Red Smith once said, “Writing is easy. All you do is sit down and open a vein.” This deliciously ironic statement hints at the intimate connection not only between writing and the body but also between the creative imagination and pain. Pain comes in all varieties and intensities, and psychic anguish can often prove more debilitating than physical ailments or wounds. Plenty of evidence testifies to the close bond between pain and giving birth to the creative arts: “To write . . . because it is an endless beginning, a constantly new first time, like intercourse or pain” (Gánther Kunert). In important ways, pain feeds and sustains human creativity. Making art involves, in quintessential ways, living at close psychic quarters with sacrificial human experience.

Susan Rubin Suleiman’s Exile and Creativity details many of the interconnections between suffering experienced in the twentieth century and its fertilizing effects on the imagination: “Ultimately, is not every poet or ‘poetic’ (exploring, rigorous) novelist an exile of sorts, looking in from outside onto a bright, desirable image in the mind’s eye . . . ?” In a similar vein, Czeslaw Milosz, who has written so sharply and poignantly of war and cultural dislocation, said in a recent interview, "The experience of exile is very difficult. It’s an experience of isolation. . . . But if one can survive . . . it’s good to have behind you such an experience." Anyone attuned to nuance, shadow, and the intricacies of emotion and thought will necessarily recoil from much that happens in the world every day. But what actually drives so many to write? The inner propulsion of pain, the desire for alleviation, and the hope for transfiguration into some form that will or can sustain us.

It can also be said that pain brings writers together with readers, since readers frequently resort to reading as an escape from mundanity or outright distemper or angst. Poetry serves this function particularly well, as poets seem of all writers most attuned to psychic disturbances, and readers turn to poetry most often in times of great emotional turmoil for solace, uplift, and renewal. This is not say we enjoy the woundedness that undergirds much reading and writing. Rather, the pain of human life finds its expression and transmutation in the arts, which—far from being inutile aesthetic excrescences of modern life—function on this level to acknowledge and heal the agonies of a given culture.

We would do well, therefore, to examine the ways in which pain informs and sustains quality writing and the current relation of American poets to it. Resurrecting and transmuting a long-since forgotten mediaeval idea, one could say that good reading and writing are in some special degree “purchased by” pain and that artists serve as the “purchasers” of a given culture, whose sacrifice ennobles and renders pain useful and transformative for all those in touch with it. William James finds in the saint “positive pleasure in sacrifice and asceticism, measuring and expressing as they do the degree of his loyalty to the higher power.” The idea of emotional or spiritual exchange arises from mythic foundations, specifically the sacrifice tradition in which a wounding gift of self paradoxically provides nourishing and fecund bounties. Frazier’s ceremony of “Carrying out Death” in The Golden Bough is accompanied by “bringing in Summer, Spring, or Life.”

If artists and writers truly function as the purchasers of pain in the society of their birth or residence, one may enquire about the kinds of pain purchased and the resulting benefits. Not much need be said of actual physical pain, which has produced its share of significant literary works. Indeed, one contemporary journal, Mediphors, devotes itself exclusively to literary works and photography related to medicine and health, including pain, surgery, disease, and recovery. Audre Lord’s cancer poems forthrightly discuss her loss of a breast due to cancer and the politics of gender and health. Other kinds of pain have predominated over the centuries, including romantic loss, alienation from God, self-disgust, and a whole host of afflictions that originate in being human and having an intense consciousness of the enticements, impossibilities, and frustrations of everyday life. These necessarily find their way into our literature, which serves to express and embody our collective pain and our struggles toward resurrection.

The pain experienced by artists is legendary, especially among poets. The United States has a long and by now nearly mythic tradition of poetic suicides and near-suicides among its great writers—Hart Crane, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, and John Berryman among them. Inclusion of those who abused alcohol or drugs or isolated themselves into near-oblivion—Emily Dickinson, Delmore Schwarz, James Dickey, William Matthews—would swell the ranks considerably. To fundamentally pragmatic Americans, such a record indicates that poets are simply people who can’t cope, outdated versions of Thomas Love Peacock’s “semi-barbarians.” Despite the insanity and death in poverty of writers like Nikolaus Lenau, or the demise of Alexander Pushkin, who died in a duel, not to mention Goethe’s fictional young Werther, who initiated a whole generation of romantic suicides, America nonetheless appears to lead the world in the number of actual suicides by poets, at least in this century.

Another way of looking at this phenomenon would say that the “purchase price” for these poets has been too high and that twentieth-century American society has not been interested in this kind of artistic exchange. Emily Dickinson renounced “fame in her lifetime” and, in the land of Ben Franklin’s Poor Richard, left to posterity some 900 poems found by her sister Lavinia in “sixty little ‘volumes’ . . . tied together with twine.” In a hostile or oblivious social context, the poet’s transaction of pain on behalf of the culture goes unacknowledged, causing the pain to turn in on itself and self-destruct. (Lest one begin to think that such phrases as “purchasing pain” and “sacrificing on behalf of the culture” might be archaic or ineffectual, I would point out that sports and movie star celebrities routinely suffer pain which is shared and widely discussed in a variety of media outlets.) Although it is certainly true that poets are hypersensitive by temperament, the sheer number of poetic suicides suggests as well that America in some sense destroys its lyric self in pursuit of power and success. The American Dream, it appears, has a high spiritual price-tag, for which artists and particularly poets must pay.

Writing in the confessional mode of the 1960’s and 1970’s, and more recently in what Gregory Err calls the “postconfessional lyric”—“one of the dominant modes” in contemporary poetry—has tended to exult or wallow in pain. Plath’s poem, “Daddy,” for example, strikes one as brilliant but excessively personal and ultimately unhealthy. The poet excludes the world of the reader and offers precious little transformation, no escape from neurosis, for herself or anyone else. This narrowness does not ruin what remains a fascinating work of art, but it does limit the range and applicability of the poem’s emotions and judgment. Anne Sexton’s “insanity” poems have a similar feel of a poet in trauma who cannot find a way out and cannot even reach the side of the psychic pool to touch safe ground, let alone a fellow swimmer or lifeguard.

Much of the pain expressed in literary works arises from the fundamental, unavoidable stresses of being alive, the corporeal and incorporeal struggles dictated by our very aliveness. Nonetheless, it is interesting to look at the different ways writers have articulated their pain, though the sources are often similar. Some authors are very direct about addressing pain and acknowledging sacrifice. Sappho, for instance, names her pain directly and beautifully: “. . . I entreat you / not with griefs and bitternesses to break my / spirit, O goddess . . .” (“Invocation to Aphrodite”). Emily Dickinson is equally and powerfully blunt: “I can wade grief, / Whole pools of it” (J. 252) and “So we must meet apart, / You there, I here, / With just the door ajar / That oceans are . . . (J. 640). Edna St. Vincent Millay’s sonnet, “Love is not all . . .,” after cataloguing all the offices that love cannot do, ends the octet: “Yet many a man is making friends with death / Even as I speak, for lack of love alone.” Another of her sonnets, “What my lips have kissed . . .,” is equally direct: “. . . And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain / for unremembered lads that not again / Will turn to me at with a cry.”

Other poets have remained more emotionally circumspect. Yeats, among the most sensitive and subtle of poets, nonetheless couches much of his pain; “Adam’s Curse” ends obliquely: “That it had all seemed happy, and yet we’d grown / As weary-hearted as that hollow moon.” Here the “hollow moon” is made to carry much of the freight of Yeats’ sense of loss. In Keats’ famous “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” the object of the title performs dispassionate service: “When old age shall this generation waste, / Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe / Than ours, a friend to man. . . . ”

In our own time, Alan Dugan’s striking poem, “Love Song: I and Thou,” distances self-disgust and masculine failure through the trope of the carpenter detesting his collapsing house: “By Christ / I am no carpenter, I built / the roof for myself, the walls / for myself, the floors / for myself, and got / hung up in it myself . . . .” In all these instances, pain is transmuted through intellectual distance or through projection onto objects (here one thinks also of many Donne poems, with their elaborate conceits).

Skeptics will surely ask, can’t one have poetry without pain? Certainly. One thinks of comic verse, certain forms of narrative poetry, celebratory odes, and much of today’s “spectator” poetry (more on that later). And the close intimacy between poetry and sacrifice should not be misconstrued as meaning that the arts must be depressing or negative; merely, that most great art acknowledges the pain we all know and deals somehow with it. Cervantes’ Don Quixote, among the finest of comic masterpieces, has pain laced all through it, inextricably. Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors, overall his most farcical play, hinges on the pain of two sets of twins separated at sea and features painful abuse of a loyal wife by her mistaken husband. Experts in comedy, from Bergson and Freud to Keaton and Chaplin, have recognized the roots of the comic in human pain and loss.

One turns, then, to contemporary writing to discover the kinds of pain peculiar to our time, finding that American poets continue to work against the prevailing pragmatic, commercial grain of American life. Since the modernist period, literature has suffered a conspicuous breakdown in communication between the arts community and the general public. The latter, under steady pressures by highly organized and heavily funded multi-national corporations, have turned their attention to popular entertainments, increasingly unwilling to expend the time and energy to read, say, The Waste Land, or The Sound and the Fury. The chasm has solidified further with the advent of over 3,000 creative writing programs nationwide, which train fledgling writers in intricacies of literary technique, approach, and style far beyond the comprehension of general readers. (It must be acknowledged that poets and writers remain in creative tension with the public at large through readings, book signings, and other kinds of interactions.) Dana Gioia laments a literary subculture that too often lives unto and for itself: “No longer part of the mainstream of artistic and intellectual life, [poetry] has become the specialized occupation of a relative small and isolated group.” Wendell Berry, in the same vein, accuses poets of becoming too specialized, of making “a religion of poetry” and separating themselves from other people.

The most noteworthy literature of any age serves to articulate our discomforts and to transfigure our pain into form and substance that can vitiate its power and heal our wounds. Yet postmodernism, the most prevalent mode of thinking in our time, conspicuously refuses this office, renouncing transfiguration as inauthentic: “postmodernist discourse is precisely the discourse that denies the possibility of ontological grounding.” In other words, the refusal or rejection of meaning is the “true meaning” of our time. So the artist’s task is reduced to playing with words and ideas rather than dealing with the hard edges of life in the world. On a parallel track, John W. Aldridge decries the contemporary vogue of minimalism precisely for its lack of courage in tackling the big issues: “It is clearly a fault of nearly all the younger writers I have discussed that they have so little of substance to say about the nature of contemporary life. . . .”

As for the actual purchase effected by sacrifice, the contemporary entrepreneurial forces at work in the larger society tend to undermine, even negate, such mythic transactions. Writing programs have sprouted up everywhere; they advertise heavily, charge tuition, and imply, if not promise, literary advancement and success. Thus, the means of economic production of literature have become systematized and commercialized, yielding a not insignificant profit. MFA programs do not want, however, to advertise pain, which any marketer of sense would scrupulously avoid; thriving enterprises are unlikely to question the worth or purpose of wares for which they are the primary vendors. Graduates from writing programs learn soon enough about pain on their own, experiencing a depressing rate of rejection in a hugely over-saturated market and discovering that a degree in writing guarantees precious little in the way of literary success and emotional reinforcement.

At bookstores, the climate has turned interestingly schizophrenic. On the one hand, national book chains have bought up independent stores, or driven them out of business, consolidating economic power and thereby rendering the book more of a pure retail commodity than ever before. In such an environment, a good book is one that sells lots of copies, not one that offers intellectual or spiritual insight (though that remains, of course, a plus). Barnes and Noble and Borders work hard to create oases of aesthetic consumption that include readings, signings, book groups, concerts, and other upbeat events designed to lure customers into bazaars of temptation. (The brochure of a bookstore nearby announces that “our highest priority is that you have a pleasant shopping experience with us.”) On the other hand, the books, CDs, cassettes, and other wares sold in an espresso-enhanced atmosphere frequently focus on, and sometimes wallow in, pain. It’s no surprise that biggest sales can be had in the self-help category, where timely products dealing with issues such as absent fathers, suicide, HIV, or mental illness find a ready audience.

In the context of this dualistic environment of escapism and pain, much poetry of the last decade has adopted the “spectator mode”: the author does not feel or think much of anything, at least not directly; instead, she or he looks at a painting or newspaper article and comments on the patterns or thoughts within that context, at a safe remove where one cannot be emotionally judged or found wanting. A typical example of this approach, “An Englishwoman in America,” by William Logan, appeared in the winter 1998 issue of Shenandoah. Adopting a setting of New Orleans, 1858, the poet as historically detached speaker reports that “Mrs. Sillery flirted with all the gentlemen / in true Southern fashion.” Here the immediacy of direct feeling is almost entirely negated in the triple distancing of time, space, and persona; we catch only a momentary glimpse of what Mr. Logan appears to think about issues of race and culture over a century ago.

Undoubtedly, the “spectator mode” of writing grows out of a largely passive video culture unaccustomed to making emotional or philosophical commitments in a period of profound moral confusion. Yet writers still sacrifice every day for their art: not only persevering through rejection by overstocked magazines and publishers, but also through public satiation with and general disregard for the struggles and victories of the artistic trade. Not surprisingly, many poets retreat unto themselves, producing works of great subtlety and originality and sending them to publishers and prize juries. However, most of this occurs without interaction with neighbors, without listening to local or regional concerns. In short, the literary enterprise as currently transacted too rarely encounters the larger culture in need. Relatively few contemporary poets acknowledge or write for the general public, and in some instances they seem actually to scorn what they regard as retrograde “Hallmark taste.” Too often, the transformation that might occur through direct contact with the public Other is not allowed to happen.

A number of commentators have suggested that American poets, hurt and angered by the public disregard, even disdain, for their rôle and sacrifice, have withdrawn to themselves and their admirers for succor and survival. On the face of it, this strategy seems logical as a human psychological response to rejection: “[The poet] must be indestructible as a poet until he is destroyed as a human being” (Delmore Schwartz). However, retreating to oneself represents a defeatist position; it neglects the real conflicts of the culture and instead seeks comfort for the individual writer. Essentially, we now have legions of poets—Donald Hall has estimated that some 40 million Americans write poetry—busily creating verses which they attempt to “sell,” ordinarily without pay, to anyone willing to heed or read them. The number of takers is precious few in most cases, and the wares they attempt to market remain largely self-conceived and self-circumscribed. In practice, many of today’s poets unconsciously concede that their work is useless without understanding or accepting the true social utility of poetry, which, for the most part, lies dormant except at weddings and funerals.

If poetry, and maybe all art, finds its sustaining roots in pain and sacrifice on behalf of the culture, then it makes sense that it should seek replenishment there. To Aristotle is attributed the aphorism that the writer should think like a philosopher and write for the common man (and woman), which grows out of his advocacy in The Poetics for diction that is at once clear, composed of “ordinary words for things,” and yet contains “strange words, metaphors . . . and everything that deviates from the ordinary modes of speech.” In the past several years, major efforts have been initiated to bring poets and the public together. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky’s Favorite Poem Project—a great popular and marketing success—has bridged gaps between Americans of all walks of life and poets both living and dead. Reading series, poetry slams, and conferences at public venues have further narrowed the distance between writers and readers. This is only a start, but it represents a new effort of reaching out toward the broader public after the rarefied modernist and postmodernist movements.

From the point of view of literary history, popularizing poetry to mainstream American society requires a reorientation from decadent late romanticism, or Northrop Frye’s ironic “mythos of winter,” to a more public mode of literary discourse that “transcends or illuminates the ills of modern life” (Christopher Clausen). Poets need to evolve beyond the postconfessional lyric and the American obsession with self in order to make their work accessible and relevant in a time of many challenges and much confusion. The pain of contemporary writers is by no means unique, but we are the first generation to be threatened by multi-national corporate capitalism and widespread degradation of the global environment, as well as by dozens of searingly tragic conflicts and atrocities. The pain of trying to create and sustain a fulfilling individual life in the midst of deeply troubling realities must be somehow transmuted and “purchased” by today’s artists on behalf of the entire culture. This is a daunting task, but one that offers, as always, great potential for solace, growth, and renewal, for ourselves as well as for others.



By Joel Spolsky

Thursday, March 23, 2000

Hiring the right people is extremely crucial to Fog Creek Software. In our field, there are three types of people. At one end of the scale, there are the unwashed masses, lacking even the most basic skills for this job. They are easy to ferret out and eliminate, often just by reviewing a resume and asking two or three quick questions. At the other extreme, are the brilliant superstars who write lisp compilers for fun, in a weekend, in Assembler for the Palm Pilot. And in the middle, you have a large number of "maybes" who seem like they might just be able to contribute something. The trick is telling the difference between the superstars and the maybes, because at Fog Creek Software we only hire the superstars. Here are some techniques for doing that.



First of all, the #1 cardinal criteria for getting hired at Fog Creek:

Smart, and

Gets Things Done.



That’s it. That’s all we’re looking for. Memorize that. Recite it to yourself before you go to bed every night. Our goal is to hire people with aptitude, not a particular skill set. Any skill set that people can bring to the job will be technologically obsolete in a couple of years, anyway, so it’s better to hire people that are going to be able to learn any new technology rather than people who happen to know SQL programming right this minute.



Smart is hard to define, but as we look at some possible interview questions we’ll see how you can ferret it out. Gets Things Done is crucial. People who are Smart but don’t Get Things Done often have PhDs and work in big companies where nobody listens to them because they are completely impractical. They would rather mull over something academic about a problem rather than ship on time. These kind of people can be identified because they love to point out the theoretical similarity between two widely divergent concepts. For example, they will say "Spreadsheets are really just a special case of programming language" and then go off for a week and write a thrilling, brilliant white paper about the theoretical computational linguistic attributes of a spreadsheet as a programming language. Smart, but not useful.



Now, people who Get Things Done but are not Smart will do stupid things, seemingly without thinking about them, and somebody else will have to come clean up their mess later. This makes them liabilities to the company because not only don’t they contribute, but they soak up good people’s time. They are the kind of people who copy big chunks of code around rather than writing a subroutine, because it gets the job done, just not in the smartest way.



The most important rule about interviewing:

Make A Decision



At the conclusion of the interview, you have to be ready to make a sharp decision about the candidate. There are only two possible outcomes to this decision: Hire or No Hire. Turn to your computer and send immediate feedback to the recruiter. The subject line should be the name of the candidate. The first line of the email should be Hire or No Hire. Then you should spend about 2 paragraphs backing up your decision.



There is no other possible answer. Never say, "Hire, but not in my group." This is rude and implies that the candidate is not smart enough to work with you, but maybe he’s smart enough for those losers over in that other group. If you find yourself tempted to say "Hire, but not in my group," simply translate that mechanically to "No Hire" and you’ll be OK. Even if you have a candidate that would be brilliant at doing 1 particular thing, but wouldn’t be very good in another group, that’s a No Hire. Things change so often and so rapidly that we need people that can succeed anywhere. If for some reason you find an idiot savant that is really, really, really good at SQL but completely incapable of ever learning any other topic, No Hire. They don’t have a future at Fog Creek.



Never say "Maybe, I can’t tell." If you can’t tell, that means No Hire. It’s really easier than you’d think. Can’t tell? Just say no! Similarly, if you are on the fence, that means No Hire. Never say, "Well, Hire, I guess, but I’m a little bit concerned about…" That’s a No Hire as well.



An important thing to remember about interviewing is this: it is much better to reject a good candidate than to accept a bad candidate. A bad candidate will cost a lot of money and effort and waste other people’s time fixing all their bugs. If you have any doubts whatsoever, No Hire.



While you are conducting the interview, don’t worry that if you reject a lot of people, Fog Creek won’t be able to find anyone to hire. That’s not your problem. It’s the recruiter’s problem, it’s H.R.’s problem, it’s Joel’s problem, but it’s not your problem. Keep asking yourself which is worse – that we grow into a big, lousy software company with lots of coconuts, or that we stay small but high quality? Of course, it’s important to seek out good candidates and everybody should see it as a part of their mission to find and recruit smart people who get things done. But once you’re actually interviewing someone, pretend that Fog Creek has plenty of great candidates. Never lower your standards no matter how hard it seems to find great candidates.



But how do you make this difficult decision? You just have to keep asking yourself during the interview: is this person smart? Does this person get things done? In order to be able to tell, you’re going to have to ask the right questions.



Just for fun, here is the worst interview question on Earth: "What’s the difference between varchar and varchar2 in Oracle 8i?" This is a terrible question. There is no possible, imaginable correlation between people that know that particular piece of useless trivia and people that Fog Creek wants to hire. Who cares what the difference is? You can find out online in about 15 seconds!



Actually, there are some even worse questions. I’ll get to that later.



So now we get to the fun part: interview questions. My list of interview questions comes from my first job at Microsoft. There are actually hundreds of famous Microsoft interview questions. Everybody has a set of questions that they really like. You, too, will develop a particular set of questions and a personal interviewing style which helps you make the Hire/No Hire decision. Here are some techniques that I have used that have been successful.



Before the interview, I read over the candidates resume and jot down an interview plan on a scrap of paper. That’s just a list of questions that I want to ask. Here’s a typical plan for interviewing a programmer:




Question about recent project candidate worked on

Impossible Question

C Function

Are you satisfied?

Design Question

The Challenge

Do you have any questions?

Before the interview, I am very, very careful to avoid anything that might give me some preconceived notions about the candidate. If you think that someone is smart before they even walk into the room, just because they have a Ph.D. from MIT, then nothing they can say in 1 hour is going to overcome that initial prejudice. If you think they are a bozo, nothing they can say will overcome that initial impression. An interview is like a very, very delicate scale — it’s very hard to judge someone based on a 1 hour interview and it may seem like a very close call. But if you know a little bit about the candidate beforehand, it’s like a big weight on one side of the scale, and the interview is useless. Once, right before an interview, a recruiter came into my office. "You’re going to love this guy," she said. BOY did this make me mad. What I should have said was, "well, if you’re so sure I’m going to love him, why don’t you just hire him instead of wasting my time going through this interview." But I was young and na?ve, so I interviewed him. When he said not-so-smart things, I thought to myself, "gee, must be the exception that proves the rule." I looked at everything he said through rose-colored glasses. I wound up saying Hire even though he was a crappy candidate. You know what? Everybody else who interviewed him said No Hire. So: don’t listen to recruiters; don’t ask around about the person before you interview them; and never, ever talk to the other interviewers about the candidate until you’ve both made your decisions independently. It’s the scientific method!



The Introduction phase of the interview is intended to put the candidate at ease. I spend about 30 seconds telling the person who I am and how the interview will work. I always reassure the candidate that we are interested in how he goes about solving problems, not the actual answer. By the way, in doing the interview, you should make sure that you are not sitting across a desk from the candidate. This creates a formal barrier which will not place the candidate at ease. It is better to move the desk against a wall, or to go around and sit on the other side of the desk with the candidate; this does help put the candidate at ease. This results in a better interview because it is less distorted by nervousness.



Part 2 is a question about some recent project that the candidate worked on. For interviewing college kids, ask them about their senior thesis, if they had one, or about a course they took that involved a long project that they really enjoyed. For example, sometimes I will ask, "what class did you take last semester that you liked the most? It doesn’t have to be computer-related." Actually I am usually pretty happy if they choose a non-computer related course. Sometimes you look at their schedule, and it looks like they are taking the bare minimum number of Comp Sci courses, but every elective is something related to Music. Then they will tell you that their favorite course was Object Oriented Databases. Yeah, right. I’d be happier if they admitted that they just liked music more than computers, instead of sucking up.



When interviewing experienced candidates, you can talk about their previous job.



In this question, I’m looking for one thing: passion. When you find a project that the person worked on recently, these are all good signs:



They get very excited talking about it; they tend to talk more quickly and get animated. This shows that when they are interesting in something, they will be passionate about it. There are far too many people around that can work on something and not really care one way or the other. Even if they are passionately negative, this can be just as good a sign. "I was working on installing Foo Bar Mark II for my previous employer, but he was such a dope!" These are good candidates that we want to hire. Bad candidates just don’t care and will not get enthusiastic at all during the interview. A really good sign that a candidate is passionate about something is that when they are talking about it, they will forget for a moment that they are in an interview. Sometimes a candidate comes in who is very nervous about being in an interview situation — this is normal so I always overlook that. But then when you get them talking about Computational Monochromatic Art they will get extremely excited and lose all signs of nervousness. Good. I like passionate people who really care. (To see an example of Computational Monochromatic Art try unplugging your monitor.)

They are careful to explain things. I have rejected candidates because when they talked about their previous project, they couldn’t explain it in terms that a normal person could understand. Often engineering majors will just assume that everyone knows what Bates Theorem is or what Peano’s Axioms are. If they start doing this, stop them for a minute and say, "could you do me a favor, just for the sake of the exercise, could you please explain this in terms my grandmother could understand." At this point many people will still continue to use jargon and will completely fail to make themselves understood. GONG!

If the project was a team project, look for signs that they took a leadership role. A candidate might say: "we were working on X, but the boss said Y and the client said Z." I’ll ask, "so what did you do?" A good answer to this might be "I got together with the other members of the team and wrote a proposal…" A bad answer might be, "Well, there was nothing I could do. It was an impossible situation." Remember, Smart and Gets Things Done. A good way to tell if somebody Gets Things Done is to see if historically they have tended to get things done in the past. In fact, you can even ask them directly to give you an example from their recent past when they took a leadership role and got something done — overcame some institutional inertia, for example.

OK, the third thing on that list is the impossible question. This is fun. The idea is to ask a question that they have no possible way of answering, just to see how they handle it. "How many optometrists are there in Seattle?" "How many tons does the Washington Monument weigh?" "How many gas stations are in Los Angeles?" "How many piano tuners are there in New York?"



Smart candidates will realize that you are not quizzing them on their knowledge, and they will enthusiastically leap into trying to figure out some back-of-the-envelope answer. "Well, lets see, the population of LA is about 7 million; each person in LA has about 2.5 cars…" Of course it’s OK if they are radically wrong. The important thing is that they leapt into the question enthusiastically. They may try to figure out the capacity of a gas station. "Gee, it takes 4 minutes to tank up, gas stations have about 10 pumps and are open about 18 hours a day…" They may try to figure it out by area. Sometimes they will surprise you with their creativity or ask for a Los Angeles yellow pages. All good signs.

Not-so-smart candidates will get flustered and upset. They will just stare at you like you landed from Mars. You have to coach them. "Well, if you were building a new city the size of Los Angeles, how many gas stations would you put in it?" You can give them little hints. "How long does it take to fill up a tank of gas?" Still, with not-smart candidates, you will have to drag them along while they sit there stupidly and wait for you to rescue them. These people are not problem solvers and we don’t want them working for us.

For programming questions, I ask candidates to write a small function in C. Here are some typical problems I would ask:



Reverse a string in place

Reverse a linked list

Count all the bits that are on in a byte

Binary search

Find the longest run in a string


itoa (great, because they have to use a stack or strrev)

You don’t want to give them any problems that take more than about 5 lines of code; you won’t have time for that.



Let’s look at a couple of these in detail. #1: reverse a string in place. Every candidate I’ve ever interviewed in my life has done this wrong the first time. Without exception, they try to allocate another buffer and reverse the string into that buffer. The trouble is, who allocates the buffer? Who frees the buffer? In giving this question to dozens of candidates I found out an interesting fact. Most people who think that they know C really do not understand memory or pointers. They just don’t get it. It’s amazing that these people are working as programmers, but they are. With this question, here are some ways to judge the candidate:



Is their function fast? Look at how many times they call strlen. I’ve seen O(n^2) algorithms for strrev when it should be O(n), because they are calling strlen again and again in a loop.

Do they use pointer arithmetic? This is a good sign. Many "C programmers" just don’t know how to make pointer arithmetic work. Now, ordinarily, I wouldn’t reject a candidate just because he lacked a particular skill. However, I’ve discovered that understanding pointers in C is not a skill, it’s an aptitude. In Freshman year CompSci, there are always about 200 kids at the beginning of the semester, all of whom wrote complex adventure games in BASIC for their Atari 800s when they were 4 years old. They are having a good ol’; time learning Pascal in college, until one day their professor introduces pointers, and suddenly, they don’t get it. They just don’t understand anything any more. 90% of the class goes off and becomes PoliSci majors, then they tell their friends that there weren’t enough good looking members of the appropriate sex in their CompSci classes, that’s why they switched. For some reason most people seem to be born without the part of the brain that understands pointers. This is an aptitude thing, not a skill thing ¨C it requires a complex form of doubly-indirected thinking that some people just can’t do.

For #3, you can see how well they learned the bitwise operators in C…. but this is a skill, not an aptitude, so you can help them with these. The interesting thing is to watch them write a subroutine that counts all the bits in a byte, then ask them to make it much, much faster. Really smart candidates will create a lookup table (after all, it’s only got 256 entries) that they only have to create once. With good candidates, you can have a really interesting conversation about the different space/speed tradeoffs. Press them further: tell them you don’t want to spend any time building the lookup table during initialization. Brilliant candidates might even suggest a caching scheme where bits are counted the first time they are used, and then stored in a lookup table so they don’t have to be counted if they are used again. Really, really brilliant candidates will try to devise a way to compute the table using some kind of a shortcut taking advantage of the patterns that occur.



When you watch somebody write code, here are some techniques that may be helpful:



Always reassure them that you understand that it’s hard to write code without an editor, and you will forgive them if their paper gets really messy. Also you understand that it’s hard to write bug-free code without a compiler, and you will take that into account.

Some signs of a good programmer: good programmers have a habit of writing their { and then skipping down to the bottom of the page and writing their }s right away, then filling in the blank later. They also tend to have some kind of a variable naming convention, primitive though it may be… Good programmers tend to use really short variable names for loop indices. If they name their loop index CurrentPagePositionLoopCounter it is sure sign that they have not written a lot of code in their life. Occasionally, you will see a C programmer write something like if (0==strlen(x)), putting the constant on the left hand side of the == . This is a really good sign. It means that they were stung once too many times by confusing = and == and have forced themselves to learn a new habit to avoid that trap.

Good programmers plan before they write code, especially when there are pointers involved. For example, if you ask them to reverse a linked list, good candidates will always make a little drawing on the side and draw all the pointers and where they go. They have to. It is humanly impossible to write code to reverse a linked list without drawing little boxes with arrows between them. Bad programmers will start writing code right away.

Inevitably, you will see a bug in their function. So we come to question 5: Are you satisfied with that code? You may want to ask, "OK, so where’s the bug?" The quintessential Open Ended Question From Hell. All programmers make mistakes, there’s nothing wrong with that, they just have to be able to find them. With the string functions, they’ll almost always forget to null-terminate the new string. With almost any function, they are likely to have off-by-one errors. They will forget semicolons sometimes. Their function won’t work correctly on 0 length strings, or it will GPF if malloc fails… Very, very rarely, you will find a candidate that doesn’t have any bugs the first time. In this case, this question is even more fun. When you say, "There’s a bug in that code," they will review their code carefully, and then you get to see if they can be diplomatic yet firm in asserting that the code is perfect… In general, it’s always a good idea to ask the candidate if they are satisfied with their answer before moving on. Be Regis.



Part 6: the design question. Ask the candidate to design something. Jabe Blumenthal, the original designer of Excel, liked to ask candidates to design a house. According to Jabe, he’s had candidates who would go up to the whiteboard and immediately draw a square. A square! These were immediate No Hires. In design questions, what are you looking for?



Good candidates will try to get more information out of you about the problem. Who is the house for? As a policy, I will not hire someone who leaps into the design without asking more about who it’s for. Often I am so annoyed that I will give them a hard time by interrupting them in the middle and saying, "actually, you forgot to ask this, but this is a house for a family of 48-foot tall blind giraffes."

Not-so-smart candidates think that design is like painting: you get a blank slate, and you can do whatever you want. Smart candidates understand that design is a difficult series of trade-offs. A great design question: design a trash can for a city street corner. Think of all the trade offs! It has to be easy to empty, but impossible to steal; it has to be easy to put things into, but hard for things to fly out of on a windy day; it has to be solid, yet inexpensive; in some cities, it has to be specially designed so that terrorists can’t hide a bomb in it.

Creative candidates will often surprise you with an interesting, non-obvious answer. One of my favorite questions is Design a Spice Rack for Blind People. Inevitably, candidates will put Braille somewhere on the spice bottles, and it usually winds up being on top of the lid for various reasons which you’ll discover after you’ve asked this question 100 times. I had one candidate who decided that it would be better to put the spices in a drawer, because it is more comfortable to scan Braille with your fingertips horizontal than vertical. (Try it!) This was so creative it surprised me — in dozens of interviews, I had never heard that answer. And it really took a major creative "leap" outside of the bounds of the problem. On the strength of that answer alone, and no negatives, I hired the candidate, who went on to be one of the best program managers on the Excel team.

Look for closure. This is part of Get Things Done. Sometimes candidates will drift back and forth, unable to make a decision, or they will try to avoid hard questions. Sometimes they will leave difficult decisions unanswered and try to move on. Not good. Good candidates have a tendency to try to naturally keep things moving forward, even when you try to hold them back. If the conversation ever starts going around in circles, and the candidate says something like "well, we can talk about this all day, but we’ve got to do something, so let’s go with decision X" that’s a really good sign.

Which brings us to #7, The Challenge. This is fun. Throughout the interview, you look for the candidate to say something that is absolutely, positively, unarguably correct. Then you say, "wait a minute, wait a minute," and spend about 2 minutes playing devil’s advocate. Argue with them when you are sure they are right.



Weak candidates will give in. No Hire.

Strong candidates will find a way to persuade you. They will have a whole laundry list of Dale Carnegie techniques to win you over. "Perhaps I’m misunderstanding you," they will say. But they will stand their ground. Hire.

Admittedly, in an interview situation, you are not equal parties. Thus there is a risk that the candidate will be afraid to argue with you because you are in a position of power over him. BUT, good candidates will tend to get fairly passionate about the argument, and they may momentarily forget that they are in an interview, and they will get very involved in trying to convince you. These are the people we want to hire.



Finally, you should ask the candidate if they have any questions. Some people like to look to see if the candidate will ask intelligent questions, which is a standard technique in the interviewing books. Personally, I don’t care what questions they ask; by this point I’ve already made my decision. The trouble is, candidates have to see about 5-6 people in one day, and it’s hard for them to ask 5-6 people different, brilliant questions, so if they don’t have any questions, fine.



I always, always leave about 5 minutes a the end of the interview to sell Fog Creek. This is very important even if you are not going to hire them. If you’ve been lucky enough to find a really good candidate, you want to do everything you can at this point to make sure that they want to come to Fog Creek. Even if they are a bad candidate, you want to get them excited about Fog Creek Software so that they go away with a positive impression of the company. Think of it this way: these people are not just potential hires; they are also customers. They are also salesmen for our recruiting effort: if they think that Fog Creek is a great place to work, they will encourage their friends to apply.



Ah, I just remembered that I promised to give you some more examples of really bad questions to avoid.



First of all, avoid the illegal questions. Anything related to race, religion, gender, national origin, age, military service eligibility, veteran status, sexual orientation, or physical handicap is just illegal. If their resume says they were in the Army in 1990, don’t ask them, even to make pleasant conversation, if they were in the Gulf war. It’s against the law. If their resume says that they attended the Technion in Haifa, don’t ask them, even conversationally, if they are Israeli. It’s against the law. There’s a pretty good discussion of what’s illegal here. (But the rest of the interview questions at that site are pretty stupid).



Next, avoid any questions which might make it seem like we care about, or are discriminating based on, things which we don’t actually care about or discriminate based on. The best example of this I can think of is asking someone if they have kids or if they are married. This might give the false impression that we think that people with kids aren’t going to devote enough time to their work or that they are going to run off and take maternity leave.



Finally, avoid brain teaser questions like the one where you have to arrange 6 equal length matches to make exactly 4 identical perfect triangles. If it’s an "aha!" question, you don’t get any information about "smart/get things done" by figuring out if they happen to make the mental leap or not.



Interviewing is more of an art than a science, but if you remember the Smart/Gets Thing Done principle you will be in good shape. When you get a chance, ask some of your co-workers what their favorite questions are and what kinds of answers they look for. In the Building 16 cafeteria in Redmond this is a perennial favorite topic of lunchtime conversation.


If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain:
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.

–Emily Dickinson

What makes a woman’s quotation worth remembering? What quotes inspired me to put them in a set called "Women’s Voices"?
My first assumption is that it’s worthwhile to hear women’s voices, and my second assumption is that those voices have been too often ignored — in general quotation collections and in common use. And because those voices have been ignored, it might be possible to imagine that women were less vocal, less wise, less inspirational than the many men who are widely quoted.
The quotes I’ve included — the women’s voices — were chosen for a number of reasons.
Some are by women whose names are familiar — or should be familiar. I’ve chosen many of the quotes because they help illustrate who the woman is, what she thought, and what contributions she made to history. For instance, under Susan B. Anthony, famous for her leadership of the American woman
suffrage movement, I’ve included her well-known "Men their rights and nothing more; women their rights and nothing less."
Sometimes, too, I’ve included a quote from a famous woman that illustrates another side than the one history knows well. Famous women may seem distant and intimidating — nothing like you or me — until we hear their voices expressing emotions and ideas more typical of everyday life. You’ll find Louisa May Alcott’s words, "I am angry nearly every day of my life, but I have learned not to show it; and I still try to hope not to feel it, though it may take me another forty years to do it." She’s human, too!
Some of the quotes illustrate women’s history, both as it happened, and, sometimes, as it might have happened. Abigail Adams wrote to her husband, John Adams, while he was off with the men writing the Constitution, "Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors." What if he’d listened to her, and women had been made citizens at that time?
Some quotes illustrate women’s experience and women’s lives. Billie Holiday tells us, "Sometimes it’s worse to win a fight than to lose." Pearl Buck says, "I love people. I love my family, my children . . . but inside myself is a place where I live all alone and that’s where you renew your springs that never dry up."
Some, by talking about their reaction to men, also shed light on women’s experience. Listen to actress Lee Grant: "I’ve been married to one Marxist and one Fascist, and neither one would take the garbage out."
Some are from those "
uppity women" and express their views. Charlotte Whitten, mayor of Ottawa, is the source of this oft-quoted sentiment: "Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult."
Some illustrate their work. When a writer reads, from Virginia Woolf, about her experience, we may understand our own work better: "
It is worth mentioning, for future reference, that the creative power which bubbles so pleasantly in beginning a new book quiets down after a time, and one goes on more steadily. Doubts creep in. Then one becomes resigned. Determination not to give in, and the sense of an impending shape keep one at it more than anything."
Some I’ve included because they express the human condition and women’s experience with good humor. There’s Joan Rivers, telling us "I hate housework! You make the beds, you do the dishes — and six months later you have to start all over again." And Mae West, in her familiar "Too much of a good thing can be wonderful."


today’s topic:

If I’m a billionaire

quiet & pensive




8月3日,Michaelle Jean被加拿大总理 Paul Martin指命为下一届加拿大总督,8月5日,英女王批准了总理Paul Martin的提名。Michaelle Jean将在今年9月27日接替伍冰枝成为加拿大第27任总督。

第26届加拿大总督伍冰枝是曾经非常出色的完成了她作为一个加拿大女王代表的工作。而这一次对于Michaelle Jean的任命正是基于:Michaelle Jean女士是一位非常有智慧和作为的女性。她个人的经历充满了非凡的故事。这种非凡的经历正是我们寻找的总督所必需具有—因为她将必须在所有加拿大人和世界其他国家面前代表加拿大。”
第一位黑人总督Michaelle Jean
现年48岁的Michaelle Jean是一名享有声誉的记者,她出生于海地,于1968年移民加拿大魁北克省。Michaelle Jean加拿大历史上最年轻的总督,第三位女性总督,也是第一位黑人女总督。
虽然自从对于Michaelle Jean将成为总督的任命公布以来,保守党领袖Stephen Harper的强烈攻击,对Michaelle Jean曾经支持过魁北克省分裂独立的历史表示不理解,并且对Paul Martin对总督的任命的透明度表示质疑。

据报道,Michaelle Jean本人持有加拿大,法国的双重国籍,而她和丈夫Daniel Jean曾经和魁北克分裂独立领袖关系很接近,在她丈夫90年代初制作的一部记录电影中,Michaelle Jean“为魁北克的独立和自由举杯。” 尽管这一切都为Michaelle Jean成为新一任女总督带来了争议,但是普遍民众还是对于这样一个美丽而智慧的女性被提名加拿大总督而表示高兴。
CBC新闻台中引用加拿大君主制度研究专家Paul Benoit的话:“这显然是个非常令人激动的任命。她非常年轻,非常有活力,而且拥有很多年轻的观众。”
让我们看一下Michaelle Jean的个人档案:
Michaelle Jean出生于海地的太子港,1968年,还是个孩子的Michaelle Jean跟随家人逃离海地杜瓦利埃家族的专政统治,来到加拿大并以难民的身份留在了魁北克省。
Michaelle Jean在意大利获得了艺术学士学位,随后在蒙特利尔大学取得了文学艺术硕士学位。1984-1986年间,Michaelle Jean曾在蒙特利尔大学的意大利文学学院做教师。在上世纪80年代,她在法国的贝鲁兹大学,佛罗伦萨大学和米兰天主教大学等多所欧洲大学学习语言和文艺课程,并获得了非常优秀的成绩。Michaelle Jean精通5种语言:法语,英语,西班牙语,意大利语和海地的克里奥尔语.
在1979-1987年间,Michaelle Jean在学习之余,还在魁北克受虐妇女避难所工作。她曾照顾鼓、励和陪伴过几百名处于危难之中的妇女和儿童,与此同时,她还致力于将这种紧急避难所扩大到的魁省和加拿大的其他地区。Michaelle Jean参与过帮助移民妇女和家庭的援助组织,也曾在加拿大就业与移民部工作过。
Michaelle Jean广为加拿大英语观众所了解是因为在CBC主持“热情的眼睛”(The Passionate Eye )和新闻节目“粗剪” (rough cuts)。,对于大部分的法语观众来说,认识她是因为1988年起,Michaelle Jean就在魁省主持CBC的法语节目,并同时担任记者和制片。目前Michaelle Jean还在主持一个法语系列纪录片Grands Reportages。
作为一名身兼多职的新闻工作者,Michaelle Jean获多项大奖,其中包括国际特赦组织新闻奖,安提克奖(the Anik Prize)和伽兰西(Galaxi Award)最佳主持奖。
无独有偶,Michaelle Jean很多地方都和现任加拿大总督伍冰枝经历相似。
首先,她们都曾经为CBC,加拿大国家电视台服务。伍冰枝在成为总督前,为这家加拿大最大的广播电视台主持音乐、影视、舞蹈、戏剧等节目并连续多年被评为著名的主持人。而Michaelle Jean为CBC主持“热情的眼睛”(The Passionate Eye )和新闻节目“粗剪” (rough cuts) ,还有在魁北克的法语节目。
其次,她们都有多元文化背景,伍冰枝1942年跟随父母,以难民身份移民加拿大。她是目前为止,华裔在加拿大担任的最高身份的政府官员。1968年,Michaelle Jean跟随家人逃离海地,以难民的身份留在了魁北克省。
第三,她们都受过很高的文化教育。伍冰枝以优异的成绩从多伦多大学毕业,获得文学硕士学位。Michaelle Jean在蒙特利尔大学取得了文学硕士学位。伍冰枝赴法国在苏邦大学从事了两年时间的学术研究,Michaelle Jean她在法国的贝鲁兹大学,佛罗伦萨大学和米兰天主教大学等多所欧洲大学学习语言和文艺课程,还在蒙特利尔大学的意大利文学学院做教师。
第四,她们同样具有非凡的语言和公共社交能力。伍冰枝精通英语,法语和中文,而Michaelle Jean精通5种语言:法语,英语,西班牙语,意大利语和海地的克里奥尔语。她们都以文化名人的身份参加各政党和民间的社会活动。其中伍冰枝为很多著名报刊撰写过政治评论文章,1982年曾经她作为安大略省总代表总驻巴黎。而Michaelle Jean在魁北克受虐妇女避难所工作过,并与很多政党、文化团体关系密切。其中鼓动魁北克独立的“魁北克党” 主要领导人就曾经和Michaelle Jean夫妇来往密切。
纵横加拿大的华裔女性政治家。其中有加拿大首位华裔联邦国会议员梁陈明,加拿大首位华裔联邦参议员利德蕙,这二位杰出女性不但可以代表华裔女性的智慧和端庄,还具有参政的女性极为珍贵的人文关怀。也就是她们一贯致力于教育,健康福利,和少数公民(华裔)在国家的平等权益。才发现她们有很多共同的地方:受过高等教育,家族参政背景,并且在当选议员前都是一些公益社团的组织人。其中梁陈明和利德蕙这两位各占了一个加拿大首位的女性,都有一定的教育背景,梁陈明已故丈夫是UBC牙医学院的奠基人,利德蕙是MC GILL的校董……以上的陈列已经很好的组成了一个美丽的IMAGE,她们在得到选民的选票前,立于公众面前的已经是一个仪态万方,智慧并且关注公众事业的女性形像。




下列Forbes 最有权力女人前十名:
#1 Condoleezza Rice美国国务卿赖斯女士
#2 吴仪 中国国务院副总理

#3 Yulia Tymoshenko乌克兰总理季莫申科
季莫申科是全乌克兰祖国联盟党领导人,连续3次当选议员,目前担任议会党团“季莫申科联盟”领导人。人们称为“天然气公主” ,乌克兰最炙手可热的女富豪。在 Victor Yushchenko成为总统之后,她被命名为乌克兰总理。
#4 Gloria Arroyo 菲律宾总统阿罗约
#5 Margaret Whitman e-Bay总裁兼首席执行官
#6 Anne Mulcahy 施乐(Xerox)首席执行长官
#7 Sallie Krawcheck花旗集团(Citigroup)首席财务长官
这个前资产分析师,人称“清算女士” 。目前在华尔街的排名因为她在花旗集团的出色表现而急速上升。
#8 Brenda Barne Sara Lee总裁兼首席营运长
今年年初被任命为总裁,负责全公司的重组,和计划$8.2 Billion的利润额。
#9 Oprah Winfrey Harpo制作公司董事长
#10 Melinda Gates盖茨基金会联合创始人
在世界百强女性排行榜里,有26位女性政治家入选,其中没有一位来自加拿大。是也就是说,虽然作为女性政治形像,加拿大的总督一直具有美好公众形像和个人魅力,并常常西方国家作为外交人物出访,在却没有真正的政治影响力。这是有史以来,加拿大总督这个职位一直存在的弊病。它更象加拿大的一个“面子工程” 。
另外一个原因是,这些百强女性政治家实际上代表的是她们所在国家的政治实力和地位。因为政治并不是一个“形像” ,或一个人的游戏。它所代表的是这个国家在世界舞台上的政治地位,经济实力,甚至军事重要性等。赖斯女士的影响力,决不仅仅因为她是聪明能干铁腕的赖斯,而是因为她是“美国国务卿赖斯”。使她高大的是她脚下的美利坚的土地和她身后的白宫大楼。




今天在001狂灌水,那里弄了一个限制,某些帖子需要发贴多少才能浏览,结果我看一下自己发贴总数还不到10。 逛了一天,整出好些个清单来:

航班信息清单;携带物品清单;各种website list; 


关于oracle , 也被问到一些问题,自己不能很清楚地解释的:
1. difference between standard, enterprise
2. nls_length_semantics, how does UTF8 store data? global support
3. table function
4. join order in nested loop, otherwise many many consistent gets