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The Larry and Sergey test

How do you separate the chaff from the wheat when hiring? If you're a start-up search engine, you challenge your job candidates to out-think Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. That's what Become.com, a new shopping search engine, did. When the company was looking for engineers last year, it received about 2,000 replies to its various job listings. To winnow down the field of candidates, founders Michael Yang and Yeogirl Yun asked the applicants to read Page's and Brin's Page Rank paper and then develop their own, better search algorithm. About 100 of the applicants took the challenge, which required about 40 hours of coding. Yang says that many of the concepts that came out of that process ended up in the Become.com algorithm.

UPDATE: Be sure to see Michael Yang's remarks in the comments section about the controversial notion that some of the programmers' ideas may have contributed to the Become.com code-base. Yang says now that his company "never used any code or ideas from the programming test."


And does the story say whether job applicants had to agree to provide Become.com with a free license to their code in order to enter the contest ? And what happened to the code of those who were not hired ?

This is a clever test, but has some potential "evil" angles to it.

Jeff Clavier on March 25, 2005 4:34 PM
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Isn't this the same search engine that promised it is "spam-proof" (which Google is still trying to figure out), and then went on to say they have patents against potential ways to spam their site (thereby acknowledging that you can, in fact, spam it)?

Lex on March 25, 2005 5:12 PM
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I would like to make two clarifications on this posting.
One, it is true that we ask candidates to take a programming test as a screening mechanism. One of the questions requires the candidate to demonstrate an understanding of hypertext link analysis algorithms such as PageRank.
Two, we do not use any of the submitted code for our internal development purposes.

Michael Yang

Michael Yang on March 25, 2005 5:34 PM
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Wow, I wrote my own bit before reading the comments, and I gotta say (like Jeff), this raises some ethical questions in my mind:


Tony Gentile on March 25, 2005 5:46 PM
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Michael Yang: When you say...

"we do not use any of the submitted code for our internal development purposes"

... does that include any of the ideas or inventions included in that code, or just the code itself? No difference in my mind if you're just re-writing what they submitted.

Looking forward to your definitive statement.

Tony Gentile on March 25, 2005 6:08 PM
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We have never used any code or ideas from the programming test. The programming test is focused on candidate's programming proficiency rather than new ideas or inventions.

Michael Yang

Michael Yang on March 25, 2005 6:16 PM
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Oh, gimme a break! So you ask for ideas from potential employees but dont use them. An idea is the beginning point for the next Google. What do you do to extremely good ideas? Just toss them?

Anand Jain on March 25, 2005 11:42 PM
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Relax people, the no matter what kind of interview, ceo, product manager, biz dev, programmers the best way a company can see whether the interviewee understand the business and care enough about the company to think deeply about the issues and barriers is to simply ask "In your opinion, how can we do our jobs better?" I have yet to have one interview that did not involve some kind of question like this. . . in fact good companies ask their customers, suppliers, partners, even competitors the same question. Taking a 5 min response and implementing within the complexity of a business is not trivial. I dont think its evil at all.

William Hsu on March 26, 2005 8:50 AM
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Stories like this are the reason I quit interviewing. I'll spend 40 hours cleaning sewers before I'll work do free work for these guys.

How many of the 100 applicants got any kind of response for their efforts?

If it's worth doing such an in-depth evaluation, it's worth paying the poor sods for their time. Too many companies are using the interview process as an IP fishing expedition.

Kendall Willets on March 27, 2005 5:35 PM
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Look, this so-called contest is either completely bogus or completely idiotic. It's bogus if this company practices real innovation (other than hype) because it takes quite a while to work even the brightest into your processes. It's idiotic if this company practices "renovation" because they open themselves to claims of fraud from potential job applicants.
As one investor always would say whenever there was an issue: "Fire the HR department".

Lynne Jolitz on March 28, 2005 9:33 AM
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They should post the programming test for all to see. Secondly, given the obvious ethical issues that arise should the programming test be more than a simple screening mechanism, then the company should protect themselves through the use of a blind mechanism where they use a third party to evaluate the results and present a candidate index rather than the actual results

jeff nolan on March 28, 2005 12:12 PM
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