Google Engineer Exposes Interview Myths

Mike TuttleTechnology

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We all know someone who would stab a family member to get a job at Google. Working for the Mountain View, CA company is the Holy Grail of tech jobs. And the stories about interviews at Google are the stuff of legend.

In fact, if you Google "google interview questions" (in quotes, to get better results), you get 1.75 million results (in 0.19 seconds). Books, articles, blog posts and comments galore have told the tales of interviewees who limped away from Googleplex, eyes glazed over and drooling, thanks to the stumper questions they were pitched in the interviews.

William Poundstone wrote the book "Are You Smart Enough to Work at Google: Trick Questions, Zen-like Riddles, Insanely Difficult Puzzles, and Other Devious Interviewing Techniques You Need to Know to Get a Job in the New Economy". In it, he recounts some of the tales that have been passed around on the Interwebs about google interviews, and analyzes their significance in how interviews are conducted in many other industries. The upshot, in terms of Google's questions, is that Google asks such questions to see if you are a good fit for Google. He says that those questions have no further significance and should not be used by other employers as though they were somehow magical and could ferret out poor prospects.

But, in response to a Wall Street Journal excerpt from Poundstone's book, Google Senior Software Engineer Colin McMillen posted an article to his Google+ account. In it, he challenges the very existence of these famed "Google interview questions". McMillen asserts that these are mostly apocryphal, at least in the Engineering Department.

"Don't worry about figuring how to escape from a blender, or dividing treasure among infinitely-rational pirates, or why manhole covers are round. Instead, study the things that might actually be useful in your job: algorithms, data structures, medium-to-large-scale systems design, testing, debugging, parallel programming, operating systems, and most importantly how to code."

He recommends Google interviewees read a 2008 blog entry from Google Engineer Steve Yegge. In it, Yegge says that the best way to get through a Google interview is to simply know how to do the job for which they are being interviewed. He does offer many more specific areas to bone up on to be qualified. And, he offers tips like:

"Some interviewers will not ask you to write code, but they will expect you to start writing code on the whiteboard at some point during your answer. They will give you hints but won't necessarily come right out and say: 'I want you to write some code on the board now.' If in doubt, you should ask them if they would like to see code."

He further suggests that you bone up on how to relate the fact that you know this by having a friend interview you. In the end, they together insist that Google simply wants people who know how to do their jobs.

And isn't that what they all want?


Mike Tuttle
Writer. Google+ Writer for WebProNews.