Giles Bowkett turned up in my Reddit feed today with a thought-provoking article: Programmer Interviews: Two Warning Signs. He says:

“But the ability to locate reference materials isn’t an important criterion in hiring programmers; it’s an important criterion in hiring librarians.”

As I commented over there about a nanosecond before I realised it’d make a decent post for the first time in about ten months:

Au contraire :) I feel that the ability to locate the right kind of reference materials in the right situation is something that is sadly lacking in even some otherwise wonderful coders. In fact, one of my interview questions in the late 90s was “What do you read?”

Even today, it seems that many coders think themselves too busy to actually read up on the right ways to deal with certain challenges, preferring instead to use their ‘initiative’ and fudge around the problem rather than seeking out prior art.

I know, I know – I’m quoting myself, on a comment I made on someone else’s blog. I’m pretty certain this contravenes some basic blogger’s code of conduct that I’d have read if only I’d have found the time (hey, I’m too busy. See above). But my point remains – too many coders struggle for way too long by themselves before reaching for the great white google search box in the sky. And when they do reach for that search box, they use it poorly. Very poorly. I see too few people even use double quotes to indicate that words should occur in sequence, and many give up after one or two searches, whereas I’ll try up to a dozen rephrasings before I’m satisfied that I’ve exhausted the possibilities.

So really all I’m saying is this: the world’s full of people who are cleverer than you and who post to their blogs more often than you do. Use their effort, not yours, since the chances are good that whatever you’re doing is a solved problem. The next interview I perform, I’m going to confront the hapless code monkey in front of me with an obscure ADO.NET issue and a laptop running Firefox and see how long he takes to winkle out the solution. Then I might show him some code and ask him what’s wrong with it, and finally I’ll ask him what flavour doughnut filling he takes (custard is a no-hire).

And Mr. Bowkett, I’d never dream of posting something as potentially career-threatening as this (scroll down to the blue photo, which is probably SFW but not for small children), but props to you for having the brass knackers to so do.

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