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September 28, 2004

Moving Mount Fuji

Gretchen, one of the blogging recruiters at Microsoft, discusses the book How Would You Move Mount Fuji? by William Poundstone. She mentions that she hadn't read it yet.

I took an "Interviewing at Microsoft" class just after I started late last year (this is about how you, as a Microsoft employee, interview other people). I like taking these classes to see what the latest word is from recruiting. One of the instructors had a job which involved working on recruiting techniques and strategy. I asked her if Microsoft recruiting had been affected by the web sites and books that discuss recruiting. Her response was, "You know, someone just told me about a new book...something about Mount Rainier I think?" This was 7 months after How Would You Move Mount Fuji? came out.

I am somewhat surprised that Gretchen has not read the book yet, given that it deals with precisely her job and will be read by many people who she interviews (I give her credit, however, for wanting to read it!). I was astonished, however, that someone who worked specifically on thinking about how Microsoft recruits would not have read it.

I first contacted William Poundstone, the author, in April 2002, after I saw a post of his on techinterview.org asking for people who wanted to discuss Microsoft interviewing. At the time, he was working on a book about intelligence tests. I emailed him, he read my book, and we did a lengthy interview. At some point later he changed the focus of his book to be about brainteaser interviews, although in the book he kept a lot of his material about intelligence tests (which is quite interesting). I discuss the book at greater length here.

In my book I mention, jokingly, that interview candidates used to walk into the lobby shouting "So they won't fall in the hole" (in answer to the famous "Why are manhole covers round?" question). Of course this never actually happened (I mean really. Try to picture it). Poundstone related this story with a somewhat smaller dose of salt, and it then wound up in an excerpt from the book he wrote for Reader's Digest (which resulted in a fact-checker calling me and asking if it really happened?). Now, in How to Ace the Brainteaser Interview, the story is presented straight, no chaser. All my fault.

In the acknowledgements, Poundstone says that Joel Spolsky and I were his two main influences in shaping his view of Microsoft interviewing. Joel is quite gung ho on the merits of Microsoft-style interviewing, whereas in Proudly Serving I have a much more dubious view. Since How Would You Move Mount Fuji? also has a dubious view, I like to think that I was the main influence on his opinion. Of course, I could be flattering myself.

Posted by AdamBa at September 28, 2004 08:45 PM

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I just read "How Would You Move Mount Fuji", a great new book by William Poundstone about puzzles as technical interview questions. I enjoyed it a lot - it is an easy read, and kind of "fluffy"; I blew through it in two days. I think it would be helpful for anyone seeking a technical position who is likely to be asked some of these questions. I'm more often in the position of interviewing people and asking these questions, and I found it terrifically helpful.

Posted by: gift catalogs at November 8, 2004 11:43 PM

I've read the Poundstone book, but found a much better book for those interested in working at MS: "The 12 Simple Secrets of Microsoft Management" by David Thielen. From what I've read online and offline, this has been the best resource for understand how MS employees (and hiring managers) think.

Posted by: Christian Buckley at December 23, 2004 09:59 AM