Archive for May, 2006

Looking for Great Interview Questions

I have droned on previously about my thoughts around resumes and interviewing, and received some great thoughts and opinions from peers. I would like to focus the lens a little and gather thoughts about good questions to ask in a short phone screen for potential contract help on a project.

I always struggle with what questions make great questions in this context. It’s really too easy to focus on specific tools and frameworks – I don’t think that’s good. We try to keep these screens to a half hour, and the conversation can quickly de-generate into discussions around settings, API methods, and various extemporaneous details that make my mind wander or even want to explode – and before you know it time is up. I get very little qualitative feedback about someone hearing them go on about this kind of detail.

I always try to probe at someone’s soft skills instead. Most reasonably smart technical people can pick up on the tools that you use, but you are usually stuck with their soft skills for the long haul.

Here are some of my questions:

  • If you are not familiar with a tool or framework that you are asked to use, how would you learn about it?
  • Describe a situation where you had to interact with end users to capture requirements or provide production support.
  • Describe a situation in which you have had to troubleshoot performance problems in an application – how did you investigate the issue, and how did you resolve it?
  • How have you been involved in testing components that you have worked on?

Some might argue that by disclosing these questions and my intentions that I’m setting myself up to be deceived, but I don’t buy it. I think being transparent about this has the high liklihood that I will get even better suggestion out of my peers. My experience is also that people don’t do an oustanding job fibbing their way through interviews, so I don’t think a quick study of my poor blog is going to put anyone very far ahead of where they would have been – on the contrary it might just save both of us some time.

What are your questions? How do you separate the wheat from the chaff?

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Nick Carr’s Predictability and Charles Zedlewski’s Probability

Charles Zedlewski had an amusing and organically growing post yesterday that made me laugh. He started off with a simple link to a topically hip article at silicon.com doomsaying IT, backed by comments from Gartner VP Ken McGee. Note to Gartner: when your subscription marketing plan is based on driving revenue by spreading fear, you are officially supposed to start referring to yourself as a big media outlet rather than an analyst firm. As a blogger, I am willing to do a short briefing with you on this topic.

Charles’ initial post was just a simple link and the title – “Nick Carr will write a post about this article in the next 4 hours (probability .8)”. He later came back and added his thoughts, which are definitely worth a read. The most hilarious part is that he had the last laugh when Nick finally did post on that article! Nick’s comments are also worth reading, but are not too new if you are familiar with his existing comments. He leads with stats about HP consolidating data centers to drop $1B off it’s IT budget, which sounds to me like fiscal responsibility rather than the death of IT…

I loved the irony in Charles’ post around the 0.8 probability. Gartner’s reputation is preceded and perhaps even precluded by their predilection for the decimal-based probability, which I find ridiculous. Maybe I’m just a sucker for substantive and even subjective analysis, but for all of the Gartner research I have read I can’t say that I planned to do or not do anything over the decimal. I have had some great conversations with Gartner analysts, such as Gene Phifer who really get their area. So I don’t have trouble with the individuals, but I’m not crazy about the Gartner culture or posture. As far as content goes, they could spend a little more time on open source as well – talk about IT not mattering anymore, how about looking at commodity software and ignoring FOSS offerings?

My tastes for analysis have become much more broad in the last couple years. The main firms I look towards are places like RedMonk, Burton Group, and Patricia Seybould Group. Burton in particular has fantastically in-depth and substantive research reports, which I have called out numerous times before. But you also can’t beat the fact that all of these firms have bloggers on staff. When you can subscribe to the likes of James Governor, Stephen O’Grady, Cote’, Brenda Michelson, Mike Gotta, and Richard Monson-Haefel you find out that your analysis needs change. You see not only their brilliant analysis for free but, perhaps more importantly, see the community dialog around topics of interest. How many analyst firms are actively seeking to build communities among their constituents? The answer is automatic if firms allow or encourage their analysts to blog.

Final note: holding an annual conference or several, while being a schweet boondoggle we all appreciate does not count as building community – there’s more to it than that.

Interview Points To Consider If You Want A Job At A Large Enterprise

In a previous post I offered some thoughts on how to write your resume if you want to get a job at a large enterprise. Before anyone nails me in comments – I get the fact that a lot of people don’t want to work at large enterprises. But clearly some do. For those who are interested, I’m just trying to make all of our lives a little less painful.

  • Do show up on time.
  • Do have a firm handshake. I need to thank my Dad for making a big deal about this when I was younger than 8 – I just grew up thinking this is normal. I am shocked at how many limp hands there are – it’s a really bad first impression.
  • Do be sure you have a quiet place to talk if it’s a teleconference
  • Do make sure you have a good cell connection if it’s a teleconference and you will be on a cell phone.
  • Do dress appropriately – might be nice, might be casual, but should be appropriate. If you don’t know the dress code, then overdress and don’t worry about it if someone makes a comment. I have never heard of someone not being hired due to overdressing.
  • Do not use SkypeOut if it’s a teleconference.
  • Do not feel compelled to exagerrate your role on a project. Everyone does it on their resume and I’m actually okay with that, as long as you kept it within reason so that the gap isn’t too big when you need to talk about it. But it’s painfully obvious when you exagerrate in conversation. It reminds me of how kids think they are so secretive when they whisper in class – if you’ve ever stood in front of a classroom, it’s a fishbowl.
  • Do admit if you don’t know about a technology in question, but then follow up with how you would learn about it. There are times companies are really strictly looking for a particular skill set – especially when hiring contractors or consultants for a specific project. But when it comes to employees, the soft skills are huge – do you have a social network you can tap into? Are you familiar with the names of authors, publishers, or analysts you would look to? Describing how you approach this can sell you miles ahead – these are a subset of your problem solving skills, and are important.
  • Do be able to talk about how you have helped maintain applications over time or participated in user support. Just about every technical team member in a large enterprise has to help with support in some way. People who come in and have only worked on new development that was handed off to someone else are not too impressive.
  • Do talk about your communication skills and your abilities to work with a variety of people. Large enterprises are famous for having 100 groups that you have to work with to do anything – the merit of that is the subject of another post. But consider it reality, and talk about how you collaborate with people when you need something from them. You are probably also not being hired as a cowboy or cowgirl who will come in and use whatever frameworks or tools you want – you will probably have to live with a lot of what is already in house, and have more gradual influence on what is used if you have sound arguments.

Curious what everyone else’s thoughts are around interviewing – there really aren’t too many just plain good interviews in my opinion, they are usually great or mediocre. Like Malcolm says, you usually know right away.

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Curious What Offline Blog Tools People Use

Thinking about starting to use an offline editor for posting, and curious what anyone can recommend. So far, I have seen mention of these in other posts:

But no strong recommendations either way… would appreciate recommendations both for and against various tools if anyone has them.


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