Fog Creek Software
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99.9 percentile

Joel continuosly raves (brags) about his deep philosophy to only attract candidates within the 99.9 percentile.  Essentially, geniuses of a super high genetic caliber.  "Supermodels with Masters and Phd's."

But its got me wondering how effective this can be and for how long.  While Fogcreek seems to have done very well for themselves, its also portraying (IMHO) a pretentious and snobby attitude.  Now Joel can do whatever he pleases in running the company.  But is this the recipe for successful conglomarate building?  Or will too many chefs in the kitchen explode from excessive brain power?

On a much larger scale, it also makes wonder if this is how the United States is organized and has attained its power.  A small group of brilliant people (0.1%) that carry and progress the rest of the lesser 99.9%.

Here in Canada we like to think (and I guess assume) that the 0.1% is spread out a little more even among the rest.  And so while the concentration may not have a finer focus, the mean average is of better quality and intellect.

But hey, that's just me "wondering".

sedwo
Wednesday, September 24, 2003

==>it also makes wonder if this is how the United States is organized and has attained its power.  A small group of brilliant people (0.1%) that carry and progress the rest of the lesser 99.9%.

It's usually not planned that way, but unfortunately -- yes. A small group of people usually shoulder the weight of the remainder of the deadwood.

Just my opinion.

Sgt. Sausage
Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Another funny part is that do you need that much intelligence to develop silly applications like bugtracking software.

ordinaryguy
Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Somebody drank a bit too much of the Microsoft Kool-Aid.

In my career, on the other hand, I've come to realize that most programmers are pretty good; and people who think most programmers are deadwood are usually the guys you don't want to work with; because they are incapable of respecting anybody else's work. ("Everybody else is shit" is cover for "I'm afraid to acknowledge that other people are as good or better than me" and seems to be overly pervasive in our industry).

MD
Wednesday, September 24, 2003

According to Steve McConnell, Joel is going for grade 14 or 15 people:

http://www.construx.com/professionaldev/organization/pdl/version1/pyramid.htm

I suppose that's possible.  Honestly, I think he's probably going to get 13's and 14's, not 14's and 15's.  Of course, the average company hires 9-11's, so Joel is doing great.  (3-5 years of experience seems to be the sweet spot for hiring. I'm not saying it's right, but I've seen several managers who want people who have "had some lumps but are still moldable ...")

regards,

Matt H.
Wednesday, September 24, 2003

I'm still trying to get my head around the idea of the US (or anywhere else), being run by the 0.1% most brilliant (whatever that means), given recent history.

Hell, not even recent history, any history.

Simon Lucy
Wednesday, September 24, 2003

My first job I obtained as a programmer was while I was going to school to retool in '97.  At that job I was mentored and Doug taught me one thing that has stuck with me throughout my career as a programmer "Someone will always know something you don't."

Just a kernal of knowledge, take it for what it's worth.

That being said, I think the office space issue paramount to success.  Obtaining and maintaining good talent is crucial to making quality products and without space to match talent becomes apathetic, lethargic and ultimately leave for greener pastures.

'nuff said.

Thiaz Harbinger
Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Actually I don't think Joel is being too selective!

After all, how many "supermodels" are out there in the US, maybe 300?  Out of a population of 300 million, that's a 99.9999% percentile (1 in a million).

Joel's criteria is only 1 in 1000!  Even if you restrict it to "IT workers" or "computer science grads" or something like that, those are much better odds.

Let's say there are 1 million potentials for Joel's hiring pool in the US.  There's 1000 Joel-ready-to-hire candidates in the US right now.

Of course only 10% of them are in New York, no relo expense.  The rest are slugging away in the Bay Area, Redmond, or perhaps retired/telecommuting from a nice resort after becoming a dot-com millionaire.  Still, that's 100 ready-to-hire!

Oh, but some of them (20?) must already work for Joel by definition.

Joel just needs to find and lure those other 80 genius New Yorkers with sumptious office space.

(All above is hypothetical based on no actual worker distribution knowledge whatsoever, for amusement only)

Dave Torok
Wednesday, September 24, 2003

So, sedwo, it's "snobbish" to try to attract the best possible employees?

Seriously, is that what you mean?

The Pedant, Brent P. Newhall
Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Yes ... why does Joel need 99.9 percentile people?  Why not 99 or even 90 percentile folks?  What he's doing is not exactly rocket science.  Is "must be smarter than Einstein while being more humble than Jesus" the job requirement at FogCreek?

Alyosha`
Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Not speaking for sedwo, but I find it irritating how many companies claim to be hiring the 99.9th percentile (it's almost Lake Woebegonish around these parts).

MD
Wednesday, September 24, 2003

I like Simon's and MD's attitude on the topic.

I'd break down the 11,12,..., 15 into a somewhat broader category:

1. Clueless - do not hire
2. Good (11-12 on the scale)
3. Excellent. (somewhere above that)

That's all.  In the day to day world, that's pretty much what you get.  When you're busting hump for your company, you don't have a whole lot of time to be reviewing trade journals and writing articles.  You're designing, implementing, delivering.  The Bill Joys and Linus's of the world - you just don't meet them in most work places.  And those that think they're a '15' are fucking dellusional - better to stand clear.

Hey, look.  It doesn't take brain surgeons to write web apps.

standardized anon
Wednesday, September 24, 2003


I strongly suspect that Joel is not really sticking to his 99.9% claim. I guess it's possible but I'd think you'd have to be prepared to wait a very long time, even in this market, to find someone with those kinds of qualifications.

anon
Wednesday, September 24, 2003

I worked in an office that only hired 'superstars', and it worked out great.

... if you like watching shouting matches over architecture and getting handed 1/2 done projects because the guy that started it got bored and left.


(I was tech support/cust. serv., so I'm not putting myself as a superstar)


Wednesday, September 24, 2003

sedwo,

"Supermodels with Masters and Phd's." - I'd like to know how you got the impression applicants need to look as good as supermodels. Joel never made such a statement, and I think he never implied it.

Johnny Bravo
Wednesday, September 24, 2003

"When you're busting hump for your company, you don't have a whole lot of time to be reviewing trade journals and writing articles"

Note that that ladder is by Steve McConnel of Construx.com.

Steve wrote a lot of books.  His company does a lot of training.  To sell training, people need to recognize your name.  To get name recognition, you can give to open source, get published, or, potentially, have an advanced degree.

Steve choose publishing.  Is it any surprise that his ladder leans toward publication and education?

On the other hand, Micrsoft's ladder, with it's Distinguished Software Engineer (DSE) track, leans toward "Wrote cool software and made the company big piles of money."

Since Codd, IBM's ladder has leaned toward "Cool R&D projects that get IBM's name in the newspaper, and have everybody else struggling to catch up."

Each of them is garnered to create more of what made them successful yesterday.  Like the management proverb says: "Be very careful what you measure, because you are going to get it."

Joel is going for the top 1/10 of 1% of what -he- considers "good."  That does not -need- to be the same thing as McConnell, but past on his "archive", I'd say they are pretty close ...

Matt H.
Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Every company seems to be claiming to aim at hiring only the best people. This is a corporate mantra. Not very many is holding up to their own standards though.

This thing called greed.

Most companies consultant or product companies does not really need an all star team. Stars in the making can be good enough, since working with good people usually elevates everybody in a team.

Patrik
Wednesday, September 24, 2003

I seem to recall Joel saying that A's hire A's and B's hire C's so take a look at your boss and if he isn't an A then YOU are a C.

C#
Wednesday, September 24, 2003

==>and people who think most programmers are deadwood are usually the guys you don't want to work with ...

Not sure if that was directed at me but:

Yes, I think most programmers are deadwood.

The difference is that I also lump myself in that category (note the fact that I'm posting on JOS when I should be writing code! <grin>)

Sgt. Sausage
Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Brent,

It just seems to "come across as" a very discriminating attitude.  I understand wanting "the best".  But Joel's portrayal institutes something out of "only the one true race" totalitarian movements.

Nortel and IBM in Canada won't even look at you if you don't have a University Degree.  College isn't good enough for them.  And then they wonder why those positions won't fill when they turn away so many excellent potentials.

Its like exclusive membership to some fancy golf clubs.  They have to deam you worthy to play there, through all sorts of discrimination (and mostly your bank account).

Natural selection deams that only the strongest survive.  Joel's selection asks for super-hero's.  If there is ***any doubt***, your GONE!  Not "good enough" for our club.  "Ciao!"

I'm sure Joel is a cool guy.  But he's definately got an ego (nothing wrong with that), and there is a level pretension.

sedwo
Wednesday, September 24, 2003

ABCD. Its all a matter of what you are doing; I think its a waste of time having A people doing all the tedious and boring parts of system development. Those reports you need, for example.

I've done my fair share of reports back in the day, and now I stay away from it all. But if some clueless boss puts me on such tasks I sure perform worse than if Im doing something intresting and challenging.

So maybe B and C bosses get B and C performances out of any people, simply because they assign them the wrong tasks.

Patrik
Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Johnny Bravo,

> "Supermodels with Masters and Phd's." - I'd like to know
>  how you got the impression applicants need to look as
> good as supermodels. Joel never made such a
> statement, and I think he never implied it.

No he didn't imply it.  But since I see a lot of his programmer pictures on his site with moderately good looking guys (who definately workout) and wear tight T-shirts, then I just assumed it.

And hey, I guess they answered properly to "how would you move Mt. Fuji", because their working there.  Which means their smart enough for Joel.

sedwo
Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Regardless of the difficulties of having an office full of superstars.  It sure must be nice having your boss tell the rest of the internet that you are in the top .001%

not required
Wednesday, September 24, 2003

The only way FogCreek can attract 99.9 percentile is if someone really high up at that company starts selling their wares like fanatics. Because without money nothing would be possible.

Li-fan Chen
Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Jack Welch said that GE needed to hire only As and Bs with the potential for being As.  He would fire Cs and any Bs that showed no promise of becoming an A. 

Of course he was got GE from 400,000+ to 270,000 employees.

He's also the one widely quoted for saying that As hire As, while Bs hire Cs.

I don't think anyone is quite serious about hiring 99.9th percentile folks the way that we all think of them.  What Joel is saying is that of all the people who he might hire to work at FC he wants that one person who will add so much value that they couldn't imagine FC without them.  Its Joel's personal 99.9th percentile, which might be very different from Microsofts or mine.

If Joel is in the business of turning programmer-time into money than he needs people who are worth far more than they are paid, who have ideas and can code and communicate and process and handle a half dozen random things while they're still small and growing.  So he looks at his critera and evaluates each candidate.  Joel's 99.9 percentile claim essentailly comes down to:  "I might hire you if I was a huge corporation and could afford some slack, but I can't and I won't. I'm looking for that one person in 1000 who's going to make a huge impact here and fit right in and work hard and fit a dozen other critera.  I can't afford slack so I can't afford to hire below my standard."

That's not so unreasonable.

Lou
Wednesday, September 24, 2003

I really don't understand what people are objecting to.  Joel is saying he wants to hire the absolute best candidates, and he expects that having this nice office will help him accomplish that.  Of *course* he wants to hire the best people available.  Everyone does.  It makes the company more money to hire a superstar than it does to hire an average person.  You'd be stupid *not* to try and hire the best available.

Mike McNertney
Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Does Joel want the top .001 of the entire population, or just to be able to hire the top .001 of people that APPLIED to fog creek? 

My definition of the 99.999 percentile is made up of people that have no interest in writing bug tracking software or content management systems.  I'll bet he has a different definition of 99.999.


Wednesday, September 24, 2003

When I have wet dreams, I dream of me.

standardized anon
Wednesday, September 24, 2003

The "best person" for the job can be hard to quantify. Very often people who are in the 99.9% of acdemia are not the best for the work environment.

Team players are very important part of building a software team - they are hard to find and often not an indication of their education results.

Many firms use the so-called "We only hire the best" as a marketing tool to further promote their products. What they actually do is something different.

Some of the dot-coms were famous for hiring only the best - I guess we do not have to analyze whether that strategy was succesful or not.

When I left college I had an offer from Arthur Andersen - it was pretty big thing back then. They brought me to their training center in the mid-west for two weeks. It was a cool place - most of the other fellow prospects were eager sharks.

They spent an awful amount of time talking about how ethical the organization was and how we were the best people they could find. And how we were going to raise standards.

I had an Uncle who was a partner at Arthur Andersen, so I pretty much knew the reality from the spiel they gave us.

Disclaimer: The AA partners, in majority, do not want to be not ethical. Competitive pressures may force them to cut corners. In essense a partner is a sale machine - what knowledge they acquired is mostly irrelevant, it is sales and sales only. But I digress.

Ram Dass
Wednesday, September 24, 2003

It's just content management software, not exactly rocket science. It's highly unlikely Fog Creek is competing in the same talent pool as quant firms and cutting-edge startups. I don't know anyone who'd want to do bug tracking or CMSs, even as a first job.

cmsing
Wednesday, September 24, 2003

CityDesk is a decent piece of software, but do you really need the the 99.9% to create something like this?

I don't find it particularly easy to use. It has weird little UI inconsistancies, on my machine anyway. It has huge toolbars with over-saturated icons that don't wrap when you make the window smaller. I could point out lots of things that I would change. Still though, it works as advertised and I would recommend to people looking for a simple CMS.

I'm not in the 99.9%, but I write decent product that has few bugs, a nice UI, and a good feature set. People seem to like buying and using the thing too.

Why are the people Joel has working for him better than I am? I couldn't tell you how to move Mt. Fuji, but somehow we manage to have happy customers and a parking lot full of luxury cars.

Maybe it's because FC people don't spend half their day reading this forum.

Bobo Jackson
Wednesday, September 24, 2003

"CityDesk is a decent piece of software, but do you really need the the 99.9% to create something like this?'

- You need the 99.9% to make sure what not to include!

Prakash S
Wednesday, September 24, 2003

The number one conceit about "we hire only 99.9 percentile workers" is the implicit assumption that you yourself are in the top 0.1%.  What does that say?  "The top 0.1% of people are defined as people who think like me".

Joel may be a smart guy but I'm not convinced he's smarter than 999 out of every 1000 engineers.

Alyosha`
Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Mike,
"I really don't understand what people are objecting to". You meant objections like "Joel may be a smart guy but I'm not convinced he's smarter than 999 out of every 1000 engineers."? I don't understand it either.

Perhaps all those folks complaining in here fell for the ole' Leftist dream that we all shall end up as 100% A's when given just a proper chance to prove and evolve ourselves? Perhaps obeservations like "Joel has only decent looking employees in his office" just show that although people already recognized nature put some limits on their final destinations they still feel being disadvantaged by conspiracies and not by nature's gifts?

Who knows.

Johnny Bravo
Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Hmmm, that old chestnut about 'leftist/socialist' believing that there was no such thing as excellence and difference in people.

I doubt if anyone that reads this stuff thinks that there is some kind of level set of abilities in any group.  And personally, I'm sure that Fog Creek has a greater than average set of high achievers and that they probably have a very good working environment.

However, measurements such as 0.01% are simply silly, as a shorthand for excellence its fine, but it isn't a real measure of anything.  There's no quantifiable number or percentage you can ascribe to any group and say, oh they are the leaders, or they are the ones that get things done (not necessarily the same thing).

Life, real life, is more confused than that.  And a good deal more fun.

Simon Lucy
Wednesday, September 24, 2003

It's impossible to hire only A's. There is no test/puzzle/interview/process in existence that can filter candidates that accurately.

A statement like "We only hire the A's." is rhetorical, not a statement of fact. It's more for the consumption of employees and prospective hires, since for them it's a motivator. There's significant psychic payoff in feeling like you're part of an elite. A hiring manager in "Soul of a New Machine" summarizes his technique with a candidate as: "You tell him we only hire the best. Then you hire him."

Saying that your firm only hire's A's doesn't say much about it, since everyone says they only hire A's. The more revelatory question is: Given that you will inevitably hire B's, what do you do with them once you recognize them? Do you try to educate them, or move them elsewhere, or just get kick them out the door?

Caveat
Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Gee.

Peeps, do you really think Joel was being that reasonable when making a statement about that "99.9%"? Wake up! It was just an illustration!

If I were to say "No ten horses can pull me in that office!" - will you counterargument "Johnny, look, I've made some calculations: 10 horses can pull as much as 10 tons weight, so your figure is not realistic. And by the way, I've already called PETA for the possible harm done to the animals. And why not Shetland ponies? They are smaller than horses, but they deserve a role in sayings, too!"

Johnny Bravo
Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Just saw the story has been slashdotted. Now that might explain why the thread went down the pipe.

Johnny Bravo
Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Ummm, that is exactly what I was saying.

Its those that take the 0.1% as gospel and a measurement, as you, (Johnny Bravo), seemed to be doing that I was responding to.

If you weren't doing that, then obviously what I said doesn't apply to you :-).

Simon Lucy
Wednesday, September 24, 2003

What I'm saying is that a company which makes claims like this is not likely to be somewhere I would enjoy working. People who look down on 99% of their peers generally aren't nice to be around.

That's pretty much it. Even if Joel really IS hiring the top .1%, and even IF I was one of them, I still don't think I would want to be at a company that patted itself on the back for being superior. I have enough experience in our industry to know that 9 out of 10 people who think they're superior really aren't.

MD
Wednesday, September 24, 2003

I think we're too close to IT.  Think of cooking -- what if he said he wanted to attract the best chefs willing to work for him?  Would people then complain about intelligence or pretension?  It would become very clear he just wants to enjoy his work.  Too many people think of programming as "intellectual" and I wish it stopped being about that.

I'm sure you can tell what "99.9%" means, even if you're not it.  The understanding of detail, an unwillingness to do pointless shit, lack of ugly fundamentalism... a lot of it holds true for comedians, book dealers, etc...

By the way, I think Joel's missives are aimed to destroy morale at his competitors... food for thought.

Tayssir John Gabbour
Wednesday, September 24, 2003

If 5 out of every 10 restaurants claimed to only hire the top 0.1% of chefs, we'd have the situation we have now in IT.

So much for that analogy.

MD
Wednesday, September 24, 2003

You're right, 5 out of 10 IT companies work with good architects to develop perfect offices, as part of a rational strategy.

So much for your quick retort. ;)  You've got a chip on your shoulder you should probably fleck off, MD.

Tayssir John Gabbour
Wednesday, September 24, 2003

well, what's he supposed to say?

"fog creek, where we only hire people in the 70th percentile or above?"

"fog creek, if you are average, you are probably good enough!"

C+
Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Obviously the crowd expects him to say "I'll drink a beer with you even though you might not be above those 99.9%."

Johnny Bravo
Wednesday, September 24, 2003

C+ ... take a look at what Joel said:

"I suspect that $700 per person [per month] is on the high side for software developers throughout the world, but if it means we can hire from the 99.9 percentile instead of the 99 percentile, it'll be worth it".

My gut feeling is that shifting from the top 1% to the top 0.1% isn't going to make much a difference at all to a company's bottom line.  And certainly it's not going to generate $700 of revenue per month per employee.  Give me the choice, and I'd rather work in a $350 / month place and get a 5% ($2/hr) pay raise.

The savings is not because you're going to be hiring a new breed of employee, but rather the employees you have may end up staying later working because they like the office better than home.

So, my suggestion:

"I suspect that $700 per person [per month] is on the high side for software developers throughout the world, but if it means that we can continue to pull in top talent and that our employees enjoy working here, then it will be worth it".

Alyosha`
Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Doesn't make sense to me how he can attract the 99.9th percentile.  Google is probably the only company that is small enough, interesting enough, and has potential for big payoff enough, to attract the 99.9th percentile of software engineers.

Fogcreek being small makes it easier to be more selective.

The work doesn't seem interesting enough to attract the candidates that would otherwise work at Google (or do research at Microsoft or IBM.)

I don't understand how his company can expect to compensate 99.9th percentile software engineers, especially in pricey NYC.  Lots of salary, bonus or promise of future equity necessary there.  Is everybody making over 200k base or something?

doubtful
Wednesday, September 24, 2003

1. Hiring the 99.9 percentile person is easy - look at 1,000 resumes before making your decision and really believe in your selection process.

2. Why does everyone think that one number measures everything? You're assuming that the 0.1% people are also going to be arrogant and leaders. Just because they're in the top percentile in "x" doesn't mean that they're also going to be in the top percentile in "y".

I know a lot of very smart people, and their temperments vary just as widely as anyone else's. A good leader doesn't have to be smart, and a smart person doesn't have to be a good leader.

Mark T A W .com
Wednesday, September 24, 2003

'A' people won't be happy writing data entry screens, taking questions from support staff, maintaining spaghetti C code from 15 years ago, or doing HTML layout.

And they won't stay.

You'll have a revolving door, constant arguments about coding style, drop dead boredom, lots of internet surfing, etc. if you hire only from the 'A' list.

Knock the 'C' list all you want, but respect the 'B' who does his job competantly month after month.  Many (most?) positions require a 'B'.  They can't be effectively replaced by an 'A' or a 'C'.

Bill Carlson
Wednesday, September 24, 2003

I think it's really funny to read so many people trying to make "We want to hire the best people we possibly can!" into a controversial statement.

Jim Rankin
Wednesday, September 24, 2003

I think Joel should urgently read Belbin's Management Teams - Why They Succeed or Fail. It will help him understand why his all 99.9 percentile "Apollo" team will not be the top performing team.  Chapter 2 - The Apollo Sydrome should suffice.

Peter WA Wood
Wednesday, September 24, 2003

I'm with you Jim. People are reading way to much into this.

Mark T A W .com
Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Jim: it would have been a whole lot better if Joel simply said, "We want to hire the best people we possibly can!".  But that's not what he said.  He said, "if we can hire from the 99.9 percentile instead of the 99 percentile, it'll be worth it".  That's completely different.  The amount of hubris in saying "we're better than almost every startup in existence, and even that's not good enough for us" ruined what was an otherwise great article.

Alyosha`
Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Alyosha`,

If joel *is* hiring the top 99.9 percent of programmers, I can garantee you that an extra 350, hell, even 700 dollar a month pay raise isn't that important.  The top 99.9 percent don't work for 80k, probably not even for 130k.  I'm guessing much more then that.

Vince
Wednesday, September 24, 2003

"My gut feeling is that shifting from the top 1% to the top 0.1% isn't going to make much a difference at all to a company's bottom line.  "

Not to be an ass, but this comment reminds me of those nerd fights in 1999 about whether or not the millenium starts in 2000 or 2001 or whatever. Joel's comment is just marketing talk, people. I doubt he's doing any serious statistical analysis of SAT scores and IQ tests of his applicants to ensure he is getting the top 0.1%. 

C+
Wednesday, September 24, 2003

We are having a problem with hiring only 99.9%.  Personally I don't understand why it is necessary.  You really need very good people -- not everyone needs to be a superstar.  What happens, and has happened, is you end up with power struggles out the ying yang.  To many chiefs not enough indians.  The truth of the matter is everyone deserves to be a chief, but they aren't enough positions to go around.

I believe it the market was only slightly better for software developers, our office would turn into a revolving door as a result of hiring only 99.9% people.

anonymous
Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Alyosha, maybe this will make you feel better about the article.

a) A software developer is anyone who automates computing tasks.  Anywhere in the world.
b) He didn't say he has the 99.9%, just that he's taking steps to try reaching them consistently.
c) There's a lot of programmers in the world because of money, and various effects thin the .1% disproportionately.
d) He might have retention problems he doesn't mention.
e) Fogcreek is worried about competition in upcoming markets.

I think people are reading too much into it; maybe this is a sociological problem or people's feelings are sensitive to this.  But a perfectly possible reading is that Joel is trying to be a good CEO who wants to populate his company with these "superstars."  It does not necessarily mean he is a superstar or has no flaws as a manager.  Most of us don't work with him, so why invent motivations?

Tayssir John Gabbour
Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Has anyone else considered the fact that he might not be talking, literally (numerically?) about 99/99.9? Read some of his other articles--mostly he's saying that saving money on equipment is a false economy--spending a little (OK, a lot for us mortals) extra on nice gear allows him to attract good people, keep them, and (important one coming up) keep them happy. If (bogus numbers, bear with me) rent is $1,000,000/year, and spending an extra $100,000 on plasma TVs and a fancy window scheme raises revenue from $25m to $50m, isn't it worth it?

I have a job that consists of a fair amount of web app development. I used to do a lot of tech stuff (walk around and fix things) and that still part of my responsibility, but I work in an open cube and can only get any coding done from about 6p-8p, after everyone has left. (a) it's quiet and b) people aren't walking up asking for help.) Since web dev is supposed to be >50% of my job, not 25% of it, wouldn't a nice office boost my output? Things commonly take a week that could be done in a day in isolation.

brian
Wednesday, September 24, 2003

I think a lot of folks are reading way too much into this.  Joel is trying to hire smart people who get things done.  Smart doesn't necessarily mean an IQ of 180 and gets things done doesn't necessarily mean that you're the Speedy Gonzales of coding.  Really, it just means that the person has enough intelligence, common sense, resourcefulness, motivation, and persistence to solve the problems that need to be solved:
a) without having to be told what to do
b) without making too many little mistakes
c) without making any really serious errors
d) in a reasonable time frame

There is some minimum threshold and people below that threshold are not smart enough or do not get enough things done.  They are liabilities to the company instead of assets.  Joel doesn't want to hire anyone who is below that threshold.  Because there is a great deal of variance in the productive value of individual developers, he sets that threshold higher than the minimum that is necessary.  Ideally, he wants people who are a few standard deviations above the norm.  Building a really nice office space and treating developers well is a way to get more of the people who are above this threshold to apply for jobs at Fog Creek.

Matt Latourette
Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Hum, right, right... "99.9 percentile" to write bug tracking apps in ASP. Sure. I'm sure the "99.9" percentile would love to have "VB experience" on their resume also, about as much as they'd love me taking a big, old, nasy dump on it.

IDidNotHaveSexualRelationsWithThatGoat
Thursday, September 25, 2003

That should be "nasty", but I can't spell. It's sad.

IDidNotHaveSexualRelationsWithThatGoat
Thursday, September 25, 2003

Why are you guys so upset - fogcreek wouldn't hire ya?

xyz
Thursday, September 25, 2003

It's marketting rhetoric, what do you expect? joelonsoftware.com is all just one big marketting blurb for fog creek, I think even Joel would admit that. :)

Sum Dum Gai
Thursday, September 25, 2003

I don't know what's special about the top 99.9% I'm in the top 100% of developers worldwide :)

Bill Rayer
Thursday, September 25, 2003

And I'm not an A, maybe not even a B, but I also have to earn a living, so I'm quite glad that there are companies out there which do not only hire A's. Thanks.

dat
Thursday, September 25, 2003

One poster above said it didn't make sense to hire the top 0.1% and then have them slaving away doing drudge work.  One of the things that differentiates an A player from a B or C player is that the A player won't put up with the drudge work.  They'll find a way to automate it, and that'll make them go substantially faster.

Check out what some A players at NeXT (now Apple) created to automate the development of database-backed web applications: http://developer.apple.com/documentation/WebObjects/Developing_With_D2W/index.html  You don't write any SQL when you're working with WebObjects to access a database from the web; with Direct to Web, you don't even create web pages!  Instead you create rules describing how the pages should be generated, customizing a default rule set and adding new components here and there when necessary.

Which would you rather hire, a team of six J2EE/.NET developers to create the first release of a web application in six months, or a pair of WebObjects developers to create the first release of the same application in two months?  Assume that the total project costs are identical.

That, I think, is the essence of how Fog Creek is trying to compete.  Providing a great working environment that will help to attract and retain A players is what the new office looks like it's all about.

Chris Hanson
Thursday, September 25, 2003

sedwo,

<quote>
Joel continuosly raves (brags) about his deep philosophy to only attract candidates within the 99.9 percentile. 
</quote>

Its good to see that (like most discussions on the net) this one has failed to look at the context.

The context of Joel's statement is software development. He is not looking for the 0.1% people with the highest IQ. Or prettiest 0.1%. He is looking for the 0.1% that are the best developers, based on his criteria at http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/fog0000000073.html .

Many studies have shown vast discrepancies between different developers. Steve McConnell in Code Complete talked about this (I think - maybe it was in Peopleware?). He identified (from memory) a 3 to 10x difference in speed between the top 10% of developers and the bottom 10% (with no drop in quality).

To deny that there is vastly different levels of ability in programming is ludicrous. I have worked in many places, and I would agree that a good developer is worth at least 10x a bad one in terms of output. Just like all the studies show.

All Joel is doing is making it part of his strategy to aim for the best. OK, he is aiming for the 99.9 percentile (rather than the 90 percentile) but the principle is the same. He wants the best, since they produce alot more.

Of course, Joel's strategy SEEMS obvious, but many companies (especially large corporates) can't actually tell who their best employees are and their recruitment process can't distinguish either. Joel is trying to consciously not go down that path.

Seeya

Matthew
Thursday, September 25, 2003

> He is not looking for the 0.1% people with the highest IQ. Or prettiest 0.1%. He is looking for the 0.1% that are the best developers, based on his criteria at http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/fog0000000073.html . <

Exactly. I think too many people are confusing top 0.1% in too many unrelated fields. Joel says, "if it means we can hire from the 99.9 percentile instead of the 99 percentile, it'll be worth it." Nowhere does he specify this means intelligence, arrogance, inability to work with others, or the 0.1% laziest.

He could be talking about the top producers, not the superstar programmers. Anyway, I don't think we're making any new points on this thread. Anyone who posted here is probably not in the top 0.1% because we would've recognized it as a waste of time upon first reading it.

In fact, this probably passed Troll status days ago.

Mark T A W .com
Friday, September 26, 2003

Would the best programmer in a group of 1000 programers want to work in a place where the boss expects the superstar to live in his (very nice) office?

Would not the best programmer in a group of 1000 professional programmers already have a nice house that was a suitable place for him to meet and entertain his friends?

Would not the best programmer in a group of 1000 professional programmers already have a nice TV and whatever other toys he likes?

Jim Howard
Saturday, September 27, 2003

Would this include 1,000 programmers who have been working 6 years - 3 for a failed startup, and 3 in this economy.

I thought we already established that excellence in one area doesn't automatically mean excellence in others. This 0.1% programmer may have horrible negotiating skills.

Any way you slice it, if I interviewed at a place and was told I wouldn't be working in a cubicle, I'd look more closely at that company than one that said I would be.

Mark T A W .com
Saturday, September 27, 2003

Hiring the 99.9 percentile is a good policy. Every company should follow it.

It's a shame that only 1 in every 1000 hirings takes place in that percentile. We should clearly strive to increase that rate. At least half of the hirings in all companies should be of people belonging to the 99.9 percentile.

:)

Daniel
Wednesday, October 01, 2003

Thanks Daniel. An excellent point. I've heard far too many people talking about how success depends on getting the best people, but in practice this isn't possible. I heard once that real leadership is getting ordinarly people to do extraordinary things.

David Clayworth
Thursday, October 02, 2003

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