Friday, March 03, 2006

Puzzles, smuzzles

One of the most irritating notions I've ever run across in the computer industry is the notion that the ability to solve ridiculous mathematical puzzles has anything to do with your performance as a software engineer. I just had an encounter with an engineering group whose manager *loves* those stupid things. All he hires are engineers that are good at those puzzles, and all that those engineers do when they interview potential new engineers is (doh) pepper them with puzzles.

Now, this engineering group is not particularly productive or effective. As far as I can tell, they consistently lag their competition by at least 6 months when it comes to the product cycle. But still, they persist at their ludicrous notion that the ability to solve trivial little artificial problems has anything to do with solving real-world problems.

Note: I'm not ranting this way because I'm particularly bad at those stupid little puzzles. Rather, I think it's utter nonsense. When I interview someone, I want to know what they've done and what they can do. I care about results, not about their ability to solve something unrelated to results. Furthermore, if the guy is any good, I want to convince him that our company is staffed by no-nonsense results-oriented types, not by a bunch of freakin' air-heads who go around solving problems that have nothing at all to do with real life. Furthermore, I want to give him some info about what he'd be doing if he came to the company, so that if he wasn't interested in doing that kind of stuff, he could tell me and we could both save some time on a match that wouldn't work. But what the hell, that's why I'm an engineer and not a manager. If I cared about bullshit, I woulda already bullshit myself into one of those six-figure-salary executive jobs. Sigh...

- Badtux the Rant-o-matic Penguin


  1. I would like to rise to my proper place in the Peter principle but others are already occupying the path to my goal.

    I folded my business and took a part-time job, what an eyeopener that was. They hire anybody based on how much smoke they blow. Why would you hire a vegetarian to sell meat? And a fragile one at that.

    My pet peeve at work is: people never have time to do the job right, but they always have time to do it over. What's up with that?

  2. As you know, my anti-iceberg is currently lashed up to the Beast's HQ up here in the Silly-con forest. That's only relevant because we used to be the single biggest user of puzzle problems as a part of the interview -- and we've never used them for engineering positions.

    To hire an engineer, ask engineering questions ("What's the best data structure to pick to solve this problem? Why or why not? In what situations might it be a suboptimal choice?") Puzzle questions select for people who can look at problems from an odd perspective and see a different problem inside -- but there's really not much use for that skill in isolation.


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