February 23, 2014

Tom Friedman: Google hires on "general cognitive ability" but "not I.Q."

Thomas Friedman writes in the New York Times:
How to Get a Job at Google 
FEB. 22, 2014 
MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — LAST June, in an interview with Adam Bryant of The Times, Laszlo Bock, the senior vice president of people operations for Google — i.e., the guy in charge of hiring for one of the world’s most successful companies — noted that Google had determined that “G.P.A.’s are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless. ... We found that they don’t predict anything.” ... 
“There are five hiring attributes we have across the company,” explained Bock. 
“If it’s a technical role, we assess your coding ability, and half the roles in the company are technical roles. For every job, though, the No. 1 thing we look for is general cognitive ability, and it’s not I.Q. It’s learning ability. It’s the ability to process on the fly. It’s the ability to pull together disparate bits of information."

Okay ... 

It's funny that, say, 98% of the readers of Tom Friedman don't find this funny. They're just nodding along ...

From the Wikipedia article on The g Factor:
The terms IQ, general intelligence, general cognitive ability, general mental ability, or simply intelligence are often used interchangeably to refer to the common core shared by cognitive tests.

Psychologist James Thompson, who actually gives face to face IQ tests such as the Wechsler, recently wrote:
IQ has gained a bad reputation. In marketing terms it is a toxic brand: it immediately turns off half the population, who are brutally told that they are below average. That is a bad policy if you trying to win friends and influence people. There are several attacks on intelligence testing, but the frontal attack is that the tests are no good and best ignored, while the flanking attack is that the tests are too narrow, and leave out too much of the full panoply of human abilities. 
The latter attack is always true, to some extent, because a one hour test cannot be expected to generate the complete picture which could be obtained over a week of testing on the full range of mental tasks.  However, the surprising finding is that, hour for hour, intelligence testing is extraordinarily effective at predicting human futures, more so than any other assessment available so far. This is not entirely surprising when one realises that psychologists tried out at least 23 different mental tasks in the 1920s (including many we would find quaint today) and came to the conclusion that each additional test produced rapidly diminishing returns, such that 10 sub-tests were a reasonable cut-off point for an accurate measure of ability, and a key 4 sub-tests suffice for a reasonable estimate. 
So, when a purveyor of an alternative intelligence test makes claims for their new assessment, they have something of a mountain to climb. After a century of development, intelligence testers have an armoury of approaches, methods and material they can bring to bear on the evaluation of abilities. New tests have to show that they can offer something over and above TAU (Testing As Usual). 
Years ago, this looked like being easy. There is still so much unexplained variance in ability that there was great confidence in the 60s that personality testing would add considerable explanatory power. Not so. Then tests of creativity were touted as the obvious route to a better understanding of ability. Not so. Then multiple intelligences, which psychology text books enthusiastically continue touting despite the paucity of supportive evidence. Not so. Then learning styles. Not so. More recently, emotional intelligence, produced partial results, but far less than anticipated. Same story for Sternberg’s practical intelligence. The list will continue, like types of diets. The Hydra of alternative, more sympathetic, more attuned to your special abilities, sparkling new tests keeps raising its many heads. 
What all these innovators have to face is that about 50% of all mental skills can be accounted for by a common latent factor. This shows up again and again. For once psychology has found something which replicates!

Thompson also offers a visual analogy for thinking about g, the general factor of intelligence:
Grasp a bunch of flowers in your hand, making sure you hold them towards the bottom of the bunch so that it splays out in a pleasing fashion, and you are well on your way to winning a lady’s heart, and to understanding Spearman’s law of diminishing returns. 
The general factor of intelligence is strongest at lower levels of intelligence. It may be a case of “All neurones to the pump”. When abilities are low, most problems are difficult. In such cases, all resources have to be thrown at the problem. When abilities are higher there is more spare capacity for differentiation of abilities. Brighter persons have a lower proportion of their abilities accounted for by a common factor, even though the have higher absolute abilities. 
So, if we stick to the flowers analogy in this post-Valentine’s day phase, the flowers of intellect of less able persons are tightly held together. The vector of “flowerness in common” runs from the bottom of the bunch of flowers to about two thirds up the bunch. In bright persons “flowerness in common” runs from the bottom to about one third up the bunch.
  

73 comments:

countenance said...

The real reason why the concept of IQ is "toxic" and has a "bad reputation" is because certain racial groups score poorly on IQ tests.

Anonymous said...

Flower power

Anonymous said...

"It’s the ability to process on the fly. It’s the ability to pull together disparate bits of information."

So google uses IQ tests to screen potential employees.

At least bill gates said it outright:

"Software,” [bill gates ]said, “is an IQ business. Microsoft must win the IQ war, or we won’t have a future

Anonymous said...

'toxic'

what happened to 'odious' and 'noxious'?

Anonymous said...

"IQ has gained a bad reputation."

Been GIVEN a bad reputation.

Anonymous said...

Wow-
I have an objectively high IQ, did exceptionally well on the LSAT (and quite well on the GRE, ACT, etc etc), and I didn't understand the Valentine's Day flower analogy.

anonymousse

Dan said...

You can get a reasonable idea of a person's intelligence just by looking at them for a few minutes. I think that there have been face recognition tests where humans look at images of others and are asked to guess the subject's intelligence. My memory might be faulty on this.

The Z Blog said...

As a kid I had to take a lot of IQ tests. Some were hilariously bad, while others were fun. The Thompson article explains that. I guess they used to roll these out in schools as a testing ground.

I have administered and take various personality profiles. A company I was with years back was hot for that sort of thing. I wonder if anyone has ever looked at those empirically. I always thought they were easy to game, but maybe that was accounted for in some way.

Anonymous said...

Having to use that flower analogy isn't going to help IQ's reputation.

TontoBubbaGoldstein said...

"...I didn't understand the Valentine's Day flower analogy."


Don't feel like the Lone Ranger.

candid_observer said...

Think for a moment about how much money and prestige is thrown at this blowhard from Google, who hasn't even the slightest idea what he's talking about, but goes in front of the world to say it.

I do wonder if Microsoft could ever be so dumb. They came from a generation not yet fully corrupted by political correctness.

One of the things that troubles me is just how deeply the most recent generation of scholars and thinkers are into the PC mindset. They truly have known nothing else. I don't know how reality will ever intrude upon them.

Bill said...

One aspect of the IQ testing debate that is being ignored despite being very relevant is the age of these judges making these decisions. You'd think most judges are very bright people, and you'd be right, but bright young people would run circles around them in cognitive tests.

I know this because I'm just getting to the age where I can see it happening in myself. My younger self would run circles around my nearly 40-year-old brain in tests that measure speed and mental flexibility. Sure, I know a lot more, and am much wiser, but it just takes more effort than it used to when I approach complex problems.

The truth is that a lot of these judges, who are just plain old, would look pretty dumb on a cognitive test compared to bright young things. They know this, so they have a bias against these tests.

It really isn't all about liberal racial egalitarian ideals -- much of this is about very personal matters. I expect the judicial and institutional bias against IQ testing to remain in place as long as we have such a lopsidedly gerontocratic society. It's a matter of self-interest, and job security.

Personally, I think the bias is insurmountable in the current climate. We will see octogenarian judges forbidding tests until they are removed from the courtrooms drooling and needing their diapers changed.

Icepick said...

Great, I just lost some more of my general cognitive ability reading some of Tom Friedman's drivel. I should have stopped at the headline and just bashed my head with a hammer for a few minutes.

Anonymous said...

You can get a reasonable idea of person's intelligence by observing the person among peers,
each coping with the same task.
Assessment that is structured can
be rather objective, if less precise than mental tests. Mental tests, properly understood, are an extension and refinement of careful observation of task directed behavior.

Ed said...

So based on this article African-Americans should be well represented at Google, no?

anony-mouse said...

What's the big deal?

Why not junk the term 'IQ' and allow 'cognitive ability tests' if they measure the same thing?

Dave Pinsen said...

Don't confuse b.s. answers given to a credulous columnist with ignorance. No way the head of HR at Google is that ignorant about IQ.

Cail Corishev said...

There may be an opportunity here: "No, of course we don't base our hiring on race! We base it on the candidate's extremely extended in-bred family. Obviously a completely different thing."

Dave Pinsen said...

There are plenty of sharp old judges, businessmen, etc. Reaction time fades as you get older, so performance on a timed IQ test might fade, but judges don't face anything like that kind of time pressure. My money would be on a Judge Posner writing a better opinion than some high-IQ whippersnapper law clerk.

Whiskey said...

Microsoft clearly lost the IQ war. With a new CEO who is Indian, and proclaims "diversity" as one of his goals ... time to short Microsoft.

Microsoft missed the internet revolution, smart phones, tablets, and mp3 players. They have been coasting on victories rolled up from 1982-1992 well ever since.

Microsoft products are universally reviled as terrible, and going backwards in quality: Windows, Word, Excel, etc. are more difficult to use and have fewer features than ten years ago. Microsoft lacks smart people and does not care -- that is the danger of bigness and a soft cushion.

There are comforting signs that Google, Apple, and the rest will feel the PC jihad to fire their White engineers and hire Jamaal and Shaniqua to enable "diversity."

Which is good. I want that to happen. First, I use Linux* (based on the work done by Bell Labs UNIX and refined by smart Finnish and German software engineers) and secondly, I want rich software moguls to feel MY pain and be in my out-group tent.

*No, I don't use Ubuntu's Unity atrocity, I use and highly recommend XFCE which is the choice also of Eric S. Raymond.

Anonymous said...

If grades are worthless, why is Google the only company I've ever interviewed with that demanded my college and grad school transcripts?

Anonymous said...

First, I use Linux* (based on the work done by Bell Labs UNIX and refined by smart Finnish and German software engineers) and secondly, I want rich software moguls to feel MY pain and be in my out-group tent.

*No, I don't use Ubuntu's Unity atrocity, I use and highly recommend XFCE which is the choice also of Eric S. Raymond.


Why don't you use Mac? Are you a poor loser?

Anonymous said...

*Microsoft products are universally reviled as terrible*

False.

*I use Linux*

Nevermind. No use arguing with such people. But, hey, I use Linux too, but only because I'm a cheapstake. Just like 95 percent of the companies that use it.

At any rate, Friedman passing off a boring interview as an article seems like a new low for him, but for all I know he does it all the time. If it wasn't for people ridiculing that guy, would any non-subscriber to the nytimes be aware of him?

Maguro said...

Is it possible to be more dull, more conventionally minded than Tom Friedman?

Anonymous said...

"It’s learning ability. It’s the ability to process on the fly. It’s the ability to pull together disparate bits of information. We assess that using structured behavioral interviews that we validate to make sure they’re predictive.”

So, the trick is to call your I.Q. tests "structured behavioral interviews." Somehow, I tend to doubt that that dodge would work with fire/police department hiring.

syon

Anonymous said...

"Software,” [bill gates ]said, “is an IQ business. Microsoft must win the IQ war, or we won’t have a future

He said this in 1993. He would be massacred for saying this today when he is a liberal philanthropist who only excludes whites from his Millennial college scholarships program.

Anonymous said...

"Wow-
I have an objectively high IQ, did exceptionally well on the LSAT (and quite well on the GRE, ACT, etc etc), and I didn't understand the Valentine's Day flower analogy."

So, you're a lawyer who lives in the Midwest... How high could your iq possibly be?

sancai said...

In other words, completely pussified population can't even handle being told that some people are smarter than others.

Anonymous said...

Whiskey,

There is always the possibility that the big software and search companies will hire diversely at home but offshore more and more of their work to somewhere non-diverse abroad to make up for it. If it came to a matter of survival, I could see them sending the work to expensive Japanese and German coders instead of subcontinental Indian ones to make up for the loss of elite American coding skills. Bottom line is that the rich software moguls have options, and we little guys don't.

Anonymous said...

Man, I tell ya what, that there flower analogy just soared right over my head.

Carney said...

Microsoft did not miss smartphones and tablets. They foresaw both and tried like hell to go in big early and wrap up the product category from the get-go. I had their attempt at a smartphone, issued years before the iPhone: a "PocketPC Phone". Slow, crash-prone, and too dumb to know when I was holding it next to my face (thus I kept inadvertently touching screen controls). It wanted to be what the iPhone was and is, but the execution wasn't there. I don't even know if it was entirely Microsoft's fault: maybe the hardware, network speeds, etc all just didn't exist yet.

Similarly Bill Gates foresaw - years before the iPad - that tablets were the future and insisted for years on pouring resources into making a version of Windows for "Tablet PCs" which sold very poorly.

Anonymous said...

Apparently RIM/Blackberry just scored a massive new contract with Ford, to replace all of the old Microsoft software in Ford cars with RIM's QNX operating system.

That's gotta be on the order of millions of units shipped each year for RIM.

Hopefully it means that QNX is safe from extinction for another five or ten years.

middling general cognitive ability said...

Pardon, OT. Someone recently remarked about "half-full" NBA arenas. I'm watching Houston @Phoenix, close game 3rd quarter, and the arena looks 3/4 empty, including the best seats.

mel belli said...

Don't fret over the IQ of judges. Even in the federal courts, formerly home of the brightest, selection has been highly political for some time. E.G, in the '90's in the northern district of Cal., a woman was installed whose main credential was that she started the first domestic violence unit as a D.A. She ended up being overwhelmed by the workload and having to take stress leave. And even if they're actually smart, like Vaughan Walker, they're audacious enough to base judgments on laughable grounds such as that democracy is trumped by 'informed' opinion.

Anonymous said...

Article from 8 months ago concerning the same interview: nytimes

Anonymous said...

Think for a moment about how much money and prestige is thrown at this blowhard from Google, who hasn't even the slightest idea what he's talking about

An alternative is that he does know, but can't say it. Being forced to lie about reality is one of the sad facts of life of our age.

I think the point of the flower analogy is that g has high explanatory power at the lower range and somewhat less at the higher scores. At the high levels you may get exceptional abilities in some areas such as writing or math, despite a g score that is only very good--perhaps top 10%. If you're hiring for top-flight writing abilities maybe g isn't the greatest criteria.

Mr. Anon said...

"countenance said...

The real reason why the concept of IQ is "toxic" and has a "bad reputation" is because certain racial groups score poorly on IQ tests."

And perhaps because of one group that scores well.

Silicon Valley fossil said...

Tom Friedman might have some inferiority complex issues, as a Brandeis grad at the Harvard-heavy NY Times.

You'd be surprised how many rock star programmers were weak students at middling colleges. Deep, creative, abstract thinking is not nearly as essential as having a head for details, tolerance for clumsy (but functioning) code, and a strong work ethic. Even the most technologically revolutionary software consists of at most 5% clever algorithms; to make the thing attractive and friendly to users, 95% of the code is inevitably prosaic stuff.

Norman Matloff, by the way, made this point years and years ago in one of his early articles arguing against the H1B program.

jody said...

i have to say, that thompson analogy is not a very good one. they gotta work on something better than flowers.

Anonymous said...

"There are comforting signs that Google, Apple, and the rest will feel the PC jihad to fire their White engineers and hire Jamaal and Shaniqua to enable "diversity.""

YEs, yes, agree about the crappy Indian engineers at MS, which explains why they are being crushed by Google ... where three of the five Google Fellows (the highest technical honor within Google) ever are .. Indian. Yes, makes sense.

David said...

Friedman writing about IQ is like Helen Keller writing about sharpshooting.

His articles have only one relation to IQ: they lower it - temporarily? - in his readers.

Anonymous said...

"You'd be surprised how many rock star programmers were weak students at middling colleges."

Interesting! If that's really so, a basic understanding of probability will indicate that Google's/Facebook's/MS's/Amazon's hiring practices will eliminate the vast, vast majority of rock star programmers. With such a clear hiring opportunity, where is the competitor that roped in these rockstars?
To give some examples from the Google Fellows list:
1. Jeff Dean: "Dean received a Ph.D. in Computer Science from the University of Washington. He received a B.S., summa cum laude from the University of Minnesota in Computer Science & Economics in 1990."
2. Sanjay Ghemawat: "He earned a B.S. degree from Cornell University and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Computer Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology."
3. Urs Holzle: "Before joining Google, he was an Associate Professor of Computer Science at UC Santa Barbara. He received a master's degree in computer science from ETH Zurich in 1988 and was awarded a Fulbright scholarship that same year. In 1994, he earned a Ph.D. from Stanford University"
4. Ben Gomes: Began graduate studies at UC Berkeley in 1990, worked under AI group leader and UC Berkeley Professor Jerry Feldman, and earned his PhD in 1997.
5. Amit Singhal: Received a Ph.D. degree in 1996 from Cornell.

Weak students? Yeah, seems like it.

David said...

>What's the big deal? Why not junk the term 'IQ' and allow 'cognitive ability tests' if they measure the same thing?<

The objection is not to the name of the thing, but to the thing named.

(= great quote from Arthur Schopenhauer, which I despair of tracking down; does anyone have the reference?)

The N-word became offensive and so was replaced with "colored." That term became offensive and was duly replaced with "Negro." When "Negro" began to raise the gorge, the solution was "African-American." Then there was "people of color," "sun people," etc.

"Black people" for black people and "smarts" for IQ are vague/non-descriptive enough not to irritate most people.

5371 said...

I would find out which sub-sections of IQ tests don't show the so-called "Flynn effect" (or its reverse) and then throw away all the rest.

Anonymous said...

It wanted to be what the iPhone was and is, but the execution wasn't there.

That's the point. The iPhone was like a P-51 appearing in the skies of the Great War. Sure, people recognized the utility of aircraft in 1917. Have a cookie. Apple put it all together in a package advanced enough that it took a couple years for the competition to do even a direct knock-off.

They did it with a pretty small team, too. Maybe because it was a pretty small team.

bjdubbs said...

The Google HR guy is probably talking about fluid vs crystallized intelligence, so what he's basically saying is, we hire young people and not anybody who's over 35.

Anonymous said...

One aspect of the IQ testing debate that is being ignored despite being very relevant is the age of these judges making these decisions. You'd think most judges are very bright people, and you'd be right, but bright young people would run circles around them in cognitive tests.

I know this because I'm just getting to the age where I can see it happening in myself. My younger self would run circles around my nearly 40-year-old brain in tests that measure speed and mental flexibility. Sure, I know a lot more, and am much wiser, but it just takes more effort than it used to when I approach complex problems.

The truth is that a lot of these judges, who are just plain old, would look pretty dumb on a cognitive test compared to bright young things. They know this, so they have a bias against these tests.

It really isn't all about liberal racial egalitarian ideals -- "much of this is about very personal matters. I expect the judicial and institutional bias against IQ testing to remain in place as long as we have such a lopsidedly gerontocratic society. It's a matter of self-interest, and job security.

Personally, I think the bias is insurmountable in the current climate. We will see octogenarian judges forbidding tests until they are removed from the courtrooms drooling and needing their diapers changed."

Yes, it's all a petty squabble between old and young white guys, arguing over a few rungs at the far right tail of the bell curve. That's all it is.

Who sends these trolls?

Gilbert P.

Anonymous said...

The main question is how knowing each side was. Whatever you think of Friedman's politics, writing or general thinking, he's not low IQ. Was it dog whistling? This seems to have brought huge attention to Google, and very little of it was flattering - at least in my little corner of the internet? Maybe it was a way of bringing it to people's attention. Maybe the commenters just missed it. Maybe I don't want to believe that he's (1) that influential and (2) that ignorant.

Anonymous said...

People can tell when someone is smarter than them.

It's a necessary survival skill.

David M. said...

Yes, the flower analogy was a bit confusing. Perhaps he meant that the different components of intelligence are represented by different flowers in the bouquet, and the further they spread out from the common stem, the more exceptional these individual qualities are.

So when the bouquet is held at a lower spot, more flowers are spread out, i.e. there are more instances of exceptional intellectual ability. The individual's general intelligence keeps all the flowers upright with ease, leaving plenty of intellectual capacity left to pursue further refinement. In other words, the intelligent person has the spare capacity to develop exceptional cognitive capabilities.

If the bouquet is held at a higher spot, then the flowers can't spread out much. In other words, the general intelligence strains just to keep the necessary components of intelligence functioning, meaning there isn't much spare intellectual capacity remaining for further insight.

Anyway, that's my guess at an explanation. Perhaps another reader who is holding his bouquet at a lower spot could provide a better explanation?

Anonymous said...

They can dress it up any way they want to, I still don't see Google frantically looking from African people to work for them.

Mark said...

The guy didn't explain the "flower bouquet" concept very well, but I don't think it's really that complicated. All he's saying is that 'g' improves your abilities across the board, but only up to a certain bar. If your 'g' exceeds that bar, it starts to manifest itself more as particular/specialized aptitudes (e.g. math ability, spatial perception, musical talent etc), while its effect on your general abilities diminishes.

So somebody right at the bar would be only moderately worse at general tasks as somebody well above it. But the latter person would have some kind of aptitude area that would blow the former individual out of the water.

At least, I think that's what he's saying.

Anonymous said...

Apparently you can be a complete idiot and a Senior Vice President at Google

Anonymous said...

The N-word became offensive and so was replaced with "colored." That term became offensive and was duly replaced with "Negro." When "Negro" began to raise the gorge, the solution was "African-American." Then there was "people of color," "sun people," etc.

The fate of most PC terms. If the thing being described carries a negative with it changing the word doesn't magically make it a good thing. The word is just dragged down.

See - retarded/idiot/educationally challenged etc etc. They keep changing the word, the new word becomes an insult in time.

Gay is headed the same way, well on the way to being a derogatory term.

Piper said...

The IQ / bouquet analogy reminds me of The $1.98 Beauty Show. Some people end up with a rather wilted handful of greenery.

Anonymous said...

I've read that Richard Feynman had an I.Q. of about 120. Is that high enough for Google?

Anonymous said...

We don't know how Feynman might have scored on a Raven's test, but we can be quite sure that IQ 125 on one test in high school did not adequately summarize Feynman's mental abilities.

Anonymous said...

NY Times hires on general corrective ability.

Lion of the Blogosphre said...

I agree with everything until I got to the stuff about the flowers. Huh?

Anonymous said...

Google's Kirkland campus has many "Africans", something like 1/12, if Google bus stop groupings are any indication.

Of course, that campus is also full of over-30 Googlers as well.

Melendwyr said...

Flower metaphor explained:

Dumb people have trouble with all problems, and so have use everything they've got to deal with any problem they encounter. So a measure of their total brains gives you a good idea of how they'll be able to deal with any given problem.

Smart people have lots of brains and can deal with most problems without having to devote everything to them. They have the luxury of specializing, because they don't absolutely need to remain general.

So their performance spreads out more; you can't use their braininess as an effective guide to how well they'll perform at any given test, because they'll be much better at some things than others. (Although much better overall than dumb people.)

The bouquet is constrained low-down, and all of the flowers are pointed in roughly the same direction. Higher-up, the flowers spread out, some pointing one way, some another.

Knowing how one flower is directed tells you a lot at the low level, and very little at the high level.

Likewise, knowing that someone has a low IQ or g lets you make very reliable estimates of how well they'll perform generally, but knowing that they're very smart doesn't tell you where their strengths and weaknesses lie, so it's much harder to speak generally about their competence.

Smartest Woman on the Internet said...

I've got a 135 IQ, but after a series of interviews at Microsoft and Intel that I believe went very well, I was not offered a job.

do the limbo said...

You are going lower, actually, than he claimed. Why?

Feynman, who didn't think much of IQ, claimed an IQ of 125, not 120. At higher levels, the higher the points the more significance than further left on the bell curve, in the line of work he was in. In any case, many surmised that he was kidding, or took the test carelessly, or just had an off day. Persons of his achievements would almost invariably test higher than 125 (which is already near the upper 5 percent) whether they wanted to or not.

But keep lowering the number in the narrative, and thus change it to fit what you want.
Next we'll be hearing that Feynman had an IQ of 115. Why not 105. 95. 85.
Hey--IQ doesn't matter, right?

even smarter internet woman said...

"Smartest Woman on the Internet said...
I've got a 135 IQ, but after a series of interviews at Microsoft and Intel that I believe went very well, I was not offered a job.
"

ahh, I'm smarter than you. Mine is 138, and I'd never get in the door.

Anonymous said...

The truth is that a lot of these judges, who are just plain old, would look pretty dumb on a cognitive test compared to bright young things. They know this, so they have a bias against these tests.

I don't think federal judges, who have a lifetime gig, are worried about competition from youngsters. Typically the judges can walk out the door and make a lot more money doing other things.

Silicon Valley fossil said...

Anonymous at 9:31PM said,
"To give some examples from the Google Fellows list"

Google Fellows aren't what I think of as "rock star programmers". The Fellows are above that, and though they might be "rock stars" in their own right, they really don't do much programming. At most they might prototype something, but mostly they're idea people (and their concern is with the creative 5% of the software I mentioned). Moreover, you can be sure that when they interviewed (those of them who were already well known in the field, that is), the interview did not consist of standing up at a white board and writing code.

Rock star programmers are simply extraordinarily productive and influential programmers. And while it's not unheard of for them to come with pedigrees from top schools, I've not found that to be the case. On the other hand, my career has not been at the highest-profile "hot" companies like Google, and I'm prepared to believe that Google programmers tend to come from fancier schools than the people I've worked with.

James Graham said...

Perhaps the greatest accomplishment of the USA was the spectacular increase in our armed forces during World War II.

Never mentioned is that every single draftee and enlistee (>10 million) was subjected to psychological testing including the AGCT and similar IQ tests.

Test results were used to decide who was qualified, for example, for entry into OCS and other training schools.

Anonymous said...

Hsu on Feynman's IQ:

Is it true Feynman's IQ score was only 125?

Feynman was universally regarded as one of the fastest thinking and most creative theorists in his generation. Yet it has been reported-including by Feynman himself-that he only obtained a score of 125 on a school IQ test. I suspect that this test emphasized verbal, as opposed to mathematical, ability. Feynman received the highest score in the country by a large margin on the notoriously difficult Putnam mathematics competition exam, although he joined the MIT team on short notice and did not prepare for the test. He also reportedly had the highest scores on record on the math/physics graduate admission exams at Princeton. It seems quite possible to me that Feynman's cognitive abilities might have been a bit lopsided-his vocabulary and verbal ability were well above average, but perhaps not as great as his mathematical abilities. I recall looking at excerpts from a notebook Feynman kept while an undergraduate. While the notes covered very advanced topics for an undergraduate-including general relativity and the Dirac equation-it also contained a number of misspellings and grammatical errors. I doubt Feynman cared very much about such things.


(http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/finding-the-next-einstein/201112/polymath-physicist-richard-feynmans-low-iq-and-finding-another)

Bottledwater said...

The general factor of intelligence is strongest at lower levels of intelligence. It may be a case of “All neurones to the pump”. When abilities are low, most problems are difficult. In such cases, all resources have to be thrown at the problem. When abilities are higher there is more spare capacity for differentiation of abilities. Brighter persons have a lower proportion of their abilities accounted for by a common factor, even though the have higher absolute abilities.

This is nonsense. The general factor is just as strong or weak at the high end as at the low end. Look at all the people who score 700+ on both the verbal and math section of the SAT showing the g factor can be quite strong at the high end. And look at idiot savants who are geniuses in one area but retarded overall, showing the g factor can be elusive at the low end.

Maxwell Power said...

You'd be surprised how many rock star programmers were weak students at middling colleges

"Misfits striking it rich in the computer business" is a hardy stereotype but it did seem during the Wild West 90s that everything around was reinforcing it. Jamie Zawinski didn't even finish high school IIRC and next thing you know he's got his own nightclub off Market Street

David said...

IQ scores matter, except when it's Feynman, who must have had "an off day." Surely you're joking, Mr. Feynman!

I have an IQ of 140 and a non-objectionable appearance and great breath. If you think I could get a job at Google even as a janitor, you are off your rocker. HR departments generally are staffed with smilers-with-a-knife named Joel, Zoe, and La'Tushqu'a.

Alice said...

Please. You want an entry level at google? Best have a degree from Cal, Stanford, MIT or certain parts of CMU. They solve their IQ problem by pre-selection.

Anonymous said...

As Alice pointed out, the applicants at google, already come from a high IQ range, so in this population, SAT scores probably have very little predictive power. It is said that the SAT does a good job measuring intelligence below 1400, but beyond that level, the questions are too superficial to measure raw brain power. Most 1600 types are excellent students who attend great schools, but they're not any more likely to solve a truly tricky a new problem than a 1400 type.