One Interview Question To Break The Internet

How I Broke The Internet With One Interview Question

TOC:

The Question

I, in my infinite arrogance and endless sense of self-superiority, dared to write a 100% controversial statement on twitter:

A question I like to ask interview candidates is: describe your home network.

It’s a red flag if they don’t respond with enthusiasm describing how they’ve setup their network (or it’s okay if they just admit they don’t need a special setup too).

whoa. call the supreme court and bring out the guillotine. i’ve committed a capital crime. or, at least you’d think i’ve offended zeus almighty based on how many negative and hostile replies the tweet summoned into existence.

Context

The question obviously has a context. The context is “you’re hiring for a linux admin role” which includes things like command line questions, kernel questions, system configuration issues, hardware questions if relevant to the site1, tool questions, etc.

Ignoring context of the question is the first major fault. Evil replies started pouring in saying I need to check my privilege by daring to ask people about internet access and how they set it up.

Hostile people started replying how dare you require employees to have computer hobbies outside of work based on some weird reading where they think “home network” means having 40 switches and 1,000 computers at home2 instead of “home network” actually meaning an ISP connection plus how your devices connect to it.

Again, the scope of the question is narrow: it’s an interview topic for roles similar to linux sysadmins. Seems we should expect a candidate to have some sort of general understanding of what computers do and how computers work and how computers connect into networks.

Prideful people started bragging well I don’t even have internet at home! i steal my neighbor’s wifi for my chromecast! (from an AWS employee of all things) or I don’t give a shit about internet wifi just works okay sure but why should we hire you if you don’t even care or have any interest at all in the industry you’re trying to get money out of?

TOPICAL ADDENDUM

Plus, hey, look, we’ve all been in lockdown for two months, and maybe having a home network is a minimum part of remaining employed for the next 18 months so what’s the problem here? What got people so upset?

The Responses

The first response was from an account with 3,000% more followers than me deciding to disagree:

Strong disagree.

The problem here is it inherently expects people to take their work home with them, and biases for folks who can do that.

As of now 87 people liked that complete mis-read of my original point. Nothing in “tell us about your home network” inherently expects people to take their work home with them, does it? Am I the crazy one here? No, it is the commenters who are wrong.

Silly me for assuming people applying for a linux admin role during global work from home years would, you know, maybe have internet access at home and maybe be willing—if not interested, or gawdforbid excited—to talk about it.

It’s 2020 and millions of people have access to gigabit internet connections directly into to their home/apartment. this is an exciting time in history to be living through—a world of advancing networking, computing, interconnection, software, and hardware all at once!3

I tried to clarify:

Maybe if they don’t have internet service at home? Then we have bigger problems.

I think it’s reasonable to expect ops people to be excited about ops things.

A different person didn’t bite. They still argued. Except now “home network” has become home lab:

Still disagree. I’ve built platforms and datacenters for nearly 2 decades. My home network is as simple as possible. Outside of work I like to do not-conputering-stuff.

Also some people have families that prefer you don’t disappear to hack your home lab at night.

Now, saying “my home network is as simple as possible” is a great answer to the conversation topic! But then jumping to assume the question demands the existence of a heretofore unmentioned home lab again stretches the boundaries of our collective imagination.

Their reply also “others” anybody who may have a genuine interest in hardware as being a lesser person than someone with a “family” — but what if your family all enjoys computer hardware and you have family hardware configuration nights? Why couldn’t everybody in the house enjoy an in-house home lab? Their implicit judgment of “lol nerd go get a family you lame single nerd nobody with a family would want a home network you nerd” is bothersome, but not worth dwelling on.

Then things unexpectedly went completely wackadoodle. A twitter user with profile claiming to be a “vp research & strategy @github” chimed in with:

Yeah this is a hard no. Requiring people to have certain hobbies is nonsense.

So now we have the second complete misreading of the thread. Suddenly asking a linux sysadmin (likely with on call responsibility) to talk about internet access is suddenly requiring people to have certain hobbies?! Welcome to the crazytrain, population: microsoft github.

Then they continued to pile-on their crazy in a series of tweets:

If a job requires home internet, then it’s a requirement. And yes it’s common today. But don’t confuse hobbies with job requirements. If someone wants to make tea to write fanfic or LARP or raise chickens without Internet… LET THEM LIVE

And the counter was what if people don’t have that. You assume a level of privilege that not everyone has. Have you considered that. Or what if they don’t even want to set that up because computers are a pain in the ass. Like I love them but when I get home i am DONE with them.

1 If it is a job requirement, make it a job requirement.

2 I think you may assume a lot about people and where they come from.

Think about people who don’t look like you, or like me, and what they might use that money for. Not everyone has what you have. You are assuming A LOT.

Well, a least they got A LOT correct and didn’t summon an alot. We are also hereby commanded to LET THEM LIVE!

So, to recap their viewpoint of tech employment:

  • for hiring a linux sysadmin for a mid career, say $400k/year role,
  • we need to be willing to hire people who are DONE with computers when they get home,
  • and we need to be willing to hire people who don’t have internet access,
  • and we need to be willing to hire people who believe computers are a pain in the ass,
  • plus hire creative people who also hate their entire industry of employment,
  • all while being openly hostile when given a perfectly neutral interview conversation topic.

Got it. Check please.

Maybe “vp research & strategy” is actually a zero effort job? Don’t care, don’t work, just paycheck. We don’t have to even like our industry or company or technology at all! Maybe this is just a Shingy role? Sign me up email in bio.

Also, people know we can see their profiles, right? We can see your twitter profiles. The old disclaimer “opinions are my own not those of my employer” doesn’t stop us from judging a company based on public employee actions. You are free to have your own opinions. But, being openly hostile or pointlessly argumentative online isn’t an “opinion”—it’s an action. We are free to see individual employees being aggressive online then hold actions of said employees against their corporate owners when employees codify “i am an employee of X” to the core of their social identity.

A twitter profile advertising itself using tech royalty job title branding is not independent from its company of professed loyalty4. Being overtly hostile in a directional attack against a person with 27x fewer followers, well I see you. And I judge you. And you failed. Now I’m going to pull all my Azure spend, wind down ongoing migration testing, cancel my GitHub Enterprise user licenses, and never look at hosted microsoft products again56.

Why should I pay, advocate to my clients for, or integrate with a company whose employees lash out to conduct personally targeted superiority shaming campaigns? I’m not subsidizing attacks against myself. No recurring revenue for you.

Nevertheless, I persisted. I tried to clarify some of the misunderstanding by using different analogies comparing passionate creatives vs. maybe-dontcares:

I think the viewpoint splits down the line of: is tech a creative whole-brain role or just something like a rote limited-scope cashier role?

i’d put these questions in the same category:

  • asking chef what knives they use at home7

  • asking motorcycle mechanic what bikes they like

The dichotomy is:

  • are we hiring a passionate creative person who has ambition and drive? Someone like a photographer or a musician8 or a chef—someone who takes pride in their work and is always trying to improve and create new things?
  • or, are we hiring a time clock who “learned about computers” six weeks ago and is just trying to trick an employer out of a paycheck and doesn’t know RAM from ROM or DIMMs from John Simm?

There is obviously right time right place role placement for both kinds of people9 within all companies. And creativity-vs-time-clock is often a continuum, not a binary yes/no role description. But the person also has to fit the role. You can place a creative in a time clock role, but you can’t place a time clock person in an ambitious creative role.

I describe job role differences as either needing “a reliable, competent person” or a role needing “a mini-genius capable of discovering new things and figuring out entirely new approaches nobody has done before.”

Not everybody can be a mini-genius, and not every creative person wants to be locked down to a rote cashier role. This is why we evaluate people for job fit for company fit for product person market employer employee manager department fit. It’s the entire point here; we’re evaluating people to judge if their capability and personhood gels with our corporate existence! To blanket say NO YOUR EVALUATION METRIC IS WROOOONG10 kinda reveals where you stand in the world—you don’t understand it.

Then, a second twitter account describing itself as “github project manager” also weighed in, with an alarmingly accelerating lack of reading comprehension:

Working on the same craft at home requires:

1 Money

2 Time

3 Forgoing other interests

For instance, some people go home to take care of huge families, and don’t have time to mess with a router or a motorcycle. Do these people have a place in your imagined universe?

What are they putting in the water up there at github? How is having home internet access—in 2020, not 1995!—taking an INORDINATE amount of money, time, then requiring forgoing other interests, especially for an employee who will likely be making more in a year than their parents made their entire working life?

Is there some reality where an analogy of professional chefs having preferred tools doesn’t land? Is there a reality where motorcycle mechanics don’t enjoy motorcycles11?

Then, their coup de grâce uses some vaguely heteronormative “taking care of huge families” bomb which they think is such a powerful blackjack game over yahtzee it instantly wins any argument! Doing idiotic low status nerd things like “mess with a router” or “learning” or “experience” isn’t important at all. It truly was a story about family all along.

So, know your place, nerds! To the back of the line with you! Make way for HUGE FAMILY. The Superior Family Viewpoint has spoken. All Hail The Unethical Environmental Overload Destructive Huge Family with their Huge Trucks and Secondary SUVs and 6,000 square foot energy inefficient McMansions! Let’s just hope they don’t take their dog to the birding park.

The Industry

Over the recent 10 years or so, more apt between the 2012 and 2018 era, our tech industry has split into 18 unique factions, only four of which shall we enumerate here:

  • the knowledge
  • the lifestyle
  • the money
  • the ego

The Knowledge

The Knowledge is the most rapidly decaying faction of tech. In 2020, the half life of your knowledge is about 100 megaseconds. The half life rate continues to shrink yearly.

The Knowledge is like many sub-fields in the way it promotes: up-or-out.

The “up” path is when you become specialized, canonized, then immured almost statue-esque in your industry presence as a True Knower Of Things That Once Were; I Am Queen of The Damned Technology (but your expert technology experience is no longer relevant because you’ve overstayed your usefulness).

The “out” path is more common: people hop on new barely-viable, ultra-hip buzzword-having technologies every 6 years, then simply repeat the same 3 years of learnings over and over again on each new popular platform.

The Knowledge is a strong motivator of age discrimination because, when technology changes every 7 years, you can just be replaced by a 16 year old at 1/10th the cost. After all, nobody can have 20 years experience with a new dev platform only in existence for three years. A random 16 year old can already have 10,000 hours experience while your lame outdated 33 year old self may have only played with a next-gen platform 44 hours because there’s already too much useless scruff in your brainpan and you know this too shall pass, so why bother learning it all again with a different api just to be obsoleted again in 27 months?

The Knowledge is in conflict with sub-minions of The Cloud. People, if they deserve to be called such, of The Cloud12 answer the “home network” question like this, full of hostility and arrogance:

If I can get to Azure/AWS, I don’t care beyond that. Just like I don’t care how my outlet gets power. That’s my provider’s problem.

I use Google WiFi for this exact reason: they can optimize. I just want online so I can work on the fun stuff.

supplicants to The Cloud pontificate openly: how dare you expect me to know anything about anything! how dare you expect me to have any innate curiosity for my tools or equipment or even the nigh-magic wireless radio signals powering my entire career. I USE THE CLOUD! I AM ALL POWERFUL IN THE CLOUD! (just don’t unplug anything because i have no knowledge or experience of my own and couldn’t even troubleshoot a dangling ethernet cable)

also, they failed the interview because they replied to a simple question with open hostility and attempted to cloak their ignorance in a holier-than-thou knownothing complex, as most 2015+ “cloud native” people are wont to do.

The Attack

The Knowledge attacks the question of “hey tell us about your home network”13 from the viewpoint of: hey cool here’s my home network. i’ve got a 1 Gbps link from Comcast I split off from the provider-provided modem/router/ap (which I put into bridge mode to disable their router+corporate public wifi radio thing) into my own Amplifi router then I run ethernet to my computer so I can VPN at full speed instead of being capped to the 300 Mbps my wifi tops out at because of all the apartment interference. I’m looking forward to upgrading to 2 Gbps symmetric comcast when it’s available, but I’ll need to replace my laptop ethernet dongle with a 2.5G or 10G adapter brick. [[+10 points, perfect sorcery, sorceress/valkyrie]]

The Lifestyle

The Lifestyle isn’t about knowledge or experience; it’s about being social. It’s about having fun. It’s about who you know and using the extroverted personality you were born with to make friends and get jobs you aren’t really qualified to hold.

The basic theory of The Lifestyle: knowledge is unnecessary. You are as good on your first day as on your last; there’s no such thing as experience, growth, becoming better, or getting worse. Success is determined by your childhood opportunities and unique brain chemistry, so success is genetics and everything’s coming up milhouse. Life is static and zero-sum, so it’s up to you to manipulate your way into the most parties and most cap tables possible.

After all, the nerds can do all the real work, right? You’re above pesky things like ensuring value endures and creating products (outside of providing the pure inspiration and vision your peers would be lost without).

The Attack

The Lifestyle attacks the question of “hey tell us about your home network” from the viewpoint of: since they don’t know what a home network is, it must be an inferior question because it would disqualify them—but since they must be good at all things—look at their money and success and forbes articles!—the question is hostile against all peoples and all personal values. By asking a question they don’t know you must also be discriminating against lowly dickensian street urchins you immoral cretin we will sic the SJW brigade upon your house for denying equality! You must be punished for fabricating a false question capable of immediately disqualifying avatars of The Lifestyle.

The Money

The Money is obvious. These techies are the ones driving the median employee retention rate down to 6 months in SF. Up up and away and suddenly you’ve never gained any meaningful experience, but you sure can write those same four private javascript modules over and over and over again.

Enjoy your $2 million house paid for by the same 1,000 lines of javascript written 6 times across 10 different companies.

The Attack

The Money attacks the question of “hey tell us about your home network” from the viewpoint of: pass!!! there’s easier ways to scam my paycheck than think about any actual technical problems. maybe i can code my wifi in react, they muse to themselves before swiping instagram for the 50th time before lunch.

The Ego

The Ego techies seem to have dropped any semblance of existing very much. Their online profiles are a rote list of their current and former employers (and may also include gauche million dollar prices of companies they’ve previously had acquired), as if being granted employment by an interview committee confers some deeper meaning into the understanding of yourself (or being acquired, or having a low employee number).

Sin of pride. Sin of ego.

The Attack

The Ego attacks the question of “hey tell us about your home network” from the viewpoint of: much like The Lifestyle, The Ego is immediately offended at the prospect of them being lost in a conversation because they don’t know something—because if it were important, they would already know it through osmosis of their entire prophetic rich famous clique friends. therefore ergo post hoc propter hoc your questions must be evil and you must be incompetent for the insinuation needing knowledge of anything outside of an iPhone app funded by VCs is meaningful in any context whatsoever. Case closed.

The Conclusion

Is there hope for the tech industry outside of unlimited VC riches (only if you are in an acceptable social class slash friend group)?

How does the tech social sphere compare to other occupational social groups?

Have you spent time with actors, musicians, cyclists, artists, etc? You know, communities where members encourage others to advance and grow and be better people and create good art? Instead of a community where everything is a fight, so the goal is rapidly burying your competition through übermonoply powers of social influence and material disinformation.

In all my experience, “tech” is the most toxic environment I think I’ve seen14, he said fully aware this is a page full of punch back.

Outside of founding a wholly owned enterprise, I find it more and more difficult to tolerate the mood swings of tech-at-large.

Why do we give the hours of our lives to companies where CEOs increase their net worth by $15 billion per year, sales people get exalted with million dollar yearly bonuses, but people writing code to drive the infrastructure of the world are offered fixed-rate shiny bauble scraps with an absolute value approaching at most 3% of their mark-to-market productive value15.

what’s the point in doing anything in tech anymore since tech is hostile to both social interaction and intellectual pursuits? the industry has been locked down by lowest-information, lowest-knowledge gatekeepers who kick you out if you have any experience greater than “i turned on my wifi microwave and it just worked i can’t explain why.”16

By now tech is mostly riches being hoarded by the b ark. Finance bros left manhattan and took over VC SF SV. Attempts to create good products get cut short with backroom whispering demands of make it open source so we can profit off your work for free without compensation! we demand this near-illegal economic arrangement or we shall not engage your services!

anyway, that’s about all. everything in life is a choice between love and openness or fear and hate. stop hating individuals online. sure, hate politics and billionaires—excuse me, people of means—and corporations, but not individual real humans. stop trying to tear apart accounts with 30x fewer followers than you due to some hallucination of made up offense where you need to sweep in as a self-appointed guardian of global liberal thought correctness. if people with tech royalty profile descriptions insist on being important and condescendingly argumentative with a posture of aggression for no real reason, i guess we’ll simply stop using your products and never associate with your corporate branded toxicity again.

in the end we just have to wait for the day when we all work for Amazon and connect to Amazon servers from our Amazon thin clients over Amazon 7G riding Amazon Airlines to the Amazon Hotel so we can visit the Amazon Beach on Amazon Island next to The Great Amazon Mid-Pacific Plastic Reclamation Project. praize be the holy bezos. ammmmmmmmmazon.

That’s all for now. You’ve been amazing and I’ve been matt,

til next time,

-Matt@mattsta☁mattsta — https://onlycoders.net/mattsta

P.S. and feel free to email me descriptions of your home networks! or even your ideal home network if you don’t have anything complex currently! maybe we’ll start a job site only for people who have interesting home networks just to keep the boring people away.


  1. Hardware questions? For an infrastructure job? How dare you expect people to have hardware experience for a job requiring hardware experience in a CLOUD FIRST WORLD! This is DISCRIMINATION so CHECK YOUR PRIVILEGE or I AM CALLING RUTH BADER GINSBERG!

  2. A great “extreme home network” example, and mostly what I assume what every unknowledgeable person imagined “home network” meant, but this is obviously not at all what the question is about (though it would be the best answer ever):

  3. it’s sad the majority of “tech” doesn’t care about or understand the amazing advances in computing hardware and networking and interconnect improvements

    the vocal very online majority has relinquished all professional autonomy to The Cloud and they relish being intellectually bankrupt about anything not involving the raddest VS Code Plugin Of The Week (look! now it only uses 400% cpu for a text editor instead of 800% cpu!)

  4. good examples are CEO/Founder accounts where posts combine company updates/promotions along with CEO musings and thought leadership/humor/positive connections. Those combine personal accounts with the implicit power of being a figurehead representing the culture and values of an entire company at the same time. But, the same also goes for individual employee accounts, and importance carries more weight based on title hierarchy.

    bad examples are senior employees who throw their job title around as if it confers a near-knighthood field of respect, but continue to act as personal aggressive weirdos online. yeah, we’re going to hold your personal behavior against your company because it reflects on the culture fit of your entire company, right? you’ve decided to identify your company as your primary personality trait, so your personality reflects back on the decisions of your company to retain as an employed figurehead.

    did you ever have field trips in school where the teachers made a big point of saying “now behave! the conduct of this class reflects on the conduct of the entire school. if we don’t behave they won’t invite us back.” same thing different platform.

  5. Oracle is more desperate for business and offers better discounts anyway.

  6. It’s like if you go to Chick-fil-A, but instead of saying “My Pleasure,” they spit in your face. You’d kinda hold it against the company for not controlling their employees, right?

    Except here on the internet, people go around with their job titles and companies plastered on their face 24/7 pretending to be independent entities. You’re not independent at all. Your conduct reflects directly on your corporate owners.

  7. Also with regard to the “chef and their tools” analogy, some iamverysmart PIA used a full 240 character tweet to say basically: AH HA! chefs don’t cook! chefs run the kitchen! you don’t know anything!

    So, are we to assume chefs have never tasted food in their lives? Chefs are actually really bad at cooking and can’t possibly do their own food prep? In fact, chefs never make food at all for themselves at home at any time ever in their lives? Chefs have no personal interest or preference towards the tools of the industry of cooking? Good pwn, dudebro.

  8. Creatives should have a contagious passion for their art

    and art is…

  9. And it’s not a people thing so much as it is a person-company-fit thing. I’m not going to give 110% of my life effort to a company hosting animated gifs online. I’ll work my hours and leave. But I may give 110% of my time to a “we’re building the next AI to take over the world” company.

    It’s perfectly acceptable to take a boring job because you want more time to yourself. But don’t take an exciting job then get annoyed when all your coworkers advance quicker than you because they care more. It’s not an unfair advantage to want to do good work and leave boring people in the dust.

  10. though we can all agree algo interviews are wrong, immoral, and should be illegal. Find every copy of “Cracking the Coding Interview” and use it as a supplemental pandemic bathroom tissue supply.

    addendum: oooh, maybe that’s why it’s “Cracking” for… bathroom tissue… use… cracking the bathroom test of charmin softness.

  11. Somebody attempted to “incompleteness theorem” me by demanding I admit my experience is not universal and the people I know who are chefs who enjoy cooking and the mechanics I know who enjoy bikes are not universally representative of the entire population of people in those professions. nogo nobro. We are allowed to let our life experience inform our opinions, judgments, and approach toward the world. or maybe i’m just losing my grip on reality

  12. people of The Cloud also do nonsensical things like paying million percent markup on AWS bandwidth when they could be running entire server environments themselves, but the price of ignorance and arrogance is… well, a million percent markup, as AWS has shown people are willing to pay.

  13. obviously—obviously—adjustments to the premise of the question are allowed. the “home network” is a phrase we can target to mean anything—it doesn’t literally have to mean TELL ME ABOUT YOUR HOME LIVING SITUATION HOW MANY ROOMS HOW MANY PEOPLE THIS IS A BACKDOOR SPY QUESTION TELL ME NOW! So, if someone is between housing, living out of a motel, in hostels, etc, just adjust. It’s literally the smallest adjustment in the world outside of trump trying on new fitted gloves.

    Also, this is a conversational question. The candidate should be socially aware enough to pivot the question into something properly benefiting their evaluation: maybe they speak to a previous internet setup they had, maybe they say “i don’t have a good setup now, but if I had an unlimited, i’d build this perfect home system…” etc.

    then, some internet weirdos still argue: this line of questioning is UNFAIR to homeless people! what if you are hiring a senior linux admin who has only ever lived out of their car for 25 years and has never actually been indoors or touched a computer at all! WHAT THEN! THIS QUESTION IS OUT OF ORDER! ARREST MATT NOW!

  14. combined with the population of “very online people with no self control” makes it worse because no matter what you say, somebody will create a completely different, much hostile, version they imagined out of nowhere.

    then, of course they must reply against their angry made up version of what they miscomprehended you said,

    then they double down on their anger if you try to clarify “hey, I didn’t say kill all the pandas, I said a bear stole my garbage while camping! what are you replying to? what do you think i said?” then you get shut out and labeled a bear murder online forever.

    then their 40,000 followers favorite the “ha! matt is a murder! this should be investigated at the highest levels! DO NOT HIRE MURDER MATT!” tweet and you get alerted every time somebody favorites a post of other people hating you.

  15. the remainder of the value becomes the CEOs private net worth increase, or gets spread across a 10,000 companies as “open” “source” where companies private profits are subsidized off volunteer efforts while companies don’t pay anything back. a nice deal we created to make rich people richer while we get nothing in return. sweet as.

  16. —because if you could explain why, you would be rejected from tech society for being an outdated, out of touch, elitist, check your privilege not everybody can read or write awful person who makes other people feel bad because the other people have no ambition in life besides “huge families” or something, so you too must have no ambition in life. don’t rock the boat. keep twitter happy.