I stumbled across this blog post listing 25 tough interview questions that people have been asked, and thought it might be rather jolly to attempt some answers. I’ve not read the questions before embarking on this process, so I have no idea whether they’ll be interesting or not, but I feel the need for some light relief after recent work.
I’ll take them in batches of five. Here are the first five:
1. “If you were to win £1 million what would you do with the money?” – Asked at PwC.
Half for me, half to do some good in the world.
I’d need to invest some time to find the best charity or charities to dump £500k on in a way that didn’t completely distort the way they work. I could imagine myself using some of that money to fund scientific projects that I care about — for example, palaeontological digs in areas that could turn up sauropods. But the bulk of that half would probably go on third-world charities of some kind, maybe a rolling portfolio of micro-investments. I’d probably need to hire a consultant to figure out the details for me, so that would take a (hopefully small) slice out of that half.
As for my half: £160k to pay off the mortgage, £200k to prime the pension that I shamefully only started a few months ago. £20k to sort the house and garden out. Put aside £27k each to pay the boys’ university tuition fees, for a total of £81k (ouch!) That comes to £461k, which leaves me £39k to play with — holidays, electronics, guitars and so on. Seems about right.
I certainly wouldn’t stop work — I love it. But I might consider winding down to four days a week, or at least buying an additional two weeks of vacation days each year.
2. “What do you think is the most useful function in Excel?” – Asked at FirstGroup.
Honestly? It’s great for editing tables. That’s what people use it for, right? Much more often than they do for actual calculations, far less the complex “what if?” scenarios that they sold VisiCalc on back in the day.
I wonder whether spreadsheets are due for a radical rethink? They were a true novelty back in 1979, then underwent a real reinvention with the first GUI versions of Excel, but have stagnated badly since then. What would a genuinely useful dynamic calculator look like in 2013?
(Fun fact: I once implemented the game of Hunt the Wumpus in Lotus 1-2-3. It would have been about 1985, and I was supposed to be doing a part-time data-entry job for Pitney Bowes, but they didn’t have anywhere near enough work to fill my time. Come to think of it, I am not 100% sure that I didn’t use actual VisiCalc for this.)
3. “What makes you happy about work on a Friday evening?” – Asked at Tesco.
The weekend. I enjoy work, but I also enjoy not-work, and I particularly enjoy the transitions between them. However good it’s been working for the last five days, I enjoy the prospect of spending the next two with my family.
On the boundaries between Work and Other: this is one of the reasons why I don’t have a mobile phone. (Well. I have a pay-as-you-go Nokia 3510i, which I bought in 2005, but I never turn it on. I only have it so I can call home when I am on business trips.) When I am on a computer, which is nearly all of my office hours, I am obsessively in touch — always with email, Twitter and Skype running. It’s important to get away from that sometimes, and I don’t trust myself to be able to do that if I had a smartphone.
4. “How do you fit a giraffe in a fridge?” – Asked at UBS.
An easy one: you can’t. An adult giraffe weighs upwards of a tonne. Like all mammals, it’s roughly as a dense as water(*). That means its volume is greater than 1000 litres, and a fridge is much smaller than that. A bit of googling suggests that a typical fridge-freezer has a capacity on the order of 200 litres. So if you really want to refrigerate a giraffe(**), you’ll need to buy five fridges, mince the giraffe, and stuff the mince into the fridges. Use an industrial-grade mincer than can cope with the bones.
(**) Another academic colleague, the biomechanics wizard John Hutchinson, has all sorts of dead animals on ice at the Royal Veterinary College. His blog What’s In John’s Freezer? has a whole category on giraffes. So another answer to the original question would be “delegate to the RVC, who have expertise and experience in this field”.
5. “What is it about this job you would least look forward to?” – Asked at BP.
If it was asked at BP, then I suppose the answer would be being associated with a company that is primarily known for being responsible for the worst man-made ecological disaster of recent years.
But taking the question rather more generally, I would miss the friends and colleagues I have in my current job. I work somewhere where we carry no passengers: everyone at Index Data is clever and interesting, and I’d be unrealistic to expect that at most other companies — especially if it was somewhere big like BP.
On the positive side: I’ve only ever had three real jobs (which I held for nine years, three years, and ten-and-counting years). On both the previous times I’ve changed jobs, one thing I really did enjoy was no longer being responsible for the support of all the stuff I’d built over the years. There is something intoxicating about the clean slate of a new job, of owning no code yet.
OK, those are my answers. How about the rest of you?