The Interview With The Programmer

If the internet has perfected anything, it's the art of the crappy, phoned-in, half-assed email "interview". For all those who have bemoaned the often pathetic state of internet journalism, when it comes to interviews, you're largely correct. The purpose of most of these interviews is quick and dirty content filler with semi-famous folk spouting off whatever random thoughts they happen to have in their head at that exact moment. The Nixon Interviews, it ain't.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at:

It has been my experience that people who read books like this are an immediate no-hire. They’re the one who have time to read books about programming in their free time, but never actually program in their free time. The worst programmers we’ve hired have the largest programming book collections.

Perhaps I’m in an odd part of the industry. I’ve also found that having a CS degree correlates strongly with no-hire as well. Our best hires have been those who’ve had to write a lot of software in the pursuit of some unrelated degree.


The problem is - Jeff didn’t even know to pronounce Knuth and now he is spouting some BS about kicking people to the curb. He continuously shows ignorance of classic CS topics and then has the audacity to suggest that you don’t hire someone because the candidate can’t recognize your name dropping?

Once again I was duped into reading this tripe and commenting on it. Jeff has won again.

Some people are trying to say the critics are being silly because they don’t realize Atwood is trying to show that you should expect those you hire to have some intellectual curiousity but I argue that is hardly the case. The fact is, that is just an example of Atwood promoting a faux intellectual curiousity that only scratches the surface; it’s more vanity than anything else.

@Tarkin, you really think every “buck private” has heard of Napoleon, Montgomery, Rommel, and Leonidas? If so, then I have a bridge to sell you …

Come on guys, it isn’t that hard. I can recognize 6 of them and I’m a shithead. Who doesn’t know who the creator of the C programming language is? The creator of Java? the creator of Javascript?

You’ve never seen a copy of K&R? (do you know what K&R is?)

These aren’t obscure people guys, you’d have to live in a shed and spend your whole life programming basic to have not heard of any of them.

@Charles - Take a chill pill friend… lol. You’ve posted 3 times within 30 minutes. Why would you bother reading someone’s writing if you don’t believe in them? Take off your shoes, walk in the grass and stop trying to use your “superior intellect” to save us from from this blog.

I will never scroll down again. I swear to God. The infinitely small amount of real information that comes from these comments is not worth wading through the trolls.

Thank God I recognized Donald Knuth :)))))

"If the next programmer you interview can’t identify at least one of the programmers interviewed in Coders at Work and tell you roughly what they’re famous for …
… I’d say that’s an immediate no-hire. "

That is probably the single stupidest thing I’ve heard you say. Granted, you’re normally pretty much right about this stuff, but that is an elitist statement the likes of which I would expect from the main characters in High Fidelity (by Nick Hornby)

What if finding out about programmers doesn’t interest me? What if I prefer to find out about computing history and could tell you all about Alan Turing and Bletchley Park?

You, Sir, have made me sad :frowning:

Hey Now Jeff,

Thx, I sure have learned so much about other great coders from your blog & SO.

Coding Horror Fan,



I’d fail your test.

Then again, I’ve only been programming for over 10 years. So much for my bachelor’s degree. So much for those C, C++, C#, Java, and AI classes. So much for my experience in the IT Dev trenches at Intel, Wells Fargo, Nike, and IT focused start-up. What kind of developer do you want a historian who knows who’s who or someone that knows the ideas?

I recognise most of the names, and could tell you a bit about five or six of them (I’ve even met a few), so I’m safe to apply for a role with Jeff :wink:

I think if you read Jeff’s statement as he wouldn’t hire anyone that didn’t know at least one of the names it doesn’t sound so silly. After all, when you hire someone there has to be some common ground in the way you think about things and approach problems.
If you have all these influences and you hire someone that knows none of them, and seems uninterested in them, that can be a source of friction - even if the person you are hiring is perfectly competent and would be fine in a different team.

Sorry but this is just ridiculous. Do you need to know who invented the wheel to work in the automobile industry? Or who invented bottle openers to work in a restaurant?

I agree with a lot of stuff you say, but not this time.

Jeff is hiring only programming groupies.

K&R = Brian Kernighan and Dennis Ritchie

  • neither of whom are on the list of interviews…

I once worked with duct tape programmers, on project that had to be shipped on a regular basis, and I hated it. There was no design, no architecture, everything was just extended to cover new features, and we had to solve problems that wouldn’t exist if we had it done right from the beginning.
Then I read how Jeff and Joel get excited about duct tape programmer Jamie Zawinski from Netscape.
How they just ship the code, and don’t care about anything fancy like COM or CORBA or design patterns.
The problem is, their duct tape code eventually became a giant mudball which they decided to throw away and REWRITE EVERYTHING.
And it was the end of Netscape. The N6 (gecko) was huge and slow. N7 and later, less significant versions were a ripoff of Mozilla’s Firesomething, with features that weren’t used by anyone. Hello?

I don’t know any of those guys :frowning:

That’s it… I’m signing my resignation. There’s no point in me working in this profession.

Mr Atwood engaging with his keyboard before thinking again. So sad.
I am reading this book at the moment. I’m on page 270, Simon Peyton Jones.

A fascinating read. Reminds of the book Dreaming in Code by Scott Rosenberg.

If I remember correctly the interviewees are asked what makes for a good programmer to be considered for a job with them; none have answered that an essential criterion is to name a supposedly well-known programmer/coder/software engineer/computer scientist et al.

More than one mentions that puzzle and coding tests are not useful to them in assessing a person’s suitability for programming. That was a surprise.

Hehe. I got the best one!

Anyone whining in a blog comment is an immediate no-hire!

O darn, I’m fired…

I’ve just finished the second chapter and I am really impressed. There’s some good stuff in this book. Thanks to both of you for exposing us to its existence.