Best TA Interview questions?

career

#1

Here’s an interesting one to ponder : What are the best TA interview questions?.

Obviously there a lot of detail questions that have to be asked about things like experience, software background, etc. But the best interview questions are not those with factual answers – they are questions that help a candidate to reveal things about themselves without staying on their personal interview script. There probably was a time when “what’s your biggest weakness” was probably an interesting interview question, but by now everyone walks into an interview with a pat answer for that.

So, what do you ask that gets your candidate to talk candidly? What questions are most important in helping you form an opinion about your interviewees? Or, conversely, do you have one that’s worse than useless?


#2

Here are some questions where I always enjoy the answers to:

  1. If you could make a game or a software tool, regardless of time and resources… what would it be? How would your initial plan look? What resources and tech would you employ and how?
    I then usually give an example of my own pet project, which is an isometric sort-of-open-world game like Rogue or Ultima. I describe the tech, the major classes, the risks I identified and the approach I take to implementation.

  2. If you could learn something related to your career, what would it be? Why do you think it’s useful? How would you go about it and set your learning direction?

I think both questions cover a lot of what I want in a TA. And both questions offer great opportunities to dig deeper. They’re also both suited for an interview that unfolds like a regular conversation.

I want TAs to think not just as engineers, but also as people who can deliver a product (like a script). This involves planning time and resources, understanding requirements, and planning the technical approach they take. I also watch out for motivation. Usually people are quite passionate about the tool or game they always wanted to make.

The second question tells me how a TA might approach getting into a new engine, or into a new DCC tool, or learn new techniques. Having TAs who have a good approach to learning makes mentoring much easier and efficient. And I consider being able to learn new things one of the core TA skills. If I have to spoon feed you all the time, then I can’t really need you on my team, as we have to be independent.

Questions I consider useless:
“Your biggest weakness” - there is so much coaching these days around the question, the answer you get won’t be the truth. Also, I’m concerned about weaknesses related to the role I have to fill. But those weaknesses you rarely find by asking this question.

I also dislike asking logic puzzle questions. Most of them are artificial, and personally, I don’t care how people solve problems as long as they solve them. I’m quite pragmatic here. In real life you will either puzzle it out, google it, refer to the manuals, prototype or iterate on it, bounce ideas off fellow TAs … or do a combination of all of those.


#3

I realy like…

Of all the tools/rigs/shaders/things you have done, which do you look back on with the most pride - and why?

I find that gives me a good insight into what gets a candidate excited. You’re opening a door to allow them to really talk about something they found uplifting. I have found that tends to expose what gives a candidate the most gratification - is it how the task postively impacted the team, or is it some specific technical detail which they felt proud about etc.

I then invert the question…

Of all the tools/rigs/shaders/things you have done which do you look back on and think ‘crikey, if I had to do that again I would do it completely differently’ - and why.

With that question I dont really care too much about the ‘thing’ they did, but how they talk about failure, about how a cadidate learned from a mistake and how they took that learning forward. It can also help expose any insecurities or defensive mechanisms in a very soft and non invasive way.


#4

I always ask this question but I’ve never gotten an answer that I was happy with:

How will art production for video games change in the next five years?

I always hope it’ll give me insight into how forward-looking a candidate is, but I end up with some pretty stock answers that show the candidate has a cursory awareness of what’s coming down the pipe but never anything that they’ve done a lot of research on and are planning for.

One thing I like to ask that I’ve gotten good answers to is:

What’s something that fell through the cracks on your last project, and why?

With this I’m curious to hear what kinds of tasks they were aware needed to be done but had to be prioritized away or cut before shipping. There’s also some interesting space to explore here about how the candidate handles what they may or may not perceive as failure.

And because I agree it’s vitally important to get Tech Artists excited and talking, I’ll usually ask something like

What are you working on at home that may or may not be related to making video games?

With this I get to see them light up about whatever weird hobby they’ve taken on as tech artists are wont to do. Ask them more questions about whatever it is, I get to see their ability to communicate a foreign concept to someone unfamiliar with the source material.


#5

How will art production for video games change in the next five years?

I’ve been working as a technical artist for about a decade and I’m always eager to learn new things but I cannot say I’d have anything but a stock answer to that one :slight_smile:


#6

Related question.

I’d like to stop asking my usual 3d math / linear algebra questions in the interview and move them to a pre-screen. The questions are basically just so I can gauge people’s ambient math fluency, and the problem is that most people freeze in the headlights and then I have to waste precious interview time reassuring them that they have not blown the test. Anybody had luck with a good way to approach this? I don’t want it to feel like a high school final and I also do want to know if somebody can’t understand a basic dot product or a matrix multiply.

Thoughts? Good resources? What I’d really love would be some kind of online testing service that just gave me a nice normalized score that I knew was apples-to-apples across candidates.


#7

mostly applies to juniors, but we had a ‘take home’ test that asked people to provid an answer together with an explanation in their own words. I’m pretty sure some people googled it, but if you are a junior and get the right answer and manage to explain it in your own words, then at least you learned something while being at it, and that’s good enough for me in that case :slightly_smiling_face:


#8

What`s wrong with googling the answers? I guess the current education paradigm is too old for now, the world has changed dramatically during last several decades but educational models remain the same as they were 2000 years ago…

I think these days much more important to be flexible to adopt to a fast changing environment than be able to remember numbers or statements.


#9

The real problem is you can google things whose existence you suspect – but you can’t google for concepts you have no idea about.

Everybody googles the details all the time, but I can’t google my way to, say, how to edit genes because a proper answer will spawn months or years worth of other googling. The person who has to google every step along the way to solving a task will be slower than the person who knows the roadmap and only needs the internet as a refresher for details.

Plus , over-reliance on google means you remain dependent on it – if you don’t learn things and just pass them along from google to your code, you’ll have to do that same google search again many times before it becomes a part of your arsenal.

Data != knowledge.