Friday, January 13, 2012

Are You Smart Enough to Work at Google?

That's the title of a new book by William Poundstone.

Economist in its review of the book says:
To judge by “Are You Smart Enough to Work at Google?”—which combines anecdotes from current and former employees of Silicon Valley firms, with a potted history of the pop psychology and practice of interviewing, and lots of brainteasers of a sort favoured by interviewers at Google— plenty of firms treat graduate recruitment the way Alfred Hitchcock treated blondes. Inexperienced Tippi Hedrens can be made to squirm. They get asked impossible questions by stony-faced interviewers who offer them no feedback or encouragement, leaving the baffled victims feeling stupid and a little sweaty. This approach is used only on people starting out on their careers, when the power of interviewer over interviewee is at its greatest. By the time candidates have more professional experience they can expect to be treated more like Grace Kelly.
Power firms such as Google and Goldman Sachs have their pick of employees just coming out of graduate school, so they make those applying go through hoops to get jobs. Anybody willing to go through all the hoops then tend to be very loyal.

I'm not familiar enough with the Google culture to know what it is like, but the Goldman Sachs gals I know put Goldman ahead of everything, including bathroom breaks.

That said, I once asked a Google employee, who had worked at other Silicon Valley firms what he found most different about Google from the other firms he worked at. He stopped for a minute to think and then said that everyone at Google was smart. He said that at other firms he worked at there were very smart people, but you could occasionally run into a clueless person.

He said that never happened at Google. If you are dealing with someone at Google, he said, you can be pretty sure they are very smart.


  1. As someone who works at Google, they don't ask the brain teaser or "aha" type of questions. For a better take on what it's like to interview at Google, see

  2. Is it true that Google folks generally favor Ron Paul?

  3. In reply to the question: "Is it true that Google folks generally favor Ron Paul?"
    The answer is the last line of the article:
    "If you are dealing with someone at Google, he said, you can be pretty sure they are very smart."
    So, they may not all favor Ron Paul at the moment, but there is hope because very smart people are willing to research and learn.

  4. Google is predominantly Democrat, just like any large high-tech company in Silly Valley.

  5. I've never found hoops to be a particularly valuable tool in any organization I've worked in. Point of fact I've only had to jump through hoops once (and it wasn't my first job - I quit a few months later after I got what I wanted from the place so there you go), yet I was always a loyal and hard working employee.

    Places that make you jump through hoops do it because HR is usually full of people who love to torture and dominate others regardless, and in a down economy or at a good company HR can get away with that. That's why I usually rely on my reputation in the field and friends who know my value to recommend me to the higher ups so I can walk straight in the door and skip all that nonsense.

    What makes a good organization is not selective recruitment, but the willingness to trash the dead weight. There are plenty of worthless goons who look good on paper and give great interviews and then two weeks into the job they aren't bothering to show up or meet their deadlines. Organizations that allow those goons to stick around because of their fancy certs and degrees from Haavahd or Yale are organizations that are in the process of failing. Accept that goons will get in regardless of how strenuous the recruitment is, and thus be willing to get rid of them. That is the key to victory.

  6. Maybe the employess of Google are considered smart is because,well, they all know how to google.

  7. Google's weird. I had a phone chat with a recruiter from there and she looked at my resume and said:
    "Ok, you worked in the industry for 17 years. What was you diploma GPA?"
    I hung up on her. C'mon - not _all_ of the are smart - it is statistically impossible.

  8. Smart smart dumb. So smart they outsmart themselves making them dumb.

  9. Google is an evil monopoly that is handing all our information and habits directly to the NSA to be parsed and stored in the file the feds have on every one of us. Not to be trusted.

    Google actively censors the web for any tin pot dictatorship that asks them to.

    Fuck google.

  10. Those badmouthing Google are overlooking the fact that Google's monopoly is a natural one, not having originated from legislative favoritism or the squelching of competitors. Secondly, it seems to me highly unrealistic to make the presumption that Google ever could, under the present regime, exist at their current size and scope and not be under pressure from the NSA. Does anyone but the most diehard War on Terror supporter believe that the NSA and CIA give a damn about the feelings and wishes with respect to personal privacy of those not within the DC corporate-state power nexus? Its an absurdity to say Google, with its treasure trove of personal information on most internet users, including search habits and personal IP addresses, could ever exist without scrutiny and pressure from federal agencies. Google's acquiescence is likely the only way they can keep from being the perpetual targets of federal prosecutors looking to secure a nice donation for the IRS. Who can believe they would be willing to invest the necessary time and money into a lawsuit at the Supreme Court which would seek to preserve their right as a company to withhold private information about someone a federal agency has declared suspicious, and about whom the most information possible (they say) is needed? It may indeed be less than satisfactory to purists who would rather Google stand on firm ground, but then again, those purists aren't trying to run a business while avoiding conflict with entities who could see to it Google becomes pressed with charges of obstructing justice.