Technical Interviews From the 1960s

Hey kids! Wanna get a job as a programmer? Here are some questions from a Programmer Aptitude Test that IBM uses to screen job applicants.

Yes that’s right, they’re asking you to match shapes. It’s like those exams they used to administer in primary school to determine which children needed special attention. Here are some word problems:

8th grade algebra, right? And I’m talking 8th grade public school here; fancypants private schools probably teach this stuff to their kindergarteners.

The IBM Programmer Aptitude Test is from 1960 (? I think. It’s tough to read the date on the mimeograph). Is it just me or have technical interviews gotten much harder? Today’s interviews involve tasks like determining whether a binary search tree is balanced— Oh wait, wrong kind of interview.

Seriously though. I interviewed for a programmer job at Facebook several years ago, and one of the questions I got was, “Given a set of obstacle coordinates, write a function that finds the shortest path between two cells for a knight on a 3-D chessboard while avoiding the obstacles.”

Bear in mind that this is a company that makes all its money selling ads. I remember this question because it was one of the few that I managed to solve. Probably a half-dozen others ended in fumbles. Not surprisingly, Facebook didn’t give me an offer. I’ve never interviewed at Google, but word on the street is that Google interviews are even worse.

Tech interviews have undergone some massive difficulty inflation since the 60s. I blame immigration. Prior to 1965, a high-school graduate could land a decent programmer job by demonstrating a basic ability to recognize shapes. Then the Hart-Celler Act was passed, which not only repealed the prohibition on Asian immigrants, but also removed the quota system that prioritized northern and western Europeans. Now we have the finest technical talent flooding in from the East and the Far East to compete for jobs, and the bar has been raised to stratospheric levels. My future descendants might be flipping burgers, if the robots don’t get there first.

See Also:
IBM Programmer Aptitude Test — Take the entire test! If you do well, invent a time machine and go back to 1960 to get a job at IBM!
Technical Interview Questions for Equal-Opportunity Employers

2 thoughts on “Technical Interviews From the 1960s

  1. Would be nice if it was true. But it isn’t. Creating a complex system is more than remembering a few algorithms because you can always look that up. It is listening to the users and understanding their business and their needs. And being a foreigner can be a negative in this case.

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