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How to pass technical interview in Better Place

If you following me on Twitter, you probably know that we’re looking for developers. However those who was in interview here become a little bit shocked. It is not very standard interview for software houses. So how does it works?

Step zero – requirements and open positions

Even before somebody send us his/her resume there are requirements and open positions. Those requirements are very straight forward: “We need a developer for servers” or “we need somebody to build UI” or “we need GIS guy” etc. All open positions (at least for Israel) you can always find in our local website. Those days we have two open positions for our team: super-fantastic developer and chronic headache reliever.

Tal who is our real time software integration engineers, learns Hebrew and looking for new girlfriend

Now a bit about candidates. I had some developers hired during my career and it always worked following way: there are only 10 kinds of developers – developers and not. It never worked for me to hire somebody just because I have to hire somebody. Also it did not worked to hire mythological “average” or “rather good” developer. So for me the segmentation here is very binary- can write code or can not.

Step one – CV

Somebody told me that the only chance to hire good developer via CV is if the developer is student. However, and in spite of this the very first station is HR department, they get a ton of CVs each day and filter it out by using strange and mysterious heuristics. In most of cases it works like in bad search engine – by using keywords. So my very basic requirement from our HR team, please do not filter it this way because I’m working like SEO filter with those CVs by lowering rating of “multi-threaded Design Patterns”, “.NET 1,1.1,1.2,1.3, and dot.Net Remounting for Agile Ajax(tm) Web Services”, “deep knowledge and application of MFC, GUI, WinForms, C++, C#, HASP, SQL, ADO, OOP, ODP, IRC, TCP, HDTV, AX, DX, COM, VC++, API” and “Windows 3.11, 95, ME, 98, 98 SE, 2000, NT 3, NT 4.2, 2001, XP, XP SP1, SP2, SP3, 2008, 2010, Vista SP3 and DOS”.

Also candidate which “management responsibility for the 26 software engineers (6 teams) located at India (Bangalore). Resources allocation for $1M budget and restructuring planning based on defined priorities” probably won’t be developer, but want to be finance controller, because we was able to make 26 developers (even in India) to work for $38K a year including materials, living, facilities, etc.

So a small tip for your CV, please write what you did (yes, it is not shame if you never heard about OOP/ODP, but knows how and when it should be virtual and when abstract).This way you’ll not waste your and your future employer time.

Step two – Phone call

If CV is readable and clear for me, I’m calling the person. Usually it takes under 5 minutes to invite him/her or not for frontal interview. However sometimes it can take even half an hour. I am not asking the same questions, this because it is impossible to ask the same somebody who write smart client applications and those from web planet. I almost never ask a candidate to repeat what he/she just told. The only exception is when I am not understand the answer. However when the candidate asks relevant questions it is big plus for him.

The general set of questions contains of three main sections: what exactly you did (even if it clear from CV), what are you looking for and whether you want to work in Better Place.

The phone call ends by taking one of four direction: invite for frontal interview (jump to step 3.1), invite for technical exam (jump to step 3.2), send home work to prepare (non-blocking wait for a year or two) or “we’ll be in touch” by transferring the candidate with mark “negative” to HR (end of the process). They know how to tell them.

Step three point one – Frontal interview

Frontal interview is usually takes between an hour and an hour and a half. It contains of general CS questions like those. Also question to understand whether the candidate is developer or “code-monkey” – one who does not know what the difference between scalar and vector or how to convert float to int faster then using “corporate frameworks developed by other team”. The thumb rule is simple – if each question takes more then 10 seconds to answer the candidate does not really knows the topic. In spite of this, I allow about a minute for each answer.

Next section is related to specific domain of the candidate. It might be architectural overview of one of his/her solutions, all he/she knows about inheritance (why, how, multiple, virtual, public, etc). Constructors/destructors/templates/generics/allocations/virtual inheritance is a next part. What is “new” and why we need it. How to cleanup remindings and how it works in real life (even if you thought that it should be done automagically). Special bonus for those who knows what interrupts and registers are and how it really works under the hood.

If the candidate good enough we keep going toward data structures. This includes linear/random access, hash, trees (with different colors), search vs seek vs lookup with yield return bonus. What is special about “string”. Lazy invocation vs evaluation, alloc/malloc (if relevant), lifetime.

If the candidate is especially good we can start speaking the target language (sometimes it’s assembler and sometimes is C# or even Python [I can speak some :) ]).

Step three point two – Technical exam

Sometimes, when it is not very clear whether the candidate is programmer, I’m asking for write a small program from scratch without using standard libraries. For less developer position I’m asking to find a number of bugs in real code (which includes required bugs :) ). Code is different for different levels of programmers. Also in most cases a candidate can use any computer language he/she wants.

To prepare such exam we need to work very hard. First of all (and before it comes to candidates) we’re sending it to all developers in similar positions and asking them to do it. Then we are measuring time and multiply it by 2. Also we’re writing down all question, asked by developers and trying to fix description to answer all commons.

Candidate got new clean machine, empty silent room with air conditioner and can use any information sources he/she wants in order to do the exam. It can be internet, friends, books, etc. However it is not so simple as it looks. Each candidate has final time to write the program. It takes longer to find the “similar” solution and adopt, rather then do it yourself.

We are require three hours to finish current exam (it took about an hour to finish it for me, and hour and a half in average for the company). If the candidate finished it before the time he/she got a bonus point. If he/she wrote “almost the same code” – failed, “almost finished” or “almost works” – failed, “has not enough time” – failed, two significant bugs – failed, “the question was not clear” – failed, “did not know who to ask” – failed, etc.

It’s amazing how hard for some code-monkeys not to use standard libraries. Sometimes it is too hard for bad programmers to understand that not all computer languages has arrays and collections, sometimes, it’s too hard to realize that if you not really understand what inheritance is you have to write the same procedure more then once.

But not only the exam determinates the future of the candidate. Sometimes (in very rare cases) we’re wrong with this test and do not filter out bad programmer. It is very hard to lay out him later, but because of such person you will not finish project at time, or will do it overbudget. Thus we prefer not to hire, then to fire. This why we have additional step.

Step three point three – Another interview

It is very important to emphasize that we have about 0.05% of those who where at stage three point one. This interview can take upto full day. You should come ready for this. Plan and watch each of your steps. Also you should be ready to speak with number of people near flip charts, whiteboards, calculators, computers and other hardware things. Also you should be ready to assert your opinion.

Most of people you’ll speak with will be very smart (this is not restricted to your direct manager or future colleague only). Sometimes you’ll speak with two or three people at simultaneously. Each person will have his own very special opinion. Also the questions may wary from base calculations to mechanical and electronic schematics or references of your vehicle.

You can take timeout, however take into account that people speaking with your sacrificing their time and projects, so you should consider it.

Step four – final

If you passed all three previous steps – you can consider yourself as our future employee. There were only once, when we had not hire developer because of financial/welfare issue. This because of our stances of good developers. If you did not hire them – you and all company will loose, not the developer. Each of those will find his/her place very soon. Even if the good developer has no CV at all or he/she is a student or foreign resident. Because the only chance for this company to produce good results is to have good human resources.

Send me your CV or contact me tamir [AT] to tell that you are the one I’m looking for >>

Please do not send me your CV if it passes the regex of the first step – just send a message with list of what you did for last 7 years.





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