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Today somebody (it might have been an xkcd comic) pointed me to the addictive game GeoGuessr. I didn’t link it because if you click on it you’ll never come back to finish reading this blog post. The idea of the game is that they drop you into street view somewhere on the planet and you have to guess where you are. The closer you are to being right the more points you get. It is a very simple concept for a game but at the same time real good fun. I was playing it when somebody came into my office and asked about it. We spent 5 minutes dissecting a series of photos using logic and best guesses to figure out where we were. The whole exercise got me thinking about how I’m going to use this game as an interview tool the next time I interview somebody.

What?

Stay with me on this one. One of the more popular interview techniques for tech companies is to present a puzzle and have people solve it. A lot of people look down on puzzle interviews because it is such a gotcha style of interview. If you’ve seen the puzzle before or you guess the trick then you can get it quickly and you win the interview. I don’t mind puzzle interview questions. It isn’t because I think being able to figure out the puzzle is important it is because it gives me some insight into how well the interviewee will approach a problem. We’ve all worked with that developer who gives up in the face of a difficult problem. Throwing ideas against the wall and seeing what sticks is a hallmark of good programming problem solving. I don’t expect people to have the answers to difficult problems right away but I do expect them to puzzle out the problem.

I think that playing a round or two of GeoGuessr (I linked it there because you got this far and deserve a reward) during the interview would allow for a quick evaluation of how the programmer thinks. Just have them puzzle out loud or play with their potential team mates. In the brief time I played with somebody we said things like

“Well look, they’re driving on the left side of the road so that eliminates a lot of places. The language on the signs seems to be English.  So UK, South Africa or Australia. Seems pretty arid, perhaps Australia?”

and

“Right, there is a truck. A dodge truck so North America is pretty much for sure. There is a highway marker for an in-state highway 45. So we know US for sure. I bet most states have a highway 45, it is a good number 45. No mountains so that cuts out a few places. There is a train, looks like it has grain cars – a lot of grain cars. Bread basket somewhere? Hey, hey look! A sign for interstate 69. Google it! It goes North/South through Arkansas and Kentucky. Let’s try Kentucky.”

This demonstrates that we’re working though a difficult problem and that we’re doing it as a team. Also this sort of thing is a great ice breaker during an interview. If you try this out before me drop me a line and let me know how it works.