Fog Creek Software
Discussion Board




Proposed Interview Process

In this business, and especially the business of independent software consulting, it is hard to keep yourself from hiring subservient wage slaves, regardless of their quality. Any 'world class programmer' (TM) will no doubt learn everything you have to teach and start his own competing business within a few years.

A lot of employers either deal with this type of employee by being secretive and overtly controlling. Others try not to hire people who will compete in such a way. Either way, you have your subservient wage slave. Both of these processes are very obviously not the way to go about it. Any good hiring manager would tell you that you actually want to hire people who are going to be good at competing with you, regardless of that competition.

That said, I've been considering a better way of hiring where you can manage to keep those type of employees involved with your business in the long run, by offering each employee an equal opportunity to share in ownership of his or her endeavors.

With this type of advancement and empowerment of employees, it becomes obvious that the traditional 'are you good at what you do' interview becomes meaningless. The question you want to ask is, can you bring to the table the same level of effort I would demand of a partner in a business venture? Are you capable of learning enough to come up to that level?

So, from this, the interview structure should be changed.

Here are a few ideas we are kicking around for this type of interview:

4 phases.

1) After a brief technical chat,  give them a non-tech related book. Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead come to mind. Have them read it an come back for,

2) Lunch with a few people, wherein you discuss their reaction to the material. You are looking for strong reactions, either positive or negative, but not lukewarm ones. Talk about family, personal views, politics, the affect of Machiavelli on postmodernistic capitalist society, etc.

3) After lunch, make a trial decision. Give them a production project where a senior member has a supervisory role. Give them 6 months to prove themselves, then

4) Make the decision to hire them based on their performance.

Obviously, they wouldn't be hired as a partner and would be working within the corporate structure for many years before that opportunity was offered to them, but that opportunity would be there and would be reflected by the depth of the initial interview process.

This obviously penalizes tech heads with strong technical and weak social skills. I'm not saying their wouldn't be a role for such people in the future of such a company, but I would say I wouldn't want someone like that as a full fledged, client engaged partner.

What sayest the Joel board to that type of interview structure?

Dustin Alexander
Monday, November 24, 2003

"1) After a brief technical chat,  give them a non-tech related book. Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead come to mind. Have them read it an come back for"

I doubt many intelligent people would want to work for someone who thinks Ayn Rand is an author worth reading.

Your taste in "literature" aside, just the suggestion to read a particular book would make you seem kind of insane. For instance, substitute "the Bible" or "the Koran" or "Plato's Republic" or "The Stranger" or "VB for Dummies" for "Atlas Shrugged." Does your interviewing idea still make sense?

_
Monday, November 24, 2003

Seems like a lot of work just on the off chance of maybe getting a job - not just for the candidate but for you (and whoever else is part of the interview process) - I really don't see any benefit to all that effort, compared to just a standard interview process.

Why can't you just invite them to lunch for the first interview and ask them about a book they have read. What if they don't like the book you assign them to read? - does that mean somebody who doesn't share your taste in literature could work in your company?

ChrisO
Monday, November 24, 2003

Yep. How about The Prince, or Leaves of Grass, or Death of a Saleman?

The idea is to give them a non-technical piece of literature, preferably one that references political or social themes related to the pros and cons of capitalism and democracy.

As far as Ayn Rand is concerned, I am looking for strong opinons. She has a tendency to bring those out, as evinced by your post. Although I could argue her merits for a while, especially those elements related directly to architecture, that is not what this post is about.

And by non-technical I mean non-technical, not related to our field. Not associated with either computer technology or mathematics.

Dustin Alexander
Monday, November 24, 2003

Chris,

It IS a lot of work. But keep in mind they wouldn't be getting paid 50k/year. The 6 month project would probably be paid at 80k for the trial, with an immediate raise after review and acceptance.

As for something they had read, the idea is to give them something they haven't read or studied in college. They would thus be forced to give their opinions, not those of a college professor. Obviously, they could download the thoughts of others, but, barring an Orwellian society, the judges would have to go by their gut.

Dustin Alexander
Monday, November 24, 2003

If what you're looking for is to enforce your own bias on whatever you think would make a good or bad hire, then go ahead.

Chances are though that you made your mind up when the person walked in the room.

Simon Lucy
Monday, November 24, 2003

"Chances are though that you made your mind up when the person walked in the room. "

I was going to write something to that effect in my post, because 9 times out of 10 the minute the candidate says hello to you, you know wether they are the one or not - you already have an idea of their experience from their resume.

That is the point I was trying to get across that it is a lot of effort for probably no more chance of the candidate working out in the long term than just the standard single interview process.

ChrisO
Monday, November 24, 2003

I'm not sure what traits you are trying to fish out of a person by having them comment on a book. Social skills? One of my degrees is in philosophy, and I can assure you from experience there are plenty of opinionated readers who are complete social retards. Typically I can can get a good feel for someone's personality in about 20 minutes.

I'm not sure asking them to read a book would give me any more useful insight.

_
Monday, November 24, 2003

You are filtering candidates based on criteria that have nothing to do with being able to perform the job.

I think that's illegal in the US.  If not, it can certainly leave the door wide open for a lawsuit ("they didn't hire me because I'm not an Objectivist!").  Talk to your friendly local employment law attorney to find out for sure.

The ability to have strong religious, political, or artistic views has absolutely zilch to do with writing high quality, usable code.  You might as well give them a piano and tell them that if they can learn to play it, you'll give them a job.

Alyosha`
Monday, November 24, 2003

Rember that part of the interview process is trying to make a favorable impression on the candidate, so that if you extend a job offer, he or she will take it.  The process you've described sounds rather dehumanizing -- "before I'll hire you, first read a book that has no relationship to your potential job and prepare an oral book report."  I think it would antagonize the very type of independent-minded people that you're trying to hire.

I had an interview once with a self-important SOB who made me sing and dance during the hiring process.  (Not literally, but almost.)  I was so relieved when he hired someone else.

Robert Jacobson
Monday, November 24, 2003

"Rember" -> "Remember."  Where's the damn JOS spell checker?  <g>

Robert Jacobson
Monday, November 24, 2003

Something about your interview process makes me think it would turn off the people you're looking for, or would breed them to WANT to start a competing company after the six month trial period.

Why would this strongly opinionated person, the kind who is likely to leave your company to start a competing product accept a six month trial period where if you don't like them, you give yourself the option of handing them the door prize on their way out?

If I were on the other side of this interview process, I'd request that you put in a clause that stipulated a strong reference, and a large cash severance package if you didn't hire me.

Also, being given reading material before the second interview - before you've demonstrated a strong interest already, I'd have to wonder why I'm spending half a day or more that I could be spending on other pursuits - like talking to other employers - on you.

I would also wonder whether or not you would know the difference between my reading the book and reading the cliff notes & several essays I googled, and how much time you spent on dead ends and con artists who claim to have read the book but did what I outlined above, and how effective your interview process was as a result.


Maybe you should just outline your interview process and see whether or not they have a strong reaction to that.

www.MarkTAW.com
Monday, November 24, 2003

We wouldn't really be looking for social skills, although that would be a plus. We would be looking for a number of other things.

When going to an interview, a person is dressed to impress. They are nervous and expect to talk about themselves and their skills. They are prepared to tell you what they bring to the table, their resume describes what they have brought to other employers.

What we would be looking for is a passionate response to a perhaps dispassionate subject. We would look for a synthetic analysis brought from an internal review of the subject matter. Since much of the work in the industry today is related to 'boring' subjects, we want to find someone who can get into those subjects and can find the inner value. What better way to gauge that then to pick a work of known value and judge their reaction to it?

If they are bored, we want to know why. If they are passionate, we want to know what evokes their passion. These are things you cannot easily tell when someone immediately walks into a room, or over a brief conversation. We want to refrain from snap judgements based on prepared subject matter and instead review the process the person goes through when urged to develop through new material.

Dustin Alexander
Monday, November 24, 2003

Assuming a world where I hadn't already read Ayn Rand's work, I'd be pretty pissed off at anyone (whether it was a job interview, or a friend's recommendation, or whatever) that expected me to read her long-winded bullshit (1000+ pages in her major works) just for a reaction.  The only sane reaction one could have is, man she could have REALLY used an editor.

Her writing is like L Ron Hubbards (and fittingly, just as cultish)... she harps on one topic and then tries to beat you into believing it by bringing it up again and again and again.

Ugh.

Mr. Fancypants
Monday, November 24, 2003

One of the thing I think MOST interviewers get wrong is they are always looking for the most intelligent, most experienced, etc, person for a job, even if the job they are filling is pretty braindead and would be much better served by someone who isn't the brightest bulb, but can really slog through bullshit work.

Just sayin'.

Mr. Fancypants
Monday, November 24, 2003

Mark, I like that. Here read my interview process, and see how you react. :-)

Screw lawsuits. If you don't like the way I interview, sue me. I can afford the lawyers. 

Seriously, it is my decision whether I want to hire a partner based on my own internal values. I am taking the whole package and if I reject you based on a piece of your outlook, that is my right. Just because our 'democracy' is currently set up to penalize me for such a decision, does not mean I will not make it. I for one, believe that not hiring someone because they are not a nudist when you are one is a perfectly reasonable hiring decision.

On the other, dehumanizing aspect, perhaps the reading the book is over the top. It was merely a suggestion. The trial period is a must. I, for one, believe it is reasonable to demand that someone demonstrate their skillset and agree that it is ludicrous to accept a candidate immediately at face value. This is no different from the type of review you see in law and architectural firms.

Dustin Alexander
Monday, November 24, 2003

Maybe you're thinking about assigning some really short book or an excerpt of some sort.  If not, I'm sure the vast majority of candidates are going to think you're out of your mind when you ask them to go home and read "A Tale of Two Cities" or "War and Peace" as part of the interview process.  It's one thing to ask the candidate to demonstrate a solution to some sample problem that relates to the job.  It's quite another to present the candidate with irrelevant hurdles to jump for the amusement of your English Literature Professor alter-ego.

Matt Latourette
Monday, November 24, 2003

Sometimes smart people do stupid things.
Sometimes dumb people do smart things.

Slashbot
Monday, November 24, 2003

Your choice.  I'm only pointing out that your process is not only outrageously stupid but also possibly illegal, just as illegal as it would be for a Christian to refuse to hire non-Christians or a white person to refuse to hire non-whites.  If you've got more than 15 employees and engage in interstate commerce, better start saving up now for an expensive lesson from the EEOC.  The cost of the lawyer will be the least of your worries.

There's no need to have a special "trial period".  Employment is generally at-will.  If at any point you decide you don't like someone's performance, feel free to let them go.

Alyosha`
Monday, November 24, 2003

I don't quite understand the need for an extended "trial period" as such.  If you basically tell your new employees "don't unpack your boxes," you shouldn't expect any loyalty in return.

Instead, just hire the person.  If it's obvious that he's not working out after six months or a year, let him go.  If you like him, give him a raise.  If you really like him, invite him to become a partner in the business. 

The hiring process you've described (with or without a book report) makes you sound like a very arbitrary individual, someone who I for one wouldn't want to work for.

Robert Jacobson
Monday, November 24, 2003

I second that, I would never work for Dustin Alexander.

Mr. Fancypants
Monday, November 24, 2003

If you are going to pay someone $80k, then you should be able to afford a good interview process.
So send them to a pyschologist for testing.

I work for an accountant, and everyone (myself included) gets sent to a pychologist for personality and aptitude testing prior to be hired. For our effort we get a conversation with a performance pyschologist who shows us what our skills are and helps us overcome our areas of low skill.
For the employees part they get a very good overview of me.
And they are good. Are I had done my testing and went back to the pychologist for the after-test interview, he said “You are incredibly shy, and extremely religious’, I laughed I was surprised he pinpointed that so well out of the personality test (which consisted of questions like “if you were a florist, would you paint picutres of flowers”). But he was also able to show me things like, my speed & accuracy test I got a very very high score, but he berated me because I only scored high because I had gone so fast, my accuracy was actually quite low, and only my speed made up for it. I never really noticed that about myself, but it brought back to mind how my cashbooks never ever balanced first-go, they were always riddled with mistakes, I did them fast, but always had to return to fix mistakes, this made it obvious I was not suited for a role where accuracy like that was a key skill.
But it showed up my skills, (I am on the Australian Olympic red-block building team) or if you ever get lost in the bush, or need someone to read a map I am your girl.

I am serious, if you have a specific personality type in mind, then hire a pro to do this, it will benfit all. It will also give the guys some pride in your organisation, there is some pride in knowing that you are working with a bunch of smart people.

Aussie Chick
Monday, November 24, 2003


I might, as long as he didn't make me read the radio speech. :-)

Seriously, the radio speech?  C'mon ...

I think I see what Dustin is getting at.  It's worth a whole lot of effort to screen out the pay check collectors.  I don't agree 100% with his methods, but I see his point.

Matt H.
Monday, November 24, 2003

OK, so you've got a lot of weird requirements that will take a lot of my time and the payoff is maybe sometime in the future if I continue to jump through your hoops, I'll possibly be offered some sort of 'partnership', the exact terms of which are undefined. I would pass on your opportunity because I would not believe anything you say about future promises. Why should I trust you? The exception would be if you were a well known firm with a long history of credibility and treating your developers as business partners, say like Microsoft does.

If all you want to do is attract and retain self-starters who are capable of competing with you, you need to know this:

1. It's not an employers market for people of that caliber. It is always an employees market. Such a person can quit this afternoon and have five good offers by evening.

2. 80k is not an acceptable starting salary for a proven developer of these capabilities if you are in a western nation and you are located in a metropolitan area.

Instead, you should do as follows:

1. Offer generous profit sharing from the beginning, as well as stock options.
2. Increase your salary.
3. Stop with the games of screening for political philosophy. Look instead for a history of proven achievement.

Dennis Atkins
Monday, November 24, 2003

:)

This is not solely my concoction, but the ideas of a number of partners with over a  hundred man years of experience in this industry.

That said, sometimes smart people do dumb things. We are (occassionally) willing to concede to having bad ideas.

When I posted this, I was looking for a reasonable and opinionated debate on a new concept for an interview process. If I was an idiot, I would have just gone ahead and done the interviews, no?

On the EEOC, I could argue for hours why I should be allowed to only hire Nazi's if I am a Nazi. Whatever happened to the psychological well being of the employer? You have no right to work for me. If I create a position, I should be able to hire whoever so fills that position. If that position involves working with me, I should be allowed to hire only those I feel comfortable working with them. I grant that this is not the way the laws are set up today. I am not a Nazi, nor am I a sexist, nor am I a nudist or a racist. So, these would not be the type of people I would turn down.

A partner raises the question, why doesn't Microsoft get sued? After all, what does moving a mountain have to do with code work? Our process is similar. Being able to work synthetic solutions over time to new problems and being willing to learn new subjects at the drop of a hat would be prime requesites of the job. We would NOT being looking for implementers, nor low level coders. Any MIT graduate can produce solid code. We're looking for dreamers and technical architects. How can you sue me for asking you to read a book in an interview if, in fact, reading books is going to be a major part of your job. Hell, we might even pay you to do it.

On the trial period, we want people to understand that their job is intimately tied to their performance. This is normally understood, but we also want to tie successful completion of a trial period with an immediate financial reward and increased responsibility. We wouldn't approach it as thought he chances of them not making it were high. In fact, once they got to that stage of the process we would be very sure that they would fit. The idea would be to see how they operate in the environment and, barring any new problems, promote them. We wouldn't be looking to fire someone. There would be a severence package for people who didn't make it, and great references if they deserved them.

Note that the trial period would not be about not making mistakes, it would be about working with a supervisor who would help you correct those mistakes.

Aussie, I hadn't thought of the psychologist aspect. With the sue happiness mentioned earlier, couldn't I get into some litigous situation from rejecting an employee because they didn't see the right thing in the ink blot?

To me, a psychological review is more demeaning than reading a book and having a lively discussion. Keep in mind that I wouldn't describe an interview process I wouldn't partake in. I am very likely to read the book, but not very likely to take a psych eval. It seems insulting to me, like a mandatory drug test. Some things just have no impact on your performance, and other things (regardless of their existence) you have a right to keep private.

Dustin Alexander
Monday, November 24, 2003

"Sue me, I can afford the lawyers"?

Yeah, I really want to work for a dumbass like yourself. Your company has no chance of surviving if that's how flip you are about employment law.

Tony Chang
Monday, November 24, 2003

Matt,

:-) The radio speech was over the top. There are times when you want to hit her over the head with her own book.

Dennis, the 80k - profit sharing would be for the trial period.

1. The firm would not be looking to capitalize on other peoples ideas as a startup. This process would be put in place with a well established reputation.

2. Associates would have small profit sharing and probably 100-200k per year plus bonuses. This would be increased each year with a positive review. If we invested in your idea, profit sharing would be much higher (1/2 is not unreasonable).

Tony, this is not about being flip. It is about standing up for my own morality. Its not that I don't care enough about being sued, its that I care enough to be sued and pay for it. And anyone who thinks suing a prospective employer will have a positive affect on their careers needs a psych evaluation.

Dustin Alexander
Monday, November 24, 2003

Aussie: I don't have that much confidence in psychological evaluations.  Psychology strikes me as a field of science that's prone to fads and lacks much of the rigor found in other disciplines.  Psychologists seems to have a fetish for sorting people according to arbitrary criteria and not really caring that there's as much variability within a category as there is across categories.

The only reason this remains popular is that people like to be told what sort of personality they have (as if they didn't know already), especially in vague, flattering terms.  The same effect explains the popularity of astrologers and palm-readers.

Alyosha`
Monday, November 24, 2003

In the US, a psych evaluation can only be part of a interview process for a very small number of job classifications. You can test them after hire, but the psychiatrist can not legally share with you any of her findings without the employee's written consent, which must be given freely and not be a condition of continued employment or any other consideration.

This is a good practice because its none of your business unless you are hiring special agents for the CIA or evaluating soldier's for possible special forces training and deployment.

Lieutenant Commander Panda
Monday, November 24, 2003

A pysch review is not demeaning, well I don’t think so anyway. I supposed because I found it so interesting and came out with flying colors, but I think a good pysch would

There was no mysterious ink blots, there was a personality test, a speed & accuracy test and an aptitude test.

The guy was a performance pychologist, a crazy american, he hails from Harvard and works with a lot of Aussie sporting stars. The interview after the tests were analysed was great, he refused to give me an overall IQ figure saying that on its on that one figure was meaningless, instead he explained what the 11 scores of the test parts that make up the aptitude test meant, the interview was for me, it was my chance to find out what I needed to do, my chance to get some feedback (ie I have only average general knowledge) gets some tips, we talked about ways to begin overcoming my shyness.

I would rather go through this, knowing that a professional was looking after it, then thinking that I had to impress you by reading a book, with you, I am trying to impress you, I am trying to anticipate what you are wanting in an employee and be that person. With the pyscholgist testing I could only be myself. And I walked away feeling confident and having a better understanding of myself. Well worth the effort.

As for being sued, I think you will find this is a very common practice, you do it to get in the armed forces, heck they will steer you into a career path based on the tests, I will guess the Microsoft put their employees through it, and at the end of it, you (as the employer) receiving a recommendation from a certified pychologist, which I am sure would hold a lot better in court then “I didn’t like his lack of enthuisasm about this book”

Aussie Chick
Monday, November 24, 2003

It's not about the employee suing you. It's about you being sued by the employee. Honestly, the way you described it it sounds like a possible test you followers of the faith of Objectivism and seems irrelevant to the matter at hand. There is a very strong possibility you would be sued for discrimination by some random person you put this through and they would probably have a case legally. My concerns about this is that an employer who is so cavalier about these issues is probably going to get sued a lot while I am there, as a partner, or as an employee, which would make for a unnecessarily stressful work environment (stress no problem but stress because someone doesn't have sense to avoid easily avoidable lawsuits is another thing) and reduce in my estimation hte chances for the firm over the long term. Any you are saying that you are hoping to hire people who will be there for the long term.

Tony Chang
Monday, November 24, 2003

Wow (hadn’t read the Leiutanents post prior to posting mine) that is interesting, I would have thought a potential employee’s personality and intelligence would rate as factors that an employer has a right to know about.

Though I suppose these test could potential reveal information that is not relevent.

I know I signed a permission form, and I am sure the pychologist mentioned something about the privacy of our conversations and that sort of thing. The pysch report was based on what was relevent to the job not me telling the tester to take her time doing the test because I didn’t want to go back to work…

I had thought of some of those issues though.

Aussie Chick
Monday, November 24, 2003

Dustin: Microsoft is very careful to ask questions that test skills that directly relate to possible job performance.  You can tell if a person is the type that gives up easily when confronted with a problem with no clear solution -- or even clear criteria of what constitutes a valid solution -- with questions like "how would you move Mt. Fuji".  Not giving up is a useful job skill.

But as I said before, you can't tell a damn thing about how good a developer is based on whether their reaction to Ayn Rand is positive, negative, or completely apathetic.  The only thing you CAN tell from such a question is whether the candidate conforms to your political / philosophical / religious worldview.  Religion is a Title VII protected class; political or philosophical discrimination likely falls under that penumbra.  I could be wrong though.  I'm not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice.

Alyosha`
Monday, November 24, 2003

An unnecessary psych evaluation for the purpose of some stranger getting his voyeurism fix is not only demeaning, but is an invasion of privacy. Might as well as the prospective employee for a sperm sample.

Lieutenant Commander Panda
Monday, November 24, 2003

That is a good point. Certainly, my goal would be to develop a process which did not predispose my potential employers to suing me. I was simply implying that if you wished to sue me for not hiring you based on your response to what I feel is a perfectly adequate interview, than go ahead. My lawyers will chew you up and spit you out. Note that I am not proposing to create an interview process where I could be sued:

1)  I firmly believe that requiring an employee to perform some analysis of a field of study as part of the interview is not illegal, even if that analysis was long term. It could easily be described as due diligence.

2) Any process would, of course, undergo a review by legal counsel before being put into place. Getting sued is not a great way to start off a BPR venture.

Dustin Alexander
Monday, November 24, 2003

"I am not a Nazi, nor am I a sexist, nor am I a nudist or a racist. So, these would not be the type of people I would turn down."

I hope you have a double negative working in that or you really will have legal problems.  That aside, the issue is that no one can project the outcome of a person based on an interview. NO ONE.  If anyone, even the physicologists tell you otherwise, they are lying. (And the psych places will not tell you they can, because they know better.)

So the question then becomes, why can't we?  The simpliest reasons are that we cannot understand the influences on a person's life over the next six months, forget the next six years.  You hire candidate "Jamie" because they are exactly what you want, based on your "read a novel" approach.  Once they get into the office, you find they are argumentative, and unrelenting.  The will hound a point into the ground and prevent anything from getting done, until every I is dotted and each  T crossed, to _their_ liking.

Or, their spouse hates the area.  Months of being told they want to move north, south, east and west, anywhere but here, weighs on them.

Or, they discover you have little to offer.  As someone pointed out, why if I have the skillset you describe, should I come in at anything less than a partner?

So how do you find the superstars?  Perpare to bleed. 
-  You are going to pay big to get them to come, because joining you is a big risk.  They are superstars, each new gig is an opportunity for failure outside their control.  To get them to jump, means you have an offer better than the one they have.  You are the unknown, so you have to make it worth it.
-  You cannot stop them from starting their own business to compete with you.  You can try the NDAs, the employment contracts, etc.  In the end, by the time your lawyers get through with his, both of you will probably be sorry.  And you could still lose.  -- So don't worry about this one.  If you are wildly successful, they won't leave.  If you are not, and the take some of your ideas and become fruitful, maybe they will offer you a job.
- Stop playing games.  Go back through your approach here and imagine IBM or CSC or GE taking this approach.  Would you consider it a filter or a quest for how much humiliation a person can endure.  In these types of interviews, you get mediocrity because no one knows what you are filtering for.  You say you want someone of strong opinions.  Maybe the last gal wanted someone who is passive during heated discussions.  How is a candidate to know.  In the end, no one is happy because everyone is gaming the system.

Anononon
Monday, November 24, 2003

Keep in mind that we are not hiring coders. Every single employee in the company would be required to perform ongoing analysis of new research ventures or to interact with clients on a business level. We are not looking for Carmack, we are looking for Codd.

Dustin Alexander
Monday, November 24, 2003

Okay, I can see where you're coming from here now.

Several years ago I read about a company whose interview process took one to two weeks. For that time, all potential hires were paid, were shown around, and were given actual work.

I think this, thorough type of interview process may really work out for you. If you're going to revise the normal interview process by adding a book and challenging someone to see how they react, why not go as far as hiring them for a few days and see how they really contribute?

If you do have the money to hire lawyers if someone sues you, you should hire one to tell you what may or may not be legal about your interview process and what might be considered discrimination.

Though, as I said, a real self-starter would probably object to a process where you repeatedly tell them how easily you can pull the rug out from under them.

Now that I think of it, hiring a half dozen people for two weeks to see how things works out strikes me as a cross between Job Survivor and Glen Gary Glenross - "The bad news is you're all fired. The good news is, the salesman who performs the best in the next week gets his job back, a bonus, and a Mercedes."

Though it would seem to be the best way to ensure a cultural fit, and to ensure that the really are capable of producing the samples they show you in a timely fashion. And of course, you criteria for being a strong willed bastard with lots of ideas. ;-)

www.MarkTAW.com
Monday, November 24, 2003

The legal issue is moot, because you simply won't have anyone wanting to work for you. No one reads an 800 page book during the interview process for a programming job. The economy might be bad right now, but it isn't THAT bad.

I would posit that your interview process is going to backfire. Anyone desperate enough to read an Ayn Rand novel for your entertainment obviously does not have many other options for employment.

_
Monday, November 24, 2003

The psych eval is something that I have done exactly ONCE in my life and it will never happen again. Half-way throught the test the shrink sprung at me and started screaming at me. He wanted to see how I handled 'confrontation'. I left.
I personally would not have an employee that hasn't read Atlas Shrugged and understood the principle of 'not all people are created equal'.
  Also what MicroSoft puts you through is far worse than reading a book. You do it because you want the job.
  Talk to a lawyer about suing someone for an interview process. I think you will be entertained by his absolute disinterest in taking on the case.

Michael Bruzenak
Monday, November 24, 2003

Mark,

Yeah, Interview Survivor. We could film it and make more money of that than doing tech work :)

Legal review of any interview process is a must, especially in the US.

The 'trial by fire' idea, I think is good. But you have to narrow the field to one or two guys first. The rest go on the callback list. If you like both guys, you hire them, and you hire them independently of each other, so they don't compete.

This post is more of a 'what if'. This is obviously a different way of looking at a tech company than most, and there are kinks. Go figure.

I'm guessing that a lot of early associates would also have less experience in the field than you guys. Extensive experience would be a plus, but not a prerequesite. In fact, I'm guessing that a lot of the takers would be young hopefuls looking to learn the business and build a name for themselves.

Anonymous, maybe you missed my repeated mentioning of who we were looking for. We would not be offering a programming job. We'd be much higher level than that.

Dustin Alexander
Monday, November 24, 2003

Maybe armwrestling?

I would submit that Ayn Rand is a poor choice because, as you say, she's well known for people having stong reactions to what she has to say.

Perhaps a short - 2 to 3 page magazine article, that you have them read during the interview that's actually on topic for the job. They might think you're looking for technical comprehension, but what you're really looking for is a strong reaction to the article itself.

This reduces the 'gaming the system' angle. It also, as the previous poster noted, isn't a Herculean (Atlas like?) Task that you're asking them to complete for a chance at a job.

www.MarkTAW.com
Monday, November 24, 2003

From my illustrious partner, whose idea it was to use Atlas as interview material:

"The thing is the atlas shrugged test was related to job we were talking about. It had to do with competing and working for your promotion and acceptance all the time not just during the interview. It is an entrepaneurial environment. My reason for reading AS is that if a person didn't agree with an individualistic philosophy they wouldn't like the job. Then they would either whine or sue us for promoting according to ability."

Careful on this one dudes, he is five of us rolled into one (with the verbiage reduced).

I disagree with him a bit on the competition. We want to promote at atmosphere of open collaboration. But we still hammer out the kinks on this.

Dustin Alexander
Monday, November 24, 2003

Mark :)

If you can kill a hydra, I'll give you a job too.

Also, anyone with the wherewithal to read the Cliff's notes on Atlas or Fountainhead who can hold there own in a discussion with MY partners deserves an award. Hell, holding your own in a discussion with my partners on the use of forks in eating would be worth an award.

Dustin Alexander
Monday, November 24, 2003

I think anyone who doesn't agree with The Bible should be kicked out of church. They will never be true believers.

Slashbot
Monday, November 24, 2003

People who can game my system, deserve my money.

Dustin Alexander
Monday, November 24, 2003

The best way to avoid being sued is to avoid doing business with people who state they ahave a team of rabid lawyers just waiting to rip you apart and "spit you out".

As an individual who has started several profitable businesses and has over 15 patents, I am very cautious about the sorts of arrangements I get myself involved it.

What do you think the liklihood is that I would accept any job offer from Mr. Alexander? As I see it, when I did move on to greener pastures after putting up with his abuse for far too long, I would be rewarded by an unending series of harassment suits.

Regardless of how Mr. Alexander changes his process, I would advise all real innovators and self-starters to avoid his firm like the plague.

Tesla
Monday, November 24, 2003

So, in other words, you're looking for somone who believes that selfishness is good, greed is king, altruism is a vice and the only real virtue is unabashed self-interest.

Be careful for what you ask for, you might just get it.

Alyosha`
Monday, November 24, 2003

:)

Tesla, that is the kind of strong reaction we would be looking to hire you for.

And on the lawyers: People seem to be stuck on this. Bah. Most companies have lawyers on retainer. What I'm implying is that I would love to defend my morality in court. I think anyone with strong opinons who is part of a democratic government has a duty to do those opinions justice by battling for them.

And my rip apart comment was aimed at wrongful lawsuits. I don't have time for that crap and am honestly and (justly in my opinion) inflamed by the suggestion that someone get away with it. You don't see a whole lot of support for SCO in SCO vs. IBM and that is the type of suit I was referring to.

I am not sue happy. I don't like that type of person. I AM willing to defend myself. Suing an employee for leaving would never cross my mind, unless he had my hard drive in his pocket on the way out.

Dustin Alexander
Monday, November 24, 2003

Dustin Alexander shot himself in the foot.

Slashbot
Monday, November 24, 2003

So you're hiring a personality as much as a drone. Odd how programmers don't want to be compared to drones, i.e. factory workers who can be outsourced, yet when someone challenges them to have qualifications beyond quality of code, they get offended. It seems quality of code is the only basis on which they're willing to compete.

It sounds more like you're looking to hire an executive, especially with your mention of "how to hold your fork." Poise and attitude are more important when decisions are made over dinner and on the golf course.

Are you looking for a tech guy with managerial responsibilitie and attitude, or an executive with a technical background?

www.MarkTAW.com
Monday, November 24, 2003

Alyosha,

That is one interpretation. Not mine, but one interpretation. I think my partner was implying that noone should get something for nothing and that it is the right and duty of each man (and woman) to build there own road to the future. Remember, not all arguments she presented were incorrect, although everything is open to being misconstrued. I recommend reading more into modern objectivist philosophy before rejecting Rand's ideas as merely being against helping others.

BTW, I agree with all your statements. People who believe those things who have a positive work ethic and a strong fundamental structure of contribution would do well in my company.

Dustin Alexander
Monday, November 24, 2003

Dustin,

from what you've posted so far I infer that you don't want to interview anyone. You happen to have read Rand's book and now you try to show off how intellectually superior you are. Or so you believe.

Slashbot
Monday, November 24, 2003

Mark,

First off, thanks for openly discussing an idea in such a constructive fashion. You have been insightful and helpful and your suggestions, in particular, have given us lots to think about in our proposal.

This is, after all, a new idea for a new type of company. It is not the company I currently run, nor is it like the other companies I or my partners have owned or been affiliated with.

Think of it like this: A law firm. We are thinking of building a law firm. Only instead of practicing law, we will be building technical and research architectures. Each employee will start out as an associate, working under a more senior party to provide clients with solid structural recommendations on how to apply technology to all areas of their business. As they gain seniority, each associate will be reviewed by his supervisors and his peers and have the opportunity to take on new responsibilties and suggest new areas of research. Senior associates would be allowed to rise to the level of junior partner, where they would be given their own research portfolio, employees, and funding along with a client list.

Every member of the firm would be in contact with clients. Every member would brainstorm and provide fresh ways of looking at things. And everyone would be given the opportunity to be a pioneer of his or her own vision, with the resources and experience of the entire firm behind his dreams.

Dustin Alexander
Monday, November 24, 2003

Slashbot,

Interesting opinion. If I wanted to feel superior I would post to a different board. Although, I thank you for providing me with that feeling gratis, in addition to the commentary of my peers that I have received on this board.

Dustin Alexander
Monday, November 24, 2003

Told you so. Idiot.

Slashbot
Monday, November 24, 2003

(The latter statement was a comment to Dustbin's post two entries above.)

Slashbot
Monday, November 24, 2003

"we will be building technical and research architectures. Each employee will start out as an associate, working under a more senior party to provide clients with solid structural recommendations on how to apply technology to all areas of their business. As they gain seniority, each associate will be reviewed by his supervisors and his peers and have the opportunity to take on new responsibilties and suggest new areas of research. Senior associates would be allowed to rise to the level of junior partner, where they would be given their own research portfolio, employees, and funding along with a client list"

This is an old fart. It's called "pyramid selling."

Slashbot
Monday, November 24, 2003

I apologize for that harsh statement. Sometimes my hands type faster than my brain.

I was trying to point out to Alyosha that reading into objectivism may change some of the ideas he holds. I, personally, don't find it to be a philosophy that makes me desirous of urinating on the masses (which was the tone I read into his comments). I find it to be a personal philosophy of self enablement, and a positive one at that.

Dustin Alexander
Monday, November 24, 2003

"a personal philosophy of self enablement, and a positive one at that."

Yeah, bring 'em on. Got more of this multi-level marketing buzz? Now I understand why you fear the techies, as you've laid out in the first post. They might put some sense and flesh in your lousy BUSINESS PROPOSAL.

Slashbot
Monday, November 24, 2003

Very interesting comparison. Made me think. Very wrong though.

Nobody we hired would be involved in making sales. We are not hiring people to sell research papers on relational-object mapping to their parents. Sales would be handled by a professional team or another organization.

Dustin Alexander
Monday, November 24, 2003

Dustin: perhaps those are not your views, but I think you'll find that the rugged individualists coming across your doorstep interpret Objectivism in a way that makes the world out to be a rough-and-tumble world where no quarter should be asked for or granted.

Whereas I agree that the disadvantaged should help themselves before demanding help from above, I also believe there's a moral obligation for the advantaged to reach down to lend a helping hand - and that they should be compelled to do so, to a reasonable degree - and this is a view that many libertarians and objectivists will see as repugnant.

Alyosha`
Monday, November 24, 2003

Alyosha,

I've run across those types before. They are fairly easy to spot because they are usually not team players.

As for a moral obligation to lend others a helping hand, I agree, but only insofar as they are willing to help themselves. Note I didn't say capable. The best in life I can ever offer someone in need is an opportunity. Free handouts are devoured to easily and prove to be of little nutritional content.

Dustin Alexander
Monday, November 24, 2003

Alyosha:
Is that all you got out of Rand? If so then you are exactly like her. Absolute right or left.
  There is a lot of middle ground that gets trashed when you reject the entire work because you disagree with the author's conclusion.
  What is altruism? What is selfishness? and what motivates each?
  Why does a person lend a hand to someone stranded on the highway? I would like to know what you all think about this.

Nearly Missed
Monday, November 24, 2003

Perhaps someone should start and Objectivism post for this discussion :) I'd love to talk philosophy all day, but it derails my original post a bit.

Dustin Alexander
Monday, November 24, 2003

Interesting analogy with a law firm. Law firms have an accepted and well acknowledge career track. Law firms are also one of the few partnerships in the business world because partnerships are so difficult to set up and dissolve and usually set up a difficult working environment for all involved.

Why don't you investigate how law firms hire. Also, think about the differences between law firms and tech firms. Lawyers tend to have individual clients that they work with almost exlcusively, so it's almost like you're an independant contractor with the resources and reputation of the firm. I could be wrong on this.

www.MarkTAW.com
Monday, November 24, 2003

Aussie Chick, there's no evidence that psych testing actually helps anything or is even useful. The practice is driven by the consulting firms who make a lot of money out it. It's a useful add-on for recruiting.

As the insight that you're religious, I could have told you that just from JOS. Shy I might have guessed at.

Dustin, I think your point hasn't been understood by people here. I think it's a good point. You want people with a bit of intelligence, analytical ability and broader outlook, and wonder how to test for that.

In my situation, it comes from meeting different people and recognising common interests and capabilities, rather than expecting to just find them by advertising.

By the way, I think the interest in broader outlook is one that's undergoing a change in the industry at the moment. I think the greater focus on CS degrees in hiring is discriminating towards the narrower person, in very general terms.

Must be a Manager
Monday, November 24, 2003

Manager, I agree with this. I think one of the things that is going overseas is those without a broader outlook.

Mark, you've nailed it exactly. That hiring research will happen. We know this is a difficult idea, the spreadsheet alone is going to kill me.  As for independence, we are looking for that in our partners, the rest will support the partners. We are looking for long term clients who will come to us with business & architectural needs on a repeated basis. We want to make a 'professional' out the the technical architect. In addition, we want to promote the idea of being research conscious, experimenting with and exploring our own potentially saleable ideas.

Dustin Alexander
Monday, November 24, 2003

Sounds like an interesting proposition, and based on your comments in the Army v. Business and here you seem like an intelligent and ambitious person. best of luck in your endeavors.

Just one question, is how you hold your fork actually one of the criteria by which you'll judge prospects? You can answer me privately if you're afraid of a backlash here.

www.MarkTAW.com
Monday, November 24, 2003

Actually, no. :)

I was implying that my partners are capable of having an in depth conversation about just about anything. I'm sure they would have a impassioned response about holding your fork that would initiate a discussion of near equal length to that of objectivist philosophy. We 'might' however hire you based on your response to that conversation :)

To put it in perspective, morning conversation during meetings ranges from z-series assembly programming and enterprise java patterns to biology and chemistry to objectivist ethics and communism, with a healthy dash of movie quotes and pop culture. We are a DIVERSE group.

Thanks for the praise. Its probably pretty obvious that I don't fear criticism, but its always nice to hear a positive response.

And on the fork issue: chopsticks all the way. You don't do chopsticks, I don't hire you. ;)

Dustin Alexander
Monday, November 24, 2003

I hold my chopsticks different from all of my friends, and different from the little diagram on the chopsticks package. I think it has to do with my being a bass player and the index & middle finger on my right hand being so dominant. I almost never use my right hand pinky, even for typing. I don't think I even hit return with it.

I did learn a neat trick you can use to impress your friends. Fold the paper sleeve your chopsticks come in into thirds, and then fold that lengthwise. You should have a 2" long stand to use as a chopsticks holder.

www.MarkTAW.com
Monday, November 24, 2003

:)

See, there you go. Good recruiting potential there.

Unfortunately, anything more physical than putting my socks on can be dangerous for me. In fact, now that I mention socks...

Dustin Alexander
Monday, November 24, 2003

Now that you mention socks... you have to learn how to put on the rest of your clothes before you leave the house to interview that non-nudist, non-objectivist candidate tomorrow?

www.MarkTAW.com
Monday, November 24, 2003

I think there is a major line between being a nudist and simply being truly unable to put on your clothes, and that our society, being as people friendly as it is, should make allowances for the truly inept.  Goes with my Naked is Better political platform I suppose.

AT
Tuesday, November 25, 2003

http://www.dilbert.com/comics/dilbert/archive/dilbert-20031123.html

Dilbert
Tuesday, November 25, 2003

I don't know about this law firm structure. Lawyers don't generate copyrighted intellectual property (court documents are in the public domain) as part of their work normally. When they do write journal articles, they retain the copyright themselves personally and not the firm they are working for.

This is very very different from the situation where people are generating patents and copyrights and trademarks and all that IP stuff.

The key difference here is that there is no intrinsic conflict between law associates and the firm. Lawyers are paid for their ideas, which the law firm does not end up owning.

This is fundamentally different from the instrinsic conflict of ownership that exists in the development world between inventor and employer.

Tesla
Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Good point. What if you retained a percentage of the profits of sales from your product even if you left the company? It wouldn't exist without you, so the company rewards you for the idea, even if they lose you the person.

I maybe reading him incorrectly, but I thought he said that primarily they consulted to other companies. Therefore, all the code they produce is owned by the company they made it for.

www.MarkTAW.com
Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Mark, you got me there. Anyone have a for dummies guide to putting on pants? Maybe I'll just stay home. Easier that way.

Tesla, you're right. Thats one of the tough spots. There are quite a few. That's what goes with creating the lifestyle we would be looking to create. IP would probably end up being owned by the firm, which in turn would be owned by the contributors. In addition, licensing and selling IP might be fairly lucrative, with the inventor being given the lion's share of the profits. After all, its their idea. We would have to approach each idea as a separate investment and deal with the contributions in that manner. The goal is to create an open environment where people would feel fine contributing 'their' proprietary ideas. Ownership, I think, is a very large part of that.

Dustin Alexander
Tuesday, November 25, 2003

> z-series assembly programming

Ah... something I can relate to. I'm glad that you guys use z-chips (I presume by z-chips you mean zilog processors; i don't call them z-chips myself) I was the chief architect of one of the largest and fastest chips Zilog ever fabricated, and one with a number of amazing innovations. Boy, I like saying that. :))

I don't think I would read that book just because you asked me to though. I really think you would rule me out of your interview process.

Not that I'm looking right now -- I'm not, I've got my own life and I don't think there's much anyone could offer to lure my away from it. But just in terms of my own reaction to your description of this process, rather than draw me towards your firm, I feel a bit repelled.

But that's just me, I am open to the possibility that there are others who would really groove on the book report system. I admit it is rather novel.

Dennis Atkins
Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Mark,

We would probably do both. I, for one, would not want to implement the dreams of others for the rest of my life.

Ownership stake in an idea would probably be considered on a per idea basis, and continue beyond the lifespan of employment. Of course, we'd be looking at keeping the people for as long as they are working. I don't think, after rising into a senior partnership position, many people would want to leave. I could be wrong, but getting into that position would take years of work and any overt reason to leave would come out long before that.

This is what strong contract language is all about, but we'd have to do a lot of thinking before getting to that stage.

Dustin Alexander
Tuesday, November 25, 2003

rather novel? please say you didn't intend that pun.

www.MarkTAW.com
Tuesday, November 25, 2003

It wouldn't be like, tell us the plot structure of Beowulf. It would be what did you think of Gail Wynand. Less of a report, more of a conversation with required background reading. [I think we're over the book report issue anyway.]

Dennis, lets see whether you would work here. I'm going to save you the trouble and describe partnership (associate level would be for people without significant experience such as yours):

1) You can work on anything you want with company funding for up to 4 months per year.

2) You are given your choice of corporate clients.

3) You manage you own schedule and timeframe, so long as you allot a few days a week for communication in normal business hours.

4) You have ownership stake in the business.

5) You work research projects defining solutions to unsolved problems with brilliant members of the field.

6) You only solve unsolved problems.

7) High pay. [Very high pay]

Dustin Alexander
Tuesday, November 25, 2003

1. An environment where you can develop your ideas and have some good programmers to back you up to boot sounds like a good one. Especially if you share in the profits. Why would you want to leave? Unless it was to retire and live off your intellectual rights.

2. Profits based on intellectual property is *always* a minefield. In a heated discussion, how do you know whose idea you're really implementing? I could quietly suggest something and then you loudly suggest it six months later and it gets approved. How do you prove the idea was yours, or I that it was mine? Or if it's your idea, but I write the lion's share of the code, coming up with a few innovative solutions along the way, do I have a stake in the ownership?

You might want to look into music, and how bands solve these problems. At least in music you know that melody & lyrics are what's copyrightable. As someone said, you could write the riff to Sunshine of Your Love, and still not own the copyright. But don't you think Jack Bruce (who wrote the whole song anyway, I think with a songwriting partner, so the point is moot) would deserve some reward for writing one of the most recognizable rock and roll riffs in history.

www.MarkTAW.com
Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Interesting comparison.

Tough call. There would definitely be a formalized process to getting final backing (beyond research funding) for each idea. This would require proof that the idea is yours and not an associate or a formal employers (really bad news, otherwise) and have a formal review and objection period. That should help lower IP stealing issues in the office. A set arbitration process agreed to in the contract would also be a necessity.

Dustin Alexander
Tuesday, November 25, 2003

For an off the cuff answer, that was well thought out and very fair.

www.MarkTAW.com
Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Yes, it was intentional.

Dennis Atkins
Tuesday, November 25, 2003

All the non-fair players went to sleep. :)

Actually, this has helped our thinking process a great deal. We knew a lot of issues would come up but hadn't gone to the trouble to elaborate. This thread has contributed a great deal to the legal, philosophical, and social roadmap of this idea.

Dustin Alexander
Tuesday, November 25, 2003

:P (from the old english, =b) - transitive verb

ok I'm not that good at making up BS, but the statement still stands:

:P

www.MarkTAW.com
Tuesday, November 25, 2003

and again a post was inserted between the one I was replying to and my actual reply.

www.MarkTAW.com
Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Dustin,

You do seem to have your act together in thinking about ways to attract people. As for me, I already have 1-6 and am trading 7 for a higher stake in what I am doing, looking more to the long term. But I can see it being a trade off. If I ever gave up on what I am doing right now (doesn't seem to likely), a set up as you propose would be the sort of thing I would find appealing. I would be looking at the whole package, and be particularly intrigued by issues of ownership. I wouldn't have a problem with you having an unlimited license to use whatever I do, but my retaining copyright to do with my own stuff as I please in the future would also be something I would be looking for.

Earlier you mentioned about hiring brilliant folks with less experience. I think this is a good idea. Find really smart kids just coming out of college and bring them on board before they get spoiled in some other environment. Under this system, the six year to partner plan (or what-have-you) would certainly appeal to many bright eyed graduates. You wouldn't hire just any graduate, but I have found it's surprisingly easy to hire top graduates if you are creative in your approach. One key is to develop and maintain friendships with exceptional professors at top universities and stay involved with them and their departments on a personal and physically present level. This is my gift to you -- the secret I once developed for cherry picking the really bright students.

Dennis Atkins
Tuesday, November 25, 2003

;)

Latin, from Greek, from :), transcription of amusement; see dh- in Indo-European Roots. Senses 5 and 6, Middle English from Late Latin, smilen from Greek, o_o, to appear happy ]

Dustin Alexander
Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Getting into this very late...

Dustin, I have one overall observation to make on your proposed interview technique and the comments made along the way.

I object to your methodology, as I object to *all* overly "scientific" hiring processes, for the following basic reason: you're trying to infer the future with too many degrees of freedom left which will determine that future.

People are neither predictable nor are state machines.

There really *aren't* any reliable metrics (including personality assessments) that can predict the future nor people's performance in that future.

As already noted, the choice of author and book will be regarded as oppressive by the vast majority of candidates with any balls. (see comments at end on this.)

I do not object to this process on the basis of legality. My understanding of EEOC law is that unless you discriminate against defined protected groups, you are not liable for discrimination, because you ARE allowed to discriminate based upon everything BUT protected group status.

I object to the attempt to try to bottle up the non-causal and personality-compatibility based intangibles of life as though they WERE tangible. You're apparently placing all your bets on your predetermination that Mr./Miss Perfect Employee-cum-Partner Candidate exists. I posit that the only way to "know" would be to *try* different people actually working for you.

The 6 month probation sounds OK. Many employers have a 3 month probation period.

I have a special little axe to grind in this, as always. The most demeaning, hurtful employer I have ever worked for in my life used personality tests on the front end (the infamous Minnesota test). And the management
continually compared itself to Apple Computer, and pushed its employees to read and embrace Ayn Rand.

So I have a very sour taste in my mouth, from past experience, from employers who presume to bottle up the essence of candidates as though it was a comparison of 4 door sport sedans... To me it's the hallmark of bastards who want to mess with my mind.

You, as is anyone else here, are certainly not perfect, but you are evidently trying to hire perfection and trying to cut your risks down to nothing.

Won't work.

Don't take offense. I just think you're overreaching any human's capabilities.

Bored Bystander
Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Dennis,

That's a great idea. Pick the brains of the professors. Since we'd only be looking at around 200 employees max, the bidding would probably be very competitive. Hopefully, we could establish enough of a reputation that internships would be coveted and working post-graduation desired from the get-go. Tie internships with close relationships to the educational field, and I think you could do very well in screening candidates.

As for ownership, something like that is viable, but only if there was a non-compete solution. We would need to know that our employees weren't going to jump right into the same field with the same product. Other than that, we would have little issue with someone taking their ideas and starting a business. In fact, we would probably be interested in helping fund it as an external investment. Of course, the idea is to build an environment where someone at that level wouldn't need to strike off on their own. I don't think many people who desire to be rich in our field have considered all the downsides of running a 2000 employee C corp.

Dustin Alexander
Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Bored,

Well thought out. Rand was, again, merely a suggestion (although my partner loves the idea). The traits that she idolizes, however, would be necessary (such as self starting, independence, etc).

Well, the ultimate goal is to hire the best candidate. Of all those that apply, there usually is a pretty good one. Barring that, we want a candidate that interacts well with the partners, particulary the managing partners and his own supervisory partner.

I reject the psych test also. Too Orwellian for my liking.

And the majority of the interview would be the probation phase. We aren't looking to narrow this to an exact science. Interacting in social scenario (as we are looking today with the lunch), isn't an exact requirement either. The goal is to get a feel for the candidate at his best during the initial interviews, and then follow up with an examination of him overall in the trial by fire period.

Dustin Alexander
Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Sorry s/today/to do/. Brain freezing. (my office is on a porch and the heater is broken).

Dustin Alexander
Tuesday, November 25, 2003

That reminds me, I wanted to mention this before, but I forgot.

I read an interview with the guy at Microsoft that concieved of and oversaw the creation of the X-Box. He said loved being in an environment where he could come up with an idea and be talking to Bill Gates about it a few weeks later.

However, I believe it was before the launch of the X-Box, he resigned his position and went to work for a company that made video games. He said it was because his passion was in making video games, not hardware, but one has to wonder what else went in to his decision.

Regarding the university professors and internships, that's a good idea. Perhaps you could even give grants to certain professors to pursue certain ideas, and allow them to use some of your resources. You'd be both raising your prestige within that university, and getting a sneak peak at potential hires.

www.MarkTAW.com
Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Ah, the hidden penalty of working from a home office.

Perhaps getting a few people together and just having lunch, and discussing things, along with a past resume review and a trial period, is more than enough to cut the risks down by an acceptable percent.  Especially if they were working closely with someone that you already knew for that trial period.

  As bored stated, the risks can never be eliminated, but they can be reduced. 

AT
Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Ignore the troll.  (Dustin.)

Robert Jacobson
Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Whose a troll?

Hey, I admit, with the way the industry is going today, any of us may be sleeping underneath a bridge and demanding payment for crossing in a few years.

:)

Dustin Alexander
Tuesday, November 25, 2003

You have to dream bigger, and more specific. I hope to be sleeping under the Brooklyn Bridge (recently purchased, of course) and installing toll booths so I can have others demand a toll for me.

=b~

www.MarkTAW.com
Tuesday, November 25, 2003

There you go. Employ other out of work software engineers :) That and a line of parking lots and we'll be good to go.

Hmm, do you never sleep Mark? Unless I read you wrong, you are American, and its late in Brooklyn.

Dustin Alexander
Tuesday, November 25, 2003

I do sleep, and it is late in Brooklyn. I'm nocturnal by nature, and had some carbohydrates this evening that seem to be keeping me up... I have nowhere to be tomorrow, so it's not a problem if I sleep late.

Hmmm. You've given me an idea. I should start an "out of work tech worker" employment agency to do odd jobs like dog walking and cleaning wealthy people's homes.

www.MarkTAW.com
Tuesday, November 25, 2003

There you go. Do something positive for employment. Make a contribution. Ayn Rand would applaud you. :)

Speaking of that, its a sick concept that might work. Can I sign up a few of  my friends?

Dustin Alexander
Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Is this guy _really_ worth 103 posts?

Robert Jacobson
Tuesday, November 25, 2003

I had a few other ideas, actually, not quite like that one. One of them looks to be shaping up quite nicely, though it's still in the early stages.

You know, I never read Ayn Rand, nor do I really know what objectivism is beyond what I've read in this thread. I did, years ago, catch The Fountainhead movie on late night TV.


Why do you equate number of posts with worth?

www.MarkTAW.com
Tuesday, November 25, 2003

I've taken the Objectivist discussion of thread, since its off the topic of the board. :)

Dustin Alexander
Tuesday, November 25, 2003

"anyone who thinks suing a prospective employer will have a positive affect on their careers needs a psych evaluation"

So they should just bend over the desk and take whatever you want to dish out, is that what you are saying? You are not above the law, and if you break it I would applaud anyone who sues you because of it.


Tuesday, November 25, 2003

"Is this guy _really_ worth 103 posts?"

I don't think worthiness has anything to do with the posts-generated count.  Consider how many posts the AI->evolution->parapsychology runaway threads generated.  There was a pretty high post count on the lightbulb changing thread as well.

Matt Latourette
Tuesday, November 25, 2003

>Several years ago I read about a company
>whose interview process took one to two weeks.
> For that time, all potential hires were paid, were
>shown around, and were given actual work.

Thus limiting the potential applicants to those currently unemployed. Is that really a good idea?

Andrew Reid
Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Interesting. I guess thats a drawback of the trial by fire scenario. But, then again, if they aren't willing to start work after the first interview, they probably wouldn't after the two weeks. Either way, they would be leaving their current job.

The lack of security of the two weeks might hurt potential applicants, though. A longer, more probationary style period would, in my opinion, work better. The idea being that they DO have the job, and are just being evaluated for their future role in the organization.

Dustin Alexander
Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Dustin.

I like your ideas. If you ever hiring in the UK, drop me a note.

Tapiwa
Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Sounds like what you are doing is a lot similar to what Phil Greenspun tried with Arsdigita. If you have not yet read about this dude and his ideas, Google him.

There are a lot of articles on the net on the rise and fall of aD.

You might want to visit archive.org for some of older arsdigita.com articles.... excellent

His website is http://philip.greenspun.com

Tapiwa
Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Finally

Those of you with thoughts Ms Rand (and her books) might want to check out a Frenchman who had very interesting ideas back in the 1840s.

One of the good things about Frédéric Bastiat was that he was most succint. His works tend to be more pamphlets and essays than books. http://bastiat.org/en/


I particularly recommend
- Petition of the Candlestickmakers, etc.
- Government
- The Law
- That Which is Seen, and That Which is Not Seen
- Property and Law

Excellent stuff! Truly excellent

Tapiwa
Tuesday, November 25, 2003

At arsdigita, we gave people a programming test. We could have cared less what people read in their spare time. And for the record, Philip G is a total Rand hater.

_
Tuesday, November 25, 2003

A probationary period after hiring is good. But it's going to work both ways. Given your personality I'd expect a lot of people wouldn't enjoy working with you and would leave after six months (or before).

Asking someone to read a book and then discus it after lunch is stupid. In fact it's such a poor idea a question your ability to tell right from wrong.

Furthermore, if you were the type of decisive employee you claim to be looking for, you wouldn't need to validate your ideas in this blog. You'd know right from wrong already.

What do you do when you can't make a technical decision? Ask JOS whether you should use a linked list or a hash table?

Clutch Cargo
Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Dustin,

It sounds to me like you and your partners have a very high opinion of yourselves and want to force other people to jump through hoops to be part of your super elite club.  It's like a fraternity hazing ritual.

chris
Tuesday, November 25, 2003

chris

That's just the point. Noone is forced!

Tapiwa
Tuesday, November 25, 2003

you guys sound like people who went to colleges like swarthmore and carleton. pretentious enough to be in the ivy league, but not smart enough.

_
Tuesday, November 25, 2003

- don't know what PhilG thought about Ayn, but irrelevent to point I was trying to make.

http://web.archive.org/web/20000816064100/www.arsdigita.com/pages/mission/  ... particularly the bit about the compensation principle.

PhilG also wrote stuff about his vision for growing the company. How to use a network of not-so-loosly connected professionals to, share ideas and not reinvent the wheel, but work on solving new problems.

Sounds a bit like what Dustin was suggesting

Tapiwa
Tuesday, November 25, 2003

- don't want to have an ad hominem discussion, but
1. who is you guys?
2. college reference?? what has that got to do with the argument.

Like the man said, the part of the work will involve having interesting and indeed intelligent conversations with clients and colleages.

One of the prerequisites for this, is confidence in one's convictions, and the premises and logic that have led you to them.

A good way of testing this is to give the candidate a fairly controversial book, and then discuss it.

Not once does Dustin suggest that the person has to like it. All he is looking for is the ability to have (I assume) an intelligent discussion.

I still don't get it? Where is the problem with this?

Tapiwa
Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Because weak spined, easily pushed around workers don't want to be judged on the courage of their convictions?

Full name:
Tuesday, November 25, 2003

I would like to thank everyone for participating in this thread. I originally posted a rough process that we were toying with in our spare time, and the questions and comments you brought up were very enlightening. Unlike others, who would simply go ahead and build a process like this, I believe in taking the time to review the opinions of the people I respect. You have certainly provided you opinions, and changed some of my own. I thank you.

Dustin Alexander
Tuesday, November 25, 2003

"I still don't get it? Where is the problem with this? "

There is no problem with wanting to have intelligent employees. The problem is with the structure of the interview. From the description of the work, it sounds like Dustin is trying to start his own management consulting firm, but he is making up his own ad-hoc interview format, which focuses upon a book report. The logistics of this don't make any sense. So you meet with the person once and determine they are the right technical fit. Then you tell her to come back after she's read Atlas Shrugged. When does she come back? The next day? The next week? The next month? Normally employees you WANT to hire are people who are not unemployed, and an employed person probably doesn't want to take the time read a book that isn't on their reading list on the off chance that doing so will get them a new job. And in fact, it seems like the book step is unnecessary anyway, because the within the first meeting where you talk about technical stuff, you should be able to tell whether or not you want to hire someone, anyway.

If you interview with McKinsey, they assume that you have already done your reading, they don't assign you to do a book report. They do run you through a their own gauntlet, which they have been refining for a long time.  I'm saying the gauntlet Dustin has proposed is not a very good one.

Maybe read a few books on how management firms interview their employees, and go from there.

Also, the truly good people Dustin says he is looking for are not going to be motivated by anything besides money, because if they are that good, they probably have a decent lifestyle already.  The only figures Dustin mentioned are $80,000, and " a lot of money."  $80,000 isn't a lot of money. You can get paid $80,000 "just" being a "programmer."  You can make $100K a year charging $50/hr as a sys admin. So unless "a lot of money" means $200K or more, I'm not sure why this would be appealing.

What I got out of Dustin's posts is that he is trying to hire someone who wants to write reports comparing system architectures, and also do some programming, and also manage clients. And pay them $100K a year.

Anyone worth their salt who writes reports comparing system architectures, does some programming, and manages clients ALREADY makes way over $100K a year, so why would they want to do the book report interview to work with Dustin?

The only people who would do this are people NOT currently making very much money. If they are an experienced programmer/systems analyst/consultant already, and they are not making $80K, they are not making $80K by choice (they don't care about money) or they are a loser. So what Dustin really wants to do is aim for inexperienced but smart people, so whomever suggested above that Dustin should look into getting fresh graduates, has the right idea.

_
Tuesday, November 25, 2003

I agree that this is also a problem that has probably already been solved. Whether or not he settles on an existing solution or implements his own, that's no reason to criticise him for thinking about the problem in a novel way.

When hiring, you generally ask yourself a few questions.

1. Can the candidate do the job?
2. Will the candidate do the job?
3. Is the candidate a good cultural match?

If the job requires healthy discourse and debating skills, then they should certainly interview for those things. I agree that "Read A Lengthy Novel" is a bit heavy handed, but "read an article," or "next time we talk, be prepared to discuss X" isn't as unreasonable.

Also, the $80k was for 6 months.

www.MarkTAW.com
Tuesday, November 25, 2003

80k/year is for the probationary period. It would bump to over 100k and that is only if you have less than 5 years experience in the field. More experienced workers will receive higher pay and bonuses off the bat. 200k/year is not unfeasible for associates and very low for partners. We would be extremely competitive. I certainly know how much people in this industry get paid and how much they deserve to get paid. Believe me, the numbers we are discussing will top any bid any other business could make.

I like your suggestion about management firms. A bit mistargeted, but studying their process is a good plan. As for the book report, this was one way of attacking the situation. Not a very good one. If we did end up doing it, they would be paid for their time, which might be unfeasible. Multiple, open lunch discussions are more what we will probably be leaning towards.

We obviously have lots of work to put into the concept before we make a decision about whether to pursue it or not.

Dustin Alexander
Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Dustin,

It strikes me that the "book report" is meant to be an ice breaker, and you assume that the interview candidate doesn't automatically bring "interesting discourse" to the table when you have lunch.

If your partners could have a fascinating conversation about anything, why not let that happen. Bring the candidate to a meeting and tell them you want them to participate. Once they get a feel for the no-holds-barred situation, see if they step up to the plate.

www.MarkTAW.com
Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Mark,

This is what we're leaning towards. The book report wasn't necessarily an assumption that they had nothing to bring to the table, but a way to see their views on new material and what they brought to a discussion of unfamiliar material. But there are better ways to accomplish this than the book concept, as you say.

This has most definitely been thrown out of the process on the large scale (we may ask them to read an excerpt or article and respond to it during the initial interview.)

I think the main concepts that we are going for could be brought out in a few (2 or 3) regular dialogues in a social setting.

A few years (20) ago, when the first of what turned into three precursor companies to what I own now was founded, my partner used to have dinner with a potential hire and his family. They were a small, family oriented business and this apparently worked very well for them.

Dustin Alexander
Tuesday, November 25, 2003

The "dinner with family" especially in today's world (today both in terms of cynicism and the ability of the working class guy to work his way up through technical jobs into higher positions) is probably a no-no, not quite on par with interviewing them over a few holes of golf.

I.e. It reeks of corporate executive smarmy and being judged on poise and upbringing rather than skill, and as with Ayn Rand is likely to turn off a number of perfectly fine candidates simply when you mention it.

I know it would go over *especially* bad on this board...

www.MarkTAW.com
Tuesday, November 25, 2003

:)

Since when did I pay attention to that?

Yeah, it won't work now. Culture has changed a great deal from the good old days. I was just supplying it as an interesting aside. I, personally, found it quite interesting. They'd probably find a way to sue you for it now.

Still, the idea is sound. Seeing how someone interacts and who they choose to interact with is not a bad way to go about finding an employee. I find prying into the family life these days to be none of the employers business, but back then it was considered down to earth and refreshing. So, what we want is that in spirit, if not in action.

Dustin Alexander
Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Have you thought of setting up a forum for potential candidates to participate in discussion on? I'm not sure what good or bad it would do, but based on the discourse here it seems like a fairly decent way to get to know someone without commiting too much energy or resources into the physical interview process.

In other words, it might help them get over interview jitters by a) relating them in an "out of context" way and b) by the time they get to the interview, they've already built a bit of a name for themselves so you have a basis from which to start discussion.

As with your book report idea, there are probably a million drawbacks people will point out.

www.MarkTAW.com
Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Dustin,

I find it utterly fascinating how much heat this topic has generated. 120+ posts in two days is incredible for a geek special interest board.

Why do you think this is?

IMO, it certainly says something about techie hot buttons and our sensitivity to being ranked, classed, evaluated, or graded. My own bile was provoked by comparing your premise to my own direct experience (eerily parallel), so I count that as a singularity. **

We all want to believe that we're just special snowflakes.  ;-)

** See? :-)

Bored Bystander
Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Phil G was a phoney liar and a scuzzbag who shafted the developers loyal to him when he had a chance to cash in and make himself rich and retire to a life of taking nude photographs of impressionable nuible 18 yr olds. Anyone who admires that guy should be watched closely.

Ed the Millwright
Tuesday, November 25, 2003

I'm impressed at how much vehemence a simple suggestion raised, as well as to the direction some of the answers went. For each constructive answer, there are posts that decry my use of example material (Ayn Rand vs. A Book), and my choice of side matter (Objectivism, lawyers) as opposed to the core idea of the post. Then again this is a wandering medium, so I don't feel the thread as a whole is disappointing.

I find it enlightening to read the opinions of what I take to be some of the best and brightest in our field.

For one, I thought I was dealing with a much more conservative bunch. My experience has led me to believe that most programmers with 15+ years of experience are conservatives and not vehemently against Objectivism. Must be the area that I come from instead of an overall social structure of the profession.

I also find, as you say, that judging people strikes a cord. Someone mentioned this. How dare a potential employer judge you on anything other than technical skill? The position I would be seeking to fill has very little to do with initial technical skill and much more to do with social skills, dreams, and passions, but that gets overlooked in the nitty gritty of things. Part of this was probably that I didn't clearly define what I was looking for until after post 40.

This is definitely an opinionated board and, by and large, I am happy to have a place to air my ideas. I was occassionally upset by implications that I was a troll (this from the trolls, no less) or that I was looking for anything other than straightforward discussion. I've been posting on and reading this board for a few years now and I hadn't expected that.

Plus, you have to filter my posts out, as I have a tendency to respond quickly.

Mark, that's a good idea. A forum where jobs are incidental to the discussion. That mixed with college trolling should get a good mix of both experience and passion. It'll go on my list of ideas to put in the portfolio. Regardless, I'll have those lawyers ready for the billion lawsuits anyway. ;)

Dustin Alexander
Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Bored, the high number of posts to this topic is indeed quite fascinating. I think one factor is that Dustin replied quickly to most of the early posts. This keeps the conversation going. Of course, the conversation has to be interesting too.

Dustin, when I observed that there's a trend towards CS formalism that discriminates against the broader capabilities you're looking for, you replied that those narrower types were the ones being offshored.

I actually don't think that's the case. I think it's the broader capabilties that are being displaced.

Must be a Manager
Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Bored, not to be too contentious, but I think you are dead wrong.

From my personal experience, businesses are looking to hire technical people with very solid understanding of business fundamentals. Rote coding seems to come from India more and more often, while I see mainstay architecture and business analysis work staying here. Most of the 'everyman' coders I know are currently employed and haven't seen a significant decrease in dollar values over the last few years, while the coders - social skills friends of mine are finding it increasingly difficult to find work through traditional channels.

This again is contingent on social setting and who you are working for. I find that big companies are more than willing to continue to invest in consultants they feel bring a unique mix to the table and that that unique mix is less and less related to writing code.

Again, these are personal observations of my experience with my own clients in my area, so mileage may vary.

Dustin Alexander
Tuesday, November 25, 2003

my hot button was touched by the mention of ayn rand. the book reads like it was written for 15 year olds. it contains no philosophical depth, and the writing style is tedious. it appeals to the sort of person who prefers to find a prefab manifesto to live by, rather than thinking for himself.

the strangest thing about objectivists, is that their "philosophy" supposedly espouses individualism and free thinking, yet the people following the objectivist herd are nearly identical.

when someone mentions rand in a "serious" context, it is a good indicator that one should avoid any sort of non-superficial relationship with that person.

_
Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Dustin, I presume you were replying to me.

I know it seems to be contradicting popular wisdom to say that broader people are being displaced by the offshoring, while narrow skills stay. Especially since it contradicts all the crap we hear from the business magazines.

But I think that is actually what's happening. (By the way, the fact that business says something doesn't mean it understands what it's talking about, especially where it involves development.)

It's increasingly common to see statements that equate the lack of CS degrees with less capable skills, which is not actually the case at all. But that's what's happening, and I think it's affecting hiring preferences.

This is also tied in with a trend that crops up here from time to time - the narrow technical or coding test. These sort of tests are popular with recent CS grads, but often not very useful predictors of job success or capability.

Must be a Manager
Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Manager,

Yep, sorry about that. Brain got caught on the detail.

OK. I will agree that the higher level technical worker would have more trouble getting in the door initially because of a lack fo traditional educational or experiental background. With the Preferred Vendor programs and current HR practices, it can be extremely difficult to get in without a hard technical background. In fact, these systems place very little merit in social skills, as they are mostly automated.

But once you are in a position, or if you are dealing with companies directly and not through an agency or HR, I find that if you do not have a broad background you will soon find yourself standing in the breadline. While HR demands acronyms, the functional managers you end up working with demand the exact opposite. They want experts that can make the technology conform to their needs, which requires an intimate understanding of the business.

I think you would be hard put to give an example of a position on that level moving to India. It is simply that it is hard to get into those positions with current HR practice.

Look at it this way, simply through rehire potential:

If you are an acronym warehouse with no other skills, you will not make an impression and will be replaced when the resume mill spits out a $5/hour discount on someone else. Whereas, when you truly understand the business, you are very likely to be the first on the client's call list.

Dustin Alexander
Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Dustin, I think your response ( to offshoring as an issue ) is a defensive rather than a correct one.

Offshoring is not being done to address problems, real or imagined, in local development. It's being done to reduce quarterly costs. Nothing else.

The executive suite at your average big company couldn't give a stuff about capability. If Joel himself was sitting in their devel department, they would still outsource.

I think the trends we're talking about are separate, but their effects combine together. First, there are job losses due to offshoring. Second, the hiring process, I contend, increasingly disriminates towarder a narrow set of skills, regardless of what business says it wants.

The net effect is that narrower people are displacing broader people. No evidence available, of course. Anyway, interesting chat.

Must be a Manager
Tuesday, November 25, 2003

I didn't mean to focus in on the whole Ayn Rand thing, but I must say that it was a big detail to ignore, particularly when you mentioned your associate's belief that independent, entrepreneurial are usually fans of Ayn Rand.  To me, that just sounds like an intolerant prejudice against those who hold more liberal ideologies -- he was, in essence, calling them "lazy". 

Quite frankly I wouldn't want to work with someone who was that intrusive about my political or religious beliefs.  Those are personal opinions and they have no bearing on the quality of my work.  I don't mind working with an Objectivist, or a Communist, or a Christian or an atheist, but I would have a problem if they were too in-your-face about it.

I am sure you are interested more in just finding people who are passionate about intellectual matters, but you can't expect a complete stranger to open up and discuss frankly a very personal, potentially explosive topic, especially when a potential job is on the line.  There needs to be a level of trust there, and it just doesn't exist at that stage.

Alyosha`
Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Holy crap.

"This is not solely my concoction, but the ideas of a number of partners with over a  hundred man years of experience in this industry."

That is one of the stupidest things somebody can toss out. If you had one hundred employees with one year of experience, do you have a hundred man (woman?) years of experience?

And googling around a bit, I see that you've pulled down your previous "Key Management" page, but it was cached. Four partners, in two pairs with matching last names, largely products of Baylor. I don't know if the President/CEO/Founder is your father or brother, but apparently THAT is how you became a vaunted "partner".

Wow. Very impressive. Was that before or after you read Ayn Rand?

Texan Code Monkey
Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Not me. Thanks for the link.

Dustin Alexander
Friday, November 28, 2003

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