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

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Book Reviews

It’s long been a fantasy of mine to have the job of creating the special day logos (officially known as Google Doodles) for Google. I don’t have the qualifications or aptitude for the position, so it will always remain a dream – but still, it’s something that is fun to occasionally entertain.

Last month when Are You Smart Enough to Work at Google? by William Poundstone arrived at the Library, I felt compelled to read it.

Poundstone reveals some of the mind-bending, brain-teasing, unnerving, and off-beat interview questions Google has thrown to prospective employees as well as some that have been used by other companies that young, bright and ambitious job seekers target.

On the average, there are 134 applicants for every open position at Google. (Personally, I was surprised the ratio was not higher.) When Apple opened its store in upper Manhattan in 2009, 10,000 people applied for 200 jobs, most of which were low-paying retail sales positions.

In order to find the best among the abundance of applicants, these companies need to go beyond the standard interview questions. In short order, they need to identify those who have it all; passion, intelligence, mathematical aptitude, creativity, fervor, perception and foresight. Many of them need engineers with entrepreneurial outlooks who can work for a large corporation – a combination that is not found very often.

In 2004, two billboards went up, one in Harvard Square and the other off Highway 101 in Silicon Valley. The billboards simply read: {first 10-digit prime found in consecutive digits of e}.com. Nothing else needed to be said. Algorithm junkies and geeks of various stripes took the bait and solved the equation. When the correct URL was entered, a second challenge appeared.

This went on for several more layers of successively more difficult puzzles and mathematical equations. Solving the last one brought an invitation to send a resume to Google. In part, this challenge was created to find people who could embrace a curveball and not just relish it but thrive. Those are the people who have and will make technology soar. Those are the people the hot companies want to hire.

The need for creative and very insightful interviewing did not begin in the current climate of Silicon Valley. Back in the mid 1950s, IBM needed to develop a team of computer programmers. It’s easy to find people with those skills today, but 50 years ago computers and software were not academic disciplines.

Their dilemma: how to find people who have the aptitude to create computer code when computer code skills and knowledge could not be tested? IBM’s approach was to give candidates a series of logic puzzles. An amazing team of twelve individuals was identified.

What did this team produce? Fortran.

If you like working on puzzles, you will love this book (which provides the answers). If you are interested in the human aspects of today’s brilliant companies, you will find this book fascinating.

But most of all, if you are currently looking for a job, any type of job, and want to sharpen your interview skills, this book is a must.

And for those of you who would like to know a bit more about what is behind that search engine you use a gazillion times each day, you will find this book enlightening.

About the Author

Pam Jenkins is the manager of the H&R Block Business & Career Center.

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