The best tech question to ask in a job interview

Mattias Geniar, Sunday, January 3, 2016 - last modified: Monday, May 16, 2016

"Explain to me how the internet works."

I believe it has all the characteristics of a good interview question.

It's an open question

There's no right or wrong. The candidate can tell whatever he/she wants, it's about how they explain it and how comfortable they feel doing so. It will inevitably be followed by the question "could you be more specific?" to get a feel of where you're going with the question.

Don't answer. Let them figure it out as they try to explain.

It's for network engineers

For network positions it's a great way to talk about routing, IP, VLANs, BGP, networks, OSPF, AS-numbers, ...

It's a perfect entry to discuss anything deeply technical afterwards. If during the answer they show a thorough understanding of one the layers, dive in. Find out what they're passionate about, because at the end of the day, it's that passion that drives us.

It's for sysadmins

As a sysadmin you can explain how servers work, the application layers, web- and database servers, caching, DNS, TCP/IP, ...

This is a good time to show how you fully understand the server stack from top to bottom. This could even be a good time to inject a personal hero-story of an epic debug mission that succeeded for you, by analysing the server stack entirely.

It's for webdevelopers & marketeers

Understanding the basics of "the internet" is crucial for anyone involved in the web. Therefore being able to explain, from a high-level, how it works puts the candidate in a better position in general.

If something ever goes wrong, you'll know you have a candidate that not only knows its own field, but has enough knowledge to think outside the box and look at the bigger picture to troubleshoot and diagnose the problem.

Hi! My name is Mattias Geniar. I'm a Support Manager at Nucleus Hosting in Belgium, a general web geek & public speaker. Currently working on DNS Spy & Oh Dear!. Follow me on Twitter as @mattiasgeniar.

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mk Wednesday, January 6, 2016 at 00:32 - Reply

Explain how computers work.
Explain how software works.

Randy A MacDonald Wednesday, January 6, 2016 at 17:12 - Reply

The internet works by allowing connected computers to communicate.

Mattias Geniar Wednesday, January 6, 2016 at 17:13 - Reply

“Could you elaborate on that?”

Keep asking questions, eventually the interviewee will get it. :-)

Rachid Wednesday, January 6, 2016 at 21:21 - Reply

Easy question : Internet is a way to unleash all that negative vibes around you through Youtube comments. :-)

Randy A MacDonald Sunday, January 10, 2016 at 08:58 - Reply

If this was an actual interview, further steps might be enlightening, if only to address the ‘why is this relevant’ elephant in the room.

Ghosty Friday, January 15, 2016 at 01:33 - Reply

My answer: The internet is a series of tubes! :D

Bradley Sands Monday, March 21, 2016 at 15:58 - Reply

The internet? It’s powered by cats. But seriously, it’s not a good question. It doesn’t really tell you anything about the person or their skill level. Skill level is usually measured by tests anyway, sometimes even before the interview via remote coding tests:
It’s important to companies to narrow down their pool of candidates quickly, and this is how they do it.

Ethan Hughes Saturday, April 29, 2017 at 07:20 - Reply

For web-developers, I would better ask how Cookie works? How does it goes to server from client and vice-versa. Because many web-developers even don’t understand that Cookies is sent by browser to server with every single request to server.
Also if you really want to test technical skills of candidate I would better suggest some specific services like

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