hobbies

The Interview Question You Should Always Ask

by Joey deVilla on January 28, 2009

This article was originally posted in Canadian Developer Connection.

sullyFrom looking at Microsoft’s surveys of Canadian developers and plain old talking to people (something I love to do), it seems that many people who call themselves “developers” wear many hats, one of which is “manager”. If this is the case, I’ll bet that the title of this article has piqued your curiosity.

I won’t keep you in suspense any longer. According to the Harvard Business blog, the interview question you should always ask is:

“What do you do in your spare time?”

The example they cite is Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the celebrated and heroic captain who successfully landed an Airbus A320 in the Hudson River after both engines were knocked out by what pilots call “bird strikes”. What does he do in his spare time, when he’s not flying passengers around?

  • As a boy, he built model aircraft and aircraft carriers.
  • As a teen, he got a pilot’s license and flew gliders. Without its engines, the Airbus effectively became a big glider.
  • He was an accident investigator for the Air Line Pilots Association.
  • He’s worked with aviation officials to improve training and methods for evacuating aircraft in emergencies.
  • He runs a consultancy called Safety Reliability Methods, which helps companies improve their safety, performance and reliability.

In short, “Sully” is all about flying – and doing so safely. You might even say it’s an obsession of his.

Here’s what the Harvard Business blog article has to say about one’s obsessions:

Obsessions are one of the greatest telltale signs of success. Understand a person’s obsessions and you will understand her natural motivation. The thing for which she would walk to the end of the earth.

The article goes into more detail, but its general gist is that what a candidate does in his or her spare time might be a good indicator of his or her fit for the position. Looking for a star developer? It’s probably one who’s got a hobby programming project on the side. Seeking an ace IT pro? Someone who’s converted an old computer into a home entertainment unit might be a good pick.

You might want to go beyond the article’s focus on hiring others and turn it around: what do you do in your spare time? Do any of you extracurricular activities suggest that you’d be good at your job?

[The photo of Captain Chesley Sullenberger is courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and was taken by Ingrid Taylar. It is under a Creative Commons “Attribution 2.0” licence.]

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