Update March 2015: This post was written in October 2012. “Google no longer uses test scores, GPAs or brain teasers to assess candidates. Instead, the company looks for how well candidates pick up new information and solve problems, qualities that are better predictors of performance.”
Courtesy of Laszlo Block, SVP at Google, here’s a great overview of current Google interview practices. Kudos to them for thinking outside the box. http://goo.gl/qIy6zu
Having recently visited San Francisco, I came across this book: “Are you Smart Enough to Work at Google?” by William Poundstone. It sparked my interest now having known someone who recently was offered and accepted a position with Google. The book offers a synopsis of the latest trend in interviewing techniques at Google and other organizations. The book promptly begins with an example:
“You are shrunk to the height of a nickel and thrown into a blender. Your mass is reduced so that your density is the same as usual. The blades start moving in sixty seconds. What do you do?”
Aside from trying to answer the question intelligently, I also wondered why this was important. At first blush I thought that, like the Microsofts and Apples of the world, Google must get inundated with employment applications, so they can affort to ask stuff like this. After all, we are experiencing a tough competitive environment for jobs.
The book dives into questions like these all designed to uncover, not only if you know the answer, but how you got to the answer. Some questions seemed downright silly to be taken seriously. But, as the book gets into, the questions are designed to determine how much you know, how well you can think on your feet, how creative your thinking is, how coherent your arguments are, and how you handle the unknown – a bit like today’s business climate I suspect. It seems the purpose of these four little sentences is designed to capture the process of inventing a new product by starting with the brainstorming process.
If you’re still reading and curious about the answer to the above question – the best answer apparently is that at the size of a nickel, you are stll strong enough to leap out. Why? See, if your mass has also been reduced, being the size of a nickel apparently does not matter, if you can jump over the height of a blender now, you should still be able to at the size of a nickel. I came up with two of the more common answers: scrunch down below the blades or stand besides the blades on the wall of the blender. Guess I’m weak on my 17th century scientific thinkers, specifically, Giovanni Alfonso Borelli, whose work formed the basis for the best answer.
I have yet to have an interview that included such questions – and I’m not necessarily looking forward to them. Having said that, developing software is a creative process that I greatly enjoy. I think this is what I like about this line of questioning: thinking out of the box is fun – creating/realizing what you can formulate in your mind is great thrill. In the end, I think that is what most, if not all, software developers crave. With the lightening fast business cycles and shrinking margins, I think it is natural (or maybe survival?) that business needs a certain amount of this sort on the payroll.