"When you work in computing services for a university, you spend about as much time on high-minded development as you do un-jamming printers and resetting passwords for faculty," Ed G. writes. "It's not ideal, but it's a living." It was time to get some new staff, and after being burned by some previous employees that could talk the talk, but not walk the walk, they devised a new litmus test for potential hires, called "The Receptionist Test."
It's quite simple, really. When an applicant arrives for an interview, (s)he spends at least five minutes waiting in reception. During this time, the receptionist stages a minor tech support problem and asks for the applicant's help.
The first applicant to receive this test, "Tom," was given a test that Ed feared might be too simple. The receptionist would complain about not being able to save a file to a floppy disk with its write protect tab set incorrectly. Tom initially seemed up to the task, asking to sit at the computer for a second. He made sure that she'd navigated to drive A, that files were readable from the disk, and tried to save. No go. He tried again, with the same result. "Either your drive or the disk must be dirty," he insisted confidently. After popping the floppy out, sliding the shutter over to expose the disk, he inhaled deeply, puffed his lips, and furiously blew into the disk. He put it in and tried to save again. Still nothing. For a full thirty minutes he used this diagnostic process which was not unlike that employed by an eight year old me when trying to get Contra to work. Sadly, with the same result — exacerbating the problem by spraying it with saliva.
Another applicant, a bright young woman named Lisa, used unconventional techniques as well. When presented with a keyboard that kept producing strange accented letters rather than punctuation marks, she thought for a few moments, before navigating to Wikipedia. She opened the article about punctuation, used the keyboard to copy-paste quotation marks and pasted them into a new Notepad document. Like a painter, she had a palette of quotation marks ready to be copied and pasted as necessary into the document the receptionist had struggled with. This instead of changing the keyboard's language back to English.
John was a lot less level-headed. His task should've been the simplest of all — the receptionist couldn't print a document. Totally understandable when the printer is turned off and all of the lights on its display were totally dark. First, he hit Control+P, selected the printer, and clicked "OK," and confirmed it wasn't working. His solution? Hit Control+P harder to make sure the printer really felt it. For 20 minutes, he kept increasing the force of his typing and mouse clicks, finally pounding his fist on the desk and giving up.
Finally, there was Bob. Bob's task was another easy one. The receptionist had a file that lacked an extension. She even offered some help, saying that she had opened it before in Word. Bob took over the keyboard, right-clicked on the file, and quietly said to himself "Type of file: file? Wha...?" Whatever the problem she was experiencing, he had the skills to identify the meta-problem. "Yeah, this is pretty frustrating for you, isn't it?" She nodded in agreement. "Windows sucks and Microsoft sucks. You'd never have this problem if you were on Ubuntu. In fact..." he continued on a six-minute spiel about how much better Ubuntu is. When he finished his lecture, he had her go to the Ubuntu site. "Go to the downloads section and get Obnoxious Orangutan." This is when the interviewer stepped into the room, so he helpfully added, "It should take a while to download, but I'll come back after my interview to walk you through the installation!"
There wasn't much that any of those four candidates could do during the interview short of walking on water or converting their bodies to pure energy to make up for their Receptionist Tests. Too bad they didn't bring Lyle in for an interview.