If I stacked pennies from the ground to the top of the Empire State Bldg, would they all fit into this room?

Firstly dear sir, you do not have that many pennies.

Secondly if you cash it in for large bills then they all fit in your pocket.

It is a question like this that would make me decide alternatively in my career choice. However I see tech managers searching for really “smart” interview questions and white board problems in an attempt to stump the prospective employee. Is the work you do not interesting enough that you are unable to ask a question related to the job? I have also found that blowing these tests off had zero effect in my employability. If they want you they already want you. Kinda like approaching attractive women.

I have also seen interviews last for days. A friend asked if I wanted to work with him at a three-letter company, but recalling his four day interview I cordially passed. It is like pledging into a frat, I suppose. I can throw a couple keggers and streak to show my commitment to the team.

My background diverges from most so let me try to bridge the gap with a little explanation. My land feet were broken in courtesy of the US Army. Before you dismiss anything, let me assure you this business is bigger than yours. It is a highly evolved consumption machine, and they do human resources with the finesse of a high density feed chute operator.

There is not much of an interview process normally. There is a selection process where the candidates may project their willingness to participate by enduring copious amounts of physical and emotional pain while maintaining a (faux) positive attitude about life.

Once at the new job a ranking non-commissioned officer (sergeant) will walk up and assess how a soldier will perform, who they should bunk with, what weapon platform they are going to carry and if they can pull a girlfriend or not. Yes this happens instantly. Sometimes they get a bad apple, but it is not about refusing candidates since that is not their privilege. It is about getting the apples into the right baskets. Of course some NCOs may target people based on certain characteristics: height, weight, glasses, smug look or whatever caught their attention, but it normally only takes an initial look.

napoleon bonaparte

There are no bad soldiers, only bad officers. - Napoleon Bonaparte, General and Emperor

One thing is very different about the military and private business however and I think this is key. The military needs leaders whereas business grooms managers. Leaders are responsible for their subordinates. This is a very powerful teaching tool you will not forget. It is the leaders’ fault not theirs.

I’ve had a stellar hiring record. There was only a couple people that did not fit in or were not able to produce. This is over 8 years of being in a position where I was primary interviewer or had a say in who came onto the team. I can qualify this measure by saying there are only 2 people I wouldn’t hire again to include hiring for my personal business.

My normal interview will last less than 15 minutes. That’s all I need. Anything else is fluff.

Here is my discovery list and the things I need to know before I get to the “smart guy” or “personality” stuff.

  • What do they like to do.
  • Is coding a hobby.
  • If there is a public code repository, what does it look like.
  • Do they have family. (I know HR keeps telling me not to, but I can figure this out)
  • How far is the commute.

Decoding Requirements: Reading a Resume

A few of those items I can get before hand. I will scan down the resume and see what they have done. Normally I do not go past the skills list though. If I do I just look across a few major keywords in their list.

Next I try to check out there code. Hopefully they can provide something. If they have a public repository great. If they contributed to a project even better. If they do not code on the side it is a big red flag.

I like to see what technology they use. If it is only bleeding edge I will usually pass. That shows hubris and are probably willing to use the office as a lab. If they do not have anything current they might be slow to adopt so I make some notes to ask them.

I always ask design patterns. I believe that if someone cares about their career at all they know this stuff. If they do not know what design patterns are I pass, but I give them a couple study guides. At least know what they are.

The candidate can provide a list of stacks they are comfortable working with. They will most likely list them in order of confidence so I just keep note of that. Then I ask what versions they work with.

They should describe their development environment. If they use mac or linux they get a much better score in my head. Wat? Windows? Fine, I digress.

School is not important. My best guys were either not in languages I wanted, not comp-sci or coming from completely different areas.

Good coders are not good at selling themselves. They shouldn’t have to. I do not like any hype and it is a big red flag.

I try to check social media. If they can not keep their laundry tidy we probably will not work well.

Every Body Says It: Nonverbal Cues

During the conversation I get a sense for their comfort based on how they approach the interview. If they are sitting in a respectful but confident posture either they are really good at faking it or they are solid in the skills they are projecting. Clothes do not matter. We are not hired on our costume skills.

This sort of cold reading is outside the scope of this document, but I highly suggest studying topics related to body language and nonverbal communication. The exact percentage is debatable but most of our communication is nonverbal. At least have a phone conversation before proceeding. This will be the most telling item concerning someone’s “cultural” fit.


Of those items listed there are no right or wrong answers. They simply show me what basket I can allocate someone to. My baskets are very limited sometimes so if I do not have one to fill then I just cannot invent one. That is bizdev’s job.

  • Learn about people.
  • Do not project an ego into the situation.
  • The decision should come easily.

PS. Given the height of the Empire State Building of 1,454′. It takes 16 pennies to equal an inch. If you stacked pennies to that height it would take 16 x 12 x 1454 = 279,168, or slightly less than $3k. Let’s also say you have the ability to pass those through image recognition software grafted to a Diebold change machine to find rare and valuable pennies. Take that and apply the “coupon collector’s problem” with mint counts for the top 20 rare pennies and you come come out with odds or a wild ass guess (WAG) for how that $3k might be worth significantly more for the time and liberal application of available algorithms.

Smart people already figured out these things.