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Startup using a custom Portal 2 level to recruit engineers (wibidata.com)
136 points by alex_lod on Jan 23, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 78 comments

I say this partly in jest but... it's nice to see a lean startup using its limited resources correctly by creating levels for Portal 2. For all I know, this could've been an employee's pet project, but if not I'm not sure I see the value.

Also, the jobs homepage lede is a little grating:

"We're seeking brilliant people ..." [Click "I'm brilliant" to continue]

Because who doesn't think they deserve brilliant people? Nice employers and a good corporate culture are obviously very important, but can't it be taken too far? I think, what it comes down to, is that I don't like seeing a company's ego on display so brazenly, especially when they're a startup which still has a lot to prove.

This whole obsession over Super Ninja Rockstar MegaUltraDevelopers is getting to be a bit much. Everyone says they want the top 0.1%, which they just aren't going to get. Maybe it's because I don't consider myself "brilliant". I'm a reasonably intelligent guy with a good education, loads of experience, and a diverse skillset. But I'm not a genius. Very few are.

You've gotta be realistic, and I get the impression that unless a company is paying rather large salaries and/or offering extremely interesting problems to solve, they're only likely to attract people with overinflated egos with that kind of rhetoric, rather than the true best of the best.

I'm in agreement here. I wonder how many solid and experienced devs are put off applying for these jobs by this current fad. I consider myself a fairly good dev with a broad range of skills in development and devops, but as soon as I see "Super Ninja Rockstar" etc I roll my eye's and skip to the next job listing.

I wonder how many companies miss out on actual "Super Ninja Rockstar" devs, who are in reality modest individuals, because of this type of wording?

Or maybe I'm just a boring old mid-40's fart.

Or maybe I'm just a boring old mid-40's fart.

That's part of it, right? I assume that all these silly requirements and hoops are really saying, "We want the best of the best as long as you're under 30."

They do tend to come with things like, "Benefits: monthly mountaineering trips, and we spear-fish for team sushi lunches once a week," which are perhaps slightly more appealing to young singles than the over 30s.

Certainly this 'boring old fart' would rather get home to his family at the end of a long day than spend even more time comparing haircuts with a bunch of yippy twenty-somethings.

> Certainly this 'boring old fart' would rather get home to his family at the end of a long day than spend even more time comparing haircuts with a bunch of yippy twenty-somethings.

I'm 25 and fully agree. While in my case it's not getting home to my family, it's having time to have a decent work-life balance. I spent years doing nothing but startup work, and I'll never go back to that, no matter how much equity is thrown at me. At the end of the day, I like being able to sit back, relax, and hack some stuff, write some music, and spend time with my friends; I don't need work to provide those things for me.

"Getting?" Frankly I'm a little shocked that people are still using it after all the derision it's received. It's getting to be (I'd like to think) a black mark along the lines of the Web Economy Bullshit Generator.

The best hires are fresh CS/maths grads with little commercial experience and a burning desire to learn.

All you have to do is provide an environment in which they can, provide a raise as and when they "level up", provide infinite caffeine, interesting problems, and the rest, as they say, is history.

I assume you're basing that on your direct experience with twenty-five year veterans who have used their complete mastery of a popular toolchain to ship a couple of dozen production systems to customers who were in turn delighted by the quality of the work and the high level of professionalism.

Show me a 25 year master in web technologies.

I'm basing it on personal experience of having grown a company from nothing without funding to an enterprise carrying over £1bn of client commerce in 6 years. But what would I know.

Oh, and 100% client retention and no marketing except word of mouth. I'd say that's satisfaction.

This is called a fallacy of dramatic instance. Your problem domain and your company are satisfied with young programmers, but you cannot extrapolate that to all software enterprises.

Sure, but you can extrapolate it to the entire web industry, which is my domain. I've built teams for clients (we started out taking equity in startups in exchange for prototyping and team assembly), and in every instance have followed that formula. In every instance they've had successful eight figure exits.

Sure, it's likely not universally applicable, however you shouldn't underestimate the power of an open mind.

"you shouldn't underestimate the power of an open mind."

I'm not sure your ideas are quite as bold and radical as you think. In fact, I would say that you're merely repeating the common liturgy of the industry. Young tyros are more "creative" than seasoned veterans. Caffeine addled youths have more exciting ideas. They have fewer preconceptions. They're more nimble. They're in it for love of the game.

What I'm asking is why you're so sure all of this is true. "It's true because I am successful" doesn't seem to me very persuasive.

I see it as true because it's a repeatable experiment. I haven't argued that my ideas are bold or radical, merely fact - and nor have I argued that this differs from common liturgy. Neophytes are indeed more creative than seasoned veterans, as they haven't condemned their minds to a single, myopic track of thought, as many, and in fact most, do. "PL/SQL is the only structured query language compliant with the PL/SQL specification and is therefore superior" "MUMPS can achieve anything" "Fortran '77 is good enough".

I've worked both in orgs with "greybeards" and in the org I've founded along with many clients. There's plenty to be said for veteran levels of experience, but this is something that's only really needed in a leader, as this experience can be communicated and demonstrated to others. A fool learns by his own mistakes, a wise man by those of others. I suppose this makes me a fool, but a fool who's decided to help others be wise, and to harness those several decades of experience in such a fashion that it benefits all involved.

So yes, you have a point in that years of experience are indeed valuable, but I would argue that this is not a prerequisite to be an exceptional engineer, and that in fact truly exceptional engineers arise through memetic experience, and a thirst for knowledge.

It's true that I speak from personal experience, but then again, so does every scientist who finds a repeatable experiment. I'd be happy to be disproven, but until then, I'm equally happy to treat what I find to be a valid theory as fact.

Young, passionate individuals make the world go round. You only have to look to the great leaps and bounds of science to witness this in visceral actuality.

> Neophytes are indeed more creative than seasoned veterans > I'd be happy to be disproven, but until then, I'm equally happy to treat what I find to be a valid theory as fact.

I thought for a while what is best to say, but perhaps I'll just go with a counter-example: Intel. The founders were around 40 when they started the company, and experienced in their industry. Not the 25 years mentioned above, but I'm taking that as a hyperbole.

If it takes a young, creative individual to create a 1 billion pound company in 6 years, what does it take to make a 54 billion dollar company in just over 40 years?


"Best" in what sense?

Productivity, enthusiasm, willingness to learn new tricks (get 'em in knowing PHP, watch 'em learn C, Java, and ASM as they go deeper into our stack), and willing to take the risk of sticking their neck out with outlandish but brilliant ideas.

Frequent use of ASM in a web dev shop? Really?

Not to a huge degree, admittedly, but enough that more than a few of us have ended up with a more in-depth knowledge of assembly than one might expect.

This has typically arisen from working with existing OSS projects which incorporate vector transforms and the ilk in ASM, often badly or subtly brokenly, and from building optimised functions for doing fun things like creating n-dimensional maps of customer/product relationships in order to determine purchase propensity based on cluster profiles.

So yeah, ASM in a web shop. Except we're only kinda a web shop these days - client sites are our marketing platform, but our business is business systems.

At first I was going to agree with you, but then thought about how extortionate the commissions are for most tech recruiters...

If they are trying to recruit smart talent with a lot of free time on their hands (IE nerdy college students), then there is probably high ROI from a stunt like this. Its on the front page of HN, probably Reddit and maybe some other blogs by now. Huge PR gain, plus a challenge that has smart creative young people clamoring to work for them. Its actually a smart investment.

Well, at the very least, it's getting attention, including yours. How many other startups are desperately seeking employees that you have no idea exist?

Seems like fun...

But this type of thing doesn't help our profession be taken seriously. If WibiData was a game company this would fit - but they do data analytics as far as I can tell.

I am a professional software developer. I have a very specific skill set and I expect to be treated properly. I do not appreciate it when people think I am a "geek", or that I obviously play video games or are in to Star Trek[1]. When it comes to my professional career I expected to be treated as an adult with a valuable skillset that can add value to a business.

I wouldn't apply to this company frankly because this strategy belies a culture that thinks development is all fun and games. Whether that's true or not, doesn't matter. What they are communicating to me as a potential applicant turns me off. (and the photos of a giant open room don't help either - who the hell wants to work in an office like that?)

[1]note, just because I am totally into all that doesn't invalidate my point

One of the other concerns when hiring is finding a fit for the company's culture. Perhaps that's what they're trying to achieve.

That's probably exactly what they are doing. So I suppose I shouldn't be too hard on them - they are conveniently broadcasting they have a youngish "play" culture at work.

Maybe the problem is that we think we're supposed to be serious. Writing code is fun, or at least it should be whenever possible.

Writing code can be fun.

Writing code professionally should be serious.

These are not mutually exclusive points.

Kind of neat, but strange as a recruitment device: It seems difficult enough to get good people, why would one put such an arbitrary filter as a first barrier? People who don't play computer games or Portal 2 are probably much less likely to apply that way.

I see your point. I've been put off jobs in that past where the requirements have listed stuff like "You must kick ass at Xbox games!" for completely non gamedev jobs.

Now I love video games as much as the next geek and I've always assumed it was a light hearted hint towards company culture rather than a hard requirement.

But I just find something a little off about stuff like this, like it sets off a little red light in my brain that I can't put my finger on. We would probably think it was weird if they said "we all love cricket so you should too!", I guess it feels a little patronising to be told "of course you love Xbox, you are a geek after all!"

As a Segue the use of the term "geek" in job descriptions irks me also.

Edit: Wording corrected

I hate to be that guy but FSM help me, I am.

Segway: a goofy 2 wheeled scooter invented by Dean Kamen.

Segue: to make a transition from one thing to another smoothly and without interruption: The conversation segued from travel anecdotes to food.

Some places mention that they have an XBox on site for you to play with, but that's usually just a red flag for me. I love playing games, but if I am going to be at work long enough to feel the urge to play then I am at work way too long.

These are probably the same places that think adding an extra hour to your work increases your productivity by 16%.

"XBox on site," says to me, "we're (hiring) young people."

It sort of irks me that people assume that 1) all young people play prodigious amounts of games to the point where an X-Box is some sort of alluring factor, and 2) only young people play games and that gaming is a way to differentiate between ages. I am young, and I would be put off by this sort of thing. If the most appealing part of your company is that you have an X-Box, you're doing it wrong.

It's not so much "XBox" as a specific device, but of the lifestyle and time that younger people are more likely to pour into their early jobs. They're simply more receptive to a job-includes-hobbies lifestyle. This doesn't prevent older people from participating in this world, but statistics would tell us that more older people have children and non-job hobbies. Frankly, as an older person who owns a PS3 and Wii, it tells me that not only do they want hanger-outers for employees, but ones that play specific kinds of games.

And you can make the inverted inference: "we're not hiring older people"

I don't take issue with an Xbox on site, after all plenty of workplaces provide leisure facilities of some kind, especially since there is a legally mandated lunch break here in the UK.

What raises the red flag is making it such a prominent part of the actual job description.

I don't think this is in any way a necessary step for applying there, which is good.

It's simply one more avenue of lead generation for recruitment. And a very creative one that's likely to get them quite a bit of exposure. It also has the benefit of clearly demonstrating that they are a "fun" company, not your run-of-the-mill boring enterprise product corporation.

Ah, if it's optional it is indeed nice. That was not clear to me from the page.

Because they made the front page of HackerNews (likely the target audience), and will probably be picked up by a few other techie sites as well.

As with all the other "hiring games" that Google and others do, you can also just submit your resume, you don't have to play.

Why do you consider it a barrier? It is not required. If you want to submit a resume the normal way, they have a link to do that too.

I think the idea is that developers who are also gamers are probably going to fit a certain company culture.

Personally, I like working with other developers who like games and good beer. I haven't had great experiences with the type who lock themselves in their offices and don't come to happy hour.

It's a PR stunt

Some people don't like video games, prefer sports, like skiing... Some people play Settlers and/or Civilization or turn based strategies... They won't be able to react or move quickly in Portal. It's like saying - we will hire you but you need to BUY and DRIVE this motorbike through this hoop of fire... And person don't even have driving license. Not to mention they were busy building that hoop of fire instead of making their product in the first place (but that's for them to decide how they want to run their business). I juts think being a gamer is not requirement. If you can opt out and solve a chess puzzle or a super fast Tetris or whatever - there should be alternatives, just like audio capcha or sites for color blind people

As others have pointed out, you can just submit your resume without playing.

On a side note: I wish startups would start putting the company location somewhere in an easily accessible place. This would allow me to decide if an application is a valid option due to geography.

I think these guys did that just fine - the same pages that lists open positions includes locations: From the homepage, I clicked "jobs" then "see our open positions" and I got a list of all open positions and their location.


"Current Openings Administrative Assistant Location: San Francisco, CA Department: Operations ..."

Beyond the city, it is useful to know more precisely where in the city it is located, so that one can determine if the commute will be worth it and if they are okay with spending their workday in that neighborhood. Fortunately, they also have a map on their about page (http://jobs.wibidata.com/about/).

Not for this, but this is usually my #1 complaint with job postings on VC. Location is really the single most important thing, say it right away, preferably in the title.

The irony is that, if they weren't busy designing Portal maps, they'd have enough manpower to develop their product.

That's really not how people work. Haven't you ever programmed all day at work and then gone home to work on a personal project? It's very easy to get a second wind when changing projects, especially if it is something you find enjoyable.

And for all we know this was something that someone built outside of work they realized could be put to this use.

I like these sort of recruitment teasers, mainly because if done well they self-select for exactly the kind of person you want.

I think this is similar in effect to website job boards like the joelonsoftware board or the hn jobs section, where the people who answer are likelier to share your vision and opinions.

In this case you'd have to have Portal 2 already, but anyway. Maybe they're looking for that :)

> I like these sort of recruitment teasers, mainly because if done well they self-select for exactly the kind of person you want.

In this case, 20-30 year old males.

In this case, 20-30 year old males

This perfectly encapsulates my unease with this kind of recruiting/self selection approach. I get that culture fit is important, but I also don't like the sort of groupthink and monoculture that you get by just hiring a bunch of people who are all into the same narrow pop culture niches.

I'm guilty of this kind of monocultural preference myself. I used to joke about starting interviews with "What's your favorite Hayao Miyazaki film and why?" although I never actually did it.

I understand your point, but just because we all love Miyazaki films (the objective truth :D) doesn't mean we each don't have our own unique traits/interests/hobbies/etc. that provide a well-rounded cultural outlook.

I agree with your notion that in hiring one should maintain a good balance of breadth and culture fit!

What percentage of 20-30 year old males do you believe have played Portal (2), saw this posting, had the inclination to download the mod, and the inquisitiveness and persistance to actually complete the puzzle/test?

Rarely is a filter perfect, but this is likely a lot better than taking a random sample from the population :)

I think what the parent is pointing out that P(male, 20-30 | played through the level) is higher than the existing P(male, 20-30 | applied for job)

>In this case, 20-30 year old males. I would argue that it's more like "Anyone who reads Hacker News, Reddit, or any other place this gets posted." (Granted, that overlaps with 20-30 year old males quite a bit.) The puzzle is more like an advertisement, not a requirement to apply.

Has anyone downloaded the mod and tried it?

I'm curious why they use this mod for recruiting, though I don't own Portal 2 and I'm not interested in applying to Wibidata. What the video shows of the gameplay and puzzles are what I'd expect from Portal 2.

I played through it. There's 5 "tests", and it took me about 2 hours, though now knowing the solutions I could play through again in probably 15 minutes, so it just depends how long it takes you to figure them out.

Overall they're very good levels. A good bit more difficult than the base game, and most of the other user-created levels I've played. I was a little surprised that a couple places were more about reflexes than brainpower, since I assume they're looking for good problem solvers rather than good first-person-shooter players. But in general, very good puzzles implemented very well.

I tried it, but it seems to have gotten stuck after I read the email =/

email template for people who want to apply: I estimated it would take X time units to finish this game. Instead I wrote this neat piece of software (github-link) in that timespan.

Hire me, gg no re

This is a fantastic idea. Cultural fit as selection criteria is more appreciated than it used to be, but still underrated.

This nails it. I'll do this next time I need to recruit.

Clever idea although as others mention it's obviously a very biased selection, but if they are OK with that, that's fine with me. I was all set to try it just for kicks, but this turned me off and I quit the install:

"In this mod you're placed into the Wibi!Data office to reset a PIN for the CEO of the company. You reset this by gathering reset keys and slowing figuring out the reset code."

Neat! Not great for applicants that they have to purchase a copy of Portal 2 on steam, but at least it should be fun. Also, I don't know if it's a good thing to require engineers to apply by playing a game - but I guess it might be good to identify people who would be a good cultural fit.

Can you explain where it says this is required? I just looked at their web site and you can apply normally. The puzzles are optional.

I guess it's technically not required unless you want to play the levels.

I think all of you are missing the point. They might have done this to create a filter that would weed out people who wouldn't fit. But, I think the main point was to attract as much attention as possible to the fact that they are hiring. "Free" advertisement.

This thread proves they succeed beautifully.

I think it's a fun. But while "brilliant" people playing* portal 2, a clever and unemployed person who has to pay his bills, will spend his time applying for jobs, networking or/and building a product and try to maximize his utility.

* : I mean really playing, not decompiling..

Is the typo deliberate? recuriting?

Perhaps it is more "culture fitting".

Only rokstar geniouses need aply.

It's interesting to me how negative most of the comments are here, compared to how positive they were for a very similar idea last week: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5081053

Can someone tell me what Portal 2 is?

Ah, forget it. I'm obviously not qualified for this job.

Anyone try portal 2 on Linux? How is the performance ?

WineHQ has it listed as 'Platinum'. I've played all the way through Half Life 2 and Portal using wine a while ago and they worked very well, but I can't speak from experience on Portal 2.


From the trailer, this looks like high quality stuff. I wonder what their budget was! They certainly got my attention.

haha, this is awesome!

Surely any engineer worth their salt will just grab a map decompiler - like this one. https://developer.valvesoftware.com/wiki/BSPSource

Maybe this is part of the test ;-)

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