Archive for April, 2008


JavaOne Flights Booked

Everything is finally booked and I am looking forward to hitting the shores of San Francisco next weekend. The lineup looks really good and I’m still having difficulty choosing between the sessions. I will also be at CommunityOne, which looks outstanding for a free event. 14 tracks!? Amazing! Hats must go off to the organizers. The only session that I have firmly fixed is on Java User Groups, but I have no doubt that the rest of the schedule will work itself out with ease.

I hope to be blogging live (ie. unedited notes and opinion) while there, but that all depends on how the laptop batteries manage to hold out. Fingers crossed!

All that and I get to sample Delta Airlines’ world famous hospitality too ;)

Slapped in a Dark Tunnel at an Interview

The interview cycle is in full swing. I came across a post on Contractor UK about tricky questions posed by interviewers, which I think are just jaw-dropping. Someone needs to have a reality check and stop taking themselves so seriously. I have nothing against difficult, even impossible, questions in an interview situations. Most of the time they are great indicators of the way someone approaches a problem, and they provide a good starting point into a conversation about technologies, techniques, associated issues etc. But the examples here are pretty silly.

“You’re in a dark tunnel and someone slaps you in the face. What do you do?”

Should you have a bit of Krav Maga under the belt which emphasizes protection through offense, your reaction might be to cover your head, flail the elbows in the “drunken monkey” maneuver and lunge in the attacker’s direction, turning their attack into a fumble before removing them as a threat. However, apparently not what an interviewer wants to hear! A perfectly sensible self-defense strategy dismissed off the cuff. Why?

“This insinuates that the person is prone to react in a stressful scenario aggressively and without hesitation. These hypothetically aggressive questions can also increase a person’s tension there and then, which could mean that they are susceptible to stress and prone to make dramatic responses and reactions.”

Umm… yeah. It could also suggest that you have previously thought about such a scenario and are prepared for it in the event of it happening. That’s kind of what self defence is supposed to teach you. You’re probably not going to deck your manager in a meeting, though. Unless the meeting’s in a dark tunnel. And he slaps you.

Hiding is also not a good idea. “This generally indicates that the person cannot adequately deal with sudden events, resulting in an alarmed state of mind, freezing in a stressed scenario.” Seems to me like it might also be a sensible reaction. Someone hits you, you avoid getting hit again then worry about how to get out of the situation.

The preferred solution?

“I would first try to figure out from which direction I was hit and then find the fastest way possible out of the tunnel. Analysing the immediate situation first, and then consider the options that would solve the event. This answer indicates that the person will take a calm and calculated approach to a possible problem situation. That all the possible scenarios should be considered before any direct action is taken.”

It doesn’t take too much analysis to work out to run away from where it hurts. While you’re standing around analyzing, you get a follow through to the groin. Hmm… great solution.

Other gems include expecting candidates to be calm and collected after making them wait for 45 minutes (while their kids are waiting to be picked up from school), and hoping that people calmly ask police officers whether it’s them they’re yelling at to get their hands up. Right.

If you’re asking behavioral stuff with right or wrong answer, you should probably drop it. Questions of the “what-if” nature are useful only if they lead to an insight into patterns of working, problem solving or similar and lead to a wider discussion. A candidates reaction to getting slapped has as much place in the process as an interviewer in a dark tunnel.

A great example of how to do it right is described in Joel Spolsky’s The Guerilla Guide to Interviewing.

JavaOne Pre-booking

I finally got around to booking in onto some of the tech sessions for JavaOne in San Francisco next month. Gasp! The amount of stuff going on is incredible. From new languages on the JVM (Fortress, Scala, JRuby) to SOA, mobility and techniques in app development it’s pretty easy to book up 12 hours a day. My approach, lock in a full programme of stuff that looks good, and turn up if the brain is still functioning. It has taken the better part of an hour to read through the sessions for the Tuesday, so it’s no easy task. I can’t wait. All I have to do is get around to sorting out the minor detail of a flight from London ;)

Hiring Great Developers

Dr. Dobb’s journal has listed a great article on what it takes to identify great developers. Being in the market myself, and sitting on the other side of the fence it is interesting as to just how far this is removed from the norm. A few interesting tips?

“Tell programmers in advance (at least a day or two, if not more) what you will be asking questions about. In the real world we have time to prepare for meetings, and to propose solutions to problems. This is a job interview, not a high-school exam.”

and…

“Don’t test people’s knowledge of language specifications. In our jobs we have access to books, people, and the Internet. Good programmers know how to look up references, and use their tools effectively to write code.”

Having been to a few more interesting interviews, even big name tech companies could benefit at taking a look at this article. Great stuff.