Getting Google

Here on the East coast, we’re not quite plugged into the tech job section. There’s some growth in that area in some areas of Manhattan, but it’s certainly not like the NW. So, I found this whole thread on Quora totally fascinating.

A guy got turned down for a position at Google and asked the people of Quora if that meant that he was a loser. Most commenters said that he wasn’t a loser and then rattled off all the people who were turned down by Google and then made billions elsewhere.  Others had more info about the hiring practices at Google and talked about the interviewers methods for finding talent.

I’ve never worked for a place as large and competitive as Google. From the discussion on Quora, their Human Resources department sounds creepy and pseudo-scientific. And some of the Google employees who piped into the conversation talked about the company like members of a cult.

13 thoughts on “Getting Google

    1. Is that really true?, or is it like having shot a man just to watch him die?

      Google (and other tech companies emulating them) have/had valued a certain kind of fluid/quick/analytic talent/skill (as in “Are you smart enough to work at google”, which contains puzzles that were supposedly used in Google interviews (or the kinds of puzzles used in Google interviews). An example, “How many integers between 1 and 1000 contain a 3?” and “At 3:15, what is the angle between the minute and hour hands on an analog clock?” (from Amazon, “surprise me” look inside the book).

      Those two problems are SAT/contest math problems (the second for fairly low levels of contest math, like for 10 year olds). I think I’ve also heard of “piano tuners in Chicago” style problems (which require educated guesses + problem solving + math + arithmetic). The kinds of problems are often the kind that insiders in the tech industry perform well at (and have enjoyed doing from the time they were very young).

      I believe, and this article concurs (, that Google has realized (after looking at the effectivness of their hiring selections) that the method was fairly unproductive and mostly servied to validate biased, in group hiring (i.e. people hired people like themselves, who could solve the same kinds of problems they could, with the same speed and skill).

      They are now doing continued experiments on new methods of hiring, with new quantitative measures.

      These are my people, the kind of people who think it’s fun to do number theory problems, so I understand them. But, I do not think that a company that contains only that kind of intelligence will be the most successful, nor that the speed with which one can do those problems should be used as the only measure of value to a project.


      1. PS: valuing the kind of intellect that values number theory might be correlated with the kind of intellect that uses too many nested parenthesis in blog comments, which is an example of why overvaluing one skill over others can be a problem.


  1. Google is in Cambridge. They’re expanding their offices, and apparently hiring even more people. So, “here on the East Coast,” should perhaps read, “near Manhattan.”

    Computer engineers can be prolix. I haven’t read the Quora thread, but I assume computer engineers contributed their opinions. If I wanted that, I’d read Slashdot instead.


  2. Maybe there’s no google, but there are plenty of large prestigious organizations at which people compete to get jobs. My daughter (poor little thing) told me she had a dream in which she was interviewing for a job at JPMorgan, and the interviewer asked her “what is 54 times 78,” so she was trying to do the problem in her head in her dream. She was doing it in a fairly mathematical way, as befits a math major (i.e., half of 78 is 39, times 100 is 3900, plus 4 times 75 which is 300, plus 4 times 3 which is 12, so 4212), but she didn’t quite finish. She woke up in a cold sweat, and vowed to memorize the times tables up to 100 x 100, so she would never get caught short in a job interview.

    I hasten to say, I don’t know that JPMorgan interviews are anything like this in actuality. But there are plenty of young people sweating about job interviews here in NYC.


  3. Oh, yeah. Plenty of sweating, but there’s isn’t one company that rules them all. Even in investment banking. Is there really a huge difference in prestige between JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley, and another half dozen firms. One step down and there’s another dozen firms. And there’s a bazillion hedge funds to choose from — some have outstanding salaries. There’s advertising, publishing, law, education, fashion, and a dozens of other fields. I suppose that once when one gets into a niche, the world becomes very small. My husband knows just about everybody who does what he does in NYC. But for 20 year olds who haven’t specialized yet, there are a lot of opportunities.


  4. This reminds me in some ways of the completion for top schools, and the competition within those schools (see the article in the NY Times this week on suicide in the Ivys).
    Living in San Francisco, I’ve met a few young people who think that if they aren’t hired by Facebook or Google or Twitter or equivalent their lives are over. I try to tell them to think about what kind of work they like to do. When I was younger I was seduced by “cool” and regretted it.
    A good friend who coded got a job working for Thomas Dollby. It paid less than Silicon Valley but was decent money for the Bay Area. He left the job to work at a “cool” dot-com and in the long run discovered that he hated the constant grind of fast code releases and pressure to deliver to the investors. He spent a long time getting back to working with sofware for music, which was what he loved, even if it didn’t have the cachet of Yahoo in 2000.


  5. It is very reminiscent of the NY Time article. I think the biggest similarity I see is the idea that there is only perfection and failure, and, with no possibility of recovery. And that philosophy does seem linked, to me, to being a child, with a child’s short view of life and the world (in addition to possibility of real clinical depression, which can affect people independent of age). When you’ve lived 50 years (even 50 years of comfort), you’ve seen bad things happen and survived them. When you’ve lived 18, in this protected world (and, I’m not talking about helicoptering, but vaccines & antibiotics & blood pressure meds and social security and all the protections that come with a fairly affluent life) life has been mostly kind to you. You don’t *know* that you will survive them in the same way.

    I remember being 16, and imagining that rape was the very worst thing that could happen to a woman, and the realization that it wasn’t, when a rape survivor spoke to our school. And she convinced me by just being there, talking to us, and having survived and moving on with her life. It was a very important lesson.


  6. In “Blessings of a skinned knee” the author compares the children of this echelon and time as “princes”, who pampered in all the mundane tasks of life, but who also have enormous expectations heaped upon them.


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