But here's the thing: I've never been rejected for a job because someone said "Mr. Braithwaite, we advertised for awesome, and you are not awesome." Everybody seems to be in on the secret that "awesome developer" doesn't actually mean John Carmack, Linus Torvalds, and Andy Hertzfeld rolled into one with a side of Alan Turing.
So while I don't think of myself as awesome, I look at advertisements for "awesome developers" the same way I look at advertisements touting the "awesome team culture" and "awesome office location" and the "awesome potential to get stinking rich." I just ignore them.
This may not apply to everyone, but I'm sure that advertising for an "awesome developer" will still get you good people who have self-critical capabilities. They just have to be a little jaded and cynical. In which case, it may not lose you a candidate, but it won't win you any candidates either.
So I doubt it's seriously harmful, but I also doubt it's a great strategy.
p.s. Now that my secret's out, I expect someone is going to phone screen me one day and ask: "So, are you really, really awesome? Because if not, we're done with this call." And I'll have to 'fess up.
Almost by definition, anyone who really is a badass, rockstar, ninja, etc. at what they do is viscerally repelled by the cockiness exuding from job ads seeking people who describe themselves as such... and would never dream of applying for such jobs.
It's fine to brag, but they can do so much better than a single dimensional word like awesome. All companies think they're awesome. I'd love it if they took the time to express the subtleties of WHY they think they're awesome.
p.s. Thanks for the comment. I read a lot of your writing and appreciate the perspective.
This could possibly be A/B tested, i.e. have one job that's described as looking for 'awesome' vs 'good' developers for the same job and see what type of candidates it attracts at various levels of the interview process.
I used to think I was awesome back when I didn't know anything more than a single language and paradigm. It's only years later by seeing a second language, then a third and by looking at other projects' sources that I realized how silly being awesome really is.
After a decade of writing code, I've reached the point where I learned enough to admit I know next to nothing.
I'm being nitpicky, but this isn't true (unless you're talking about the median).
I think developers follow a skewed distribution by most measures (prolificacy, quality), with something more like a power law distribution. If this is true, the majority of developers are below-average. A sobering thought!
The opposite is also possible however. If 90% of developers are equally good, and 10% are really terrible, then 90% of developers could be above average. If this is the type of problem your devs are solving, you shouldn't be paying top wages or trying to get "ninjas."
Nitpick aside, this is a great article about avoiding the wrong kind of self-selection in your applicant pool.
It used to be assumed that differences among hospitals
or doctors in a particular specialty were generally
insignificant. If you plotted a graph showing the
results of all the centers treating cystic fibrosis—or
any other disease, for that matter—people expected that
the curve would look something like a shark fin, with
most places clustered around the very best outcomes.
But the evidence has begun to indicate otherwise. What
you tend to find is a bell curve: a handful of team
with disturbingly poor outcomes for their patients, a
handful with remarkably good results, and a great
Statistics requires a lot of correct assumptions in order to be accurate; sadly, most people overlook or fail to check their assumptions.
The problem is people assuming a normal distribution on a single variable with unknown distribution.
We're not talking about the statistical central limit theorem here, we're talking about people who are passionate about programming and spend years working on their craft.
You can only invoke the normal distribution thing when you're talking about an outcome that is the average of many independent quantities.
Which is not to say there is no market for chasing frisbies.
It was easy to figure out what the author meant, and his point should be taken for what he meant: half of people are below median.
PS Thanks for indulging me in this rant. This just happened last week and I am still a bit annoyed that I wasted that much time at a company only to find they wanted someone with a completely different skill set (ie RPG).
This has been discussed before but basically telling a candidate that you passed on them for a specific reason is seen as an invitation to argue the point, so people say something like 'wrong skill set.' Easier just to move along and not worry about it too much.
"wanted - crap developer, poor time-keeping,
rude attitude and bad test coverage a must"
It's just like job title inflation or real estate agent descriptions of property (You also never see "pokey little hovel for sale, noisy neighbours")
Just ignore the fluff, read the actual job and decide.
I must +1 this bit - nice idea, where self-selection actually works:
Instead, try expressing a piece of your culture or
mission: dog-loving hacker, activist developer,
foodie web developer
Or something about your development process:
generalist software engineer, creator of performant &
maintainable code, quick-and-dirty hacker
When I first read Valve's employee handbook, I thought the T thing was a bad idea because it killed the chances of people who would probably be really good candidates. But after thinking about it some more, I see where Valve is coming from.
I spent the last decade working as a non-teaching/research faculty member in academia, where the T/R faculty members were (for the most part) either vertical lines or em dashes. The vertical pipes were world renowned experts in their fields, but their fields were niches within niches. They never strayed far outside of their comfort zones, and a lot of them ended up publishing essentially the same half dozen papers over and over for the entire span of their careers. The em dashes had broad knowledge across a large swath of subject matter and made great 1000- and 2000-level course instructors, but they never really became experts at anything and their research output suffered.
I do wonder how many potential candidates have been scared away by the publication of Valve's employee handbook and that image of the Heavy Weapons Guy, though. I certainly have. (I fear my T is too wide and not tall enough, so I don't even bother sending in a CV despite having a desire to work there.)
I am reminded of the story retold on (e.g.) this page:
There's a famous anecdote about the famous science fiction editor John Campbell meeting a fan of his magazine. When the fan mentioned that he'd written some stories, Campbell remarked that he didn't recall seeing any submissions under this fan's name. "Oh, no," the fan remarked. "I haven't submitted them to you because they're nowhere near good enough for that." That's when Campbell exploded and said, "How dare you reject stories for my magazine! You submit the stories to me and I'll decide whether they're good or not."
Even if you don't want to apply and endure the ignominy of being bounced, (though you should just grit your teeth and get bounced; you'll get over it, and "getting over it" is a skill worth practicing!) I'd encourage you to take a current or former employee of Valve out for coffee some day and ask what it would take for you to get a job there. Have a five-minute chat. You might learn something, and you might even be surprised. One of the points that the OP makes is that it's really easy to make a mistake in evaluating your own depth of skill.
They understand how a small mis-understanding or mis-assumption can lead to inflexible situations beyond anyone's wildest imagination.
Most importantly, they are completely comfortable with the following phrases and using them very often:
- I don't know, let me look into it.
- You could be right.
In the "skills" section of my resume I have a list of technologies that I have "limited experience" with, on which I have included C# and Python.
During the interview the interviewer started a question with "In C#..." to which I interrupted him to mention that my knowledge of C# was pretty limited. The question turned out to be a pretty easy question about OO (or something like that). The next question started with "In Python..." and I again interrupted him, only to have him ask an easy question about dynamic vs. static typing.
This is sort of the opposite problem, where I was so afraid of overstating my abilities to the point where I made myself look bad.
(At least that's how I sometimes managed to get better marks in my oral exams, which aren't too far away from some job interviews.)
So yeah, filler BS goes both ways.
(PS. Coding tasks in prescreening are contentunous topic. My
POV: if you don't have open source "portfolio" I can look at, and if you can't be bothered to spend an hour to potentially save both of us from a couple hours on an interview day, I don't want to talk to you anyway).
I can see that being asked to code for days is a no-no for prescreening.
I am an excellent developer with many years of experience, but I have never once described myself as a "rock star."
Nope -- 50% of developers are below the median. If I could hazard a guess I would say something like 80% of developers are below average.
I think the best developers tend to already know where they want to work anyway; the wording of job postings probably has little effect on these people.
I'd be interested in hearing what others think about this trend.
When I read portfolios/personal sites like that, the first thought that always crosses my mind is, "They were looking for a creative way to say that they design _________ but settled on a tired cliche." However, that kind of marketing speak doesn't necessarily make me second guess the person's work. Rather (to use your example), some people may be great designers, despite the fact that they can't write their way out of wet paper bags (and thus need to settle on cliches).
Sizable personal bias aside, I have some data that argues you may be correct. When I rebuilt my website last summer, I built a fairly typical main page with lots of space for a headline. I spent the rest of the year A/B testing headlines to see which one got more people to delve deeper into my site.
I ran many tests, but the best performing headline I came up with was "Everything I put in this box makes me sound like a pretentious geek". The difference was truly immense - my pretentious geek headline outperformed everything else by at least 2.5%!
Consequently, my homepage contains the words "Everything I put in this box makes me sound like a pretentious geek". I sacrificed branding in favour of results...and I'm pretty sure my University would like me to give back my marketing degree! ;-)
No one seems to believe this, but developers have to develop software at some point. There is no way around it, no one else is going to write the code, make the tests, etc. In the business world unfortunately, people drop out development but keep calling themselves developers. A developer leader is someone who delivers software.
I think we do not so much disagree in the essence, but just in the amount of hyperbole.
(As a snarky aside, I almost never sit at my computer. Sitting kills you. I might be able to do 12h at a standing desk, but no way I'd manage to do that sitting down. Though my eyes (and brain) will give out long before that.)
"Don't hire only self-described awesome [whatevers]."