The “Design me a house” interview question

In a previous post titled “The Daily WTF: “Job Interview 2.0?“, I talked about an interviewee’s response to an interviewer asking him to “Design a House” during an interview for a software development position.

The original “Design a House” post at The Daily WTF published a story submitted by David J, parts of which are provided below for reference:

“Design me a house,” the interviewer cheerfully demanded.

“Ugh,” I groaned, “what do you want your house to look like?”

“But aren’t you going to ask how many floors it should have,” he glibly responded.

“Fine. How many floors do you want?”

“Two!,” he shouted, “no, three! I mean, one! Err… no, I want six, maybe sev–”

…….

“I like rooms,” he perked up, “lots and lots of rooms.”

“What,” I grumbled, “like, six or something?”

“Maybe,” he nodded, “but what if I want to add more later? Or combine them.”

…..

“Look,” I interrupted, “I don’t mean to be rude, but you haven’t asked a single question about programming.”

The interviewer scoffed, “you’ve got a lot to learn about developing good software if you don’t see the relevance here.”

Now…I know what the interviewer was trying to do here…they were trying to see how the interviewee handled pressure and responded to change requirements…all something that occurs regularly in the software development world.

The programmer didn’t quite see how the “design me a house” question fit into the world of software development…but it is a metaphor that can be used to help understand how someone will react to a client changing their mind.

I think I’d be hard-pressed to find a single example of a software project that was started with a particular set of requirements and ended with those same requirements…there are always additions, changes, scope creep, etc.

The interviewer thought the ‘design a house’ method of interviewing would be a good way to ‘see’ how the interviewee reacts to pressure and changes…but are they really able to experience how that person would react in a real-world situation? Probably not…they are creating a contrived situation that moves the interviewee into a non-comfortable place…the interview is already stressful enough…why add more?

Why not just use software development as the ‘world’ for the ‘what if’ scenarios? Instead of ‘design a house’ use ‘design me a software product’…you can still use the same approach and keep the interviewee from getting confused and keep them closer to their area of knowledge and personal comfort level.

If you conduct the rest of the interview appropriately, you should have a good feel for what type of person you have sitting in front of you.

And remember…if you ask a bunch of dumb questions, you may just get a bunch of dumb answers 🙂

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