back to article So you wanna be a Wall Street techie? Or anyway, get paid a lot

For at least a couple of decades now, if you’ve been a technologist and wanted to get paid as highly as possible for your work, there’s been pretty much only one place to go: the financial industry. meeting_room_empty_chair Have a seat, chum... we'll be in shortly to pick up the questionnaire on the syntax of complicated and …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Intial investment

    In order to work as a wall street techy you do need to be willing to pay your soul up front.

    1. Piers
      Devil do need to be willing to pay your soul up front...

      ...and that's just for the interview.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Paris Hilton

        Re: do need to be willing to pay your soul up front...


        1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. asdf

      what a bunch or self important wankers

      >A certain amount of detailed technical grilling is obviously necessary for a job that involves, say, shaving microseconds off the messaging in a high-frequency market-making system, or building an engine to process millions of trades a day.

      Yep they really showed the world how they are cut above the "herd" as the author says with the NASDAQ Facebook IPO glitch debacle. Another great example of how our service based economy of giving each other handjobs and selling each other worthless financial products instead of making anything are rotting our way of living from core out.

  2. Ru

    Interviews work both ways...

    If an interview panel effectively advertises itself as a bunch of smug sociopaths, they may find themselves losing the odd competent prospect who'd rather work with less unpleasant people.

    Anyway, either there is a large pool of suitably thick skinned, fact-regurgitating and apparently competent software engineers out there, or the problem will resolve itself when all the talent goes to work for some awful web 2.0 monstrosity like facebook leaving only the sociopaths in wallstreet to write inadequate financial instrument playing software which ultimately causes the western economy to go titsup.

    One could argue that perhaps this has already happened.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Missing the back door

    Work in back or middle office functions. 80-90% of the pay and bonuses. 60% of the stress and hours.

    Anon for obvious reasons.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Missing the back door - Middle/Backoffice

      Yeah, but it's bloody boring. Oh, and hardly job secure unless you're keen on off-shoring yourself? Our not-yet-offshored middle/back office guys are visibly desperate to get into the front office. They've seen the writing on the wall. Get as close the business as you can and make yourself indispensable. Then you're good. As long as that business area doesn't tank, or that business area doesn't commit some massive fraud, and you're all wound down. But hey, there is risk when you earn the big bucks. Worked in IB all my career - can't imagine working in anything else, or frankly earning any less. Soul is a little tarnished though, but not like those Goldman guys. They are like Satan's law firm in Devils Advocate.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Missing the back door

      From personal experience 80-90% of front office IT salary is not achievable in the middle office and definitely not the back office. Your mileage must vary but I have observed a chasm in salary and benefits whilst being fortunate enough to be on the upside.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Missing the back door

        what do you mean by front, middle and back office?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Missing the back door

          "what do you mean by front, middle and back office?"

          Functionally: Trading, risk (generally) though sometimes trader support depending on the institution, then settlements.

  4. Dave 126 Silver badge

    Zen-like puzzles...

    Aren't Oxbridge colleges famous for posing questions like "Why don't plants have brains at the entrance interviews"? Perhaps the custom of asking such questions at Google started because interviewers asked questions they themselves had once been asked, or they are aping something they have heard about.

    1. disgruntled yank

      Re: Zen-like puzzles...

      Evidently the plants are suffering from test anxiety.

      1. Arrrggghh-otron

        Re: Zen-like puzzles...

        I must confess to throwing in the odd curve ball question in interviews. The idea was to see how the candidate reacted. If they just plain called you on it then they got a few extra brownie points...

        We also threw in seemingly simple coding problems missing a few details, put the candidate in a room and left, in the hope that the candidate would just come and find us and ask for clarification.

    2. Kubla Cant

      Oxbridge colleges and Zen-like questions

      At my Oxford college interview, I was asked "Did Modigliani paint long thin people because he suffered from distorted vision?". I provided a logical answer: "No, because the visual distortion would make normal pictures look long and thin to him" and got the place.

      Some years later, the Philosophy tutor who had interviewed me said, by way of a put-down, "We agreed to award the scholarship to the first person to get the Modigliani question right". I was delighted to tell him that although it might have seemed right to a philosopher, my answer was actually wrong. Perception of objects and perception of paintings are not the same thing, and people with severe astigmatism actually produce distorted drawings.

      So much for Zen-like puzzles.

    3. Anonymous Coward

      Re:"Why don't plants have brains at the entrance interviews"?

      I wonder if they get many plants at the entrance interviews, and, if they do, how they have determined that the plants have no brains.

      OK. I passed that test. I got the job, right?

    4. Nigel 11

      Re: Zen-like puzzles...

      I love questions like these. They involve thinking, rather than regurgitation. I'm bad at the latter. I tend to carry only an index in my head, and know where to look up the fine details as and when I need them. (these days, it's often Google! )

      If they are part of an interview process, I guess it all depends on the motivation and attitude of the people doing the interviewing. If they are sadists looking for their brand of fun, the whole process is pointless. If they are genuinely looking for someone who can think outside of his narrow specialism, then this is probably the best way to go about it.

  5. Dave 126 Silver badge

    High pay

    About ten years ago, I read a story in a broadsheet about two lads, 21 and 22 years of age, done for speeding because they were caught having a race in London in a Ferrari and a Masserati... I was left thinking 'WTF do they do?!"

    The article went on to say that they worked for Barclay Bank's IT department.

    Ho hum.

  6. Version 1.0 Silver badge

    Cow orkers

    When the interview team are all asswipes then have a little fun with them and turn down the job ... life's too short to spend your working hours licking some idiots ego.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Cow orkers

      Or... Take the job and stick at it for a few years. Save up your bonuses and buy a nice place in some part of the world you want to live. Then leave, set yourself up as a consultant and due your your unique blend of experience and skills, continue to make the same money from the same institutions while working at your leisure. ;-)

  7. disgruntled yank


    An acquaintance, a women then I think in her 50s, went to interview to be CFO at a publisher on the US East Coast. They asked about her SATs.

    I assume that people who do this had really good scores, and assume that is what makes an elite anything. I would regard somebody out of his 20s who wished to tell me about his SATs the way I'd look at a man the same age wearing his high school letter jacket.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: SATs

      Also, is it not the case that there has been SAT score inflation over the years, with a particularly big change due to change of SAT scales about 1996 or so.... so possibly some younger folks actually think they have better SATs than previous generations if they don't know about it (the magical intelligence-boosting thunderbolt of Zeus!) , or they know about this and are just being ageist ;)

      1. disgruntled yank

        Re: SATs

        Verbal and math were each "re-normed" 100 points upward at some point.

        Having seen the game in action--the amazing $$ charged for prep classes and tutoring--I understand why (like most such measures) the SAT essentially serves as a proxy for the parent's income. At that rate, why not fall back on Latin, as in the days of "Sparky & Co."? The upper middle class will still get its large share of the admissions, and the kids will come away from the whole thing with skills that extend beyond filling out bubbles.

        "or they know about this and are just being ageist ;)"

        Isn't it an invariable rule that each generation thinks that it's elders & eventually its offspring are all dopes?

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Impossible to answer interview questions

    I think there should be one or two of these in any interview, just to assess how the candidate approaches them (not to mention weed out any of the industry's rampant bullshitters that may have got to the interview stage).

    Number of piano tuners? Just start with the idea of the "total number of pianos" (no figure required), take it from there and think it through. Any bullshitter can answer that one.

    AC because of what I've probably just revealed about myself.......

    1. Ru

      Re: Impossible to answer interview questions

      Pfft. The piano tuners question has been overdone.

      Very overdone. Can you estimate at what point in the future that there will have been more successful job applicants asked a tedious estimation question than there are piano tuners at that time?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Impossible to answer interview questions

        "Pfft. The piano tuners question has been overdone.

        Very overdone. Can you estimate at what point in the future that there will have been more successful job applicants asked a tedious estimation question than there are piano tuners at that time?"

        Well, one would think that whole abstract class of question has been overdone by now (though I've never been asked anything that silly in an interview). The article suggests perhaps not and, worryingly, plenty of interviewees still get caught out.

        AC because I'm responding to the response to my comment.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Impossible to answer interview questions

          I would cover my bases on the piano tuner question, by providing logistical answers and quanitifying them with some conditions,...

          Assuming 1 household in 20 has a piano that requires tuning once each 9 months on average, and 1 hour to tune and 30 mins travel time, etc.

          BUT! With the advent of cheaper electronic keyboards and more "rock-n-roll" instruments out there, the demand for tuning real pianos will have dropped off, so this is not a growth market. (Chance for humour) I can't recall the last time I saw a busker behind a baby grand at the train station.

          1. David Webb

            Re: Impossible to answer interview questions

            It's a Fermi thingy (I know, I just read about it) so you have to make an estimate based on estimates which are correct, 5 million people in a city, 1 in 20 homes have a piano, 1/3rd of those get a piano tuned regularly etc then you can work out the correct estimate. There is no correct answer, just a correct estimate based off other estimates which in the end give a wrong answer.

            1. druck Silver badge

              Re: Impossible to answer interview questions

              You can do the estimates of estimates, but the easiest way is to google for piano tuners in the city to see how many there are currently, then ring a few up and try to make an appointment. If they can fit you in right away there are too many, if you can't get any one around for 3 months, there probably needs to be at least one more.

              1. I think so I am?

                Re: Impossible to answer interview questions

                You need to be more abstract than that.

                For (N)number of Pianos there is X number that will require tuning at any time, where Y = the number of piano tuners required to satisfy demand for pianos needing tuning.

                So, as long as there are pianos to be tuned there will always be enough tuners to tune them :{)

                I would write some formula, but cant be bothered.

    2. Graham Dawson Silver badge

      Re: Impossible to answer interview questions

      The answer is actually quite simple: None.

      At least there's never one around when you need one...

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Impossible to answer interview questions

      I was asked at an interview "How many piano tuners are there in London?". After going through the process of estimating (x people have pianos, need to be tuned every y years, z hours to tune, etc) and coming up with a final figure, the interviewer then smugly said to me "would you like to know the real number of piano tuners in London?".

      After they told me the number, I asked how they knew that.

      "We went through the Yellow Pages and counted them up" he replied (getting ever more smug)

      "Oh," I said, "but doesn't that just give you the number of piano tuners who advertise in the Yellow Pages? What about the ones who rely on word-of-mouth or advertise elsewhere?"

      I phoned the recruitment agency as soon as I got out of the door and told them to withdraw my application to work there.

      1. Dan 10

        Re: Impossible to answer interview questions

        knowing zilch about pianos, I was thinking that the question referred to a tool of some kind, in which case I thought your reply was going to be "what about the basic ones owned by all the piano players?"

        Regardless, I'm sure there are many many piano players who can do basic tuning. He didn't count them either. Can't blame you for withdrawing your application.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Questions to ask the interviewers at interviews,...

    How are the technical teams split - by discipline or region? (Discipline is good, Region can be bad).

    Who is the first person in management chain who is responsible for both myself and the other teams? (Lower down the chain is better, actually present in the interview is ideal)

    Does the IT Department have a seat on the board? (if IT is not the primary function of the company; this shows how seriously they take IT)

    Does the company / division provide internal support to an parent division or do they provide services to external companies? (Internal-only IT divisions can be at the mercy of the parent division's favour)

    Whats sort of events has the social club done recently? (Employee-organised events are good indicator of internal morale)

    Do you run SAP? ("No" is the answer you are looking for)

    1. Ken 16 Silver badge

      Do you run SAP?

      ("No" is the answer you are looking for), It runs you...

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Questions to ask the interviewers at interviews,...

      "Do you use Lotus Notes?" ("No" is the correct answer here, as well.)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Questions to ask the interviewers at interviews,...

        "Do you use Lotus Notes?"

        "No, we've just got a consultant to write us a replacement using SharePoint"

        Run ...

      2. Paul 129

        Re: Questions to ask the interviewers at interviews,...

        Hey! Notes is a fantasticly capable product! Just people always want to do wierd stuff with it. When I was dealing with it, it always amused me that it was used for email!

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    You have to be a very special brand of gimp to work in finance

    Having worked for a UK branch of NYSE, I can honestly say the best thing that happened to me was being made redundant. The pay was crap, the hours were both long and unpredictable (so you couldn't even arrange to do something after work as you wouldn't know when work would finish) and my colleagues.. You have to be a very special brand of gimp to work in finance. Sociopaths would shuffle nervously away from that bunch. If you dared to have any plans outside of work you were instantly branded as lazy. They were rude, abusive, would drink themselves to destruction every evening and would even go on holiday together.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: You have to be a very special brand of gimp to work in finance

      Thanks for confirming a suspicion Ive had for a long time. Im glad I didnt buy into the "go to finance and make tons of money" chorus, it seems like its what constantly gets preached at the IT sector but noone seems to understand the banks simply dont give a fuck about you unless you're a banker. I picked Intelligence instead and while its pretty boring, Ive never had to deal with any of that sort of asshattery.

      Anon for obvious reasons.

  11. Chromatix

    The point of the questions...

    The questions about window washing and piano tuning are all about seeing how you approach a problem. They don't really care whether you get "the right" answer, they care whether you're good at making reasonable assumptions and estimates, and working through them to an answer that is reasonable given those assumptions. These are fundamental skills for an engineer, rather than a programmer.

    For example, you might start by estimating the population of Seattle (a few million), then the number of people per household (say 4), then the number of windows per house (say a dozen). Add another window per person to account for the business and commercial districts. So that might make 10 million windows to clean. You can't do that yourself, so you outsource it to a variety of professional window cleaners, let's say they can do a window every 3 minutes on average (given they have to set up ladders and move from house to house) at minimum wage-ish of say $7.50 an hour. That's $3,750,000 in costs so charge $4M to have a little profit margin, or $5M for a bigger one.

    1. David Webb

      Re: The point of the questions...

      But it doesn't stipulate housing, it says windows which could include car windows, as well as the windows on top of skyscrapers including that big pointy round thing, you wouldn't charge someone £5 to wash the windows on that building, but you wouldn't charge someone £5 to wash your car windows too. The answer is very deep and complicated "depends on the window".

      1. Arrrggghh-otron

        Re: The point of the questions...

        Given the industry concerned, isn't the correct answer to “How much should you charge to wash all the windows in Seattle?”, "As much as the market will bear?"

    2. Ru

      Re: The point of the questions...

      That's the theoretical point of the questions. In reality, you often en up with some tedious arse who think he's super super clever because he's heard about this lateral thinking question involving throwing a brick over the edge of a boat into a pond.

      If both parties can understand that the key thing here is to establish some basic problem solving ability (or the lack thereof), great, but as often as not the question is there so that the aforementioned tedious arse can establish his intellectual superiority. Oxbridge interviewers want to find a question which you don't have a pat, rehearsed answer for, because they want to take you out of your comfort zone and see how you respond, not because they get a kick out of crushing you.

      Seems like plenty of interviewers forget that bit.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The point of the questions...

      >>The questions about window washing and piano tuning are all about seeing how you approach a problem. They don't really care whether you get "the right" answer, they care whether you're good at making reasonable assumptions and estimates, and working through them to an answer that is reasonable given those assumptions. These are fundamental skills for an engineer, rather than a programmer.

      Exactly, though it has relevance across more fields than just engineering, programming included.

      In my line of work, our Special Operations Forces have long been doing the same thing by asking what seem like ridiculous questions to see how you think and what kind of "gets" to you. I believe it was the Special Air Service which pioneered use of this as a selection process in the UK's Armed Forces during the Malayan Emergency. Colonel Beckwith saw this and wound up using it in what's commonly known as Delta Force, and Commander Richard Marcinko adapted it to the needs of the Navy for SEAL team SIX. Nowadays its uncommon for a Special Operations Force to not use it to assign personnel to certain duties.

  12. Don Jefe

    Two Points

    The best team I've ever led was at a fair sized brokerage firm & no one one the team had a degree in anything. We kicked ass and each person on the team got $65,000 bonuses the first year & it escalated from there. Comp Sci degrees (like many degrees) do not reflect your future abilities only the fact you're willing to stay in school & be broke. In fact most recent grads are often behind the curve in real world skills & it takes a long time to train them up. HR is a detriment to IT.

    My uni roommate interviewed & got a job at Google. One of the questions was "Use the word displace in a sentence" His response was "fuck displace, burn it to the ground".

    1. Uncle Slacky Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Two Points

      Your last sentence reminds me of someone in my mother's class at school who was asked to use the word "judicious" in a sentence. He came up with, "Hands that judicious can feel soft as your face..."

  13. Wardy01

    No thanks ...

    I don't work for dicks.

    I don't have a degree.

    I also don't earn 60k+ a year.

    Do I care? not really.

    Would I like to earn more? sure who wouldn't.

    Am I any less intellegent than you're average google / banker tech? probably not.

    Intelligence is more about logical thinking that reciting textbooks and most "Comp Science" degrees teach you how to use ancient technology that no one bothers with any more, concepts like "N-Tier" or in some cases "object orientation" are not even mentioned for the most if not all of some of these so called "degrees", concepts that oddly enough I use every day.

    You don't need a degree in math to solve mathematical problems, the fact of the matter is these days you simply need to know how to break the problem down in a logical manner then have the computer do the right working out, it's more about being able to explain the problem than solve it.

    I used to work for a company where I (as the IT manager) reported directly to the CTO who took the attitude "if I don't get it then we don't use it", as a result my plan for a 3 month project that would take the manual work done by 50 people to an automated system run entirely by the computers.

    The "narrow-mindedness" (is that a word?) or some people makes you wonder how they get to be in such positions in the first place ... it just goes to show that it really is a case of "it's not what you know, it's who you know".

    Looking back ...

    Funny how he asked me some odd questions too in interview and I for some odd reason didn't pick up on it or even consider them to be important.

    Another odd one:

    I used to work with a guy who had a degree ... both of us were junior programmers but my history was more vocational training ... at that point we were both first year programmers and I was churning out working code at a much better rate, and quality than I imagined he was by year 3 or 4 of his career.

    1. Rob 103

      Re: No thanks ...

      Chip on your shoulder much?

    2. heyrick Silver badge

      Re: No thanks ...

      "I don't work for dicks." - unless you are self employed, everybody works for a dick. And if you have underlings, they probably think you are a dick. It's the way it goes.

      "I don't have a degree." - what's worse, a mickey mouse degree or no degree at all? Tough call.

      "I also don't earn 60k+ a year." - nor do I.

      "Do I care? not really. Would I like to earn more? sure who wouldn't." - sure, everybody would like to earn more. I'd love to think "my computer is getting on a bit, let's upgrade" or "wouldn't Kyoto look pretty this time of year". However, in exchange for crap pay, lame conditions, and mostly being ignored by management, I have something rather special. I have a job where the only stress happens while I'm actually at work (and even then, it is a minor level of stress). When I finish my work, I clock out, walk out, and don't need to give it a single thought until the next day. Production processes? Turnover? Q&A? NMFP.

      I don't know if that makes me smart or stupid, but I rather like programming and dicking around with hardware and from what I can see, unless you score a good position you may end up regretting it. So I took my own state of zen in preference to wads of cash and fast cars. Neither impress me much, to be honest. I'll hack ARM code on my own time to my own rhythm, and do the boring "job" thing in order to pay the bills and keep me connected. I'm not aiming to be a high flyer, I'm just aiming to be happy.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: No thanks ...

      "I don't work for dicks.

      I don't have a degree.

      I also don't earn 60k+ a year.

      Do I care? not really."

      Try £140+k as a starting point with tax structuring leading to the ability to retire from it early with no mortgage and go do something more constructive. Care now?

    4. Hieronymus Howerd

      Re: No thanks ...

      > "Am I any less intellegent than..."


  14. Bernard M. Orwell


    ..Go to an interview in an asshole industry populated by over-inflated asshole egos and one can duly expect to be asked asshole questions for an asshole job that pays asshole-level money.

    Remember, these are the same assholes who made an ass out of the economy.

    Don't go work for the assholes, and maybe they won't be able to do as much damage in future.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Well...

      In my first year at university doing a systems engineering degree we had careers lectures from various industry bigwigs trying to get us to work for them. There was one company that stood out as offering a serious amount of money for talented maths and engineering grads. They said quite a lot about how exciting the work was and how you could go far very quickly. Unfortunately that company was Lehman Bros, and moving quickly presumably meant out of the window towards the pavement when everything caught up with them a few years ago.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Well...

      The only techie I know that ended up in the financial was already a giant asshole before going to work for Goldmans. Last time I ran into him and he proudly announced he was in algorithmic trading, and then frantically tried to explain how that and HFT were good, useful endeavours and not at all the immoral, make-work activites of financial parasites skimming from the real economy.

      It was quite entertaining. They can keep him.

  15. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    I'm in my mid-40s and /still/ get asked what my 'O' level results were.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    and there i was thinking legal IT was filled with the most twats.

  17. ~mico

    They ask those stupid questions...

    ...because they simply don't know what to ask. They need to evaluate a person they'll be spending months (if not years) with, trust him with their work and depend on him for completing their projects on time - all in couple of hours, with dozens of candidates to choose from.

    The more experienced ones will just make the candidate talk and use their intuition to try to catch his gestalt. Those who can't, will try to ask the run of the mill logic questions to see if he can at least think right.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So Google has not learned from Microsoft?

    Your description of Google's interviews reminds me of the reputation Microsoft had back in the late 90's... Why are manhole covers round? etc. I believe Microsoft has moved on from that approach, certainly when I interviewed there in the mid noughties they laughed at the idea before having me whiteboard a techical approach to a relevant technical problem.

    1. Tom_

      Re: So Google has not learned from Microsoft?

      Is it because manholes are round?

      1. Sir Runcible Spoon

        Re: So Google has not learned from Microsoft?

        Manhole covers - is it so they can't fall into their own hole?

        1. Graham Dawson Silver badge

          @sir runcible

          I guess Microsoft didn't learn much from their own interview questions then, considering the hole of their own making they're rapidly falling into.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: So Google has not learned from Microsoft?

          It's so that you aren't left with unsightly gaps when you put say a square or hexagonal cover into the round hole where they go. ;)

          Next question, why does the centre of a coin not get left behind when you roll it along a table, since the edge is clearly moving faster than the centre ;)

        3. Nigel 11

          Manhole covers

          So they can't fall down their own hole - yes, that's one answer. I've never yet seen an equilateral triangular manhole cover (a shape which is even more proof against falling down its own hole). This answer may therefore be only part of the whole truth.

          Minimizing the stress concentration at the corners (because there aren't any corners) is another possible.

          "I doubt your premise" is also a possible answer. I see plenty of rectangular covers in the pavements I walk. Does it depend on the definition of "manhole"?

          I'll get the job for showing that I can think things through, or not get the job for demonstrating that I'm a smart-ass. It's a crap-shoot. Except that in the latter case, I probably wouldn't want the job anyway.

        4. stanimir

          Re: So Google has not learned from Microsoft?

          and round objects can be well rolled instead of carried.

  19. El Bertle

    "Jaguar driving trader" ? Tsk tsk.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I've been through the interview process for both Cambridge (to study maths) and for Google (to join their SRE team). In neither case and at no stage was I asked anything even vaguely resembling the "off-the-wall" type of question (e.g. the piano tuners one). The Google questions were all technical, largely relevant to the job, and actually interesting to try to solve the problem.

    In some cases in the Google interviews, I pointed out where I'd look something up in the manual, and asked for that information. It was usually forthcoming (or we came to an agreement to treat it as a black box for the purposes of moving the interview forward).

    For the record, I got into Cambridge, and haven't heard back from Google yet (hence AC).

    1. Nick Kew


      The Cambridge part, that is. I did maths there, back in the days when computers were for people a lot richer than students.

      Every time I hear that story about the interviews, I worry about my memory: how could I have so completely forgotten such a thing? Is that Urban Myth I smell?

  21. implicateorder
    Black Helicopters

    I was in a conversation with a friend who heads up r&d at a big midwestern exchange. We were talking about interviewing and he told me how he is always looking for a reason to reject a candidate. I on the other hand look to select a candidate, until they give me a reason not to.

    I once interfviewed for a position of sr systems admin where the other sr interviewed me for 2 hours...rattling off inane questions like what is fcal, what is scsi etc. i had to cut the interview process short by finally asking him what he hoped to find out by testing my general knowlege and how did he expect to understand how well i could drive unix servers by asking me silly questions like that. Needless to say i did not accept their offer...

    I like to see problem solving skills relevant to the role, testing from basic to more advanced levels of knowledge and experience.

  22. Sir Runcible Spoon


    The more inane the questions, the more likely you get an SoR that is a PoS.

  23. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. The BigYin

      Re: I always start with

      A1) It goes down of course. Not because the battery is now in the lake rather than the boat, but because you are now in jail for illegal dumping! :)

      A2) Ban all road vehicles. Well...all except mine. Because I'm brilliant, me.

    2. Ru

      You, sir, are part of the problem

      I mentioned the boat and brick problem at about 2pm, though I'd like to think that you aren't a tedious arse. I'll spare you my smug, trite answers to your questions, at least (mostly. Fix the M25? Build a wall across it. Flow rate then becomes constant and independant of traffic rate. You want to change the spec? Change requests will cost you big time, chief).

      Anyway, I'm failing to make a point. Ask a question related to the sort of work they'll be doing. In software and finance coming up with an abstract problem that they probably won't have come across that can be answered without an excess of effort shouldn't be a big ask. Bricks and ponds just mean you'll find the applicants who have heard it all before. The M25 question is fractionally better, but what it tells *me* is that you are trying to think up Cunning Interview Questions which is all jolly boring.

      As for google and the rest... there are certain kinds of interview technique that result in the hiring of a small range of personality types. You develop a little institution that breeds groupthink like a rotting badger breeds flies and everyone can be super capable and super intelligent and still make products and decisions that are total shite.

      I look at google and see a company that goes out of its way to foster a working environment it thinks will contribute to employee productivity and creativity. And I see a lot of employees who get to work on their own projects, and yet somehow google generates nothing new. Every new product they've done since search has been brought in from outside; they've accomplished some amazing feats of engineering, and they've come up with some impressive tricks but every new product that has been solely in house has flopped. Why do you suppose that is?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: You, sir, are part of the problem

        Exactly, when they need real 'Genius' Google buy it in as with the driver-less car project. All their in house employees are bog standard software engineers. Engineers who genuinely want to change the world or make something new and clever do a PhD and/or join small start-up companies. This is one of the reasons Google (and investment Banks) love maths graduates - they are people who never had a clue what they wanted to do or had any ambition or foresight to build something real. They are like sheep who can be taught to write code.

  24. Brian Miller 1
    Thumb Up

    I think the right answer to all of those things is...

    "GOOGLE IT".

    Then explain how a search engine can go about analysing the question to come up with an accurate answer or set of answers.

    For example whether it means "tuning forks" or "professional piano tuners".

    It can index all the businesses it has in it's databases and come to a figure that is representative of what is known. i.e. number of listings that exactly match or 98% match with added keywords present. etc.etc.

    Then your interviewer knows that you can make a search function that will meet customer expectations.


    Nothing but net!


    1. The BigYin

      Re: I think the right answer to all of those things is...

      "Google it"? Hardly. Maybe "Wolfram Alpha it"

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Solving the traffic problem on the M25?

    Have random, seemingly personalised messages on the alert boards based on the volume and speed or traffic,...

    (High speed, High flow)

    Watch your following distance, John

    Indicate next time, Miranda

    Time for a rest break, Aliksander

    (Low Speed)

    You will still make it in time, Mary

    No lane splitting, Mike

    The perception of being identified personally will have a better psychological impact on the individuals who's name matches the random ones generated, and the others will assume they could also be identified.

  26. Edlem

    "meaningless...almost Zen-like puzzles"

    If you can't recognise and offer at least a vague methodology for solving a logic puzzle, you have no place on a development team.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: "meaningless...almost Zen-like puzzles"

      If you can't come up with meaningful technical questions relevant to the role being interviewed for you have no place running a development team.

      1. ratfox

        Re: "meaningless...almost Zen-like puzzles"

        In general, there is no "role being interviewed for" at Google interviews. They hire thousands of people per year, and have thousands of positions opening. They cannot wait months after they open a position to decide who to hire for that position.

        So they want people who can work in any job, whatever that job will be next month. And the people interviewing you are unlikely to be from your team.

      2. Edlem

        Re: "meaningless...almost Zen-like puzzles"

        Technical questions on a particular language or platform shows mostly what their experience to date is on that particular technology. You get significant additional insight into the ability of a candidate by assessing their general approach to problem solving, and for developers that particularly applies to logic & maths problems. Obviously you don't base the entire interview on abstract puzzles, but they certainly have their place.

  27. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

    It goes on everywhere

    last interview I had , had 6 people doing the grilling (fek knows why)

    Out of the 6 you know you're going to get the guy quoting from the large and obscure yellow robot manual.

    And you'll get 20 mins being grilled on exactly how you program said robot to sing and dance, even though all its going to do is C rotation +90, close jaws, C rotation -90, open jaws for 6 years

    Then the 'smart' guy with the curve ball of "how do you inlay gold thread in a 16th century style tapestry"

    Hint: "Excuse me, I'm here to program robots" is NOT an acceptable answer

    And the final ritual humilation of "please fill out these psyche and IQ test papers" from the lone HR person

    when all you want to do is get the hell away from these satanic bastards.

    So when you ego is being punctured by the finance house IT geeks..... you are not alone

    PS.. best interview I had was "You can program this thing?" , I answered yes "Ok you're hired at £**.** hr from Monday"

  28. Jon 16


    Many years ago I was interviewed by McKinsey for an entry-level consulting job. My 'thought puzzle' was: "A mobile phone company is losing money, why?" I had no idea. I'd not studied business and I certainly knew nothing about the industry. The answer that they were looking for (when I told them straight up after several minutes of flailing) was trivially simple and had something to do with not charging subscribers enough.

    Run forward ten years and I was a technical consultant to a mobile operator. Let's just say that their problems had nothing to do with what they were charging customers. I still wish that I had had the balls to say to this consultant: give me a chance to interview the junior staff and the techies and I'll tell you a host of things that your mindless spreadsheet certainly wont. Ah well.

  29. AdamWill


    "Everyone’s heard the old programmer’s cliche that it’s better to teach a person to fish than to give him a fish."

    Er. That's not a programmer's cliche. It's just a cliche. It predates the existence of the concept of programming by rather a long while.

    (It's usually stated as something like 'Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach him to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.')

    1. Uncle Slacky Silver badge

      Re: What?

      Also, "Build a man a fire, and he'll be warm for a day. Set him on fire and he'll be warm for the rest of his life."

  30. Dire Criti¢

    Q. How much would you charge to clean all the windows in Seattle?

    A. Nothing. I work in IT, I don't clean windows.

    Q. How many piano tuners are there in xxx?

    A. Not enough, it's a dying trade.

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The funny thing is that I have made a small fortune over the last few years selling software development tools to banks. When dealing with these hotshot city teams you just allude to the fact that you do not really expect them to go for the product as it is extremely expensive and only really aimed at a few, very highly skilled, developers. They inevitably buy it. Ego based selling. It works for me.

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not just Wall Street

    I contracted for close on 20 years and hence interviewed for a fair number of companies over a number of sectors in that time, what I noticed is when skills are short companies snap you up even if your experience in an area is fairly light but you seem halfway competent, when the employment situation is as it is now companies devise ever more complex and strange tests in order to thin the herd and also spend ridiculous amounts of time making decisions on whether to employ someone, several weeks to months not being uncommon.

    The written test is my personal favorite including the media company who had a 100 question test, 1/3 questions multi choice, 1/3 sentence, and 1/3 half page, time limit 1 hour, wouldn't have minded if they had been a mix of question types but seemingly every single one was of the "stump the chef" variety covering a number of different areas some not covered by the role, if the client is using Microsoft products a good tip is to download some certification test questions before the interview, companies regularly seem to use these for new candidate assessment regardless of their suitability.

    Love the banks in the City of London's use of "Must have a good degree from a red brick university (i.e. no Polytechnics or Open university) " in employment ad's....ah well guess it's better than "no riff raff!"

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Interview Experiences

    A good few years ago, wanting to break out of games, with its poor salaries and job security, I interviewed for a programming position with a massive US financial firm with a base in London. I can confirm that the interview was much as described above, the only notable difference perhaps was I was interviewed by the staff in sequence, as opposed to as a team. The process began early. I sat bemused in their expansive expensive foyer, too nervous to eat the foods on offer. Even the toilets had stockmarket tickers, although I seriously doubt that serves any use except to make traders believe they have a finger on the pulse (and not their penis).

    The interviews didn't impress me much. Coming from the games industry which is generally fun to work in and populated by genuinely motivated, creative, interesting people, what struck me was how shite this job seemed to be. The IT dept was located in a glass walled basement of this impressive building, and reading between the lines, they expected loooong hours as standard. Commute through London to get to this office for 08h00 and then be expected to work until 19h00? Hmmmm....

    I wasn't impressed by the technical interview. I suspected these people were not strong software engineers, to judge by the focus of the questions, which did seems to tend towards textbook "difficult" C++ questions (actually easy i.m.o.) and interleaved with dark hints that the real job actually consisted of maintaining a horrible legacy codebase (something you no longer can pay me enough to do).

    Then came the smug-based non-programming part, of which I remember some strange bullshit question about being in a room and having a hat on and I had to tell the interviewer what colour it was or something. Just like the textbook C++ questions, many of *these* questions seemed to be lifted from logic puzzle books ("One of the doors only tells the truth, and the other only lies...").

    Finally came a HR interview, a thoroughly unpleasant septic woman. Her job seemed to be to tell me all the rules of working here, one of which I remember was no office romances. By that time I had decided this was certainly not a place I wanted to be, and having a company rule that I couldn't date someone I met through work was a liberty I was unwilling to give away. As it happens, the company decided it didn't like me either, and we went our separate ways.

  34. Jim 59

    All is vanity

    There is a tendency all industries to think we are better than anyone else, because we don't really know what other industries do. If they spent a while looking into the coding challenges behind running a power station, simulating a logic circuit with 2 billion transistors, debugging an air traffic control system, controlling CERN etc., Wall Street techs might have to re-calibrate their self image.

    If it is like the City of London, then the inflated salaries offered by Wall street exist because of the market: the job does not require the best brains, it requires people who are willing to put up with the large drawbacks on offer: huge, unpleasant commute on dirty, overcrowded public transport, long working hours, poor treatment, unpleasant working experience, and a pisspoor quality of life. No wonder they drink.

    "what they left behind was so convoluted, overly complex, and incomprehensible to anyone but themselves that the remaining team members, all highly skilled, had no choice but to scrap it completely and start from scratch — months of labour and tens of thousands of dollars (at least) up in smoke"

    Wall Street doesn't know about basic software engineering ?

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "First they battered me, then they high-fived"

    Good thing it wasn't in Scotland - then they'd have deep fried ye....

  36. Bernard M. Orwell

    Interviewing Tecnique...

    When I interview potential new staff I look for people who are effective communicators, don't have an issue holding a reasonable conversation, respond coolly to challenging statements or questions, and have a genuine interest in what we do.

    I can teach them all the technical skills they need, but I don't have time to shape decent people or teach charisma classes.

    As a result, I have a team of people who get on with each other, respond well to my customers, get on well with me and understand our product range and processes completely (as well as having significant input on how the company continues to develop).

    I think all of these "clever" ways to assess candidates in interviews; these trendy fads in methodology, lose sight of what you really need: the right person.

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