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"There is another co-worker, Mike, who was also hired through the same contractor and is black also. One day this large, lumbering white guy walks by our work station and Mike says “watch out for that guy, he’s trouble, he talks a lot of shit” in a half affectionate half sarcastic tone, like you would about a friend. However, when I see the white guy’s sneering red face looking back at us I knew there was more than ring of truth to that statement…"

It seems "and Mike says" is pretty clear, especially with the followup about it being true, illustrated with incidents involving the guy who "talks a lot of shit".


"Twitter and Facebook pages full of photos from barbaric rituals and poems about killing penguins?"

Right, because that's so relevant compared to photos indicating that the candidate is pregnant, black, or of a religion the CTO hates passionately. This sort of thing is either an irrational fear or a cover for excluding the sort of person he's not allowed to say he doesn't want.

It's not that I want to force him to hire penguin murderers; it's that I find myself wondering how likely it is that some crazy will find their way into a technical interview process.


The fact he's being so flippant about what it is he exactly wants with the details of someone's internet social life has me thinking he could not actually admit what his real agenda and biases are. That should be worrying.


Hello, I'm Paul the author of the original piece. Pleased to meet you.

Thanks for taking a few hundred words I wrote over a lunch break and extracting from them a warped inference that I must be a racist, misogynistic bigot.

I actually have no such biases. I'm a leftist-liberal who reads The Guardian, I've worked in the public sector for many years which in the UK means having to know employment law inside out, and have specifically worked out of my recruitment process anything that could impede somebody getting a job in my team that other employers would secretly harbour as an excuse.

My hiring strategy is a bit like Valve software's: T-shaped skillsets are gold, and I ask the three questions: What would happen if this person were to become my boss? Would I learn a significant amount from them? How would I feel if they went to work for a competitor?

I just like to understand candidate's beyond a single sheet CV before they come into interview. They might spend 10 hours a day playing Minecraft. Cool, let's talk about that, and how they like to hack around with it a little. They might spend their weekends canoeing. I hate physical exertion, but cool, let's talk about the challenges canoeing provides and how they deal with them. They might be a devout Scientologist. OK, I don't get Scientology personally, but I know employment law well enough to know that's no barrier to you getting the job - I've heard Scientology is really big on clarity of communication through "auditing", so let's talk about how that's helped the candidate in the workplace, 'k?

I am not a white male bigot who hires people like me. I work with women, non-white, non-atheist, non-Christian, non-liberal, non-leftist, non-English (I'm British), people all day, every day and have done so for many years.

The fact you assume a potential employer who is betting a substantial amount of money on you is interested in your personal life for any other reason than to understand you better and to make sure you're going to be a great fit, is cynical, naive and misguided.

It might be rooted in a truth with some employers, but I don't think those employers live in the world of technology - particularly startups. Perhaps that's naive of me. Perhaps that is a problem. So let's talk about the wider issuer of "worst-case scenario" - if somebody on discovering who you really are is prejudiced against you, wouldn't you rather they hadn't hired you - especially in a start-up environment where your legal recourse is highly limited - than for them to find out a week into employment when you've moved across a continent and now you're fucked?

If somebody is a penguin-murderer, why would I want to know that as an employer other than to rule them out immediately? Because somebody who enjoys torturing animals probably has an interesting approach to teamwork that isn't going to fit into the way I like to run my teams. I'd want to spend some time in interview understanding that a little more, precisely because I don't want them turning up on day one and it being a disaster.

Yes, I was being flippant, but there's an important point there, somewhere.

Asserting that my "real agenda and biases" are hidden from view is wrong, and the assertion that this is therefore worrying is flawed.

Hope that clears things up for you.


Hello, Mr. Robinson.

I don't doubt that you are a nice person, within your own culture.

However, when you refer to someone else's most deeply held beliefs as "barbaric rituals", perhaps we can be forgiven for jumping to conclusions about whether you are bigoted toward them. I am not a religious man, but for this conclusion I don't have to practice mass, or auditing, or wearing temple garments, or kosher meat production. We can't be sure which of these (or whatever other religious ceremony) you mean when you say "barbaric ritual", but it really doesn't matter which one, does it? Essentially every religious practice is someone else's barbarism.

Is there any other meaning to "barbaric ritual" than "religious ceremony I find distasteful"?


Had it occurred to you it might be an off-the-cuff flippant example used as a bit of a joke? did 'penguin murdering' not give you a clue that this might not be a serious example intended to refer to someone's religion?

British sense of humour lost in translation I think.


Yes, I meant it in a flippant and off-the-cuff manner.

I have no interest in a person's religion. In fact if anything, I find religious diversity in the workplace a bonus. I've worked with Catholics, Protestants, Pagans, Muslims, Jews, Satanists (they're fun!), Atheists, Agnostics and I think one Scientologist/Freezoner who didn't want it widely known. So be it. Diversity and different viewpoints on the World and different ways of thinking are good.

So yes, there are other meanings. Plenty of other meanings, especially in a sentence that is clearly flippant.

I accept your apology in advance.


Perhaps in reference to "penguin murdering" he means people who sacrifice penguins to make sure that linux machines run correctly?

Or is there a religion that does murder penguins and he's referring to that?


  I am not a white male bigot who hires people like me. I 
  work with women, non-white, non-atheist, non-Christian, 
  non-liberal, non-leftist, non-English (I'm British), 
  people all day, every day and have done so for many years.
A lot of what candidates expect and interviewers ask comes from what other people do/report having done. Think of how often different companies ask the same brain teasers - and how common it is for companies to ask brain teasers!

I'm sure you don't discriminate - you just want to see my holiday snaps on facebook out of general interest. The problem is it makes looking at people's facebook profiles the norm; today you're doing it, tomorrow every employer is - and they're not all as open-minded as you.

  The fact you assume a potential employer who is betting a 
  substantial amount of money on you is interested in your 
  personal life for any other reason than to  understand you
  better and to make sure you're going to be a great fit, is 
  cynical, naive and misguided.
According to "Are Emily and Greg More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination" by Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan [1] when identical resumes are sent out with traditionally black or white names, resumes with white names get 50% more call backs, across all industries.

I don't think it's naive or misguided to worry about employers subconsciously discriminating.

[1] http://scholar.harvard.edu/mullainathan/files/emilygreg.pdf


You aren't going to fix that problem by hiding their real names, because the moment they turn up for interview the bigoted response is still going to be there.

So let's have some transparency, and deal with the actual root cause of the problem: racism, anti-Christian or anti-atheist sentiments, and wholesale bigotry in general.

Obfuscating names and past-times and religions might allow people to game it as far as first interview, but how does that help anybody, compared to actually dealing with the root cause issues?


I honestly couldn't think of many things worse than discussing Scientology at a job interview.

It's not necessarily that you are racist or misogynistic or whatever, it's that there are undoubtedly people out there who are and making something like this standard practice would make it a lot easier for them to discriminate.

Saying "you wouldn't want to work for anyone who discriminates anyway" is almost as bad as discrimination because you are essentially encouraging people to accept prejudice.

Besides discrimination is not necessarily the person's own prejudices but perhaps they are worried that their clients may be prejudice. For example maybe you have a company that goes into people's homes and installs equipment or whatever and you know that at least some of your customers are BNP members who wouldn't let a muslim cross their threshold.

I don't know about penguin murdering or whatever, but it's probably difficult to draw conclusions from stuff like that without some kind of evidence.


It's not that people don't trust your intentions, it's that it's psychologically impossible to be objective when you're not doing blind evaluations. Anyone who's not a member of $regional_cultural_majority is relatively better off having you evaluate their work history and skillset than they are in trusting you to pore over their Facebook feed.


I don't want to do blind evaluations.

If I'm about to give somebody £50k a year and spend 40-60 hours a week basically living and working with them, putting my job on the line on the promise they can deliver, I don't want to be blind. I want to see everything I can.

It's not because I want to be nosey, it's because I want to know it's going to work.


Certainly the cultural compatibility will need to be evaluated eventually, it's just not in a minority candidate's best interest for that to be involved in the first-pass filter. If you'd like to know about my non-work interests we can talk about weight lifting and camping during an onsite interview.

I want to be firmly cemented in your mind as a competent developer before you find out what I wore to last year's Halloween party or who I favor in the upcoming election.


So fine, don't show me Facebook - it's just that's the one source of info everybody has.

I'm going to be much, much more interested in your github profile, posts to mailing lists, etc.

First thing I do when I get a CV is not go to Facebook - I google the email address. If there's contributions to tech mailing lists there, the rest of what I see is going to have to be pretty shit for me to rule you out for interview, to be honest.


Your stance falls into the classic case of "understandable, but unacceptable".

What you are describing here is a situation that implicitly guarantees prejudice. You are looking for a near-guarantee that "it's going to work" - which is to say, you're going to implicitly exclude people who are unfamiliar to you.

This can play out in any direction - race, culture, religion, orientation, lifestyle.

To be blunt, it all comes to this: as a society we value inclusiveness and equality more than your right to a bit more peace of mind.

I don't doubt that you approach this with the best of intentions, Mr. Robinson, but FWIW I would never work for you so long as you demand the private details of your employees' lives.


Too many people have put too much stock in the fact Facebook was mentioned.

Let me rephrase it: I want to see HN, github, blogs, twitter feeds where they talk about tech and work and so on.

I'm not going to demand access to Facebook. I'm going to look at their public profile. If they add me on Google+ I'd expect to be in a circle for bosses/peers, and to see stuff that's pertinent, not pictures of their goldfish or what they had for dinner last night.

Is that still open to prejudice? Sure. Am I going to exclude people who are competent but I might not get on with? Possibly. But isn't that actually a good idea? Would it not be crueller for me to hire a waterfall tech who hates agile and who really wants to work in Enterprise IT rather than startup development, and for both us to be really miserable than for me to just realise early on that despite his CV scoring high on the startup development bullshit-bingo cards, they are simply not going to be a great fit?

I have never - and will never - hire/fire or select interview candidates based on religion, creed, gender or even necessarily experience. It's about ability, mindset and evidence of performance. Every time.


it's psychologically impossible to be objective

You should have just stopped there.


It's not that you're prejudiced, it's that you shouldn't be invading a candidates private life in the first place without telling them.

For instance, what do you think of someone who doesn't have a Twitter feed at all, and whose Facebook you can't access?


That's exactly what I had in mind, but this person seems to feel he's outright entitled to this information because the first notion he showed up to defend is that he only has 'non-racist' intentions with the contents of someone's private life. That's great dude, why not try not being a creeper with no sense of professional boundaries while you're at it?


I shrug my shoulders and decide they've decided to lead life a little differently to most working in the startup scene. Good for them, means they might not spend an hour a day updating SN profiles.

I'd ask in the interview "do you enjoy social networking?" and if they said "No", I'd want to explore what aspects of tech startups they do enjoy. If they said "Yes", I'd just accept that they'd locked it down and move on. I've actually done this.

I think too many people are flipping the fuck out about the Facebook aspect.

I would actually prefer github profiles and mailing list contributions. They're much better evidence of ability, mindset and "cultural fit" within a work team, but there are actually very few devs who have anything to show on that front.

I once asked for a github profile, received the username and... it was empty. Not one project. They hadn't even forked anything. I don't think they quite got the point. :-) I interviewed them anyway, they were pretty solid but they had an air of "programming is just a job" compared to other candidates who were more "I absolutely love coding" - it's easier to get the latter group more fired up about building something cool than it is the former, and so they edged him out. Github was a good early flag for that, and I will no doubt use it in future as a barometer of engagement.

However, it is not the sole arbitrator, and not everybody can commit to coding in their downtime because they have other commitments. So fine, show me what you do have.

I do not want to see "private" information. I want to see public information. I am not going to ask to sift through all their holiday photos. I just want to see what they've put out into the public domain, and get a taste of how they think professionally.


No, it is not 'professional' just because you feel entitled to that information and have labeled it so.

The lives of your potential employees are their own, their time spent outside of work belongs to them. That time does not belong to you, it's not on the table, it's not up for discussion. It is, in fact, fucking creepy that you feel like that because you're offering a pittance of a salary you should be able to rummage through the contents of someone's life looking for things 'you don't like'.

You have no respect for the lives of your employees, else you wouldn't expect their social network profiles all lined up and waiting for you to hold judgement over, looking for 'barbaric rituals' and other unfunny comments. It's that simple.


Would you also reject an applicant who had "President of African-American Student Union" on their resume because it belies their race?

Well, likely he wouldn't, but we can be sure that he would reject someone outright for having "President of the European-American Student Union", can't we? Charitably, this is because there is essentially no chance anyone would ever file a lawsuit for rejection of the second candidate. I'm sure you can draw the uncharitable version yourself. :)


I'm not really sure what you're saying, but it sounds mildly offensive.

It's both wrong and illegal to reject a candidate based on their race, regardless of what race that is. And I am pretty sure the OP was not implying otherwise. Further, I assure you that white people file discrimination lawsuits too.


>I assure you that white people file discrimination lawsuits too.

// Out of interest have you a reference to a white person winning a race discrimination case, preferably with regard to being hired?

Also why should "an applicant who had 'President of African-American Student Union' on their resume because it belies their race?"? Surely a person of any race can be president of the African-American SU, or are they allowed to be racists?


It tooks some time to find one but here http://www.adversity.net/philly_schools/default.htm is a case of "reverse discrimination" (which is of course just straight up racial discrimination) against school district employees.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1077466/London-Under... is a case of failing to protect a white worker from bullying whilst at the same time being extremely protective of black workers.

Just FWIW.


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