It’s Technical

If you’re in any technical discipline, you probably had to undergo some type of technical interview to get to where you’re at. For those that aren’t familiar with this process, it’s like this:

You’re sequestered in a room with another engineer (or group of engineers) and you’re barraged with brain teasers, riddles, and puzzles. The idea is – by tackling such abstract puzzles, the interviewees will have an idea of how you go about thinking through a problem on the spot. Some companies delve deep into the innards of what the job will specifically entail, but many companies prefer torturing their candidates with brain-busting puzzles. (It’s a tradition.)

For the record, I was never really that great at brain teasers. It’s stressful enough to be in an interview situation, and honestly – who really cares how a farmer transports livestock across a river anyway?

Have you been on a technical interview? What was the most interesting / weirdest / intriguing question you were asked?


These beautiful and intelligent people wrote

  • Joshua D.Reply
    February 8, 2008 at 3:29 am

    You take the chicken over, come back, take the grain, bring the chicken back, take the fox, then go back for the chicken.

  • Andrew from VancouverReply
    February 8, 2008 at 3:40 am

    Business users like these kind of questions, too. It’s not about getting the right answer, it’s more like what Krishna said about watching the interviewee’s ability to cope with unknowns, gauge their problem solving ability, gauge their concept of scale, and their general attitude. Do they guess and go with that? Do they ask reasonable clarifying questions? How do they answer follow up questions?

    Old chestnuts:

    How many gas stations are in [your city]?

    How much does a 747 weigh? (With or without passengers, with or without luggage, with or without fuel?)

    How would you move Mount Fuji?

    Linux or Windows?

    Why is the sky blue?

    Apparently “I’d ask Google” is not a valid answer for any of these questions.

    … my favourite answer to the farmer/grain/chicken/fox problem was a purported biographical report of an interview at a certain campus in Redmond; the interviewee said that he first detailed the usual recursive Microsoft answer, and then added that in the real world he would instead use a 3rd party pet carrier to expedite the process!

  • seileighReply
    February 8, 2008 at 9:37 am

    I had the same question posed to me in a committee interview. I asked them why they couldn’t put the chicken in a carrier and make one trip, as this would save time and wear on the boat. They laughed.

  • guruofnullReply
    February 8, 2008 at 11:43 am

    Here is one that the company I work at asks:

    You have 12 nickels. One of these nickels is a counterfeit, and weights slightly less than a real nickel. You are given a balance scale. You are allowed to use the balance scale 3 times. Find the counterfeit.

  • joecombsReply
    February 8, 2008 at 11:45 am

    at a previous job, i use to do interviews with a manager who would always ask these little brain teasers in interviews. the one teaser that i remember most is the one where you have 3 gallon and 5 gallon jugs and you want exactly 4 gallons of water. it was fun to see people’s reaction sometimes to the questions. while i can’t really say that we ever made the final decision to hire someone based on their answer to these questions, we did have candidates firmly push themselves over the “probably not” hump and into the “no way” pile.

    if i ever do an interview now, i have a basic programming question that i always ask. there’s multiple ways to answer correctly, but some methods are better than others. it’s the same concept except that i do expect a correct answer.

  • Dave BergschneiderReply
    February 8, 2008 at 11:48 am

    Boy have I gotten some weird ones. One that I remember especially was at Qualcomm I was group interviewed. I don’t remember the exact question, however I do remember it dealing with programming in a very detailed manner and they wanted too know how I would do it? I replied with “fairies & pixie dust”.

  • LinusReply
    February 20, 2009 at 11:35 am

    I read this in an e-mail FWD.

    Interviewer: pick one. 1 tough really question or 10 easy questions
    Candidate: (after a lot of thought): One tough question sir!

    Interviewer: Which came first “Chicken or Egg?”
    Candidate: The egg.

    Interviewer: Why do you say that?
    Candidate: Sir, you said “one tough question”

    That mail claimed that the candidate made it.. ;)

  • ProudGeekReply
    January 10, 2012 at 3:45 pm

    Last time I got asked one of those livestock-carrying brainteasers, I told the interviewer that I’m not interested in the job anymore.

    Incidentally, it was at Microsoft, and I’ve never looked back.

    Those interviewers can take their livestock-transportation questions and fuck themselves.

Tell me what you think!