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I have been on four interviews and this question ("Where do you look for help?") was asked three times. What is the point of it? What is my opinion is a bit controversial like googling is OK? Is this answer OK?


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closed as not constructive by Walter, Robert Harvey, gnat, maple_shaft Aug 30 '12 at 16:21

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What did you answer? How did it go? –  dustyprogrammer Jan 14 '11 at 15:43
My answer was "I use on-line documentation like MSDN, on-line search and sites/forums like StackOverflow.com". I'll get the answer within two weeks, was a phone screen for one of the biggest companies. –  lukas Jan 14 '11 at 15:48
I'd give you extra points in an interview for mentioning SO as a resource. –  JohnFx Jan 14 '11 at 16:29

11 Answers 11

up vote 14 down vote accepted

If your workflow includes Google, and the employer you're interviewing with doesn't like that, then perhaps you should find a different employer.

As for where I personally look for help: Google, StackOverflow, man pages, etc. Basically online sources. In the worst case scenario for an open-source library I'm using, I'll read through the code; things have to be pretty dire if I'm going to go dumpster diving though.

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+1 for using your answers to interview questions as a way for you to interview your potential employer. –  Jeremy Heiler Jan 14 '11 at 15:10
Before Google, I have a dim memory of reading and re-reading printed documentation. It was awful. I remember one day I actually met the author of one of those three-ring hardware specs and was shocked to discover that he was actually a native English speaker! I hope those days are gone for good. –  GlenPeterson Aug 30 '12 at 19:12

It will uncover the route you take in finding a resolution to a problem. This is a great indicator on your overall approach to a problem and can also be a great indicator on behavioral traits which may or may not mesh with the given environment.

Having personally worked with individuals who will waste many more hours then needed in finding a resolution to a problem based on their pattern of approaching the problem I can attest to the validity of this question. More often then not it boils down to not knowing the point in time when to ask for help.

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I think I should have asked "Do I need to solved a problem or get some info" to clarify. –  lukas Jan 14 '11 at 15:41
@luka Googling is a tool in the belt to find a resolution to a problem. I have opened tickets with MS against an MSDN subscription for off the wall web services issues when consuming an Axis2 web service within Silverlight. Just searching within Google will not always yield the desired or appropriate answer. –  Aaron McIver Jan 14 '11 at 15:50

IMO it's completely okay. If I asked this question I would expect the interviewee to answer exactly that (and mentioning he asks well-thought questions on SO wouldn't hurt as well) since that would indicate he is reasonably self-sufficent and can use publicly available sources before nagging for help.

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The point of the question is not to poke holes at the sources you use for help. It reveals insight about how you would seek out help for a problem. Are you willing to ask for help or are you going to beat your head against the wall for the next day or so?

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Google is a good and honest answer. I think an employer would be surprised if you don't say "Google" or "Online Search" of some sort.

The point of the question isn't to find out your favorite search engine though. This is your opportunity to show your potential employer how you would go about solving a problem when you need help.

Say you'd use Google to help you find a solution. Point out that you'd look at blogs and sites like Stackoverflow for solutions as well. At what point do you decide that the internet isn't going to help? When would you turn to your co-workers or company documentation for a solution?

Are you going to beat your head against the wall or will you eventually ask for help?

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Also, you may describe how you know which google results to click and which not. A page on a vendor site (eg MSDN for a Microsoft tool) carries more weight than a forum post. A blog post by someone who you know is authoritative carries more weight than a blog post by someone who hates that tech and is always writing about how awful it is (not saying the post will be wrong, just that it won't help you understand what option to pass for the 5th parameter to the function), and so on. This is a really softball question that lets you show off your abilities. –  Kate Gregory Jan 14 '11 at 15:42
@Kate - I 100% agree. This type of question is very open ended, so you can really use it to your advantage. –  Tyanna Jan 14 '11 at 15:47

My first source is usually looking for man pages. Or ask colleague for pointers on where to find information.

If all else fails -- IRC fro that the particular thing your working on or stuck in. Usually someone has come across the problem before.

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It's not realistic for an employer to expect that you will never check online resources when you get stuck on something. However, I can understand concerns over copyright or trademark issues or code safety if you just blindly copy something you saw on a Web page into your code.

For me personally, the answer would break down as follows:

  • For language syntax and library issues, I have a stack of language reference manuals (C, C++, Java, C#, bash).

  • For general design issues, I have a stack of books on design patterns, algorithms, etc.

  • For project-specific issues, we have documentation on the corporate intranet (APIs, requirements, design documents, etc.), as well as on collaborative systems with other contractors/partners. I'll also pester various co-workers, task leads, etc.

  • For system-specific issues, I'll check documentation on the host system (man pages) as well as any reference manuals I may have.

  • For issues with third-party toolkits, I'll check local documentation (PDFs, javadocs, and local Web pages), and if the answer isn't there, I'll go to the vendor website.

  • For examples and how-tos of various concepts, I go online (Google, Wikipedia, StackOverflow, Ars Technica, etc.).

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Although I think it is a weak interview question, I can see where they are coming from.

If you've ever had a developer working on your team that has no research skills whatsoever you would understand. It is really annoying when these people disrupt other people's work all day long for questions they could have easily looked up on their own.

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Another source of information would be your co-workers, assuming you have some. They'd be relatively most helpful on the existing software, of course.

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As others have said, the point of this question is to see how you think and what you do to figure out something you don't know. I think that being able to look stuff up online is OK and that if the employer thinks its controversial that you might not want to work there. Any employer which expects its employees to work in a vacuum like that is being unreasonable.

By implying that employees being forced to work without looking stuff up online is forcing them to work in a vacuum, I mean that they seem to not want their employees to have to be able to learn new ways of doing things or know the resources they need in advance essentially isolating their employees from information they're not expecting to have to find.

Another thing I've thought of is if the company does not want their code being relicensed due to license issues. I've seen code snippets online with a license attached to them and they might not want their employees to put such code into their code base. In this case, it might be seen as an issue by the company but I feel that companies should trust their employees to not do that.

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Good interview question for me , if i interview some asp.net web developer in Jan 2011 with some experience say about 2-3 years and he doesn't named Stack overflow straight away apart from google offcourse. it will not be the end of the interview but Real doub't will creep in my mind about him or her.

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