Why brainteasers and algorithmic puzzles are exactly the right way to hire engineers

At big tech companies, at least.

Becoming a software engineer at a place like Facebook or Google requires learning to become a master at solving esoteric algorithm problems on a whiteboard. Interview problems are almost their own distinct discipline, wildly theoretical and disconnected from any real work.

Everybody involved thinks it’s a crazy system, yet it’s what every top tech company does. Why?

The fact the interview doesn't tell you anything about somebody's practical ability is the point.

The technical interview does not select for technical skills, it selects for personality traits.

One very specific personality trait: the ability to put up with an arbitrary assignment and do it well, thoroughly and completely.

It's like the SAT. It filters for compliance and dedication to a task, not ability. It works precisely because it’s arbitrary.

This is critical for companies like Facebook and Google to work. The biggest challenge these companies have is not finding smarter people, but getting them to all row in the same direction.

Big companies spend an extraordinary amount of energy communicating with themselves — it's remarkable they don’t collapse under their own weight. Finding people that can work together effectively at scale is the bottleneck.

That’s the role of the technical interview.

This is a good thing

The technical interview is frustrating — no doubt. However, it’s much better than the alternative: throughout history the best jobs were only available to those who were well connected and from the right social circumstances.

Now, it’s possible to earn $400k+ just by working hard and passing a test. A life-changing career in software engineering is imminently achievable — so long as you understand what the test is really testing.

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