Closet Coder

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Idea: Cooperative Board Games as a Culture Fit Interview

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One of the points of technical interviews is to find out how someone solves a problem. Usually that problem is one that the interviewer knows the solution to and wants to see the interviewee arrive at a similar (or perhaps, more impressive) solution. This means the interviewer, under the auspices of pairing with the interviewee, basically sits back, evaluates, and trys to prod the interviewee forward rather than interacting with them in a normal way.

This is clearly not a great way for either side to find out how the other solves a tricky problem. For one, if you as the interviewer happen to select a problem the interviewee has already seen (or something very familiar), you may not get a great picture. Or if you select a problem they are incredibly unfamiliar with, you may mostly be unimpressed by the lack of familiarity with the context of a problem rather than the actual way they think.

One of the best ways I’ve ever gotten to know people over a couple of hours is at a meetup for board gaming. By the end of the first night, I could identify some really clear patterns about what people do in various problems. Even though interviewing might be a more stressful time, it occurs to me that after a few rounds, relaxation would set in and a good evaluation could be had.

Game Type #1: Pandemic / Forbidden Island / Forbidden Desert

These three games all have similar dynamics and would be useful for determining how someone handled potentially stressful situations with lots of possible solutions and trade-offs. It would also be great to see how much someone listened to another person’s input vs. trying to control the situation themselves.

Game Type #2: Hanabi

A fantastic Cooperative game that’s all about communication. You can’t see your own cards, and you have a very limited amount of information you can exchange before you are forced to start losing cards and reducing your abilityto succeed in the game.

Ideas for evaluation

I think there are a lot of variations that could be tried to see what they told you about the person you’re trying to evaluate. Some include:

  • What happens when a player tries to take over?
  • What happens when a player disengages?
  • What happens when a player makes a clearly bad decision?
  • What happens as the game progresses and frustration / stress increases?

In the end, I think it would be clear that winning or losing the game wouldn’t be the criteria for evaluating, but how the game was played. Since the interviewer and the interviewee are both on the same side, it makes it even more clear.

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