fighting the lack of good ideas

out with the old…

…and in with the new.

On the 31st of December of last year (boy that sounds weird to say “last year” and it only be 4 weeks ago), I traded-in my 2004 Ford Escape which had served me well for 4.5 years (including racking-up nearly 90k miles in the time I had it (and for almost a year it was driven less than 10k miles … which I think means I used to drive a lot)) for a new vehicle.

my cute wife, and our new car :)

my cute wife, and our new car 🙂

We had been looking at replacing one of our cars for a while, and with the end of the year incentives in place, it was a good time for us to do it.

So we are now the proud owners of a 2012 Ford Fusion in “steel blue”. It’s not quite fully loaded, but it’s more than adequate for our needs.

doing technical phone screens

Related to a previous post on career development, I thought it could be interesting to look at one approach to the technical screen that I have used over the past few years when interviewing candidates.

  1. for folks with no “real” experience yet, I ask them to rank themselves on a few key technologies on the “Google scale”
    • the range is 0..10 where a 0 is no knowledge, 1 is some, 10 is “you wrote the book”, 9 is you could’ve written the book, or you edited/contributed
    • on a few occasions, I have had folks ask to change their ranking from their initial [overconfident] statement to one that is much closer to inline with their true experience/comfort/knowledge level – and that’s OK in my book – honesty is always the best policy here
  2. a couple quick “about us” questions – open-ended inquiries that let the candidate tell me what they’ve done for work
    • this verifies their resume
    • gets them warmed-up for the rest of the call
    • allows the candidate to brag on something
  3. perhaps a couple quick probes to find out more about a specific experience
  4. a few basic / intermediate questions to assess candidate’s technical chops (ie, verify that their resume is accurate)
    • this goes along with my personal rule of “never put anything on a resume you don’t want to be asked about”
  5. open-ended, intentionally-vague questions to gauge problem solving ability, and methodologies
    • see how they go about refining the problem statement (if at all)
    • gauge estimation skills
    • gauge teamwork and delegation aptitude
  6. a few intermediate/advanced questions about an area they *don’t* know anything about – to gauge their response to unfamiliar/stressful situations
    • in my field in particular, it is impossible to know every new technology or even (probably) to be truly 100% aware of those that you do use every single day
  7. a few intermediate/advanced questions in their now-articulated fields of expertise (presuming I have any)
    • this verifies more of their stated (and unstated) job experience, and helps determine at what title/work level they should start
  8. lifestyle/workstyle questions
    • how much they enjoy travel
    • how they handle last-minute demands and “requests” by customers and management
  9. a few questions to gauge flexibility of response to changing requirements
    • for example, switching a project from being Solaris-based to Windows-based part way into implementation because a new CIO has come in, or new licensing is available, etc
  10. open time for them to ask me whatever they may wish to know that I can tell them
    • this usually ends-up being very short because the candidate was stressed-out over the interview, and can’t think of anything about the company they want to know on the spot

What I try to NEVER ask:

  • “trivia” questions – I bet there are C questions even K&R couldn’t answer 🙂
    • I guarantee I can ask you a question about your area of expertise you cannot answer…just like I guarantee you could do the same to me
    • since that is the case, trivia questions are pretty pointless, and more of an ego stroke to the asker than anything else
  • pointless “MindTrap“, lateral-thinking questions
    • riddles are fun – but only add to the stress of the interview (like “why are manhole covers round”)
  • pointless problem-solving and estimation problems
    • for example, “how would you move Mt Fuji”, or “how many gallons of water flow into New York Harbor from the Hudson River per hour”
    • estimation problems are wonderful tools and games to play, but not in an interview
  • illegal questions
    • sometimes they slip out, but it’s never intentional 🙂

I adjust my questioning to fit the situation, timing, and candidate responses – so it’s [somewhat] different every time.

When the interview is done, I write-up my evaluation of the candidate and send it on to the hiring manager. In line with Joel Spolsky‘s “Guerilla Guide to Interviewing“, I make sure to put my firm conclusion of Hire/No-Hire near the top, and again at the bottom – with my reasoning in between.

One thing I have noticed about almost every interview I have ever taken or given is that I end up learning something in the process – and not just about the candidate (or company). It’s important to listen to both how and the candidates responds to questions, and what they say.

So, if you ever get the chance to interview with me, you have an idea of how I’m going to run the show 🙂

kirk aragon – lost 25 september 2011

Kirk Aragon was a former direct coworker, and long-time colleague of mine. Kirk died Sunday doing what he loved to do.

I first met Kirk a few days after starting Opsware in January of 2007. He was one of the “named resources” for dealing with our biggest customer, EDS. Kirk’s professionalism, friendliness, and over-powering happiness that exuded from him constantly was a fantastic encouragement to the entire team in Support. A few months later, he returned from his loan from ProServe to go back on the road.

I had the opportunity to learn from him frequently on a variety of subjects – flying (his passion), family, technical intricacies of the product we worked on, great places to eat, work/life balance, etc.

I’m going to quote one of the members of senior HP Management with regards to Kirk:

Kirk Aragon was a kind and loving person, helpful, professional, and a true gentleman.

For Kirk, aviation was his passion and true love. He embodied the American story. As a former Air force captain of 4 years he fuelled his passion for flight, and carried this on to building and flying his unique kit plane. While serving in the Air force, Kirk Met his wife Archana, and later became a very proud and loving father of 2 daughters (12 and 9).

He was beloved, respected and admired by his managers, his teammates and his customers.

Kirk will be remembered by all of us.

“Kirk was always happy as he seemed to always be upbeat. He was an awesome guy and demonstrated everything a professional could.”

“All he talked about was his wife, his beautiful girls, and his love of flying. Kirk was one of those guys you just had to love, and I know our team will miss him as much as I do.”

“Kirk was a gentleman, a friend and a professional.”

“I have not felt this way for a long time. My eyes are moist, and my heart is saddened. It is a sad, sad day. I’ve known Kirk since the days at Opsware. We had SA boot camp and dinner together a number of times. He is a great person, respected colleague, strong teammate, SA expert and friend. He always brought a colorful perspective to our exchanges and made the conversation lively. He is helpful, open and friendly. You feel close and personal with him. His ‘baby’ face is hard to forget. I miss him a lot.”

I am privileged to have counted Kirk as a dear colleague and am deeply grieved by his unexpected death. I hope our memories of Kirk will comfort us. Let us all support Kirk’s family with our deepest sympathy, prayers and thoughts.

Further, some comments left by his friends and colleagues on social sites:

“I remember the time a bunch of us went to ‘China Town’ for lunch and reallocated car pool distribution on the way back to the office and Kirk graciously volunteered to ride in the seat-free doggie/storage area in the back of my Forester since we were short a seat. Afterward, he just happily tumbled out with that impish smile that he shared so freely. I will miss Kirk.”

“Kirk was a great guy.”

“Wow…. this is very sad. He was a really nice guy.”

“I am so saddened to hear of Kirk’s passing.”

“Mourning the loss of a coworker. RIP Kirk. You were a great person.”

I know tributes like these don’t cover everything that needs to be said – and we always regret what we didn’t tell someone when we had the chance when we no longer do.

One thing I can be grateful for, though, is that I have no regrets about what I did say to the man in the years I knew him.

Good bye, Kirk – may God be with your family in this dark time.