standard for technical interviews.

    Alex

    August 8, 2017 at 9:32 pm

    • Limited marijuana use in the past hasn’t been a disqualifier for a TS clearance, but any other drug and forget it.

      Mike Street Station

      August 9, 2017 at 8:22 am

      • If Trump’s antipathy to drugs is legit then he must be the first person elected president since 1988 who’s never been a cocaine user.

        Richard

        August 9, 2017 at 12:09 pm

  16. Fizzbuzz?

    ScarletNumber

    August 8, 2017 at 10:22 pm

  17. I can share my first experience as the recruited one. I had 3 masters degree, law, math and cognitive sciencs. sciences. I was recruited by an IT firm called Cap Gemini and my first job was with Renault Moteurs joining as the project started. It was a database and EDI project in a prolog/Mainframe IBM and Lisp/Java/Unix environment. My manager was a girl with the best engineering school in France and we were 7 people. During the meeting with IT executives, I said that everything was wrong. I thought I would be congratulated by everyone (Asperger maybe ? ) but the girl told me I would be fired immediately and the director of my Unit called me to have a meeting with him to understand what happened (I had aced the recruiting tests wich were 100% raven Matrix like) and psy said I had a very good degree of agreeableness. At this meeting, I learned that the people from the company wanted me as the manager. It was really bad, because Cap Gemini had sold me as if I had 3 years of professional experience in computer sciences, and I had only 18 month in a cognitive sciences lab from the army …. Then, I asked to be paid like a manager (two times what I was making), and they said I was crazy, but they gave me a 50% increase. I was certainly the best paid 0 experience person this firm has ever had. I staid two years, but I know computing sciences wasn’t for me. Then, I got a law job. IT can be very content based and is a good thing for “talentocracy” if one really stand appart. IT people in trading desks are the people who make most money with peole with IT experiences in Management consultancy (McKinsey (BTO), BCG etc) or big projects management for asset management firms or commercial banks.

    Bruno

    August 9, 2017 at 5:35 am

    • Hahaha, I was sharing an office with a brilliant Jewish guy. You may ask how a low IQ chap like me gets to to an office like this? So check this out. This guy was heading a portfolio accounting group of 7 people. The management sent him to review a system that they were set on buying. He concluded that the system would never work for us, could not be implemented in 9 months, would take 2-3 years to modify and that we shouldn’t touch him. So that’s how he got demoted to share an office with me and I’d spent a few years in the company of a brilliant man. He was removed from the project, it didn’t get implemented in 9 months, we rewrote the core of the system, took about 3 years to stabilize and it was a total nightmare. Lolz.

      Fast forward 10 years to a different brokerage company. The management decides to buy this portfolio accounting system and a team sets out to Boston for a few days of evaluation (after the decision has been made). I wasn’t included, naturally. My management loved me, but they knew where I didn’t belong. So they come back and I ask one simple question. Did you see this system process a buy off 100 shares of IBM? NO, they hadn’t! This functionality was still being worked on! OK, I say, this is a total disaster, what are we buying? We gonna get the source code? No, we are gonna work on the implementation together with the vendor, but we will NEVER see the source code. Lolz. 5 years down the road they closed the project, fired everyone involved, the management ‘left’ the company, the vendor went out if business. It’d cost a tidy sum too. Do I need to read Delbert? I’d lived through it.

      Yakov

      August 9, 2017 at 7:32 am

      • Yakov, please stop referring to yourself as “low-IQ.” I understand in what context you mean this, but it’s still somewhat misleading. Nine-tenths (or more) of humanity couldn’t hold a candle to you intellectually. Next to Lion himself, you are (for me, at least) the most interesting commenter here.

        maryk

        August 9, 2017 at 9:41 pm

      • Thanks, I’m just a little creature trying to survive.

        Yakov

        August 10, 2017 at 11:18 am

    • Prolog like the language?

      Magnavox

      August 9, 2017 at 9:20 pm

  18. But jackie siegal has a degree in engineering… duh.

    toomanyspiders

    August 9, 2017 at 9:38 pm


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