So, I happened across this post about hiring programmers, which references two other posts about hiring programmers. There seems to be a demand for blog posts about hiring programmers, but that’s not why I’m writing this. I’m writing because there was this sort of nagging irony that I couldn’t help but stumble upon.
In a blog post, Joel Spolsky talks about the mathematical inaccuracies associated with claims of “only hiring the top 1%”. It seemed pretty obvious to me that whether or not you’re hiring the top 1% of all programmers is pretty much unknowable, and when managers say they hire “the top 1%”, I assume they’re talking about the top 1% of their applicants. Note too that I always thought it was idiotic to point this out, because, well, isn’t that what you’re SUPPOSED to do? You’re not very well going to aim for the middle & hope for the best are you?
Apparently I’ve been giving too much credit to management. There I go giving people with ties on the benefit of the doubt again.
Then, in another blog post, Jeff Atwood talks about how it’s very difficult to even get interviews with programmers who can actually program. The problem is real.
The original blog post that pointed me at the two others is one by Roberto Alsina where he talks about his own methods for weeding out the non-programmers. He’s clearly seen the issue as well.
But if you open all three of these posts in separate tabs and read them, you’re likely to come away with the same basic problem I did:
- Who the hell are these managers who can’t figure out a dead simple statistics problem?
- How can a person fairly inept at simple math be qualified to make a hiring decision for anything but a summer intern?
That sorta blew my mind a little. But it blew my mind a lot when Atwood started describing the problems that interviewees *couldn’t* perform in an interview! One task described by Imran was called a ‘FizzBuzz’ question. Here’s one such question:
Write a program that prints the numbers from 1 to 100. But for multiples of three print “Fizz” instead of the number and for the multiples of five print “Buzz”. For numbers which are multiples of both three and five print “FizzBuzz”.
Here’s the part that blew my mind: He says, and I quote:
Most good programmers should be able to write out on paper a program which does this in a under a couple of minutes.
Want to know something scary ? – the majority of comp sci graduates can’t. I’ve also seen self-proclaimed senior programmers take more than 10-15 minutes to write a solution.
That’s amazing to me. I decided to quickly pop open a Python prompt and see if I could do it:
>>> for i in range(1,101):... if (i % 3 == 0) and (i % 5 == 0):... print i,'FizzBuzz'... elif i % 3 == 0:... print i, 'Fizz'... elif i % 5 == 0:... print i, 'Buzz'... else:... print i...
Note that I’ve taken the liberty of printing out the numbers in addition to the required words. I’m playing the role of interviewer and interviewee here, and wanted to be able to easily verify that things were correct, since there was no time for unit testing
Turns out it worked on the first try! That was pasted directly from my terminal screen. I didn’t time myself, but it took far less than 5 minutes. This leads to my other question, of course, which is “if you’re going to complain about CS degree holders not writing good code, maybe it’s time to open the doors to non-CS degree holders?”