Developer

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?

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