Software Development

Should I make Google part of the programmer's interview?


I've noticed lately that even though everybody in IT uses Google, not everybody knows some of the quick basic tips that can really help when trying to zero in on the answer to a particular search. It's gotten to the point that I'm seriously considering adding some Google questions into my standard list when I interview potential new hires. Because I think good Googling makes you more productive. It means you'll be able to quickly find an answer to a programming problem even if you don't know the answer off the top of your head.

The big one for me is that you can use Google to search just the contents of a particular site. I work with Oracle software, and if you've ever tried using the search feature on their site, you know it's abysmal. It's kind of surprising since you'd think a database company would be able to find data on their own site.

So whenever I'm trying to locate something on Oracle's site, I use Google instead. Their little site: tag lets you force Google to restrict its search to a specific url. Just type something like the following into the Google search box:

Portal site:oracle.com

Try that from Oracle.com's own search and the first result you get back is actually in Russian. I have no idea why that happens when you're on their English language site. But to my mind, Google consistently produces better results searching Oracle's site than Oracle's own search engine.

You do have to be careful when using this trick because, while Google can be surprisingly flexible about the search terms themselves, it is quite strict when interpreting the site URL. For example, if you're an inveterate address bar watcher like me, you've no doubt noticed that TechRepublic.com redirects to www.techrepublic.com. This means that a search like this:

Rex site:techrepublic.com

produces a very different result than a search like this:

Rex site:www.techrepublic.com

Another trick I like is doing booleans, usually I'm trying to exclude specific terms from the search. For example, if you're trying to search for "hello", but you want to exclude any pages that refer to that sappy 80's love song, you can use the minus sign to exclude words from the search:

hello -Lionel

Surprisingly, I also find that a lot of people don't know you can do a literal string. That is, you can have Google search for an exact string by surrounding it in quotes. So this search:

"darth saul"

produces a very different, much more focused, result than if you ran the search without the quotes.

So back to my original question that started all of this: Are Google skills important enough to include as part of the standard programmer's interview?

16 comments
jpdecesare
jpdecesare

If the interviewer can handle a left field question like the Google idea, that's a promising sign. Oh, another useful Google bit is searching definitions to words: define: exegesis Critical word to search (ok, bad pun)

delaware_samurai
delaware_samurai

I would say NO. I am a Senior Java Software Engineer and I don't use Google at all for searching. I use alot of sites, mostly sun sites or sun related. Really who cares where someone searches as long as they solve the problem. If you asked me that question I probably ask you if my job would be a software engineer or a different position and depending on the answer I would end the interview and run as fast as possible out of there because you were wasting my time.

Canuckster
Canuckster

Its easier to teach the right candidate how to Google, in 5 minutes, than put up with the wrong one for months. Use better metrics and criteria, like will you be joking with this guy or fighting with him all the time.

cormac
cormac

Wouldn't it be easier to just point you programmers at this post on the day they start?

Justin James
Justin James

I try to hire people who don't need to look things up. :) Just kidding, of course. When I am working in .Net, the only time I have ever needed to stray outside F1 help and sites under the microsoft.com domain is when I needed to work with Oracle's database or when I needed to learn domain specific knowledge, like the calculation to calculate the distance between two geographic points. I used the MSDN Managed Newsgroups a lot, they have everything in one spot. When I was working in Java (and Oracle), the vendor documentation was so bloody shoddy, I used a LOT of search engines. That being said, anyone who can't figure out how to use "Advanced Search" on Google is probably someone I do not want in my shop to begin with. Sure, they may not *know* how to use it, but it only takes a minute to find out. But if they cannot figure it out or think to look for "Advanced Search"... ugh. So really, you don't need to be asking about how to use Google (BTW: what makes Google so special? Their reputation far exceeds their reality lately... why not a meta search engine or tool?), you need to make sure you aren't hiring total idiots. :) Really what this highlights is the overall p*** poor job US schools do teaching the following skills: * research * reading * critical thinking * problem solving Anyone who has spend a few hours in a physical library doing research with actual books knows ten times as much about research as someone who has spent the last 10 years using Yahoo! and Google. Sometimes I really want to become a teacher, just to fail students who use the Internet as their sole source of knowledge. J.Ja

Jaqui
Jaqui

I don't need to use google for a lot of information finding, I know how to use the tools from the vendors site to find information. But, having good skills at using ANY search engine is a basic skills requirement for most jobs now, so it is a valid set of skills to question for any position, as long as the questions are not engine specific. You can use any search engine to find the required data, if you know how to phrase the search terms, so using a specific engine as a requirement isn't the best way to see if they have the search engine skills.

CG IT
CG IT

if the position is entry level DB person, should they need to know Google search to do their job? if the position is a high level DB administrator or engineer who is basically hired to troubleshoot, should they know Google search techniques to do their job? if the position is a mid level DB managers position who is basically managing DB people, should they know Google search techniques to do their job? I work with Windows Active Directory platform networks. I also work with Cisco Infrastructure. I don't use Google at all to search for information. I use Microsoft's Technet and Help and Support. I also use msexchange.org, isaserver.org for information on Exchange and ISA server, if Technet and Help and Support doesn't give info on the problem at hand. I only use Cisco's site for information... though navigation of Cisco's technical information is daunting, the answer can usually be found with some effort. If someone were to ask me if I used Google for searching for answers to problems on Microsoft Active Directory platform networks or Cisco infrastructure networks, I'd think they didn't have any experience on Microsoft of Cisco networks and wouldn't want to work with them....

geoffwi40
geoffwi40

Having done many interviews myself , I would think that interviews should be about the core skills itself rather than 'tricky' questions about syntax of search engines. If you're experienced yourself, you should be able to quickly determine their capability through questions about their claimed previous projects and how they contributed to those projects. It shouldn't be about prescriptive questions which really don't provide any insight - Didn't this use to be the criticism of earlier technical certification exams we all endured?

chris.black
chris.black

...some of the searching done on various vendor sights, like Cisco, use the Google algorithm. So while I would say it's not necessary for a job interview, I would say it may come in handy in searching some sights. If I run into problems with Cisco, I know it's because my search is not specific enough.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

searching for answers on the net is phrasing the question. Generally I find google useful for narrowing down, 9/10 it points me at the vendors site anyway (eventually) Generally on vendors site's because they don't or at least weren't using google tech, a wrong question leads to no answers. Sometimes wrong answers are a helpful guide. So I wouldn't say google was a requirement, I'd definitely ask what they do when they get stuck though.

m.d.linzenmeyer
m.d.linzenmeyer

As a software developer, I have many sites that I go to in order to figure out a problem....very rare that I do ANY searching...unless I am comparing software. Also, if a person (Developer) is taking so much time searching...the options are simple 1) This developer is entry level and/or just getting in the market/technology or 2) What is trying to be accomplished is extremely rare. I do think a good developer will have his "Ring" of resources, somewhat rare if a seasoned developer cannot find what he needs in that "Ring"

Justin James
Justin James

If you were stuck in the Java/Oracle world like Rex is, you have useless vendor documentation. I hate to say it, but in that world, search engines are your only source of quality information, at least that was the case when I was a Java programmer running against Oracle databases, and when I was a .Net coder working against Oracle, I always needed outside help for the Oracle end. Even for minor things like finding out what error messages meant! It is a sad that a free DB like MySQL is better documented than Oracle, or that a community supported language has better "official" docs than Java, where someone gets paid to write documentation all day long. J.Ja

RexWorld
RexWorld

I can test somebody's syntax knowledge but to my mind, being a programmer these days is much more than just the programming. It's about configuring appservers and understanding error codes and that kind of thing. Stuff that inevitably you'll have to find thru searching. It just seems like somebody who knows how to search is going to be more productive when it comes time to deal with situations like an unknown error code.

lfschauer
lfschauer

I have the common headaches of a microsoft environment. I find that searching the internet brings me better results and solutions than from the microsoft knowledgebase or technet. Google skills should be considered.

Justin James
Justin James

"Stuff that inevitably you'll have to find thru searching." Not true at all. Unless you are a Java programmer coding against an Oracle database, it's all in the documentation. :) I have never needed to step outside the Apache docs *or* the IIS docs, and the only time I needed to lookup error codes outside the vendor's documentation was for Oracle. There was a period of time when most people did not have the Internet and/or search engines were not what they are now and/or there was not much information on the Internet, and we were able to write our code just fine. "It just seems like somebody who knows how to search is going to be more productive when it comes time to deal with situations like an unknown error code." If you are tyring to find someone who is a search expert, find a paralegal or a historian. If you want to find a programmer, hire one and get some better documentation. I am really sure (and so are the other commenters here) that your underlying problem is your vendors' lousy documentation, not the inability of the people you hire to search. Quality of documentation plays a major role in what tools get used on a project, or it should. Maybe you need to re-think the Java/Oracle combination if it is so lacking in the documentation department. J.Ja

Justin James
Justin James

I have had a few problems adsmin'ing a Windows server that I found what I needed outside of Microsoft, but not in terms of development. It still does not justify asking someone about Google search in an interview. If they need to do so much searching thaqt it is a job qualification, they are a researcher, not a developer... and if they need to search *that* much to be a programmer, they are not very good at programming. :) J.Ja

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