I was going through Dzone and bumped into this article by Bozhidar Bozhanov explaining his frustration with the interview process at Facebook after being rejected after 3 phone interviews. In the article Bozhanov explains that the interview process consisted of algorithmic skills and general computer science test (recursion, binary search, basic data structures), basically “easy” stuff that any computer science grad should be able to solve and that is the rub that I personally have with those types of interviews. As Bhozanov puts it (better than I could have):
what you do on these interviews is something you never, ever do in real life: you write code without using any compiler or debugger. You do that in a limited time, with people watching you / waiting for you on the line. But let’s put that aside for now. Let’s assume that writing code without being able to run it is fine for interview purposes.
the skills that these puzzles are testing are skills that the majority of developers have never needed. Most people are writing business software, and it does not require red-black trees. What was the last time you used recursion in your business software? So the last time you’ve done anything like that is in college. And many of these problems are really simple if you are a freshman, you did them as a homework just the other day. But then it becomes a bit more tedious to write even things as simple as a binary search. Because you just didn’t do it yesterday. Of course you will be able to do it, but for a little more time, so that you can remember, and for sure by using a compiler. (By the way, the puzzles at facebook were really simple. I didn’t do them perfectly though, which is my bad, perhaps due to interview anxiety or because I just haven’t done anything like that for the past 3 years)
the skills tested are rarely what you will do in your daily work anyway. Even in these cool companies like Google and Facebook, there are still pretty regular projects that require coding to APIs, supporting existing code, etc. I don’t think you will be allowed to tweak the search engine in your first week, no matter how great you did on the interview
interview preparation is suggested and actually required before these interviews. Exactly as if it is a college exam. But that’s dumb – you don’t want people to study to match your artificial interview criteria. You want them to be…good programmers.
focusing on these computer science skills means these companies will probably miss good engineers that are simply not so interested in the low-level details.
And I agree with all of the points. I love programming, but I did not love my computer science classes. I had the most fun in classes that involved web development and database practice, but the theoretical classes, zzzzzzzzzz… In all honesty. So it annoys me when going through an interview process and I am asked questions that I could have answered in 2003 but whose answers have long been pushed out of my general memory. Bozhanov (I agree again) states that “obviously my problem is that I don’t like low-level and algorithmic stuff, so I wouldn’t be able to work for cool companies like Google and Facebook ” not just them but smaller companies that adopt the same practices in looking for candidates.
PS: Jeff Atwood over at Coding Horror has his own views on the developer interview process and #5 and #6 where the biggest source of no-nos from the comment sections and the consensus in my opinion that is that the process Jeff outline was very risk averse for the company but will lose a lot of good people through it. This confirmed what I felt, is that as a developer, unless I am applying for a research oriented position don’t want to be bothered with theoretical knowledge from the past or being taken through loops which I feel are unrelated to what I worked and will be working on.
If you ever had to deal with customer service in Africa (most probably the lack thereof), you will be excited to know that Airtel just opened the first Customer Service Academy in Africa which “will work towards equipping the Airtel customer service personnel from all 17 countries of operation, with the requisite skill set required to deliver customer service of exceptional quality.”.
In relation to the above news, Africa as a tech investment destination has been in the news lately with articles in GQ, Wired, Ars Technica all pointing to the emergence of the continent as the last “tech” frontier and a “lucrative” investment opportunity. There is a growing talk of tech colonialism and I can’t fault some Africans for being cynical, especially as you will understand from the Ars Technica article, “the instant African startups relax their insistence on guiding their own futures, someone else will step in to do it for them”. Given the story of the continent, it is important at this stage of the our story to remain firmly in control of our own destinies, and especially now that the world is a global stage and we have the means to maintain that control, it would be foolish to stand by and watch our tech resources get pillaged as easily and methodically as the mineral and other industrial kind of resources do get on a daily basis.
That enough material to keep your brain sizzling for this week.
Memeburn just compiled a list of 30 African startups and it’s an inspiration to see the list of business models and technologies at play. The startup scene in Africa is definitely picking up, and ideas come from all over the continent. Of course South Africa and Kenya are well represented, as well as Nigeria (TruSpot), but there are companies from Cameroon (Njorku, X-Net), Ghana (Dropifi), Zimbabwe (ForgetMeNot). What is glaringly missing from this list though is an account from other West African countries like Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire, Mali etc, and I am taking it upon myself to put such a list together (They must be out there…). If you are in West Africa and currently working on a startup, please contact me and let me know what you are doing so we can highlight it as well.
AfriNic (The Registry of Internet Number Resources for Africa) is currently working with the Internet society to promote and encourage a bigger African participation in the worldwide IPv6 launch initiative scheduled for June 6th 2012.
Today, March 7th was the last day of a 2-day conference held in Ouagadougou on the topic of “Internet infrastructure for an African Digital Economy”. This event was put together by the African Union for Telecommunications in collaboration with the ICANN, ISOC and the aforementioned AfriNic and was aimed at educating government officials and ICT regulators on Internet ecosystems and the current challenges in term of infrastructure.
On the topic of conferences, another was held in Zanzibar February 29th to March 1st on the topic of African mobile finance with representatives from about 39 countries, as well as banking and financials operatives from diverses African economic bodies (ECOWAS). Finance experts concluded that there are real opportunities to develop finance in informal economies by allowing the 75% of unbanked Africans to have access to banking services through the mobile platform.
In 2011 , First National Bank in South Africa sold 30000 Ipads and 2400 Galaxy (S smartphones) by allowing clients to break down payments in monthly installments, allowing them to boast that they sold one Ipad “every two minutes”. Everybody’s happy!
Arthur Zang is a 24 year old Cameroonian who just came up with the country’s first medical tablet, the CardioPad, which is aimed at helping diagnose heart patients. Zang explains that the tablet will help “enable remote medical exams and the transfer of those results without the patients travelling to the city where the heart doctors usually practice”. The device operates by recording the patient’s heartbeat, which is a common app feature on most of today’s smartphones, and based on an integrated heart diseases databases, transmits the recorded data to the cardiologist who can then diagnose and prescribe the appropriate medications. Zang wrote a thesis about capturing heart rate and transmitting it as a student and after studying electronics at in a Indian university, he created the tablet from Chinese parts. The tablet he says will be useful in a country where there is a cardiologist for every 20 million resident. He is currently looking for investment and backers, as the the table cost 1 million CFA ( $2000 US) to make but is cheaper compared to traditional electrocardiographs which costs about $5000 US .