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Re: Stop with the interview questions already

by ELISHEVA (Prior)
on Aug 30, 2009 at 20:45 UTC ( #792219=note: print w/ replies, xml ) Need Help??


in reply to Stop with the interview questions already

I'm rather disturbed by the original post on this thread. I admit to being bored by the huge number of very narrow questions that have been posted to PerlMonks recently. I can understand the frustration and even share it, BUT ...

First and foremost,whether or not a question is worthy of an answer should be based on the question itself, not on second guesses about the author's country of origin. The author's tone matters. The author's clarity in posting the question matters. But country of origin? As one of my teachers was fond of saying: "Ideas, good and bad, do not have a pedigree". I found even raising the question of nationality counter productive and detrimental to your main point: "What are the ethical issues in answering a test question posted on Perl Monks?".

Second, if you search on the word "homework" in supersearch I think you will find a wide range of opinions and strategies for dealing with homework questions. There are many ways to provide an answer that does not simply let someone fake knowledge:

  • Giving a partial example with some elements "left as an exercise".
  • Explaining core concepts.
  • Inviting the OP to post some code showing an attempt to apply concepts already explained. And then when the OP posts (they sometimes do), following through with further feedback.

The assumption that people should just "Read the fine manual" because anything else is cheating is a little like saying, "you can't do theoretical math because you weren't born knowing how to write proofs". Writing proofs is a learned skill. Reading documentation is a learned skill.

Maybe the OP's first experience reading through documentation was a walk in the park. But for most of us, myself included, the first forays into the world of technical documentation were more like trying to do the Iron Man competition after a lifetime of couch potato-hood. When we first start reading documentation, understanding it seems like an almost impossible task. Nearly every sentence is laden with unfamilar jargon. Programming concepts essential to understanding the text are rarely identified, let alone explained. It often takes a teacher, mentor at work, or helpful monk to begin peeling away the confusion.

Best, beth


Comment on Re: Stop with the interview questions already
Re^2: Stop with the interview questions already
by merlyn (Sage) on Aug 30, 2009 at 22:13 UTC
    It often takes a teacher, mentor at work, or helpful monk to begin peeling away the confusion.
    Indeed. And that all should have happened long before the homework was assigned or interview question was asked.

    If you're still wondering what the docs say during homework or interviews, you deserve to fail. Any intercession in that process is just plain ineffective, and does more harm than good in the long run.

    -- Randal L. Schwartz, Perl hacker

    The key words "MUST", "MUST NOT", "REQUIRED", "SHALL", "SHALL NOT", "SHOULD", "SHOULD NOT", "RECOMMENDED", "MAY", and "OPTIONAL" in this document are to be interpreted as described in RFC 2119.

      I'm not following your point here. Are you suggesting that someone has forfeit their right to learn something new N hours before an interview or test? If so, how many hours 12? 24? a week?

      At my university, homework and even exams were designed to teach. The learning happened while we were working on the problem sets and exams, not "long before". We were in fact encouraged to discuss concepts, approaches and ideas with one another as we prepared our work.

      Though I am not a professional teacher, I have spend countless hours successfully tutoring people that others told me had no chance. They were too dumb. Or didn't try enough on their own. Or it was too late. Or they were too much effort. In reality, they never believed in themselves or were intimidated by something that seemed easy to everyone else. When someone came along with the attitude - "you can learn", they flowered. So I don't believe in "deserve to fail". I do believe in "you will inevitably fail this time because there is too much to learn for now, but next time can be different and here is how we can make it so..."

      If someone doesn't have enough knowledge to pass an interview coming up within hours, they aren't going to miraculously get it by reading a few answers at Perl Monks, especially if those answers focus on explaining the core concepts and language elements needed to solve the problem rather than hand out a solution to a particular problem on a platter. Most likely, that job opportunity will be lost to them. But helping them get the job isn't the point anyway.

      Those of us who answer questions like these and care about learning, do so because we are thinking about the person's development as a whole. We want to communicate an excitement about Perl and programming and the kind of thinking needed to succeed in it. The job interview or test may be tomorrow, but the learning process will go on afterwards for many years if we can communicate and infect others with our enthusiasm.

      How many of us in life start out doing something for the wrong reasons and end up getting hooked for the right reasons? Does it really matter that someone came to PM looking for a shortcut, if they get snookered into actually learning something because someone took their silly and overly narrow question seriously and looked behind it to find something useful to teach?

      Best, beth

        I'm not following your point here. Are you suggesting that someone has forfeit their right to learn something new N hours before an interview or test? If so, how many hours 12? 24? a week?
        Not at all. Please note, you replaced "after" with "before" and "homework" with 'test", and changed the question entirely.

        I object to anyone in the process of being tested trying to cheat to get a question answered here. They're being tested on how well they already know the answer, not how well they can crowdsource it.

        I object to anyone having been assigned homework to try to get fundamentals sorted out here. They've been told in class how to read the docs: they shouldn't need to have the docs explained to them again or the answers given to them so they can parrot the answers into the homework.

        -- Randal L. Schwartz, Perl hacker

        The key words "MUST", "MUST NOT", "REQUIRED", "SHALL", "SHALL NOT", "SHOULD", "SHOULD NOT", "RECOMMENDED", "MAY", and "OPTIONAL" in this document are to be interpreted as described in RFC 2119.

      Your point got a lot of downvotes so I'm jumping in-

      Any intercession in that process is just plain ineffective, and does more harm than good in the long run.

      Everyone else should know that this is gospel. There is a definite point in learning when extra or continuing help is actively harming the student. The charitable have a hard time seeing this. "But, I'm helping!" At the point merlyn describes, you aren't anymore. Everyone has to find that line for him/herself so I don't pretend to prescribe it but it is real and deserves consideration by teachers.

        I've been thinking a lot about what you wrote the last day. If you want to help anyone, whether with Perl or with life in general, knowing when to stop is probably the most important skill one must develop after the helping skills themselves.

        But I can't agree with the claim that "any intercession" is harmful or ineffective. If someone needs a kick in the butt to take responsibility for their own learning, then coddling won't help. On the other hand, a lot of people fail because they spend so much time kicking their own butt they stop looking for solutions. Telling them that they deserve to fail only aggravates the problem. It isn't easy to tell which is which, but getting it wrong either way can cause a lot of damage.

        The bottom line is that help isn't help unless it is tuned to the needs of the person. There are any number of reasons why a person "doesn't get it": emotional, perceptual, learning styles to name a few. Many learning problems have solutions, but only if (a) the person wants to learn and (b) the mentor makes a genuine effort to work together with the person to diagnose the problem. Throwing the wrong help at someone is going to be frustrating at best and harmful at worst. Throwing the right help can open doors one never knew were there.

        I don't think either question - the desire to learn or the choice of a beneficial helping method - can be answered from afar. There is a fine line between the people that really need help and the people who just want attention and short-cuts. On the surface they can look a lot alike. The line isn't always easy to see. In my experience, it is almost always invisible without at least a nominal effort at compassionate empathy. This is true even with people we think we know well - children, parents, spouses, best friends.

        Paradoxically, I've often found that taking someone seriously does a pretty good job of telling the two apart. To take someone seriously puts the burden on them to respond and the people who just want to use you will usually find a way to make themselves scarce once it has been done.

        But for that to work one also needs to internally have a clear set of boundaries. "Show me some code!", "What have you tried?" - these are more than push-offs or even aids to our own comprehension as helpers. They act as challenges to force someone to invest or shut-up.

        I also feel I have to disagree with the thought that the charitable have trouble with this. The naturally charitable, or at least the naturally empathetic, learn how to set up boundaries early on as a survival skill. Life would eat them alive if they didn't. In my experience, the ones who have the most difficulty are the "occasionally charitable". The ability to slowly expand and test boundaries isn't fully developed, so it is easy to miss the signals that someone is just out for a ride.

        The occasionally charitable often need a connection to something personal before they will help: a cause they believe in or the difficulties faced by themselves or someone they love. This can get in the way of a clear headed assessment of what the other person really needs. Something that looks like our own/our children/our siblings/our best friend's problem, may not, in fact have the same causes or solutions as that other person's problem. Also, our friends will often protect our boundaries for us. The same cannot be said for strangers.

        Best, beth

      Perhaps I was less fortunate than you in the teachers and managers that I had, but my experience is that often teachers are no more competent at teaching than some managers are at managing and some interviewers are at interviewing === not very competent at all and sometimes abusive and harmful to the student's development.

      Except where I have had one-on-one tutoring/mentoring (rarely), the presentations I have had were often not well suited to my own learning style and ability. In some cases I would go so far as to say they were not well suited to anyone in my class.

      I'm fortunate that I do quite well reading manuals and texts - it's my preferred method of learning, after hands-on experience. But I know some very intelligent people who cannot read manuals - they can learn, given appropriate presentations, but they can't read or, at least, their ability to read and learn from lengthy texts (relative to twitter) is so limited that they habitually seek other sources of information and simply ignore manuals and books and strongly resist reading them even when pressured. In some cases, pressuring them to read would be highly counter productive.

      Without knowing the specifics of the case, it is a bit presumptuous to assume that every student has already had the benefit of ideal, or even reasonable presentation of the subject matter by the time they are given a homework assignment or attend a job interview, or that they are learning in the context of an ideal, or even reasonably effective study plan. My experience is that sometimes the prior presentations are grossly inadequate. I also have met teachers (hired and professionally responsible for teaching) who did not know their subject matter sufficiently to be effective. Yet their students were better off for their willingness to do their best to teach despite their limitations and there were none better available. Not everyone lives in areas so well endowed as North America and Western Europe.

      Everyone needs help to learn and develop their abilities. While I agree that those who have not achieved a required competence deserve to fail assessment of that competence, I don't think that equates to their not deserving any further help.

      Rather than saying that any intercession is ineffective, I would say that if one is truly interested in teaching one must learn the specifics of the case, including the abilities and past experience of the student, and continue by developing teaching plans that suit the student's needs. Refusing to answer questions or berating the student for not having read the documentation without knowing these specifics is unlikely to be effective.

Re^2: Stop with the interview questions already
by Jenda (Abbot) on Aug 31, 2009 at 14:49 UTC

    The question of the origin of the author may very well help the understanding. If the question is posted in a very bad English and I can guess the native language of the poster is Russian (or Polish or Czech or some other Slavic language) I can make use of my knowledge of Czech and Russian to make some sense of the garbled sentences. Sometimes even translate the sentences word by word into Czech or Russian and thus find out that he/she chose a wrong option from the list of translations suggested by the dictionary and finally understand the question.

    Likewise the knowledge that the poster is Indian combined with even a basic understanding of the way the Indian languages are built can help understanding the question and/or understanding that the person is not rude, but rather that he/she doesn't speak English well enough to know he/she should use "please" because in his/her (I hate this "gender equal" nonsense) language he would use a different word for "you" to basically mean the same thing.

    Besides "how come Indians tend to behave one way while Americans behave that way" is often an interesting and important question. If you do not notice the nationalities, you'd just wonder why "hchkrdtn" and "bflmpsvz" behave this way and "enejeia" and "aeiou" behave that way. And you find out nothing. You can't even start wondering whether it's something in the school system, language, religion. And you can't understand why the bunch of people, for example, sound rude. While it IS because they are Indians. And because in their language the "being nice" and "being rude" is encoded in a different enough way that they do not know they are sounding rude.

    Jenda
    Enoch was right!
    Enjoy the last years of Rome.

      (I hate this "gender equal" nonsense)
      The use of the third-person plural pronouns ("they") to stand in for gender-neutral third-person singular pronounds ("he", "she") in English go back a long way. There is and was no reason to abandon them for an awkward neologism.

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