A-level hiring is not about rejection. A-players aren't looking for a "job" and A-managers aren't trying to build an assembly line. It's about finding a mutual relationship where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and that requires a lot of things to come together.
> As a startup, if you have the opportunity to bring on an A player in a low risk role (like an internship), you do it
All circumstances are different, so maybe he should have found room for Dan, or maybe not. Engineering quality (and talent in general) is on a power law distribution. When you consider engineering quality to be a competitive advantage (not all startups, even YC startups, need this), your early hires are your future managers, and will tend to influence the future hires. Its tough to attract and close people smarter/better than you.
I imagine myself now at age 26 (pretty decent engineer, doing functional programming and stuff), and compare to age 21 (cocky, overconfident) and while I was smart and driven and all that, it doesn't mean I can contribute to a rockstar team. I would drown and get left behind. World class teams at the top of the power law distribution, say the Clojure team, at age 21 I'd be a few orders of magnitude behind them and just not worth paying. at age 26, who knows, probably still at least 1 order of magnitude behind, not worth hiring. Square peg, round hole. At least I can see my trajectory of exponential growth over the last 5 years, and if that keeps up another decade, I can build or join a team like that.
I should probably note that the use of the word "rejected" was done to emphasize the humor of the situation (we rejected someone who is now being publicly recruited), and to draw attention to what a mistake it was.
I would completely agree that A level hiring isn't about rejection, job descriptions, or assembly lines. That's why I am such a fan of what Jason Freedman is doing at 42floors.
To your second point, I remain a firm believer that early stage companies (less than 10 people) in this hiring environment should be open to bringing on A players, even if they don't fit into an immediately defined role.
Btw self-seeking flattery of powerful, influential people is generally considered as sycophantic.
Is there a good term for flattering people like the guy described in this post :)
 for chc and anyone else who didn't get the sarcasm, yes, the intern wasn't powerful. That is precisely why the smiley-question asked for a new term
I believe the term for flattering people like Dan Shipper is "paying a compliment."
EDIT: You're right, I didn't get the sarcasm. In the context of a comment that described the OP as "hero-worship," it doesn't come across as sarcasm. If we acknowledge that the guy is neither powerful nor influential, it seems pretty obvious that the OP's "flattery" is merely paying a compliment to somebody he respects. I think we could use more of that and less "So-and-so is full of shit" articles.
The opposing hand gesture to bird-flipping might be peace-sign-showing. So how about "pacophantic".
(And FWIW, I thought the sarcasm in your question was immediately clear, not sure how other people misunderstood it).
The term you're looking for is self-seeking.
It's hard to comment accurately without knowing much more about both sides involved here, but generally speaking, rejecting a (skilled+proven) developer who's willing to learn a new technology because he doesn't have experience in it is just...a mistake.
I certainly won't disagree that the rejection was a mistake (since admitting that mistake is the whole idea of the post).
However, it is worth noting that when we rejected Dan, we rejected a skilled developer. We did not reject a (skilled+proven) developer as you asserted.
Our mistake was in failing to see past Dan's relative inexperience in the areas that mattered to us. We knew he was skilled, but we were unsure how well his raw talent would translate to our product needs at the time. In other words, he was not "proven" in the ways that mattered to us.
Obviously, Dan has now developed enough of the social proof needed to be classified as (skilled+proven), but I think he would be the first to say that his skillset last year was very different than it is now.
Many companies regularly pass on very good people who simply don't fit an immediate defined need. I think this is a common mistake, and one that isn't just made by corporate HR drones and technical recruiters. Part of the goal of this post was drawing attention to how common this mistake is.
There are always stories going around, maybe true, maybe urban legends about how, for example, IBM could had an opportunity to buy Xerox and could have owned the copier market (which was a really big deal at one point). People talk about how a company passes on an opportunity and, after the fact, what a mistake it was.
What the stories never mention is how many ideas they passed up that never amounted to anything. They only focus on the mistake they made.
You can't hire everyone and you used your best judgment given what you needed and what you saw. If 42floors hadn't written the blog post and it hadn't appeared on HN this situation with Dan wouldn't mean anything to you you wouldn't even know about it.
I, personally, know three people in college who have turned out Web apps, iPad games, and even Linux drivers for underrepresented hardware. I think their accomplishments are great, and for every Dan Shipper I bet there's six or seven people not getting the same milk and honey publicly. This hero worship on HN is tiring, and that you're buying into it (and second-guessing your hiring decision!) is just wrong. It's bad for your company to admit it publicly, too, because you're too easily bandwagoned.
You made a decision. Own it, and don't give in to the flavor of the week that HN is lauding.
It is of wise men to change your mind.
After 4 mos using RoR on one small project, I worked to get my foot in the door for a sit down at a startup looking for their first engineering hire. They wanted someone with 3+ years experience. After seeing some of my code and doing a sample project for them (learning the basics of Sinatra/DataMapper/OAuth/FBGraphAPI to crack a problem they had a need for in a weekend), the CTO said I pretty much blew away many people he's seen who've had such experience, and in the end I was the one to say no to moving forward after the interview process.
If you're looking at people who 'need' to be trained then you're looking at the wrong people. You're looking for people who can crack the more meta-problem of actually learning shit quickly and subsequenty getting shit done quickly.
What is a big deal is being smart and motivated and knowing a lot about at least something useful. Everything else is gravy.
Hiring highly skilled programmers that know exactly the technologies they need is what many companies aim for when hiring, and never accomplish. They're wrong. Even Google has problems finding (and hiring) those. That's why I said it was a mistake.
So, I would expect that you can find these jobs. And the companies that are willing to hire you might also be the ones you want to work at. But some HR departments will turn you down, and some people (like the original poster) may turn you down because it's a risk. (I can't blame them - hiring the wrong person is a bad mistake, too - but they shouldn't complain it's hard to find good people.)
I suppose at the end of the day, startup founders should at least have empathy for this situation. After all, starting a startup is an exercise in not having enough "social proof".
Young has nothing to do with mentality or intellect. Nice to hear someone who is in charge of hiring be honest and say it out loud though.
So I thought it was an open letter to all good developers that they wanted to hire them.
Granted, I only read the first half of the post...
More on topic, I quite liked this blog post & think it was much more informant than the one from 42F
Oh, and we've rejected another set of John Does here, by the way.
A-players are by definition people who have done something big. Who hired these people to give them a chance to do something big? What about the larger group of people whose startup flamed out before they could demo their skills? It's all a crapshoot.
Hiring is easy. A small startup is receiving resumes from a self-selected group of people who want to work there despite the low pay and lower job security. Most of the people reading HN could build an instagram-type system. So once you filter for ability with some stupid programming quiz, just pick the guy you like. If your company succeeds, he will magically be considered an A-player.
I agree that personal stories like this should have the approval of everyone involved before they are published.
In this case, Dan personally reviewed and approved the article, but that wasn't known at the time (nor was it disclosed), so the caution was certainly warranted.
(Kidding, I have really enjoyed Michael's recent spurt of blog activity.)
The key points:
- Hire people who are awesome
- Fire people who aren't
I know a sporting example might not be overly popular on HN, but let me try! In the NBA draft, teams will choose between drafting to fill a need (e.g., they're weak at centre, so they'll draft the best big guy), or drafting the most talented player still available (e.g., a brilliant point guard even though they already have two).
In this hiring context, it's a bit like drafting on talent alone - take the "A Player" and worry about the details later. In the NBA example, this means trying to force a fit (shifting a SG to SF), trading them for things you do need (an elite SG for a decent big and a roleplayer), or rebuilding your team around them.
Michael Jordan was drafted third in 1984. The first pick (Olajuwon) was a top-tier talent but the second pick (Bowie) was a bit of a bust. Portland took Bowie ahead of Jordan because they already had Paxson and had recently drafted Drexler.
HR at some no-name start-up gets it into their head that some kid can make all their programming dreams come true. They made a blog post to lure him.
Later, HR at some other no-name startup makes a blog post proudly announcing that the kid in question applied there first, also making some annoying backhanded compliments about how their standards were too high or some lame shit.
What next? Nothing at all.
Words cannot describe how tired I am of hearing these sorts of weird sports metaphors used to describe tech talent. Are we really so immature as an industry that we have to constantly rely on sports metaphors? It's as bad as talking about ninjas and rockstars.
Also, I'm really sick of all these mindless, droning, uninsightful posts about hiring in general. Who cares? Tech interviewing and hiring is a joke, and everyone here knows it. Larger companies act like you're saddled with the new hire forever, even though in most places reading HN it's extremely easy to fire people. Small companies act like they absolutely have to find the best talent in the universe, even though what they actually need to do is get some product shipped. It's all just ego stroking and an attempt to codify insecurities.
How about more awesome submissions about hacks, ingenuity, and product success, and less B.S. about name-dropping, baseless pontification on interview tactics, and overuse of bad metaphors. While were at it, let's drop the bubble FUD and ridiculous guesses about big company tech strategy.