Questions for Hiring IT Staff
December 19, 2004 10:12 AM   Subscribe

ManagerFilter: I am going to hire a technology person (keeps everything running, etc.) for a small public library. I know all the standard interview questions. What good technology related questions have you been asked or what questions do you like to ask?
posted by ?! to Work & Money (16 answers total)
i've not been in your position, but a standard problem with technology people, especially when they're working in a small organisation, is that they don't document what they do. so you might ask something like (perhaps more tactfully) "if you were run over by a bus after working with us for a year, how would your succesor know how to run things? and how would we - who know nothing of computing - keep things going until we found someone to replace you?"

and keep asking this, and checking the answers, during their employment... (hope that's not too far from what you wanted).
posted by andrew cooke at 10:19 AM on December 19, 2004

Ask them if there are any technologies they WILL NOT use, and why. Gives you both an insight into what their preferred systems are, and how flexible they can be to work on they are going to be about supporting systems they dislike.
posted by true at 10:39 AM on December 19, 2004

Since it will be a public library, I would make sure they sort of get, or are willing to get, other issues that come up in the public library computing arena such as privacy, filtering, the USA PATRIOT Act and others. Some sample questions I would ask would be

"Our library policy is to allow patrons to access whatever they want on the Internet within legal limits. Can you outline some ways that you can keep our network secure while also allowing our patrons the maximum amount of freedom to use our computers." This will, of course, vary based on what your policies are, but I'd suggest finding ways to make sure the applicant knows what your policies are in advance and can work constructively with them not do the classic not-totally-capable tech thing of basically setting implicit policies via attempting to solve problems that wind up restricting access.

"What is your opinion on allowing patrons/staff browser choice in a public access computing environment? What could you do to help make this happen?" Many techs would love to ban IE from public computers forever, but there are still web sites that some patrons have to visit that only work, or only work well, in IE. A competent administrator can lock down IE fairly well but still sort of nudge patrons towards more stable and secure browsers.

"How would you troubleshoot the following scenario...?" and ask something involving staff coming to them with too little information, a lack of understanding of the problem and a computer problem that needs to be solved ASAP.

"What do you feel are the best ways to try to make a computing network secure while at the same time not unduly limiting access to resources and tools that staff and patrons need?"

"Our computing system involves a certain amount of routine maintenance of both hardware and software. Describe a situation in which you have set up a system for maintaining a set of computers, or describe how you would go about it if you haven't been in that situation."

"Technology planning is an important part of our library's ten year plan. What is your experience with technology planning?"

"What experience have you had, if any, with using assistive technologies on computers for patrons and staff with disabilities?"

"You will most likely be taking direction by someone who knows less about technology than you do. What do you think a non-tech savvy manager of a technology person needs to know?"

"What do you think of the whole Google/library agreement?" just because I would be curious.....
posted by jessamyn at 11:06 AM on December 19, 2004

The biggest problem with hiring technology folks is figuring out whether they know what they're doing or not.

Many technologists know how to snow non-technologists. I can't tell you the number of good-looking resumes I've seen for candidates who can't survive a detailed technological interview on the subjects on the resume.

While you are the best judge for whether they'll fit organizationally, I highly recommend finding someone you trust to do the technical half of the interviewing for you.
posted by maschnitz at 12:17 PM on December 19, 2004
posted by billsaysthis at 12:26 PM on December 19, 2004

Not documenting/commenting code is a key "value-subtracting" method for underpaid tech workers!
posted by idontlikewords at 12:56 PM on December 19, 2004

et the mto describe their process for learning some new technology, be it web server administration, a certain programming language, whatever. If you find someone who enjoys learning things for the fun of it, and always poking around and trying to see how stuff works, hire him / her.
posted by Space Coyote at 2:52 PM on December 19, 2004

The interview process is far too overrated, in my opinion. I look at the person's work. If they're passionate about what they do, their personal projects will be as extensive than their professional resume.
posted by waxpancake at 3:06 PM on December 19, 2004

Ask them about emerging technologies. How they feel about how one might use a wiki, a blog, RSS feeds, etc in the library setting. They might not even know what these are which would be fine, but if you founds someone out there that knew they could and should redo your website as a blog and have RSS feeds for new books in different catagories, etc., you might know you found the right person.
posted by pwb503 at 3:08 PM on December 19, 2004

Among the various things already mentioned above, I usually include two distinct categories of questions. The first one usually has to do with the relevance of emerging technologies to the specific job. Essentially, you want to find out how much research they have done for the job, and how they have kept up with new technology. Knowing how to setup a server is one thing. Anticipating future applications and ensuring that the infrastructure is prepared for them is something entirely different. Find out if they understand what a library deals with by asking how they would build the network to support distance usage.

Second, I like to pose a question that is almost impossible to answer. It needs to be difficult, but it can be short. The issue here is trying to watch their troubleshooting process while under pressure. If they simply state that they do not know what something is, then they really haven't tried. I had a basic tech support position open a few years ago and I asked about IPv6. Most, if not all, tech people should know about this now, but back then it wasn't nearly as popular. The candidate that impressed me the most was the one who admitted he didn't know what it was, but then attempted to break it down and figure it out. He got far enough to describe it as a future iteration of the IP protocol, probably designed to handle a larger address space. By understanding the nature of current TCP/IP limitations and breaking down the IPv6 term, he proved that he could think on his toes. Along with other factors, he proved to be the best for the job.
posted by xorowo at 3:26 PM on December 19, 2004

as a technology person for a small public library, I have to say that a lot of the questions here are kinda heavy duty and impractical. what specific responsibilities are going to be given to the hiree? will they be responsible for maintaing a network, servicing PC's, or answering questions from patrons? will they also have to service copy machines, microfiche readers, or laminators?

and jessamyn's point about IE is key. the absolute number one cause of public terminals (and sometimes, staff terminals) going down is spyware and malware. if you can find someone that can lockdown IE but still be usable, then you've found someone that can keep a public anxious to check their hotmail very happy.
posted by mcsweetie at 4:34 PM on December 19, 2004

where is the library? I'm available. Ask anything you want.
posted by damnitkage at 8:38 PM on December 19, 2004

I used to run the largest public library LAN in Michigan. When we interviewed for my successor, I asked the following questions;

1) Do you have a library card? [Testing for familiarity with public libraries.]

2) Do you have a LAN at home? How is it set up? Which OS or OSes do you run? [Testing for general geek cred.]

3) Write me a batch file. Any kind of batch file that does anything. [I don't trust anyone who can't drop down to a command line, and fix stuff. It is often the quickest way to do things, and shows they've either been around awhile or pay attention to efficiency.]

4) Are you willing to work circ? [You can't understand a public library if you don't shelve books, read shelves and work circ. And a geek must understand their users, no matter what type of entity they work for.]

5) Where do you go when you need to get tech advice or run something by someone? [Testing for familiarity with newsgroups, fora, human networking skills, lack of god complex, familiarity with basic computer reference books.]

We got a guy who liked to figure stuff out, knew where to find info and was willing to learn about libraries. He is still there, and doing a good job.

In my experience, it is easier to take someone who groks libraries and who is fearless and curious and tech them tech than it is to take a techie, and teach them libraries. My old director found out I ran a BBS and liked dinking with computers, and sent me to CNE school. He got a really loyal employee who's first loyalty was to patrons (then to library staff) rather than to tech, and I got useful skills and a fascinating corner of librarianship to camp in. Everyone won.
posted by QIbHom at 8:58 PM on December 19, 2004

I don't trust anyone who can't drop down to a command line, and fix stuff.

There's not a whole hell of a lot that I could drop down to a command line in Windows XP and fix, if it were going wrong. And I've been a prompt-jockey since my first TRS-80 in like 1977.

As a data point.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 3:47 AM on December 20, 2004

You've got a point, Stavros. I'm more on the server end these days. Perhaps asking if they know how to use Knoppix to fix a partition table or MBR would be the equivalent these days.

But, still, basic familiarity with a command line is a good sign in a geek. And there are still a lot of Win 95 and Win 98 computers running around my library co-op, and not a lot of XP.
posted by QIbHom at 11:52 AM on December 20, 2004

at my library, almost every computer still runs NT 4.0, save a few staff terminals running XP. most libraries are not going to the be the amazing cutting edge technological centers that everyone would like for them to be, so a working knowledge of legacy systems is absolutely essential. to that end, I'd argue that it's better to look past flashy certifications and try to figure out just what these cats actually know.
posted by mcsweetie at 12:13 PM on December 20, 2004

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