In the previous post, we assumed that employers don’t test people (either for fear of lawsuits as suggested by the commenter, or because they don’t believe that tests measure anything useful as I suggested). However, there is one field in which every employer tests applicants, and that’s in the field of computer programming.
There is not a single job interview for .NET programming I have been on in which I didn’t have to suffer through a test of my programming knowledge. The tests are sometimes written, and sometimes administered verbally. When administered verbally, sometimes they are administered one-on-one, and sometimes in a panel format in which a group of nerdy developers grills the poor job applicant.
Do these tests help the employers? They answer is surely yes compared to not testing at all, and surely no compared to better tests. All of the tests are very poor tests. They emphasize rote memorization of stuff that you would just look up in the MSDN library (that’s the online help for .NET) while programming. I think that people who aren’t especially good programmers could do well on these tests by doing a lot of memorizing. After going on enough interviews, I figured out exactly the types of questions asked over and over again, memorized the answers to those questions, and then aced the tests.
When I had to hire a programmer, I didn’t do this kind of testing. Instead, I put the applicant down in front of a computer with .NET on it, and asked him or her to program a very simple assignment. The only guy who was able to successfully pass the test got the job. It took him only a few minutes, while the other job applicants stared at the computer in horror for an hour or longer. (As far as I know he would have been a competent programmer, but we had no work for him and I mostly saw him surfing the web when I passed by his cubicle.)
As far as I know, no employer of computer programmers has ever been sued for discrimination, even though there are no black people working in programming. OK, that’s a lie, there was one black computer programmer. But he was not a typical black man, he was actually a black Hispanic; he was born somewhere in Central America and moved here when he was a young child. If you would speak to him on the telephone without seeing him, you would never guess that he was either black or Hispanic. He was also family man with a wife and two kids, and he spent a lot of his time on weekends doing stuff with his kids. And I’m pretty sure he was a Republican; I never asked, but whenever political issues came up, his viewpoints were pretty similar to Rush Limbaugh. The only thing black that he ever did was involvement in some charity to help black people. He told me about it guiltily, as if he felt bad about doing something racial. I said “who is going to help black people if other black people won’t?” He liked my answer. On the other hand, when he would talk to prole black people, he would adopt an entirely different mode of expression, almost like someone who normally speaks English switching to a foreign language.
Wait, there was one other black guy I encountered in my IT career. He was supposedly an Oracle DBA, but he was the stupidest and most worthless Oracle DBA ever. He must have surely had his job because of affirmative action. In contrast, the black Hispanic guy was a competent programmer, and he seemed to think he was God’s greatest gift to programming.