File this under ‘no shit sherlock’
When I decided to finally leave Microsoft last year, I interviewed at both Google and Amazon. I like both companies, but the interviews were worlds apart. Google mainly asked me two kinds of questions: 1. if we hired you and you could start up any new project, what would it be? 2. Why do traffic cones have holes on top?(*)
Both questions are complete wastes of time, unless I was being given a blank check to do anything I wanted, perhaps involving traffic cones. The first kind of question also has an appearance of “fishing for ideas,” esp. if they don’t hire you, that is best to avoid.
Amazon, on the other hand, used behavioral interviews very consistently. “Tell me about an actual situation where X happened, what did you do, what was the result?” Amazon made it clear up front that even when you made mistakes, you hopefully learned from them. So what were those mistakes and what did you learn? (btw, this is reflected in at least one of their leadership principles: “vocally self critical” — none of this “my main flaw is I work too hard” bullshit.)
The difference in the quality of the interviews was night and day. One Amazon interviewer even asked me for honest feedback on how the interview was being conducted, right in the interview (my only nit: Amazon interviewers often take copious notes on their laptops, making them appear less engaged. But I later learned why the notes are so vital to their process).
So when we’re interviewing people at Syntertainment, we obviously use the behavioral variety of questions. We’ve done a few technical interviews as well, and there the best measure is not coding at a whiteboard (who ever does this in real life?). Rather, we ask to take an hour (or two, if needed) to write a program on an actual computer that does X, Y and Z and then let’s talk about the choices you made. It’s even okay to use Google, as long as you don’t copy code.
Turns out all those Googlers who know all about the history of traffic cones are still very good at building search engines. Good on them.
(*) The Director who asked that “traffic cone” question was apparently looking for the answer “because that’s where you put the lights.” Huh? I admitted that while I’d seen plenty of orange barrels and T-shaped thingys with blinking lights on them, I’d never seen an actual cone with a light on top. In fact, my answer was that the hole on top was likely an original engineering side-effect, rather than a design feature. I figured that prior to injection molding, it was just easier to roll some material into a cone shape, resulting in a natural hole on top (unless you try really hard to form a point). But having a hole proved great for both air flow (when you try to separate a stack of these) and as a finger hole to lift the cone. That’s often how things evolve, from simple ideas to more refined ones. On the other hand, nowadays, the holes are actually standardized for a plastic attachment called a “boss” which is useful for wrapping police tape, etc… So there’s some truth to the “standard attachments” theory. Mostly, I figure, it’s rare to observe lights on cones, because cones are generally short and are meant to collapse when you drive over them. Putting rigid and breakable objects on top tends to defeat the purpose and are better reserved for more rigid barrels or poles. But what do I know?