R2013: 04

04. Are You Smart Enough to Work at Google? by William Poundstone

There’s a really long tagline appended to that title as well, but I thought I would leave it out because I felt like it. I had kind of high hopes for this book, but it was kind of meh. The first 50ish% of it (by Kindle measurements) is divided into chapters, each of which is roughly about a type of tricky interview question (algorithm vs. Fermi vs. creative thought experiments etc.). The latter half is the question/answer portion which restates the questions found at the end of each chapter and provides an explanation and best approximate solution. The questions were generally pretty interesting and thought-provoking (especially the balloon one – the Boy and I both had to think about that for a while), and it was fun to read some of the solutions and stories with that. I felt like less effort was put into the rest of the book. When I first bought it, I thought that it was just a book of interesting logic puzzles and questions, but the first half spends a lot of time to basically say this: it’s hard to find jobs and job interviews are kind of tricky now sometimes because people like to ask harder questions because there are SO MANY people looking for jobs that the market is inundated, so try to be creative and unique and original kthxbai. MEH is how I felt about that first half, which I mostly just slogged through to read more questions. Some of the anecdotes and histories were interesting, but the questions are really what you would read this for.

The answer is basically no. And even if you were, you still probably wouldn’t get the job because there are so many people. And all the solutions have been published.

And because I think it is an awesome question, here is the balloon thought experiment:

You’re in a car with a helium balloon tied to the floor. The windows are closed. When you step on the gas pedal, what happens to the balloon – does it move forward, move backward, or stay put?

Unrelated sidenote: I’m loving the Kindle Paperwhite that I got for xmas from the MIL. IT IS SUPS AWESOME. The interface is very snappy and the light is a very pleasant white glow. The other night, I couldn’t fall asleep so I read for a little bit, and on the lowest setting, the Paperwhite still has a nice dim glow, obviating the need for any sort of lamp, so I didn’t have to bother the Boy. And the glow doesn’t really spread very much – it’s pretty focused on the screen. I don’t think that it’ll get rid of my need to have physical, paper books, but it’s pretty awesome to have a little portable library to carry around.

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4 responses to “R2013: 04

  • ajbl

    Assuming we constantly accelerate when our foot is on the gas pedal, the balloon stays put, then goes forward (cause the string pulls it along).

    Unless you mean relative to me, in which case it goes backwards and then stays put (same assumptions about acceleration).

    Glad to hear the paperwhite is awesome from a trusted source, I’ll probably get one soon (I like my fire, but sometimes it’s too much).

    • Jen

      I thought this question was interesting since the first intuition I had (which is invariably the wrong one since they’re supposed to be tricky questions) is that the balloon would move backwards relative to me since we would be accelerating forward. I had to read the explanation in the book for this one, since the answer is that the balloon would move forward with forward acceleration, backward with backward acceleration, etc. – basically with the direction of acceleration. Which was totally not intuitive to me but had to do with the density of helium vs. air. Anywho, I thought it was an interesting explanation.

      I highly recommend the Paperwhite. I have a tablet (though not a Fire) as well, and I much prefer the Paperwhite for reading on. Though I have the Kindle app for my tablet for graphic novels.

      In other news, chat this weekend?

      • ajbl

        I guess I’m not smart enough to work for Google :-(

        Although, the question never said the car was filled with atmospheric gas… just that the windows were closed.

        I didn’t get asked any question of this nature when I got interviewed by Google. All straightforward technical questions. I think people making hiring decisions care more about your problem solving ability: “The details of this problem are (1) the balloon is filled with helium, (2) the windows are closed. That means this problem has to do with the density of gas, but I’m not sure how that would affect balloon movement…” would be a good answer. “Forward” would be a bad answer.

        Next weekend will be a more sane time for me to chat (the weekend of the 8th).

      • Jen

        Hah. I figured that these questions weren’t really asked at every job interview in any event. The gist of the book was ultimately that, if faced with stuff like this, you should talk about your thought process and, like you said, illustrate your problem solving ability anyway.

        Weekend of the 8th it is!

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