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Elitism in Technology Interviews

I’ve been in IT for quite a long time and had my fair share of interviews from the perspective of being the interviewee and interviewer. I’ve dealt with my fair share of interviews where the interviewer came from on high with a with their favorite Computer Science question. Some of my favorites, design a B-Tree sorting algorithm, write code to solve this polynomial equation, write a compiler. My worst interviews by far were from Amazon and Intuit, B-Tree and Polynomial respectively.

My favorite question after those is, how often do you do that day to day? The answer 90% of the time, never. Most of the time, although the companies don’t like to admit it, they ask Computer Science level questions like that are a form of ageism, once your out of the CS program for a while and not exercising that knowledge day to day (like most high level business programmers) you loose that knowledge. CS questions are great at finding people who a.) studied an algo book before the interview or b.) are reality right out of collage. There is the case where the person has been in their career for years and can answer the question without issue too, but in my experience that’s more exceptional for Line of Business developers.

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Which is why I’m proud about the interview process at Paylocity. We give you a coding challenge that reflects the work you will be doing day to day at the company and let you show us what you can do. We then spend around 45 minutes having you walk us through the project asking questions and getting your thoughts and having you show us your thought process.

Occasionally if you don’t show us a skill in your coding project we ask some normal technical questions. We try and keep it relaxed, we ask you what your skill is on a topic (1 being novice and 10 being expert) so we don’t bang you with questions you may not know the answers to. Is our process perfect, hell no and every single week we work on improving the process.

Which is why when I saw this Glassdoor review I was completely thrown for a loop. Now some points are valid, the lag in not hearing a result and the recruiter blowing him off are unacceptable. But I have never had a job interview where after the tech portion was done they told me the result, there is always some lag but not having someone get back you is not good.

But that review enlightened me to the fact that the perception of elitism is relative. For that interviewee having to answer questions about JavaScript may seem unusual, maybe he’s a backend developer. For newer developers who are only using ORM’s they may not have any experience with SQL. Something simple and innocuous to us may be straight out of left field for someone else.

Interview questions should be well thought out, be meaningful and be respective of the job and functions the person is applying for. You don’t need to give someone a deep CS question to see how they work through a problem. If you enjoy stumping candidates, you probably should recuse yourself from the interview process. That’s not saying we can’t have our favorite questions, but we would be asking them for the right reasons, not to sling mud after the interviewee has left.

Do you need a technical genius at every component in your stack? If your answer is yes, your looking for unicorns and you probably should re-evaluate your needs. In my career I can count the amount of truly amazing developers I’ve worked with on one hand, and still have fingers left over. But they aren’t crazy good at every tech/system/language used in the company. Because of this I like having questions for different skill levels and I feel it’s worked very well. If you’re going to tell me you’re an expert in something you better back it up.

Personally I interview for culture fit and personality first and foremost. After that it’s their ability to learn new things and adapt followed by passion. Interviewing is a hard and imperfect process, no one has a 100% solid interview process and when we work on improving them we should try and rid elitism in them.

Budget Best Buy Gaming PC

Every 3 years or so I build a new primary workstation\gaming rig. My current system is about 2 years old so it’s not time for a replacement of it yet. But I had a need to build a system that guests at my house could use to game lightly on. Normally if your talking a gaming computer your looking at easily $1,000+ for low tier systems. I think I say ‘rock bottom’ gaming rigs starting at $800. My goal, I want to build a system for around $500. Oh yea it was that kind of weekend.

Best-Buy-Store

I wanted to get the rig up and running this weekend (for someone to use) so I decided to use Best Buy to source all my parts from. In my area we don’t have many independent computer stores with a good stock of parts so I was pretty limited in brick-and-mortar computer stores.

The goal here is not to build a top of the line or even a mid range gaming computer, but something that could run  a number of games on Good/Fair settings. This is also just to build the box itself, not the monitor\keyboard\mouse\speakers. But Best Buy has a good selection of all those items so it’s pretty easy to source those as well in one shopping trip.

Every Best Buy is different. I have a small one by my house with a very limited computer parts section. So I did have to drive to Reno to pick up some items, but otherwise in my small local store I found everything I needed. Which is pretty amazing, I’ve always thought that you can’t get good quality parts in Best Buy but I was blown away. There were some brand new GeForce GTX 970 cards in there, sweet!

I did a bunch of research and had a lot of computer’s opened up at Best Buy, the geek squad was more then willing to crack a case so I could look inside, but it sounded to them like a strange request. I finally decided on a Dell Inspiron 3847 (i3847-2310B). This system came with a  1TB 7200 RPM HDD, 4GB of RAM and a Intel Pentium G3240 processor. What I liked about this case was the openness. None of the custom crap that Dell usually throws into their cases or big blocks of plastic housing that makes it almost impossible to upgrade. Additionally unlike some other Dell cases this one will support 2 slot graphics cards. Now there may be a length issue, there are some SATA cables and connections that could mess with very long cards but otherwise it’s very accommodating.

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The case normally retails for $359.99. I saw the ‘on sale’ tag at my local Best Buy for $339.99. The store in Reno though had an Open Box version for $276.99, so I snatched that one up right away. The first thing you will notice about that case is that the PSU has no other available power outputs. So you cannot install another HDD, or Graphics Card that requires a additional power rail. I solved this with an Insignia 520W PSU from the store for $49.99. Now again this would not be my top 100 PSU’s to put into my own computer and Best Buy did sell high end PSU’s to my surprise but this rig just didn’t need it. Additionally I could have saved another $10 bucks on 320W one but wanted to make sure I could power a good graphics card.

Next item to take care of was the RAM, 4GB is just not good enough for doing anything of meaning on a computer nowadays. Remember that all the system processes on a Windows 8.1 box will take around 1GB to 1.5GB of memory. Add in additional processes like anti-virus, backup, email, chrome/ie, etc you’ll probably only have around 1.5GB to 2GB available for your game. That being the case 8GB is the minimum for me, so I picked up 8GB PNY Optima ram for $75.99. Again there were better ram kits available (a Corsair Vengeance kit) but PNY is a good brand and more then enough for this system.

Now for the big daddy of any gaming computer, the graphics card. At my local store the selection was very limited, but the store in Reno had way more higher end selection. But I was already back home when I found out my old card (PCIe 2.0) wouldn’t work as it’s a PCIe 16x 3.0 slot.  There was a 1GB GeForce GTX 750 for $149, a 2GB version for $159 and a GeForce GTX 760 on sale for $199. I’m not a fan 1GB cards, so I am currently testing the GTX 750 2GB version. The benefit of this card is does not require another power rail so you could plug it into a stock case without a new PSU. At my Best Buy there were no R9 AMD cards so I didn’t go that route, I’m usually an NVIDIA man anyways.

Initial testing yesterday went well, with Warlords of Draenor running on a mix of High/Ultra settings and not dropped below 32 FPS in LFR’s or the Garrison.

Budget Best Buy Gaming Rig

Part Item Cost
Computer Dell i3847-2310B $339.99
RAM PNY 8GB Optima $75.99
Graphics Card GeForce GTX 750 2GB $159.99
    $575.97

I was a little over my budget (my total is $564.97 with the open box case and PSU that’s not needed right now). Without the PSU I would have just barely been over, but buying everything at normal cost for $575.97 is a great deal. The thing I love so far, is that with the new PSU I have much better options to upgrade this system. The motherboard can take up to 16GB ram and an Intel i7 Quad Core (4th Generation) chips which is way more powerful then the current processor in there. The case also has plenty of room  so buying a new i7 you can buy a nice new CPU fan as well.

I haven’t’ decided if I’m going to upgrade this system any more; for example an SSD, more RAM, more power graphics card and a new CPU, but I have the option which is nice. I don’t know Best Buy’s Geek Squad can do these types of builds for people but it would be a good service and still cheaper then the $800 to a $1000 for a entry level gaming rig. I also don’t know if this is the way Dell is going with all their new systems, but if so major kudos to them, it’s refreshing to crack open a Dell system and it be normal and expandable. Also kudo’s to Best Buy for stocking some good options for PC gamers.

Video Making Tips

For one of my projects I’m going to have to start making some how to style videos. Because of this I’ was preparing a list of things I needed to do or keep track before making the videos and while in the process of making them. Seeming I haven’t had a load of time to put out a blog post I decided to block some time and get one done.

Making a high quality video is really all about preparation, ensuring your have everything setup and configured properly and you have everything you need. Too many times have I watched demo videos or how to videos and they have been almost impossible to watch or even understand. Below is a list of the things that are required to make good how to videos, but also are probably best practices for many video types.

  1. Have a good headset microphone. If your going to do a lot of talking you should ensure that your coming across well. Microphones built into monitors and laptops suck, and even ‘high quality’ desktop microphones that I’ve seen bundled with motherboards don’t do well. Ensure that your not swallowing the mic and that it’s not to far away from your mouth, you may need to do some test to get the proper position. (I use a Logitech G35 for gaming, but it works well for this too)
  2. Use good capturing software. TechSmith’s Camtasia is the leader in this area, but there are certainly more capturing and recording tools out there. Ensure that your using it properly by doing some dry runs and playing with the features.
  3. Can people see what’s going on? This ties into #2 about using the features of the capturing software. You should zoom in an out when needed or removing unneeded distractions from the screen and increasing the font size. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched a video where someone has Visual Studio out with a tiny font size and all the panes open.
  4. Limit distractions. You know that little cool twitter feed that sits in your taskbar? Close it for the recording, or don’t record that part of your screen. Anything that distracts the viewer from what your presenting doesn’t have a place in your video.
  5. No background noise! If your like me you have a beast of a computer at home with enough fans for it to take off if it wanted to. The hum of those fans, while soothing when your fragging some guy in Battlefield Bad Company 2 or doing some at home development is a annoying drone for the people listening to your video. A high quality microphone will help a lot, but try turning your fans down or turning off any other source of noise (i.e viagra pfizer 100mg. tv’s, mp3 players, kids, the wife, etc).
  6. Have a title screen. From the first frame through your introduction should be a title and logo screen. This screen should have the date of the video, your name, name of your company and/or name of the product, and the title of the video.
  7. Write it down! Have a script or at least bullet points of what your going to talk about. Use words your confortable with and don’t try to shove in large complicated words just to make yourself sound smarter. Use natural language and speak at a good pace. If you need to cough or sneeze, pause the recording.
  8. Have a recap screen. At the end of the view have a screen with important information, like names (yours, company, product) and Urls and other information and resources.
  9. Introduce yourself. Say your name and title, say who your with and what the video will be about. If it’s part of a series at the end let people know what video will be next, if you know.
  10. Length! Try to keep your video as short as possible. If you are planning on a video to how to an entire product try splitting it into neat little sections, maybe feature by feature. This allows your viewers to go to the specific on they want without having to try and fast forward a long video to a specific point. Shorter videos are also very convenient and will hold the viewers attention better. My preferences is no longer then 15 minutes, with a preferable time of 5 to 10 minutes in length.
  11. Web Viewing. You should encode your video and have it setup in a YouTube style player. I shouldn’t have to download the video if I don’t want to, nor have a special codec to view it. If I’m looking for videos for a product I’m doing it because I’m totally stuck on a problem, or I want to see it in action I don’t want to have to go though a whole process to view the video.

This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list but just some pointers I’ve picked up along the way. Hope this helps anyone working on video creation for their products or how to videos.

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