[kwlug-disc] how would you interview potential linux employees?

Andrew Kohlsmith (lists) aklists at mixdown.ca
Tue Jan 27 16:27:27 EST 2009

On January 27, 2009 03:08:01 pm Insurance Squared Inc. wrote:
> One question I do recall he uses on his test was to convert from binary
> to hex or vice versa.  I laughed when I saw it because that's obvious
> right?  Turns out a lot of engineers can't even begin to do something
> like that.  (a bit of a crucial skill for the types of jobs he's hiring
> for).

The best tests for programmers (IMO) are the ones that involve code.  I recall 
a 2-pager, nothing big and fancy, with each question a little trickier than 
the last.

Simple things like asking them the output of simple things like this:
unsigned char x = 135;
printf("x is %hhd\n", x);

int s, done;

do {
	case 0:
		s += 5;
	case 1:
		s = s << 1;
	case 2:
		s *= 2;
	case 3:
		s = 2;
	case 4:
		s += 2;
	case 5:
		s -= 4;
	case 6:
		s = 
	done = s % 6;
} while(!done);

char buf[20];
int x;

x = do_something();
sprintf("The value of x is %i\n", x);


nothing earth shatterring; maybe throw in a bad linked list freeing 
mechanism... just basically stuff to make them show you how they think.  
Avoid the idiotic "trick questions" about manhole covers and other assinine 
things that only test if the interviewee has heard the trick before.  
Interviews are always a little stressful; don't add to the stress by being a 

Also important is to gauge how they work with infrastructure that isn't 
theirs.  Are they indentation nazis, Hungarian notation types or minimalists 
who like to make their code obscure?  Have they used revision control 
systems?  Can they give you a snippet of code that demonstrates their 
programming style?

I like to ask people about the things they like. Most times decent programmers 
like to figure shit out even when they're off the clock. Most good 
programmers I encounter program on their own time. Actually that might be 
true in general; people who are good at something have an interest in it 
outside of their working hours.

Generally speaking though, I find it's incredibly difficult to find people who 
are able to back up their statement that they can program. It's pretty sad 
that college and university grads can come out of a computing or programming 
course and not actually be able to program.

This is getting dangerously close to my typical rant about how people just 
can't think for themselves, anymore, so I better sign off now.  :-)


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