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It's true that not all developers make positive contributions, however, I think that blaming "lowering hiring standards", as the author said, is a complete red herring.

There is such thing as hiring without doing even the most basic test for technical competency: Last year, at a different job, I worked with a guy that though the best way to implement a CRUD service was an nginx plugin, and when faced with a real programming language, managed about 4 lines of code a week, and not good ones. But that's an extreme case of not even checking.

In practice, we have to face that all that our quest for more stringent hiring standards is not really selecting the best, but just selecting fewer people, in ways that might, or might not, have anything to do with being good at a job. Let's go through a few examples in my career:

A guy that was the most prolific developer I have ever seen: He'd rewrite entire subsystems over a weekend. The problem is that said susbsytems were not necessarily better than they started, trading bugs for bugs, and anyone that wanted to work on them would have to relearn that programmer's idiosyncrasies of the week. He easily cost his project 12 man/months of work in 4 months, the length of time it took for management to realize that he had to be let go.

A company's big UI framework was quite broken, and a new developer came in and fixed it. Great, right? Well, he was handed code review veto to changes into the framework, and his standards and his demeanor made people stop contributing after two or three attempts. In practice, the framework died as people found it antiquated, and they decided to build a new one: Well, the same developer was tasked with building new framwork, which was made mandatory for 200+ developers to use. Total contribution was clearly negative.

A developer that was very fast, and wrote working code, had been managing a rather large 500K line codebase, and received some developers as help. He didn't believe in internal documentation or on keeping interfaces stable. He also didn't believe in writing code that wasn't brittle, or in unit tests: Code changes from the new developers often broke things, the veteran would come in, fix everything in the middle of the emergency, and look absolutely great, while all the other developers looked to management as if they were incompetent. They were not, however: they were quite successful when moved to other teams. It just happens that the original developer made sure nobody else could touch anything. Eventually, the experiment was retried after the original developer was sent to do other things. It took a few months, but the new replacement team managed to modularize the code, and new people could actually modify the codebase productively.

All of those negative value developers could probably be very valuable in very specific conditions, and they'd look just fine in a tough job interview. They were still terrible hires. In my experience, if anything, a harder process that demands people to appear smarter or work faster in an interview have the opposite effect of what I'd want: They end up selecting for people that think less and do more quickly, building debt faster.

My favorite developers ever all do badly in your typical stringent Silicon Valley intervew. They work slower, do more thinking, and consider every line of code they write technical debt. They won't have a million algorithms memorized: They'll go look at sources more often than not, and will spend a lot of time on tests that might as well be documentation. Very few of those traits are positive in an interview, but I think they are vital in creating good teams, but few select for them at all.

So I think that it's better to be a bit less stringent early, make take homes part of the interviews, and just learn that it's OK to fire people if they aren't working out.




> I think that blaming "lowering hiring standards", as the author said, is a complete red herring.

I've seen it done, far too often. Management-only hiring interviews because devs were being "too stringent" and it was "time-sensitive". A guy who had "contributed to the Linux kernel", but his FizzBuzz implementation didn't work. Of course, management didn't notice, only by luck did a dev look at the whiteboard after the interview.

Or, even if they haven't lowered, someone slips through the cracks. They then usually bounce from team to team, happily collecting paychecks. Then, after they've been around for years, having worked on so many projects, management considers them senior somehow. Everybody thinks "can't be that bad if nobody has fired him", and thus firing never occurs.


> My favorite developers ever all do badly in your typical stringent Silicon Valley interview...

My life story, sniff.




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