"Why are you picking off the olives?"

Somebody asked me this at lunch. I had gotten a pizza with olives, and was picking off the olives. I figured that would make a cute good interview question. So consider it a pop-quiz: why would somebody order a pizza with olives and then pick off the olives?






The simple answer is "because I don't like olives". That answers the question that was asked, but doesn't really provide any new information to the asker.

The question that was asked was not really the question they wanted answered. The real question would be "Why would you get a pizza with olives if you don't want olives?".

This is a good "theory meets reality" question. In theory, you order a pizza with only the toppings you want.  In reality, our cafeteria has finite pizza selections and does not offer custom mix + match toppings. Astute observers noticed there were other toppings on my pizza (bbq chicken, specifically).  So I ordered a (bbq chicken + olive pizza), and then picked off the olives.

So I picked the pizza from a finite set of options which I would be able to transform (via picking off toppings) to something good, and then proceeded to execute that transformation.

Key takeaways:
This has some takeaways that can all be applied to software development.

  1. Olives are evil.

  2. Sometimes there's a good reason for something that appears to be silly.

  3. Sometimes the question people ask isn't really the question they want answered.

Comments (4)

  1. Peter Ritchie says:

    I do the same with soup and celery.  There’s never a "hold the <insertIngredentNameHere/>" option with soup…  But not with olives 🙂

  2. Alois Kraus says:

    Hi Mike,

    I would call this a typical side effect (speaking in terms of software) where you have an effect (taste) of something that is already gone (the olives). The state of a pizza that never had any olives on it and the state of a pizza where the olives have been removed is not identical. The current state looks the same but they got into this state via different ways which manifests as subtle (tasty) differences.

    In your case you use the olives as additional flavor. You prefer a low (tasty) dosis of olive flavor which you can only be achieved by removing the olives from the finished pizza.

    Perhaps you could try out some good olive oil or even balsamico vinegar to get some even better flavoring of your pizza? 😉


      Alois Kraus

  3. In fact, I wasn’t even able to succesfully remove all the olives (some were heavily embedded in the cheese, which arguably  mitigated that bad olive taste).

  4. I’m trying out Windows Live Writer. Currently, I do all of my blogging via Frontpage , so this will be

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