The Danger Room

Have you ever been through a technical interview? If so, what was the toughest question you’ve been asked? What was the dumbest question you’ve been asked?

Maybe you’re on the flip side. Do you conduct technical interviews? Share your anecdotes and technical interview stories in the comments below. (and comments on the ‘toon, too) ;)


These beautiful and intelligent people wrote

  • JamesReply
    April 7, 2009 at 6:12 am

    Wow, that must be one harsh interview to bring a grown man down like that. Hope Bob can hold up to that type of pressure. Either he will fly like an eagle or come down burning like a Phoenix.

  • Lynn K. FletcherReply
    April 7, 2009 at 7:07 am

    I know Bob will get the job. Mostly because the Footle storyline is too good! I think the big boss will appreciate Bob’s expertise, and see his bumbling as absolute genius to be harnessed by Footle. If they hired someone to play with blocks all day, Bob’s blogging and tweeting fetishes should land him as block dude’s superior. :-)

  • Dan GReply
    April 7, 2009 at 10:15 am

    So your email asked about tough and dumb questions in technical interviews. My last technical interviews (taken) were in 1986… yes, I am that old… so that puts some context on things. Also, keep in mind that I was one course short of a full double major in EE and CS… everything from transistors to compilers was in scope to me. (20 years ago, that was possible.)

    1) I was given a lengthy “case” by a woman from HP. Believing this to be an interview for design work, I had in mind a hardware answer and had not heard anything during her presentation to indicate that this was the wrong track. At the end of her presentation, I asked, “Do you want a hardware or software solution?” She answered with a sneer, “Well, software of course.” Interview over, not only because she was disliked me for having indicated that her presentation was imperfect… but also because I felt that my scope of abilities had been disrespected.

    2) During an interview at Burroughs… yes, this was before Unisys… I was asked multiple questions about the switching threshold voltages of TTL gates, guard bands, etc. After answering several of them, I eventually got frustrated and said, “You know, the TTL Data Book has all this stuff and I just look it up when I need it.” I think that was the answer they were truly looking for.
    By the way, I will say that the guy who was signed in above me for those Burroughs interviews was a star player on the football team… and a Computer Math major… a true student athlete. I doubt most of the people playing March Madness or in the Rose Bowl these days would qualify.

  • Jim M.Reply
    April 7, 2009 at 12:44 pm

    The problem with most technical interviews is they are trivia. So if you’ve heard the specific trivia questions they use, then you get it right.

    So the funniest experience I had being interviewed was when the listing reviewed specific areas of knowledge required, so I skimmed some documentation on the subject the night before, and the questions covered exactly the same topics, so I was able to answer them. Then there were a couple complex questions that I did OK on. But in the second level interview they asked me the same complex questions, but now I knew the answer, so I got them right.

    The funniest experience giving technical interviews would be the time I was interviewing two guys with the same first name (via phone), and one was scheduled for a second tier interview but I thought he was the other guy so I gave him the exact same questions a second time. The funny thing was he missed all the same questions even though last week he said he was going to research the ones he missed, and I gave him the answer to a couple.

  • ComaCReply
    April 7, 2009 at 3:56 pm

    “What are the parameters of the POSIX function SELECT?”. That was the first question of the toughest technical interview I’ve been thru. (and… geek as I am, I got the job!)

    Not it is me who interviews new candidates. I prefer not to ask questions but to sit them in front of a computer and have them do a small part of a real project the company had to solve some months ago. At first I couldn’t belive a computer science engineer could be unable to understand a 3 tables database design and write a recursive function to dump it’s contents. Now I really know a degree is worthless.

  • Barry BuchananReply
    April 7, 2009 at 4:00 pm

    I am the IT director of a large church in Texas. I did have a technical interview which was routine and easy. The tough part of the interview was the spiritual side of questions. I’ve been in church most of my life but it made me more nervous than any technical interview ever did. I guess I must have fumbled through since I’ve been here over 5 years now.

  • vyzion360Reply
    April 7, 2009 at 4:30 pm

    Oh my gosh! I’m so excited! I can’t wait to see how Bob does! *giggle* I know he’s going to be just fine! He’ll be charming and witty in his Bob-like way :D

  • YodaReply
    April 7, 2009 at 9:46 pm

    I’ve had my share of dumb technical questions asked of me…

    1) I did an interview for Apple support (didn’t get the job due to ‘overqualification’) back in 2002. The woman on the phone asks me “what is the voltage of a motherboard battery in a Power Mac G4?” and I answer “3.6 volts” She asks me “is it really?” and I’m like “uh, yeah…” She tells me that the answer they were looking for had to do with how to find the answer and she didn’t actually have the answer in front of her. So her next question is “what would you say to a client concerned about radiation from sitting too close to a CRT?” I smiled and said “grab a raw egg out of the fridge, crack it on the customer’s head, sit him in front of an iMac, then ask the customer if he can feel the egg cooking or not.” She laughed for about five minutes and ended the interview there.

    2) Wasn’t during the interview, but at my current workplace, a national technology sales company, during one of the first trainings I went to as a salesperson, I was in a room with a trainer and about 8 other sales reps. The trainer was going around the room asking basic level tech questions, which most of the sales guys didn’t have a clue on… and I kept picking up the wrong-answered questions and providing the correct answer. So the trainer was trying to find questions where he’d stump me, getting progressively more detailed, and he asked one of the others “what’s the difference between a 68-pin SCSI hard drive and an 80-pin?” The rep shrugged his shoulders, the trainer looked at me, and I grinned and replied “12 pins.”

    By the way… the difference between a HP ProLiant 380 G3 and a ProLiant 380 G6 is 3-Gs. Take that to the bank.

  • Lynn K. FletcherReply
    April 8, 2009 at 7:13 am

    After reading all the comments, I think I might be under-qualified to read this comic!!!

  • Matt BoruffReply
    April 8, 2009 at 8:01 am

    What language is HTML, we want you to build our website not program something. Heard that one about two months ago.

  • joecombsReply
    April 8, 2009 at 11:00 am

    i was part of an interview team that once made an interviewee cry. i could tell after 2 questions that this guy had no clue as to what the programming position he was being interviewed for actually was. it was the first interview where a person failed to answer a single question. the manager that in the interview with us didn’t stop asking questions trying to make the guy feel better, but it just kept making the situation worse. somehow, though, it’s still not the most uncomfortable interview that i’ve conducted.

    as for interviews that i’ve personally had, i’ve never had a really stupid question asked of me. the only ones i actually hate being asked are the “what are your greatest strengths and weeknesses” questions.

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