A friend who works at a startup was recently explaining that the company’s biggest problem at the moment is its inability to find suitable engineering talent.
As a barometer, one of the "questions" it poses to interviewees is this:
You have a 10V ideal voltage source in parallel with a 5Ω resistor. What is the impedance?
So far, no one has answered correctly. (The answer is provided at the end, in case you want to take a shot at it.)
My friend says, “Engineering students today can't answer basic engineering questions. And we aren't talking about tier 2 or 3 universities, either.”
She tells the story better than me, so here are her words:
This is a well-known problem, one which I have discussed/commiserated with friends from two other firms with the same issue. One is in Massachusetts and the other is in Texas, so clearly this isn’t just a regional thing.
When you look at these people's resumes, all is sunshine and rainbows. When you ask them questions about their accomplished projects, it becomes clear that they have no clue what these so-called projects were really about. They can't answer. And not just undergrads; we rarely interview undergrads. We are talking about folks with MSs and PhDs.
Some are specialized to the point of absurdity, which I suppose makes some sense if you are going to be writing a thesis, but because they lack basic understanding of the underlying physics, they really don't know their specialties all that well, either. Plus, many have difficulty communicating in English.
The bottom line is that the schools are to blame. They should not be graduating people who do not understand the material they were taught.
She went on, including what she considered unrealistic salary expectations, but you get the gist of it. Are you seeing a similar situation out there? Tell us about it in the comments section below.
Spoiler alert: The answer to the question is 0. It's a trick question. The amount of the voltage is irrelevant. The key phrase is "ideal voltage source." The real purpose was to see if they knew what an ideal voltage source was.
" I think you dismiss PhDs a bit too swiftly in too general a manner."
Point taken. I didn't mean to be swift and general in dismissing PhD's. I was really trying to make the point not to be swift and general in dismissing non-PhD's, and even non BS's.
I believe a lot of productive talent is overlooked by indiscriminately filtering candidates by degrees. There are many people who have the raw material to be very good engineers, but they don't have the guidance around them, or the financial resources to seek the "appropriate" education. They might, however, find their way get through a 2 year program at a tech school. I think our current HR structure overlooks these people (by "degree as a litmus test" practices), and does so to the detriment of everyone involved.
If you need a PhD because of the nature of the position, by all means, look for a PhD to fill the position. Most work that needs to be done doesn't need to be done by PhD's, however.
I completely agree with your differentiation between PhD's who only went to school, and those who went back after/during work.
I like your approach, Greg. Candidates should definitely have a core understanding of the foundational principles and theories, and sure, a co-op and hands-on practical experience is a huge plus. But those coming out of school likely aren't going to have deep expertise in many of the skills needed in today's jobs. Yet as long as they demonstrate a hunger to learn and a willingness to role up their sleeves and dive right in, I think that's half the battle. I think some coming out of college have expectations that they don't have to start at the bottom and work their way up through hard work and hands-on training. They want the big job right out of school and all the perks that go with it.
I also look for hobbies on resumes when I have to interview. I still do the testing and the interview, but I sometimes look at a weaker resume because the candidate may have listed a useful hobby. As you can tell by my screen name I tend to be partial to car guys. But this also translates into a person who has some basic hands-on skills that may not always be related to the target job. But hobbies are usually self taught or mentored. This means the person can learn!
I am not too sympathetic to corporate world complaints of lack of qualified personnel. It is not neccessarily true that the point of college education is to support the corporate world. People go to college for a variety of reasons. The corporate world basically bailed out on training and developing people after the '90s. Besides, like everything else in business, it's all relative to competition. Hire the best people available for your purposes based on a comprehensive evaluation, not trick questions. If you are more successful at getting the best candidates than your competitiion, you will benefit in the free market.
I have to agree here. The question is not specific enough for engineering. You might have well have been asking "Where did they bury the survivors..."
The purpose of the interview is not to see how well the candidate guesses, but how well they think.
I put together a test of 20 questions for an engineering candidate. However, the purpose was not to give a piece of paper to the applicant and walk away, but to sit there with them and have them talk out their thought process for each question. I never graded the test on right answers but how they were thinking. Sure, we're all too busy to do this, but if you want to find a good candidate, you have to put some work into it. It's either that or hope you get lucky.
The problem with onesy questions like this is that they get out and then everybody, even the biggest idiot, knows the answer. Don't go for the answer, go for the thought process.
LO!, all those decades ago when I was but a high school graduate preparing for my college experience, a sage (uncle) once told me something that I've NEVER forgotten ..... "the fundamental purpose of a college education is to teach you to THINK!" (He told me some other things too, but I can't repeat them in mixed company! Ha! Ha!)
I-B-M thought so much of this concept of thinking that for a long time they distributed throughout their facilities various-sized desk ornaments w/ the one word, "THINK" inscribed on the brass placard. And, anyone in this audience who is old enough should remember seeing photos of the I-B-M 360 main console w/ the THINK placard proudly displayed on the top surface.
Working in at a university, on research equipment, it is not always possible to know the answers to every question. When I became a 'working' manager of engineering support, I expanded my skill set by taking classes in supervision and management. Terrified at the prospect of being in charge of hiring someone, I applied my skills of troubleshooting and studied the interview process, asked peers a lot of questions, and learned a few do and don't s. The first hire was tragic. But I learned a lot. The second hire was a hit.
The questioned posed by Richard Nass' friend is a very good one, if you are looking at a bigger picture. I agree with other comments that the question is very unusual and not everyone would know the answer - the question is not well defined: 'What is the impedance?' The impedance of what? the voltage source? The circuit?
But I like this question and may use it myself. Why? When an engineer becomes a manager, not all but most, they apply what they know and interpret as important. And that is technical expertise in engineering. But that is not all there is to hiring someone. Keeping it short; Other important factors are compatibility with others, communications, stress response, etc. If the interviewee gave the answer the interviewer was looking for then all one knows is the desired answer was given. But, more can be learned about the interviewee if they do not know the answer; or give the wrong answer, are told the answer that was expected. How? Watch the person; do they become nervous(uncertain) or remain confident; argue the answer or discuss it; is there answer full of BS or a thought out 'I don't know'.
Where I work, the range of diverse information/knowledge that is needed is not likely to be found off the street. So, I look for drive, motivation, open mindedness, communication without argumentation (I want credit for that phrase), a willingness to learn... I would use this question, not as an engineering question, but as a rhetorical question. It is not the answer to the question that I would be interested in, especially if the knew my answer. It is their response to it when they don't know my answer.
Apply your diagnostic and troubleshooting skills to the interview process and explore new applications for those skills. Great engineers don't have to know everything.
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