Ruby on Rails
Ta-da List


September 07, 2005 13:14

Reduce the risk, hire from open source

In the wake of open source, traditional hiring practices seem like an unnecessarily risky way to hire new employees. Especially for small teams where each hire can make it or break it. Why bet the composure of your collective on abstract indicators, hearsay, and a biased bio?

I remember my last interview a few years back for a technical position. I was hired on a shiny CV concocted on own, a few emails back and forth, and a one-hour interview. That's it.

That bothered me even back then. Especially because I kept hearing of that process as the norm. And the effects of it was painfully clear. It's a lot easier to hire someone than to fire them, so most companies would just keep the outcome of their crap shot. Regardless of whether they rolled snake eyes or boxcars.

There had to be a better way. And of course, now there is. Open source is a golden gift to hiring process of technical people. It reduces the risk enourmously by allowing you to sample candidates over a much longer period of time using all the right variables:

  • Quality of work: Many programmers can talk the talk, but can't walk the walk in any direction I would be interested in tagging along for. With open source, you get the nitty-gritty specifics of the programming skills and practices exposed in high defintion. Contrast with the black and white distorted image from playing "how to build a linked list" at a whiteboard.
  • Fit of culture: Programing is all about decisions. Lots and lots of them. Decisions are guided by your cultural vantage point. Your values and ideals. It's possible to reverse-engineer a lot of cultural substance by backtracing from specific decisions made in coding, testing, and community arguments. If there's no cultural fit, every decision will be a struggle.
  • Assesment of passion: By definition, involvement in open source requries at least some passion. Otherwise why would you forgo laying on the beach, on the couch, or in your bed all those hours spent crouched in front of your screen? But it can also be more specific and along with the cultural fit, give you an indication of what it is that really makes a person tick.
  • Capability for completion: Also known as "gets stuff done" and perhaps one of the most important qualities in a programmer. All the smarts, proper cultural leanings, and passion doesn't amount to valuable software if you can't get stuff done. And lots of programmers, unfortunately, can't. So look for the zeal to ship, get it out the door, make the pragmatic trade offs at the finish line. Open source offers a world of options to both deliver and linger.
  • Degree of humanity: Working with someone over a long period of time, during both stress and relaxation, highs and lows, allows you to know someone as a human. And filter out the stereotypical geeks with no manners or social skills.

This could also have been called People I Wouldn't Hire, Part II (revist part I for a flame fest). I can't imagine hiring someone that I didn't know through open source. I would consider it irresponsible to endanger the composition of 37signals by bringing someone on in the same manner I have personally been hired a good number of times.

Which is of course also why we hired Jamis Buck at the beginning of the year. Because I was in awe of his rating on the five qualities listed above by following his releases and his participation in the Ruby community.

Who cared about his GPA (or if he even went to college)? Or that he lived in Provo, Utah? Or how many years of experience he had programming? We didn't. It's simply unnecessary to rely on secondary factors when the work is available to extract values for the five variables listed above.

Open source gives companies a way out of the crap shot. A competitive advantage in picking winners with a much higher rate of success than the guessing, interpolation, and charade of old.

At the same time, open source allows programmers a way to route around dressing up for a meeting with the bank in your Sunday suit. Stop optimizing the secondary factors and focus on what it's all supposed to be about: the craftsmanship.