Book Review: Are You Smart Enough to Work for Google?

Are you smart enough to work at Google? A question many software engineers probably don’t want an answer to. However, as William Poundstone elaborates in his like-named book, this is exactly the wrong question to ask. While there are many, many “smart” engineers, this is not the only quality being tested for interviews by leading software companies such as Google.

Poundstone provides detailed insights about the HR practices, hiring philosophies, and interview techniques at Google, and also illustrates the contrasts between those of competing tech firms, such as Microsoft. In some cases, the information caused me to rethink how I’d approach an interview with the target company, which signifies probably value to the potential interviewee.

The book contains an impressive number of tricky interview questions, along with potential answers and their relative merits to interviewers. This analysis portion was what I found most valuable – rather than expecting the reader to memorize answers, as many candidates attempt to do before interviews, Poundstone tries to guide his reader into better though processes. We all prepare for interviews in different ways, and while this book may not help a candidate who is technically unprepared, reading it made mind shift into the analytical, problem-solving state I attempt to achieve when preparing for interviews.

As interview preparation, Poundstone’s text provides value through copious analyses of technical interview questions, to allow readers to get comfortable with the format and hear a number of examples of different types of questions. Along the way, techniques for dealing with various interview scenarios (whiteboarding, estimation, etc) are presented, as well as points candidates may not consider when preparing for an interview, such as what information about their prospective employer they should research before an interview, or how to respond when they don’t know an answer.

As an interviewer myself, I also found unexpected value in the book. Some of this value was in the form of new types of potential questions to ask, but more came in seeing more pieces of information I could deduce from questions I was already asking. Overall, I found this book informative and entertaining, appealing directly to the problem-solving nerd in me. If you enjoy brainteasers and Silicon Valley, chances are you will too.