My cow

Question:

You’re working in a help desk environment for farmers. At a certain moment, you get a phone call from a farmer who says, “My cow, who always stands in the middle of the grass, doesn’t give any milk anymore.” How will you try to detect and resolve the farmer’s problem?

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C

A

P

T

A

I

N

I

N

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E

R

V

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W

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Solution:

The goal of this interview question is to see if the candidate’s problem-solving skills include the intuitive, creative, logical, analytical attributes that a good help desk technician requires. What happened is a role-playing scenario. The interviewer played the farmer, and the candidate got to ask questions. Van Tolhuyzen re-creates the exchange:

At first, I started asking questions about the cow, its age, color, etc. The interviewer always answered with “Let’s say the cow is five years old, white, but that’s totally irrelevant.” When I started asking questions about the current situation: “Have you had this problem before?” “Is the cow always in the middle of the grass?” “Where was she standing the last time when she did give milk?” When I established that the cow did give milk before, I looked for the changes in behavior or environment. That proved to be the key. The help desk is all about detecting changes in states.

In fact, there are no answers to this puzzle; there are only questions. But Leilani Allen of Mundelein, Illinois, a former chief information officer, rightly notes that the interviewer rigged the puzzle by declaring certain facts irrelevant. “Real help desk callers don’t do that,” she says. “The trick at help desks is to triage the questions to quickly identify what part of the system appears to be malfunctioning (e.g., hardware, software, user) and then ask the ‘what changed’ questions.”

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