read: 12 September 2003
People are going to just skip ahead to the puzzle part of this book but it’s worth reading the whole thing. Microsoft, and other tech companies specifically, have interview processes that are decidedly non-standard. Instead of asking the normal questions, which will generally elicit the standard answers, they ask the applicants to think and demonstrate their thinking.
Since Microsoft [and other tech companies, but really it’s mostly about MS] need smart creative thinkers they try to give applicants ways to show off their abilities and intelligence. So, they give them puzzles to solve, complicated variants of the Fox, Goose and Corn puzzle, and the like. Of course, over time, this unorthodox means of interviewing got out, got publicized, and now it’s so well known that people compile lists of puzzles that applicants can crib from. Poundstone, who writes the Big Secrets books among other things, compiled a bunch of them -- with answers -- in to this book. He thinks Microsoft is a bit cooler than I do [and I emphatically disagree with some of his assertions like the one that says MS doesn’t recruit from “top schools” they just want good talent, nonsense!] but the puzzles are fun, and his investigation into the interview techniques is pretty riveting.
At the end, he gives some advice for interviewers and interviewees which takes some of the negative examples he uses -- people asking trick questions or devising untrue scenarios for applicants and new hires -- and encourages a more humane system of interviewing where the puzzles may still be a part of it, but not the entire goal of getting new people no board. A fun quick read.
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