The engineering interview – interesting and challenging questions, Part I

-July 26, 2012

It is absolutely true that the most successful engineering companies hire the very best and very brightest talent. It’s even more so true in startup firms such as Touchstone. As a result, my colleagues and I have interviewed a great many candidates for openings in design, test, product, and applications engineering in our past and today.

When I stared at the keyboard (again!) to write this next blog, I was thinking about the tons of thought-provoking and interesting test questions I myself have had to endure and the ones I have meted out to nervous and not-so-nervous candidates.

So, while rummaging around the garage one evening - lo-and-behold in a dusty file cabinet behind the bikes, the little-used/long-forgotten pair of skis, and the shop vac - I managed to extricate from a 3” hanging folder hundreds of engineering test questions collected over 30 years – many contributed from engineering colleagues with whom I worked at Hughes, ADI, LTC, and elsewhere. As you can tell from the title, I’ll be returning to this topic from time-to-time.

One of the more interesting take-aways is that you never know how a candidate will react to the questions regardless of his or her experience – that’s why I rotate through a short-list of about 20 primo questions queued up in increasing difficulty to challenge the real brainiacs.

Here’s one of my favorites: Let’s say an analog multiplier is used inside the feedback loop of an op amp as shown in Figure 1. If the analog multiplier exhibits a transfer function as shown in the figure, how would you answer the following (3) questions?

Figure 1: An analog multiplier inside the feedback loop of an op amp. What's the circuit's function?

Question #1: What is the overall circuit’s function?

Question #2: What is an expression for the circuit’s VOUT if R1 = R2 = R?

Question #3: What limits should be placed upon VIN, if any?

Share some of your favorite candidate interview questions or an interesting technical question asked of you in an engineering interview – I think the results will be really interesting and I just might add novel ones to my catalog.

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