Google’s Newest Employee?

As I was scrolling on the app TikTok, for what may or may not have been the third time today, a particular video caught my attention. The opening line of the video was,

This is how you get a job at Google, using Google Foobar, their secret hiring challenge.

– @thomaspwang on TikTok

Instantly, I was hooked. However, there were a few questions running through my mind: What is Google Foobar? What is the challenge? Do they actually hire people this way?

The video continued on to show how you can access Google Foobar. You begin by simply searching “c++ move semantics” in Chrome. After about 30 seconds (give or take), a bar should appear at the top of your window that says, “Curious developers are known to seek interesting problems. Solve one from Google?” You are also given three options involving how you want to proceed – “I want to play”, “No thanks”, or “Don’t show me this again”. For reference, this is what my window looked like after following these steps.

My invitation to the Google Foobar challenge.

Before continuing on, I wanted to do some more background research about the challenge and whether or not players were actually employed after completing it.

Quickly, I learned that Google typically only gives out the challenge invitation to special developers… and I am not a developer by any means (thanks for the hack, TikTok!). Google finds these developers by watching their search history for programming-related words and problems. If the user decides that they want to proceed, selecting “I want to play” causes a command line like interface to appear in a new tab. After typing the command “request” to get started, you will receive coding/programming questions in your Foobar command line folder that you must solve. You are able to answer these questions and submit your solutions in either JAVA or Python (whichever you prefer). I will spare the details of each level, but there are five levels that the player must complete successfully in order to complete the Foobar challenge overall.

Upon completing the Google Foobar challenge, you are asked for contact details, and will receive an invitation for an interview. If you pass the interview, congrats! You are now (most likely) a Google employee. So yes, people often are hired from this challenge. As I mentioned before, this is because those who partake in the Foobar challenge are usually directly invited by Google. Therefore, if you are just the average person like myself using a roundabout way to access it, you probably will not see yourself in the Googleplex any time soon. But it’s worth a shot!

All in all, I would still love to try the Google Foobar challenge someday, but I am nowhere near ready to (yet). Although, who knows – maybe I could hone the Python skills I learned in ENGL 340 in the future and become Google’s newest employee.

The Necessity of “English” as a Discipline

I believe that my view of “English” as a discipline has changed as a result of my work in this course, but not necessarily in the way I expected.

When I was planning and selecting which classes I wanted to take this semester, this one immediately caught my eye. Not only did it fulfill my Recent Literature degree requirement, but it was a topic that caught my interest. I may not know every detail of the latest and greatest technology, but I would not hesitate to label myself as a technophile. I enjoy learning how things work; I find it fascinating. I have also always wanted to learn how to code (even if it was only learning the most basic ways). Thus, Lit & Lit Study in the Digital Age sounded perfect to me. Over the past few months, this course has shown me a new side of “English” – one that I did not know existed. I never realized how hand in hand it went with information in the digital age.

In the last twenty years, give or take, a push for STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) has become prominent. I remember in my high school, multiple art classes were cut in favor of technology ones, or they began to incorporate technology into their work. For example, they recently tore down the darkroom that several of our photography classes used to develop film and make prints. To the best of my knowledge, those classes now use iPads to edit their photos. While I understand why and do believe that STEM education is needed, I never liked how it seemed to take away from arts subjects such as “English”.

If I am being completely honest, I felt overwhelmed when we started to use programs such as Visual Studio Code and Python, despite how eager I was to code. I sometimes could not keep up, whether it was commands failing in the terminal or being unable to push my journal files to GitHub (I finally became confident about doing so just this past month). However, I still found it genuinely fun to do. I never thought that I would be able to make my own webpage, which was neat! I liked that we often had group discussions to go along with this work, too. Doing everything online can be very isolating, so it was nice to have face-to-face communication as well as someone to turn to for help. Before taking ENGL 340, I had my doubts about being an English major. Although, my faith has been restored, as this type of work is more of what I would like to pursue in the future.

Back to the topic at hand, I have learned over the past semester that to understand modern technology and ways of communication fully, we still need “English”. If I did not have any prior knowledge of reading or literature in general, I would struggle to do the activities we did in this course. I can not imagine trying to understand Walden in Voyant Tools if I had not read and studied it first, much less creating journal files using Markdown. I think that the new wave of STEAM education (STEM + Arts) is more ideal compared to sole STEM-based learning as it allows students to better themselves in disciplines like “English”. Furthermore, and for me especially, being able to intertwine skills from different areas helps students to better themselves in all of these subjects. For instance, writing lab reports with unfamiliar vocabulary and formatting is significantly easier for me because I have that background knowledge of constructing essays for my English courses.

Overall, this course has taught me a lot about “English” as a discipline in the digital age, but I know that there is so much more to learn – and I am excited to discover this information!

The Part vs. The Whole

In our readings thus far from The Information by James Gleick, this passage found in the second chapter stood out to me the most. Here, Gleick describes how Chinese script worked:

Because the basic unit was the word, thousands of distinct symbols were required… One device is simple repetition: tree + tree + tree = forest; more abstractly, sun + moon = brightness and east + east = everywhere. The process of compounding creates surprises: grain + knife = profit; hand + eye = look. Characters can be transformed in meaning by reorienting their elements: child to childbirth and man to corpse. Some elements are phonetic; some even punning.

– Gleick, 32-33

As Gleick discusses in this chapter, Chinese script was one of the most complex and large scripts in ancient times. This was due to the fact that it had the largest set of symbols, and the fact that each symbol itself, individually, carried a copious amount of meaning.  However, by combining these symbols, they were able to create new words and phrases.

Perhaps this is too literal of a connection, but this process of constructing a language reminded me of the process of coding. When you code, each minuscule detail is just as significant as the end result you are trying to achieve. An example of this would be our recent class activity of creating a .html webpage using Visual Studio Code. In doing so, it was necessary to input the different elements of the webpage (such as the title and body paragraphs) in order for the page to work correctly. It was not as simple as typing the text directly into the VS Code file, though. Every element required a command line before and after it.

As Gleick also says:

The alphabet is the most reductive, the most subversive of all scripts.

– Gleick, 33

Despite that it may require more effort to communicate properly, as you have to move from letters to words to sentences, the alphabet truly does make communication simpler and more accessible for everyone. It is difficult to imagine a world today the same as when Chinese script was used. Communication would take much longer, and you would run the risk of accidentally saying/writing the wrong thing.

I believe that this idea of the part versus the whole found in computing carries over to the humanities, or more specifically, language. Similar to coding, words do not always make sense on their own. We need context – or more words in conjunction to create commands, questions, stories, etc. If we go one step further, and break words down into letters, then we can really see how alike the two are. Random letters thrown together do not work – they need structure and meaning. By sequencing and weaving together different parts, the overall whole is more clear and precise.