Interviewing for Engineering Management

I was pleased to learn that many major (and doubtless some minor) technology-focused firms are still doing “white-board” type interviews — the kind where a candidate addresses scenarios in enough depth to show what they know, while not dwelling on code-level syntax issues or staying at the 50,000 foot boxes-and-arrows level.  Whether onsite or remote, such “working session” type exercises seem the only way to determine if senior level candidates can truly contribute to better technology in a real way, and also represent a move toward “find the smart people, not the ones that have previously worked with version x.y.z.a of software product ABC”, which I have long advocated (over surprisingly frequent objections, despite this approach being one of the primary Bozo Explosion magnifier coefficients).

For folks that are perhaps some years away form serious heads down coding work — particularly if you are, say, in “strategy” or doing more advocacy and enterprise technology direction — important advice would be that while you might not be able to, or need to, “study” for such interviews, a few minutes here and their scanning key books and topic outlines might be well spent.  And if your “go to” book list has names like Glenford Myers, Larry Constantine, Fred Brooks, Aho and Ullman, Donald Knuth, ad nauseum — well congratulations on being a GrandPa or GrandMa, but go out and familiarize yourself with the cannon of post-2000 works that include works like the seminal Gang of Four‘s Design Patterns: Elements of reusable Object-Oriented Software  (see pic below) and something on Enterprise Architecture (some still recommend classics like Martin Fowler’s Patterns of Enterprise Application Software as a good starting point.

GOF_cover-DesignPatterns    FOWLER_patterns_of_EntAppArch-cvr    weka_data_mining_book_cover

Of course in an increasingly “splinter-culture” universe, where some read either the likes of Daring Fireball, The Magazine and McSweeneys, coupled with some tightly specific blogs for their specific areas of interest, broad, general purpose works seem harder and harder to find. The ‘Soul of a New Machine‘ for the new generation is what? Jobs? Something about Ellison or Gates or …?

It is hard to stay current on everything, but a quick refresher on such things might help a sturdy candidate fend off “brain lock” that could, in a key moment, end a promising interview.

It is heartening to learn that such interviews are still taking place; the practice of having interviews monitored by a third party — to train the interviewers — is also a great sign that top level companies are focused on keeping their competitive advantage — in a world where IT employes are otherwise increasingly “stackable” cogs in the corporate machine.

I’d also venture to say that a well thought out catalog of “design scenarios” is probably more useful to such hiring processes than any database / spreadsheet list of interesting / tough “comp sci 101” or programming questions that are often the starting points for programmer / “member of the technical staff” type interviews.

And it’s not a bad idea to read a book on software development now and then, in any event, even if you only code “for fun”!

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