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what have you learned when interviewing?

Jeanne Boyarsky
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I thought it might be interesting to discuss what you've learned at interviews or from resumes.

I'll start with a few things I've learned this way in the past couple months
  • there is a framework called MockIt
  • a couple interesting uses for a technology we use
  • that 68% is a good score in India. A collegue told me 60%+ is class A. (In the US 68% is barely a passing score and not one you'd put in a resume)


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    arulk pillai
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    From my experience

    -- 3 out of 5 interviews I have been to are so easy and not comprehensive enough. I wonder how they are going to find good people. Especially for senior roles. If the interviews are comprehensive, one can be more motivated to work with talented professionals. I have attended 50+ onterviews to date and can remember only 3-4 because they were quite intense. One of them lasted 3 hours, (4 people panel) didn't end up taking that offer, but settled with a job 2 km from where I lived, which had better visibility, high profile, more responsibility, etc but the interview lasted only 45 minutes containing very basic questions. It is also funny enough that their key criteria was the successful candidate had to know Spring and Hibernate. I guess if you are not good enough, they might not extend your contract after 3-6 months.

    -- only 2-3 candidates out of 10 generally come across well in the inetrviews. Is this due to nervousness, lack of preparation prior to interviews, etc. I am sure, some of the other ones are more talented than they appear to be in the interviews.


    -- some interviewers are more keen on bragging about their company, project, etc than assesing a prospective candidate's suitability. I sometimes forget that I am in an interview. May be it is a trick to open up a candidate, who would otherwise be in his/her best behaviour.



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    Andy Lester
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    arulk pillai wrote:only 2-3 candidates out of 10 generally come across well in the inetrviews. Is this due to nervousness, lack of preparation prior to interviews, etc. I am sure, some of the other ones are more talented than they appear to be in the interviews.


    That number of 2-3 out of 10 sounds about right to me. It's one of the reasons I wanted to write "Land The Tech Job You Love", because I wanted to help increase the number of people who did well in interviews.

    I think a lot of it is just that people don't realize how much they can improve their performance at an interview simply by preparing. Preparing for the interview is so important that it gets its own chapter in the book. You need to prepare a work portfolio to bring with you, and find out how to get the company and make sure you get there on time. You have to prepare your own questions to ask the interviewer, so you don't sit there like a lump passively answering questions.

    Some interviewers are more keen on bragging about their company, project, etc than assesing a prospective candidate's suitability. I sometimes forget that I am in an interview. May be it is a trick to open up a candidate, who would otherwise be in his/her best behaviour.


    Many times it's just that people like hearing themselves talk. I think much of it is that it can be difficult to not speak and leave a silence. Learning to allow silence in a conversation is an important skill, not just in interviewing.



    The Working Geek, a blog of job hunting and work life for techies. Author of Land The Tech Job You Love. Follow me at @theworkinggeek
    Hong Anderson
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    Andy Lester wrote:
    That number of 2-3 out of 10 sounds about right to me. It's one of the reasons I wanted to write "Land The Tech Job You Love", because I wanted to help increase the number of people who did well in interviews.

    I think you should write something like "Find Employees You Want" also .
    2-3 out of 10 also implies inexperience of the recruiter. In my company, we don't ask everybody to come to interview, we ask only people that we think they have potential.


    SCJA 1.0, SCJP 1.4, SCWCD 1.4, SCBCD 1.3, SCJP 5.0, SCEA 5, SCBCD 5; OCUP - Fundamental, Intermediate and Advanced; IBM Certified Solution Designer - OOAD, vUML 2; SpringSource Certified Spring Professional
    Andy Lester
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    Kengkaj Sathianpantarit wrote:
    I think you should write something like "Find Employees You Want" also .


    That's a great idea. I'll consider it once I become reacquainted with my wife and daughter.
    Vikas Kapoor
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    Joined: Aug 16, 2007
    Posts: 1374
    Jeanne Boyarsky wrote:
  • that 68% is a good score in India.
  • ... But in which stream? Engineering (IT?, Electrical?, Chemical)?, Bsc.? Bcom.? I am mentioning this because we have many ranchers(moderators) from non IT background. 68% is indeed a good score in IT and it requires equal amount of effort.

    and not to mention that candidate evaluation in India is very different (right from grass root level) than in USA. (Many of my friends feel the study in US is less burdensome than in India.)

    Back to the point,

  • I have seen that candidate's confidence level plays very crucial part in the selection process. And many a times I have seen that candidate with high confidence level and nice communication skill gets priority over candidate with good technical skill.
  • Bear Bibeault
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      67

    Vishal Pandya wrote:
  • I have seen that candidate's confidence level plays very crucial part in the selection process. And many a times I have seen that candidate with high confidence level and nice communication skill gets priority over candidate with good technical skill.

  • I'm OK with that.

    Being able to work on a team and with other people is just as important, if not more important, than technical skills. I've worked with many a really smart person who's been a drag on the team rather than an asset.


    [Asking smart questions] [Bear's FrontMan] [About Bear] [Books by Bear]
    Katrina Owen
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      17
    I remember sitting in on an interview where the candidate said that thinking about the problems that we asked them to weigh in on made their brain hurt.

    I don't know if the problem was low self esteem, or maybe the person really didn't want to do the type of work that these problems represented.

    Or maybe their brain did hurt.

    The person didn't get hired.
    Hong Anderson
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    Bear Bibeault wrote:
    I've worked with many a really smart person who's been a drag on the team rather than an asset.

    Maybe it's the whole team including yourself that drag them (the smart person) .

    Just maybe, because it's strange, if that person is really smart why the team couldn't work with him. Ability to work with a person who is much more smart than you is an important skill also.
    Bear Bibeault
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      67

    Yeah, right. In fact, you sound just like them: "I'm not the one with the problem, everyone else is!"

    At no time did I say that these people were smarter than myself or the rest of the team. Being "smart" isn't enough if you can't work with people or communicate effectively.
    Henry Wong
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      40

    Bear Bibeault wrote:Yeah, right. In fact, you sound just like them: "I'm not the one with the problem, everyone else is!"

    At no time did I say that these people were smarter than myself or the rest of the team. Being "smart" isn't enough if you can't work with people or communicate effectively.



    I'll go one step further. It doesn't matter -- even if the one person is smarter. It is much easier to replace one person than to replace a team.

    It doesn't matter if you are smarter. If you can't produce, or if your presence causes a team to be less productive, you are no different than someone who is sitting around doing nothing.

    Henry


    Books: Java Threads, 3rd Edition, Jini in a Nutshell, and Java Gems (contributor)
    Bear Bibeault
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      67

    Henry Wong wrote:or if your presence causes a team to be less productive, you are no different than someone who is sitting around doing nothing.

    Or worse -- someone who is doing nothing at least doesn't get in the way.
    Henry Wong
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      40


    One thing that I learned recently was to never assume that the interview is done.

    I had an interview, where I really liked the guy (smart, personable, etc.)... Near the end of the hour long interview, I saw that one of my colleagues was coming back into the hotel bar (no alcoholic drinks, of course ). So, assuming that the interview was done, I decided to throw a "somewhat technical", but "softball" question as my departing question.

    "I see your resume discusses extensive use POSIX threads, so can you tell me a bit about condition variables?"

    "ahhhh"

    "you know. cond vars."

    "ahhhh"


    Now... I really like the guy. And told my manager so. But... My colleague overheard the last exchange, and proceeded to tell everyone, which put me in an uncomfortable position of pushing too hard. Furthermore, this candidate had multiple options, so this embarrassing moment (although not intentional), didn't put the prospect (of working with me) in a good light either.

    Henry
    Hong Anderson
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    Bear Bibeault wrote:Yeah, right. In fact, you sound just like them: "I'm not the one with the problem, everyone else is!"

    At no time did I say that these people were smarter than myself or the rest of the team. Being "smart" isn't enough if you can't work with people or communicate effectively.

    It depends. Sometimes when we work with someone that is smarter than us. We may need to change our attitudes or change our ways of thinking. As I said, ability to work with smarter guys is an important skill, we need to open our mind widely, listen more, argue less. Overcome prejudices, preconceptions. Try to understand, not try to argue, etc.

    And it doesn't matter that only one guy is the problem or everyone is a problem. Sometimes one guy is a problem, sometimes everybody except one guy is a problem, sometimes everybody is a problem. Sometimes the problem is our attitude thinking that who don't think like us is a problem.

    I agree that being smart is not enough. But my point is that if there is a problem in communications between module A and module B. Module A has 1 component, module B has 5 components. Do you think the problem must only be in module A?

    If many students don't understand things that a teacher explains, the problem must only be the teacher?
    Hong Anderson
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    Henry Wong wrote:
    I'll go one step further. It doesn't matter -- even if the one person is smarter. It is much easier to replace one person than to replace a team.

    Someone is very hard to be replaced, we can fire them and recruit new staff, but we may not be able to replace amount of contribution. And maybe it's easier, but easy doesn't mean good. Sometimes, the easiest way might be the worst way.

    Henry Wong wrote:
    It doesn't matter if you are smarter. If you can't produce, or if your presence causes a team to be less productive, you are no different than someone who is sitting around doing nothing.

    I don't understand that why a smarter cannot produce. Could you please to give a logical reason about this? It sounds conflict to me.
    If "the smarter guy" cannot produce and cause a team to be less productive, I think he is not so smart.
    Bear Bibeault
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      67

    I'll send the prima donnas your way. You can have them!

    And yes, good communications is everyone's responsibility. I'm primarily talking about the people who are unable, or worse, unwilling, to learn to work with others. I've had my share of those both as peer team members, and as subordinates when I was in management.

    As I said, they are generally not an asset to the team.
    Paul Yule
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    Kengkaj Sathianpantarit wrote:
    I don't understand that why a smarter cannot produce. Could you please to give a logical reason about this? It sounds conflict to me.
    If "the smarter guy" cannot produce and cause a team to be less productive, I think he is not so smart.


    He could be very technical and definitely get in the way of the team. In my limited experience as a developer I have even seen this occur. I once had a gentleman on my team that loved to tell us how he solved problems, but never shared anything worthwhile. "I created a Utils class that destroyed all problems far and wide, I use it everywhere." However, it was a private thing that we could not touch. We were forced to move to nightly builds just so we could get his code into the repository.

    Although attitude isn't enough, if I have to choose between 2 mostly useless people, I'll take a good attitude with willingness to communicate over technical skills any day.
    Bear Bibeault
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    Kengkaj Sathianpantarit wrote:I don't understand that why a smarter cannot produce.

    No one said smart people can't produce. Heck, I'm a "smart people" and I'm very productive. I work with very smart people and our team is very productive. We all also have good communications skills.

    The discussion started regarding how sometimes the "smart" person may not get the job offer. I pointed out that this could be because of a lack of other skills, and that just being smart is not enough to succeed on a team.
    Mark Herschberg
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    The first time I interviewed people we had a job opening for a Java engineering. I met with two candidates. The first was from MIT, so as an alum I was naturally excited by that fact. The guy was clearly technically very strong. The second candidate was from a decent college, not quite MIT level. He was smart, but not as smart as the first candidate. His communication skills were far better, and he seemed more fun to be around.

    Up to that point I had always believed we should hire the smartest guy possible. I had these funny feelings that I knew the MIT guy was smarter but the other guy seemed so much more personable.

    I didn't have to make a decision then because we decided not to hire for the role, but it really showed me just how important presentation skills are. I also thought about what I want in employees and realized raw IQ, while the highest factor in my book (after integrity of course), should only be viewed as one of many dimensions.

    -----

    I also learned the value of talking through problem solving. When you're given a question, to write code on a white board, technical question, or brain teaser, talk through the problem. Sitting in silence for 5 minutes while the candidate scribble away is very boring. More importantly the candidate just lost 5 minutes he could have used to impress me--I'm actually more interested in how you think through the problem than the answer you get.

    -----

    Followup is huge. We once had a candidate send us a page and half long email saying, "I didn't really like the answer I gave you for the question about.... so here is a better one..." This wasn't some web search text book answer, it was an answer about how to think about different architectures. His doing this stood out in two ways. First, thank you notes are rare, so any type of followup stands out. Second, that he showed a pride in his answers was very impressive. We hired him and he was fantastic.

    -----

    Demos are also very impressive. The candidates who have walked in with a laptop and said, "let me show you something I built" always stand out, even years later.

    -----

    Interviewers really do begin to from a pretty strong impression after about 5 minutes (at least I do), so make the most of those first 5 minutes.

    -----

    Conveying energy and a positive attitude really do help make a difference in your interview.



    --Mark
    Jeanne Boyarsky
    author & internet detective
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    Vishal Pandya wrote:
    Jeanne Boyarsky wrote:
  • that 68% is a good score in India.
  • ... But in which stream? Engineering (IT?, Electrical?, Chemical)?, Bsc.? Bcom.? I[/list]

    IT. And I don't remember the answer to the second question. I feel confident in saying it is a good score because I asked someone who studied in India
    Hong Anderson
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    Bear Bibeault wrote:
    Kengkaj Sathianpantarit wrote:I don't understand that why a smarter cannot produce.

    No one said smart people can't produce. Heck, I'm a "smart people" and I'm very productive. I work with very smart people and our team is very productive.

    Thanks for you explanation. But in fact there is one opinion that means something like that.
    It doesn't matter if you are smarter. If you can't produce

    That is the reason why I asked. Because it's not reasonable to me.
    Henry Wong
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      40

    Kengkaj Sathianpantarit wrote:
    Henry Wong wrote:
    It doesn't matter if you are smarter. If you can't produce, or if your presence causes a team to be less productive, you are no different than someone who is sitting around doing nothing.

    I don't understand that why a smarter cannot produce. Could you please to give a logical reason about this? It sounds conflict to me.
    If "the smarter guy" cannot produce and cause a team to be less productive, I think he is not so smart.


    It is not a conflict at all -- smarter does not be more productive... I have seen very smart people (1) detour meetings into endless details that no one really cares about, (2) do what they think is correct, instead of what is agreed upon, because they know better, and (3) don't do simple tasks, like testing edge conditions (or even basic unit tests), because it is beneath them.

    Henry
    Hong Anderson
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    Henry Wong wrote:I have seen very smart people (1) detour meetings into endless details that no one really cares about, (2) do what they think is correct, instead of what is agreed upon, because they know better, and (3) don't do simple tasks, like testing edge conditions (or even basic unit tests), because it is beneath them.

    For (1) and (3), if they do that I think they are not so smart.
    For (2), I think everyone should do that, we should do the correct thing even if many people agreed to do the wrong thing. I say "many" not "all" because if all agreed that will never happen.

    And agreements can change like requirements can change I believe everybody have experience that requirements change. If we accept that why we don't accept agreements change? This is also not logical to me.

    Everything can change if something better is discovered. Like scientific theories, they have changed over time.
    But if someone does wrong thing while others do the right thing, I think that person is not smart.

    I understand your point, I think the problem is just our definitions about "smart" are different.
    Henry Wong
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      40

    For (2), I think everyone should do that, we should do the correct thing even if many people agreed to do the wrong thing. I say "many" not "all" because if all agreed that will never happen.


    We are not talking about differences of implementations here. We are talking about not implementing something that is required and hence, useful to other team members -- or the users.

    Personally, this is where we differ. If someone implements something that can't be used, it is *not* the correct thing. And if someone is so hubris, that he/she just unilaterally implements something, that is not agreed upon, because he/she knows betters than the other team members, or the stakeholders, then I would prefer to not have that person on the team.

    And yes, replacing the person may be expensive, but ... I agree with Bear. Just get rid of the prima donna and move on.

    Henry
    Hong Anderson
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    This might not be directly related to this discussion. Sometimes it is just "perception".
    When I studied Psychology, there was a research that divided people to 2 groups, people in group A have different opinions, while people in group B have similar opinions. Then give the same assignment to these 2 groups.
    The result is group A's solution is better than group B's, but if ask the feeling, group B feel happier than group A (even in fact their solution is not good as group A).

    I like and want arguments in team, because if there is no argument at all that probably means that there is something wrong but nobody knows (or cares). But too much arguments especially unreasonable arguments will not be tolerated.
    Katrina Owen
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      17
    While differing opinions can lead to very useful discussions and very interesting solutions, it is highly unproductive to unilaterally go against the decisions of the group because one thinks one knows better.

    Also, disagreements do not need to be arguments.
    Bear Bibeault
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    Katrina Owen wrote:Also, disagreements do not need to be arguments.

    A very good point.

    We have daily scrum meetings, and being that we are six very senior, very experienced, developers, there are usually very spirited discussions and wide ranges of opinion. So we get to hear a lot of viewpoints, all of which have validity. But in the end, we decide what is best for the team and the product, and that's what happens.
    Katrina Owen
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      17
    There is one guy on my team who is our champion skeptic. It's not like he is negative, or disagreeable, or that he plays devil's advocate.

    He asks good questions, and his questions generally help spark the discussion that leads to a far better solution that the one we would have ended up with if he didn't speak up.
    Sim Kim
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    Hi Jeanne,

    In India there are many universities and the score 68% is good or OK depending on the university the candidate studied.

    For example , if you study from Banglore university , there 75% is distinction and above 60% is A class.

    While if you study in Pune university , 66% is distinction and 60% is A class. So a guy with 68% in Pune would be better than the one in Banglore.
    Deepak Bala
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        5

    Jeanne Boyarsky wrote:
    Vishal Pandya wrote:
    Jeanne Boyarsky wrote:
  • that 68% is a good score in India.
  • ... But in which stream? Engineering (IT?, Electrical?, Chemical)?, Bsc.? Bcom.? I[/list]

    IT. And I don't remember the answer to the second question. I feel confident in saying it is a good score because I asked someone who studied in India


    Whether this is a good score is highly dependent on where you studied. Where I studied, the cut off that IT companies expect is usually 70%. It can go down to 50% for some companies. My college papers sometimes go to people that evaluate the paper drunk (I am not joking). I knew this guy who redesigned a chip and increased its efficiency by around 60%. He did this as his final year project. He is brilliant. They failed him on the theory part of the subject. haha. Poor thing. He had to pay some money to have the paper "re-evaluated" and then he passed. But much on that later.

    From what I have gathered so far

    * Around 70% of candidates cannot answer the question "What is System , out and println() in System.out.println()". This filter question has been a major time saver for me.
    * I agree that I feel more inclined to select some one that has personality and knowledge against some one that is very technical and boring.
    * I try to manufacture some real world problem questions. This helps evaluate the person better.


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    fred rosenberger
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      16

    sort of off-topic, but sort-of related.

    My wife has recently become a sweep rower. Her coach recently told her a story about how important TEAMWORK is, regardless of your strength/ability.

    There was a guy who was pretty good, and VERY strong - but he didn't quite sync with the team. On the machines, he could row stronger and faster than anyone else, but in a boat, they had problems.

    The coach has all eight row for something like 500 meters, and timed them. The coach then took this guy out of the boat, left the seat empty, and had the remaining seven row 500 meters. They went FASTER WITHOUT him.

    So...the guy was stronger than everyone else. The guy was faster than everyone else. but he couldn't work with the team, and hindered EVERYONE's progress.

    I think the same would apply for someone who doesn't get along on a software team - whether the lone person is the smartest or not. If you don't get along, you're a drag on everyone else.


    There are only two hard things in computer science: cache invalidation, naming things, and off-by-one errors
    fred rosenberger
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      16

    Jeanne Boyarsky wrote:that 68% is a good score in India.

    In my college physics class, the high scores on the exams were usually in the low 20% range year after year, and those would be outliers. The mean was closer to 12%
    Hong Anderson
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    fred rosenberger wrote:
    I think the same would apply for someone who doesn't get along on a software team - whether the lone person is the smartest or not. If you don't get along, you're a drag on everyone else.

    I think you're comparing apple and orange. Some tasks like sweep (rowing) needs people to sync, but for some tasks it's not necessary. And what is the measure of success? Faster doesn't always mean better. Many times slower could be better.

    From logic, argument like this is a hasty generalization which is one kind of fallacy.
    Henry Wong
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      40

    Kengkaj Sathianpantarit wrote:I think you're comparing apple and orange. Some tasks like sweep (rowing) needs people to sync, but for some tasks it's not necessary. And what is the measure of success? Faster doesn't always mean better. Many times slower could be better.


    I think you missed the point. Its not about the measure of success for an individual. It is not about faster, smarter, or even better.

    Its about teamwork. If you can't work with a team (software or rowing), you shouldn't be part of the team.

    Henry
    Sandeep Awasthi
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    Organization is big team which is subdivided at many levels. Success of team is more important. Nice example given by fred.


    Sandeep
    fred rosenberger
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    Sandeep Sa wrote:Nice example given by fred.
    Actually, Fred's wife. and her coach.

    And yes, my point was that the rowing team was better off WITHOUT the guy. There are situations where a software team is better (by whatever ruler you want to use) WITHOUT the one guy who (pardon the pun) rocks the boat.
    Jeanne Boyarsky
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    fred rosenberger wrote:
    Jeanne Boyarsky wrote:that 68% is a good score in India.

    In my college physics class, the high scores on the exams were usually in the low 20% range year after year, and those would be outliers. The mean was closer to 12%

    Yes. But they curved the final grades, right? Not giving everyone a fail...
    fred rosenberger
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    yes, they did. but still, it made 12% a passing grade. I still get shudders thinking about it.

    My dad was a professor for 40 years. He never had specific scores you needed to pass. he'd plot everyone's scores, and look for natural 'breaks' or ''clumps". the top clump got 'A's, the next got 'B's, etc.
    Katrina Owen
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      17
    At the engineering study I was going to do 60% was a failing score. No matter what. It was pretty refreshing, actually.
    Hong Anderson
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    fred rosenberger wrote:
    And yes, my point was that the rowing team was better off WITHOUT the guy. There are situations where a software team is better (by whatever ruler you want to use) WITHOUT the one guy who (pardon the pun) rocks the boat.

    If you mean "there are", you may be right. But if we use this phrase ("there are"), there would be very little point relates to the example.

    I knew your point, the only problem is it is a hasty generalization.
    The reason that why rowing team was better without the guy is because rowing is an activity that requires people do the same thing at the same time. So this example could be applied only for similar activities, not for general activities.

    For other activities, if there is one guy in a team who cannot work very well with others, I don't think that removing him will always make the team better. Surely, it would be better if we could "replace" him with other guy who has the same competency and work well with other. But better without the guy, I don't think so because we will lose one resource.
     
    It is sorta covered in the JavaRanch Style Guide.
     
    subject: what have you learned when interviewing?