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AA Interview Notes. James Hamilton JamesRH 2006-09-17. Agenda. Setting up the loop Managing the loop The Interview Learning from the loop. Setting up the Loop. Make sure right folks on loop: Will we have the info we need at the end of the day? Experience of folks on the loop

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Aa interview notes l.jpg

AA Interview Notes

James Hamilton



Agenda l.jpg

  • Setting up the loop

  • Managing the loop

  • The Interview

  • Learning from the loop

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Setting up the Loop

  • Make sure right folks on loop:

    • Will we have the info we need at the end of the day?

    • Experience of folks on the loop

      • One or, at the very most, two inexperienced interviewers

    • Make changes if needed

      • Don't just "accept" the loop

  • If two groups involved, are there enough from both teams?

    • 2 slots, one of which is lunch won't cut it

  • Read the resume, does it match the job?

    • Are there others it matches more closely

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Managing the Loop: Feedback

  • If no feedback within an hour, complain to loop

  • Publicly whack those that send in crappy feedback:

    • "Nice guy" ... "really enjoyed talking to him“

    • Make sure feedback has content -- don't accept 5 or 10 lines

    • If dev interview, insist on seeing code for all but lunch interview

      • Test interview requirements not much different

    • Read all feedback and learn who needs private advice

  • Must take a position:

    • “Tentative hire” is just wrong ... call it publicly

    • Insist on taking a position ... must start with "hire" or "no hire"

    • If uncertain, no hire

  • Calibrate interviews to individual being hired:

    • Insist on deep knowledge from senior folks

    • Expect core skills and potential from university hires

    • Correct quickly if questions are not at right level

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Managing the Loop: Adapt

  • If failing as dev, for example, consider other roles

    • Some of our best PMs & Testers were once Devs

    • We paid to get candidate in so invest in finding potential

    • If candidate failing, jump in early

      • Call leaders of other roles & recruiting to redirect loop

      • It's your job to adapt the loop if it's not working

  • Under no circumstances send home w/o 3 interviews

    • If borderline, continue the loop

    • Leave candidate with a good experience

  • As AA try to see anyone who is borderline

    • Do the AA unless clearly not a hire

    • You’ll learn about both candidate & the interviewers

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The Interview: Approach

  • Be casual and friendly and help the candidate relax.

    • The more relaxed they are, the more successful you'll be

    • You need details fast with only an hour

  • Best predictor of future performance is past results (outside the stock market )

    • Weak at school, poor results in past jobs, not hitting the top of anything, yet suddenly a superstar is very rare

      • Core attributes shine through

      • Not everyone will excel in school but they better excel somewhere

    • If a "hard worker", find real examples

    • If an "excellent problem solver", get examples.

    • No examples almost assures it’s simply not true

  • Don’t waste time

    • Start and finish on time

    • Don’t waste much time on project or other introductory stuff

    • A hard interview followed by a job offer is motivational

    • Good candidates enjoy being challenged

    • You need the full hour to get deep insight into candidate

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The Interview: Core Attributes

  • Recruiting encourages us to look for a broad set of core attributes

  • My focused set is a smaller subset:

    • Motivation, tools of the trade, & raw IQ

  • Recent style is each interviewer to focus on a core attribute or two

    • I’m not against this but don’t personally chose to do it

  • Raw IQ: from design questions & interactions during interview

  • Tools of the trade: I'll survey standard computer science education to make sure a candidate knows common algorithms, has appropriate education or equivalent work experience.

    • Be particularly careful of candidates that have a masters in computer science but an undergraduate in something like English lit.

  • Motivation: Discussions of past project, how they tackle problems, how they have worked through tough problems

    • Do they give up, did they hit the top, did they actually ship or switch projects early, etc., etc.

    • Track record of success: not all candidates succeed everywhere but, with motivation, they should excel in many areas

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The Interview: Digging Deeper

  • Education: I typically do pass through education

    • checking for basics & quality

  • Experience: I typically do a pass through 2 or 3 of their major projects

    • I’m looking for two things:

      • Is it an accurate description of their past or someone they worked with?

      • I’m looking for interesting problems for later design questions

    • I'll chose an example from a past project and ask them for details

      • Assure myself first that they actually did the work

    • Then debate a few design decisions to see how they deal with technical conflict

      • Must be able to push back when on wrong track and step back when not

    • Change a design parameter and ask for a solution

      • What if it won't fit into memory, I need multi-user concurrent access, I want to reduce response time by a factor of 10, etc., etc.

      • Keep firing questions & design mods and see how they adapt

  • Coding: Ask a coding question where they don't already know the answer

    • You really can only afford 20 min on coding so it can't be too hard

    • As quickly as possible, syntactically correct, and correct algorithm

    • If dev/test ask coding questions in all interviews prior to AA

      • If any doubt, ask in AA as well

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The Interview: Different Job Types

  • SDE/T:

    • I'll ask a simpler coding question or expect somewhat less but still want to see code.

    • I substitute design questions with testing questions.

    • Test a software component with which they are familiar, like a compiler symbol table, and instruct them to give me as many tests as possible as quickly as possible

      • If you don't get on the order of 15 or 20 pretty quickly, worry but keep trying. If no more, they don’t make the bar

  • PM:

    • I'll typically not ask a coding question, will still ask the same design question, and I'll go looking for customer focus in and around design questions.

    • Many questions on how to chose features, when to push a feature, challenge with schedule/feature trade-offs, challenge with late bugs and whether or not to fix. Basically, scenarios from various parts of the dev cycle to see how they react.

    • Ask questions from their past to understand how they will work with other groups in conflict. Could they evangelize a feature with other groups, work with other groups, reduce conflict, etc.

    • Present design sketches and ask them to criticize

    • Expect them to argue a point carefully, accurately, forcefully but not painfully.

    • Must be technical AND customer focused

    • How to influence a dev team without direct leadership position?

  • Architect:

    • Beware of someone who wants to be an architect for the titles sake

      • It’s not a role, it’s a broader, more senior version of one of our existing job types

    • Candidate must have been “in the trenches" & actually shipped successful production software

      • Can’t succeed without credibility and it won’t come if they haven’t “been there”

    • Ask for their principles of development and evidence of them being applied with success in past

    • Ask deep questions in their area of expertise and expect to get credible, articulate answers.

      • You should learn something from them

    • How do they deal with conflict? How do they influence the team?

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Learning from the Loop

  • Introduce new interviewers by putting them on loops with good interviewers

    • They'll read the feedback and compare with their own

    • Don't introduce more than one new interviewer at a time

  • Go chat with new folks about what you learned and what they learned

    • helps them calibrate and learn to look deep

  • Those that aren't giving good feedback need to be reminded of their responsibilities

  • There are some folks that just never develop into good interviewers

    • don't put them on loops

  • Work with the HR team on who you actually want on loops

    • I like to get involved in who is on the loop, sometimes tuned to candidate and sometimes to the work load we're currently under

    • At bare min, make sure that the loop is appropriate and pass on changes to HR

  • Rarely, but occasionally, I'll send a "here's what we could do better" note to the loop or "it was a great loop and here's why"

  • Very rarely, when it's a borderline case, I won't make a hire/no-hire call that evening

    • We need quick answers so I only rarely delay when it appears the data is incomplete

    • Once I held a meeting the next day since the feedback ranged from "I would rather quit than work with this guy" to "we absolutely have to have him"

  • Keep an eye on how your hires do and learn from the result