My Secret Life as a Spaghetti Coder
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A friend of mine from graduate school recently asked if she could use me as a reference on her resume. I've worked with her on a couple of projects, and she was definitely one of the top few people I'd worked with, so I was more than happy to say yes.

Most of the questions were straightforward and easy to answer. However, one of the potential questions seemed way off-base: I may be asked to "review her multi-tasking ability."

Is that a trick question? Is it relevant?

Of course I want to paint her in the best possible light, and in that regard, I'm unsure how to answer such a question. Why? To understand that, we need to ask What's the question they're really asking?

There are two disparate pieces of knowledge they can hope to glean from my answer to that question:
  1. Does she concentrate on a single item well enough to finish it? In this case, they are asking the opposite of what they want to find out. The trick relies on the reviewer to give an honest opinion, whereas most people would assume they should answer each question in the affirmative. Because the rest of the questions seem straightforward, I'd give this potential "real question" a low probability of being what they really want to know.

  2. Is the candidate able to juggle multiple different projects and work effectively? I give this one the higher probability of being the question the employer really wants the answer to. But it's a ridiculous question. On the one hand, you already know the job candidate has successfully completed two levels of college, so it should be clear that they can handle multiple different projects given the appropriate resources. On the other hand, I don't think they care about the "appropriate resources" part. I think they're setting their employees up to fail because they don't understand that
    Multitasking can result in time wasted due to human context switching and apparently causing more errors due to insufficient attention.
A multitasking toilet.

Is "multitasking ability" just code for unable to accomplish anything because you require employees to work on so many different projects in parallel that progress cannot be made on any of them?

What's your opinion?

Update: John G. Miller (or someone claiming to be him) is author of a book and has asserted trademark rights to a phrase originally used in this article, so I've removed it.

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