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Can developers/programmers with "low" GPA or exam scores be awesome ?

David S Hansen
Ranch Hand

Joined: Mar 07, 2013
Posts: 30
I am asking this question from an employer's perspective (although I have never been one). I see that some jobs accept "low" GPA's ie < 3 or 2.8 if the candidate has experience.
I feel that this may not be right. If a programmer is brilliant, then he/she should not have any problem in scoring at least 3/4, assuming that unfortunate circumstances (bad health, family problems etc)
were NOT responsible for the low GPA.

Yet, some employers are okay with a low GPA. This does not make sense to me. Is there something I am missing ?
Did any of you come across employees who were brilliant but had a low gpa ? I have not thus far.


Jeff Verdegan
Bartender

Joined: Jan 03, 2004
Posts: 6109
    
    6

Personally I'm glad that employers look at more than a single number--a number that may be years in the candidate's past. If I were to find out that a company has a policy to let GPA overrule experience as a matter of course, I would immediately lose all interest in working for that company, because it would show me that they have screwed up priorities and a narrow, uninformed way of thinking.

If a programmer is brilliant, then he/she should not have any problem in scoring at least 3/4, assuming that unfortunate circumstances (bad health, family problems etc)
were NOT responsible for the low GPA.


Three big problems with that statement:

1) Being a productive, useful developer does not necessarily correlate with being skilled at scoring well on college exams.

2) There's a wide range of acceptable employees below "brilliant."

3) You can't assume that there weren't mitigating circumstances contributing to a low GPA.
Bear Bibeault
Author and ninkuma
Marshal

Joined: Jan 10, 2002
Posts: 61773
    
  67

I assume you are talking about entry-level candidates? Or those with minimal experience? For experienced candidates, I could care less what they did in school.

I agree 100% with everything Jeff posted.


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Jeff Verdegan
Bartender

Joined: Jan 03, 2004
Posts: 6109
    
    6

A few years back, at a different employer, we were looking to hire a developer. We had a few candidates with CS degrees with various GPAs that I don't remember but which were probably decent, and at least one of them had a Java cert or two. When it came time to interview, the best of them was so-so, and one of them was a complete idiot.

Meanwhile, there was also a candidate who had no degree, had never studied CS in college, and in fact I don't even recall if he attended college. I don't think he had any professional experience, or maybe very little. However, he interviewed very well, actually being able to carry on intelligent discussions about various Java and general CS topics. I also happened to be somewhat acquainted with him from another forum site, where he provided a lot of helpful answers. We hired him, and never regretted it.
David S Hansen
Ranch Hand

Joined: Mar 07, 2013
Posts: 30
Bear Bibeault wrote:I assume you are talking about entry-level candidates? Or those with minimal experience? For experienced candidates, I could care less what they did in school.

I agree 100% with everything Jeff posted.


Entry-level candidates and those with minimal experience.
David S Hansen
Ranch Hand

Joined: Mar 07, 2013
Posts: 30
Jeff Verdegan wrote: one of them was a complete idiot.


Interesting experience. Reminds me of the movie Goodwill Hunting.

By the way, when you say "idiot", what do you mean ? Did he/she do something very foolish or was not able to answer a really simple logic question ?
Would like to know.
Jayesh A Lalwani
Bartender

Joined: Jan 17, 2008
Posts: 2451
    
  28

For a long while, academia had a very narrow view of intelligence. Intelligence was primarily defined as the skill required to solve mathematical and logical problems. Hence, a person's IQ was measured by giving them math and logic puzzles. It was observed that people with high IQ generally are able to learn new subjects faster, and hence IQ started becoming used as a predictor of academic performance. Since, it was observed that people with good academic performance tend to do good at work , the same view extended to work too. High IQ = High GPA=good worker

However, over time, researchers are beginning to figure out that intelligence is not one dimensional. We are not IQ scores. There are various kinds of intelligence. There's emotional intelligence, which is basically the ability of a person to be emphatic. For example, a person with high emotional intelligence might do good at professions like nursing and psychiatric counseling. There's body intelligence, which is basically the skill you have at controlling your own body. A person with a high body intelligence might do better at sports or dancing or martial arts.

IMO, programming requires an intelligence of it's own, which I shall now call PQ. Some people are born with high PQ. Some people acquire PQ with practice. However, it's a skill that is orthogonal to standard IQ. You can be someone of a moderate IQ and high PQ, and you will be a pretty good programmer. Of course, a person with high IQ/high PQ will do a lot better than a moderate IQ/high PQ. IMO, a moderate IQ/high PQ will be a much better programmer than a person with high IQ/moderate PQ

Jeff Verdegan
Bartender

Joined: Jan 03, 2004
Posts: 6109
    
    6

David S Hansen wrote:
Bear Bibeault wrote:I assume you are talking about entry-level candidates? Or those with minimal experience? For experienced candidates, I could care less what they did in school.

I agree 100% with everything Jeff posted.


Entry-level candidates and those with minimal experience.


The less experience they have, the more I would look at their GPA. But it would still only be one factor, and even for an entry level candidate, it could easily be overshadowed, in either direction, by how they come off at the interview. And I would never assume it's "not right" to hire somebody just because of a low GPA.
Jeff Verdegan
Bartender

Joined: Jan 03, 2004
Posts: 6109
    
    6

David S Hansen wrote:
Jeff Verdegan wrote: one of them was a complete idiot.


Interesting experience. Reminds me of the movie Goodwill Hunting.

By the way, when you say "idiot", what do you mean ? Did he/she do something very foolish or was not able to answer a really simple logic question ?
Would like to know.


I mean he had one or two Java certs, had lots of relevant experience on his resume, but couldn't provide an intelligent, coherent answer to one single question about Java or CS.
David S Hansen
Ranch Hand

Joined: Mar 07, 2013
Posts: 30
Jeff Verdegan wrote:
David S Hansen wrote:
Jeff Verdegan wrote: one of them was a complete idiot.


Interesting experience. Reminds me of the movie Goodwill Hunting.

By the way, when you say "idiot", what do you mean ? Did he/she do something very foolish or was not able to answer a really simple logic question ?
Would like to know.


I mean he had one or two Java certs, had lots of relevant experience on his resume, but couldn't provide an intelligent, coherent answer to one single question about Java or CS.


I hope you could tell me a little more. Can you give me an example of one question that he did not know. For example, he could not answer this -

You) Here is an equilateral triangle consisting of * . Write a program to print it.
Him) Sure, I write System.out.println(***********); the required number of times. This is so trivial.
You) Facepalm


Jeff Verdegan
Bartender

Joined: Jan 03, 2004
Posts: 6109
    
    6

David S Hansen wrote:
I hope you could tell me a little more. Can you give me an example of one question that he did not know.


No, I can't. It was 5 years ago or more. All I remember is that I was stunned at how clueless he was about basic concepts, and yes, there was a lot of definite internal facepalming going on.
Jeff Verdegan
Bartender

Joined: Jan 03, 2004
Posts: 6109
    
    6

David S Hansen wrote:
You) Here is an equilateral triangle consisting of * . Write a program to print it.


It would be interesting to see how a candidate approached that problem, what with it being impossible and all.
Shannon Graham
Greenhorn

Joined: Mar 11, 2013
Posts: 14
Err...



Ought to print out:



I mean, you would have to measure line height and other foolish crap to make it exactly equilateral, I guess, but why would you say it's impossible?

Henry Wong
author
Sheriff

Joined: Sep 28, 2004
Posts: 19073
    
  40

Shannon Graham wrote:Err...



Ought to print out:



I mean, you would have to measure line height and other foolish crap to make it exactly equilateral, I guess, but why would you say it's impossible?




It is not impossible -- but it would be very difficult for someone to figure it out during an interview. Equilateral triangles have equal angles of 60 degrees each. Your example is of a triangle with a 90 degree and two 45 degree angles -- and that is assuming that the star takes the space of a perfect square.

Henry


Books: Java Threads, 3rd Edition, Jini in a Nutshell, and Java Gems (contributor)
Shannon Graham
Greenhorn

Joined: Mar 11, 2013
Posts: 14
I guess the question is really meant to see a programmers approach. So it's a silly question - I'd make the interviewer draw on paper the triangle he was describing, saying "I just want to make sure we're both talking about the same kind of triangle", then point out how difficult it would be to make it exactly equilateral. Then I'd offer a couple of compromises.

Jeff Verdegan
Bartender

Joined: Jan 03, 2004
Posts: 6109
    
    6

Shannon Graham wrote:




That doesn't look anything like equilateral to me.


I mean, you would have to measure line height and other foolish crap to make it exactly equilateral, I guess, but why would you say it's impossible?


If someone says "equilateral triangle," I take it to mean "exactly equilateral," not "sort of equilateral-ish." Recognizing that distinction and clarifying the requirement vis-a-vis said exactitude would be part of what I'd look for in the candidate's response. I certainly don't consider that kind of precision "foolish crap," and neither do the employers or customers who expect me to produce what they ask for.

If you can tell me a number of characters wide to make the base, and how many rows that corresponds to, I will retract my claim of impossibility.

Or if you can come up with a way to rotate it that doesn't involve irrational numbers (which I didn't consider until now, but which I'm still thinking is not possible), then too I will retract my claim.
Jeff Verdegan
Bartender

Joined: Jan 03, 2004
Posts: 6109
    
    6

Henry Wong wrote:
It is not impossible


I think the height from apex to center of base is base * sqrt(3) / 2, which means it's impossible, unless we specify an error tolerance.

Or unless I've got my geometry wrong.
Jeff Verdegan
Bartender

Joined: Jan 03, 2004
Posts: 6109
    
    6

Shannon Graham wrote:I guess the question is really meant to see a programmers approach. So it's a silly question


That certainly doesn't follow. Questions designed to see how a candidate approaches a problem can be very useful.

I don't think this one is particularly good, but then, I didn't post it, just commented on it after somebody else did.

then point out how difficult it would be to make it exactly equilateral.


I hope you'd point out how it would be impossible to make it exactly equilateral with asterisks, or even pixels.
Shannon Graham
Greenhorn

Joined: Mar 11, 2013
Posts: 14
Jeff Verdegan wrote:
Shannon Graham wrote:I guess the question is really meant to see a programmers approach. So it's a silly question


That certainly doesn't follow. Questions designed to see how a candidate approaches a problem can be very useful.

I don't think this one is particularly good, but then, I didn't post it, just commented on it after somebody else did.



I don't think there's any reason it can't be both silly and useful.
Jeff Verdegan
Bartender

Joined: Jan 03, 2004
Posts: 6109
    
    6

Shannon Graham wrote:
I don't think there's any reason it can't be both silly and useful.


Fair enough. I assumed when you said "silly" you were also implying "pointless." Shame on me.
Henry Wong
author
Sheriff

Joined: Sep 28, 2004
Posts: 19073
    
  40


As a side note -- and maybe it is because I work for a company that makes a specialize product -- I think the questions should be related to the company. For example, with my current company, I would like an understanding of UDP, and specifically, UDP over multicast. For my previous company, I would like an understanding of garbage collection. After all, the candidate knows which company he/she is interviewing for, and hence, should have done some research on the products and related technologies.

Obviously, it won't be a "drop dead" requirement, as we can discuss the theory of networking (or GC) to see if the candidate can pick up the concepts.


What do you think? Should the questions be generic? Or should they be more focused on what the candidate is likely to need for the role?

Henry
Shannon Graham
Greenhorn

Joined: Mar 11, 2013
Posts: 14
Henry Wong wrote:

What do you think? Should the questions be generic? Or should they be more focused on what the candidate is likely to need for the role?

Henry


As long as it's actually possible for a recruit to know what you consider essential for the job, and therefore, what the questions will be about.

Garbage collection, for instance. I assume you're talking about the sort used in Java, which is a wonderful feature that C lacks. If your ad says "Programmer with 5 years of experience in Java wanted for a position that will revolutionize memory handling in OOP environments", does that tell them that they should brush up on garbage collection? Is it going to say specifically, on your company website, "we are THE masters of garbage collection?"

I bet it doesn't. I bet it says something more like, "we provide high powered memory management and process efficiency applications to supercharge your business." Which, of course, does not tell the candidate to brush up on garbage collection. The only way they'll know is probably if they happen to be lucky enough to chat with one of your other employees and it comes up in conversation.

Unless I'm wrong, of course.

tl;dr, yes, I do think that questions should be focused on the company's domain. But then again, programming is programming and most competent people should be able to learn what they need pretty quickly, even if they don't have it memorized on interview day.
Jeff Verdegan
Bartender

Joined: Jan 03, 2004
Posts: 6109
    
    6

Henry Wong wrote:
What do you think? Should the questions be generic? Or should they be more focused on what the candidate is likely to need for the role?
Henry


I try to aim for a mix of both, although in most cases I would probably put more emphasis on the generic stuff, but of course, as with everything, it would depend on the specific context. And my bias toward knowing the generalities first and learn the specifics on the job is certainly informed by the fact that almost my entire career has unfolded that way.

For instance, I'm currently responsible for my employer's 2 Android apps. I'm the only developer working on them, and I'd never even looked at Android programming prior to starting this job last summer. But my boss and I worked together previously (at a company that built compliance software, which I'd also never done before, using technologies there that I'd never used before), and I guess he felt I was up to the task of some OJT. So far it's working out okay, in that I haven't driven the company out of business yet.

I guess it also helps if, even if the candidate doesn't have experience with the specific technologies I need, he has a broad experience with lots of others that cover wide swaths of the landscape. That would tell me that he can handle learning new things in disparate areas.
Ernest Friedman-Hill
author and iconoclast
Marshal

Joined: Jul 08, 2003
Posts: 24187
    
  34

Shannon Graham wrote:



Also, note that an inexperienced programmer might literally write the above -- which isn't valid Java -- and when pressed, might not understand the nested loops you'd need to write to implement it correctly. In other words, one could be able to think up an algorithm, but still not have enough experience in a language to express it; for a company interested in spinning up new employees quickly, this would be a liability.


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Maneesh Godbole
Saloon Keeper

Joined: Jul 26, 2007
Posts: 10535
    
    9

David S Hansen wrote:Can developers/programmers with "low" GPA or exam scores be awesome ?

Sure. Why not?

David S Hansen wrote:
If a programmer is brilliant, then he/she should not have any problem in scoring at least 3/4, assuming that unfortunate circumstances (bad health, family problems etc)
were NOT responsible for the low GPA.

Haven't you answered your question above yourself?

In my experience, employers who insist on high GPA mistake education for knowledge. I have known people with low scores turning out to be brilliant as well as people with a masters degree under their belt, being total morons. Either way, scores and certs and degrees are not any real indicator of the person's capabilities.

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Suzie Russell
Greenhorn

Joined: Mar 13, 2013
Posts: 22

I have friends who get high scores than me, still know less about stuff than me... or so say my other friends and professors.
I don't think GPAs should be given a higher priority than the actual knowledge.
I don't deny the fact that grades reflect your knowledge, but just as in my case.. i prefer programming and practically trying out stuff than just memorizing theoretically.


Sincerely,
A Whovian on a JVM.
Henry Wong
author
Sheriff

Joined: Sep 28, 2004
Posts: 19073
    
  40

Let me try to answer the question from a different direction...

David S Hansen wrote:I am asking this question from an employer's perspective (although I have never been one). I see that some jobs accept "low" GPA's ie < 3 or 2.8 if the candidate has experience.
I feel that this may not be right. If a programmer is brilliant, then he/she should not have any problem in scoring at least 3/4, assuming that unfortunate circumstances (bad health, family problems etc)
were NOT responsible for the low GPA.

Yet, some employers are okay with a low GPA. This does not make sense to me. Is there something I am missing ?
Did any of you come across employees who were brilliant but had a low gpa ? I have not thus far.


Personally, once it hits the interview, it doesn't matter what your GPA is. The interviewer is going to figure it all out. If you are brilliant with low score, but it a fit for the role, you're golden. If you have a fantastic GPA and failed the interview, you're out.

I think this is an HR requirement. HR departments (and recruiters) get a ridiculous amount of submissions. And quite frankly, they need a way to cull the candidates -- and in a way, that can take seconds. For candidates with newly minted degrees, the GPA is certainly a technique that fulfills this requirement.


In other words, while I certainly don't agree with this practice, I understand why it is so.

Henry
Henry Wong
author
Sheriff

Joined: Sep 28, 2004
Posts: 19073
    
  40


Admittedly. when this topic first appeared in the "meaningless drivel" forum, I allowed it because I thought the OP wanted a funny discussion. It didn't turn out that way, and ended up as a serious discussions about employment, hiring practices, and ability to do the job.

Anyway, let's move this topic to the "job discussions" forum.

Henry
 
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subject: Can developers/programmers with "low" GPA or exam scores be awesome ?