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We Only Hire the Best (signalvnoise.com)
333 points by braythwayt on May 23, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 198 comments

Such a no brainer, but jezus it's about time for someone to call out the hiring posts.

Hiring a good employee is like shopping for a car. You don't buy the coup if you have a family of six, a gas guzzler when you're a commuter, or a 2wd when you live in the boonies. It's a balance of values.

I've seen "rock star" coders fail in team environments because they can't communicate. I've seen great communicators fail because they were all talk. I've seen really great team players impolode when facing the customer.

I'd rather have an employee who is good at a few things than one who is "The Best" at one thing. It's called hiring for employee fit, not so you can tell your buddies how l33t your team is.

Definitely reading too much into your comment and not responding just to you but the hiring post trend, but IMO all of those scenarios are conflating mismanagement with bad hiring. Have a rock star coder who can't communicate (I'd challenge whether or not that was possible another time)? Put them in a position that minimizes the amount of communication they have to do or set up a structure for their inbound/outbound communications that works for everyone. Great communicator? Have them figure out how to facilitate that person who can't communicate. Great team player? Have them work with the team and don't make them outbound.

Point is, effective team building doesn't end at offer letters. Hire for fit, then fit the hire. Train up. Just because someone is weak in some area doesn't mean they can't contribute meaningfully given the proper resources and support, nor is a strong hire going to succeed without the same carefully tailored support.

I think the article is more about Dunning-Kueger coupled with that special narcissism we all know and love so much.

Experience tells me that hiring posts that demand this level of excellence are often covering for weaknesses in their process.

"We only hire the best!"

The best at what?

"The best at everything of course. We want a full stack wish fulfillment genie."

Either you have no idea what skills are missing from your current team, or they are all missing, and you want to fill that gap with one person rather than a team.

Job postings that ask for excessive skills across multiple disciplines say to me: This hiring manager doesn't want to do their job. The management job of creating a team, process, workflow. Why bother building a team of shared responsibilities? Why take ownership of the team's process? That would be hard. Instead I'll just hire one uber-nerd and make them do it all.

Here are some of my favorite lazy hiring manager practices:

  * asking for "everything but the kitchen sink" skills
  * confusing Java with Javascript
  * even mentioning J2EE in the requisiton (who on Earth wants to do that in this day and age?)
  * copy-pasting of the requisition leading to truncation of the posting

I was talking to the product manager for a product we were having issues with from a major player in the corporate software place who, when we told the manager we were experiencing Java exceptions and instability, kept calling them "JavaScript exceptions." I couldn't believe a PM couldn't even keep the language that the product was written in straight.

Or like the 'Spark +5 years of experience minimum' type of offers we had 2 years ago. Now it's Tensorflow.

j2ee makes sense if you need somebody to mentain your existing code.

Nothing is said here that wasn't better said by Joel Spolsky over a decade ago: http://www.joelonsoftware.com/items/2005/01/27.html

Some things are worth restating.

Expected this to be the top comment.

Nothing new DHH isn't widely praised for originality, but come on this whole article is like a total re-hash. And he doesn't even bother to mention Joel... to me that means he's trying to take credit, or he doesn't know about Joel... uh, yeah.

> DHH isn't widely praised for originality

Unless you have more to say I think this is an unnecessary attack on David's person, especially that one might think of a couple of things he did that are original. ;)

Or he's just ranting as he's prone to do.

At no point does he make an originality claim, and you don't need to be original to voice disappointment...

Yeah, I got a weird sense of deja vu.

That Dan Luu blog post is gold. It really is kind of sad how arbitrary, capricious, and wasteful hiring in IT is, not to mention the short-sighted thinking about talent.

I also really liked the post he did about discrimination in tech:


One other aspect of "we only hire the best" that wasn't explored by this article is the practice -- especially common among unicorn companies -- of purposely casting a far wider net than needed, so that their hiring yield on applicants is dauntingly low.

The recruiting process is deliberately set up to yield a lot of false negatives -- i.e., applicants who are qualified on both skill and fit who are rejected for some arbitrary bullshit reason.

I suspect it's largely an effort to mindfuck the employees who do make it through the process. I'm so lucky to be here! Only 3% of applicants even make it to a five-minute founder interview, and only half of them get hired!

Try reading The Hard Thing About Hard Things and not rolling your eyes the 10th time Horowitz brags about hiring the best of the best of the best. If you took him literally no other company stood a chance against him since he had a lock on all of Silicon Valley's top talent.

Perhaps it builds the perception in those hired they are in fact the best.

Well, lots of people have to be rejected for a the not-bullshit reason that there are only n jobs available at the company and n+x people applied. Even if they are all great, x number of people are going to be rejected.

the point is that if you are interviewing 30 people for every hire you are spending way too much time and effort on interviewing. if you had better recruiting funnels you could easily get down to 2 or 3 interviews per hire

I'm not so sure. My understanding is the big tech companies hire engineers on a rolling basis and basically take everyone they like.

They're not approaching it for the frame of satisfying a requisition for a specific role with the best of the N applicants for it on X date, they're picking up talent as quickly as possible and then sorting out where to place people after the hire/no-hire decision is made.

It's more like there is unlimited demand, and most managers could think of more things to do if they had more staff.

If this were the case, there would not be so much whining from these same companies about talent shortages.

> The recruiting process is deliberately set up to yield a lot of false negatives

Absolutely. There are a hundred bad candidates for every good one, but large companies reject good ones as well will bullshit justifications for a reason: rejection keep salaries down.

"Everyone thinks they're hiring the top 1%.”—Joel Spolsky, 2005


Well I must suck then because there aren't companies lining up to just hand me a job like Joel says happens to all good developers. I have to hustle in order to keep food and a roof.

Don't worry. I'm sucking right there along side you. 3.5 years experience and I'm not even getting recruiter spam in the volume some of the people here are. :P

You probably would be if you lived in SF. Since the available housing ratio to jobs is 1 to 3, they have effectively guaranteed that not all jobs can ever be filled. Great for the job supply!

Or NYC. Or another major urban area with plenty of tech jobs. Anecdotal but everyone I know here in tech (varying roles, skills, and levels of experience) gets plenty of recruiter spam. By contrast, I do know similar people who have had a tough time with the only difference being they're in a smaller market in the interior and are not willing to relocate.

I think location really matters a lot. Telecommuting has not made it irrelevant. There's strong network / market effects for an industry with frequent job hopping and frequent changing of company hiring needs -- employees want to be somewhere with a lot of employers and employers want to be somewhere with a lot of employees, so the top few cities end up taking the lion's share of the tech work.

If anything, easier communications maybe has made it easier for companies to just open up an office somewhere just because that place has a lot of prospective employees. Maybe in an earlier era slower communications with colleagues in other offices might have made this less attractive, but it's so easy now. E.g., tech companies starting in SV but then also opening up an Austin, Pittsburgh, London, Seattle, NYC office because there's plenty of prospective hires there. What you don't see them do much is also open a St Louis, Tampa, or Little Rock office. It's just not worth it.

DEFINITELY consider trying moving to a major tech hub, or just a bigger city at least, if you have persistently had a hard time finding a job locally.

Never tried but I think it could be an interesting experiment to temporarily change your LinkedIn location to SF and see how much it affects the recruit-o-spam numbers.

I work in SF now.

Do you guys put your stuff out there? Recruiters can't really harass you if they don't know you exist.

If by "put your stuff out there," you mean "have a LinkedIn profile," then yes. Otherwise, my "stuff" (meaning everything I've written in the past several years) is under NDA and not useful to anyone else.

While it's always better to have stuff on a Github profile or similar, usually a filled out LinkedIn profile with mention of what kinds of projects you've worked on (usually vague enough to avoid NDAs) is good enough, especially if you're mentioning things that happen to be in demand in the area.

Is your work exposed somewhere to speak for itself or the approaching should have some other reasons?

Corp: "We only hire the very best"

Programmer: "What's the salary?"

Corp: "Market average. Also, we're looking for people who aren't just motivated by money"

I see a similar effect that drives me nuts:

Corp: "We only hire the best, but we can't find any good people. There must be an industry shortage of good engineers!"

Me: "What about $candidate that we interviewed last week, I thought you liked him?"

Corp: "He was great! But he wanted too much money"

Me: "..."

And almost always these places pay their conference-calling-bullshitters top dollar. But it's like the apocalypse if you try to get more money for the people that actually do things.

The thing about salespeople is that you can objectively determine their value over any given time period. That's how they should be paid: a very small base salary that wouldn't cover their mortgage, coupled with a clear and unambiguous bonus structure that gives them a reasonable amount of money when they hit the targets that make the company profitable.

Salespeople "actually do things". The problems come when you make a stupid compensation plan or don't fire the ones who consistently underperform.

The counter-point is that without something to sell, the sales people wouldn't make any money.

They don't make the company any money, they're middle-men. The value comes from the product.

I would argue it's equally hard to objectively measure the value of a salesperson, but as there's already specific figures one can latch onto, it's easy to think it's easy.

> The counter-point is that without something to sell, the sales people wouldn't make any money.

> They don't make the company any money, they're middle-men. The value comes from the product.

It is supposed to be a symbiotic relationship. Sales staff can't make money if they have nothing to sell, and engineers can't build product if they have no customers.

The sales staff is just as critical as the product development staff for the company making money. Rare is the product that can sell itself.

This $5 Billion Software Company Has No Sales Staff

Atlassian sold $320 million worth of business software last year without a single sales employee. Everyone else in the industry noticed.


They have sales people.

They just recycle this same story every year and get tons of press for it.

Depends how you define "sales staff". They need to sell their product in order to make money and they certainly have employees who provide a conduit for customers to buy JIRA.

Their sales costs are low, but maybe not having more sale people is negatively affecting revenue growth?

A single anecdote disproves "rare"?

Good for them. How many other companies have tried the same thing and failed?

In fact, a great way to increase your reputation as an engineer at your job is to talk to the top sales people at the company and help them improve the product in ways that will help them selling more. It will open up very interesting career options that are normally not available to most engineers.

Sales staff are out there, talking to customers. Since no product is truly complete, they are the best source of information about what customers actually want.

Too many programmers are smugly crossing their arms, saying they know what's best for customers without ever talking to them. Programmers are generally far more responsible than sales people for poor product quality.


But there are also many cases when sales people force the product development team to implement the most idiotic "feature", because "we think the client is ready to sign the check and this is really important to them". The bad side of commission-based compensation is that they want to close the sale, no matter how harmful (in the long term) it can be.

The only thing "idiotic" about customer-requested features, especially on high-ticket items, is when they introduce excessive technical debt. This can come in the form of code instability, disrupting development schedules, etc. Features that do more harm than good to the product and the business.

Beyond that, it's not idiotic. It's just stuff the programmers don't care about. Price you pay for getting a paycheck.

Not every request from the customer makes sense.

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” -- Henry Ford.

That's where "excessive technical debt" comes into play.

My spouse actually deals with this more than I do. She's a product owner/analyst in international e-commerce, a very deep subject/domain expert in a narrow field. Customers, not really understanding the complexities of the domain, ask for things that are often technically impossible, illegal, or self-destructive. But she's serving as a first line of defense for engineers, educating sales reps and customers (and executives) about the nature of their business, and what can/should/shouldn't be done.

I agree, there's a balance. I don't personally think that sales people have no value.

I think my point is that with sales people, there's usually actual numbers involved (that the salesperson has visibility of), which can help anchor perceived value. But it's still potentially hard to actually determine value.

"The counter-point is that without something to sell"

Never met a salesperson who was deterred from selling something by the trivial detail that it doesn't actually exist. ;-)

"Sir, I promised the client that it would have Feature X, and the developers are refusing, saying it will take too long!"

This is consistent with my impression of how sales work. You sell a feature, product, capability, etc that won't be ready for at least 6 months (for example). Then you kindly encourage an engineer to build it.

Heh, "But it could, theoretically exist right?"

Supply and demand are two sides to the same coin.

Sales and marketing generate demand. Engineering and manufacturing generates supply. Both must exist for a product to be meaningful in the market.

The labor theory of value, you see, is bunk. The product is worth only what the buyer will pay for it. And much of the time, a salescritter can convince someone to pay so much more for a product above cost that the difference pays for the salesperson's work, and still leaves some left over for R&D, or other nice things.

Don't get me wrong. I still hate smarmy, schmoozing salesfolk with the passion of one ten-thousandth of a sun. But they aren't entirely useless. They do add value to a company in their own right. It is as a value multiplier, though. There still has to be some value added before you can multiply it.

it also helps attract the better salespeople if there are higher tiers of "somewhat unreasonable" payouts for spectacular results. but again, as you said, all targets must be clear & unambiguous. it should be extremely hard to hit top bonus tiers quarter over quarter. and if they do, your company should be on its way to an IPO. watch out for the ego on that account exec :)

Except those things they "actually do" tend to make my life miserable, as they overpromise to the client and then expect engineering to save their ass. It's never sales that has to sacrifice their time to meet deadlines.

If we had a just world, any salesperson who did that would be forced to forfeit their commission to the engineering staff who's saving their ass.

For the sake of lucidity, I wasn't thinking of excluding (most) sales roles from "people that do things" - but as an engineer, you should still be looking for "basic" parity in remuneration between the top sales and the top engineers (even if it's structured differently.). If the two figures are completely untethered from each other, then it's a good sign the place either doesn't value business acumen (if engineers are paid highly and there are not good incentives for sales) or technical systems (if salespeople are all driving a Lexus' and they are stiffing developers). Both are deadly. I was merely pointing out that the latter fallacy tends to be indicated in mock conversation described.

When you tie someone's compensation to performance, you don't always get the results you're looking for.

It seems to promote short-term gains over long term goals.

See IMSAI in the 1970s for a great example of needing to hit goals at all costs.

If you don't recognize the value that good sales people bring, then you don't understand enough about business to make any determination of how much anyone should be paid.

That's because from their frame of reference, conference-call BS is Real Work(TM).

I worked at a company who almost passed on a candidate because the company thought the offer was too low, and they were worried he'd get frustrated and move on.

I've had that happen to me, twice. "You're overqualified for this job, three months from now you'll find something better". I was making a lousy salary at the time so I was quite bummed by that...

That sounds exactly like a conversation I had with a taxi driver in London. His friend was struggling to find programmers with the right skills. Well they were there, but they wanted too much money!

If someone says to you:

"we're looking for people who aren't just motivated by money"

You should counter:

"there's no shortage of meaningful problems; I'd be irresponsible if I didn't work on the one that improves my family's standard of living the most"

"I'm sorry, I'm looking for employers who aren't just motivated by work."

actually they are motivated by money it's just a transfert.

"Money is the measure of how valuable my work is to you. Are you saying you don't value my work as much as your competitors do?"

No, it's a piece. Vacation days, for example.

Well, compensation in general.

I agree with your later point about not wanting to be surrounded by people who are _only_ in it for the money. In fact, I took a small pay cut when I left me last job because I was (and still am) very excited about my new company's projects and aspirations. In my experience, though, "we don't want people who are motivated by money" has always been code for "we pay like ass and we're going to Stockholm Syndrome you into feeling like the privilege of working 12 hours a day is worth our $30K below market salary".

If I didn't need money, I wouldn't be looking for employment. I'd be hiring other people to work on my dreams instead. All else being equal, yeah, I'm going to the place with a bigger check.

A place that says "We want people who are motivated by more than just money" isn't going to be the place that is going to take kindly to someone using up their (probably meager) amount of vacation each year.

You're probably right about "read between the lines", but still, even just as a worker I'd prefer to work with people who are here for more than just collecting a paycheck.

Most people would, but I'd also like to get paid very well while doing it. Most of the places that emphasize "we don't want people here just for a paycheck" end up being very shitty places to work, as they try to make your entire life be work.

Or more simplistic:

"Me also."


I called BS on Chris Dixon on this on Twitter and he blocked me. It was when he and Paul Graham were arguing that "not enough (good)engineers exist for startups, so we need to import more". I was arguing that plenty of great engineers exist, you just have to pay for it.

You mean Google will pay me 3x in total comp and I (mostly) get my evenings and weekends off? I also get job security beyond the next funding round?

But.. But startups are special! They can't pay for stuff! We can't treat them like an actual business!

That's honestly something that has always confounded me as an outsider to the glitz and glam of coastal tech life. How are technology start-ups any different than say, a new butcher shop in the midwest in terms of obligations to their employees?

Part of the reason for going into a startup is that you're buying a lottery ticket. There's a very strong chance the company will evaporate and "all" you'll get out of it is an intensive year or two of building things up from nothing and putting them out in front of customers. However, there's also the nonzero chance that Facebook will buy your team for $9B.

I love startups because it's exciting and genuinely fun to be scrambling alongside a team who's as into their work as you are yours. In practice it's also very low risk, because I know that if my company laid me off tomorrow then I'd be unemployed for approximately a weekend before hopping onto another team.

FWIW, sane startups also take really good care of their employees. Mine has good pay and great benefits, and that's pretty common. You don't hear about those places on the front page of Hacker News, though.

Equity lottery ticket.

With a typical side dish of substandard working conditions (open office, cheap chairs, no parking or no transit or even "better" none of both), substandard tools, substandard personnel policies (vacation, insurance, 401K, etc) and last but not least a very low "Joel Test" score preferably zero.

I'm sure the best will be naturally attracted to that. Sorta an "opposites attract" strategy.

There are historical analogies to the dating world where if you're trying to find a complete dumpster fire of a person for whatever crazy reason, just look for the loudest proclamation that they only date 10/10s. Actually dating 10/10s is a different issue, I specifically mean loudest proclamation. Generally this works pretty well. Both for finding dumpster fire people and companies.

We want people who are motivated by the mission.

If the mission is feeding starving children, or curing cancer, or public service, then yes, I want people who are motivated by the mission. But usually the mission, the real mission, is to make the founders exceptionally wealthy, and forgive me if that doesn't get me out of bed in the morning.

Even if the mission is to cure cancer, thats the worst reason to not pay people well. Those are the most difficult problems, and you definitely need the best people to solve the hardest problems. If the idea is to pay people really poor because that problem is so difficult, I think its a bad idea and simply taking advantage of people, not to mention the best people will go solve other problems that pay them well.

This is the problem with education (and all non-profits for that matter).

1. People work in education because they love the work, not the money.

2. We don't need to pay educators well because they're not the tops in their fields.

3. We can't recruit top candidates because the pay is shit.

4. Rinse, repeat.

This man speaks the truth. :-)

I think it's a lost battle but I used to rage whenever I saw a company talk about their 'Vision'. Unless you're a poet, religious mystic or philosopher king - then you're being pretentious and grandiose.

Assuming that I am a cash-strapped philosopher king with a grand vision for my business, how might I sway people to take the vision seriously and work towards the fulfillment of the vision?

I'm assuming the vision you're trying to sell is to make the philosopher king wealthy. (Your stated vision is probably irrelevant.) You need to make your employees' incentives align with that proposition.

Oh OK. What if we assumed that the vision is not concerned with making me, the philosopher king, wealthy?

"We want to change the world, by finding a more efficient way to bike courier organic Nicaraguan coffee beans to your doorstep in the Mission or SoMa."

My god, this is genius. Let me throw investment money at you. Just be sure not to pay the programmers more than $11/hour.

>If the mission is feeding starving children, or curing cancer, or public service

You're typically expected to take a pay cut if you're doing any of these.

Public service pay cuts? Not really. This is for CA, but other states are not too far off.


And don't forget life-long pensions at 80% salary.

How many distinguished engineers make anywhere close to these amounts (whether public or private)? Close to zero.

80k was the top bracket? I am pretty sure most developers in California make a lot more than that, especially top ones.

Select "100 top salaries"

But those seem mostly like chief investment officers, CEOs, doctors, dentists and surgeons...

I mean, public service can pay well if you are a commissioner or head of a for-profit part of public service. I'm not sure there is much of a comparison to be made for software developers, though.

I was just pointing out that public service can pay as well as private sector - if not better (pensions at 80% pay!).

Except for police and the already retired I don't think you see a lot of pensions at 80% pay anymore.

FERS gives you 1.1%years of servicehigh 3 average salary, which is about 40% salary for a lifetime of service.

The NYPD give 2.1%years of serviceaverage salary and early retirement at 20 years of service (less 50% social security upon that kicking in) which is a hell of a good deal, but hardly representative of what most government workers get. I think they are probably among the only 80% pay.

You also end up with the (generally state) government worker problem of the government just deciding that paying your pension is expensive, and then having it reduced or removed. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯


Are you asserting that doctors and nurses in american prisons routinely perform dangerous medical experiments on inmates without their consent?

If yes, can you cite a reference (I'd like to know about it)?

If no, then what precisely do you mean?

I meant in the sense of the doctors in the concentration camps, providing some relief, but arguably sustaining an intrinsically immoral system. (Indeed, there were far worse kinda of Nazi doctors...)

I am almost falling out of my chair reading that comment. The only way a US prison doctor enters nazi territory is if they are doing a live donor liver transplant between twins.

Human service workers, biomedical researchers, and etc. still need to make a living too. The problem is that a small sector of the people in the world are being ridiculously greedy.

This drives me nuts! I don't know why I should be motivated by YOUR mission! Especially when your mission is to make as much money as possible in an easily exploited niche you found!

Not all companies are the same. Sure, all companies exist to make money for shareholders, but some companies make cigarettes while other companies make life saving drugs. So, yes, it does make sense to take the company's mission into account when deciding whether to work there or not

Companies that make life saving drugs aren't usually short on money.

If a company made a life saving drug and then released the patent say after 5 years of exploitation, I'd agree with the argument as well.

>We want people who are motivated by the mission

Startup hiring process in a nutshell.

Yup, and if I get a nice block of stock options, then I'll be just as motivated as the founders! Been there.

Ah yes, "The Mission"

Sure, some of them have a social aspect, something interesting, etc

But for others I can't see how they manage to say it with a straight face

So does ISIS.

And you see what results they get in the U.S. markets. Maybe more rational management and pay of experienced professionals would've helped them. They said they weren't mission-oriented and lacked "culture fit," though. So, their numbers are all over the place, goals aren't being met, and competition is all over their territory.

Now ISIS and other startups in that sector can feel free to continue being idiots. The locals need to avoid making the same mistakes, though. ;)

I can't up-vote this article or comment enough! If you want to hire a top 1% employee, you need to offer a top 1% salary. Not a top 50% salary.

Also that "market average" is usually below market average.

"Market average" is generally based on salary surveys, which kind of have to trim the extremes. So it's the median (ish), which is often lower than the mean.

I'm specifically talking about the companies that have told me they pay "market average" in New York City and are offering $45-55k and want a mid-level developer. Then act like their tenth of a point of worthless options are a winning lottery ticket.

I've found that there are other ways to scam those surveys. My employer uses an unreasonably low threshold of years of experience for a so-called senior level.

We hire a lot of H1B candidates, so I'm convinced that the point of the scam is to depress wage scales for the LCA.

Did we mention the perks like our "unlimited vacation policy"?

Heh. Man I'm glad I talked my VP down from the cliff. He honestly thought it was a Good Thing.

I currently have 7 weeks off/year plus 10 holiday days. No way I'd take all of that with the unlimited plan.

Wow. Are you in the US?

I'm in the US, at a law firm, and after the first year, every year is 7 weeks vacation + 10 holidays just like this. I'm glad, because they told us we had an unlimited vacation policy that I do not use and on the books in the first year we're only supposed to get 7 days.

Ha! Hubspot got thrown under the bus because of their "unlimited vacation policy" - http://nypost.com/2016/04/03/millennials-are-being-dot-conne...

I gotta say, after watching his chat at Google IO, I want to read that book now.

I worked at a company with "unlimited vacation" and I took on average 5 weeks of vacation per year - so it does sometimes actually work.

Likewise - I'm floating around 4 weeks taken in the past 365 most of the time (which is more than any previous employer would give) and I never have any complaints or issues. My boss doesn't say anything and just approves each one.

You mean undefined vacation policy

The worst are the new "tech companies with internal recruiters, tech tests prior to interview, twenty stages to offer, who moan they can't attract the best. Of course not! The minute you said tech test, I said goodbye, the minute you said internal recruiters, I laughed as I slammed down the phone.

The best companies that can and do attract the best, still keep it simple - direct face to face interviews, max two stages to offer, no fucking around with shitty tech tests, and making the time and effort for the interview.

I send out a test in between phone interview and face to face but it's very subjective, not really meant to weed out people who fail. The purpose of it is to create some technical talking points for the face to face interview in lieu of putting someone on the spot on the whiteboard. "I see you refactored this, but not this. Can you explain your thinking? Why did you decide this pattern fit the solution?" There can be many right answers, and especially many right reactions to wrong answers, and I like that conversation more than putting people through a whiteboard.

Also, agree on the 2 interview max. Technically we do 3, but the first is a 3 minute basic screen by the recruiter, not really an interview.

> ...3 minute basic screen by the recruiter....

Exactly. The recruiter call should be primarily to gauge interest and to get some idea if the candidate has any skills and experience whatsoever. I've gotten calls from recruiters who were clearly not technical people asking fairly deep technical questions. That's an instant turn off to me.

I'm pretty sure we've all experienced this classic:

"Tech" Recruiter: "I saw that you have 7+ years of Java experience! That's great, we're looking for a senior Java dev!"

Me: "I have 7+ years of JavaScript."

"Tech" Recruiter: "Same thing, right?"

Me: ...

What's the big deal with internal recruiters? Most companies, unless they're very small, are going to have them.

I actually prefer internal recruiters. At least they typically have some motivation against throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks.

Yeah, I agree. Better than outside recruiters who usually have a fuzzier idea of what the company does

Yea, I recently turned down an interview when I was told there would be 4 technical interviews, followed by a 2 week trial period working as a contractor. How about no!?

Corp: "We only hire the very best"

Programmer: "Too bad, I consider myself mediocre, bye"

Can't upvote this high enough. Yep, I also consider myself mediocre. (My "world" has people like Eric Lippert, Anders Hejlsberg and Jon Skeet in it - there's no way in hell I can say I'm among the best with a straight face.) I am safely in the middle :)

This reads like a Dilbert comic strip.

Corp: "We only hire the very best but we're willing to pay the very least possible"

"You know what the best people I’ve ever met or worked with had in common? ALMOST NOTHING!"

I've found the best have interesting hobbies. The not so best have nothing to say beyond "how bout that sitcom/drama/game last night, eh?". The extroverts won't shut up about it and the introverts have to be coaxed, but one way or another if they can tell stories for hours, about something other than TV last night, they tend to be pretty good at their job.

Its a weaker argument that it has to be a craft hobby. Beer, carpentry, knitting, playing music, writing poetry, subject doesn't matter. If doing something the right way is important to them as a core value outside of work, then they'll tend to do things the right way at work.

"First, “the best” is bound to be situational. Someone who can thrive in one environment might get crushed in another. The peak skills that gave them a leg-up in one domain may very well make them unfit for work in another."

Key statement here. Some employers need top coding skills in modern technologies. Some employers, like my current one, really don't need a top coder: they need good analysis skills with some coding. Employers need different degrees of executive function and technical skill. My previous employers valued high technical skill, but we had single product/project focus. My current employer doesn't need high technical skill, but a successful person in this environment needs to be able to multiplex across four projects with differing requirements - COTS implementation, soup-to-nuts software development, bridges between existing systems, etc. - while also providing at least second level support for existing systems.

In addition to executive function and technical skill, add in social skill. Some employers in my past had no problem with on-edge bright technical people. My current employer values politeness far over technical ability.

"Best" and even "successful" have to be defined by each organization according to their mission and values.

Thanks for this reminder of basic management practice which needs to be posted about once a year: hire good people and get the most out of them through superb leadership, great working conditions and ample incentives to achieve.

"We only hire the best" is a sales slogan, not a true management principle. The "best" aren't usually for hire at any given moment; they're very well employed already, or otherwise occupied. And when a high caliber person decides to move on, someone in his or her network will likely hear of it and snap them up.

I'd rather hear them say, "We have excellent hiring practices that filter out incompetence and unpleasant personalities. We have a great team here and we're really proud of the hard work they do."

Of course you can make a case for disruption; sometimes what a business needs is someone to challenge the norms, shake things up, rattle the chains, and that can be unpleasant if not downright threatening. An old manager of mine called such people "brilliant assholes". Gotta love'em for what they can achieve, but they're often not much fun to be around!

"We Only Hire the Best" doesn't have to have any truth to it to be of use to companies. Their purpose in hiring is to extract value from candidates. Convincing people that they'd be amongst the best is all you have to do. The rhetoric comes from existing employees, who may be rationalising their decision to work there. It feels good to be amongst "the best" - I want to be amongst the best! I am sure I'm not the only one with such aspirations. If being 'the best' means over-fitting to the requirements of a company, then the most successful (viz. "best") candidates will optimise for what that company wants. It means by the time they arrive at work they're already largely conditioned into behaving as their new company would like them to.

Yes, "the best" is a transparent lie. It doesn't matter though, because it serves the interests of companies who espouse it. DHH is calling a spade a spade here - but I'd hazard that the vast majority of the HN crowd already know.

Also, globally, there are lot of extraordinarily shit software people out there. If we define quality by "gets things done and doesn't break things and act in a crappy and deleterious manner", then it is not difficult for "the best" to mean the upper 60% of software people. It is completely reasonable to assume that the companies with this mantra do indeed hire from the top 60%, if only because of how many rubbish people there are.

The best line I heard "we don't hire a$$$holes". That's a check-mate statement. I think to myself what if I don't get selected :-( . I did get selected only to realise they hired people down the line whom I'd consider rectal orifices. Can't catch a break really...

The "No assholes" rule should really be the #1 rule when hiring.

I've heard a lot of complaints from friends and family in the tech industry over the years, as I've had my own issues. While details vary, it always comes down to the acting up of one obvious asshole or another. It infects the whole team/company/project.

In the long run, a team of average but positively motivated people more often than not beats a team with an asshole in it, even if he/she is a rockstar/guru/ninja/jedi/whatever. And their lives won't be miserable in the process.

The problem is an "asshole" is subjective. I might find someone to be an asshole that someone else might not think is an asshole.

At least from my limited sample, more often than not the assholes are considered to be assholes by everyone else. "Well, everyone thinks he/she's an asshole, but he/she does the job, or has been in the company for a long time, or knows someone in the executive team".

That's where the problems lie, when everyone the person is an asshole but no one can do anything about it.

In any group of people sometimes there are going to be people who don't get along for whatever reason. That doesn't necessarily make that person an asshole.

An asshole is who someone who makes like miserable for most people they interact with. Or they make life miserable for a whole group of people (e.g. someone who is shitty to subordinates, treats women poorly, etc.).

So there's no interest at all in lighting up the assholes?

Pity; its great sport. What, you think you'll be fired?

The biggest ones tend to reek real bad and most of the time all you have is a matchstick to light them up. Most of them big'uns come from the "network above".

It's not to be done lightly. But there are times...

"We don't hire assholes!"


"Our company is founded on an engineering mindset in which the best ideas always win and people are encouraged to candidly speak their minds!"

Those... are not mutually exclusive. It is possible to have a culture in which people are not shut down for saying "This course of action sucks because X" without there being a lot of profanity and other between-the-lines nastiness in that previous sentence.

Of course, some people find being told "no" to be asshole move. 🤷 ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

It is entirely possible. However, assholes will do it because they find they can have control over things. And still others, like myself, will do it despite not really wanting to. I find it's extremely easy to "shut down" things in a discussion like that, and make other people not want to speak, even though I don't want to. It's much more difficult to take a bit of time, rethink how I'm going to say something, and try to phrase it in a way that still encourages people to talk about ideas.

Serious question: At what point does it become the problem of the person to integrate vs the problem of the group to accommodate?

We've heard many stories of how it only takes one asshole on a team to ruin the team. However, assholery takes many forms. It includes the perpetually acerbic who's impossible to work with, but it also includes the perpetually offended who derails conversations into pointless tone arguments and recursive meta-discussion unless you walk on metaphorical eggshells when speaking to them.

Lots of talk about the former, little to none about the latter. I'd wager that if you're running a team whose purpose is to accomplish a set goal, the latter is necessarily more destructive than the former from a sheer time commitment standpoint, and that's before discussing the "meta is murder"[1] principle.

Then again, I'm speaking from the standpoint of a group outsider. If you have a culture that demands civility above all else (up to and including logic and correctness), that group is probably okay with how they work, and would rightly judge poorly anyone who wouldn't conform to that culture.

[1]: https://blog.codinghorror.com/meta-is-murder/

I would say it depends on how much of an effort is made on the part of the person. If they're not making any effort, then why should any accommodation be made for them? Get rid of them, and find someone who will at least make an effort. If they are making an effort, it still can be difficult, because even though they're making an effort, they're still shutting down other members of the team.

Yeah, that's the problem. I agree with you 100% in theory, but unfortunately the definition of "asshole" is highly subjective. So, you get a lot of, "what do you mean I'm an asshole, I provided plenty of empirically sound reasons why your idea sucks, it has nothing to do with you personally"

Joel wrote this same post about 10 years ago. http://www.joelonsoftware.com/items/2005/01/27.html

Ecclesiastes 1:9 -- The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.

wtf does this have to do with anything

"Losers always whine about trying to hire the best...." - J.P. Mason

"The best" is a relative measure. An absolute measure must be set first and gatekeepers put in place to guard it. Then, do all you can to find candidates exceeding that measure and then pick the best FIT you can from there.

blisterpeanuts is right on...

It's signaling 101.

What are you supposed to say; we hire mediocre developers? Give me a break. "Best" is such a loaded, nothing term that it doesn't really mean anything without a ton of context.

This is a waste of outrage.

It's also a signal to potential hires that "we only use the same hiring phrases and buzz words everyone else uses"

At best that can indicate "we copied and pasted the top part of this job description from every other job we've posted", at worst it can mean "we have a very corporate culture, so I hope you're going to bring your 'team player' rock star ninja game"

It's not good or bad, but it can tell you something about the company - just like the company will scrutinize resumes and job histories to find clues for what potential hires are like. Signals all around.

  > What are you supposed to say; we hire mediocre developers? 
That’s a perfectly valid business strategy, and one that is practiced by many big consulting firms. You put someone’s butt in a chair, you are billing for them by the hour, and if they won’t work 90, 100, or 110 hours a week, there’s always someone else who wants their job.

They’re not that great, and they know it, and you like it like that.

big consulting firms

Ok, fine. That's obviously not what we're talking about. You don't recruit talent or raise capital on the idea that you are going to put talent in the sub-basement of a server room because they are a "warm body."

He's just poking fun at some HR jargon. A few years ago, a common thing to say was: "We work hard, and we play hard." I guess some hiring managers still say that, and maybe they even mean it, but to me it's a sign not of innovation but of an overly controlling, paternalistic management style: "Playtime's over, kiddies!"

That wasn't outrage... more disdainful mockery.

"We only hire the best, because nobody else has a hope of surviving the mess that our previous 'best' made."

Seriously, I think WOHTB is an indication that the company doesn't know the difference between selection and training. They want the technical equivalent of Navy SEALs (which is already a questionable goal) so they put in an equivalent of BUD/S, but that's a training program and they're using it for selection. Anybody capable of getting past that is either a faker or doesn't need it, and since the second group will also have little patience for it all you're left with is the fakers. Not a strategy for success. I don't mind, though, because their failure makes things easier for the rest of us.

> (Did you see Hamilton and Rosberg collide in Formula 1 last week? Mercedes probably wish they had more of a Vettel and Webber kind of dynamic right now.)

Vettel and Webber crashed as well in Turkey 2010 as they battled for the lead: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=vx9zIQvrdZU

DHH back at it again, dropping truth on the dev game. This was a timely post because my friend and I were just mocking the phrase "we only hire the best" this past weekend. If you like DHH's writing, check out one of his other recent posts: RECONSIDER [0].

I think pointing out some of the absurdities of software development culture and startups is fun. It's unfortunate that Startup L. Jackson hung up his hat :/.

0: https://signalvnoise.com/posts/3972-reconsider

There's no way they hire the best. My company told me they already hired all the best programmers!

This makes me think of an observation an old colleague of mine made to one of the revolving-door CTOs at our former employer. He said there are three things you can offer to get good engineers... high pay, an interesting problem, and a great work environment. If you can't offer at least two, you really need to excel at the last one.

Problem with former employer was a lousy work environment for uninteresting work...

I was looking at a senior position at a "we only hire the best" firm yesterday, a senior position requiring at least a masters plus a decade of experience. But right at the bottom of the qualifications: "Must be proficient in Word, PowerPoint and Visio".

Places that truly hire the best are not doing it through job postings. The the company / department leadership are actively involved spending time networking to curate a queue of candidates for hard to hire roles.

The second thing high performing companies do is have entry level roles where you can mass hire to see who rises to perform as "the best" where you can then promote out of that pool into your "hard to hire" roles where you cannot afford an average or below average player on the team.

You'll also need to pay the best at market rates for "best" not market rates for "average". "Pay" breaks down into what I call 'the money/fun dial' -- the dial goes from 0% money / 100% fun to 100% money / 0% fun. At 0% money those activities are called hobbies and everyone has a list of activities they enjoy doing each day they either spend money on or at best break even. At 100% money / 0% fun this is effectively "selling your soul" -- these are the jobs that leave you no time or energy to have hobbies, non-work relationships, or a family. With my company we aim for 50%/50% on the dial -- we pay well, allow folks to work hard on meaningful projects, and give them time for hobbies/friends/family. I view life as a marathon and if you turn the dial up or run a company culture with the dial turned up beyond 50% on money people will work for you until they burn out or make enough to find a long term home.

Sometimes I even ask myself: “you only hire the best…at what exactly?” there is difference between having a fancy degree/accolades and actually contributing meaningfully to your work. I have also seen(in my thin years of experience) that at most companies, there is a disconnect between HR and company’s talent needs. Only those who have figured out how to bridge that gap hire “the best”(subjectively).

In the spirit of going deep, the root cause of the F1 crash was human error (being in the wrong strategy mode) rather than ego.

Yeah, that was a whole different kind of error. Also, the line before that is pretty wrong too, so I guess we're just going to have to ignore the whole paragraph.

Another good post on the same subject is:

We only hire the best means we only hire the trendiest


HN discussion:


just like when you see signs "best pizza/hero in town" or "we use best ingredients" at eateries

Sooooo good! I think I may start replying with a link to this article every time a recruiter contacts me with one of these types of jobs. They almost always require moving to the Bay area for some "hot new" startup and a whopping $80k salary + equity. Can't live off that in the Bay area and I have no desire to work for your Uber for X startup, do weekly scrum sessions or work in an open office environment crammed tight.

I think a quick reply with a link to this article will do the trick.

We only hire the best. We are going to consult all the best experts and we'll get the best people in the office to make 37 Signals great again. It will be a beautiful thing.

One of the chapters of "Parkinson's Law" (the book that among other things coins 'bikeshedding') discusses hiring from a satirical point of view. He makes the point that the easiest kind of hire is when only one candidate applies, so it's good to load down your adverts with as many requirements as possible so as to put applicants off.

And what if a candidate has a good background in computing, computer science, AI, and pure and applied math and, then, also a good STEM field Ph.D. degree from a leading research university.

Do you want to "hire the best" or do you want to reject anyone with a Ph.D. degree? E.g., how many STEM field Ph.D. holders have you hired to date?

> but recognizing the difference between what you’d like to be true and what actually is serves as a prerequisite for closing that gap

...and not recognizing it is a prerequisite for running a company.

It needs to be read as "We only hire the best (we can find)". So the results are explained by the search and selection "algorithms" applied in the hiring process.

Is it just me or svn blog quality greatly reduced these days ?

Although I agree most of what DHH said in this blog post, I am a little disappointed that he only offers Don'ts but not in Do's.

Employer: I want the most work for the least money.

Employee: I want the most money for the least work.

In the current market Employer > Employee.

Isn't the author of this post the primary villain from the big #rubydrama article on HN over the past couple of days?

I see a lot of people on this thread who just say it's bullshit without understanding what's going on. You can live your life that way, or you can enlighten yourself on what really is going on and make the right decision.

This "salary cut" works only in this case: The employee is not just looking for money but something intangible from the job (Experience/network/etc.) This doesn't apply to most of you guys who have no intention to start a company or make a huge leap in life. That's why you think it's bullshit. But there are also a small number of people who are really not driven by just money but puts a lot of value on the intangibles I mentioned above.

Many startups look for these types of people, so to those of you who are hating on this idea: there's nothing wrong with you hating on them. It's by design, these companies don't want you either. I know from experience because I've hired people who just got in without any specific reason. These people tend to give up very soon because they simply don't care about what they're building. And again, there's nothing wrong with that. It's just that these startups can't afford to hire you.

Here's my horror story: I was working on a startup. We were fortunate to have a guy who's extremely talented and wrote the core part of our product. However he switched ship immediately when he realized it was a business that will take time to mature. I really hated that guy for a while because we had to basically abandon our core product the day he just left. Now I understand and also know that part of it was my fault too, but it was a very difficult experience for me. If you look at the world with this lens you'll notice so many "rockstar developers" jumping ship after another when things don't go well for the company (which is totally fine for them but bad for the company). That's why startup companies should care more about the "right match" than "rockstar developers". And hiring a rockstar developer by paying him tons of money when he's not so passionate about the company's vision is the worst thing you can do.

An analogy is most girls who don't want guys who are just in it for her looks. When you try to seduce a girl, complementing her looks rarely works unless your social status is extremely obviously high or if your looks are extremely great. In most cases you have to demonstrate that you like her not just for her looks but because of her personality. Most girls don't want a guy to just have fun for one night, never to see again, especially if they like them. I know many girls who gave up on a guy she really liked because she didn't want to be hurt. Startups are like that.

I'm not even going to try to reply on the sexist nature of the second half of this comment, but focus on the startup-related one.

Your guy switched to another company because you were on track to become rich off his work, and he was not. If you incentivized him right, he'd stay. Did you ask him why he left? Because if not, you really did not learn a lesson.

I knew someone would call me sexist. I know where you're coming from but I think people whenever they come across something that makes them uncomfortable just call it "sexist", "racist", etc. and call it a day. All I did was state the fact. You explain how it is sexist and if it's logical I will shut up.

Lastly, he switched because no one was getting rich off anyone's work. We were going through difficult times. But that was not the point of my comment. You blame me of being sexist but maybe you should also be less biased when reading someone else's words.

Well with all due respect, you yourself didn't address OP main point in your answer : Did you or did you not try to rightfully incentive your main coder? It seems to me that many founders want early employees to take the risk of a co-founder but with the reward of an employee.It always amazes me that some people don't realize that being mad a someone for acting in his best interest is actually selfish.

What was sexist about that?

what a shit headline.


i was able to hack my ex boyfriend's facebook and instagram accounts thanks to undergroundhackr@gmail.com , my friend told me about him and he did an incredible job.

so... they're really just lowering their standards... I was told here on HN that's wrong...

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