mouse at Rodents.Montreal.QC.CA
Sun Apr 2 21:41:07 CDT 2006
> Microsoft, and companies that aspire to be Microsoft by imitating
> everything they do, has a tendency to ask "brain teaser" questions on
> job interviews. Personally I always thought this was a stupid way to
> evaluate an employee. I've yet to see any explanation of why this is
> something that Microsoft does, but I'm sure they have one.
I don't know why Microsoft does it. But if I were hiring, for some
positions I might do it; I'd do it because such questions, when they
depend on something the applicant has not already seen, can serve to
probe cleverness and adaptability of thought. Martin Gardner wrote a
book called "Aha! Insight" about this kind of thinking - the "aha!"
moment - and how it can be coaxed into occurring more often. Many
recreational mathematics puzzle books can serve the same function.
This is not restricted to job interviews. In my career as an
undergraduate in university, I wrote the Putnam[%] one year. One of
the questions was to compute a particular definite integral (of a
rather hairy function). The simple answer (which I did not get) was to
notice that it had 180° rotational symmetry about a particular point
and leverage that to deduce that the answer was exactly half the area
of a particular rectangle.
[%] The William Lowell Putnam mathematical competition, a *hard* exam
held annually for undergrads in mathematics. A good standing on
the Putnam can open doors, if you're interested in mathematics in
> I've been asked those questions and I always thought to myself "uh...
> yeah, this doesn't reflect anything I do as a software engineer, it
> just reflects whether or not I "get" this little mind teaser trick".
...well, if you didn't previously get it, whether you can get it during
the interview says something about your cleverness and adaptability.
If you think out loud at all about it, how you approach it can say a
lot more, if the interviewer is good. (And if you did previously get
it, that can indicate something too, though it's a much fuzzier
Of course, I would never claim that all places that use such questions
use them correctly.
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