Home » Archive by category "Musings" (Page 4)

Tough interview questions? Bring it and wing it!

Some interviewers hit hard with their questions, and ask real puzzlers. I was once asked, “How many bicycle tyres do you think are sold in China per year?” Wow. But it’s not to see if you know the Right Answer (most of the time, there is none) – you’re basically being asked to reason the question out loud, or demonstrate a bit of your character.

The Guardian just published a few of Glassdoor’s top 25, and I’m surprised to find that they all have scope for some reasoned entertainment. Below I am going to answer each off pretty much the top of my head (please allow that I am typing, slower than talking, and that might give me time to think a bit more…)

• “If your friend was seriously injured and you had to get him to a hospital, would you speed and go through a red light?” – Asked at Barlow Lyde & Gilbert (trainee solicitor candidate)

This one is fairly pragmatic. It asks whether you are willing to make exceptions to rules if a life is in danger. Well. Not really. It reveals whether you think things out before giving an answer. The red light is not just a rule – it’s a safety precaution. Speed through the red light on a busy road, and you’re likely to a) injure more people; b) kill your friend. Then, if you wait at the light, your friend is slowly dying. The crux of the question is another question: why are you driving in the first place? The worst case scenario is that you’re somewhere unknown/hard to get to and you can’t direct the ambulance service easily. Probably in the countryside.

My answer: call the emergencies service, and agree to meet at the nearest crowded place/well known location if needs be. This done, if on the country road there’s a red light and great visibility, and no oncoming vehicles, then maybe at that point I’d expect to be overlooked a transgression for an emergency…

• “Would you rather fight a horse-sized duck or 100 duck sized horses?” – Asked at BHP Billiton (dry bulk marketer candidate)

I love this one.

A) Ducks can be vicious little buggers. Their necks can reach right round to their backs, and then some; they can fly; they are not afraid of chasing a full-grown human; and they can deal nasty bites. Bring that to horse size and what you’ve got is a flying raptor — the famous intelligent killing machines of the Cretaceous, given wings.

B) Horses are fairly docile by human standards. They’d rather flee than fight. In a stampede, if they see something large, they’ll work around it. I have yet to come across accounts of aggressive horses that aren’t actually defending anything you can’t distance yourself from.

The question essentially then becomes: would you rather face the fastest fabled killing machine known to science, or manage a flock of 100 scared puppy-like animals?

• “How many ways can you get a needle out of a haystack?” – Asked at Macquarie bank (senior Java developer candidate)

A perennial favourite and one that I answer thus:

Do you wish to keep the haystack in the form of a haystack? If you do, you’ll find it very difficult. Even just sifting through the haystack upsets it some, but if you can get past it being dismantled, sift, sift and sift again.

If not:

1) Why not try spreading it over a pool? The hay floats, the needle drops, use a strong magnet to get it out.

2) If you don’t even care about the integrity of the haystack…. trial by literal fire. Sifting becomes much, much easier.

Eventually, the answer becomes: two. Dismantle the haystack, or remove the haystack completely.

• “What makes you happy about work on a Friday evening?” – Asked at Tesco (international deployment manager candidate)

This is a more serious question. From my own experience, Friday evenings (read: after hours) at work are not usually my idea of a fun time, however when I know I have a solution to a problem, or I can see what steps need to be taken to resolve it, or I can guarantee that with a bit of brute-force man-hours the job will be done and dusted and 100% complete, then you can bet your bottom dollar that, provided I have enough tea and noodles, I’m there all night.

In the end I would look at the question as, under what circumstances would you face a Friday evening at the office with energy?

• “Why is 99% not good enough?” – Asked at Parcelforce Worldwide (delivery and collection manager candidate)

This one looks on the face of it as a measure of commitment. “I always want to deliver 100% or it’s not worth it” kind of thing. I’d beware of saying anything anywhere remotely associated with that line. What if it’s certain that there will be problems along the way? What if it’s uncertain the rest of your organisation will be behind you? If you don’t deliver 100%, what will you do, how will you take it? And what if you achieve far less than 99%?

99% is not good enough if that’s where you set the bar up front. 100% is your target. “Good enough” here to me implies that that is a goal. “If we only deliver the basic features but leave out the bells and whistles we’re fine” kind of attitude. This kind of approach wins no prizes.

To put emphasis on this, I would actually put this forward: if a project is handed over to you, and it is clear you can’t make 100% because of whatever business reasons (as they happen in the real world) what do you do?

If it is impossible to reach the original 100%, and you must be very, very clear on why, then it is your onus to bring this out to stakeholders immediately and renegotiate a new 100%.

There are doubtless thousands of variations on this topic, and it could probably fill a PhD report. Single out some key ideas, and let your thoughts run with it.

My answer is: because it means you didn’t deliver what you truly could.

• “In a fight between a lion and a tiger, who would win and why?” – Asked at Capco (associate consultant candidate)

We’ll assume no knowledge of the combat abilities of a lion and a tiger in the wild, nor how or why they got there. We’ll assume they have to fight, no other choice. A pit or something. Which one wins?

Well, to be honest, I think a majority would agree that there’s a 50-50 chance of either one winning. But that’s too short an answer.

Let’s perhaps talk about Apple and Microsoft (I’m a techie, but use analogies from your own field at will). Each has assets, each has advantages, each has disadvantages, each has aspirations, plans, markets, user bases, loyalties and so on and so forth. What is true is that they are pretty much maintained at a nice little status quo where Apple has a very powerful niche whilst Microsoft is powerfully serving the masses. Linux has joined the fray, but that’s like adding a leopard to our big cat combat — agile but not powerful.

Or without diverting the conversation, just state plainly that each has their own abilities and that perhaps in certain conditions, one is better favoured than the other, and may gain an advantage. Concluding form the start that there is an evident winner is a disadvantage.

Then, if you have good knowledge of big cats, here’s your chance. May the gods help you.

• “How would you explain Facebook to your Grandma?” – Asked at Huddle (sales executive candidate)

Imagine the town square, and everyone sets up a stall, with all their photos and home videos on display, voicing their opinions at the top of their lungs, or boasting how great their lives are.

Imagine the town square where Mrs Jones discusses with Mrs Smith the subject of Mr Brown’s favourite pair of trousers — through megaphones.

Imagine then a salesman roaming this town square, where everything is said out in the open, hawking his wares to anyone he overhears talking about something he can sell to them.

Imagine James Bond’s colleagues gathered around, looking and sounding like everyone else, but taping everything and sending it all back to HQ.

That’s what Facebook is like. With the exception that people love it, as if they were living a Monty Python sketch in real life.

We are the 20%, and we are unashamed

In response to an article on Slashdot, about how too many smart people are chasing too many dumb ideas, a number of commentators digitally posted their shrugs and the hoots they did not give…

We’re not leading the way to change the world, indeed we may not all be able to muster such energy when still trying to sort out our own… it’s another thing altogether to say “why the hell should we try?” Some commentators even went so far as to suggest the “big problems” should not concern smart people.

One that stood out to me was the following:

The smart people don’t really want to help the lower class. Ugh, have you actually met any of them? Shudder. If anything they should be vexed even more than they are already.

What the smart people want is to be seen as helping the lower class. This gives you fantastic social status (among other smart people, naturally) and ensures that you will be invited to all the right parties. The lower class will themselves not be attending these parties. Again, a five minute conversation with any of them is quite enough.

Why the HELL would you go out of your way to broadly sweep a whole section of population under “they don’t deserve our good graces?” Are you actually in the 1% we’ve been squabbling with this past year-or-so?

Oh hang on, wait – there’s also the widening 20-80 divide:

In the United States, wealth is highly concentrated in a relatively few hands. As of 2010, the top 1% of households owned 35.4% of all privately held wealth, and the next 19% had 53.5%, which means that just 20% of the people owned a remarkable 89%, leaving only 11% of the wealth for the bottom 80%

(Prof. G. William Domhoff, Uni California Santa Cruz)

I added my 2 cents to the thread as follows. Now to see if I get that penny for the thought.

I’d expect nothing less from a 1st world culture in general that says “do what YOU want to do,” “find YOUR dream,” “YOU’re the most important to YOU.” Reading the comments on this thread so far, it is evident that we’d rather remain blissfully ignorant and shift the burden elsewhere.

It’s gruelling work to sort out the world’s problems, and with no one-right-answer, fraught with the possibility of failure, as some commenters here can attest: one commenter demonstrates the core attitudinal problem – it takes effort to connect with someone from a different social background, with different concerns, priorities and fears for continued livelihood, to try and understand the problem, and formulate some answer, ANY answer, but at least to give a damn and TRY; some of us just aren’t up to the task (though we can’t necessarily be blamed for that much so long as we’re not in denial). It’s much easier to cater to the quick-wins, the plugged-in smart-phone-wielding, TV-watching, internet-addicted, money-squandering market and keep them happy. Fast money, cheap glory.

The first commenters demonstate the very sentiment under fire, that rather than recognizing that there are much more worthwhile questions to ponder than how to make the next best cheap app on the most expensive phones to date, or how to make their privileged lives even more privileged, they prefer to suggest that Nnaemeka is the whiny my-problems-aren’t-solved person. Thing is, privileged netizen, YOUR problems ARE being solved.

Thankfully I too know the kind of people “O(‘_’)O_Bush” points out, those who are toiling away, and even setting up locally successful ventures, to make communities, environments and the Environment better; though it’s either an uneven distribution, in terms of attention gained vs actual work being done and achievements being made. I suspect we all know some such people. But we’d rather comment on the “celebrities” than focus on the great things happening on our own street.

We’ve riled as the 99% against the 1% and the sheer injustice of it all, but we forget that we’re still part of the upper 20% that are still quite plumply sitting on another lowly 80%. We are the 20%, and we are unashamed.

Ideal staffing levels for support teams

Prompted by a question on another site, I decided to do a little reasoning and napkin calculations to provide an answer based on my own experience. Note that whilst the below is an mainly an exercise in reasoning, and still needs work, I am fairly confident it is relevant to real world application.

Determining ideal staffing levels for a support operation depends on a number of factors, but the most significant ones I believe will be evident once you have some insight into the operation over time. Read more

Page 3

Some musings when reading a post on The Vagenda – original article concerning how Page 3 is not about social class, but about basic decency and how the continued practice of publishing such images has far reaching impacts on everyone – not just the girls in the pictures and the people actively viewing them.

—-

I thought the censors were doing their job. I was going to suggest having The Sun (and similar rags) rated 18 and shelved out of reach. But I’ve seen magazine stands lately. There’s no such thing as a “top shelf” or “porn out of reach of kids.”

I know kids have access to Internet, but it’s the difference between whether they seek out the titillation, or have it shoved in their faces

It’s the difference between what is socially acceptable to be openly discussed and what is not.

Calling out that a girl could go on page 3 seems more acceptable than suggesting she could do webcam porn part-time.

Men in a pub can discuss page 3 girls openly, or comment on their copy of Nuts or Zoo, but none of them will be so open about what porn DVDs they rent or what XXX sites they have a paid subscription to.

Some very telling examples of why of “our” “lad culture” is so harmful is summed up in the original article:

Let me share a few experiences of The Sun from when I was growing up:
1)1986 on holiday. I was six. My mum and I were forced to eat our sandwiches on the wall outside the Haven holiday camp café, because two men at the next table were holding up Page Three and loudly talking about how they wanted to ‘do that.’
2)1992 at school. I ran home in tears after a group of builders taunted me by saying, ‘You’ll be on Page Three when you’re older and your tits get bigger.’

3)1998 at work. A group of men in a pub I worked in compared my breasts to those of the model on Page Three, saying, ‘It’s difficult to tell – let’s give ‘em a feel, then we’ll know how big they are’, before trying to grab my breasts while I was serving a customer.

So much for the nation of gentlemen who are reputed for saying “sorry” all the time.

The Dinner Table is the Bedrock of Social Stability

This gallery contains 8 photos.

“There’s a tradition [in our dorm], where we have a hot pot party for anything special. Last year, we only had two or three; but this year we kept having more and more. Before we knew it, we were having one every week. When we were all together around the hot pot, it made me

Read more

Elaine “Lainey” Lui tries to big-up gossip

Lainey’s talk at TEDx screams bullshit at its finest. Trying to describe gossip as a so to speak “high-brow” occupation, Lainey tries to make gossip look intellectual by inserting questions about social acceptance of gays, approaching the topic of women’s rights, and pointing out that even the ancient Egyptians were doing it

On the particular point of the Egyptians, she didn’t even give a context for the text she was paraphrasing – it could have been a parable (so a warning tale – maybe even homosexuality was being used as an “evident crime” plot point), a biography (probably gossip then, or defamation), propaganda… who knows? And did the people aside from the scribes really give a damn? Because she then goes on to claim, from this, that gossip reflects the social more of society as a whole. I’d rather not be lumped in with her vision of what society is in its entirety…

The additional questions and discussion Lainey adds otherwsie are of course most welcome – but they are not found in the gossip rags and around the gossip tables. If anything, gossip rags reinforce our prejudices, sensationalize the mundane, and demonize people who we should be trying to understand. Gossip leads to (sometimes false) accusations and witch-hunts. Gossip amongst friends about other friends facilitates the spreading of misconceptions, if not lies. The examples Lainey gives are prime examples of that behaviour.

Below are some of the topics approached

  • Kirsten Stewart cheating on [Edward’s actor] – Lainey claims that in this maelstrom, gossipers are discussing and sharing their morals -but it’s more like gossip is reinforcing the woman-in-her-place ideal. “How dare she? She got the perfect guy.” Good for him, he got a promotion. Shame the slut.
  • Celebrities with babies become massive talking points – taking jubilant celebrities’ talk about being mom as reference points is… sad. This isn’t information, it’s gushing. From the celebrity side it’s plain vanity. From the media side, it’s a marketing opportunity.
  • Forgiving abusive men – again, the talking amongst the fans is reinforcing the prejudices rather than leading the discussion – witnessed again in the promotion of the violent men, shaming of women.
  • Travolta and the male masseuse – are gossipers really saying “let’s reconsider our viewpoints on the meaning of being male?” Lainey clearly states that the discussion is focused on 1) potential loss of fan confidence in the image, 2) damage to profit and marketability. Acceptance of homosexuality? Who said that?

Lainey remains a subject, not an observer. I’m waiting for her sociological study. In the mean time, I call bullshit.

I can’t believe this was a TEDx.

[found via Upworthy]

Gender Droles

This gallery contains 1 photos.

Now that I think about it, I’m no longer sure whether the joke is that it’s obviously one or the other, or whether it was indeed intended to be an insightful jab at the idea that “balls do not a man make.” Given their penchant for the absurd, I still think they were pointing at

Read more