Re: The Covert Interview

Subject: Re: The Covert Interview
From: John Russell <johnr -at- BRS -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 5 Jan 1995 13:33:33 EST

> Rather than showing up in the specialist's office with a clip board and a
> list of questions, one might strike up a casual conversation in the lunch
> room or while waiting for a job to print. By expressing interest in or
> admiration for the software (or whatever) or by asking a particularly
> astute question, one can sometimes elicit an almost overwhelming flow
> of information from engineers who, when they know they are being
> "interviewed," are reticent or even rude.

This is an interesting point. I find that my most productive "interviewing"
sessions with the developers in my company occur when the interview is
a conversation about the product/enhancement/etc. that they developed.

"Astute" is a key word. I can't just go and say, "tell me how this sucker
works." I've found that if you ask a question about a seeming bug or
apparent contradiction in features, I get the best results. I'll give you
a (perhaps hoky) MS-Word example. Tools | AutoCorrect, you have the option
to replace straight quotes with smart quotes. Tools | Options | AutoFormat
gives you the same option. In order to really turn off straight-to-smart
quotes, you apparently have to check two places. This is a reasonably
astute observation that could very well lead into a discussion on why the
interface was put together the way it was. Ultimately, you can gain a lot
more information than if you went to the developer and said: did you know
the straight-to-smart quote option can be turned on/off in two places?
"Yep, I do know that." (pfssst!)

One of the most frustrating things I've encountered (not too often) is when
I go to a develeper with my reasonably astute question and he/she says,
"I'm really busy right now. Tell you what, you give me a list of questions
and I'll answer them." There goes all my information. I think what they
often fail to realize (and why I prefer the "covert" interview) is that
if the question is simple and can be answered with a quick yes/no or short
answer, I'm probably capable of figuring it out on my own and don't need
to ask them in the first place.

And, of course, my worst nightmare is when the developer is reviewing my
document and, while explaining how something works, says "'The discombobulator
regurgitates the part of the prefix to some other portion of disk space.'
That's the perfect sentence for this explanation. Write it just like that."
That's when I'd like to say "I'll leave the code to you if you leave the
text to me."

(That reminds me, ever see that Taxi episode when Jim is driving a stock
broker and starts giving him advice about which stock to buy, and the
broker says "I'll leave the driving to you if you leave the stock options
to me." Jim agrees, then proceeds the wrong way up a one way street. The
guy screams "Hey! You're going the wrong way up a one way street." To which
Jim replies, "Eh, eh, remember our deal!")


johnr -at- lurch -dot- brs -dot- com

|/ K. John Russell \|
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