I suspect in addition to not having the "stomach" for an unlimited number of interviews, they don't have the vacation days to burn for them. Let's say you are working already and have 10 days a year vacation (pretty standard). With these ridiculous all-day interviews, you have the ability to waste that vacation on a maximum of 10 companies, and that's if you choose not to take any "real" vacation at all during the year.
In an environment like today, where every company is ostensibly hiring yet overly picky, a job candidate potentially will waste their entire PTO balance on interviewing with companies serious about interviewing but not serious about hiring.
After wasting about half of my vacation time on (multiple) rounds of interviews with each prospective employer (that ultimately lead nowhere -- most often, a potential employer who inexplicably stops communicating with me), I give up.
Then, when I need to find a new job (project/contract ending, etc.), I do the safe thing and apply to other defense companies, because getting an interview almost always results in an offer (and no multiple-rounds of white-board hazing either). After a while at the new job I'll start looking outside the industry again --- and promptly get pounded back into my pigeonhole :)
Heh. I'm going to squirrel that one away for later. It beautifully captures what's currently thought of as a best practice in tech interviewing.
there are two types of whiteboarding questions. The kind that's a perfectly reasonable thing to ask (i've had people ask me to develop some simple system... which I think is reasonable, because i'll do that as part of the job)
but then there's the solve x algorithm questions. Which ultimately is an exercise in memorization. At this point I've just accepted that i'll have to do that.
I mean, whether or not the company actually values the underlying non-memorization skill is another question (as someone who is very strong in that skill, I think that most companies/roles do not have a use for that, and should not test for that).
But the main argument against whiteboard coding applies equally to both kinds of questions. That argument is that it's a psychologically unrealistic environment, and that the main signal you get from such questions is whether or not the interviewee is psychologically comfortable under this particular artificial form of pressure. Does this generalize to other types of pressure? Does it generalize to the work environment at large?
I mean, me personally, I love whiteboard questions of either kind. Wheee. But I'm not convinced that the tech sector should use my hobby as the ultimate test of employability.
(PS: and for good engineers who are bad at whiteboarding in interviews, I'm available for coaching, heh)
I feel the same way about algorithm puzzle type interviews.
Do I think algorithm questions predict how well you do on a job? No. However I certainly don't think they are just memorization unless you mean memorizing run time of various data structure operations, but that's actually useful to know.
Personally I prefer (as both interviewer and interviewee) a weekend project style format -- pick your IDE, language, have time flexibility, etc.
We've all been in that interview with the one jerk engineer who seems to want to hear themselves talk more than honestly walk through a problem. (Hint: it tends to be the person who offers "Well, that's not the way I would have done it" as a negative and without further explanation)
The only thing I've found that does work is asking them about problems they've encountered/solved before, and then maybe have them write out something from them on the board. This gives pretty decent insight into their problem solving process.
Pedantic (but hey this is HN), but I don't think algorithms are a question of memorization all the time. Sure, "implement quicksort" is a bit silly, but "rotate this binary tree" is eminently reasonable as a shibboleth to comfort with data structures
Agree about it not being super useful for a lot of interviews though.
And all three jobs have been engineering positions.
Now, several years ago when I interviewed with a frickin' huge aerospace company who shall remain nameless, my experience was similar to yours. The interview was a panel-style discussion with the hiring manager and several engineers. They had to follow a script given to them by HR and ask every candidate exactly the same questions in exactly the same way. It was.... surreal. At one point I was asked something along the lines of (my memory is a bit hazy here) "Describe a time when workplace diversity significantly contributed to the accomplishment of a challenging project."
"Oookay. Uh... Well.... Uh... So... Hmm...," and so on and so forth.
And yes, I'm already in the exact scenario you say I shouldn't be able to handle.
I code for fun in Ada.
I left feeling very confused, but after I received the offer, I realized it was basically a grunt work position, despite what the original job listing said.
I once interviewed with Amazon and after flying out and doing the interview I'm told that they liked me but I wasn't a fit for the team and could interview with another team without a delay and they'd even help me figure out the team to interview with. But why would I waste my time again taking days off to fly out and either not pass the interview or interview with the "wrong team" again?
When I interviewed at Microsoft it was a pretty positive experience aside from one person and while I certainly wasn't upset about not getting the position I was told they had 100 people interviewing in person for a single position (supposedly almost 1,000 applications). Great odds for Microsoft but for me taking 3 days off work to do it? Great experience but I'm not sure I'd do it again so easily.
Universally I've found that by being a little bit picky you filter out the people who aren't serious... and a lot of people aren't "serious". They might seriously want someone but they have no capability to identify that person accurately when they have found them.
My Euro-biased perspective is for the job to be something that you don't actively hate doing. The fun stuff(hobbies, family, etc) can be done outside of that.
Learning to quit a job you hate and to save money are both vey useful skills on their own. In reality, it might just take a few weeks of intense effort to find a new job in a different field - but it's always good to have a buffer, especially if you want to re-skill to a completely different field.
Reply to below: Most companies have me do at least one non-technical system design and/or talk-about-a-project interview.
Seriously. I've been working for startups and starting companies for 26 years, and for half that time I've been building teams. I stopped asking people to code a long time ago. If they can't code it will be obvious by their answers to your questions (And I'm not talking about coding brain teasers either.)
Ask them about a project they worked on and to explain to you how it worked. That's sufficient.
I think the reason you whiteboard for google interviews because you will necessarily be a cog in a wheel, and the focus of the cog is to code.
At smaller companies / startups, you will potentially be expected to design, architect, gather requirements, code, etc.
(Interviewing is still somewhat silly.)
When I interview people, I start by asking the interviewee to tell me his/her background, then start conversation about things they just told me. If they mention Ansible I expect them to be able to answer a few technical questions regarding Ansible. If the mention they have Python experience, I expect them to be able to read some code and tell me if they spot a bug or if they knew a solution to the problem. I expect some side conversation like "actually there is a bunch thunder methods in Python, etc" (which is actually related to the question). If you just answer the question, that's boring. There is a skill in interview. You need to make the person enjoy talking to you at work. We are not robot.
I don't care if the person can implement heap or not. If you use a tool enough, you need to go beyond syntax. If you can't show me how you would debug the code, the interview would end there. print, dir with print, pdb, interpreter, whatever. Coding question can help eliminate candidates who are strong in communication but with weak technical skill.
Some candidates think they can code, but they cannot structure the code to make the code usable, and that's a red flag. For the position we want, we are not looking for scripting monkey.
If I am hiring a senior position for the team, I expect to have system design conversation. The last thing I ask is whether the interviewee has done any side projects. I don't penalize people for not having a github/bitbucket account, but would be a huge plus during the evaluation.
Anyway, mileage is different for different position.
Fizzbuzz is an absolutely necessary filter, or you will accidentally hire these people.
Most of the better interviewers work to understand how the candidate thinks and their aptitude to learn new things. Those can tell you a lot about how successful they will be in a job. And folks have shown that take home projects can show you what they can get done.
I found it interesting to compare the company's interviewer training at Google and at IBM. IBM is focused on finding highly qualified people compatible with their values, Google was more interested in finding people who were not intimidated by "impossible" questions. Both have their strengths.
Anyway, I disagree with you. Though I'm not saying your process is bad.
There's a reason I asked MCRed. He has a unique perspective on this that I value.
How would you screen such a person out?
If they don't make you write any code, do not work there: you might end up working with people who can't write code---because the application process doesn't filter those bozos out.
(Doesn't have to be `write code on a whiteboard'. Whiteboarding is actually pretty artificial. Just make sure they do make you write code at all.)
I suspect much of the initial bias and "hard line" preferences are due to a startup's unwillingness to spend inordinate amounts of time interviewing candidates to find that one diamond in the rough.
Imagine 4 of every 10 "academic programmer" candidates are a good fit, and 6 of 10 "product programmer" candidates are a good fit. Why waste time interviewing 10 academic programmers, for a max hit rate of 40%, when you could focus solely on product programmers and get a max hit rate of 60%?
This data certainly suggests that different founders have their own biases and preferences for what makes a "good programmer." Most of them probably realize they are pigeonholing and could be wrong, but they're willing to risk that for more efficient interviewing and a high hit rate.
Stick with what you know if it's "good enough." Optimally, as a founder you can already identify multiple potential early hires just from your own network. If you have the right background and connections, you can hire your first couple employees without doing a single interview.
Time is money. Interviews take time and cost money.
Imagine how mistaken that would sound if you substitute "startup founders" for "programmers."
The reason you feel company filters are anything except random noise is personal bias. It's disheartening that your article notices that company preferences are essentially random noise, and then you don't really internalize that fact or take it to its logical conclusion:
Interviews where programmers do anything except work-hire tests tuned to the signal that the companies want are doomed to fail.
And it's almost impossible to do a work-hire test in an interview. A real work-hire test. The type of test where you actually do some work and then show that yours is effective.
We're so backwards that people probably read this and think I'm saying whiteboard work or something stupid like that. No. Real, actual work. The problem you're working on can be fake, but the problem needs to be literally the same type of thing that the company does on a day-to-day basis.
Want a 100% success rate? Do that, and then don't pay attention to anything but the results. Including whether the candidate has an MIT degree, or any degree at all. If you actually set up a work-hire test, a real one, and then stop asking about all the other stuff that doesn't matter, then you will get a 100% rate. Again, you have to tune the test to what the company is looking for, but that's not hard. "Here is an iOS app. Find and fix these bugs, then add a new feature."
You are 100% correct that most research into interviewing has show it to be far less predictive than companies believe. However, I'll add that no one is doing the false negative studies that would really be required to show this. For example, Google has shown that among people who pass their interview GPA is not correlated with success. This does not at all mean that GPA is not correlated with programming ability. In fact, it almost certainly is. People with low GPA who pass google interviews have a lot of other things going for them. To really analyze this, you'd have to give a job to a random sample of applicants. No one has done this. My goal is for Triplebye to get large enough that I can.
Not for coding specifically, but there have been some studies correlating GPA with career success, and the correlation has been found to be very low. But the reason there are very few studies that look at this is that GPA A) isn't epistemologically meaningful B) isn't a measure in the mathematical sense.
"A grade can be regarded only as an inadequate report of an inaccurate judgment by a biased and variable judge of the extent to which a student has attained an undefined level of mastery of an unknown proportion of an indefinite amount of material." -Paul Dressel
Why do you think the programmer from your article didn't get a job when you "sat back to watch him get a job"? You didn't tune your test to what the company was looking for.
Any YC founders who are reading this: Refuse to talk to Triplebyte until they set up a work hire test for your company. Force them to do it, and force them to work with you to tune the test to the work you need. You will get a 100% hit rate. And you'll notice something else: Your retention rate will go way, way up. Want to not deal with firing people? Get them to show you they can do the work. Nothing else matters.
The test needs to be set up so that the candidate can demonstrate they can do exactly the same things all other employees do on a day-to-day basis, or it's not a work-hire test.
If only it were that easy. I am not at all opposed to work-trial tests. They are almost certainly more accurate. But a high percentage of programmer will never apply to a company that requires one. Read any HN comment thread about the topic. It's very controversial. Lots of programmers are against it. Work-trials require MORE time upfront from the candidate, and of course still often lead to rejections (by design a hiring filter rejects most people). A failed work trial burns an entire week of vacation. An unemployed programmer (who is being paid the work-trial) may like it, but someone working another job may not.
sillysaurus3: "Spend a couple hours remotely fixing some bugs and adding a feature on a fake iOS app"
ammon: "A failed work trial burns an entire week of vacation."
You're not talking about the same thing!
sillysaurus3 is talking about doing a small amount of work that is similar to what the company does, under conditions similar to those you would have as an employee. You seem to be talking about short trial period contract-to-hire. Yes, the thing you're talking about sucks and is a huge turnoff to candidates, but (mostly speaking for myself here) what sillysaurus3 is suggesting is massively appealing.
But if your biggest objection is that it will take additional time, that depends entirely on the nature of the trial. I was given a work trial at my first job and it took about 40 minutes. It didn't go as smoothly as I'd hoped, but I would much much rather have done that than spent 40 minutes answering brain teasers in front of a white board.
If I'm already taking a day off, I don't care if the interview lasts three hours or five. I'd rather work on a collaborative task with my potential teammates to see if it's going to be worth radically altering my life to take a new job. I understand that there are many programmers who are opposed to work trials, and they can say "I'm opposed to work trials and would rather demonstrate my abilities in another way."
It seems like your research so far has been very comprehensive, why dismiss an effective technique because some people are opposed to it?
No vacation days burned. No money lost.
Ammon mentioned Weebly, above. They are one company that I've seen require an on-site week as a contractor. I know of a Weebly candidate who lost her current job because the employer considered the leave to be job abandonment. Thankfully, she got the job at Weebly. Perhaps Weebly's weeklong trial is effective for them at weeding out bad hires. But I suspect most good programmers would never consider giving up a week of their lives to an extended job interview.
And I wasn't suggesting job abandonment. Asking for a week of unpaid vacation is a different conversation than asking for a week of paid vacation.
Only if they don't need you and think you are not being productive. So be needed and be productive.
> This was a tough decision and one that we were on the fence about. We really appreciate you taking the time to work on the take home project. We're aware this requires a substantial time commitment and we are really grateful that you invested the time in completing it. We thought you wrote a great, very full featured [trial project]. It was especially impressive how much you dug into the academics behind [the project].
> However we made the decision because we felt that while going through the project together during the interview, we didn't see the fluency of programming when adding to it that we had hoped for. While we specifically designed the take home project track to help overcome the difficulties of coding under time pressure with someone watching, we do still need to see a certain level of programming during the interview. This didn't seem to be the case here, where making changes to the project seemed to be slower and more difficult than we'd have liked.
tptacek had some advice for hiring-through-a-work-test that I (from my armchair) agree with, which is that it's important to give everyone the same work test so your applicants are comparable. There's a little bit of tension (I don't think it's unresolvable) between that and "The test needs to be set up so that the candidate can demonstrate they can do exactly the same things all other employees do on a day-to-day basis, or it's not a work-hire test".
A friend of mine's company usually sends out a little canvas-based browser paint app with a bunch of features, and asks them to implement a few things, like flood fill. It's really enjoyable.
Unfortunately, they then flew me out to their office, whiteboard hazed me, and sent me home. Called me a few weeks later to tell me I didn't get the job, but that they sent me a hoodie in the mail (felt like a consolation prize).
It's a pretty comfy hoodie. They spent that VC money well.
I identify with the "product engineer" concept they outlined, I want to talk UX and user testing in an interview not prove I can understand someone else's code base. Honestly many companies will get far more value of a programmer who has user sympathy and writes user-friendly applications than one who writes a fully tested, bug free and technically sexy app which users don't want to use.
I'm not the best programmer, but I'm comfortable I'd slot in the top quintile, probably top ten percent, of people that walk through a startup's door. And I'd never even return your call. No work-sample test I've ever seen would take less than four hours. That's a $550 opportunity cost for me at my standard rates. What the hell makes you think you deserve that for free? You aren't Google and you aren't Facebook. You need me more than I need you. And almost everybody else who's like you--and given the way you are acting, probably you too--will forget about me or blow me off at some point in the process, wasting my time even further.
On the other hand, an in-person, discussion-based interview isn't work and isn't priced as work; not only does it tells me about the company and whether or not I actually want to work there, but I enjoy meeting new people in a professional setting (there are multiple companies where I've turned them down, but have become friends with people I've met through the process!).
Look at my Github and decide if I can hack if you want, that's why it's there, but I don't work on effing spec.
I'm very old and out of the loop, I have no idea what modern work-sample tests look like. I remember when I did one many years ago it was to the effect of "Write a script that checks to see if a URL returns a valid response code, and trigger an event if it does not". My prospective employer liked my coding style and I got hired. What was so wrong about that?
As I recall, they intended to modify the script and use it in production whether they hired me or not. I also don't care about that. It took less than an hour, and it seemed like a valid form of evaluation. Maybe it's a pride thing, but I had no problem with it and I think a lot of other people would have been ok with that practice as well.
If a company wanted to pay you for that work-sample test, that's different. But they don't, of course, because that costs them money instead of costing you. There's no need to let profit-seeking entities use you for nothing. You just don't need to be their monkey.
You made this exact case yourself in a related comment, in which you called meeting people business development. I agree there's a non-zero distinction here between work-hire-test and consulting-about-consulting, but claiming that the issue is that "you shouldn't work for free" is misleading.
Also, you suggest that if they pay, that costs them instead of costing you. It already costs them more to interview than it costs you. But sure, if making sure they don't get any benefit out of their relationship with you unless you get benefit too, tell them you'll only do a work-hire if they make a donation to the EFF in the value of your hourly rate.
Of course. That's the sit-down-and-chat "interview". But lawyers don't draft up a contract for you to demonstrate that they can write up a contract to your satisfaction. If you want a lawyer's expertise applied concretely to something of your direction, you pay. And while lawyers do have bar exams, they don't have a very detailed demonstration of their work up on Lawhub for your perusal!
> I agree there's a non-zero distinction here between work-hire-test and consulting-about-consulting, but claiming that the issue is that "you shouldn't work for free" is misleading.
I think it's misleading only if you consider the beneficiary of that work to be the same in both cases. I don't. The only beneficiary of every work-sample test I've ever been given was the company--it goes into some black hole and whether it was even good or not, to say nothing of any actionable feedback, has literally-literally never been forthcoming. On the other hand, I have very rarely not benefited in some way from sitting down and chatting with a technical leader at a company, whether it was directly about their problems (or their solutions!) or about tech in general. Both in a consulting-about-consulting capacity and an interview one.
> Also, you suggest that if they pay, that costs them instead of costing you. It already costs them more to interview than it costs you.
In an absolute sense, it definitely costs them more. In a relative one, it emphatically does not: they've got plenty of bodies that can parallelize. I can be interviewing with them, or I can be working, or I can be mopping my bathroom floor. I can't be doing all of those things at once.
*The primary beneficiary being you, if you're a top-10% programmer: It gives you a better chance to accurately show off your ability, which is probably worth thousands of dollars in salary.
But the alternative--it's not the whiteboard, it's the meeting people. Right now, I consult, but I do take interviews for "permanent positions". But we all know they aren't actually permanent positions. The last thirty years of corporatism have made this loud and clear: we are all expendable tools. and I go into them with that in mind: a W-2 doesn't mean I'm anything other than working for a client under a tax-advantageous status. Interviews are business development; I am effectively offering my exclusive services on retainer to a single company. So meeting people to discuss the gig (whether or not the whiteboard comes into play, the only interview I've been on in the last two years where I was both interested in the company and wrote code on the board was Google) benefits me, too: maybe it's not a fit, but maybe I meet somebody I'll remember as "hey, I'd like to work with them again." Or "hey, I don't want to work here, but I know somebody who will, so I can do them a solid and they can help me in the future."
So, yeah, it is work. It's just business development, which is a different, and valuable, kind of work. And it applies to everybody, not just consultants; it's the game we're all playing even if one doesn't realize they're playing it.
(Disclaimer: I strongly prefer to quit my current job before looking for new jobs. If that weren't the case, I'm sure I would be more sensitive to anything that takes time, but I think I would still feel this way.)
Look at the opportunity costs: what if you could spend the time they want you to give them, for free, building something not only personally creditable but maybe even generally useful on Github? If you're good enough to show off, as you suggest, then your time is valuable enough that it should be respected. (A work-sample test that's a useful, valuable problem and can be open-sourced? I'd be down for that. But that would be haaaaard.)
If companies were cold emailing me on LinkedIn asking me to do their two hour project, I would not do it, but neither would I bother going to interview with them. Given that I'm already cherry-picking which companies I care about, I don't mind investing some time to make them care about me.
EDIT: I agree that it would be nicer to spend time doing something really useful. I hope that if I handed them a FOSS thingy that was representative of my ability, that these same companies would respect that in lieu of their work sample -- although standardization is valuable for evaluation purposes, so I can understand if they wouldn't. (I just did the projects they suggested because I thought they sounded fun.)
(Right now, I'm helping out a few days a week over at a fairly large Boston startup, and while they have a general work-sample test that they roll out, I never took it. I probably wouldn't have followed up past the initial phone call if a monkey dance was necessary to get in the door.)
It was fun, and more profitable than a free boring discussion-based interview.
Do we care about equality, or not? I tried not mentionining this aspect, hoping people would realize on their own. But a remote work hire test is also mostly anonymous. It doesn't matter whether you're black, white, male, or female. All that matters is whether you can do the work.
On the flipside, what you're saying is that you genuinely want to spend a vacation day meeting a new company instead of with your family or working on your own projects.
And it's like, if you think you're a good dev, why wouldn't you leap at the opportunity to show it off? I get that it's a little annoying to spend a few hours on it, but the standard interview is literally random noise. Why subject your future to a random process?
I don't know. I respect your view. I'm going to bow out now. Have a good week.
And, FWIW, when salaried, I not once have taken a vacation day to interview. I've said "hey, I'll be in late," and because this industry is so deranged as to think that 50+-hour weeks are normal, no manager has had the temerity to get mad at me for taking a morning off because invariably it will be cashed in when I have to pull a sixteen-hour day to deal with a problem. (The days around Heartbleed earned me some goodwill at that gig, if you follow!)
The typical cost of hiring a programer is way higher than that, more like $30k I'd guess so they could always try paying you $550 to do something semi real? I'm not experienced but I've got a friend who hires remote workers and he says the only way to tell if they are good is to actually hire them to do a small job.
Not really. The best programmers have other stuff to do besides your make-work silliness.
"Get them to show you they can do the work. Nothing else matters."
This is even more silliness. Suppose you have a diverse team, and the a candidate comes up, and passes the test, but is Donald Trump. Are you then going to say that only the work matters?
All 3 ended up being very valuable and 2 of them stayed on well beyond their internship.
Oh, and these projects were done from home before we ever brought them in for an interview and we hired them before ever meeting them.
The effort required to administer an on-site work-hire test is non-zero, therefore I cannot administer such a test to every applicant.
I therefore need a way to determine who to bring on-site, in order to administer such a test. I cannot phone screen every single applicant due to the cost involved.
That process could also be a work-hire test of some sort (e.g. a remote coding project), but regardless of what has been said on this thread, many good applicants will drop off at this step. I know this empirically, because I've experienced it, many, many times.
Additionally, the people who tend to drop off because of this extra effort tend to be senior applicants, who often have multiple offers from multiple companies due to the competiveness of the current hiring market. It also disproportionately drives away passive candidates, who are often the best candidates, because the best candidates are often not looking for work (since they are good, people who have worked with them previously want to work with them again, and they get poached).
So I need some method of sourcing and filtering candidates down that is non-intrusive to both our development team AND the applicant. This is the reality. This simply has to happen in a startup's hiring pipeline.
Currently, most companies do this by looking at resumes. That is obviously sub-optimal.
Any suggestions for alternatives?
Try segmenting potential hires into different categories and using different strategies for each group. You should also clearly communicate the process, so they don't get the wrong idea.
>Additionally, the people who tend to drop off because of this extra effort tend to be senior applicants
Is this before or after the phone screen? If they think the work-hire test is going to be in addition to a phone screen and an on-site whiteboard session, they'll drop. If they're senior devs, you should be able to tell from their resumes. Do a phone screen, and if they pass, explain that they can either do a work-hire test or a whiteboarding session. Explain that the work-hire test should be doable in 4 hours, so they don't envision a week long project. Also explain that it's a substitute for the whiteboard portion of the on-site. People who tend to hate whiteboard coding will choose the work-hire test and vice versa.
If you're trying to find diamonds in the rough among junior talent, sending out a first-pass work-hire test might work. You'd still get better results if you explained that it was short and a substitute for the onsite whiteboard session.
Set up a system that can spin up a droplet for a remote candidate. Any time a candidate expresses interest in your company, spin up an instance and email them a link to it.
What does the link do? That depends on your company. Are you making an iOS app? Then the link takes them to where they can download source code for a fake, hypothetical iOS app. It says "X, Y, and Z bugs exist. Find them and fix them. Then add a feature: here is a clear description of what to add."
When the candidate is done doing this, they zip up their code and send it back to you.
If it sounds way more effective to look at that than to look at resumes, it is. If it sounds like it will repel candidates, well... Two things. First, if you're chasing a specific developer, then that isn't really the normal hiring process. You want them already. This pipeline is for everyone else. It makes no sense to subject them to a work hire test when you're actively seeking them out.
Here's the other point. The type of candidates you will find with this method will shock you. They will be so skilled that it won't matter whether they're called a senior or fresh out of college. You'll know immediately that you want them.
Everything I've described up to this point is a remote process. There is no on-site work hire test. By the time they come on site, you're mainly checking they can show up, and telling them about your company. You're no longer trying to filter them based on ability; they already demonstrated it.
Let's say your company's website is the primary focus, not an iOS app. Ok. The link will take the candidate to a hypothetical, fake website built with a similar framework. Again, it will have multiple bugs and a missing feature. Tell them what the bugs are, and tell them what the feature needs to do. Then have them send you their code when they're done.
I feel like at this point no one will even try to do this. You can think of so many reasons not to try: it takes too much work, it will scare too many people off, it will... Etc.
These reasons turn out to be largely fake or mistaken. Try it. Invest the resources to build this pipeline, tell HN when it's ready, and you win.
If this sounds prohibitive or unlikely, remember how counter-intuitive the most effective techniques in life are. Penicillin was discovered by accident. It sounds pretty unlikely that it would work. Same deal here.
I've explained this as clearly as I can. It's up to everyone else to either try it or to watch others win after they try it. Because the filter I've explained is the only way to let talent find you.
The type of people you'll discover will range from passive people who found the process amusing, to well-off senior developers who are demonstrating why you should pay them X equity or Y salary, to high school dropouts who turn out to be one of the most valuable people that join your team.
I'm not even going to touch the topic of what tech companies currently do. It doesn't matter. I've described what works, and if whoever reads this suppresses their instincts and builds this, they will discover it's practically the key to winning.
I don't hire programmers, but have been a hiring manager, running fairly technical business teams now for 10+ years, and have found that initiative is often the deciding factor in any given employee's success.
There are other ways to select for it, and clues you start to pick up on over the years, but once you've figured out how to gauge relative levels of initiative across different people, I've found it makes hiring/resourcing questions quite a bit easier.
We've evolved the same process in my own startup - in the last 2 months we've hired 5 remote programmers in Vietnam and India by giving them 2 rounds of remote work-sample tasks (a simple web app), then ending off with a text or voice interview. We ended up retaining 2 out of 5 of them (both Vietnamese, incidentally) who demonstrated a higher level of ability after they started.
The retention rate is low, so we've been tightening up the process. What we've found is that we probably needed to raise the bar a little by asking candidates to design and architect a feature (DB-backend-frontend) during the chat interview. That would have given us a better insight into their code structuring and teamwork/communication skills.
We've just brought on a 3rd hire (Vietnamese again) who passed our improved interview, and I have a good feeling that the process works very well to weed out candidates who don't have the needed level of ability and scrupulousness.
The best of our hires didn't attend college or have much relevant experience, but was clearly very capable and possessed great initiative. We're really glad to have managed to hire him. Another guy is finishing his 3rd year of college.
In summary, I think remote work-sample tests are fantastic, and I hope you're right that they're the key to winning :)
So this 2 hour work-hire test that narrowly focuses on specific tools and platform won't work for vast majority of programmers who haven't branded themselves in to one narrow area. Also remember that a lot of programmers at places like Google, FB and Microsoft work in highly proprietory environment with their own internal build system, platforms and tools. They are likely not familiar with everything that's latest and in fashion. However they are very smart people, can change gear easily and, most importantly, ramp up on demand very quickly.
Yet another big issue is that work-hire test usually fail to measure hardcore computer science problem solving abilities. Sure, you are good at fixing some iOS bugs but can you figure out how to do driving directions on maps or may be scale email system to 100 million users? Now I do agree that lot of jobs don't require hard core CS but many do. And for a startup, it's usually impossible to tell if your future 6 month down the line will hing on having someone with hard core CS skills.
As far as hardcore computer science abilities, a test still won't help, because what you are really testing is how far people are from college: Generalist cs is touched in college, but there are entire sections of computer science that someone with 10 years of experience might not have had to touch. I've had to do pretty specific CS stuff for work, but to get any of that done, I started with weeks of research, and then add my own spin to our specific situation top. You can't test the ability to do that by just checking if someone has memorized Raft, or black red trees, or any other random problem. I don't have a lot of CS algorithms memorized: that's why there's the internet, and why I have Knuth in my shelf.
You want to check for hard cs, ask the candidate to choose his favorite CS topic, and ask for am impromptu presentation on that. anything else is just going to fail at finding candidates that have different backgrounds than you, and that's PRECISELY the people you want to hire.
Isn't that pretty common among incubators and VCs? It's not the only factor, but for first-time founders, being from Stanford is a large plus when it comes to getting in the door. If you already have a track record then of course they just go by that. But when it's your first company, I don't think the "startup ecosystem" is any less reliant on these kinds of signalling credentials to filter the large volume of people who want funding.
I'm assuming if it was a fake problem, it wouldn't be something the other company could actually use.
One thing to realize is that your employer can't really retaliate. The hypothetical iOS app I mentioned is set up for one purpose: to let candidates show they can do work the company is looking for. Not only will the code be thrown away, but it wouldn't make any sense to use it.
Uh are you sure about that? Google's experience seems to be that academic achievement is not a good predictor. And they know a thing or two about hiring.
$20 buys you a copy of "The Who" book, which is a proven, scalable system with specific questions to ask at each step of the interview process....
Now I have a rule that I will interview with ONE company at a time. Consequently, I am very careful about picking which companies I will interview with.
Yikes, are people really doing this, or feel like they must?
If I'm interviewing, I expect to be asked about previous projects, maybe my Github portfolio, and so on. I also expect to be asked how I might approach a given problem within my area of work. I can't imagine studying that - I'm paid to do this stuff every day.
So are we talking about stuff that isn't related to my area of work, like brain-teasers and random algorithm questions?
It is not enough to be able to implement quicksort. One must have the algorithm thoroughly memorized so that it can be scrawled onto the whiteboard in one smooth motion of the dry-erase pen. If you pause to say "hmm..." while re-deriving quicksort on the spot, you will be branded as "slow" and obviously inferior to the candidate who spent three days bashing his/her head against an algorithms textbook.
I'm suspecting that this is a "Valley" thing, would that be wrong?
>It is not enough to be able to implement quicksort. One must have the algorithm thoroughly memorized so that it can be scrawled onto the whiteboard in one smooth motion of the dry-erase pen. If you pause to say "hmm..." while re-deriving quicksort on the spot, you will be branded as "slow" and obviously inferior to the candidate who spent three days bashing his/her head against an algorithms textbook.
If someone has years of experience in this field, and a strong portfolio, why would they need to remember how to do quicksort? They probably haven't done it since their university days. That shouldn't even remotely be the focus of an interview for someone who has done real work in this industry.
>If someone has years of experience in their field and a strong portfolio
Well, the problem is that quite a lot of programmers don't have portfolios outside of work. I certainly don't. I mean, I have a Github, true, but there's not really anything on there except for a bunch of half-finished experiments. Honestly, I don't have the energy to spend 8 hours a day immersed in programming, and then come home and spend one to two hours more building up my portfolio. Maybe that makes me a "bad" programmer, by some definitions.
The last time I had to write anything on a whiteboard in an interview, it was a data model relating to the work I'd be doing. I felt it was relevant to the process, at the time. If it weren't I'd feel like my valuable time (as well as theirs) was being wasted. But I suppose this comes down to what a company wants. If they just want people who are generally smart, and can be ramped up on the company's tech stack, fair enough. But some companies need to hire people who can hit the ground running. Much of my contracting has been done on such a basis.
>Well, the problem is that quite a lot of programmers don't have portfolios outside of work. I certainly don't. I mean, I have a Github, true, but there's not really anything on there except for a bunch of half-finished experiments. Honestly, I don't have the energy to spend 8 hours a day immersed in programming, and then come home and spend one to two hours more building up my portfolio. Maybe that makes me a "bad" programmer, by some definitions.
Your portfolio need not be only Github work. Barring an NDA, you can certainly discuss your professional work. In fact, I want to be asked about it during my interviews, as it forms the basis of my experience (which in theory is a big part of why I'm there in the interview room!).
Ask the candidate "Tell me about a project you're passionate about". Find out why. Get them to explain a hard problem they solved. Get them to teach it to you so you understand it.
Find the candidate that can do that and that gives you a good answer and you find a candidate who is passionate about something and can communicate it and understood it well enough to relate it in detail to you on the spot. That's the one to hire.
not the one who memorized quick sort... the former can implement a new quicsort.... the other one will spend all his time on stack overflow asking others to do his work.
I guess Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook and Dropbox are all low quality companies, then.
One problem that seems pervasive on hacker news is Cargo Cultism. Just because one of those companies does something does not mean that it's a good thing. Some of those companies have really capricious and arbitrary hiring policies.
Don't get starry eyed. Don't confuse a household name for quality. And don't mindlessly copy the broken system of a fortune 500 company for your startup.
I'm an engineer, I'm not just pulling this out of my ass. I've been conducting thousands of interviews over the past decades and had to manage the people I hired with my process.
And yeah, again YMMV, but you definitely do need to largely solve the problem, so speed absolutely does matter here.
The really frustrating thing about all this is that if the experience causes you to go back, study algorithms, buy cracking the coding interview, and getting incredibly good at these questions, your next interview will involve… detailed questions about ruby syntax, followed by another interview with questions about how the JVM works, followed by another interview with questions about how MapReduce works.
Not saying this is good or bad, just that this is how it is, at least at the harder interviews.
Based on the final paragraph, it looks like triple byte does see the market opportunity here. The frustrating moving target of interview questions could correlate very well with what type of programmers a company is looking for. Considering that every interview requires a day (or more) off and a stressful and mentally taxing series of in-person exams, there's only so much one candidate can take before giving up and just staying in his or her job (assuming the candidate is currently employed). So if a company becomes aware of how to align candidate type with interview path, if you can line up with the algorithms style interviews, the person can slowly learn until getting a job offer, rather than experiencing a reset button. I wish them luck with this, because they'd be adding real value to a developer's job search, which isn't something devs typically expect from a recruiter.
If at an interview they asked/expected that of me, it would promptly disinterest me in working for them. And I'd probably tell them that right there.
Optimizing for memorization of specific algorithms (of sorting even?) instead of problem-solving and domain-knowledge is quite a weird/perverse incentive. I'm surprised it's gotten this far, if it is true. The places I've interviewed generally ask prior experience, talk about solutions and approaches, and theoretical OO-questions of the fizz-buzz level just to be sure.
I interviewed for jobs recently, and I studied my ass off for 6+ weeks, every night doing different coding questions, and spending weekends learning new things and coding algorithms for 6-8 hrs a a day.
It paid off, I got multiple job offers, and am pretty happy with the end result.
Indeed, I don't. I even asked, in one of my replies, if this was a "Valley" thing.
I'm ok with being asked to code or write things out during interviews - that is, if it is pertinent to the job I'll be performing. If I'm expected to do complex DB queries, for example, it is reasonable to see if I can write one. If I've been doing it for years, I should be able to handle such a task.
>I interviewed for jobs recently, and I studied my ass off for 6+ weeks, every night doing different coding questions, and spending weekends learning new things and coding algorithms for 6-8 hrs a a day.
But this... this seems more appropriate in the context of a university exam than a job in real-world software development. As I said in elsewhere in this thread, I can understand asking such questions of a prospective junior developer, as they won't have much experience, and the CS 101 material may be fresher in their mind.
>If I'm interviewing, I expect to be asked about previous projects, maybe my Github portfolio, and so on.
Oh. Well you are in for a big surprise if you interview at 90% of tech companies.
Not at all. For a junior position. But that's a difference of opinion with which we may have to live. For more experienced candidates, I'd be far more interested in what they've done to apply their knowledge in real-world scenarios. I need them to be able to do more than hypotheticals.
>I would never work for a company that didn't ask engineer candidates those questions.
And that's fine. Small point to add: I see at least one regional difference, with regards to the terms being used - I never see software developers called "engineers" unless they have an engineering degree. Maybe that's just my part of Canada, I don't know. Perhaps it is more of a protected term here.
For example, in 2001, Microsoft apparently agreed that in Canada, they would only use the acronym "MCSE", and not spell it out, because holding an MCSE does not make you an engineer.
I think it's amusing and cute that American developers call themselves engineers. It's not like they take on the ethical responsibilities that engineers do. But when in Rome, speak Romansh. Or however that goes.
Problem is there is such a wide variety of questions its hard to be prepared across the board ...
Yet it's amazing how many companies treat candidates' time as basically worthless, and infinitely replenishable.
High bars can really turn out to be self-sabotage.
Good God, is this actually a thing? I mean, a probationary period after hire is one thing, but if somebody actually had the gall to tell me I'd have to spend a week or two working for them before they decided whether or not I was actually working for them, I believe I'd walk out on the spot.
The company I'm at doesn't employ any magic voodoo in our hiring methods, but we somehow manage to find great people without being a revolving door for interviews. Many places are proud to say that they only make offers to 1% of the people they bring on-site, but I'm proud to say that our ratio is probably more like 25% or even 50%.
I've been watching a friend interview with their 'dream company' over the last month. It's been quite an exhaustive process. Four rounds of interviews: a phone-screen, a take-home test that took a weekend, an all-day in-person, and a half-or-full-day remote session. They've moved beyond interview step #2 and have secured a date for interview step #3.
The way you've phrased it here is exactly what I have internalized from watching this process unfold but have been unable to articulate so succinctly. Suffice it to say, I'm not looking forward to my next job hunt.
Is it really this bad in the States?
1) No paid vacation at all
2) 15-25 days of vacation a year
3) "Unlimited vacation," which is usually a hip facade for 1 or 2.
Really? 25 days is 5 weeks; I feel like the standard for PTO is 10-15 days, and often it's 10 days, but you get bumped up to 15 after you work at a place for a year or two.
3) "Unlimited vacation," which is usually a hip facade for 1 or 2.
Is that really true? I have very limited first-hand experience; only two of my employers have offered unlimited vacation. For one of them, it was as you describe. For my current company... well, by the end of this calendar year, I think it'll add up to a little over 5 weeks, which is fairly unusual by US standards.
As a response, many companies are switching to "unlimited" plans. These look good to the uninitiated. But the real impetus for an "unlimited" plan is that it frees the company from having to guarantee -- or pay out for -- a minimum number of days for each employee. It's not really about lifting the ceiling; it's about lowering the floor.
I'm sure there are companies out there who really do have, and make every effort to honor, "unlimited" vacation plans. But I believe these companies are the exception to the rule.
In reality, it was nowhere near "unlimited vacation" as everything still needed to be approved, and it was very common for vacation requests to not be approved for a variety of business reasons. She probably ended up with ~20-25 days off per year, including stat holidays, which is the same as you'd get at Google or Microsoft.
Since it's a young company, most employees are indespensible, and without any written guarantee saying "you have X days of vacation a year", everyone is too afraid to even ask for any time off.
I worked for one of those. I'm glad I got out. Unfortunately, I landed at a company that's ridiculously stingy with PTO (10 vacation days, 8 holidays, 7 sick days -- this is slightly mitigated by the fact that you can make up hours you miss without using PTO, so I've done things where I leave early one day but stay late the next), however because company policy requires that employees take all our vacation days every year, at least I know what their expectations are. I took a vacation this year because I knew I had the days for it and so I just filled out our standard form and gave it to my boss, knowing it would be accepted. On the contrary, I didn't take a single vacation during my time at my previous employer, and in fact I never even asked for one, because we were bouncing from crisis to crisis, and I could just imagine my boss saying "are you crazy?".
"Can I take three weeks off in July?"
"Absolutely! But we might penalize you on your performance review."
Usual disclaimers about not every company etc.
Just my experience, but yeah, what I've seen is a 15 day minimum, and I don't explicitly filter out places that offer less.
Perhaps it's the type of companies I go for? If I recall correctly, Google, FB, Amazon, MS etc. all offer 15+ days for new hires, and most other large companies try to at least match them.
Some people negotiate additional PTO as part of their compensation package but I don't need to tell HN that engineers are notoriously bad at doing this.
Not to mention that tech industry firms are reputed to be more generous than what is otherwise common, that sounds really low even outside of the tech industry; its lower than any company I've seen, and lower than what most sources I've seen indicate is common. 
 e.g., http://www.bls.gov/news.release/ebs.t05.htm and http://www.salary.com/time-off-paid-time-off-from-work/
I worked as a programmer at a big boring company which did this - 10 days of company holidays, 10 days of you-get-to-choose. It's a month off total, but you only have control over 2 weeks, so it's presented as 10 vacation days.
The first source I linked provides actual averages for paid holidays, paid vacation, and paid sick leave.
10 paid vacation days is dead average for professional, technical, and related employees -- with only one year of service, and low for such employees with more service.
I was at a start-up once where we got a new CEO who essentially canceled a week of "whole company time off" at Christmas. If you wanted that time off, it came out of your vacation. He didn't care . . . and soon after that, I didn't care, either :-)
[Didn't help that he was really scarce in the office that week...]
This pressure isn't universal, but I'd say the majority of the companies I've worked for hardly anyone ever took more than a week off in a go, and when they did it was the topic of uncomfortable conversation with managers kind of acting like the person taking the time off was doing something wrong (even if just kind of half-joking about it).
It really is an entirely weird situation, for all the talk of meritocracy and such the day-to-day reality is you are pressured not to take real PTO (paid time off) and instead just do the Office Space thing where you're at work almost every day even if there are periods of time where you aren't really doing anything productive for a large chunk of most days.
So you start with 22 working days off including holidays, plus generous sick time. Not perfect, but could be worse.
In 12 years I don't recall any jobs with fewer than 15 days. My current job is "unlimited", and I took nearly 25 days one year.
But also remember it's business days. So 10 days = 2 weeks.
You don't make an omelet without enslaving some chickens their entire lives, keeping them in barely one cubic foot of space from birth to death so they can push out eggs at maximal productivity, killing them as soon as they're no longer at peak performance, and of course, breaking the eggs.
In other words, you get what you pay for.
I agree with you that getting hired as a product manager isn't easy but, almost without exception (even at places like Amazon), the process is actually respectful, which makes a world of difference.
So it's an expensive, stressful, crappy experience. Weird I don't want to do it speculatively, eh?
If your job is just a vehicle to enable your lifestyle, like mine, then you'll be able to establish a set of criteria and only work with a recruiter that respects those criteria.
Good recruiters very much care about their reputation, because a sale isn't always a sale when either side ends up unhappy.
I think they are usually hired by the companies, or "loyal" to the companies, because that is were the money come from.
Would be a fun experiment to hire somebody to sell yourself. Then again, maybe that is what is usually called a "personal coach"?
I cycled through like three recruiters before finding one with a job I was interested in. If you really like working with a particular recruiter, what you might do is look for jobs yourself and then forward those listings on to the recruiter, so he can do his thing. It's not how most recruiters are used to operating, and it's not something I've done, but I think it could work based on my previous experiences.
In my experience, recruiters are far more 'loyal' to job hunters than they are to employers, at least in tech fields. Hunters have nothing but options in who they go through and how they conduct a search. Whereas the requirements of companies are usually fixed and often are completely irrational. It's often easier to work with and influence a job seeker than it is to talk sense into an employer.
Just the other week, I ran out for a meeting with a potential new employer in the middle of the day. All I said was I "had to run an errand." If I was less checked out, I would've made up a real excuse and told them I needed to get a blood test.
Most people are totally non-confrontational. You're not going to get called out on your little white lies. Obviously you can't use the same excuse 10 weeks in a row, so mix it up a bit.
EDIT: After few minutes with Google.
> USA: There is no statutory minimum. It is left to the employers to offer paid vacation days as part of the compensation and benefits package. According to one survey, 98% of employers offer at least some paid leave to their employees; full-time employees earn between 6 and 20 vacation days at 86% of employers surveyed. About 96% of surveyed employers give their employees paid time off during public holidays, typically 6 per year. Some employers offer no vacations at all. The average number of paid vacation days offered by private employers is 10 days after 1 year of service, 14 days after 5 years, 17 days after 10 years, and 19 days after 20 years
> European Union legislation mandates that all 28 member states must by law grant all employees a minimum of 4 weeks of paid vacation
> Sweden: Employees are entitled to 25 work days of annual leave. Sweden also has 11 public holidays and a few that may or may not be half days.
As far as unpaid time off, culturally, the amount of paid vacation time you get at a company is assumed to be the maximum amount of time off you can take in the normal course of matters without putting your job at risk. Normally people only ask for unpaid time off if there's some exigent event that they have to take care of (health issues, family issues, etc.).
a. Pre-screens candidates on off-hours since they are likely already employed with a focus on keeping it brief out of respect for their time.
b. Similarly match interviews at off-hours and perhaps moderate them to also not waste anybody's time.
I am sure there are many people that would not like this but if hiring is difficult and they want to make it rigorous I wonder if this could fit a niche. I personally am more than happy to go to an interview after work or on the weekend at a coffee shop so it doesn't cut into my job hours.
You can start shifting that extra day around for these occasions, leaving your vacation days for actual vacation ( which is 80% as is the pay ofcouse ).
The bar exam is three grueling days. 100 hours of study is two and a half weeks of full time work.
If you interview at three tech companies, I don't think it's at all over the top to say you might study for a few weeks in total, especially if you are rusty, and the interviews are often quite grueling as well and do last all day….
Ok, I'm stretching, I won't put one iteration of interviews at bar exam levels, but we are starting to get there. Now keep in mind, we do this over and over and over in our field. And while the bar is tough, at least you know roughly what will be tested - tech interviews are often a completely moving target. And while the bar does have continuing education requirements, you don't have to do the 3 day massive study thing over and over (unless, in some cases, you move to a new state).
I really do think this is a severe problem in our industry that causes higher levels of attrition than we realize. I suppose it could be one of those "tragedy of the commons" type things, where each company benefits from long and difficult interviews, but the cumulative result is either 1) people not wanting to enter the field, or 2) people giving up on interviewing for new jobs and staying with their existing employer even if they are burned out, or 3) people quitting and going into a different field or role entirely where they can escape this hazing.
I also think this is something hiring managers should realize before saying that there is a a shortage of programmers. Your own interview processes may be contributing substantially to this "shortage".
Oh, one last thing - excellent article, thank you for writing it! Absolutely fascinating, and it explains a great deal.
Maybe the issue is too risky to employ somebody? In my country a lot of laws protect employees, so it might be difficult to get rid of bad hires (although in the first 6 months I think it is easy, as they count as probation period).
>Almost no one passes all their programming interviews
But there is always someone who will, and many companies are more than happy to pass on all candidates until the find someone who days. I was super happy that my interviewer yesterday said we were skipping the whiteboard section.
What you say is true to a degree; if you have plenty of money saved up then you can spend a lot of time unemployed but this ultimately looks poorly on your resume at some companies and most people live closer to paycheck to paycheck than anything else.
But just to undermine that point, I've also learned that it's quite complex to try to juggle multiple job interview processes with a day job, especially if you want to be able to make a choice with multiple offers on the table. It ended up working out for me this past time, but next time I'm ready to make a move (hopefully not for years!), I may just resign first, so I'd be able to devote my full attention to making the right move.
Until my current gig, I was never once allowed vacation time.
I don't think you've ever experienced the passive aggressiveness that comes with using "unlimited" vacation time.
I'm not going to lay on my death bed and wish I had another couple lines of code committed.
It's a little humbling to realize that I had a price, after all.
Taking a perm role for a big salary isn't a bad thing, either. That money can be turned into more time off (as long as you don't die first, but that's the gamble, right?). I'd personally rather take it up front while I'm young, but the other way around does work too.
Facebook, Google, etc commonly use the contractor technique, where anyone you want to work for you but not give benefits becomes an independent contractor, or works for a vendor. Eg, the cooks in the Facebook kitchens.
Also there's no reason everyone has to receive the same amount. Indeed that would be very unusual.
Edit: And, you are supposed to use them. Not making sure your employees spend their holiday days can land at least the company if not the employee as well in legal hot water.
The real issue with unlimited PTO is that many people are so conflict-adverse (except on the internet) that they cannot initiate basic conversations about how much vacation time they think is reasonable. And instead of taking responsibility for communicating their expectations like adults, they stew in resentment against their employer for shifting that responsibility onto them.
If your employer balks at your idea of reasonable time off, then you might think about switching employers. But if you balk at the idea of having some input into your employer's expectations of you, then you need to take more responsibility, or move to a company with a less collaborative culture.
It is in all cases management's job to set these expectations, and their fault when they're not understood on both ends of things. That's why they're management. (And why "unlimited" policies are stupid.)
Poor choice of words on my part. Take it in this context: "Person X doesn't have a stomach for hard engineering problem Y".
"Doesn't have the stomach for" now can be interpreted as a synonym for:
* Is not capable of
* Is not smart enough for
* Is not hard working enough for (!)
In the current environment I definitely shouldn't have brought up gender.
You do, of course, have the natural right be offended by anything. That doesn't mean people have the responsibility to not offend you. In fact, in America, home of HN, we explicitly have the right to offend you.
Edit: Was originally some kind of nonsense about the expression "doesn't have the stomach for" being "a jab at masculinity" or something.
However, I'm a really good programmer. I just happen to write the majority of my code in Java. If tomorrow we decided to use a new language, I could pick it up in a few days... I have a feeling the "enterprise" thing is just veiled age-ism. Anyone can feel free to correct me if I'm wrong, but at this point, it's literally impossible to learn every new technology. And anyone whose worth their salt should be able to learn a new environment and programming language without too much trouble.
I have a feeling that the enterprise thing is just a way for these employers to screen out the older, more experienced programmers.
This will probably get this throwaway banned, but Michael O'Church (who I am not) writes a lot about this on his blog. I tend to agree with him.
At my startup, candidates from large companies are immediately prioritized in the hiring queue. This strategy has always paid off; there is a high correlation between large company experience and good software engineering practices.
However when an enterprise ships something, the shipped product tends to be more stable. There's tradeoffs to be made and large companies often prioritize stability and their reputation over time to market and spending money.
As a startup, I would look for people who have less specialized experience and are able to cover as many of my bases as possible. Can the developer field a page at 2am and login to the production environment to fix a problem? Can the developer help my sales people with a desktop support issue while the lone IT guy is on vacation? Can the developer make the product work on a single AWS micro instances until we get some sort of traction/funding?
The theme here is a scrappy, do-whatever-it-takes mindset that's often missing in the enterprise where people learn to CYA lest the bureaucracy come down on them for cutting corners.
Definitely aware of several hot startups that don't seem to value this at all. Well it's a tradeoff that they are hopefully consciously making.
If startups are so opposed to big companies, shouldn't having these on your resume be seen as being negative?
The problem is that those candidates, in my experience, tend to throw up way more red flags than others - their code is extremely verbose, they rattle off factory patterns like they're reading a textbook without any inkling what sort of problems they're actually solving, they parrot popular opinions without being able to articulate the reasoning behind them, they're not comfortable with developing a new feature without extensive documentation, and they miss the forest for the trees when it comes to things like testing and code organization.
Enterprise programmers usually leave me with the impression that they're heavily indoctrinated into one specific mode of thought, and that they would struggle to break out of it.
Beyond that, I would claim that most people startups look for (recent graduates) have no ability to understand the reason behind popular opinions. Because they don't have the experience to do so. They might be able to parrot it though.
Interestingly, I'm used to working in a pretty fluid environment without a lot of specs. But we recently started developing something with very tight rules and an extremely picky end user. It's much less efficient without a set of specs, which the project managers didn't have the constitution to make since we aren't used to doing so. As a result I basically have to constantly go back to them on things, which isn't very productive.
Is that true of you? I.e. would you be frustrated by 3-4x/year significant churn in your technological tooling and top-level business goals? Would you be excited to learn a few new toolsets? If so, why haven't you done that on your own?
If it's a choice between stability (via proper testing, architecture, etc.) and staying operating, stability loses every time.
No matter what happens the tech world is a different place in a year. You have to adapt regardless so properly thought out code will get thrown out just as easily as 4am hacks.
I suspect by the 3rd or 4th time in the same year with people who haven't worked out what it is they are trying to achieve my level of excitement might be wearing a bit thin.
Do you mean learning something new 3-4 times per year that is unrelated to large architectural changes?
In terms of 'on your own'--I don't know, maybe this person has a life outside of writing code?
Patterns (and Anti-patterns) are an extremely useful part of software development, specifically because they help engineers be more efficient at solving problems with code.
Factory, funny enough, is the name of a design pattern.
And for good measure, DRY Violation is a good anti-pattern to pick up (though I suspect you know that already even if you can't name it).
If you can't even bother with learning the language that's requested in the advert in a few days, why should a hiring manager be interested in you?
I'm also in my late twenties, and have been programming for money for over 10 years and I also like to brag about how I'm a great programmer and am fluent in over a dozen programming languages, but you bet that if I'd go for a job that requests Node.JS experience (I wouldn't), I'd brush up on my Node.JS and make sure my resume lists it as a core competency. You can't just go around saying you're a great programmer and expect people to believe it from ten years of Java experience.
We ask people to avoid this kind of personal slight in HN comments because it inevitably lowers the discussion. You can make a substantive point without resorting to that, so please do.
This comment in particular really illustrates the sad state of our industry, and why I don't usually write comments on the Internet and why I wrote this under a throwaway account. Thanks for making my point:
To repeat: "You're all talk." "If you can learn Ruby in a few days why haven't you done it yet over the last 10 years?"
Here's why: I made well over 400K this year at my job. I am not jumping through hoops killing myself to learn new things I may not even need. My time away from work is too precious to me.
By the way, I am paid 400K because I am a really good programmer and problem solver and can use whatever tools I need to to get the job done. It doesn't matter if I've never used the language before. I will figure it out.
Plus: most places won't even talk to me because I make more than what they are willing to pay. Oh wait; I guess this is all talk too.
PS: If patio11 is reading this comment, I will happily verify these facts with him via my real personal email. To prove that this comment isn't just "all talk". I really hate the Internet sometimes.
FWIW I have _zero_ difficulty believing "finance company pays talented programmers $400k" and equally zero difficulty believing "startup folks mystified how this could possibly happen when that programmer hasn't even installed NodeJS."
Of course when you work full time, 60h/week, and don't want to resign from current job while seeking a new one, it's pretty hard, but I can assure you it's as hard for anyone else working full time.
Learning new tech stack in spare time is not easy, and you can't and shouldn't learn all of them, 'cause in a few years half of the stuff you learn today will be obsolete.
BTW, making $400k in finance is not particularly high. Nor is it evidence that you're a great programmer. Finance companies have to pay huge premiums to attract and retain people.
Just about any programmer can make 2x working on Wall Street. Very few good programmers are willing to work for these finance companies. It doesn't seem like you've thought much about why that is.
Actually, one of the reasons why I mentioned patio11 above was because it would interesting to talk to him about this kind of stuff given he's also trying to change how tech companies hire talent.
I've thought about trying his star fighter project, but it's another example of "invest a lot of time on the side in doing something tangentially related to work that may be construed as fun, and you can maybe get an interview from it".
That's what has been illustrated in a lot of the comments on this thread. "Why not learn Ruby?" "Why not contribute to OSS on the side?" "Why not keep up with new technologies?" It's work, that's why. Sure, it can be fun and fulfilling but I already spend 55-60 hours a week doing this stuff, and I have other interests. Am I really expected to do all of this stuff on the side just to get a job at a highly desirable place like a YC startup?
Let's use star fighter as an example. I already work in financial services. To some people who work on apps and user interface design and have never worked in financial services before, I could get the appeal of working on something new... But to me, star fighter is just doing my job outside of work hours in an attempt to get another job. I would rather keep solving problems at my own company, and increase my value to them in the process...
...but that means I'll just write more "Enterprise" Java, and not learn new things! It's a catch-22.
edit: I am sorry I offended you. I really did not mean to say that you are all talk, I thought we were talking about how Java programmers should apply to SV jobs and was trying to give you a hiring side perspective, but I guess I am a bit tired and I misread your point.
That's been my impression as well, both coming from the enterprise and interviewing people from that domain. The most deleterious thing I've noticed is a lot of them, like GP, are convinced they're really good programmers and the reason they can't break out of the Enterprise is because startups are biased against some arbitrary and unimportant part of their identity (like their age), not their actual abilities and attitude. I say this as a guy who's likely half a decade older than a guy in his late 20s who thinks he's too old to work at a startup.
On the one hand, you're right, you can't learn everything. On the other, to be able to realistically claim that you can pick up new languages quickly, you should already know three or four different kinds of languages. If all you know is Java, you probably are farther away than you think from picking up a very different language like Ruby. I would encourage you to do some study on the side. Your late twenties is far too early to let yourself get pigeonholed.
I took this to mean that the average startup employee is in their late twenties, and he is somewhat older than that
Sure I know other languages: Shell Scripting, Perl, HTML/CSS/JS, Groovy, SQL, C#, etc, but 80 percent of the code I write is in Java. I'm at a Java shop and have golden handcuffs. It's Java or bust for me.
The languages in your list are:
* declarative: HTML, CSS, Groovy (for Gradle), SQL
* scripting: Shell, Perl, JS, Groovy (for testing)
* Java-clones: C#
I found it difficult to pick up Clojure and Haskell "in a few days" when all I had was experience in those types of languages. In fact, mastering each of those languages requires a change in thinking that can only occur over a much longer time.
I did do some non trivial work in Lisp in a graduate class, but its not the same as using it all day. I don't believe I would seek out an opportunity where a Lisp dialect was the programming language of choice, anyway...
(I found ML to be easier to work with than Lisp. I guess it's technically not a pure functional language though).
I do agree with you that someone who claims to pick up new languages in a week should already have picked up a few languages. The grandparent says they only do the _majority_ of their programming in Java, so perhaps they have that covered. I'd love to know what the other languages they've chosen are, and their dissimilarity to Java.
I don't know how to evaluate their claim that they're a really_good programmer, given that it's a throwaway account. But then, given the data of this article, I guess no one does.
From a pure language standpoint, Java and C# are _really_ well-designed tools. I call them "Cathedral Languages" after esr's "Cathedral and the Bazaar" -- both were designed by highly-qualified teams of experts who had the privilege of spending years designing them, after already spending collectively many lifetimes doing language design. For examples of what I'm talking about, look at C#'s implementation of generics. Look at the quality of .NET or Java's multi-generational mark-and-sweep garage collector implementations. Ruby has a lot of warts. It's slow. MRI/REE are children's toys compared to the CLR or JVM. Ruby's implementation of coroutines (blocks vs. procs vs. lambdas) is a huge mess, its concurrency story is terrible, it has nothing like .NET's async/await...I could go on, but I feel the point is made.
It's easy, when using .NET and Java, since they're such "batteries-included" languages, to get into the mindset that "I'll never need another tool", which is _manifestly_ untrue. I am a committed polyglot programmer and I am appalled how frequently I encounter "cultural ignorance" within the big enterprise language communities. So I think the issue is more cultural (O'Church writes about this), one of trying to avoid "Java Shop Politics", with the associated ManagerFactorySingletonImpls, needing to write about 100 lines to get a single thing done, etc. The problem is the cultural baggage that many enterprise developers bring with them, not the language itself.
In my current project, I'm doing small-program development in .NET for a Windows LOB project. It's pretty refreshing. I get all the benefits of UNIX-style systems design, i.e.. small composable program elements, services, Git (TFS? are you kidding me?), proper CI/CD, and command-line automation, alongside the maturity of not having to deal with breaking changes on point releases of OSS libs, a thoroughly-documented, consistent BCL (.NET Framework 4.5), high-quality runtime, and generally less "hipster" culture. I'd highly recommend it.
1) Over-specialization - the vogue for startups is to hire full-stack engineers, which to me reads as a desire to have one person perform the work of three. The constraints of a startup environment may justify such desires.
2) Risk-aversion - many of us in enterprise environments groan about all of the meetings, deferments of decisions to superiors / domain experts, and other risk-avoidance strategies, but in the end we like our butts covered just like everyone else.
3) Tolerance / preference for a certain amount of friction - some might call this a lack of urgency or an excess of complacency. Consider the problem of selecting a platform for your new project. In most enterprise environments, the decision has already been made for you - what is on the approved product / vendor list? Another is how to get a person who reports to a different chain of command to do their job.
All of these factors and others seem to exist at odds with the startup culture, which is a general term for the composite self-image of a startup's founders. Generally, they see themselves as pirates who plunder market share from the lumbering galleons of large enterprises, at least until they sell.
Anyway, personal anecdote: I know a guy who was a Java programmer for almost a decade, in a Java-heavy corporate environment. The company's been also investing in frontend for a while. Being bored with Java development, he learnt JS, and started following angularjs (stackoverflow, github issues etc.) in his spare time (a bit in the morning, a bit in the evening, just regularly), and within a year, with the support of a senior manager, basically became a "free-electron" angular evangelist inside the company.
The transition was pretty fluent, now he works on angular-related stuff full-time.
This is one reason why people 40+ with kids tend to migrate into management. Their technical skills are getting rusty and having kids decimates your ability to take on major tinkering projects that help you learn new skills. However, their people skills are evergreen and even sharpened by their experience as parents.
Software developers don't have such protection and any mention of such a thing will get you blackballed within the industry by employers and ostracized by peers as most have bought in to the narrative that cooperating is bad for the individual.
However, my SO is a physician and they spend A LOT of time on skill mastery beyond med school and residency, however, their keeper is their profession, not their employer which is a major difference.
I spend a lot of time outside my job on skill mastery as well. I do not do it in ways or domains that translate into pretty Github portfolios.
Regarding the OP's question: new hip languages and frameworks evolve way faster than human body, and "it works" is more important in medicine than "iterate and fail fast" (hopefully:)
My personal theory is also that partially the high expectations are due to open source / hacker ethos (there's generally no medical open source movement, or in any profession outside of IT AFAIK, at least on such scale). The cycle goes like this:
- some folks want to do something cool for fun and/or to get some fame for showing it to the public, or get famous for inventing a known lib/framework
- companies see they're smart and hire them
- other companies follow the trend, and require open source contributions or at least building space shuttle over the weekend
- a number of devs don't want to lag behind, so they join the bandwagon, and they create even more cool stuff and even more open source MVC frameworks
- now, the cycle reinforces itself, everyone is doing cool stuff and contributing to opensource, if you don't, you're excluded
edit: fixed typos
In each of these fields, the visible achievement isn't exactly the same as great performance in the field. You can get unlucky in scientific research and end up with nothing publishable; you can cook mediocre food but market it really well; or you can create the latest trendy build system instead of just mastering Gnu Make.
The misleading thing may be the assumption that most successful open source software projects are done by unpaid hackers on their own time. Perhaps that used to be the case, but many of the hot open source projects in recent history -- from Rails to Docker to React to Swift -- are built on the clock by successful programmers employed at big and small companies. But software is unusual in that serious contributions can be made by people without any institutional support.
I'd say that top achievers in the software industry can also command similar benefits, but the mechanism is different. Instead of leveraging a credential into research and leveraging cool research stories into grant funding, software people get to do what they want by leveraging hard work, luck, and great stories about what they can do into great jobs or investor dollars. There are pros and cons to each system, but one big virtue of the less structured software world is that it tends to respond to market opportunity a lot more efficiently than something like medicine.
So if you are in medicine, you are required to at least go through the motions of keeping up on things.
However, being an Enterprise dev myself (kind of), I feel that Startups don't think Enterprise devs "move" fast enough. They are too busy abstracting things and trying to get to the holy grail of the "perfect" architecture. Startups don't necessarily care about that right away, but enterprise devs have been steeped in it.
I'd favor someone who could do either but I guess if you have to pick one or the other I'd take "hack and ship" over "let's make it perfect", especially considering the second probably has lots of great options at BigCo.
If all you've written is OO code, this is probably false bravado.
Chances are you're not going to be productive in Prolog or APL in a few days without some prior exposure to those concepts.
As a founder, being in YC is probably great.
As an engineering employee, it doesn't seem all that compelling to work for a YC company compared to a non-yc company. None of the benefits of being a YC founder seemingly apply to an employee of a YC company.
This feels like serious echo-chamber nonsense that has little applicability outside the world of startups (and more likely YC startups).
Glassdoor just listed the top companies to work for. https://www.glassdoor.com/Best-Places-to-Work-LST_KQ0,19.htm
Airbnb (YC company). First job i found on their careers page (note, required a lot of clicking...):
Back-end, Front-end, Full Stack and Machine Learning engineers.
Strong proficiency in any of: C/C++, Java, Python, Ruby-on-Rails
Exposure to architectural patterns of a large, high-scale web application
Rigor in A/B testing, test coverage, and other web best practices
Back End: We write lots of micro-services, primarily with Java 8. Our APIs are RESTful and use the minimal Dropwizard framework, and we take advantage of Kafka, Spark, Hadoop for processing volumes of data.
And Zillow (not I skipped Facebook,Google, and Linkedin, and went to Zillow as it's the first Seattle based company listed).
Strong experience with Java, Objective-C or C++
I'd expected age-ism to start at the 50s or maybe 40s, but then I'm not in Silicon Valley either :-)
I guess it could be true that in some startups if you're 29 and everyone is 22 you're not perceived a "cultural fit" (my evidence on it is purely from HN threads though)
I say this exact same thing on my Linkedin profile:
"I have never written a line of Ruby... but I bet you can make me if it comes to that."
How do you know?
Keep that job and don't spend all that money in one place. You might be one of those folks who can retire while they are (relatively) young.
Going to be tough to do as an enterprise Java developer though. =P.
Haskell is a particularly good choice. After fighting with Java generics for decades I found it really nice to work with a real type system.
Also, go is trivial for an experienced Java programmer to master.
In my experience pretty much nobody is taking Ben Horowitz's advice from The Hard Thing About Hard Things—hire based on strength instead of a perceived lack of weakness. Instead everyone seems to be looking for candidates who fill out all the boxes and have zero thumbs down in interviews. That coupled with extreme risk aversion means long interview cycles, and huge amounts of wasted time for some of the most talented employees and founders on the planet.
The whole thing made me see why the situation in SV is so screwed up: If we can't really ask for things that show real experience levels, and it's all about short term first impressions, set by interviewers that aren't even necessarily any good at interviewing, how can we improve?
I've always much preferred interviews that asked for the same amount of time, but where people could show a picture of their real output, instead of a little puzzle.
Imagine you are hiring a chef to man your restaurant, and what you ask him to do is get through Chopped: Give him secret ingredients, and ask to make a dish using all of them in 15-20 minutes. You'll be testing something: Some people will do better than others. But are the things you are testing really going to matter, in practice, when what a chef really has to do quickly is to execute a well known, practiced menu, along with kitchen management skills?
We don't test for the things we do at jobs, and therefore, we can't hire. Not a surprise.
This is the problem. It allows one interviewer with a pet peeve to torpedo an otherwise excellent hire. Where I work, whoever ends up on the wrong side of the majority needs to make a case good enough to convince the majority to switch. Being strongly in the minority is not good enough.
The culture of accepting high false negative rates leads to the "no weaknesses" hiring the GP was complaining about.
I've been able to successfully hire good people by noting that some interviewers are never satisfied with any candidate. Once the pattern is clear, I either remove them from the hiring process, or politely disregard their opinion.
Hiring only with 100% consensus is a sucker's game. Some of my best hires have involved judging which "no" could be overridden safely.
Reading this is somewhat reassuring. I've been over some interviews lately and I had some trouble getting past the tech phone screen.
One particular rejection was very frustrating, because I've spend quite some time preparing for the interview. Failed the first one. Got a second chance. And I knew it was over about 5 minutes after it began. "Can you write an algorithm that would sort efficiently this k-sorted array with a complexity strictly inferior to O(n log n)?". Yeah. No. Neither my job nor my hobbies includes sorting almost sorted arrays of integers, and O(n) complexity calculations.
It really seems to me that, being hired by a tech company is just completely random. Tech interviews in general are completely random. "Just a numbers game"
I've managed to land some really stellar opportunities, and I've bombed several opportunities that are better, worse, and on par with my experience. Please get lucky and unlucky. The truth is, it's hard to tell which category you belong to.
It's best to just try your best and try not to get discouraged. Someone will notice if you're talented, eventually.
I wish tech screens didn't rely so much on these exercises; I have limited brain space and I don't like to archive more important stuff.
You don't want to work with people that value that sort of knowledge over actual ability to ship good code.
Unless of course you are one of those people that cares about toy problems ofcourse, then you probably do want to work with other people like you.
If they do well, I give them another one. If they don't, I tell them I'm sorry but I don't have any more work for them.
Thinking more deeply on the issue, I think I want to know as little about a potential candidate as possible. I don't want to bias myself against them. I've had a lot of bad experiences in my career and I'm sure I'm not perfect at keeping my prejudices to myself. I want to get people into the chair as soon as possible, get them working, and judge from the work. Once I see work getting done, it's really easy to ignore everything else.
 I don't think I can even make someone do an "interview assignment" for free. I'd be receiving something of value--their labor--but I'd have no accounting of it for taxes and I have no desire to try to figure out how to keep track of something like that.
 Yeah, I'll say this probably includes whether or not they have any experience with programming. If they can't do the job, we'll find out soon enough. If they can do the job to a satisfactory degree, why do I need know how long they've been doing it before? Give people a chance to surprise you.
I wonder why this is?
Since ML/AI are currently "hot" those programmers may be trend followers? Or maybe interest in ML is correlated with being a junior programmer (those that are more senior specialized when ML/AI were not so cool and consequently are in different domains)?
Many candidates I see that have a "strong interest" in machine learning have no idea wtf machine learning really entails; they are listing it as an interest because it is a buzzword and "sounds hard". Most of them have just used scikit-learn once or twice, and have no idea about statistics.
(also not at a YC company)
edit I just read the other replies to this post. I believe that most startups with Machine Learning teams are doing more than just calling R-libraries; most development work that I've done for myself and teams has been for tooling and operationalizing data infrastructure (i.e. data engineering, not data science). However if you need a simple recommendation for an app then calling the library methods without 100% understanding may be enough (but calling library methods without underlying understanding is a bad trait in a programmer (e.g. calling the sort() function without understanding quicksort)).
I'm assuming that's your interpretation of the industry mindset, and not a view you personally hold.
IMO it's a naive assumption, and it would be trivial to test for it in an interview.
I have an interest in ML for a specific domain, no PhD, and it wouldn't cross my mind to try to use it as a set of shrink-wrapped library functions.
As someone having a strong interest in math and theoretical computer science, I think their bias is fair. I think I'm a pretty good programmer, better than most I've met with similar experience, but I'll admit that I don't care as much as people who are really passionate about building stuff. They will write sloppy code sometimes, but they'll also focus on getting stuff shipped, whereas I naturally want to focus on solving interesting issues like that bug which only seems to happen 1/20 unit tests but no customer has reported.
It took me some time to learn how industry differs from university programming, and if I were recruiting, I don't know if I would want to deal with the hassle. Obviously now that I know I accept industry for what it is and make sure I do my best, even when it doesn't align with my own interests necessarily, but that takes some maturity (not that I am particularly mature), and I can see why hiring managers would rather avoid the risk when hiring and firing is very expensive and annoying.
Sure there are plenty of great startups built with these technologies, but both also tend to be the 'and then a miracle occurs' of the tech industry.
I get what you mean, and it might be true for a lot of products. But there are also products were good AI is the core.
Likewise with Google; there were search engines long before Google. Hell, Google first appeared as the search technology powering Yahoo! long before they had their own presence. Granted; in this case ML enabled the "killer app" of generating relevant results and allowing ad targeting, but use cases where ML is as critical to the product as Google are rare. More typical are things like Netflix's recommendation engine - the value of the service is in the video library, the recommendation engine is just another avenue for content discovery. It is also being increasingly curated as opposed to automated for promotional reasons.
All of this matters. ML is great, but ML results are often so narrowly scoped that you need to identify your product scope first, then find an ML solution that helps. And even then, at small scale you can often "fake" the impact of ML via manual labor or "doing things that don't scale" (i.e. operating the service via manual labor at a loss with the hopes of adding an AI component to handle that function later in a scalable fashion). If the product doesn't resonate with the market, all the ML in the world won't help it succeed.
Harj, is it people with ML/AI interests without experience? Does this also include PHDs? On that note, are Academic Programmers Comp Sci PHDs or from other fields?
If you're looking for product-focused developers, please consider tuning your interview process to evaluate whether or not candidates can build great products, rather than following the herd and grilling them on obscure algorithms and data-structure problems, which has a rather high chance of weeding out the kinds of product-focused developers that you're looking for in the first place.
I had multiple interviews where I was either being video recorded (karat.io) or on a skype call with multiple developers "evaluating" me. This is a toxic environment and I knew in the first few mintutes I didn't want to work there.
I have a portfolio full of sites that I've built and I can tell you with confidence that my portfolio didn't matter even a little bit. Not one employer looked at my github account (not that it's impressive, but that says something).
The best way to get a job is through your network. A previous freelance client was hiring and pursued me aggressively. Why would they do that if I'm a shit developer as thought by my various interviewers? The experience of "interviewing" with a company that knows my work and shows a genuine enthusiasm for having me on their team is so night-and-day different from every other interview that the decision was easy. They gave me what I asked for and treat me like a valued employee.
This I totally understand. Enterprise software is systematically horrible in almost every way: terrible UI/UX, insane degrees of over engineering, high footprint, high cost, and usually at least two to three generations behind on every technological trend. Of those traits I can't stress over-engineering enough... it's epidemic everywhere but most of all in "enterprise" where you'll see insane things like simple web application servers that use gigabytes of RAM and XML schemas that lead to ten-page-long messages to do trivial things. (The use of XML at all is usually a smell unless the domain is very HTML-like such as word processing... and even there extending Markdown would be better in every way.)
It doesn't have to be that way. Those facts reflect the management pathologies that exist in large companies and governments where you have a lot of people managing software projects who don't know anything about software... lots of "pointy haired bosses." You also have a lot of dumb requirements in those areas that twist things out of alignment with what users actually want. Startups very often have the luxury of ignoring stupid requirements unless they have to interoperate with legacy stuff.
It's so bad that I've actually heard people advise startups to pass on some enterprise revenue if they can afford it (pass on REVENUE!) if it might lead them down an "enterprisey" path, since doing so would in the end result in a systematically inferior product. If the systematic diseases of enterprise are that extreme (and I think they mostly are), then I understand the desire that some startups might have to also systematically avoid developers with enterprise backgrounds.
That being said and while I do understand, I think this underestimates the versatility of a good developer. A good developer might have gone into an enterprise job because they need the money but they might be otherwise great at what they do. You can find some great developers by offering to rescue them from enterprise hellholes. Sometimes that alone is all they need to inspire a ton of motivation and loyalty. I mean, you just dragged them out of hades. They're gonna love you.
Large organizations are often more dysfunctional than small ones, yes, especially when it comes to building software. But that doesn't mean they aren't filled with very smart people. The fact that enterprise programmers can't get hired at startups is not, in my opinion, a reflection of the dysfunctional nature of software development at large companies, but of a mismatch in expectations about how to communicate your ability to do your job.
As an example: one pattern I’ve seen that consistently holds enterprise programmers back in startup interviews (especially in phone screens and technical screens) is the inability to effectively articulate the projects they’ve worked on. Enterprise programmers have often worked on optimizing one small part of a very large and complex system that no one person may understand completely, and in my experience, they often cannot describe that system clearly or holistically. Startups usually need people who can build a system end-to-end, and when an enterprise programmer doesn’t seem to understand their own projects, it reflects very poorly. I see this pattern way too often.
My suggestion (and obviously this is a gross generalization) is for enterprise programmers who want to work at startups to practice being able to clearly and consisely explain what they worked on and how it fit into the overall product. Startups will care more about this than showing, for example, a deep understanding of how Java's various memory pools work (even if they work in Java).
It's easy to refactor (or completely rewrite) for whatever the hot new fad is when you're dealing with small codebases (<100k loc) that haven't been around very long and most likely won't continue to be in use for long. That's not productive when you're working on a product that has millions of lines of code and has been in use for years (and most likely will continue to be so).
It has nothing to do with "pointy haired bosses" - believe it or not a lot of us [enterprise developers] care more about actually getting stuff done then bragging to our friends how we're playing with whatever is hip this week.
I also didn't mean to imply that there are no good developers in "enterprise." But I do believe that "enterprise" is to good developers what, say, a corrupt economy is to good entrepreneurs. You can operate there but it's painful and everything about it gets in the way of doing the right thing.
Also also (heh) I didn't mean to imply that all enterprises are "enterprise." That's why I put it in quotes. Some large organizations manage to avoid these pathologies. I've even seen really excellent systems emerge from government labs if the people running them are clueful. "Enterprise" in quotes refers to the pathologies that afflict big over-priced over-engineered slow clunky UX abominations. Everyone's seen them and everyone's been forced to use them... forced because nobody would ever voluntarily do so.
Yikes, that hit close to home. Where I'm working now is very "enterprise", but when they brought me on they gave me a huge amount of autonomy and it's worked out great for them- I started fresh on new projects and was able to make them lightweight, fast, and pretty.
And then they toss at me a behemoth of an ancient, 10-year-old project with services that connect to services that connect to services (all on the same machine!) and probably uses more than 2GB of RAM for simple CRUD screens. There's no funding and it's too big and "vital" to rewrite, so they're stuck with it (probably for another 30+ years, just like they were stuck with the COBOL system it replaced)
It was around that time I started looking (and am still looking...) for a new job.
Yes, because it's much better to have an architecturally pure product nobody uses than something generating millions in recurring revenue.
This is why Apple shuns "enterprise." They value user experience. Exposing UX to enterprise development priorities and methodologies is like exposing a kitten to mustard gas. Even a little bit does tremendous harm and it's definitely cruel.
Last I checked Apple was among the most valuable companies in the world. Their stuff is also heavily used in enterprise in spite of their dismissal of it. Sometimes a good product can make inroads into enterprise if it's good enough to overcome certain biases and entrenched pathologies. Some organizations have departments running their own "guerrilla IT" to support things that aren't awful vs. the awful stuff shoved down their throats by corporate IT.
The root problem with enterprise is that products are often built to artificial specifications that someone made up, not to actual specifications learned through real use and feedback or that are shaped by underlying reality. This results in a lot of superfluous complexity that does not reflect the actual complexity of the problem domain. Another major problem is that purchasing tends to be based on feature check boxes instead of actual evaluation of the product by people who will actually be using it. You'd be surprised how often a large org will make a major purchase without even consulting with those who will actually be using the product. I've also seen cases where people go so far as to pretend to use the "boat anchor" product while actually doing things using a different system purchased or built with off-normal-channels funds.
I've worked for startups and I've worked for enterprise apps, and at least the enterprise apps I've worked on actually got used by a good number of people. Some of the startup apps I worked on completely failed to find their audience precisely because someone in charge was making it all up as they went along and didn't base anything on what customers actually wanted.
I tried to do the best I could in that situation, and sometimes managed to convince myself that the apps would find their audience, but the artificial specifications can exist equally in both domains.
And the startup arena was the only place where I saw the client/producer completely flip flop on how a feature should be designed multiple times in a single week, based on whatever article they read or dream they had the night before, and then get all pissed why I wasn't already halfway done with their brand new vision they just told me two minutes ago.
It can go both ways. At least the enterprise apps had a mechanism where the users could provide feedback, and had a definite audience and need that needed fulfilled.
Sounds familiar. The previous app I worked on was so flexible and customizable via parameters, that in fact half of the bugs we've had were due to crappy configuration management process rather than actual code bugs.
The “Product Programmer” and “Technical Programmer” profiles are identical,
except one is motivated by product design, and the other by solving hard
I've struggled with trying to define the difference between the great systems engineers I meet and the engineers who make great products (sometimes at the expense of all elegance under the hood).
This sums it up nicely... it's where the focus is. I'm surrounded by engineers focusing on systems programming, but I don't think of myself as similar to them, I've always been end user obsessed and customer focused. It's nice to see this difference acknowledged.
Just so the readers don't miss the context: By definition, most companies referred here, I'm guessing, are startups. And startups will definitely want more product-focused engineers, in order to keep moving fast.
Interviewing in general, is closer to a date, than it's to a standardized test. The smaller the company is, the more pronounced that characteristic is. For even slightly larger companies, it's a different story.
When I was a Director of Engineering at Box, the engineering team was tasked with hiring 25 engineers in a single quarter. For several quarters. When hiring at that scale, it's hard to hire based on personas and elaborate preferences. At that point, process is more important. Anyone that meets a consistent process gets hired. There are always biases at resume selection, but those are only to benefit the later process, and not so much of a preference.
[About us: http://InterviewKickstart.com]
I just watched another startup in the same reference class grow at a similar speed, and I don't believe you. Suppose it takes 20 interview loops to hire one very good engineer, and each loop takes on average 10 engineer-hours. That's 200-engineer-hours per new hire, or about one engineer-month. That means if you have 100 engineers at Box (correct me if I'm way off base here, but 25 on 100 in a quarter sounds like a reasonable fast growth) you can hire 25 new engineers in a quarter while spending only 10% of your total labor recruiting.
The reason this doesn't usually work is because most engineers don't spend 10% of their time helping with recruiting. That is in my opinion an unforced error. They should.
Average 10% spend by an engineer towards hiring is quite normal, from my experience. Obviously, it's average, so there are some who spend way more than 10%, and there are some who don't spend any. 4 out of 40 hours a week including phone-screens, on-sites and deliberations is easy to get to.
I'm sure you know, that a lot of hiring at that scale is systematized and (hence) heavy-lifting is done by non-technical recruiting people.
Right, this is what I'm arguing against. Doing filtering with non-technical people requires a lot of systematization and strange, low-quality filters. I suggest not doing that.
The typical response is that you need to do it because engineer time is too precious, which I disagree with.
I liked what Joel Spolsky said a long time ago. Basically that companies should want two types of engineers. 1. You want a few who are experts in the company's tech stack. 2. The bar for everyone else is just that they're smart and they get things done.
I guess the core problem is that we don't have a good objective measure of the latter. (Maybe an IQ test for smarts, if that wasn't political incorrect, but I don't know how you'd show definitively that you "get things done" in an interview.)
You must be able to defend the metric you use for hiring and that it is not discriminatory. If you give an IQ test that is unrelated to the job and say no one below 100 IQ will be hired you must prove that someone with 101 IQ can do the job but someone with 99 IQ can not properly do the job
There is more scientific evidence that IQ predicts job performance than for most of the more qualitative criterions that employers use in practice. The source of the illegality of using IQ tests is not legislative (intelligence is not a protected class). It comes from the precedent of Griggs v. Duke Power Co., in which the IQ test was being used as a barrier for jobs where IQ was not a good predictor (not programming), and prior to thorough research on the subject. There have been hundreds of studies showing that IQ tests predict job performance (though not super strongly) at the beginning of careers, even though this fades once they have more experience. This meta-analysis approaches these studies very critically, and concludes that many inflate the effect, and that it doesn't validate the IQ test (i.e. there may be non-cognitive reasons for it) but that the correlation still exists. (For what it's worth, I suspect they're right about the non-cognitive part since the correlation has become much stronger over time, particularly around the 1970s. However, when your goal is to test for something and not to explain it, correlation is good enough.)
> Basically you can not ask questions that test skills that would not be used in the job the candidate is applying for. ... You must be able to defend the metric you use for hiring and that it is not discriminatory.
No, the burden set in Griggs and later elaborated in a modification to the Civil Rights Act is not to prove that a test is not discriminatory at all. Instead for tests that are discriminatory in practice (though not obviously in design, like IQ), you must show that the test is truly indicative of job performance. If this were not the case, you couldn't ask if people went to college, due to the racial disparity in college graduates. Also you can ask things you can't prove are related to job performance if it isn't discriminatory (not that this is really useful).
> If you give an IQ test that is unrelated to the job and say no one below 100 IQ will be hired you must prove that someone with 101 IQ can do the job but someone with 99 IQ can not properly do the job
Of course you don't have to show that anyone who fails your test will 100% be worse on a case by case basis than someone who passes. If that were the case you couldn't justify pretty much any test other than "applicant is not dead or in a coma." You just need to show that it is clearly less likely. I would find it really surprising if there wasn't some kind of IQ threshold effect for programming (i.e. the closer you are to the middle of the spectrum, the better a predictor of programming performance IQ is). That would make it easy to justify using an IQ test as a predictor, especially in combination with the more general studies.
I don't think IQ would be terribly useful to weed out programmers because I suspect there are more related ways to judge applicants that would already weed out those in the region where IQ is useful, but it is not as simple as "IQ testing for a job is illegal."
> The Supreme Court ruled that under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, if such tests disparately impact ethnic minority groups, businesses must demonstrate that such tests are "reasonably related" to the job for which the test is required.
For programmers (as well as many other jobs), IQ (within a certain range) could be borne out as being reasonably related. GP was claiming that it is illegal to administer IQ tests during interviews in the US, which is not true.
Oh come now. Every company in the valley emphasizes "cultural fit" and that's about as subtle a dog-whistle as an '88' neck tattoo.
It's pretty obvious that nobody here cares about even the most clear-cut discrimination against protected classes (and it's not at all clear to me that less intelligent people are a protected class.)
IQ tests are well known to have a disparate impact on some protected classes, so you are treading on extremely thin ice to use one.
Really? I mean, I know that the racists have been going on about how some races are dumber than others for as long as the idea of race has existed... but is this an idea that would be taken seriously by the courts?
A good analogy for this type of interviewing is like trying to judge how good someone is at basketball by measuring how tall they are. Is it related? Sure. But it certainly doesn't give you the whole picture and might not be a useful information at all. Watching them play a few games would be a better strategy.
Fortunately there a quite a few startups working on this problem. Lytmus is one in particular that I think looks very promising.
Also, it's perhaps understandable why companies don't want to reveal their preference. If you do it, you open yourself to being gamed. I think it's also better to have unreasonable requirements (looking to give genius programmers some boring product work) than be sorry. Again this happens in absence of actual test (other than wait and see) of who is a good candidate. Females do the same thing when mating.
Thats really interesting. Would love to read more about it if you have a source for that off hand.
Anyway, the problem involved writing a tree generation/traversal along with a little equation parser and a lot of string parsing (I think, at least). I was really uncomfortable because while it said "we will run this code" I didn't know what their expectations where (In what environment are they going to run the code? Is underscore ok? They said "you can't use built in eval" so do they really want me to write my own eval? Do they care if I look on stackoverflow for string parsing stuff?). I only had an hour for a difficult problem and I spent most of the time wondering what they really wanted and stressing out about little details that wouldn't consume ten seconds of thought on the job.
I've interviewed a lot and I'm pretty confident from a lot of experience whiteboarding code or typing up an answer on the spot in interviews, so this was very frustrating and I found it to be disrespectful of my time.
That's mostly practice. When I did webdev I was really shitty at algorithms because there were no algorithms in my daily work. When I did some Baduk AI programming I started being much better at algorithms since I was implementing some custom algorithms myself.
If you are interviewing someone for a web dev position, it's kind of ridiculous to screen people by their ability of merging sorted arrays or whatnot.
So regardless of what the companies want, it's near impossible to accurately judge someone in an interview process. Even if you know what you want, it's very difficult to assess how someone is going to perform in a job through an interview process. The main benefit of interviews IMO is to help managers "buy-in" on hiring decisions.
Actually work sample tests have a .29 correlation to on the job performance, followed closely by structured interview questions.
All types of hiring tests/interviews had some predictive power (except handwriting analysis).
As I mentioned, I had about a dozen interviews, with both YC and non-YC companies, and had no trouble getting contacted directly by any company.
As a forward thinking technology executive, I am certain this strategy is correct, because Google does it.
Perhaps more importantly, we're not going to change it because this is how Google does it.
Given what a big role personas and demo/psycho-graphics play in marketing, I'm surprised that I haven't heard more about then in the context of hiring and managing.
This would be very useful for triplebyte to know. It would tell you very quickly who this or that company would like, without just throwing a bunch of candidates at them and seeing what sticks.
Hope that helps.
Are there any plans for implementing collapsible comment threads?
It's designed for mobile web, but just zoom in and it should be fine
EDIT: Apparently posting really long strings without spaces breaks HN's layout now. Hunh.
Here's my bookmarklet for that:
I get that startups do not want to reveal their competitive advantage, but there has to be some give-and-take. Taking an analysis on blind faith alone is frustrating.
Quantitive data would confirm if the patterns are stereotypes or not.
I would laugh if a company rejected my proven ability to build giant distributed systems in the cloud because they were built in C#.
I'd suggest everyone start doing this instead:
For anyone who meets basic criteria / filters, hire them at least part time, and put them to work. If they don't make the cut 3 months later (based on some objective criteria) let them go. Then after you've done all your recruiting like this maybe 1-2 years later evaluate what your team consists of.
It's not even a question in my mind. I'm not 99% sure. I'm 100% confident the team will not look like the recruiting team originally envisioned it would look before they started hiring.
EDIT: And I'm 100% confident those teams will consist of an overall better quality of engineer, and putting out higher quality products, than they would've ended up with if they stuck with trying to find what they believe to be the right "culture fit" or some concept of what a "prototypical engineer" is / should be.
For example I would be very happy to interview for Google 2 years ago and endure the process. Today I could sit with them for an hour and talk about stuff while sipping coffee. I have more opportunities than I can pursue anyway so spending hours solving mazes like some kind of a lab rat is not something I am going to spend my time on.
I am not a top expert in what I do but I can write and ship code. People like me (and especially ones better than me) will just not show up for your "process". Either you pursue them or you won't meet them. You will only get people for whom you are so attractive an option that they are willing to donate several hours or a whole day to have a low % shot. Those will not be the best programmers as the idea of paying to get evaluated is not something people with options entertain.
Who the hell writes tests during an interview?
[edit: well, their interviewing process sucks.]
Is it the particular things they have worked on at other jobs, i.e. their experience, or is it the way they talk about what they want to build?
I'd be really interested to hear how I can make myself sound like more of a product programmer.
Describe past work in terms of what was made, not tech used to make it. Relegate tech buzzwards to a minimal "skills" section of your resume.
Use the words "make," "things," and "world" liberally. Say you got into programming to make the things that you wanted to see in the world.
Have examples of things, especially small things, that a non-technical person could use or see.
Have a BFA in some quasi-technological process like stone lithography or ceramics. Describe approaching software with a similar sense of craft.
And the reason why it's important is because startups fail because of bad value propositions, not lack of technical expertise.
Like others have said, the rest is mostly about the way you talk about what drives you. Solving hard problems is nice, but demonstrating that you can think well about building something people want is what you should aim for.
Goes to show that there is a far-greater-than-1% chance that you're legitimately in somebody's top 1%.
Ultimately, I don't think that individual programming ability matters that much. It's extremely rare for the technical talents of one person to turn a company around. Some people can inspire others and turn dysfunctional groups into great teams, and there's never enough of that. But said great teams are ephemeral, like sports dynasties. All a company can do is try to avoid toxic employees and hope that the magic happens.
> "The only reliable gauge I’ve found for future programmer success is looking at real code they’ve written, talking through bigger picture issues, and, if all that is swell, trying them out for size."
Incidentally, it was precisely that kind of programmers who built Watson at IBM, possibly the most impressive software of the past decade, which is not only both academically and technically challenging, but also brilliantly packaged and marketed and probably very lucrative to boot.
The exact same is true of the Graal team at Oracle, who have made what is probably the biggest breakthrough in compiler technology in the last decade, and might well power many important technologies in the near future (Ruby, server-side JS, R) as well as commercial Oracle products.
Also the company interviewing the first candidate, couldn't they just told him that they wanted testing?
On the job people will tell you if they expect tests, so why interview people in a different situation?
I assume most startups want to grow their engineering headcount (there are exceptions, of course). The pickier/more-focused you are about what kinds of engineers you want to hire, the more you have to gain from casting a wider net geographically.
But if you find the perfect teammate and she can't come to your main country due to visa restrictions, or maybe even won't come because the immigration story isn't worth the trouble, then what are your options?
I'm not talking about money here, though of course that will be a factor for some people. It just strikes me that the "YC companies with offices in Canada" have a serious recruiting advantage over those without, once they need to seriously grow their teams.
At larger scale, it makes a LOT of sense and is done regularly.
Some times, it can be a hiring DISadvantage, as candidates run away from jobs where they need to wake up in the early hours for a conference call and also need to jump on conference calls at 11pm.
I do this currently, we have a dev team in the Ukraine. It is worth it price-wise, but the cost not accounted for is my personal time, i'm often on conference calls during kids' bedtime story telling.
THIS. In other words, the good ol' boy system still exists, only under the moniker of "meritocracy."
Say a company needs good testers. I would find it very hard to sell myself as a passionate tester. Instead I would say something that's actually interesting to me like AI or machine learning.
In order for something to be interesting, it has to be somewhat unknown. How can you be interested in something you have completely mastered and know everything about. It just becomes process for you.
The requirements may be different in the later-stage companies. But most of the startups never get there. So looking at recruiting goals on a per-company basis from a VC pool will generate a bias towards the skills needed for the cool demo. What Lugg needs are people such as the article suggests. What Uber needs at its current scale is quite different. Uber will hire far more people than Lugg, but it's weighted the same in this model.
Hire tortoises, hedgehogs and hares, introvert and extroverts, peacemakers and activists ... so long as there is respect, civility and productivity, because it's the "pulling" away from the center of gravity and institutional momentum that leads to exploring other great opportunities of venture successes that weren't originally founders' core product.
Something seems amiss here.
I guess the ideal place for the technically motivated is in large companies like Google/Microsoft or in open source. Should we get a masters and find something more suited to our interests? I'm not sure what the answer actually is.
If you focus on product, then you have strong feedback loop in your design and development cycle: you regularly see how users interact with your product and improve.
If your focus is on technology, then there is almost no real feedback and you are likely to optimize something not very valuable.
Why, though? Is it because a candidate would be too interested in other things than focusing on mundane web development? Passionate about programming doesn't square well with passionate about ML, because the latter is not so much about programming?
My takeaway is basically that in an organization of sufficient size founders should have little or nothing to do with technical hiring.
They don't ask for a resume, but the first thing that comes up in the interview is "where have you worked in the past, and what did you do there?"
After the second interview, I was given to Harj and he asked me about work history again...
(Also, since I applied through the project track, I don't think there was much in the way of "tell us about a project you've done in the past".)
Ask only tenured, hands-on CTOs, and I bet that table would come out much different.
In this case their data is a collection or mass of data - and is singular. In the blog, using "the data shows that" is the proper way to write the statement.
If the majority of people refer to collective nouns as singular than that is the correct way to use them because the "correct way" is only ever defined by the majority.
How is the pronunciation of a word decided? Majority of people saying it one way. How do people agree upon the meaning of a word? Majority of people using it to mean something. How does grammar become more lax? Majority of people speak with fewer restrictions.
i contest the moderne way of speech is to be thovght proper as he has argvede, bvt the olde way of speeking is the trve way!
How were you determining which YC companies were top?
1. Pre-filtering should be based on candidate's public contributions at places like GitHub, StackOverflow, Wikipedia etc. Pre-conceived notions of someone being C# or academic is just simply bad.
2. Don't ask question that you didn't had to solve doing your job. It's absolutely the hardest part for interviewer to come up with great questions that distill the problem they had solved on the job in to something that can be described in 10 mins and worked on in about hour. Most interviewers are unable to do this and fall back to puzzles stolen from websites or coworkers like them. If you are not smart enough to form the great question using actual problems in your job than you have no business being an interviewer.
3. Don't do 45 minute interviews. That time is too short. Candidate has already taken a day off, there is no reason why you should limit each interview to 45 mins and make candidate rush. Countless great candidate get eliminated because they fall short of 15 mins, do longer initial chit-chat or just take one wrong turn.
4. Strongly discourage interviewers to look for exactly the right answers. Again hard to do than said. Most candidates that sail through problem have very likely practiced similar problem to death. The bad interviewer than penalize candidates who hadn't practiced that same problem VS who luckily happened to do so. Ultimately you are required to eliminate 80%-99% of candidates and this comparison is so handy that interviewers fall for it despite of knowing it.
5. Good interviewers knows the trickiest part of the problem and are willing to help out candidate without penalties. Bad interviewers considers any hints or help as sign of weakness and are mentally subtracting points. If you are an interviewer who thinks that your job is to give problem, sit back and watch the show then you are wasting everyone's time. Good interviews are lively discussion, two way conversation and in fact a collaboration.
6. Bad interviewers ask seemingly easy problem but that has chance of making a big tricky mistake or omission. Interview turns in to sport spectacle to see if gladiator candidate was able to duck the fire from the dragon that was behind him. Good interviewers make sure problems are real problem and not a competition to set up traps that everyone easily falls in to.
It's kind of bizarre that most companies claim that they have huge headcount to fill and they don't find talent while their "rejects" have already been having great jobs at great companies with nice history of career growth and compensation raises. The real problem is bad inexperienced interviewers who have been molded to ask same puzzles they had been asked and have been trained to have expectation for candidate to magically arrive at correct answer with error free compact code under 30 minutes. It's utter nonsense. The result is that most candidates now keep working on puzzles for months which has little relevance to actual problems in job and not even a remote indicator of candidate's passion or ability to take initiative or collaborate or ship something in real production consistently.
Me? I have wondered if I should make job applications a hobby regardless if I want a new job right there or not.
(oh, btw: I have had good work, without time between since 2007, when I had a few weeks between two jobs. I'm just so tired of wasting time on the recruitment process.)
Basically it went like this: registered with recruiting agency - got a call a few days later asking if I would like a plane ticket - met up with the company next time I crossed the mountains anyway, told them I knew next to nothing about Java, was told that I looked smart and as long as I picked it up within the next 6 months they would be happy. So I started after my summer holiday and was fixing bugs within the first week.
At that place everone including our designer could code because they made sure to make it easy to get started. Since then I try to do the same.
Edit: this is also the only time recruiting agencies hasn't been a complete and utter waste of my time.