I worked at a company that did white board interviews. We had a question “implement bash brace expansion, in whatever language.” Most people chose something reasonable, Java, C++, even Python. One guy comes in, and we were already totally on the fence at this point, but he decides to use Motorola 68k assembly. He gets pretty far, but runs into all the standard problems people run into, and can’t complete it because he needs more board space, time, and has no idea where things actually went wrong, since he didn’t write any comments…
We let him go early. But before we did, another guy asked him “why did you write asm?” To which he responded, “I thought That since the interviewers were likely not versed in it, I could get away with not answering it 100% correctly, and wouldn’t get docked points.”
Now, based on his other personality traits, I always interpreted this interaction as being “this guy was just a cocky jerk,” and I’m not sure that wasn’t true. We don’t know, because he did something completely off the rails with the intention of tricking us, and we declined before we found out more about him.
But maybe, this was actually his “fuck you song” and he hated the notion of whiteboard interviews so much that he decided to bomb the interview in protest. I guess I’ll never be sure.
We don’t know, because he did something completely off the rails with the intention of tricking us
I don’t think that he was trying to trick you. Rather, he was denying you transparency. I’ve been in the corporate world for long enough (sadly) that I understand the difference.
So much of the violent transparency that is inflicted on programmers (open-plan offices, “Agile” project management) exists not because the “information” will be used, but as a power play against the engineers. If the engineers feel that they’re watched and have low status, they’ll be easier to control. Whether anyone actually gets fired for paying bills at work (“caught” in the open-plan office) is irrelevant. Making engineers feel like they can’t do anything but their “user stories” at work, because their monitors are visible to the whole office, is the point. It’s about power and humiliation, and enforcement is optional.
But maybe, this was actually his “fuck you song” and he hated the notion of whiteboard interviews so much that he decided to bomb the interview in protest.
Probably. A lot of us older, highly capable programmers get to a point where we know when to play the game and when to preserve our dignity. I’ve frequently had interviews where I realize that engineers are treated as low-status cogs, to a point that I’ve decided that I’d never want to work there, so I ask questions like, “How on earth do you get any talent, if people are managed like that?” and “Would you like to hire me as a consultant to fix some of these cultural problems?” In theory, there’s the outlier possibility that someone recognizes that I could actually fix their problems and brings me on at a higher level, like in the movies. In practice, that has never happened.
I have no idea what happened with him, and his decision to play the fuck-you game may well reflect on him rather than your company. I’d guess that he’s a smart, over-experienced guy who had a negative experience with a whiteboard interview and unfortunately took it out on you.
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Does it count if I used Fractran instead?
There is a possibility someone can do this, somewhere on this planet. They probably wouldn’t be looking for work ever :)
Nah, they’re probably in that 150+ IQ set that struggles with corporate bullshit.
I’ve seen quite a few IMO medalists (at least five) get absolutely raped in the GoogFace companies. It’s at the point where I advise them, if they’re set on leaving academia, to go to finance where their talents will actually be appreciated. You put a legit 150+ in a hedge fund, and he’ll never be a “rainmaker” who goes out and gets new investors, but he’ll ease into a quant role and do it well. He might make “only” $500k/year as a senior quant, while smiling bullshitters make millions… but that’s better than getting PIP’d because you didn’t do enough “user story points”. You put a legit 150+ in a GoogFace, anywhere other than the research division, and it usually ends badly.
Of course, this phenomenon may exist because the 150+ who end up in regular engineering roles already have serious health problems (or, as in certain cases, had health problems in the past) or social deficits, because otherwise they’d be somewhere other than “mainstream eng” at a tech company.
GoogFace and VC startups are all about pedigree, not raw intelligence, because people who have the ability to detect the latter are extremely rare outside of the R&D divisions. In the tech industry, a legacy-admit Stanford kid will dominate a 150+ from Penn State. Whereas in the hedge fund world, the 150+ has a shot of getting spotted and fast tracked, while the legacy Stanford kid probably won’t get hired. Greed isn’t always good but it’s better than self-protecting corporate stupidity… which is why Wall Street is more hospitable to top talent than Silicon Valley.