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How Would You Move Mount Fuji?: Microsoft's Cult of the Puzzle -- How the World's Smartest Companies Select the Most Creative Thinkers Paperback – April 2, 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
Anyone who's interviewed for a job at Microsoft is intimately familiar with questions like the one in this book's title. They've probably also pondered such problems as why are manhole covers round? how do they make M&Ms? what does all the ice in a hockey rink weigh? how many piano tuners are there in the world? Questions like these, which test problem-solving abilities, not specific competencies, are de rigueur at job interviews at Microsoft, other tech firms and on Wall Street. In this hybrid book-it's at once a study of corporate hiring, an assessment of IQ testing's value, a history of interviewing and a puzzle book-science writer Poundstone (Carl Sagan: A Life in the Cosmos) explains the thinking behind this kind of interviewing. In straightforward prose, Poundstone describes the roots of logic questions in interviews (the approach appears to have had its modern beginnings at Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory in 1957), drawing on the history of IQ testing in hiring interviews, psychological studies and interviews with Microsoft ex-interviewers and interviewees, makes a strong case for eliminating standard questions like "What are your strengths and weaknesses?" and replacing them with logic puzzles. Almost half of the book is devoted to an "answer" section, where Poundstone gives possible solutions to the brainteasers. Although it lacks a specific focus, this is a fun, revealing take on an unusual subject.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
""It's all about thinking outside the box--just make certain you know what kind of box."
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Top Customer Reviews
I actually got a lot more out of the book than I was expecting. If you are looking to read this book to get the answers to some challenging puzzle-type interview questions, than you are probably going to be a little disappointed, since the people interviewing you are going to be aware of this book and hence won't be asking you the same questions as covered in the book. But if you are looking to learn techniques that will help you perform better on puzzle type questions, then you can gain a lot from this book.
Poundstone covers a lot of ground; he tackles the history of interviewing for high tech companies, touching on the different types of high-pressure interviews that are employed in financials services as well as top notch software and consulting companies. He goes into the details of the fabled Microsoft interview as an example of some of toughest interview questions and the most high-pressure tactics. Challenging puzzles, and techniques to help you solve them are covered, but don't expect just to learn some answers to tough questions, be prepared to learn techniques to help you solve challenging puzzles. He does give people a peek behind the puzzle genre curtain, and explains the different types of puzzles and how to tackle them. Unless you are a puzzle buff, you are definitely going to be at disadvantage when it comes to these types of questions. The puzzles that use the concept of "truly logical beings" is probably the most baffling to most people. The type of puzzles that involve a structured answer to a very open ended question are also covered i.e. how would you move Mount Fuji, the insight that you don't need to know the details of Mount Fuji or have to know some trick to answer this question is an eye opener to most. The type of puzzle that involves a breakthrough of assumptions, and uses all the information provided to you, and nothing else is required will also give people some insight. Poundstone does cover a lot of ground in looking into Breakthrough thinking (if you are looking for a book that goes into more detail, Poundstone's bibliography includes a great book - "Eureka Effect" or "Archimedes in the Bathtub" - the same book; just different titles for the hardback and paperback; by David Perkins).
This is a fascinating book, which will give interviewers insights into what kind of questions to ask, and why. It will also give prospective interviewees some of the background to the puzzle genre and help them tackle these puzzles on a equal footing with puzzle buffs. As stated in the subtitle, "Microsoft's Cult of Puzzle" this book also gives insights into Microsoft and looks at depth into why they employ the tactics that they do, and how this is part of the plan to look for the next "Bill Clone". An interesting aside is to think about if a `Bill Clone' would even want to work for Microsoft. My guess is that he/she would probably want to setup up their own company to topple Microsoft. So employing tactics to try and find `Bill Clones' is probably a waste of time, the best they will achieve are "Bill Wannabe's", which their type of interview will help find.
You should probably read this book if you fall into one of the categories below:
1) Prospective interviewees for High Tech, consulting or financial services companies. It won't give you all the answers to memorize, but it will let you in on the puzzle genre and some of its `rules".
2) Interviewers/HR - If you are looking to employ puzzles type questions to hire creative employees, this will give you some insights into what questions to use and why. There are probably better books on the intricacies of interviewing, but this will give you background needed to use puzzles in the interview process (if you work out that's what you need).
3) People interested in problem solving, puzzles and creativity. This covers a lot of ground in these areas and it gives you a few references for further reading.
If you are just looking to get the answers to some puzzle questions, then you can find them in this book. But I am not sure this worth the price of the book. Unfortunately, I think there is going to be a large audience who fall into this category.
In essence, the book is separated into two parts. The first discusses the history of puzzles and their intellectual and academic standing. This section starts off by narrating the origin of puzzle-solving as a criterion for selecting people; then, it talks about how and why many companies use them in interviews. Mr. Poundstone talks about the general approaches to solving puzzles, and then closes on a note for employers on how to design puzzles that are useful.
The second part of the book is the strict puzzle solving. The book has plenty of puzzles scattered through it and two chapters devoted solely to listing puzzles. From page 147 onwards, Mr. Poundstone discusses the puzzles he has listed and suggests thought processes about how to solve them. This exposition is more interesting than it sounds; for one, Mr. Poundstone explains his answers thoroughly; for another, he uncovers many layers of thinking, that show the complexity (and beauty) of the art of solving puzzles.
"How Would You Move Mount Fuji?" might give you a few tips and tricks, but is hardly a handbook of how to get the job of your dreams. Rather, it is an enjoyable book that will capture you in the world of puzzles for however long you decide to take to read through it.
In the book, Poundstone traces the origins of this type of question, providing some fascinating information on the history of intelligence testing. He then chronicles how a certain type of puzzle interview caught on in the high-tech industry. Microsoft was not the first company to ask such questions, but it certainly popularized it.
Poundstone explains that responding to a problem you can't solve could be thought of as the fundamental problem in Artificial Intelligence (AI), and then continues,
"The problems used in AI research have often been puzzles or games. These are simpler and more clearly defined than the complex problems of the real world. They too involve the elements of logic, insight, and intuition that pertain to real problems. Many of the people at Microsoft follow AI work closely, of course, and this may help to explain what must strike some readers as peculiar--their supreme confidence that silly little puzzles have a bearing on the real world."
It could be--or maybe Microsoft employees assume that since they were hired that way, it's a great way to hire (and complaints from those who were not hired are just sour grapes). Most developers I knew thought of AI as a pretty academic discipline, and were more concerned with putting a dialog box up at the right location on the screen than trying to pass the Turing Test.
Nevertheless, as companies seek to emulate Microsoft, the questions have caught on elsewhere. And as Poundstone put it, such questions have now "metastasized" to other industries, such as finance.
This makes the effectiveness of these questions an important issue. Poundstone first presents evidence that "Where do you see yourself in five years" and "What are you most proud of" are fairly pointless questions. In one experiment he describes, two trained interviewers conducted interviews with a group of volunteers. Their evaluations were compared to those of another group who saw a fifteen second video of the interview: the candidate entering the room, shaking hands, and sitting down. The opinions correlated strongly; in other words, when you are sitting in an interview telling the interviewer what you do on your day off and what the last book you read was, the interviewer has already made up his or her mind, based on who knows what subjective criteria. As Poundstone laments, "This would be funny if it weren't tragic."
Puzzle interviews could hardly be worse than that, but it turns out the evidence that they are better is doubtful. Poundstone shows how intelligence tests are on very dubious scientific standing, and points out that Microsoft's interviews are a form of IQ test, even though Microsoft does not admit that publicly. In his 1972 book of puzzles Games for the Superintelligent, Mensa member James Fixx wrote, "If you don't particularly enjoy the kinds of puzzles and problems we're talking about here, that fact alone says nothing about your intelligence in general". Yet virtually every Microsoft employee accepts the "obvious" rationale, that only people who do well in logic puzzles will do well at Microsoft.
There is another important point about puzzle-based interviews: although you would think that they were naturally more objective than traditional interviews--more black or white, right or wrong, and therefore less subject to interpretation by the interviewer--in fact, interviewers' evaluation of answers can be extremely subjective. Once you have formed your impression of a candidate from the enter/handshake/sit-down routine at the start of the interview, it is easy to rationalize a candidate's performance in an interview, either positively or negatively. They needed a bunch of hints to get the answer? Sure, but they were just small hints and it's a tough problem. They got the correct answer right away? No fair, they must have seen it before.
How Would You Move Mount Fuji? is worth reading even if you don't plan on interviewing at Microsoft. It has some interesting history, a few good Microsoft tidbits, and puzzles that are entertaining on their own. For those considering a job at Microsoft, the book may ratchet up the "arms race" of questions. Microsoft employees may assume that people interviewing have read the book--so if you are going to interview there, or anywhere else that imitates their style, you should probably read it too.
--From Slashdot, Adam David Barr