January 5, 2006

The funkiest thing

Posted in development, java at 11:25 am by lugnuthorsefly

Back in the good ‘ol days (by which I mean the dot-com boom) I worked for a quite cool web animation company that suffered the misfortune of building things that, while they were technically very accomplished, no-one actually wanted (such as 3D banner ads and two dollar pig movies).

In late 2001 the founders of this company did the only sane thing and shut down the 3D animation side of the business and segued artfully into the shady world of P2P copyright violation, which was more financially viable but may result in them going to jail.
All of which is beside the point.

My point (and I do have one) is concerned with the interview process at BDE, which went through a number of revisions (some of which were known internally as “heard of 3dsmax? you’re in!”, “impatient frenchman” and “Boss’s girlfriend’s brother”). At one time we went in for what I like to call the gangbang interview, which involved the prospective candidate being interviewed by 6 or more BDE programmers and asked essentially random questions designed primarily to make the asker look smart (we thought we were shit-hot because we were almost (but not quite) in the games business – mostly it was a pose but some of us weren’t faking).

In these interviews, one of our developers (who was responsible for the Sega Saturn port of our 3D engine, poor guy) always asked the same question: “What is the funkiest thing you’ve ever done?”

At the time I thought it was a terrible question, not relevant to the technical requirements of the job and likely to lead to a blank kangaroo-in-the-headlights stare from the geekier applicants as they relived their worst not-cool-enough nightmares from high school.

Now that I’m older and (possibly) wiser? I think the “funky” question (or something like it) is an excellent question for job applicants.

Actually, the question itself isn’t as important as its intent, which is to detect some evidence of passion for software development.

And I have selfish reasons for this. I want to work with people who are passionate. It’s more rewarding and more fun. I also don’t think it’s hard to make the case that it benefits the organisation, too (except for extreme boundary cases like the guy who hacks on the Linux kernel until 3AM and then sleeps at his desk all day).

I don’t do heaps of interviewing but I’ve got a few things I always always ask:

1. If you’ve worked with two (or more) languages (say Java and C++) I always ask what you liked about each one and which you prefer. I don’t care which you prefer, I care that a) You have some understanding of the tradeoffs and b) you have an opinion.
2. What stuff do you do in your spare time. If you like development enough to do something in your spare time then you’ll likely care enough to do it well at work. In my experience the justajob crowd tend to be the worst for cut’n’paste evilness.

3. Can you speak with some animation and enthusiasm about something you’ve worked on in the past.

None of these are prerequisites. They’re a big help, though.


  1. Alan Green said,

    If an applicant doesn’t know two languages, I wouldn’t be all that keen to interview them. A programmer that has only ever used one language is either not all that interested in programming, or amazingly close minded.

    I suppose speaking with animation would also have been a good thing at BDE.

  2. ha ha. I got hired on the “heard of 3dsmax? you’re in!” principal

    Oh so true.

  3. MarkP said,

    Excellent first post for your new-look blog! I snorted several times 🙂

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