Culture / Programming Languages

Code n00b: Truthful Answers to Tech Job Interview Questions

26 Oct 2018 11:00am, by

Ye olde chat boards are rife with threads about ridiculous dev job interview questions. And I don’t mean esoteric explorations like wtf is going on in this JavaScript snippet, which is a real-life interview question that happened to me:

let x = {} + [] //[object Object]
let y = [] + {} //[object Object]
Explain.

Of course these will vary according to the position and duties, but in general coding questions — no matter how esoteric — are looking to see how you think and problem solve. That you know what you’re doing, or at least know how to tackle the problem if you don’t. The good thing is, you can prep for technical questions simply by being a half-decent programmer and remembering to think before simply blurting out the first thing that pops into your brain.

Then there are the curveball queries. They are the ones for which no amount of study prep can help you anticipate. Questions that are supposed to be deep or somehow profoundly character revealing, that truly have no “right” answer. They probably came from some half-baked management book one of your interviewers happens to have as their current bathroom reading. Or maybe their most recent group therapy session, who knows.

If you want an actual shot at getting hired, it helps to guess what the intent behind the crazy question might be.

This rando crazy kind of interview question can actually serve as useful information for us, the interviewees. Would we actually want to work closely with someone who thinks the answer to “If you were a salad, what kind of dressing would you want?” delivers effective insight for hiring a capable developer? Potential responses are infinite in number. If by that point you’ve realized you wouldn’t take this job no matter what, simply bursting into incredulous laughter as your response can be a real time-saver. If, however, you do still want an actual shot at getting hired, it helps to guess what the intent behind the question might be. Sometimes there is an actual logic behind the crazy question, though just as often there is only plain crazy behind the crazy question. Either way, pause for a moment to ponder: are they looking for creative thinking? A quickly given answer (content unimportant) to indicate the ability to think on your feet? Confidence? Ability to BS?

And let us not forget the employment interview greatest hits, like “What are your personal strengths?” and “Tell us about one time you made a mistake and how you handled it.” When answered soberly, these require some rah-rah answer to get us past the gatekeepers and into the actual job.

But what if we actually answered any of these questions honestly? Here is my take on a few non-technical job interview questions that I, and a few other job-seeking developers of my acquaintance, have encountered. Or, rather, how these questions would go if we vocalized our actual thoughts instead of using the polite, job-seeking outside-my-head voice.

Would you have any problems with being the only woman on a currently all-male team?

“Talk about a problem! Who would I talk with about lipstick? Or whether this sweater is a good color for my complexion? Who would I borrow tampons from in case of menstrual emergency????”

I was literally stunned into silence by this one, which I ran into personally. My first thought being, “Is this even legal?” Second, did they think it was somehow going to be news to me that programming is a heavily male field? Any woman uncomfortable joining an otherwise all-Y-chromosome-bearing team is going to have a hard time finding a job in tech, period. How do you think I got here in the first place?

Where do you see yourself in five years?

“Anywhere that is not a poorly lit conference room with bad coffee and a smeary whiteboard so poorly erased that, if I squint hard enough, I can still make out the answers to the code challenge you threw at the candidate before me.”

Speaking of legal, I don’t think any interview is actually considered official unless they ask this “where do you see yourself” question.

Tell us about a time you experienced conflict with a co-worker, and how you handled it.

I invited them to sit down with me, and I listened calmly to their side of the issue. I validated their feelings, shared my own take on the situation, and worked with the person to create a collaborative solution that met everyone’s needs. Then I went out into the parking lot and slashed the tires on their car.

Why do you want this job?

“I dedicate myself to the work I’m passionate about. And I am most passionate of all about not living under a bridge and eating out of dumpsters.”

My friend Asa claims to have once deadpanned this answer at the end of an initial telephone interview for a job he had realized, during the course of the conversation, was a complete wrong fit. Interestingly, he was offered a second in-person interview.

Why should we hire you?

“I’m a person looking for a job. You’re a job looking for a person. It’s destiny.”

This is the worst question of all. Seriously. To answer you pretty much have to get all cheerleader-y about your skills and personality and how this is such a good fit at this point in your career yet offers such wonderful potential for growth and constant learning. Invariably “Why should we hire you?” rears its inane, no-YOU-tell-me head at the ugly tail end of the interview process when we’re all slowly losing it, our inner humanity worn to a squishy nub after a long day of hoping we nailed the code challenges and just trying to be all around impressive. Question after question, bit by bit, there’s a moment when desperation sets in. A person gets a bit… giddy. Don’t be such a prude, Mid-Level JavaScript Full Stack Developer job! If this job interview was a rom-com, we would be making out on a rooftop after watching the sun set over the city while shyly sharing our innermost hopes and dreams!

Check back every other Friday for a new installment of Michelle Gienow’s Code N00B.

Feature image via Raw Pixel.


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