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Testing IT Professionals On Job Interviews? 1057

An anonymous reader writes "After having my university degrees, a couple of IT certifications, and over ten years of work experience in the industry, with 2-4 years of verifiable employment with each employer, working with a wide range of technologies, is it reasonable to ask me to take some test on a job interview? The same companies don't ask other professionals (lawyer, accountant, sales, HR, etc.) to submit to any kind of in-house tests when they are hired. Why are IT professionals treated differently and in such a paternalistic way? More importantly, why do IT professionals accept being treated less favorably than members of other professions? Should IT professionals start to refuse to be treated as not real professionals?"
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Testing IT Professionals On Job Interviews?

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  • by banbeans ( 122547 ) on Monday September 15, 2008 @05:19AM (#25006911)

    I won't take them.
    I have turned down several jobs over it.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 15, 2008 @05:25AM (#25006961)

      If you are going to be that flexible in the interview its probably good for both you and the employer that you aren't working for them ;)

      • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 15, 2008 @05:46AM (#25007101)

        That is true.
        I am interviewing them just as much as they are interviewing me.
        Life is too short to work someplace where I wont be happy.
        99.9% of the time the person doing the interview won't understand the answers anyway.
        Maybe I am just getting old.

        • by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) * on Monday September 15, 2008 @07:02AM (#25007545) Journal

          If you weren't an Anonymous Coward, I'd mod you up. If you weren't a poster on slashdot, I'd give you a big hug and a wet Bugs Bunny kiss.

          It breaks my heart to see talented young people walking into a job interview as if they were being called to the principal's office.

          • by multimediavt ( 965608 ) on Monday September 15, 2008 @07:59AM (#25007917)
            We only have ourselves to blame. Why do you think the interviewers want a test? Because somewhere along the line, in some capacity, they were burned by an unscrupulous IT person who lied about their level of competency.
            • by twistedsymphony ( 956982 ) on Monday September 15, 2008 @08:12AM (#25008007) Homepage

              We only have ourselves to blame. Why do you think the interviewers want a test? Because somewhere along the line, in some capacity, they were burned by an unscrupulous IT person who lied about their level of competency.

              Right because being burned by incompetence doesn't happen in any other field right?

              It couldn't be the fact that most companies haven't a clue how to properly manage IT and grasp for any available opportunity to quantify work done and qualify decisions made even if doing so grossly inappropriate.

              • by stranger_to_himself ( 1132241 ) on Monday September 15, 2008 @08:45AM (#25008359) Journal

                Right because being burned by incompetence doesn't happen in any other field right?

                Actually it does happen in other fields, the whole premise of this article is wrong. I'm a statistician/epidemiologist and every post I've ever applied for has had some kind of techincal test. Some have been more formal than others. Anyway if I was applying for a post that needed a high level of technical knowledge I would expect to be tested on it.

                • by Incongruity ( 70416 ) on Monday September 15, 2008 @09:27AM (#25008937)


                  Yet another example...People applying for research/academic faculty positions at universities usually come and give what are known as "job talks" where they talk about (some of) their research and the current faculty are allowed to ask questions, etc. This is absolutely an assessment of their skills and abilities within their field.

                  Another point I'd want to make is that many fields, such as law or medicine, have formalized, comprehensive tests that are administered and scored by a recognized organization, e.g. the bar exam or medical board exams. IT certifications come nowhere near those tests in so many ways and as such, technical interviews for a technical position in IT shouldn't be considered out of line with what other professional fields go through, as I see it...

                  • by murdocj ( 543661 ) on Monday September 15, 2008 @10:25AM (#25009831)

                    Giving a "job talk" is fine. When I've interviewed people that's usually what I've focused on... what did you do in your last job, and how did you do it? How well can you explain it? If you can't explain to me how your project worked, or it sounds like BS, that's a pretty clear danger sign. Just because you know the details of some programming language or can write a loop in Perl that doesn't mean you can get the job done.

                    And personally, I have to deal with so many languages in one day that I'm lousy at remembering syntax, or the differences between java io library and C# io library, I have to use cheat sheets that I've built up. Doesn't mean I'm a crappy programmer.

                    • by Actually, I do RTFA ( 1058596 ) on Monday September 15, 2008 @11:03AM (#25010581)

                      And personally, I have to deal with so many languages in one day that I'm lousy at remembering syntax, or the differences between java io library and C# io library, I have to use cheat sheets that I've built up. Doesn't mean I'm a crappy programmer.

                      Correct. And any test that doesn't accept pseudocode is retarded.

                    • by hairyfeet ( 841228 ) <bassbeast1968 AT gmail DOT com> on Monday September 15, 2008 @01:30PM (#25013149) Journal

                      See,not that kind of questioning I have NO problem with,as that would mean you would have to have a grasp of what was going on and could actually have a conversation with me about it without my having to "dumb down" or try to fill it with techno babble buzz words. Sadly though too many places are leaving such things up to HR people who have NO clue and are only looking for the "buzzword o' the day" and trying to explain anything to them is like trying to take a room full of Pentium 90MHz and run Vista on it. In the end all you do is get a really nice skull thumping headache for your troubles.

                      I mean look at my example. Some HR genius said "Well this test worked for our last opening. We should use it again." even though the test have nothing at all whatever to do with the actual position being filled. See I would have no problem sitting down an discussing computers with someone that knew what they were talking about. In fact the last interview I had like that me and the guy ended up laughing about how much fun it was trying to chase down VxD errors in Win9X and how much fun it was dealing with Pre SP2 XP compared to Win2K. But sadly you are seeing less and less of that,and more and more of "HR says jump through this hoop".

                      Which is why I'll end up going back to school for economics while I make extra cash running my little PC shop. Because clueless tests and BS certs have really started to take the fun out of IT for guys like me that work on computers because we love the technology and learning new things. While my friends play WoW I fire up a VM just to try some weird new OS just to play with its insides and see what it does. Now THAT is fun to me. But as always this is my 02c,YMMV

                • by NitroWolf ( 72977 ) on Monday September 15, 2008 @09:38AM (#25009093)

                  Additionally, they do have to take a test. It's called Bar Exam, CPA certification, etc...

                  These are standardized tests that everyone agrees is robust enough to demonstrate competence. There is no standardized test for IT workers. No, passing MSCE and A+ crap does not count. A+ is somewhat standardized, but honestly there is no IT test that is worth a crap. Arguably some of the Cisco tests are adequate to demonstrate Networking knowledge, but that doesn't mean you are worth a crap when it comes to fixing a broken down Unix machine or even a Windows machine. It also doesn't mean you can build/rebuild a computer.

                  The field of IT is so broad that coming up with a standardized test is not really feasible. The technology field also moves so fast that a standardized test would be outdated by the time it was developed and agreed upon.

                  Since you only have 2 - 4 years of verifiable employment at each company, I would question your abilities as well. 2 - 4 years is just enough to get a job and for the company to find out you are totally incompetent and then fire you. If you had said 6 - 8 years per company, then you might have a case.

              • by Salgak1 ( 20136 ) <[salgak] [at] []> on Monday September 15, 2008 @09:43AM (#25009185) Homepage
                Or for that matter, how to look for IT people.

                I remember, in particular, a 2002 ad looking for people with 5 or more years of Windows 2000 server experience.

                Or the people looking for 10+ years of experience in JAVA in 2003 (which only debuted in 1995. . . do the math. . .)

                The real problem, is the clueless tyrants in HR. . .

                • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 15, 2008 @11:58AM (#25011445)

                  Those are fake jobs, used to justify the need to import (cheap) labor, principally from India (as far as IT goes, nurses get hammered by H1B visa's too). They advertise a job, no one applies since the requirements are mathematically impossible to fulfill and the "vacancy" is filled by an H1B.

                  Note: I'm not against immigration, I say if they are really worth it (H1B visa), give them a permanent green card immediately. Make the company pay for it (verification, testing, etc) and make them hold a bond equivalent to a foreign investor visa. That saves the taxpayer, the immigrant who can now freely change jobs w/o need for further sponsorship and the native worker who would otherwise have to compete with non-free labor.

                  H1B's require sponsorship to stay, so they are not free as in freedom workers.

          • by MrMarket ( 983874 ) on Monday September 15, 2008 @09:56AM (#25009357) Journal
            Many jobs in marketing, pr, and administrative have writing tests. Also, let's take a look at the other professions mentioned: law - they have the Bar exam; accountant - CPA and CFA exams; sales - commission-based with low base salary, so less risk to hire; HR - well, there would be no HR "professionals" if they had to be accountable for knowing anything.
          • by Mysticalfruit ( 533341 ) on Monday September 15, 2008 @10:22AM (#25009769) Homepage Journal
            I understand where the poster is coming from (since I've been there) and I also see it from the side of the employer (where I am right now).

            The biggest problem I run into when hiring an "IT Professional" is that a good 60% of them either outright lie or hilariously exaggerate about their experience/training.

            I'd much rather hire a person whose honest about what skills he/she does/doesn't have but demonstrates solid problem solving skills.

            If you've never administrated a SAN, don't tell me that you have and not expect me to ask a few probing questions....

            Referring to yourself as an ESX guru but then not knowing what vmotion is won't win you any friends (or a return interview).

            As a general rule, before my boss is going to let anybody loose in the server room, expect to spend a couple of hours in a conference room in front of a white board.

            Expect to be asked about your experience and expect to demonstrate problem solving skills related to those skills.

            Expect to be given some theoretical problems and be asked to solve them. Also, an answer of "I'd have to check google" is actually okay.
      • by wisty ( 1335733 ) on Monday September 15, 2008 @06:41AM (#25007421)
        OK, google "fizzbuzz". A large number of people in the industry (especially "qualified" ones, who haven't been selected for skill) have no idea how to work with computers. People plagiarize at university, get friends to sit their exams, and lie on resumes. There is no better indicator than an on-site, in-person coding test. Some tests are better than others (some employers are not too competent themselves), but there is no other way to verify whether a potential hire is remotely competent. It's not the only indicator (other indicators can be used once the candidate has been pegged as potentially useful), but failing to use it is suicide for any business that can't afford to have worse than useless programmers.
        • I went to a job interview in '99 for a contract doing Network Admin for a pretty major bank; I had no certs, no degree at the time, but I had been working off and on with Tek systems for several years and they knew I had extremely extensive experience.
          The Bank didn't want to interview me, but the recruiter sort of insisted; they were asking for people qualified in NT, Solaris and OS/2, and I was really about the only person they had available at that time with the right mix.
          It was a working lunch interview; They started asking questions, and I started answering. then came the question, "what command would you use to upgrade a NT workstation machine to NT server?"
          I replied that you would probably be best off formatting the drive, then installing it, as there was no good way to upgrade; Microsoft said you couldn't do it at all, and the workarounds were more trouble than they were worth.
          The interviewers sort of grinned, and told me that of the 20+ people they interviews, all of which had at least a MCSE or a comp sci degree, not a single one of them had answered the question correctly.
          At the time I had problems believing it, but as time went on and I got in to situations where I was doing interviews it got more believable; in the late 90's if you worked on computers, it was probably because you were a computer enthusiast and actually more or less enjoyed working with them; after about '98, you started running into people that were just doing it because it paid well; they might be damned smart people, but you lose something when you don't actually enjoy working with computers.
          I also saw a lot of people who just were not smart enough, but were somehow able to cheat or memorize well enough to get a degree; when you asked them something that wasn't in anything they had studied, they didn't have the core of hands-on knowledge that would enable them to make an educated guess at the answer.
          So, yeah, I have to agree, interview everybody no matter what their credentials are.

          • by Jedi Alec ( 258881 ) on Monday September 15, 2008 @07:39AM (#25007765)

            In 2001 I worked as a supervisor in a callcenter(by now bankrupt and bought out) that specialized in tech-support for consumer software and hardware. At one point our recruiter asked me to test an applicant she didn't have a good feeling about. The applicant had numerous impressive looking certifications on her resume and quite a confident demeanor about her abilities. She claimed to be specialized in Microsoft operating systems. Note that this was your typical callcenter full of pc enthusiasts, many of whom had no formal education in IT whatsoever.

            Long story short, at the time we also did support for a company that distributed a number of very popular pc games, so I gave the applicant a game consisting of 3 cd-roms and asked her to install it on a typical win98 workstation. After watching her struggle for about 10 minutes, while completely ignoring the big autorun window with the huge "Install game" button on it, we decided perhaps hiring her would not be such a good idea after all...

        • FizzBuzz is great; we use it on every single interview for a programming position, regardless of experience. I've seen people come in with 10+ years of programming experience, and completely screw it up.

          More importantly than just showing whether or not somebody can code, it shows whether or not they can handle simple tasks under pressure. I'm sure most of those applicants could have completed it at home when they're not being watched, but if they can't do it in an interview, then how are they going to perform on-site at a client, when a major bug just popped during a production push?

          • FizzBuzz (Score:5, Funny)

            by KingOfTheMoon ( 1315575 ) on Monday September 15, 2008 @02:30PM (#25014383)
            CAN HAS STDIO?
            I HAS A NADA ITZ 0
            I HAS A VAR
            IM IN YR LOOP
                UP VAR!!1
                    I HAS A ANZER ITZ ""

                    BOTH SAEM MOD OF VAR AN 3 AN NADA, O RLY?
                       YA RLY ANZER "Fizz"

                    BOTH SAEM MOD OF VAR AN 5 AN NADA, O RLY?
                       YA RLY SMOOSH ANZER AN "Buzz" MKAY

                    BOTH SAEM ANZER AN "", O RLY?
                       YA RLY
                          VISIBLE VAR
                       NO WAI
                          VISIBLE ANZER

                    VISIBLE ":)" BTW DAS A NEWLINE
                    IZ VAR BIGGER THAN 100? KTHXBYE
                    BTW IMMA SO GUNNA GET HIRED!

            IM OUTTA YR LOOP

      • by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) * on Monday September 15, 2008 @07:00AM (#25007531) Journal

        Please, please people, remember that a job interview is also your chance to evaluate an employer. If there's any aspect of a job interview that makes you feel like you are being disrespected, you can bet that this will be a company that will show you little respect as an employee. Humiliation on a job interview is an excellent indicator of future happiness at that company.

        If you believe in your skills, if you believe yourself to be valuable, do not be afraid to say "no thanks". The reason many workers feel like they are being treated badly is because they are being treated badly.

        You are going to be spending the major part of your waking hours at your job. You should be choosing very carefully.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by easyTree ( 1042254 )

          Umm. Surely being given an opportunity to demonstrate one's skill/flair isn't disrespectful? Don't you want to show off?

          • by aclarke ( 307017 ) <spam&clarke,ca> on Monday September 15, 2008 @07:39AM (#25007775) Homepage
            It depends on how it's done. I remember back when I had maybe 2 years of experience, looking for a job. I got an interview with a company, drove the 30-45 minutes there all dressed up in my one and only suit. I introduced myself to the receptionist, who handed me a 12 page test and told me to "sit over there" and fill it out.

            I sat down and looked at it for maybe 5 minutes. Nobody came out and introduced themselves to me or asked me any questions about myself. I thought, "Is this the sort of place I want to work?", decided the answer was "no", got up and walked out. That was the last I heard of them.

            That sort of treatment of a potential employee is disrespectful. If they'd interviewed me, decided they liked me and wanted to verify some skills and asked if I would take a test, that would be completely different.

            On a sort of related note, I had an employer later on who was considering making potential hires take a personality test. He asked us for our feedback and I told him that if he'd asked me to take one before being offered a job, I would refuse. In an interview, I have no idea who these people are, and if they're qualified to read a personality test. Those things in the wrong hands are a weapon to limit you more than anything. If the test says you're below par at problem solving, or people skills, or whatever, prepare to be pigeonholed for the rest of your time there, if you're lucky enough to get the job. I'm not saying they're useless in all cases, but it takes a trained psychologist to correctly asses the results and determine where they can be usefully applied and where they cannot.

            I think almost any reasonable person reading this discussion would agree that some sort of verification of an interviewee's credentials is a good idea during the interview process. It's how it's done that's up for discussion.
            • by Anonymous Brave Guy ( 457657 ) on Monday September 15, 2008 @08:17AM (#25008051)

              Surely being given an opportunity to demonstrate one's skill/flair isn't disrespectful?

              It depends on how it's done.

              Exactly. I'm in the camp that says some sort of programming test is fair for any level. If you're really a "Senior software engineer" with "excellent $LANGUAGE skills" then writing something like fizzbuzz will only take you two minutes, right? The number of people I've seen come to an interview making that sort of claim who could not code fizzbuzz is scary. Perhaps unsurprisingly, my tolerance for taking this sort of test myself increased significantly when I crossed from being an experienced developer who just found them patronising to having the kind of role that also involves sitting on the other side of the table from time to time and seeing what some of the other candidates are like.

              On the other hand, I rather doubt I'll ever be working for the kind of place that has a whole-day interview process that consists of solving an endless series of trivial programming problems, followed by a load of "Have you seen this one before?" questions like the 1/2/5/10 problem. These tests are only useful as a block for the low end prankster, not as a way of gauging how good someone competent really is. After the first couple, if it seems like there are going to be more, I will take control of the interview and, usually, end it shortly thereafter.

              This is a valuable reminder that interviewing is a two-way process, and that those applying for higher positions with more responsibility should be entitled to ask "difficult" questions that any competent employer should have no difficulty answering, too. Just as a significant proportion of interviewees are a joke, so are a significant proportion of interviewers/employers. These days, I'll basically let a prospective employer run the first interview, but if I'm called back for a second interview so I know they are serious, I will ask to see a sample of their production code and a sample of their development documentation, I'll ask straight questions about their software development process, company culture and working conditions, and if I'm still ambivalent perhaps I'll ask to speak privately with a current employee who is doing a similar job to the one I'm applying for.

    • by El Yanqui ( 1111145 ) on Monday September 15, 2008 @05:29AM (#25006987) Homepage

      It can be annoying, but I hardly think it's that big of a deal. I don't work in IT, I work as a creative in advertising, but I've had to take 'tests' when applying for a job. I'm given a sample brief and asked to come up with a campaign concept.

      I'm given those tests because agencies work differently with different accoutns and some people are just not good fits from one to another. I would imagine the potential exists for an IT professional with a glowing CV to still be a poor choice in a particular company. At least they're not testing your social skills as well.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by tinkertim ( 918832 )

        A FLOSS(ed) resume helps avoid them. Work on the free/open source programs that you like, then point your employers at commit diffs (as well as your responses to idiotic questions on the respective mailing lists showing that your tolerant and work well with others).

        8/10 times, in my experience .. an employer is just as happy to browse my Mercurial repositories as they are to give me a test. Sometimes, though .. they make the test a little harder after viewing my repos :)

        When you run into 'head hunters' , th

    • by nahdude812 ( 88157 ) * on Monday September 15, 2008 @06:27AM (#25007353) Homepage

      It is entirely reasonable. Having a degree, and even several (perhaps many) years of verifiable / verified "experience" says very little about your actual qualifications. One of the best developers I know has a degree in history, and within 6 months of beginning development was producing better quality work than some guys who have been developing for years.

      Also the number of people who lie about their qualifications is unbelievable. Many previous employers are afraid of getting into legal trouble and so will never give a real reference, either positive or negative. They'll basically only confirm dates of employment.

      Finally, this industry is full of really excellent snow job men. People who have convinced their previous employer that they're really a cracker-jack developer, when in fact they are only barely able to cobble together code examples from other people.

      Also it's not infrequent for several candidates to have what looks like reasonably similar experience on paper, yet differ widely on actual performance skills.

      Last month, we interviewed a guy for a ColdFusion developer job, and when we asked him what the difference between a Struct and an Array were (one is associatively indexed, and does not preserve insert order, the other is sequentially numerically indexed and of course does preserve insert order - an equivalent to a HashMap and a Vector), he sputtered and stammered for a few seconds, then proceeded to read us search results from Google (we all followed along on our end) which were not an answer to the question ("Let's see, you can append a Struct. Oh, but then you can append an Array").

      Some consultant firms make money only for placing a body in a seat. So some of these firms actually falsify resumes and provide references which are also false (they employ the people who answer the phone or respond to the email when you check the reference). They even go so far as to have a handful of guys who do the phone interviews - and these are not the same guy who shows up. Some times the guy who shows up has no experience with the technology at all.

      Plus, who told you other professions don't get tested? Some jobs even come with personality tests - maybe they're looking for someone hyper aggressive, maybe they're looking for a peace maker. Though such tests are usually for higher up positions, and usually only for the short list of candidates.

      It's not degrading in the least to be required to take a test to prove your qualifications. If you have the qualifications you profess to have, you should have no problem with the test.

      It's safeguarding the company at hand, and if you wanted to refuse to take the test, we would want to not hire you. It's a matter of there being too many slime balls and con men out there in the world, we can't take you at your word until we know you. Until then we need to ask you to prove yourself to us.

  • by Sparr0 ( 451780 ) <> on Monday September 15, 2008 @05:20AM (#25006913) Homepage Journal

    Because it is far easier to get "university degrees, a couple of IT certifications, and over ten years of work experience in the industry, with 2-4 years of verifiable employment with each employer, working with a wide range of technologies" without a shred of competence in our field than in most others.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 15, 2008 @05:32AM (#25007007)

      Because it is far easier to get "university degrees, a couple of IT certifications, and over ten years of work experience in the industry, with 2-4 years of verifiable employment with each employer, working with a wide range of technologies" without a shred of competence in our field than in most others.

      No, its not. However, the craft of coding can be tested in an interview. Software engineering mostly cant (because it includes strategic and long termn decisions).
      There is not much craft in "most other fields" - they depend more on virtues like thoroughness etc. - which cant be tested in an interview.

      Skills can be tested in an interview, virtues less so.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by williamhb ( 758070 )

      It is true that it is difficult for an employer to tell a good employee from a bad employee. Sadly, this has lead to what I can only call "hiring voodoo" -- the irrational belief without evidence that a relatively untrained interviewer will mysteriously be able to find out more about "what a candidate is really like" in an hour than the candidate's university or co-workers (references) found out in several years. Even stranger beliefs have cropped up over the years -- eg that artificial toy questions lik

    • Wrong. It is only that incompetence in IT is much harder to cover up than in those professions. When IT systems fail, they can fail spectacularly and effect wide numbers of people. An incompetent IT persons mistake will cause an essential server or the like to fail. If they're not competent to fix it promptly, it will show.

      Inversely, when a lawyer, accountant, sales, HR person, etc screws up, the screw up will not be noticed as much unless it reaches epic proportions. It's easier to mask a mistake in these fields, and with the softer ones, e.g. PR, their metrics are so fuzzy that the difference between competence and incompetence is blurry anyway. Plus they are trained in buzz speak which they blurt out like a frighted squid spurts out ink to mask their escape.

    • by Moraelin ( 679338 ) on Monday September 15, 2008 @06:16AM (#25007289) Journal

      1. Yep. Let me even give an example. It didn't happen in a team I was in, but I know several people from that team.

      So they got a new guy who had some outstanding experience, according to his resume. He had worked on major enterprise projects, been an architect, ate Enterprise Java Beans for breakfast, etc.

      Turns out he was utterly incompetent. He spent about a month just getting used to their architecture and IDE and everything, apparently everything they did or the way they did it was new to him, and he needed some time to accomodate. Fair enough. Then started working on something, but never was quite done with it. Eventually they started asking to see some results. He started randomly changing files and checking them back in. The first few times he even had a good excuse, like "oops, I hadn't worked with this particular versioning system before" or "oops, I forgot some other file that mine depends on." There go a few more weeks, before it's obvious that his changes can't possibly even compile, because they have elementary syntax errors.

      Eventually they fire him, but by now he's got several months of "experience" there.

      Then someone finds his updated resume online. The guy claimed he singlehandedly improved their architecture, increase performance X times, got project management back on track, etc.

      2. 'Nother example, my ex-coworker Wally. Spent two years on a trivial module, whose core someone else rewrote from scratch in 6 hours. It took another two weeks or so, mostly of testing, to get it bug-for-bug compatible with his, since a couple of teams already had their own workarounds for them. (Trying to get him to fix it was a bit like negotiating with the terrorists.) The rewrite was also benchmarked as 40 times faster than Wally's on large data sets. Literally. Measured.

      The thing everyone remembers fondly about him, is how he asked for 2 weeks just to estimate the effort to fix a trivial bug. He got it too. (His team leader was a bit a Mr Testicle: technically he was involved, but he kept out of it as much as possible;)

      He also massively practiced obfuscation. Any of his modules contained half the techniques from How To Write Unmaintainable Java code (literally) and megabytes of files copied from unrelated stuff to pad the number of lines of code per day. Obviously, it worked on his team leader.

      Then he got moved through the maintenance of two other programs (one at a time), and just managed to make them both worse.

      There we go, that's his provable 2-4 years employment. Well, ok, 5 in his case.

      3. Example number 3: Old Father Williams. I got to think of him that way after a particular fortune on my linux box:

      "You are old," said the youth, "and your programs don't run,
      And there isn't one language you like;
      Yet of useful suggestions for help you have none --
      Have you thought about taking a hike?"

      "Since I never write programs," his father replied,
      "Every language looks equally bad;
      Yet the people keep paying to read all my books
      And don't realize that they've been had."

      Pretty much spent 6 years in a place complaining about everything that everyone else did. Coding style, IDE, OS, _everything_. His first choice of a whine was Windows, which might even have had a point, but when Linux was finally allowed and half the team switched to Linux, plus the servers actually went Linux... he proclaimed Linux to be sell-out crap for idiots, and switched to preaching BSD.

      He also caused a reformat-and-commit war in which he was preaching _three_ space tabs, as spaces. And wasn't affraid to check out someone else's project and reformat it, to make his point.

      He spent two years, just "modernizing" the build process. Nobody knows what he experimented with on his c

      • by Chrisq ( 894406 ) on Monday September 15, 2008 @06:42AM (#25007429)

        4. Abdul, the apprentice of Wally. He got hired through a workaround, since hiring more coders was on hold at that corporation. So someone hired him as a web designer, then hastily dubbed him programmer. Ironically, he seemed actually decent at web design. As a programmer, the consensus is that he's too stupid to piss holes in snow. Seriously, he doesn't understand even the elementary basics, and is constantly on the look out for someone to pass solving anything onto.

        Has that job for some 4 years now, since firing him would face the same problem with hiring a replacement. So he's keeping his job by sheer virtue of being marginally better than nothing.

        Companies are really bad at dealing with this. I was in a company who gave a web developer a shot at a trainee programming position. She was an excellent web designer, but a really poor programmer. I was her team leader, so I asked her if she was happy with her new position, and she said "no, I just don't seem to think that way. It is difficult and seems to be quite tedious".

        I asked her if she would like to move back to her old position, and she said yes. I thought this would be no problem, as we were noticing that the look & feel of the public site was not as polished since she left that group.

        I hadn't counted on HR.

        "you can't go from a trainee programmer to a senior web developer, that's two level's difference. She will have to move sideways to trainee web developer" They said. I pointed out her experience, the fact that she had done the job before and had excellent reviews but it was to no avail. They made a "concession" that she could move to "web developer" with a promise of promotion to "senior web developer" with in a year "if she performed OK", but anything else would contravene the HR procedures manual!

        We lost her. I don't blame her, she took a senior position in a small web company. Career wise this has been a good move for her, the company has done well and she is now in charge of a department. It was our loss though, sometimes the company is so stupid.

  • by richlv ( 778496 ) on Monday September 15, 2008 @05:22AM (#25006933)

    because you (the employer in this case) never know.
    a person can work in various places, have diplomas... and still be unbelievably stupid.
    i'd argue that other professions should gain some tests (i know a lot of them actually do, though those tests usually involve more generic skillset, like being able to work in a stressful conditions or under external noise, ability to quickly analyse particular information of the field etc).

    • by MikeFM ( 12491 ) on Monday September 15, 2008 @05:56AM (#25007151) Homepage Journal

      My experience is that the majority of employers and the majority of employees are equally stupid and deserve each other. If you're at an interview and they seem retarded then you probably want to move on.

      Anyway, a person can pass the kind of stupid tests given at interviews and still be a retard. I wouldnt't give such stupid tests to people I hire and wouldn't submit to such a test.

      The best thing an employer can look for is a portfolio. Look the work over, ask questions about the work, double check that it isn't just stolen from some open source project. If their work is good, even if unrelated to what you're doing, then they'll be good. If not, or if they lack a portfolio, then toss them.

      If you're going to claim to know Java then write a program in Java and put it in your portfolio. If you're going to claim to know Linux then write some tools to make managing a Linux server easier and show you know common command-line programs and config files. Do that sort of thing and then employers can know what you know.

  • Measurability (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Big Nothing ( 229456 ) <> on Monday September 15, 2008 @05:22AM (#25006935)

    A simple answer is that IT knowledge is a more quantitatively measurable than many other professions. Another factor is the high percentage of self-learned IT professionals. You don't see any "self-learned" lawyers, but self-learned IT pros are commonplace. Lawyers have been tested previously (bar exam) while the IT pro may never have passed any formal testing.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by symes ( 835608 )
      This is very true - there's the chance some IT guru's only way of demonstrating effectiveness is by example rather what is on paper (certificates and the like) - and having recruited recently, if you ask one applicant to do some test then it is only fair that you give the same to every applicant.
    • Re:Measurability (Score:5, Informative)

      by martin-boundary ( 547041 ) on Monday September 15, 2008 @05:55AM (#25007147)
      It's also possible that the interviewers feel that specific IT knowledge becomes obsolete very quickly. If you've been around since the 80s for example, then the specific skills you had when you started are no longer relevant (general skills are another matter of course). If you haven't used a relevant technology that the employer needs in at least two years, the interviewers may feel the need to test you on it.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by MikeFM ( 12491 )

      Another factor is that having a degree or certification in IT, or ven ten years of job experience, doesn't actually mean that you know anything. There is no easy way to judge an IT job candidate on paper. Tests are a poor method also though - better to look at a portfolio and ask the right questions about the work in the portfolio.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by DarkDust ( 239124 )

      BTW, I prefer self learners as programmers (read: coders) over people with degrees. My experience is that they are more dedicated and know more about real world problems. That's simply because a CS degree is not focused on making you a programmer but a more general problem solver.

      So when you want a coder you have to check what he really knows, not what diplomas he's having (that only gives a hint). Story is completely different if you're looking for someone higher up the food chain, of course.

  • by EricTheRed ( 5613 ) on Monday September 15, 2008 @05:22AM (#25006939) Homepage

    When I've been holding interviews, I always make up a set of tests just to make sure what they put on their CV is accurate.

    The number of times I've had someone put on their CV they can do something we are after, but in reality they know Sh*t about it, has only really come out when they do the test. It also helps to pick up those who are good at taking exams but don't know how to handle themselves in the real world.

    Unlike the other professions, IT doesn't have a legal backing. i.e. lawyers and accountants have qualifications that are backed by some law or another so if they write bullshit on their CV then it can come back on them. Not with IT unfortunately.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by nietsch ( 112711 )

      It also helps to pick up those who are good at taking exams but don't know how to handle themselves in the real world.

      Are you sure a bout that? Seems to me you are just presenting another exam to them, which by your own definition, they know how to handle.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by EricTheRed ( 5613 )

        It also helps to pick up those who are good at taking exams but don't know how to handle themselves in the real world.

        Are you sure a bout that? Seems to me you are just presenting another exam to them, which by your own definition, they know how to handle.

        Not quite. With the exams, they have resources available to give them the answers (i.e. textbooks, MCSE Cram's etc), but with a test within the interview, they won't necessarily know the answer until they see the test.

        The tests I use are more real world as they are usually based on a problem I have had within the previous couple of weeks, not something they would get from a text book but something they would know from experience.

      • by deroby ( 568773 ) <> on Monday September 15, 2008 @06:37AM (#25007411)

        Not quite,
        at school you can guess quite well what the questions will be, so with a bit of 'educated guesswork' you can pass any exam without really knowing 'everything', let alone 'understanding' it. Heck, you spend over 10 years learning to 'work' the system, it's no surprise one gets good at it.

        When we hire people we try to prune out those that either simply wrote the right words on their CV and/or those that worked their way through education purely based on the above way. Not because we think they 'cheated', but because we are looking for people to help us with a certain task that involves certain skills. (This is for development job, I'm not sure how the Sales department does it's selection =)

        It's amazing how often people will write to be 'very good' at eg. SQL while all they know is that it stands for "Structured Query Language". When asked to write a query 'out of thin air' to get the most recent date from a simple agenda-like-table and they are unable to come up with ANYTHING, then we both know where are wasting each others time.

        Before we tested people, we got burned once too often by people who bluffed themselves into the company but turned out to be more of a burden than a helping hand =( By introducing simple tests we now only waste time at the interview level, we don't have to put time into educating them something they claim to be expert in already. That said, we sometimes DO hire people who /fail/ the test, simply because they show potential and we ARE willing to put time & effort in them. You'll find though that this will is a lot less present when the candidate's CV turns out to be 90%+ 'vapoorware'.

    • by Chrisq ( 894406 ) on Monday September 15, 2008 @06:53AM (#25007491)
      A couple of real life experiences:

      CV: Two Years Oracle Database Experience
      Real life: I wrote some hibernate code that ran against an Oracle database.

      CV: Experience of XML and XSLT
      Real life: I configured tomcat, that's XML. XSLT? Isn't that the same thing?

      CV: 5 years. Java, C and Python. Real life: I wrote some C five years ago and changed it again recently. (his Java experience was fine). I edited a python program once when the input format changed, no I really couldn't write anything from scratch.

      One of these actually got the Job, because he apologised for his CV and then gave a real account of what he knew that matched our tests. He said the agency put all that rubbish in after he filled in a check-box questionnaire!
  • The why... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Manip ( 656104 ) on Monday September 15, 2008 @05:23AM (#25006945)

    Because unlike Accountants, Lawyers, etc we actually have to work for a living...

    If we're bad then stuff just doesn't get done. If an accountant is bad they still get $100k a year.

    Doctors still have to prove themselves multiple times just to be able to get into the interview. Years and training and testing.

    I like to think of us more like Doctors than professional bureaucrats.

  • by Meshugga ( 581651 ) on Monday September 15, 2008 @05:25AM (#25006957)

    thus the whole question is futile.

    Skill assessment is done in almost all kinds of professional employment situations . yet it depends mostly on the hiring policy of the department of that particular firm if there will be an assessment.

    And quite franky, I think there is a good reason why this is done with IT jobs more often: analytic and associative thinking and problem solving are not skills you can learn.

    Plus, IT jobbers tend to be more annoyed by moron colleagues than non-IT employees.

    And lets not forget that there is a huge amount of moronness out there - I myself did Job interviews with certified whatevers, who applied for a sysadmin position and couldn't tell me what information a notation like "" provides. And thats just the very basic for such a job, but it already weeded out two thirds of the applicants, *completely unrelated* to their educational history or other certified qualifications.

    And last but not least, it always depends on the quality of the respective management if such an evaluation is done: and speaking for me and my experience, a company should do it in *all* sorts of positions, no matter how professional, experienced and well educated an applicant is.

    • by arth1 ( 260657 ) on Monday September 15, 2008 @06:59AM (#25007527) Homepage Journal

      As long as you're tested by a human who understands the very background for the questions asked, tests are good.
      However, that's not what happens out there. The hiring companies have multiple-choice tests that are evaluated by a system, and the humans administering the test don't understand it. And more to the point, the people who made the tests didn't understand the questions either, but looked them up in a book.
      So very many of the questions are based on semantics and finding the exact phrase a certain text book used for a situation, instead of testing the understanding.

      In your example, the typical test that's being used would likely have asked:
      In, what does "/24" mean?
      1 [ ] Subnet mask
      2 [ ] CIDR
      3 [ ] C Class network
      4 [ ] Shorthand for in IOS 10 or newer

      Of these, only one will be accepted. And more likely than not, the wrong one.

      I flunked one of these tests on DNS knowledge. Despite having written a DNS server, and installing and running multiple ISPs' DNS servers. Thousands of domains, including split internal/external, IPv6 and secure updating from DHCP. I can query a DNS using UDP from the command line, without requiring "host", "nslookup" or other specialized tools. I can write BIND zone files from scratch if I have to.
      I know DNS, dammit -- better than most sysadmins out there.
      The reason I failed (well, scored less than 50%, which I call failed) was that I couldn't answer questions like "Approximately, how many DNS servers are operating world wide?", "Does an active domain controller resolve DNS queries?", "What is the command for looking up your current WINS server?" and "Which Windows versions support running without netbios?". Apparently the test maker had looked up some questions in some DNS for Windows Dummies type book, and thought that was what it was all about. Not a single question reflected real DNS knowledge.

      Other tests ask you questions that you don't bother to remember, because it's so easy to look it up. Like parameters to commands.
      How do you list the size of a file system in 4k blocks in Unix?
      1 [ ] df -b 4096 /path
      2 [ ] df -B 4096 /path
      3 [ ] df -s 4096 /path
      4 [ ] df -s 4k /path
      Only those who don't know what they're doing have to remember these things. The rest of us would try "--help", "-h" or look at the man page to check command syntax, and not bother to remember little used options. Only those with a need to memorize everything because they can't figure out how to look up things would know this. Or those who by chance happened to do this yesterday.

      As is, the tests are not very useful. They might weed out some of those that know absolutely nothing about a subject, but they also weed out those who understand the subject better than the test author, but don't bother remembering irrelevant or OS-specific details.

  • Careful there.. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Trailwalker ( 648636 ) on Monday September 15, 2008 @05:25AM (#25006959)
    You are a technician, not a professional.

    The "professional" bs is just a way to put you on salary rather than an hourly wage.

    While "professional" sounds nice, there are only a few real professions.

    A nice law passed a few years back reclassified several technical fields as professional, allowing employers to really screw their employees by changing their pay to salary from hourly.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 15, 2008 @05:58AM (#25007169)

      As a consultant, I consider myself part of the world's oldest profession. After all:

      I charge an extortionate rate
      I'll be whatever you want me to be
      I spend a lot of time in hotel rooms
      I have a pimp that gives me a fraction of what I make and sends me to do things that I really don't want to do

  • by tonycatman ( 1269818 ) on Monday September 15, 2008 @05:26AM (#25006967)
    I was recently involved in a series of gruelling and unfair interviews in which we destroyed the confidence of a series of IT professionals with extraordinary difficult questions. Having spent 10 years as an accountant, and 10 years as an IT Manager, I found myself asking the same thing. In order to qualify as an accountant, I had to take 17 exams over the period of 6 years, with each exam having a 30-50% pass rate. During the first 2 years, I could barely make a living wage. To become an IT Manager - I was just in the right place at the right time. I since gained OCP and MCSE, but nobody takes them seriously - in relative terms, they were both very easy to pass. It is still a fact that an accounting (and probably legal) qualification counts for more than an IT qualification.
  • by BrainInAJar ( 584756 ) on Monday September 15, 2008 @05:27AM (#25006971)
    Personally I wouldn't accept a job that /didn't/ test me on my competence because that means they probably didn't test the guy before me on his competence either

    Mopping up after some idiot with "university degrees, a couple of IT certifications, and over ten years of work experience in the industry, with 2-4 years of verifiable employment with each employer, working with a wide range of technologies" that's a total clueless retard isn't my idea of fun and rewarding employment.
  • why not (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jareds ( 100340 ) on Monday September 15, 2008 @05:27AM (#25006973)

    The reason it's done is a combination of great variability in skill among IT applicants, compared to professions with time-tested accreditation bodies like lawyers and accountants, and skills that are fairly amenable to formal testing, compared to professions like sales and HR, at least with respect to weeding out duds (if someone can't write a simple program in an afternoon, given a language reference, they should not be hired). More generally, I can't imagine why it's unreasonable for an employer to test skill.

    Competent IT professionals accept it because it's in fact beneficial to them to be distinguished from their less competent peers. (If the test itself is poor, they complain about that, and don't whine about the indignity of taking a test in general.) Paternalism is forcing someone to do something for their own good. This is not. I can assure of I have no intention of refusing tests of skill when applying for jobs.

    Employment history, certifications, and degrees do not ensure competence. Probably most of the people on The Daily WTF [] passed such basic screening.

  • by Fingerbob ( 613137 ) on Monday September 15, 2008 @05:27AM (#25006975)

    I frequently interview programmers, and having them take a short test (approx 30 minutes) and then discussing this with them in their interview is incredibly useful to determine their skillset. I could ask similar questions directly and have them work through the answers on a board, but then they would be under pressure to provide an answer on the spot to questions that probably deserve some thought before providing a solution.

    None of the questions on the test are unduly taxing - any person we interview who has a few years professional c++ experience under their belt should be able to provide at least a working solution, with potential better solutions open to discussion face to face.

    I've had 15 years doing what I do, and I'd be happy to take a test if asked - if I can't pass whatever hurdle the company sets, then I'd rather not sit there for a few more hours trying to win them over with my sparkling personality, and if the test is a pile of rubbish I know early on that I probably don't want to work there.

  • by khchung ( 462899 ) on Monday September 15, 2008 @05:29AM (#25006985) Journal

    Accountants and Lawyers have professional bodies (or whatever it is called) that tests candidates wanting to call themselves "accountant" and "lawyer", so do doctors, nurses, engineers, etc, so employers don't need to test the candidates themselves when they want to hire one. if people call themselves "lawyer" or "accountant" without the proper certification, they could be jailed.

    Which is the corresponding organization that tested and certified you as an "IT professional"? Can your employer file complaints to that organization and have your certification removed if you displayed incompetence or is negligent in your job? And would anyone risk jail time if they call themselves "IT Professional" without any such certification?

    Don't kid yourself, an IT worker is hardly any more "professional" than a secretary or a salesman. Anyone sitting in front of a monitor for the past 10 years can call himself an "IT Professional" with 10 years of experience. Heck, someone who had NOT been sitting in front of a monitor for the past 10 years can also do so! Until we have a widely recognized professional body to certify us (and to de-certify or penalize us if we display incompetence), it is the employers' responsibility to assess our capability and testing us is one way to do it.

    I am sure many working in the field would prefer their employers had properly tested themselves and their co-workers, rather than having to fix up problems caused by other less-than-competent "IT Professionals".

  • by pcause ( 209643 ) on Monday September 15, 2008 @05:29AM (#25006989)

    In my experience, which ia way more than your 10 years, very few folks in IT actually know how to interview and what traits to look for. Being tech folks and not having people skills, they think that some test will tell them what they need to know about a potential applicant. Not true.

    A lot of the tests are language lawyer things (knowing about public static final in Java) which doesn't get to what they really need to know. There are lots of folks who know the language lawyer tricks that will be lousy employees. You need folks that are bright, have a demonstrated track record of being able to learn new things and that will fit with your culture/environment.

  • Others are tested (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MosesJones ( 55544 ) on Monday September 15, 2008 @05:36AM (#25007041) Homepage

    There are two obvious reasons why people get tested in IT

    1) People might have passed exams, but can they actually code
    2) People might have been on a project where technology X was used, but did they use it?

    The first is the case where you have a graduate with a degree in computing and it turns out they did all the "soft" options. So lots of theory but not practice and they don't even know what a compiler is.

    The second is the case where you are looking for people with a given skill (say Java) and you want to check that they have that skill.

    Its not true to say that other people don't have to sit tests, its just that a lot of the time those tests aren't written tests but are more open, indeed I prefer to test people using such open assignments. Set them a problem (design a system to do X) and then have them respond. This is exactly the same way that lawyers are often tested by their new chambers, they have to defend (or prosecute) a given perspective to show how they would perform and lay out their approach of constructing the case.

    The point is that for most jobs they are "soft" jobs where a specific exam makes no sense once you have the qualification and therefore you do soft interview tests. In IT however we have lots of "hard" jobs where a specific skill is required and a specific level of performance is required. This isn't about professional v unprofessional its about the nature of an industry where there are millions of different technologies arriving every year and where the average ability level has been plunging for the last 20 years.

    So get off your high horse and stop complaining. You are in an industry that changes, that means that the degree you did gives you a theoretical basis (hopefully) but your practical skills will need to be evolved. I did Ada, LISP, 68k and Prolog at University. Guess what? My first job meant I had to learn C in 1 week to prove I knew it and my 3rd job was the last one where I used any of those languages (I'm now on my 7th job). So did I mind being tested to prove I knew C/Java/XML/MQSeries/etc? No I didn't.

    Do I test people to prove they really have the skills they say? You bet, I wouldn't trust an IT CV statement further than I'd trust Dick Cheney at a bird shoot.

    All interviews test in any areas where its worth having a job. IT interviews test more because IT changes more and your qualifications become out of date more quickly.

    Now for the real question though: Why isn't there a written test for high office, especially a geography test for US Presidents and VPs.

  • by Max Romantschuk ( 132276 ) <> on Monday September 15, 2008 @05:45AM (#25007095) Homepage

    A CV can be read in many ways. I think that testing is a good way to see that the skills, CV and open position match. That being said, testing can be done in many ways.

    Someone recommended me to Google once, and the Google HR department obviously read my CV looking for the skills they were after. While I had them to a degree, that was only part of the truth. A later phone interview with one of their engineers clarified the situation a lot: He tested my skill set with a bunch of oral test questions that made it obvious to both that my skills were of the right sort but at the wrong layer of abstraction. (Scripting vs. assembly-level knowledge.) That test saved both parties a lot of time.

    But like I said, there is good testing and bad testing. Often tests test passive knowledge, but not problem solving skills. Unfortunately the hardest to quantify stuff is also the most essential in terms of actual productivity.

  • "Professionals"? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MrZaius ( 321037 ) on Monday September 15, 2008 @05:46AM (#25007097) Homepage

    This type of test is fairly commonplace in certain engineering fields, and should be. Specific technical knowledge, trivial to test for, are much more important and much simpler to test for in engineers and technicians than they are in professional workers. If you can easily and efficiently test the skill level and prior training given a technical worker, for whom training is often quite area-specific and expensive, why on earth wouldn't you? This isn't paternalism, and is not a show of disrespect. I, for one, will neither stop giving nor refuse to take this sort of interview. The suggestion that we should seems ludicrous to me.

    On a related note, just exactly what did you think a traditional business interview is designed to do? They are little more than a version of the skills tests that you're complaining about, but designed to measure the aptitude of managers and the like. They are more open-ended in nature, but not because those job candidates are somehow worthy of more respect. The questions are more subjective because the topics at hand are far more difficult to objectively measure than technical knowledge. Furthermore, you must also consider those organizations (especially within the government) that subject teachers, managers, lawyers, policy experts, etc. to standardized testing of some sort prior to hiring them.

  • by superskippy ( 772852 ) on Monday September 15, 2008 @06:09AM (#25007225)

    If you are the sort of person who is won't put up with a simple test, which seems to me to be quite a reasonable request (where you seem to think it is all "how dare you question my magnificence), you certainly aren't the sort of person I want to employ. I don't want someone who is not willing to pitch in with whatever is needed.

    In this case, I think the test has provided a useful function.

  • by packman ( 156280 ) on Monday September 15, 2008 @06:23AM (#25007331) Homepage

    Sadly, a lot of the "IT Professionals" I encounter are plain idiots. Even in-depth interviews can't guarantee that you have someone capable in front of you, but it does filter out those idiots.

    I work for a small (5 ppl) IT-only company and when we hire someone, while he will get some basic training, he is supposed to work pretty independantly. But once in such a position you can pretend doing a lot while doing almost nothing, and still make things appear to 'work'. You'd be amazed what an incompetent guy can pretend to be and produce results that on the first glance seem to be OK. And then when his software goes into production you suddenly notice that he didn't use an XML parser, but expected certain data on certain lines and filtered it out using regular expressions - and NO, not using the standard regular expression library - but doing something like this in C:

    sprintf(cmdbuf, "/usr/bash /bin/sed -e \"s/%s//\" > /tmp/filename", inputbuffer);
    fp = fopen("/tmp/filename", "r"); ...

    You get the picture. He btw didn't even write a function to do this, but copy-pasted stuff like this a few 100 times... Software worked in test, client changed 1 insignificant thing in their XML generation (added a tag we didn't use), and our entire system went down. I ended up rewriting this guy's stuff after he was fired.

    And that's the main problem with IT jobs, you only notice they're incompetent when things start to go wrong. And then it's too late. So if I have to interview someone for an IT position, I want to be as sure as possible we don't end up in such a situation again. Masking incompetence in an IT position is just too easy.

  • by Morgaine ( 4316 ) on Monday September 15, 2008 @06:26AM (#25007345)

    I speak as a member of "IT" as well, so I'm accusing myself here too, fairly and squarely.

    I don't know (nor care) about the non-technical professions, but the standard of professionalism in Computing is a lot lower than in Engineering.

    I can say that with confidence after a long career spanning both Electrical/Electronic Engineering and Computer Science, both in academia (PhD, postdoc, lecturer) and in industry. It took me the better part of a decade in the computing industry to realize that I had been (unwittingly) deluding my Software Engineering students when I taught them "Do it like this, or you will be laughed at as amateurs when you get out into industry." The sad fact is that 98% of computing in industry is utterly amateurish, as I eventually discovered for myself. Even huge, "properly" managed projects are in practice just hacks like all the rest, but with better documentation and QA/testing.

    While computing is my current love, and bread provider, I recognize that we're at the stage of gazing at chicken entrails in this discipline. It's a bit sad, although I still love it. But when they say "Bridges would fall down every other day if they were built like we build software", they are 100% right. Looking at it from the perspective of my old engineering days, it's a bit distressing, but that's how it is.

    We're still in the early days of Computing, and to call it a professional discipline is stretching the definition rather severely.

  • Michael Chermside (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jekk ( 15278 ) <> on Monday September 15, 2008 @06:39AM (#25007417) Homepage

    I don't know about you, but I would RATHER be tested during an interview. It would increase the chance that I would wind up working with competent co-workers.

    Michael Chermside []

  • If you're an incompetent engineer, attorney, accountant, or physician -- or someone who misrepresents his abilities in one of these occupations -- then you tend to get found out rather quickly (if for no other reason than that colleagues stop covering for you). In IT, on the other hand, people who aren't quite up to the task can persist or be tolerated at companies for decades. And employers are getting sort of sick of it. So they're asking IT 'professionals' to put up or shut up.
  • by Joce640k ( 829181 ) on Monday September 15, 2008 @07:41AM (#25007781) Homepage

    How 'bout we start employing people based on what they claim, not what they can do? Sounds good to me.

  • by RaigetheFury ( 1000827 ) on Monday September 15, 2008 @07:42AM (#25007787)

    IT field is so wide and diverse with many people coming to it's ranks without any "true" background. I have a degree in Textiles. I manage and maintain a wide assortment of applications, servers, databases, email systems etc. I actually laughed at a lady on the phone a long time ago during an interview, who said that they were only looking for MCSE's. When I laughed she seemed so surprised and asked me why?

    I told her "You do understand that you can get one of those in 2 weeks offline right now right?". People have become so dependent on "certifications" that they don't actually test those individuals skills. I don't limit it to IT either. The same thing applies to MBA's. I wound up being involved in a round table interview (2+ applicants at the same time) and everyone but me had a certification. When asked what the difference between mirroring and clustering in databases was one of the answers was (I joke you not) something oracle can only do.

    Additionally, I find that now, most companies don't truly involve their IT groups in the hiring process. They ask for "specs" for a job and then try to match them up. This doesn't work in reality. It might with a secretary, or blockbuster video clerk... but not in IT.

    IT skills are quantifiable. There's no "bullshit" answer. There are several different levels of gray but if you ask a programmer what Model View Controller or what a framework is... there's no bs answer that isn't wrong.

    When I create questions for a prospective employee I'm not trying to ramrod them. I ask only questions that I believe they should know 100%. For example, a ColdFusion programmer position is about to be placed here are some of the questions I plan to ask. I don't necessarily believe they need to know how to do all of them, but they MUST know what they are.

    This position will be updating a slew of applications written in ColdFusion 5 and fixing about 30 databases that were converted from Access to MSSQL and 99% of the fields are NVARCHAR.

    1) What is SQL injection and what built in features of coldfusion protect applications from it?
    2) Write an inner join query?
    3) Whats the difference between a .cfm and a .cfc?
    4) What is an SVN repository?
    5) What is the datatype NVARCHAR used for?
    6) ...

    You get the idea. However, my reasoning for asking these questions isn't just for the answers!

    1) How well did they answer the questions? Enunciation, quickness to respond, accuracy in describing solutions
    2) What is their personality like when pressured?
    3) When they don't know an answer how do they respond. This is a big one for me. I expect you to say that you don't know. Bonus points for you writing it down and emailing me the answer later. This lets me know you didn't forget, and that you are trying to improve yourself.

    A lot of times I'll throw in a question I KNOW they shouldn't know just to trip them up. I want to see how people react under pressure. We have 125 employees all depending on these applications for our business functions. If something screws up I need them to be quick, calm and attentive to the problem. Imagine this on a much larger scale, like 10,000, or 100,000. Businesses need to depend on these employees.

    So, tests are necessary and frankly I'd like to see them in more positions.

  • Better qualifiying (Score:4, Insightful)

    by PhotoGuy ( 189467 ) on Monday September 15, 2008 @07:44AM (#25007813) Homepage

    *After* earning their actual degree, Lawyers have to pass the gruelling bar exam. Doctors have to do the medical board exams and a guelling internship. Engineers have to get their certifications.

    IT graduates, just have to carry their piece of paper home. Sure you can get your Microsoft and other vendor-sponsored certifications, but these are generally jokes-marketing tools. At the very best they qualify you for some specific experience with some specific products, and don't thoroughly test your general IT skills. I've seen Cisco certified engineers leave me with bottlenecks due to looping routes, and generally trashed my network. I've seen MSCE's that are totally useless.

    It always strikes me odd, that an engineer building anything has to build to standards, which are externally verified and permits obtained through inspections, etc.. Software engineers and IT staff can implement mission-critical systems without any standards or oversight. I know the software/computer hardware world makes things so incredibly flexible that it'd be hard to defines standards to regulate against; that's likely the problem. (If I want a bridge, everyone can pretty much agree upon what is wanted, a copy of something that has been done before, and approved, standardized. Not so much for a new application. For IT infrustructures, a case could be made for more standardization, I guess.)

    But this flexibility it also results in some pretty horrible work being done out there.

    Also, the standards in other fields allow for greater accountability. If an engineer, Doctor, lawyer, is incompetent and not providing the standard of care their industry demands, you can sue them for such. (I'm likely to sue my former lawyer for incompetence and ignorance of the law and my case.) But try suing a software engineer or IT person. There's just no clear standards of competence with which to judge him or her.

    Having tests to weed through some bad ones, makes sense, and I see why it comes about. It's not perfect, but it tries to address a shortcoming in our field.

  • by technomom ( 444378 ) on Monday September 15, 2008 @07:48AM (#25007843)

    "Why are IT professionals treated differently and in such a paternalistic way? More importantly, why do IT professionals accept being treated less favorably than members of other professions? Should IT professionals start to refuse to be treated as not real professionals?"

    Others have already pointed out that lawyers and accountants (CPAs at least) submit to testing and are certified by professional organizations. You can't market yourself as a lawyer, CPA, or even an engineer in some places without having the backing of a professional guild.

    What I'd like to know is why, in the face of offshoring and job losses, the IT industry hasn't coelesced around a professional society or guild. A professional guild, with some rigid certification testing, would be more effective than even unionizing since it produces a win-win for both employees and employers. Is it just that the need isn't perceived to be there yet?

    With professional certification, employers would know they are getting skills without expensive testing and competent IT professionals can be assured that they won't be working with "IT Professionals" whose sole IT experience is that they took one Visual Basic course.

    There are lots of vendor specific certs (MS, Novell, Oracle, IBM) but to me, that's more akin testing accountants for having skill in using QuickBooks.

    The Open Group has IT Architect certification ( which looks to be a start, but it doesn't appear to have gained much momentum. IBM offers cross-certification of its internally certified architects but even within IBM, not all departments bother to pay the fee for TOG certification.

    I also see that there's an Institute for Certification of Computer Professionals ( that's been around since 1973, and a lot of people on its web page have important looking letters next to their names (CCP, CDMP) but outside of this web page, I've never run across an IT person with this on their business card nor a company that insists on this certification.

    So I ask the exact opposite question that the poster asks, "Why don't we insist on recognized industry certification testing for IT professionals?"


  • by Giant Electronic Bra ( 1229876 ) on Monday September 15, 2008 @07:57AM (#25007899)

    Lawyers, accountants, etc ARE professionals, they are regulated by professional organizations and have to prove their qualifications in order to be licensed to practice. IT workers have no such regulation. In effect the State tests your lawyer for you.

    I agree the tests for programmers are almost universally stupid and worthless, but if it makes some PHB someplace happy, who cares?

  • by protocoldroid ( 633203 ) on Monday September 15, 2008 @08:14AM (#25008015) Homepage
    That, and a code example. You send us a code example after the phone interview, and before the in person interview. Basically, we're looking to see that you "don't do anything blatantly jack-ass". Also helps when you comment your code.

    Then, as part of the interview process, we have a few questions we ask you to write essays for. One is based on design of a product we already built, one is based on design of a product we're currently building, and third... Is actually a riddle. My project manager came up with this idea, his thinking is "Let's see what kind of inductive/deductive reasoning this guy will use". Sounds like a good idea.

    Turns out? All this crap is worthless. Case in point... We have a guy fresh out of college (no experience in the trenches) who we interview, and later get hired. His code is quite beautiful at a glance (not breaking down every line to profile it or anything), plenty of comments, nice style, etc. His essays are OK, they're passable.

    But, he sits down, and we've got -multitude- problems. Let's start with one example: We're web developers, and in the first couple weeks, he needed to modify UI. In this case, he needed to use a few images for something. What kind of images did he put into our repo for versioning? BITMAPS! No, no, not a proper raster file-types like a PNG or a JPG, a bitmap -- BMP. Just cause Professor Dinglethorpe requires you to comment and indent your code properly doesn't mean you have a clue what really happens when you get down to production.

    But, the real problem? COMMUNICATION! The kid just can't freakin' communicate with us. If he were bad AND would take the time to talk to us about what he's working on, we could stand it. We'd know what was happening when he did jacked up stuff in the code, and we later have to maintain his mess.

    However, he doesn't take time to communicate with anyone. He's too busy leaving important meetings to take phone calls from his ultra insecure live-in girlfriend who calls him 18 times a day (for such important things as "Should we make lentil soup tonight?" and "What are we going to name this cat?"), reading I can has cheezburger and the failblog. Meanwhile, he slips under the radar. Our company plays to your competency level. So while I have taken on huge projects, become a stand-in for our system administrator, and the liason between customer service and information services (a pretty important role, they buy the important bugs -first-) -- this kid is getting assigned tasks like "We need to put hyphens between these words per the marketing dept". Good thing we get paid the same. Nice to get paid the same as the guy who's mastered reading I can has cheezburger. He can has cheeseburger, and I'll be the one to shove it up his... nose.

    So, don't believe a technical test is going to determine if the next guy you work with is legitimate, and competent. If he can't communicate, and he has no work ethic -- frankly, you're screwed.
  • by sorak ( 246725 ) on Monday September 15, 2008 @09:01AM (#25008585)

    When it comes down to it, the entire process is a test. Creating a well-designed, brief, and informative resume is a test. Tying a damned tie (a skill that a trained monkey can do without cursing, but I can't), is a test. Interviewing is a test. If you're going to be tested on all these other things, then I am not going to complain about the test that focuses on whether you can do the job.

    I have been tested for two of the three companies I worked for and a few others that I applied for. Two of them were in the vein of "We want you to write a simple script that can do X, and email it back to us". This was an effective test.

    Another one was a multiple choice test that focused on syntax. The questions were things like "How do you terminate an IF statement"

    • End if
    • }
    • fi
    • done

    It was a terrible test because they weren't looking at your ability to logically think through a problem, but were instead more concerned about whether you may confuse programming language A with programming language B. I did reasonably well, but that still, if you are going to test you employees, don't get hung up on things like "does this guy remember the modulus operator" (for Fizzbuzz tests) or "Does he remember how to use function X without looking it up".

Someday your prints will come. -- Kodak