Programmers say the darndest things

Developers and managers share some of the silliest answers to technical interview questions that they’ve heard - or given

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Graffiti on a wall that reads 'Question the answers'

Or, question the people giving these answers

Image credit: flickr/walknboston

Standard operating procedure for most companies hiring software developers is to put candidates through some sort of technical interview. The point is to get an idea of the candidate’s technical chops through some Q&A, which can involve questions about language syntax, programming concepts and general problem solving. As you could imagine, sometimes interviewers get surprising, or downright funny, answers to their technical question either due to a misunderstanding or simply an unqualified job applicant.

Over on Quora, people from both sides of the technical interview processes have recently been sharing some of the goofier answers they received - or gave - to questions during a technical interview. For fun, I pulled out a handful of my favorites. I don’t how many of these were real, of course, but they made me chuckle anyways.

At Google, I asked a guy… a question where the solution involved creating a mapping from each letter to how many times it appeared in a string. I asked him how big his array would be. (I do this to test whether he's thinking about lowercase and uppercase, all ASCII characters, etc.)
Me: How long is your array?
Candidate: The length will be 24.
Me: ...why?
Candidate: Well there's 24 letters in the English alphabet, so we need 24 spots.
Me: Alright, well, that's... pretty close.
Gayle Laakmann McDowell

Interviewing a manager candidate for SRE at Google.  Topic is misc. Unix systems stuff.
Me: How do you kill a zombie?
Candidate: With a chainsaw?
Anonymous

After speaking about a couple of programming languages, interviewer: "Do you know C?"
Me: "I don't really know C, but I can fake it so the compiler thinks I know."
Anonymous

This was for an application support role:
Me: Tell me about a serious incident and how you managed it.
Candidate: I was preparing for a concert with our band. The night before, my hard drive crashed wiping out all our music.
Me: And what did you do to solve this?
Candidate: I walked down to the store, bought a glass of wine, sat down on the sofa and drank it all.
Zsolt Endre

Four of us were talking to a candidate, and asked a question along the lines of "if you could work on anything, what would it be?". To which he replied "of course, given the option I'm sure we'd all rather be shagging our way round Europe as the Spice Boys" (this was in the late '90s, when the Spice Girls were big).
Neil Bowers

At my first tech interview at Directi, the interviewer asked me "What is stack overflow?"
After thinking for a moment and laughing at the immaturity of his question I answered, "It is a site where some people ask questions and some people answer."
Ayush Goel

One of my friends, who is a stud when it comes to programming faced this situation:
He was interviewing someone for a software post, while winding up he asks "Any questions?" the guy taking it literally pulls out a paper and starts discussing about an question from recent ACM ICPC competition. 
Sainath Gupta

In a software interview, I was asked what is ATM(Asynchronous Transfer Mode) ..and I without thinking for a moment started speaking everything I knew about Automated Teller Machine(ATM). 
Anonymous

There’s lots more silliness on the Quora thread. Be sure to add any “funny answers to technical interview questions” from your own experiences.

Read more of Phil Johnson's #Tech blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Phil on Twitter at @itwphiljohnson. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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