An Intimidating Interview

Quote of the Day

Good programmers comment their code. Great programmers tell you why a particular implementation was chosen. Master programmers tell you why other implementations were not chosen.

— I saw this rule of thumb for commenting code on Stack Overflow. This statement made me think hard about how I comment my code. I see so many comments that tell me what the code is doing and not why – I never seem to have enough why information.


Figure 1: Edward Teller, Father of the H-Bomb. (Source}

Figure 1: Edward Teller, Father of the American H-Bomb. (Source}

I have been reading the book Building the H Bomb: A Personal History by Ken Ford. A major character in the book is Edward Teller, a very famous physicist who is best known as the father of the American H-bomb. I had to smile as I read about Edward Teller. When I worked at Hewlett-Packard, an electrical engineer named Russ Price talked about interviewing for a job at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, where he walked into a room and faced Edward Teller as his interviewer. He and Dr. Teller then proceeded to have a very technical interview.

Russ was not familiar with Teller's background, which was probably a good thing. Russ said the interview was pretty tough, but he had nothing but nice things to say about Dr. Teller. He did mention being asked to work a problem about modeling the behavior of a pencil standing on its tip, which he did not know how to solve. Russ also commented that Dr. Teller was very quick and very smart. Unfortunately, Russ did not get the job.

I think I would have turned into a babbling idiot upon seeing him – good thing Russ did not know who Dr. Teller was until after the interview was over.

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4 Responses to An Intimidating Interview

  1. How do you balance a pencil on it's tip? Other than sticking it in an eraser if course!

     
    • mathscinotes says:

      I wish I knew! Russ didn't understand his answer. I do remember that Russ mentioned their were poles (i.e. exponential functions) in the model he used.

      mark

       
  2. G Ratzel says:

    Could he have been referring to the inverted pendulum problem (http://ctms.engin.umich.edu/CTMS/index.php?example=InvertedPendulum&section=SimulinkModeling) , which I believe is the principle behind the Segway and many rocketry applications?

     
    • mathscinotes says:

      You might be right. As I recall, the pencil was just the start of the problem. Russ mentioned that they discussed how a pencil on its tip was unstable – poles and zeros were used in the discussion. They then moved into alternative configurations. I just do not remember all the details.

      mark

       

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