IT Employment

10 interview questions to help make the best geeky hire

Interviewing for an IT position isn't all about determining technical proficiency -- it's also important to measure a candidate's geek quotient. After all, would you want someone on board who doesn't know who Gary Gygax was?

Anyone who has been involved in the hiring process knows how tough it can be to pick a candidate with not just the right technical skills, but with the personality to fit into an IT department or some other technical role. After all, the only thing worse than hiring someone who is clueless about the job is hiring someone who is clueless about critical geek subjects. So we've put together a set of questions to test the mettle of any would-be tech employee to help you make sure a job candidate not only carries a geek card, but that it is up-to-date and of at least "advanced" status.

Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.

1: Star Wars or Star Trek?

If there's one way you can really judge a job candidate's true character, it is by determining their preference between Star Wars and Star Trek. Make sure that when you ask this question, you give no indication whatsoever which you prefer! Some interviewees will try to take a compromise position and say, "I like them both equally." This is utter nonsense and the sign of an intellectual weakling who cannot make a decision. Regardless of how they answer, demand that they back up their opinion with facts. This will ensure that they have the ability to remember ridiculous levels of detail and fit logic and reasoning into a fantasy world, talents that are required to survive in the world of corporate IT.

2: Who shot first, Han Solo or Greedo?

No matter what answer candidates give for the first question, they must be able to answer this question accurately: Han Solo shot first. Sure, it might smack of age discrimination, because younger applicants may have been exposed to only the newer "revised" versions of the films. This is no time to cut someone slack. The fact is, anyone you want working for you should have enough dedication to fully research an issue as important as this one and be obsessive enough to have seen the original version, even if they had to trawl flea markets for a VCR and original copies of the tape.

3: Movie or the original?

IT workers often succeed or fail based on their ability to detect subtle differences. For example, two routers may have identical configurations with one slight difference in an obscure setting, and workers who can't find these kinds of differences may be stuck spinning their wheels while the network is down. In my experience, the most effective way possible to judge a candidate's ability to see these differences, is the "movie vs. the original" test. You see, the corporations that make movies are forced to make changes when basing a film on a book, graphic novel, video game, or what have you. After all, they have to create a work that the mainstream will accept. The original Dune film is the classic example; the director's cut was around eight hours long. By having a candidate list differences between the movie version of a geek classic and the original version (anything works, really: Lord of the Rings, X-Men, Spiderman, GI Joe... you get the point), you are really testing their ability to perform when it counts: in an intense "systems down" scenario where moments matter and details make the difference.

4: What are 10 of "Weird Al" Yankovic's greatest songs?

The fact is, if the person you are interviewing can't tell you where they were the first time they experienced a "Weird Al" Yankovic song, they are not worth hiring. But beyond that, they should be able to name at least 10 of this artist's classic songs. I know that I am preaching to the choir here, but Yankovic truly speaks to the very soul of all who are deserving of titles like "systems administrator" and "senior developer." The candidate should be able to name a few of the songs not based on other songs, too. After all, most people have heard at least 10 of his direct parodies before.

5: Remember when Steve Jobs started KoalaSoft?

Every interviewer should be bent on tricking the candidate into making an embarrassing mistake. It really preps the potential hire for the frustration and humiliation of a job in the typical workplace. One of the primo ways to accomplish this is to mention odd little "facts" but to get them wrong on purpose. For example, Apple CEO Steve Jobs ran NeXT after he left Apple in 1985, so you can try something like, "This situation reminds me of when Steve Jobs started that company KoalaSoft." If candidates don't even flinch, it's clear that they have no clue and should not be hired. But it's even more interesting when they try to contradict you without offending you. Be sure to question their intelligence along the way. "What, do you really think Jobs would name a company 'NeXT?' Don't you know that he's a huge koala lover? Look it up on Wikipedia when you get home if you don't believe me!" should do the trick.

6: How will you bribe the gamesmaster?

One of the honored traditions in the world of role-playing games is giving the gamesmaster bottles of soda, pizzas, and other treats in an effort to curry favor and gain preferential treatment for your character. Potential employees should not only be familiar with this tactic, but they should be proficient in it. Those who are ignorant of this (or worse, do not know what a "gamesmaster" is) should not be hired, of course. Be wary of interviewees who see it as a form of cheating or sucking up. After all, if you hire this person, do you really want them to have a bad attitude about "taking care of" those who pull the strings... like you?

7: What were the original Intel Pentium CPUs most famous for?

If candidates don't know the correct answer to this ("math errors") and other notable tech screw-ups, they are definitely lacking in credibility. There are a variety of these kinds of questions to ask. They combine the human trait for remembering failure and the geek obsession with trivia. They also remind job candidates that their mistakes will be remembered as well, perhaps for decades.

8: How would you describe the "real programmer"?

One of the biggest legends of software development is the "real programmer." Just like some folks talk about the "real man" who kills lions with his bare hands and can run a mile in two minutes flat, the "real programmer" myth is bandied about the development world as an impossible measuring stick. If candidates don't describe a "real programmer" by quoting "The Story of Mel" (the Chuck Norris of software development), think twice about having them work on your project!

9: Who is your favorite artist/musician?

Every good sci-fi or fantasy book has a cover that was drawn by an artist; this is a well-known fact. And every RPG source book is filled with artwork as well. And of course, music is a critical part of any good movie. All obsessive geeks make it their business to learn the names of the people who create these works of art. If your job candidate's favorite artist is some loser like Van Gogh or Metallica instead of a genius like Kaja Foglio or Basil Poledouris, you really can't have that person touching your tech. For the record, John Williams is only provisionally acceptable, dependent upon the candidate's answers to other questions.

10: Who was Gary Gygax?

The inventor of Dungeons and Dragons. This is a must-know item, with no excuses allowed.

About

Justin James is the Lead Architect for Conigent.

287 comments
ssampier
ssampier

11. What is Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything? 12. What people (ie color) on Star Trek usually get killed first? I'll need the answer in the form of a question 13. What is a 'Fry Hole'? 14. Do you believe in 'Do or do not, there is no try.' Why or why not? 15. How would you handle the Kobayashi Maru test on Star Trek?

pinsard
pinsard

Geez, Tech Republic is a solid publication. Is this a joke, right? BTW, my original title was censored.

rocket ride
rocket ride

Great list. I can't help thinking, though, that neither of the expected answers to the Star Trek/ Star Wars question would indicate sufficient geekliness. Both are way too "mass market". Face it, _mundanes_ grok both of the proffered choices just fine. The essence of geekliness is that the suits and the soccer-moms are just never "get it". Personally I would hold out for someone who gave a different answer. Something simultaneously relatively obscure and cool. A few examples that come to mind are "Babylon 5", "Blake's 7", "Firefly", and OLD "Dr. Who". New "Dr. Who" is too "mass market". BTW, if the interviewee wears his/her Dr. Who scarf to the interview in summer, that may be just a little too geeky.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

If nothing else, you've flushed the humor-impaired from the woodwork. IMO, you missed a few qualifiers, such as simply knowing why one would need polyhedral dice, the answer (to life, the universe, and everything), and the difference between black and red Lectroids.

man2ed
man2ed

Lack of humour is tragic but lacking manners is unexcusable. You are fired.

agilebrainz
agilebrainz

Very funny! But I think I have to fire myself now,..

gjansen
gjansen

I have a problem with 1 through 3. Do you really want to hire somebody if you'll have to get his mom's permission to schedule overtime?

wessonjoe
wessonjoe

true knowledge and wisdom about technology and technical ability is the greatest logical fallacy i've seen in a very long time. this is an absurd piece of flatulent opinion that should have never passed the editor's desk. humor passing as technical advice is disgusting. :) .

y0shi
y0shi

These are not interview questions - unless it?s for a Geek dating site. I might use these questions to weed out the geeks from the business focused interviewees. But then again I don't care if the interviewee is a geek or a other stereotype as long as they know the technologies, have business sense and social skills. Interviews are for a paid function, not a social club. Greg proves that Star Wars fans and Sports fans are alike. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BIUQw1w5OqM

chat2syed
chat2syed

I am interviewing & hiring IT professionals for last 10 years and can surely say that what Justin James says, is utter rubbish.

Jaqui
Jaqui

need to go find the sense of humour you have misplaced. no idea how often it needs to be posted: It is a JOKE article, having fun with the idea.

vasov
vasov

Hi Justin, I read your article but my fax still outputs A4 landscape, not portrait. Should I reboot the internet again? :)

darryl.burton
darryl.burton

I think from some of the replies that those whom don't get it might be subject to Pebcac / Picnic errors

drdosus
drdosus

What a crock of CRAP! If _any_ interviewer should ask me even a single one of these BS questions, I would politely finish the interview, thank him for his time, and go find a job with a _real_ company.

NKTHOMPSON@GMAIL.COM
NKTHOMPSON@GMAIL.COM

at 1st I was like "what am I reading" then I realized it was all pretty much a joke, though I have asked Several geeks these questions and gotten serious WAY TOO SERIOUS answers from them. and for those that mentioned ITCROUD nice!!!

bjsmith777
bjsmith777

Sorry, nothing personal, but you're questions are extremely outdated. I've found the best ones to hire are intimate with SG-1/Atlantis (even know something about MacGuyver) and hightly perturbed by SG-Universe. SG-U is getting better, but has great patches of 'suckyness' (technical term)!

dfrueh
dfrueh

I'm a computer geek. And a huge sci-fi buff, as well as avid Scientific paper reader. But I hate fantasy, couldn't give a lick of spit at who drew cover art for my book. And D&D? Seriously? I've played MMO's but dont anymore as IT work and sci-fi reading comes first. I really don't agree with this list. Unless perhaps you're hiring someone over 35-40.

Becca Alice
Becca Alice

Or how to hide all the ones in the responses who have none. Entertaining list, thanks for the effort to do something other than zeroes and ones. ^_^ Who puts an S in gamemaster? ^_^

sohnythomas
sohnythomas

its really bullshit.. i have a friend from IIT here in bangalore and he has no clue bout star wars , star trek han solo or stuff but he is really good with amd processors, the microcode of PPC, the entire works

XnavyDK
XnavyDK

I thought it was funny, that either makes me a billion times smarter than some of you fools that didn't get it. Or, your so tuned out you would not get it if they hit you in the face with a stinky fish.

man2ed
man2ed

The ABsense of humour in many replies is mind staggering. I wouldn't want to work for any of those posters.

janetmoore11
janetmoore11

Neither, Rocky I, stand up I'll demonstrate his left hook!

adimauro
adimauro

I also think that no Geek test is complete without asking: 16. What is the meaning and origin of the word 'Grok'?

ReggieCW
ReggieCW

Definetly Old Dr.Who questions! How about questions regarding these shows... "Lost in Space" The "Thunderbirds" or better yet, "Fireball XL-5"...

rocket ride
rocket ride

That should have read: "the suits and the soccer-moms are just never going to "get it"."

man2ed
man2ed

HAI CAN HAS HUMOUR? VISIBLE "FAILED" KTHXBYE

neilb
neilb

I am so amazed at the number of people posting to this thread who obviously have a real issue recognising humour even when it's wearing a big red nose and walking like John Cleese. I would reckon that, to some extent, Justin is regretting posting it!

man2ed
man2ed

Resourceful and witty - true geeky humour. Those who don't get it are either born long after pacman was introduced or just too thick. 10 HUMOUR=HUMOUR+1 20 GOTO 10

Geek Gurl
Geek Gurl

I would never work for someone who has zero sense of humor. As frantic and stressful as IT can be, having a sense of humor is essential. It helps you mitigate stress, maintain the highest level of customer service and perform your best, no matter how crazy it gets. Those without one either burn out, hate what they do or go postal. Your choice.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

will be laughing about you over beers with all his other hiring manager buddies and geting them all to agree to ask you the same question he asked.

JCitizen
JCitizen

One of weird Al's best! ~/*

vasov
vasov

it will all get better once the Starcraft 2 is out :)) The issue with SGU is that due to # being prohibbited on the orbital statitons, candidates fail to get required elevation for the job. No # no joy ... :))

Justin James
Justin James

Lots of people have the "S" in there (I deliberately avoided the TSR trademarked version of the title...). Most notably, the "Breakfast of Demons" folks who put together the most awesome, geeky, underground film every, "Gamesmaster, Gamesmaster, What Have You Done?" and the sequal "Dungeon Rubber" (oddly enough, I know a guy in the sequel, he had a class with my college girlfriend). The trailer for the first film is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RsEhidg6_t0 Defnitely a "must watch" for any geek. J.Ja

man2ed
man2ed

I'm certain now - it's a cultural thing that the indian geeks or friends of geeks don't get it. Congrats to you having a geek friend. I knew someone who knew someone who's brother had a geek friend too. Or maybe an ex geek. Or an ex friend, I don't remember.

mmcguire
mmcguire

You can really test out their geekyness and ask them which costume(s) they have for their favorite trekkie conventions. Or better yet, how many times they've visited and drooled over the hot babes at ComicCon! Ooooo Princess Leah your buns are so hot!

GDoC
GDoC

I love this one, as I think it is from one of the greatest works of one of the greatest SF authors of all times. I can grok that!

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

that allows you to make corrections without having to add a post. Look between the Post a Reply and Save buttons. There are lots of great geeky shows, and some not-so-great. Space: 1999, didn't have the best story lines, but with Barbara Bain, Catherine Schell, Zienia Merton, and Suzanne Roquette in the cast, there was some great scenery. I'm amazed that Farscape has been overlooked as an alternative. edited because I can... :p

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

I would much prefer that he not choose to go postal. I might be in the way.

Slvrknght
Slvrknght

Well said. We just interviewed a candidate for a new IT Manager here (is it weird that I find it odd that I will have to train my own boss?). I had just read this article and thought, hey, why not? I didn't get the chance to ask him, since we were already behind schedule. Oh well, he seemed like the kind of guy who would appreciate a good joke. And I find that's one of my biggest concerns about this. If this guy is going to be my immediate supervisor, I want to know that he can give/take a joke (well meaning jokes, of course).

drdosus
drdosus

Yes..they all are in bed together. I really think that the most of them are actually afraid of technies who know something about the job. We are not so easily intimidated as MSCS "Engineers" who just got their boot-camp certifications.........

Geek Gurl
Geek Gurl

Well I must admit Princess Leia doesn't really do it for me, but Captain Picard? Ooooooooh yeah! Another question of geekiness, how many times did you visit the Star Trek Experience in Vegas when it was there and did you have a drink in Quark's Bar? I'm a major Star Wars fan, but I'm not adverse to some TNG or DS9. Sisko was pretty hot too :P

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

I was wondering about "etu"... you can imagine my various theories "et tu brute" f.ex. And Estimated Time of Unconsciousness...

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

[i]Thanks for the tip, but the edit button doesn't actually help if one didn't notice one's error until _after_ posting.[/i] That's exactly what it's there for. You post, you see a mistake, you click edit, you fix the mistake and repost, you see a mistake, you click edit... ;) Quite a few of the regulars (myself often included) perform the standard writing sequence of draft-proofread-edit-final as draft-post-proofread-edit. So much so, that the phrases "edited for spelling/grammar/punctuation/etc." were eventually shortened to "edited for the usual reasons", then "edit, the usual", and finally "etu". And now you know... . . . ...the rest of the story! (Props to Paul Harvey.)

rocket ride
rocket ride

Nick-- Thanks for the tip, but the edit button doesn't actually help if one didn't notice one's error until _after_ posting. BTW, I agree with you about the shows you mentioned, especially the scenery. I just mentioned the 3 shows that came to my mind after 22 hours awake. Mind you, of all the worthy shows, B5 is probably the one I'd forget about the same time I forgot my own name. And, yes, I used the edit key this time, so there. Can you guess where? -- rocketride

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

It takes all kinds. Even if we don't know what kind they are... ;)

drdosus
drdosus

My erstwhile I.T. manager believed that "management is management" and "managers do not need to know anything about the jobs in the department, managers manage people not positions and the positions are only positions which can be filled at will"(her words). She really believed that an I.T. manager could be effective by using minimum wage temps for onsite support and send any "tough" problems back to vendor. She is the one who put the MSCS"E" in charge with hire-fire powers. The "E" was in his early early twenties and got is toiletpaper cert from one of the 2 week bootcamps but all _she_ saw was the "engineer" part and not the total lack of experience. O well, C'est la vie. When I left,they were still running their repair call software on a 286 because "we don't need to waste money on a server for that" (her words again). LOL! Nice talking with you. Have a nice life.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Sorry for your former employer's loss. Think about how you would answer this question: Did you really want to work for a company that would put an MCSE "fresh out of boot camp" in charge of anybody, including himself?

drdosus
drdosus

All too many good technicians have been put out of work by those "managers" who actually do use such nonsensical screening questions. Not funny at all, especially to those of us who have been laid off by some MSCS"Engineer" who thinks that Winderz is an operating system and who run screaming from a command prompt. Keep your "funny" satire for April 1, where it belongs.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

I'll be more explicit: The blog post was intended as humor and not as a literal guide to an interviewer. Not that I can explain humor but the first clue was the headline itself, the second clue was the reference to Gary Gygax in the teaser, and the dead giveaway was the first question.

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