How Hiring

Avatar

Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

Related Post Roulette

92 Responses

  1. Avatar Mike Schilling
    Ignored
    says:

    First, hang on to the people you have that you know to be worthwhile. Seriously. Hang on to them.

    It’s amazing how few employers understand this, or understand that even if there is someone just as good cheaper out there, you’ve got to find them and then train them before they’re just as good. I used to work at a place that wanted to grow and was devoting a lot of resources to hiring new people and basically none to retaining the people they had.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Mike Schilling
      Ignored
      says:

      I think a lot of companies have just decided on short-term profits and dividends instead of long-term growth and stability. This means that it is better to have an economic model with a high-turnover because it keeps salaries down. The idea of lifetime or long-term employment is gone in almost all sectors. Retention means raises, benefits, and retirement plans, and loyalty.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to NewDealer
        Ignored
        says:

        Often, it’s a matter of treating employees better. Things that don’t actually cost money.

        I blame it on business schools. My business classes really hammered home the point that labor is perpetually replaceable. that laying off three experienced guys so that you can hire five new kids fresh out of college is “good business management” (and even better if you can just hire three).

        I’m not even sure how much of it is actually a long term versus short term thing. Short term, having gaps to fill and training costs money and it’s only in the medium term that you start seeing a return on that investment.Report

      • Avatar Troublesome Frog in reply to NewDealer
        Ignored
        says:

        At my last company, I always got the impression that management’s philosophy was that managers are unique and irreplaceable snowflakes while engineers are a uniform amorphous paste that can be spread around wherever necessary and ordered in big drums from Costco if you’re a few pints short. I joined up when we were a product-centric startup, and a couple of acquisitions later, we were part of a major defense and aerospace empire and things had changed a lot.

        This was a company that sold software and custom-built devices in a specialized field. It’s the sort of company where each team has one or two people with years of experience who are major contributors to the industry. It was all machine vision, optics, pattern recognition and security stuff. You don’t want to lose your key people and have to replace them.

        It did not go well.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to NewDealer
        Ignored
        says:

        My business classes really hammered home the point that labor is perpetually replaceable. that laying off three experienced guys so that you can hire five new kids fresh out of college is “good business management” (and even better if you can just hire three).

        Sadly, some kinds of labor is more replaceable than others. When I worked as a dishwasher, we went through a lot of dishwashers. There were one or two dishwashers who had been there for a couple of years who were the only guys the line would talk to, though. They would talk to Shane, Shane would talk to us. He wasn’t management or anything, he was just “not the FNG” and they knew that he was there last month and they knew that he’d be there next month and the high schoolers were part of an endless parade of high schoolers. (Don’t get me wrong: Shane was a MONSTER at washing dishes… but, at the end of the day, that’s one of those things where the bar for “good enough” isn’t particularly high.)

        The problem with doing that with, say, code is the problem of where the bar is. If it doesn’t matter what the company does, because the managers hope to be transferred to another department, because the good engineers know that once they have “experience” they can get hired by another company for more wages, and because there’s nobody who is really accountable for nothing really getting done, then you’re better off hiring fresh meat than having people who know what they’re doing.

        People who know what they’re doing will just leave, after all.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to NewDealer
        Ignored
        says:

        Business school teaches that labor is fungible and is best funged good and hard.Report

      • Avatar roger in reply to NewDealer
        Ignored
        says:

        As someone who hired closer to a thousand people than a hundred, I disagree, at least personally.

        Good employees are worth their weight in gold. They are hard to find, take months to replace, take massive commitment on the part of the manager, and take years to train.

        My experience is that no good manager would even consider short term cost saving over longer term performance. It makes no sense to the manager. The cost does not come out of our pocket, but the training, hiring, performance of our division or branch often does. Rationally speaking the institutional incentives do not reward managers treating skilled employees as disposable.

        I will agree that company bureaucrats do treat employees as ledger entries in a spreadsheet. And the bureaucrats design the policies and rules that even the best managers operate under (and in all fairness, some make economic sense). For example, large firms are sure to have guidelines on maximum raise amounts per year within the division, max and min salary, promo requirements, affirmative action benchmarks, blah blah blah.

        Granted it is easier just to assume most managers are idiots, and for most managers to assume most employees are lazy. But these attitudes tell us more about the individual holding them than about reality. Indeed anyone thinking most managers are idiots (or all workers arevlazy scoundrels) is pretty much guaranteed to be discovered via my interview process, and is totally guaranteed to lead to immediate screen out.

        When you interview (or talk to your peers), it is pretty easy to determine the quality of the firm and their people. Choose widely. A good position at a good company is much wiser than a higher initial salary working for and/or with screwballs.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to NewDealer
        Ignored
        says:

        Mike,
        good business school treats customers as fungible too. particularly the annoying ones.Report

      • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to NewDealer
        Ignored
        says:

        Roger – given your wealth of experience, one question I would love for you to address, maybe in a guest post if you’re so inclined, is whether companies with screwed up short term horizons are becoming more common than they used to be, and if so, why.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to NewDealer
        Ignored
        says:

        Rog,

        With no experiential basis to say this, it sounds like what may be happening is that the ‘good managers’ you’re describing who would never think in that short-term way may be operating up against the business end of the short-term (bureaucratic) analytic that others on the thread are describing. IOW, that those managers may actually have a longer time horizon over which they expect their beneficial association with the firm to be realized than do the people actually making the decisions in question. (I hesitate to go here, but for the sake of stark illustration, even if this is an absurd comparison: think of the nature of a competent Michael Scott’s (from The Office) set of incentives in hiring and retaining people during his time with Dunder-Mifflin, as compared to the set of incentives that Mitt Romney has relating to that aspect of running the company during the few years when he might have owned a company like that. Obviously, not all higher-level decisions are that short-term oriented, but in any case to me it’s clear that Michael Scott’s bacon is more wrapped up in the the package with the staff he manages in that scenario than it is with the upper echelon of the ‘management’ of which he may very nominally be a part.)Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to NewDealer
        Ignored
        says:

        It’s often popular to blame the middle managers for what ails corporate systems in terms of hiring and such, but it’s often middle management that recognizes what they have to lose in a particular employee. I remember at Falstaff, we were the only ones who could see how valuable our team was. We could point to the 300% increase in productivity, the innovative new tools being developed, and so on. But management’s view was “They’re (just) the XML programmers. It would set a pad precedent if we paid any of them more than $11/hr.” (Especially since all of these tools they developed has made the job easier than ever. They actually chose to cut starting wages.)Report

      • Avatar roger in reply to NewDealer
        Ignored
        says:

        @mark-thompson

        I honestly don’t know. And being now out of the game, I am the least qualified to answer.Report

      • Avatar roger in reply to NewDealer
        Ignored
        says:

        @michael-drew

        At the risk of evading the question, I find managers tend to not really know how long they will be responsible for something, so they assume indefinitely. Those knowing they are in for a short term can be dangerous. I also always felt that businesses should experiment in ways to create “tails” on past responsibilities, so that performance follows a manager, for example his performance evaluation should be based partly upon past division strength for a year or two.

        It is important to recognize that the firm has to constantly and institutionally guard itself against the agency problem. For managers it is almost always easier to give your people large raises, higher salaries, better reviews, less feedback and so forth. This is human nature. It is easier, gives status (I delivered for my team), less confrontational, etc. and next year it goes into your baseline budget. Thus the bean counters build institutional limits and constraints and requirements. Three performance checkpoints, two percent average raise amount, no off cycle increases, balanced around protected classes ( I had to give equal average raises to ugly people*).

        Thus the bean counters restrain managers, somewhat appropriately. However, if you now have a weak manager, the employees are going to be eaten up by the system. A weak manager can’t separate good employees from bad (too confrontational) so he gives little to any of them. The good leave, and the manager blames the system.

        *Not really. Ugly people are still not a protected class for some reason, so we really socked it to the uglies.**

        ** just joking. Actually being butt ugly myself, I always hoped for protected status, but never got it.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to NewDealer
        Ignored
        says:

        Great response, Roger.Report

      • Avatar Troublesome Frog in reply to NewDealer
        Ignored
        says:

        A weak manager can’t separate good employees from bad (too confrontational) so he gives little to any of them.

        This is important. The managers with the best teams in my experience are the ones where the productive people are happy and the weak employees are “underpaid” and eventually gone. Employee pay has a zero-sum element to it. A dollar you give Bob is a dollar you can’t give to Jane. If Jane rocks and Bob is so-so, Jane deserves that dollar.

        Again the weird software industry perspective: Software engineering is on of the most extreme cases of nonuniform productivity. The best engineers are *massively* above average. They’re terrifyingly productive. It’s extremely rare for pay scales to even come close to reflecting it. Your rock star who produces 3 times the output of the median may make 20% more than the median and your loafer who is 0.5 as productive as the median makes 10% less than the median.

        I suppose that the good news is that this encourages rock stars to get together and start their own companies and build new things pretty regularly rather than just being highly paid cogs in existing machines.Report

      • Avatar Vikram Bath in reply to NewDealer
        Ignored
        says:

        My business classes really hammered home the point that labor is perpetually replaceable. that laying off three experienced guys so that you can hire five new kids fresh out of college is “good business management” (and even better if you can just hire three).

        @will-truman , as a former business school professor, I’d be interested in knowing who exactly told you that. 🙂

        I admit that we do run through calculations comparing, say, a juicing factory using seasonal versus year-round labor. Of course, there might not be a reason to believe that five fresh juicers would be less productive than three grizzled juicing veterans. We would, of course, always include training, start-up, and lay-off costs for such a situation though.

        I would be surprised if many professors would say the same thing about knowledge-based work though (if only because they themselves are old). Firing workers in the US is really expensive, as is hiring new ones. The price differential has to be really big to justify it. In fact, if I were to teach that point to one of my classes, it would probably be to demonstrate that replacing workers is an annoying, expensive distraction.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to NewDealer
        Ignored
        says:

        Vikram,

        How easy is it to exploit information asymmetry, especially in service industries?

        Let’s take education, for example. Hell, let’s talk about independent schools. Ya know what, let’s talk about MY school. Just as an example.

        My boss has recently made a number of what I’d call questionable hires… bringing in people who are under-qualified because they can be paid substantially less. I think that she thinks she can get away with this because the ability of parents to discern great education from good education or good education from adequate education is difficult to come by. These people aren’t incompetent… they’re just not of the quality of the people they are replacing nor up to our usual standards. But by putting in place a few buffers such that their potential to do vast harm is limited and, more importantly, their exposure to parents is limited, our “customers” likely won’t realize they are getting an inferior product.

        Over time, such practices might catch up with the school, but for now, it seems like my boss is relying on parents/customers not necessarily being able to discern between degrees of quality. Add in that we are the only secular private institution in the county, thus limiting our competition, and it seems like, well, something screwy.Report

      • Avatar Vikram Bath in reply to NewDealer
        Ignored
        says:

        @kazzy , are you asking me a question or giving yourself an answer? 🙂

        When the customer isn’t able to directly observe true quality, they look for alternative indicators. For example, the average person doesn’t know enough about cars to buy a good one by just looking at one, so they might close the car door and see how satisfying the thud sounds with the idea being that if they the maker did a good job with that, they probably also did a good job with the engine and transmission and other stuff they couldn’t directly observe.

        Of course, assemblers quickly realized this and deployed engineers to work on producing a satisfying car door thud while they cut costs everywhere else.

        So, how are parents determining the quality of your school now? Is it by the amount of stone used in the architecture? Do they look at the degrees of the teachers? Test scores? Where the kids go when they leave? If the cost-cutting doesn’t show up in any of the places the parents are looking, then your boss should be safe, if not your kids…Report

      • Avatar morat20 in reply to NewDealer
        Ignored
        says:

        I think it’s easy to over simplify, or to get bogged down into various examples and anecdotes about this, but I think there are a few large trends.

        1) Dying unions means employee pushback on anything is more and more limited. Wages, work conditions, everything. More and more, it’s pretty much dictated by your company or industry and that tends to ratchet down, not up.
        1a) The only big fields to see a real upward ratchet, recently, on wages due to massive supply/demand problems was tech (not the engineering side, so much as the IT/software side). I don’t see a lot of other fields getting as aggressively head hunted as software was, not until you were upper, upper management.

        2) Payroll — whether salaries or headcount — is low hanging fruit for cost-cutting. It’s immediate, it’s cumulative, it’s easy, and it’s a tempting target for managers looking to cut costs or meet targets.

        3) The business world, at least the publicly traded part, seems a lot more focused on the short term than the medium or long term. Which makes part 2 a lot more tempting, since generally the effects of firing senior (and thus well paid) staff for newbies (and thus cheap) staff — or RIFs in general — take a good bit of time to show up, whereas savings are instant.

        As an interesting anecdote: Every major firm I’ve worked for my entire career (which has been 15+ years) has always had one firm, unspoken, and [highly illegal rule: Thou Shalt Not Discuss Salary. Oh, you wouldn’t get fired for it. You’d get fired for something else. Perhaps when you put down “8 hours” for the day, you only worked 7:45, because you spent 15 minutes in the bathroom and we can prove it. (Seriously, saw it happen).

        No boss would tell you that. But your coworkers and technical leads (ie: the guys you worked for but couldn’t fire you) would be quick to make sure you knew, if you even hinted at it.

        I have no idea what my coworkers make. I know what I make, I know what the (hugely wide) salary bands are for the grades my current employer uses. Really, my only lever for salary is threatening to quit or saying I got a better offer.

        I like my job. I like what I do. I have no grievances with my company. But I look at my salary and can’t help but think that, well, I’m paying sticker price here. I’ve got no real leverage. I see how much profit my company makes, have a fairly good inkling about the sizes of bonuses upper management gets, and well — I really understand why my company fires people for reasons entirely unrelated to discussing their salaries.

        And it’s not for my sake.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to NewDealer
        Ignored
        says:

        But what are your thoughts on such a practice? Is it a good business practice? A moral one? An ethical one?Report

      • Avatar Vikram Bath in reply to NewDealer
        Ignored
        says:

        Ohhh.

        My thoughts are…somewhat irrelevant. I used to think a lot more about what is moral, but I try to discourage myself from that now. After all, I live in this world. What the world should be is the job of philosophers and other low-lifes*.

        That said, I’m kind of a rarity in the business school because I really like it. I feel most of the good done in this world is done by businesses even if it doesn’t make for the most compelling stories. So, I can’t help but feel that companies should have some responsibility to their professions (however much I try to avoid the notion of “should” in my thinking.)

        If your boss is misleading parents about what is happening, that is bad. If your boss is dealing with budget realities, that’s unfortunate, but understandable. If your boss is hiring the best people he can for the moment and providing them the support to become better, that’s nice. If your boss has found that the money can be spent in different ways that help students more than spending more on employees with more qualifications, that’s potentially fantastic.

        I get the impression from what you’ve written thus far though that I’d be disappointed to know the real motivations of what is going on.

        * – This is intended as a joke.Report

      • Avatar Badtux in reply to NewDealer
        Ignored
        says:

        “Firing workers in the US is really expensive, as is hiring new ones.”

        At least in my field, firing workers is as simple as saying, “hi, you’re done, clean out your desk and go.” Everybody’s “at will” with no union protection.

        The problem is hiring new people. Everybody in high tech who isn’t Microsoft or Google has a dickens of a time finding candidates. But Microsoft or Google? They get 80,000 resumes a day, of which they’ll hire 80. The only “expense” involved is in somehow sorting through the piles of resumes and coming up with ones that will suit a particular position.

        Well, unless it’s Google. Last time I encountered them, they weren’t hiring to fill tech positions. They were hiring people who were Googly, then finding a position for them inside Google.Report

      • Avatar Troublesome Frog in reply to NewDealer
        Ignored
        says:

        The only “expense” involved is in somehow sorting through the piles of resumes and coming up with ones that will suit a particular position.

        That’s actually really simple. You randomly select 20 resumes and shred the rest. Bammo! You’ve just found the 20 luckiest people in the applicant pool. The other people were unlucky, so you really don’t want them around your business anyway.

        You get that one for free.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Mike Schilling
      Ignored
      says:

      Firing even at-will workers is expensive because wrongful termination suits are expensive. That’s why firings are often either disguised as layoffs or accomplished by making things unpleasant enough that the target quits.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Mike Schilling
        Ignored
        says:

        Don’t large numbers of unemployment claims (which people who are fired without cause can make) adversely affect how much businesses have to pay in unemployment taxes? (I have to confess that I am unclear on how all that works, but I know that I have had employers try to screw me on my valid unemployment claim, so I assume that there is an incentive in there somewhere.)Report

      • Avatar Badtux in reply to Mike Schilling
        Ignored
        says:

        Wrongful termination suits are an issue when the person being fired is of a “protected” class under EEOC rules, but the vast majority of technology workers aren’t a member of such a class. Unless there are millions of dollars at stake, the typical response is to shrug and go for another job elsewhere.

        Regarding unemployment compensation, costs rise the same regardless of whether you fire the person or hold layoffs to “adjust head count” that just *happen* to lay off the weakest people on the team. The reality is that a) most companies can’t afford to keep people who are not contributors on their team, but b) most companies wait for layoff day to do mass slaughters of the weak, because that’s a one-time hit on employee morale versus the drip drip drip of employees who thought they had secure jobs suddenly been told to hit the streets which gets everybody paranoid looking for the noose. The blade drops, the weak are gone, everybody else breathes a sigh of relief and goes back to work secure that it’ll be a while until the next slaughter of the weak. But wrongful termination lawsuits? Not typical here in the Silicon Valley, perhaps because the Valley is a rather closed environment and that’s a good way to be blacklisted. Last time I heard of a wrongful termination lawsuit here in the Valley, it was a CEO suing the board of directors for firing him from the company he’d founded. He lost.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Mike Schilling
        Ignored
        says:

        Given that terminations without cause mean that the terminated get unemployment, but those fired with cause don’t get unemployment, it wouldn’t make sense to me that the costs would rise in both cases. Anyhow, that costs rise is an indication that terminations actually do actually come with a cost. That may be minor, though. I’d be interested to hear if @vikram-bath can list some other costs associated with termination.Report

      • Avatar Badtux in reply to Mike Schilling
        Ignored
        says:

        I was actually about to revisit that when you chimed in. The deal is that firing someone “for cause” can actually cost the company more than just laying him off or doing an “at will” firing. The deal is that he will likely appeal the “for cause” part of his dismissal to the labor board or unemployment commission of his state, and you will be required to present documentation as to your justification for this cause. a) preparing that documentation, and b) paying someone to present said documentation to the labor board, costs money. More money than any hike in unemployment insurance costs would present.

        Furthermore, if he (or she) has been working for you for less than a certain number of months, in many states he does not qualify for unemployment insurance on your dime anyhow, so there’s no effect on costs. We once hired a young woman who came to us with the highest of credentials. It soon became apparent that she knew nothing — she was an utter blank slate. She was gone within two weeks because she was sucking up too much of the team’s time teaching her things she had claimed to already know (sadly, she got hired as a friend of a friend thing favor to the CEO). Effect on unemployment insurance costs: Zero. Zip. Zilch.Report

  2. Avatar ScarletNumber
    Ignored
    says:

    Did you mean “Now Hiring” or “How Hiring ___ “?

    I liked McMegan’s article, but I don’t know if there is a solution per se. Fans of The Lion LOVE employer testing, but look at civil servants.

    Robert Fulghum was right.Report

  3. Avatar Troublesome Frog
    Ignored
    says:

    I interviewed at Google just a few weeks ago, and there were no silly brain teasers. It was 100% software design problems. Some were “how would you go about designing this” and the rest were “write code on the board under time pressure while a fearsomely smart engineer watches over your shoulder.” In fact, hardly any time at all was spent on questions about me or my experience.

    Whiteboard coding is awkward and difficult, so I didn’t perform as well as I should have. I still wake up deeply agitated because I should have blown all of the questions away but I let the format get to me. Live and learn.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Troublesome Frog
      Ignored
      says:

      When I interviewed at Google (a few years ago), it was almost all whiteboard coding of CS 101 problems (e.g. implement different kinds of traversal in a singly-linked list that might contain a loop.) From my point of view, a complete waste of time that had nothing to do with my actual skills. They also wanted to know my decades-ago college GPA, but not, for some odd reason, my current shoe size.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Mike Schilling
        Ignored
        says:

        I can’t go into details because of confidentiality but I know all about Google hiring practices because of a case I worked on.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Mike Schilling
        Ignored
        says:

        Huh. I’ve interviewed at Google, and while the questions may have been “CS 101” in the sense that they tested the fundamentals, most of them involved fairly cognitively demanding applications of the fundamentals.

        For example, one question that I got was how to count the number of possible paths from the upper left corner to lower right corner of chessboard with arbitrary dimensions, stepping either one square to the right or one square down on each move. Then, to catch the people who just mathed it out, do the same thing with some of the of squares blocked out.

        This isn’t that bad if you’re familiar with recursive search techniques (and you should be, because this class of problem almost always comes up), but it’s certainly not something your average CS student would get.

        They also made me reinvent Terasort, which I didn’t know about at the time. If you haven’t thought about this stuff, it’s pretty tough to come up with on the fly.Report

      • Avatar morat20 in reply to Mike Schilling
        Ignored
        says:

        Huh, I had a fun interview like that a few years ago. Unfortunately for me, my first serious interview in YEARS and the problems we discussed were sync. processes and some issues there, and I’d been doing DBA work and web design the last 12 months, which meant I was still thinking entirely the wrong way.

        It did lead to me, five minutes later, going “Wait, that first problem…oh, I totally missed X.” in the middle of discussing an optimization thing. 🙂

        I didn’t make it past that screen, but did fine the next interview — being interviewed is a bit of a skill, at least to me, and I need a couple of swings before I get back in the groove. (Then again, I don’t hop jobs as much as most programmers).Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Troublesome Frog
      Ignored
      says:

      So long as they aren’t giving you brainteasers, that part of the interview is nearly impossible to fail.
      I’ve had “linked lists” problems for jobs. It was basically “can you code at a college level” (with expected mistakes)? That’s it.

      The brainteasers suck.Report

      • Avatar Barry in reply to Kim
        Ignored
        says:

        “I’ve had “linked lists” problems for jobs. It was basically “can you code at a college level” (with expected mistakes)? That’s it.”

        It’s probably ‘can you code at a college level, standing up, off the top of your head, while some seriously expert people are watching’.

        And depending on how far you and Mike got into the process, this might have been to separate out those whom they wanted to spend serious time checking out. The second in-person interview might have had you code some higher-level stuff.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Kim
        Ignored
        says:

        Barry,
        yes, and I dont’ mind that. problems you should be able to do in your sleep
        are problems you should be able to do under pressure.

        I loathe the brainteasers, and yes, they’re the “in person” interview.Report

      • Avatar Troublesome Frog in reply to Kim
        Ignored
        says:

        Without breaking the NDA, these were generally not “write a linked list” types of problems. That may be the first 3 minutes to make sure they weren’t wasting their time, but the coding problems were nontrivial. They weren’t impossible to a competent engineer, but they were difficult and required forethought and keeping track of a reasonable number of moving parts. “That part of the interview” is basically the whole interview, so if it was nearly impossible to fail, you wouldn’t see them keeping positions open for months at a time. But if it had been hilariously impossible or full of ridiculous brain teasers, I wouldn’t be so annoyed at myself for underperformance.

        I use whiteboards for pictures and pseudocode, not actual code. My normal view of the world is a terminal window with at least 40×80 characters, so i can see a lot of stuff in my field of view. When you write code on a whiteboard, your useful field of view is at best a few lines. You have to keep stepping back to find things. It’s like writing code with 95% of the screen covered while your evaluator sees the whole screen. I’d definitely practice writing “production” whiteboard code if I planned to go back.

        The phone screener went much better, partially because they use a shared document on the computer for code, so it’s much more natural to somebody who spends most of his waking hours typing.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Kim
        Ignored
        says:

        TF,
        I know what you mean.
        My husband was watching me code…
        “I can see why you don’t put spaces in,
        your brain is working too fast.”Report

  4. Avatar Badtux
    Ignored
    says:

    Since 2005 I’ve had pretty good luck with managers. I was pretty much last engineering standing at my last two companies (both of which, alas, went under), but I didn’t have to go far for a new job — one of my former managers offered me a significant sum of money to come work for his startup. I suppose that’s one of the things better managers in the Silicon Valley are hired for — for their ability to bring in their “stable” of experienced engineers to kick out quality product in a timely manner.

    During one of these job transitions, Google called. .And did a “phone screen”. I said, “What’s the position?” “We won’t tell you, but let me give you this brief test.” “Uhm, okay.” A number of questions later, and… “Congratulations, you’re perfectly qualified for DevOps!” “Uhm, I don’t do DevOps. You see my resume. I’m a driver and devices guy, the only thing I’d be interested in working on at Google is Android.” “But I have someone from DevOps who wants to interview you!” “Sorry, not interested.” So let’s see, they want to hire me for something I have absolutely no interest in, and assume I will take it just because they’re Google and, like, *everybody* wants to work for Google because they’re all Googly and all? I don’t think so!

    Regarding resumes and past work, the problem is that they’re generally spun outrageously. I interviewed a guy on Monday who had lots of nice things on his resume. But I asked him questions about them and he knew nothing about what he said (on the resume) that he’d done.

    And then there’s the killer question: “What do you want to do?” It’s a question I always had a problem with, because I’m interested in *everything*, but it turns out to be important. If you’re a hardware driver writer, if that’s what you want to do, hiring you for DevOps would be a major mistake because you’d be unhappy and leave after a while. The kid on Monday couldn’t answer the question, couldn’t even answer which of the things on his resume that he’d enjoyed doing the most or, for that matter, what he had enjoyed about *any* of the positions on his resume. We did not hire him, as you can imagine….

    My experience is that the hiring process is pretty fscked at big companies. That said, I’ve received a job offer from a big company before. In that case it was one manager at that company who really, really wanted me, and bypassed or steamrollered several layers of bureaucracy to try to get me. In the end, I realized that if this one manager left I’d be pretty screwed at that company given its bureaucracy, and chose a job at a smaller company instead.

    Things seem to be saner nowadays. Or maybe it’s just that I have such an established track record that there’s no longer a question about my skills. But I haven’t faced any of those trick questions in quite some time. And BTW, last time someone offered one of those trick questions, I looked at it, saw absolutely no applicability to any problem that I was being hired to solve, puzzled over it a while but didn’t answer it, and didn’t bother emailing the solution the next day after I’d solved it. They made a job offer anyhow. Go figure.Report

  5. Avatar James K
    Ignored
    says:

    Here’s an interesting couple of legal questions:
    1) The US Court system seems to apply not-inconsiderable scrutiny to testing-based hiring practices, checking for racial biases introduced by such tests. Could this be driving US employers to a more interview-based hiring system, which could itself be racially biased? After all, what system is best going to express unconscious biases than one which leaves a decision up to a single subjective judgement?
    2) Could the US courts decide at some point that unstructured job interviews are themselves an illegitimate form of hiring due to their poor predictive power and potential for discrimination?Report

    • Avatar NewDealer in reply to James K
      Ignored
      says:

      Do companies in New Zealand not use interviews?

      Granted I have never interviewed at a large corporation with a serious HR department but I’ve been on job interviews and conducted them (for stage managers when I was directing a play and designers)

      Interviews are good for finding if someone is a cultural fit or to get details from their resume about specific experiences…..Report

      • Avatar James K in reply to NewDealer
        Ignored
        says:

        Yes, we do but our discrimination laws are different to yours, we really don’t have a concept of “disparate impact”. For government jobs a combination of cognitive testing and structured interviews (every candidate is asked a fixed series of questions by a panel) are the norm.Report

  6. Avatar Kazzy
    Ignored
    says:

    My new boss seems to have a mindset that everyone is replaceable. I fear this having major negative repercussions on the future of the school.

    My wife’s current employer, who she is looking to leave, completely fails to recognize what you discuss here. She has not received a raise in the two years she has been there and was recently told that year 3 would be the same. Not even a cost of living adjustment. At that point, she made it clear she would be pursuing other opportunities. I’m guessing the company is hearing this a lot, as they have instituted a rule that they will only offer salary matches to new offers the employee can demonstrate in writing. Basically, it is a huge effort at calling any bluffs employees might be attempting to get desperately needed raises. Which is within the company’s right, but demonstrates how they are viewing their employees: only worthy of paying more if directly forced to.

    Zazzy does not do well with confrontation or negotiation and can be plagued by guilt and anxiety. This makes such situations torture. During a recent conversation, she asked what she should do if the current company she is interviewing with offers her $X; should she take it to her current employer for a match?
    “Do you want to keep working there?”
    “No.”
    “Would anything make you want to stay there?”
    “No.”
    “Then if you get the offer and if it works for you, you tell your current employer, ‘Here’s my two week’s notice.'”

    Her employer is losing people left and right. It is apparently hemorraging money. And it has gotten into the spiral of higher ups protecting their jobs at all costs regardless of what it means for the future of the company. Zazzy’s incompetent department head makes twice what she does but won’t go to bat for her to get an inflation-adjustment despite Zazzy’s project netting the hospital millions in federal funding. They recently declared that a department scheduled for reorganization was going to be cut entirely; goodbye to a boatload of nurses.

    It is amazing how poorly run some businesses are.

    As someone who has changed schools multiple times for multiple reasons, I feel I am more adept at ever at the interview process. And not just resume writing and sitting their and looking polished and sounding good. But actually knowing what questions to ask, what I am looking for in a school, and how not to get caught in the type of environments I was in 5-6 years ago.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Kazzy
      Ignored
      says:

      So basically you get a raise as a counter-offer? Interesting, that provides a whole level of perverse incentives in itself….

      Talk about destroying morale!

      What line of work is Zazzy in?Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to NewDealer
        Ignored
        says:

        I had the same thought. Everything else aside, it’s bad when employees are looking for other work. When I was in QA at Falstaff, we could tell which of the programmers were actually looking for more work, and we could tell when they stopped. We could see it in their productivity and our interactions with them. They were not good changes, that occurred, when they were actively seeking employment elsewhere.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to NewDealer
        Ignored
        says:

        She works in nursing informatics for a relatively small local hospital. She’s looking to move to a bigger one that is a leader in the field.

        As I said to TF below, I think the company’s idea is that employees might be lying about job offers to finagle a raise. So, they’re trying to call bluffs. It does not appear to me they’ve realized the flaws in this system. As such, they do not appear to be people Zazzy should toil under any longer than she must.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to NewDealer
        Ignored
        says:

        Kazzy,
        We’re always looking for informatics nurses up here in pittsburgh.
        jus’ sayin’Report

      • Avatar dhex in reply to NewDealer
        Ignored
        says:

        stop trying to make pittsburg happen.Report

      • Avatar Barry in reply to NewDealer
        Ignored
        says:

        “So basically you get a raise as a counter-offer? ”

        You didn’t know that? It’s not uncommon for a business to figure that if you can’t get an offer somewhere else, why raise your salary?

        I also believe that the common (business magazine level) of wisdom is to never accept your current employer’s counter-offer, because they’ll fire you as soon as they can get a replacement.Report

    • Avatar ScarletNumber in reply to Kazzy
      Ignored
      says:

      ScarletNumber’s rule of counter-offers from your current employer: NEVER accept one, unless you get a contract of at least one year. Since most people are “at will” your higher salary won’t mean much when they fire you in a month.Report

    • Avatar Troublesome Frog in reply to Kazzy
      Ignored
      says:

      I’m guessing the company is hearing this a lot, as they have instituted a rule that they will only offer salary matches to new offers the employee can demonstrate in writing.

      They *match* in that case? Hmmm. I could have the same salary in here or over there. If I stay here, I’ll have to get another job offer the next time I want a pay increase. If I go over there, that’s probably not the case. I’m guessing that most employees don’t agonize over it. Anyway, my experience is that once employees have the “momentum” that comes from a job search and a new offer, you need a lot more more than a matching offer to keep them around.

      That sort of thing affects employer/employee relationships in other ways. Even if people are paid enough, the company is signalling that employees are easily replaceable and that if the company can turn the screws on you, they will. I’ve been fortunate enough to work mostly in organizations that give people a fair deal. They don’t play hardball unless it’s really necessary, and employees return the favor. When companies play hardball unnecessarily, employees respond in kind.

      When we were transitioning from “crazy startup” to “respectable public company run by people in suits” the engineering teams were working crazy hours. A lot of us would get home in the middle of the night, sleep until we felt rested and then drive back to work when we were awake. It worked out to a 25/26 hour day, and people often arrived at noon after a while. The company tried to institute a “Everybody must be here at 9:00 under penalty of X” policy.

      Employees who are voluntarily working from 11:00 am to 2:00 in the morning are not amused when you call out on their arrival time. The general response was, “OK, 9 to 5 sounds great!”Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Troublesome Frog
        Ignored
        says:

        Great point, TF. My hunch is that a lot of people were probably lying about looking elsewhere, trying to strong arm the company into a raise. That was the company’s response.

        I’ve been trying to explain to Zazzy that she needs to view her employment as a business relationship and nothing else. She has something to offer them and they have something to offer her. Should their offer prove insufficient and/or she can receive a better offer elsewhere, well, that’s how it goes. They wouldn’t hesitate to fire her if they could get a better employee at the same price or similar work for a lower price… or were simply unhappy with what she was offering. She shouldn’t hesitate to do the same. Loyalty is dead and most talk of it is a tool by management to control employees.Report

      • Avatar Troublesome Frog in reply to Troublesome Frog
        Ignored
        says:

        My hunch is that a lot of people were probably lying about looking elsewhere, trying to strong arm the company into a raise. That was the company’s response.

        This is an interesting response in what it implies, though. If I ask for a raise and you refuse, that means that either you’re not willing to pay me that much *or* you are willing but you think I’ll work for less. I don’t know which. If you say that you’ll pay me more if you know for certain I’ll leave, I know that you’re willing and able to pay me more but you think you can get away with not doing so.

        Sure, that’s how markets work. The price is somewhere between the maximum the buyer will pay and the minimum the seller will accept. But there’s a lot to that relationship and how we arrive at the number. In some cases, it’s good business to pay the minimum the seller will grudgingly accept. In other cases, it may sour the working relationship to know that you’re getting strong-armed every time.

        It’s psychology, but it’s important. Driving a really hard bargain to the point where the other party is dissatisfied and *barely* willing to accept the terms of the deal is not necessarily wise when that deal is an ongoing transaction like daily work. That’s how you get a team that works just hard enough not to get fired.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Troublesome Frog
        Ignored
        says:

        Well, hence my wife reaching the point where she will leave if she gets a good offer.

        I mean, this is how it seems the negotiations go…

        “I need a raise.”
        “Sorry. We aren’t offering any raises right now.”
        “Well, this other company will pay me $10K more.”
        “Prove it.”
        “Here is the offer letter.”
        “Fine. We’ll match their offer.”
        Now, at this point, it appears the company assumes the following:
        “Great. I didn’t want to leave anyway. I just wanted a raise. Should I just repeat this process same time next year?”
        “No, that won’t be necessary. Now we know you won’t leave.”
        But my guess is it actually goes like this:
        “You can take your match and shove it.”

        As someone upthread said, they are being pennywise and pound foolish. People who are willing to work under such conditions are, on the whole, not going to be the people that help your company prosper. They’re balancing today’s budgets by screwing over their future. Shortsightedness coupled with poor leadership and terrible business strategy. Triple fail.Report

      • Avatar Vikram Bath in reply to Troublesome Frog
        Ignored
        says:

        Kazzy, it seems Zazzy and you have reached the right conclusion, but I have to say it shouldn’t have been a contest. It seems like her relationship with her employer has been poisoned. She should be looking to move as soon as she can find something suitable. In fact, she might want to down a counteroffer even if they offered *more* than what she can get from moving.

        From what you’ve written though, I wouldn’t worry too much about what to do with a counteroffer. It sounds like they wouldn’t mind a few voluntary casualties. (It’s one way to avoid having to pay out for unemployment/severance!)Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Troublesome Frog
        Ignored
        says:

        Vik,

        Thanks. At this point, I’ve gotten my wife to realize that the only way she’d stay at her company with opportunity to go elsewhere is if they make her in charge of the department with the power to hire and fire. Given that that is not a role she is interested in… yea, she’ll be leaving the first chance she gets.Report

  7. Avatar roger
    Ignored
    says:

    In my three decades as a leader in a very large insurance company, I selected, hired, developed a hell of a lot of people. I can remember several dozen that I helped selected/developed from entry level to executive level.

    Here is the key to great hiring…

    Only hire people who accomplish a lot. The key process when hiring is this…

    Hand someone a blank piece of paper and ask them to fill it up with the major accomplishments in their life. The awards, the recognition, the honors, the successes, the personal accomplishments. Then talk about these.

    Only hire people who have accomplished a heck of a lot compared to their peers. People who get shit done always get shit done. They always have and they always will. Find these people, hire them, develop them and in ten or twenty years be prepared to work FOR them.

    Rule two, don’t hire people with skills and accomplishments like yours. You already have one like that. Hire complements, not clones.Report

  8. Avatar Barry
    Ignored
    says:

    “Regarding resumes and past work, the problem is that they’re generally spun outrageously. I interviewed a guy on Monday who had lots of nice things on his resume. But I asked him questions about them and he knew nothing about what he said (on the resume) that he’d done. ”

    I actually *forgot* an item on my resume; when asked about it I tried to spin it as something else on my resume, which I had already discussed and which was not impressive.

    Guess what.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Barry
      Ignored
      says:

      I had an interview where the expectations were… sorta low.
      It was basically look at some C terms and tell the interviewer what they were.

      “oh, that’s an integer” etc.

      I flubbed the one on pointers (because I tend to write them int* roo rather than int *roo)…
      but got the one on function pointers (in an “oh, that’s easy” sort of way).

      Interviewer then asked, “how’d you know function pointers if you didn’t get pointers?”
      my (truthful) response: “Oh, I was just working with some function pointers (in my free time) — here let me tell you about it…”Report

      • Avatar morat20 in reply to Kim
        Ignored
        says:

        Eh, I did one like that many, many years ago. Missed the one on function pointers, but when he pointed out what it was (specifically the actual ‘real world, taken from their code’ usage of it) I just asked “Why didn’t you use polymorphism instead of screwing around with function pointers? Take this chunk, make an abstract base class, then overload that function..”

        Pretty sure that got me the job, since they were looking for Java coders and what they gave me was some very old C code they were looking to convert. (Seriously, at least half the use of function pointers I’ve seen were easier to read, maintain, and use as properly designed methods. But then again, like 90% of the OOD I’ve seen is crap, so…).

        Then again, ended up doing everything BUT Java for them..:)Report

  9. Avatar NewDealer
    Ignored
    says:

    Interestingly it seems that people here are thinking about this largely as engineers/computer programmers and/or for people who worked at large corporations.

    I’ve largely worked at small to medium sized places and none were of an engineering or tech places. Interviews are good when hiring lawyers for a law firm because you can ask about their specific experiences in the legal profession. Also if it is a small or medium sized place, you can see if you will get along with said person.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman in reply to NewDealer
      Ignored
      says:

      This is true. Some fields make the interview more important. Especially those careers that involve customer interaction.

      Oddly, for an anti-social guy like myself, I tend to do well in the interview process. Which is how I almost walked into that disaster of a job that I really wasn’t qualified for.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to NewDealer
      Ignored
      says:

      Techs focus on tech jobs.
      I’ve been in the “other sort” of interview…

      The type where folks lie to you about what you’ll be doing,
      how much you’ll be earning (most people quit within the first week…
      they said it was “easy” to clear $100+ a day), and don’t bother
      to mention that they might send you out to do illegal work.

      Never, ever donate to Nader or the groups he’s founded.
      He’s a scab.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to NewDealer
      Ignored
      says:

      At schools, the demo lesson really makes or breaks the person. As difficult as a demo lesson is for a host of reason, there are certain things applicants can do that demonstrate they know what the F they are doing.

      Fitting in with the culture is important, but often times is used for negative purposes. It is one thing to look to see if a person has a good work ethic, is willing and able to collaborate, etc. Ultimately, those are skills like any other. Unfortunately, “culture” is often code for “people who are like us” with “us” being whomever makes up the hiring committee. It is a real challenge to overcome, especially if you are trying to make institutional change of any kind.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Kazzy
        Ignored
        says:

        A lot of small or medium sized law firms don’t even have official HR people. They might only have a payroll person/account who comes in once or twice a week.

        It could simply be. I need to hire someone….and go from there….Report

    • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to NewDealer
      Ignored
      says:

      Oddest group of people I ever worked with were the permanent staff for the Colorado General Assembly’s Joint Budget Committee. I was an old, weird techie with a shiny new public policy degree. One guy was a former accounting professor. One was a retired firefighter who had run the Florida association of fire departments. A couple of law-school graduates. A former nurse. Several other things. Other than the two law-school people, it was hard to find much of anything in common in the staff’s backgrounds. Well, everyone could write decently and everyone could speak in public.

      It took a strange personality to succeed at the job. You had to be assertive with the executive department staff, egoless in letting the JBC members take credit for your hard work, and a master of herding cats politely (getting the committee through a briefing without having them go too far off topic). And tolerant of the fact that, despite your brilliant piece of analysis, the actual decision on the item may well have been made at a meeting between the governor, the dept head, and two of the JBC members over dinner last night and you don’t know about it.

      Oddly enough, the reason that people who left after one session usually gave for their departure was that they found making decisions difficult. After laying out the various options for a particular decision and the pros and cons for each, you had to end with a formal statement of the form, “Staff recommends option (a).” Knowing that in some cases you were going to piss of the department, and a bunch of lobbyists, and by the time you got back to your office in ten minutes there would 20 messages about it waiting in voice mail. Interestingly, the Committee members never told the staff what to recommend. They might choose a different option; they might punt on the decision that day and send you off with a bunch of new questions to answer; but they never told you what answer they wanted you to get.Report

    • Avatar Barry in reply to NewDealer
      Ignored
      says:

      “Interestingly it seems that people here are thinking about this largely as engineers/computer programmers and/or for people who worked at large corporations.”

      It’s amazing how threads like this turn into 60% programming, 30% engineering, and 10% the Rest of the World.Report

  10. Avatar BlaiseP
    Ignored
    says:

    People are mostly hired for their technical ability and sacked for their personalities. I can’t speak to other professions than my own, software, but if a firm wants to hire for the long term it will train novices. I recommend an apprentice system, attaching a novice to a more senior person who can supervise their progress.

    Attempting to bring in someone with Qualifications is pretty much nonsense unless you want to bring in a consultant, in which case he’s solving a problem you can’t solve with your in-house talent. Every firm is different but I’ve yet to see anything good come of some Qualified Guy brought in from the outside to supervise long-termers who grew up in a given situation. The resulting resentment causes no end of trouble, even if the Qualified Guy means well and does a good job, technically. A firm is a society — with all that’s implied by a society.

    Respect is earned. There’s no simple way to earn it beyond doing what you’re told for a good long while, under the supervision of someone respectable. Nobody deserves respect just because he has a title.

    And you never know what you’re getting when you bring someone in: you might find the new hire is becoming a fine database analyst, that’s where his predilections run. Yet another hire shows promise as a performance tuner — that’s where she belongs. Encourage that sort of thing, people are different. It doesn’t take long to sort out these skills and preferences: if people are assigned to appropriate tasks, if the manager comes over and says “It’s obvious you’re making fine progress in this area, how would you feel about taking on these particular responsibilities?” — people will remember such an incident for the rest of their lives. Happened to me. I’ll bet it happened to you, too.

    As for the people who aren’t working out, as I said, most people are sacked for their personalities. They’re just not fitting in. They might fit in well somewhere else. Some people don’t belong in software, period — certain personality types will never do well in software. They might be better off in the server room or somewhere else. But when you’ve identified a problem person, they’re usually miserable anyway. You’re not doing them any favours letting them stick around.Report

    • Avatar Badtux in reply to BlaiseP
      Ignored
      says:

      Again, it all depends on the company. I was working for a company that clearly had incompetent leadership and where promoting any of that incompetent leadership to the top leadership position would just result in more incompetent leadership. We all breathed a sigh of relief when a guy with a proven track record from outside was hired as CEO and another guy with a proven track record from outside was hired as VP of Engineering. Because none of *us* wanted to be CEO or VP/Engineering, we wanted to produce product.

      It was a bit too late, alas, because the previous management had been so incompetent at managing the R&D process and the very bright people that had been hired to produce that product that the company had basically lost two years on the market. Two years is basically an eternity in the tech industry. So it goes.Report

      • Avatar Wyrmnax in reply to Badtux
        Ignored
        says:

        Here is a good read for you, Badtux:

        http://www.forbes.com/sites/drucker/2013/04/09/advice-from-a-billionaire/

        My father sent it to me a long time ago, and it stuck in my mind. I have been through so many places where that is clearly identifiable, and i believe you do too.

        People that are somewhat incompetent at their job try to keep a team of incompetents around them, because thats the way they get recognition – they are always the one “saving the day”, they become the “indispensable person’ on the team. On the other hand, people that are *very* competent at their jobs find out where they aren’t competent enough and hire the best they can for that area. Because hell, it would be much better if i did not have to spend time fixing someone else’s mistakes, or hand holding them and instead went about doing what i need to do. Whole team is much more productive.

        It sounds to me that you had people that were incompetent at the top of the food chain, and that can drag down a company *really* fast.Report

      • Avatar Badtux in reply to Badtux
        Ignored
        says:

        Our problem at that company was that it was Peter Principle all the way. The CEO had been competent as CTO at another company, but as CEO had risen above his level of competency. The CTO had never been competent, period, but had a reputation in the Valley as an “idea guy”. Well that was okay for ideas, but he was charged with coming up ways to implement them, and he was fail there. The first R&D manager had tried to get the development process reined in and focused but the very talented and experienced senior engineers who had been hired often ignored her because they were more experienced and had the ear of the CEO, The first VP of Engineering they hired had a nice resume but a) dismantled all the processes the first R&D manager had instituted (and drove her away), and b) didn’t replace them with anything. He not only didn’t know anything about how to create product, he didn’t *know* he didn’t know anything.

        What I came away with there was that some people may have been A players at a certain level, but once you promote them above their basic level of competence, they’re no longer A players. And I don’t buy that an A-player dentist could run a high tech company. I’ve seen that tried. The results generally aren’t very good, because he (or she) get snowed by the technical and marketing staff. He/she doesn’t need to be an engineer (probably shouldn’t be, for that matter, Steve Jobs wasn’t really an engineer but he did a pretty good job of being the uber-user that his company’s products had to satisfy), but needs to at least know something about the industry. I saw a garbage company CEO put in as CEO of a technology company once. Talk about disaster…Report

    • Avatar Badtux in reply to BlaiseP
      Ignored
      says:

      Oh, one more thing — here in the Silicon Valley, at least, companies have periodic layoffs, generally after a product cycle is finished or during one of the business-cycle-driven periodic downturns in company income. During that time, the weakest employees end up on the street since they were doing scutwork for stronger employees and that scutwork is no longer needed. So the fact that people are fired mostly only for personality reasons doesn’t mean they stay employed. At least, that’s the case here in the Silicon Valley.

      Regarding training people, two of our key engineers were originally hired as interns. What we look for there is a passion for technology. That passion will drive them to grow into a full time career. Without the passion, what you see is what you get — they’re never going to be more than what they are. We did not train these interns so much as we threw challenges at them and waited for them to rise to the challenge (or not) while offering sufficient help and advice that they could succeed if they had the passion to succeed. These two rose to the challenge. A number of other interns didn’t. So it goes.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Badtux
        Ignored
        says:

        One gig at HP taught me more than I ever wanted to know about Silicon Valley. It’s a hateful environment with all the charm of a mining boom town. The people are uniformly awful, varying between arrogant competence to the cheerful lunacy of incompetence. Neither love nor money would bring me back: loyalty and perseverance are not virtues in that place. It’s all about the stock options and the status symbols. Slaving away in the midst of paradise — even when people are out of their cubicles, there’s a note of tragic desperation to their funnin’ around. Tourists in their own lives, most of them. Silicon Valley chews them up and spits them out.

        A well-run software outfit has a fair bit of turnover. No getting around that fact. But if you want to engender loyalty in people, you’ll give them jobs worth doing. Yeah, there’s a lot of overtime at turns and you’ll eat more pizza than is good for anyone, strictly speaking. I like to joke about software projects, saying it’s rather like making a baby — it starts with a lot of sweet talk and a bottle of good wine in the back of a steak joint and ends about nine months later at three in the morning under bright fluorescent lights with a lot of screaming and blood on the floor — and then the maintenance cycle starts.

        It’s a rum business. More people ought to be consultants than are and fewer novices should be consultants — they’re the bane of my industry, a bunch of pimply-faced kids with a company laptop and a rental car and they couldn’t start the debugger if their lives depended on it. A host of predatory middlemen gouge the clients and skin the consultants.

        I have resorted to training novices and farming work out to them. I get them out of the local community technical college and train them right, find out what they’re any good at, utilise them appropriately. But I have five or six senior guys I turn to in a pinch, people I’ve worked with before, farming work out to them, knowing what they’re good at.

        Good coders are born, not made. That passion of which you speak can’t be instilled in anyone. When I’m interviewing people, that passion comes through. All I have to do is ask them “Okay, putting aside this particular gig, tell me what you’re really good at. It doesn’t have to be about software. Tell me what people are telling you you’re good at….” You’d be amazed at the responses I’ve gotten. I can suss out someone with passion, someone I can train, someone who will go on to better things, just from the response to that question.Report

      • Avatar Badtux in reply to Badtux
        Ignored
        says:

        HP is not the Silicon Valley. HP isn’t even *representative* of the Silicon Valley anymore. Furthermore, things have changed significantly here in the Valley over the past ten years. Things have gotten a bit more… mellow. I suspect the Millenials entering the workforce and refusing to accept the working environment of the previous generation is part of the reason for that. The fact that the previous generation is still around and is now, well, older, may also be part of it too. In any event, lots of things still happening here — over 50% of the patents issued in the USA came out of the SF Bay Area last year — and if you like doing cool things in technology, this is the place to do them.

        Stock options and status symbols… again, you seem stuck in the past there. When were you here, the dot-com boom? Yeah, things were crazy then. Today… not so much.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Badtux
        Ignored
        says:

        Heh. If you want to do cool things in technology, I would recommend staying away from Silicon Valley. My gig at HP was admittedly over ten years ago but I’ve been back since (a large database firm so well-larded with assholes they should go into the fertiliser business) and haven’t seen any improvement in the mentality.

        San Francisco is just plain annoying. What anyone sees in that burg I will never understand. Nice place to visit, yes, if you can stand the people. The entire ethos of the place is beyond me, something the Japanese call Ukiyo, the Floating World, a place of transience, nothing is constant but change. Goddamn earthquakes and floods and fires and overpriced everything — a demented frenzy of ersatz coolness and contrived wonderfulness and traffic jams and panhandlers. Ridiculous.

        Lots of patents, you say. Now there’s a yardstick for liveability for yez.Report

      • Avatar Badtux in reply to Badtux
        Ignored
        says:

        So let me get this straight. You worked for two of the companies *WELL KNOWN* as the most toxic environments in the Valley… and then generalize that to the whole Valley? The only thing that could have completed that trifeca would be if you had Cisco on your resume :).Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Badtux
        Ignored
        says:

        Well, over time, in the pursuit of Moneh, I found myself specialising to failure. I made a decision about seven years, repenting of my greed and avarice.

        I thrive in toxic environments. I am, if you haven’t figured this out for yourself, an Asshole’s Asshole. Anyone in my shadow I treat well enough. My clients think I’m great. It’s all quite professional and ethical and aboveboard. It’s just that I’ve become inured to the realities of my industry. I’m the guy you turn to when the project’s gone a million over budget and lies have been told and tempers are flaring and everyone is running around with his ass on fire. Forensic software development, if you will. I did some of that, early on, following a team of Big 8 accountants around, reconstructing both sets of books after frauds had been detected: they always get caught because both sets of books are wrong.

        Specialised to an ESB package which never worked right for a while. My team was, as far as I’ve been able to determine, the only people who could get it to work and we always killed it as soon as we got to the bottom of the problem, replacing it with an open source solution which did work reliably. Fucked up implementations? Incompetence and lies gettin’ told, deadlines not gettin’ met, malfeasance galore? I’m your guy.

        Maybe I should go out to Silicon Valley again, just to see what’s going on. It may have improved, as you say, for it could not get worse. But I like it here in Wisconsin during the summers and Lousiana treats me great in the winters and as long as I have a fat pipe connected to the Intertubes, I’m in business.Report

    • Avatar Wyrmnax in reply to BlaiseP
      Ignored
      says:

      “People are mostly hired for their technical ability and sacked for their personalities.”

      This is true.

      I think that the whole interview process is flawed exactly because of this. I have been through a lot of interviews in my life, and on almost all of them the interviewers try to find out more about what i did, what are my competences, what i know.

      And honestly, all of that in unnecessary.

      If you find a good employee, he will learn what he he needs during his first months. Never heard of C#, but have worked ith other computer languages? He will learn C# in little time. Never deboned a chicken, but is used to doing it with cows? Give him a few weeks and he will debone chickens as if he was born doing it. Not used to work with google spreadsheet but used microsoft excel? Again, couple weeks and he will be using the new tool.

      Experience is important? Yes, very. But not because he is “Used to the tool” like many fools in HR think, but because he has dealt with many different situation on his life, and has much more experience from where to take lessons when dealing with a difficult problem.

      But what you have done in detail is not really important. It is *much* more important if you will fit in in the company. HR interviews really should be about this – find out who that person is and if he will fit in the company. On his resume there should be enough information for you to know if he is qualified or not for the job. Only if it is a extremely techinical position then you might make sure that he worked with what you are proposing before.

      Good Joe that feels right at home on his new job will be *much* more productive than Expert Bob who can’t work with his boss.Report

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *