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No, we can only take on clients who know how to drive the cars we stock
January 16, 2013 5:25 PM   Subscribe

If cars were rented like we hire programmers.
posted by curious nu (49 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
This could apply to interviews for any kind of job. Funny-sad. Or sad-funny. Oh the absurdity.
posted by scratch at 5:32 PM on January 16, 2013


Protip: that is the kind of company you don't want to work for.
posted by b1tr0t at 5:34 PM on January 16, 2013


Am I missing something really important? What on earth has one thing to do with the other? In any sense? It's not funny nor Meta worthy....sheeesh.
Next up: How choosing cat litter in the supermarket is like hiring a video game tester....Oh how witty we are!
posted by shockingbluamp at 5:42 PM on January 16, 2013 [13 favorites]


Am I missing something really important? What on earth has one thing to do with the other?

I'm with you, shockingbluamp. I get that the author is frustrated by stupid things in programming interviews, but the connection with rental cars seems... non-existant?
posted by nml at 5:48 PM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


That metaphor was as forced as the dialogue during the interview portion of "Jeopardy!".
posted by benito.strauss at 5:52 PM on January 16, 2013 [7 favorites]


forced metaphor would be a great name for a band. something good out of the post after all. i stand down. hehehe
posted by shockingbluamp at 5:55 PM on January 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


The "interview with half a dozen people, but come back next week since someone's out" bit is giving me flashbacks.

One thing it's missing is the travel agent that set the whole thing up.
posted by borkencode at 6:00 PM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


No, not really.
posted by clvrmnky at 6:05 PM on January 16, 2013


Car rental companies want to take your money and give you an insured car for a short while. If you total the car, you are the biggest loser.

Software companies, OTOH, will have to pay you money for an indefinite period and trust you with company-critical work. If you total the software, the company is the biggest loser.

These are such different situations that I wonder why anyone would think that a forced metaphor with the two would make any sense at all.
posted by vidur at 6:06 PM on January 16, 2013


Yeah, I get the point he's trying to make, but the analogy is no good. Even if the hiring process was efficient and effective, it would still be an absurd way to rent cars. And conversely the process for renting cars would be a stupid way to hire programmers ("Sign here and show me a credit card. Let's get started!"). So the fact there is a disconnect between the two doesn't ring out.
posted by Bokononist at 6:07 PM on January 16, 2013


The missing part of this is where the applicant's resume claimed that they not only drive a 2012 Taurus, they were instrumental in the effort to completely redesign it from the ground up and their innovations resulted in a 30% increase in performance... and then, they are unable to tell you that the Taurus is a Ford.

The programmer interview process sucks because programmer applicants so often suck.
posted by Foosnark at 6:08 PM on January 16, 2013 [11 favorites]


Yeah, I've pretty much had this interview:

"So, we want you to drive this car."
"Yep, I have five years experience driving that car."
"Where did you drive it? "
"What?"
"Well, what kind of roads?"
"What's a road? I don't see how roads are relevant to cars."
posted by xiw at 6:10 PM on January 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


This makes no sense and, even if I jump to the conclusion the author wanted, its still wrong. I say this as someone who has interviewed, hired, and managed software developers.

The author of the interview wants us to come away thinking "Duh, programmers can learn to write more than one language just like I can learn to drive more than one car." And while thats true, learning new languages to a level where you can write good, production-quality code takes a lot more time than it would take your average driver to figure out how to shift into Drive on one of those 1990s Jaguars with the silly J-gate shifter nonsense.

No, the analogy totally fails because the learning curve is a lot steeper and longer, even for a good developer, to learn the intricacies of a new language. I have nothing against C# and .net developers, but I wouldn't necessarily hire one to work on my Java web app, or php/MySQL CMS if they didn't know about those technologies.
posted by ben242 at 6:13 PM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


The missing part of this is where the applicant's resume claimed that they not only drive a 2012 Taurus, they were instrumental in the effort to completely redesign it from the ground up and their innovations resulted in a 30% increase in performance... and then, they are unable to tell you that the Taurus is a Ford.

The annoying part of this is where people who legitimately drove a Taurus have their resumes thrown in the trash because of the redesign people's resumes.

I have often wanted to get some of those folks to write my resume, because clearly I am incapable of efficient hyperbole.
posted by winna at 6:22 PM on January 16, 2013


The programmer interview process sucks because programmer applicants so often suck.

The kinds of companies who do these sorts of interviews deserve the leftovers they get.
posted by Space Coyote at 6:26 PM on January 16, 2013


Because there's no metaphor you can't beat to death (even a really really bad one)

Me (Interviewing): So you are in the car and you need to drive somewhere 500 miles away and when you are driving the gas light turns on, what does that mean and how do you fix the problem?

Them (Senior driver with 15 years experience): Well, I generally ignore warning lights like that, I've found that they tend to just get in the way and most of the time they are just noise.

Me: Ok, you drive another 30 miles and the car stops running, what do you think might be the problem?

Them: You may not know this, but you can put a car in neutral and just push it.

Me: Uhh, ok. But if you don't want to push the car for 470 miles, what might you do?

Them: Oh, well, I don't really remember the details, but I have gAAAgle so I'd call them. Because generally I've found that's the easiest way to solve things like that. I think you are getting pretty nitpicky here.
posted by aspo at 6:31 PM on January 16, 2013 [12 favorites]


I think the metaphor they were striving for was, "Imagine if taxi drivers were hired like programmers".
posted by benzenedream at 6:45 PM on January 16, 2013 [9 favorites]


The author of the interview wants us to come away thinking "Duh, programmers can learn to write more than one language just like I can learn to drive more than one car." And while thats true, learning new languages to a level where you can write good, production-quality code takes a lot more time than it would take your average driver to figure out how to shift into Drive on one of those 1990s Jaguars with the silly J-gate shifter nonsense.

Trap sprung, apparently.
posted by wrok at 6:55 PM on January 16, 2013


Me: Uhh, ok. But if you don't want to push the car for 470 miles, what might you do?

Them: Oh, well, I don't really remember the details, but I have gAAAgle so I'd call them. Because generally I've found that's the easiest way to solve things like that. I think you are getting pretty nitpicky here.


This looks like an sucessful interview to me. Don't call us, we'll [decline to] call you [because you're a fucking idiot].
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:00 PM on January 16, 2013


I think the metaphor they were striving for was, "Imagine if taxi drivers were hired like programmers".

There we go. The problem is that the two sides of the metaphor, i.e., hiring programmers and renting cars, have the money going in the opposite direction. The rental car agency rents as many cars as possible to basically anyone who asks and then collects money from them. Software studios hire as few programmers as possible from a very angular set of people and then pay them money.

For the metaphor to make something approaching sense, the comparison would need to be between two different things that people spend money on, e.g., programmers and taxis, or programmers and contractors, or programmers and plumbers. Etc.

Regardless, and contrary to the author's apparent opinion, "I'm a programmer" does not necessarily mean all that much. I'm not a programmer, but the discipline presumably includes non-overlapping competencies, e.g., GUI design is not procedural, real-time graphics programming is not database programming. You wouldn't ask a neurosurgeon to do a liver transplant, even though he is technically a surgeon.
posted by valkyryn at 7:07 PM on January 16, 2013


"This job requires that you're fluent in Spanish."

"Well I've been speaking english for going on 40 years now."

"Yes, but this is Spanish."

"Well, I mean talking is talking, isn't it? It's not like Spanish is any harder to learn than English is, right?"
posted by empath at 7:13 PM on January 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


I am amazed that anyone ever gets a job through an application process. Those folks have my deepest admiration. I normally get a job through referral.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:17 PM on January 16, 2013


Wait, so the "Agency" is the role of the Company interviewing programmers, and the "Renter" is the programmer?

Good lord, never hire this person to be your developer. They can't even tell the difference between the customer and the vendor.

The metaphor is broken RIGHT AT THE BEGINNING, so at best it's just a general rant on pickiness. And for that, it's too long-winded.
posted by chimaera at 7:19 PM on January 16, 2013 [8 favorites]


I was expecting it to be about encouraging people to be more selective when renting cars. Which would good, because I really don't want to end up with another squishy horrible joke of a car next time. It's an opportunity to drive something new and interesting. Please demand good cars, frequent rental car users, so that I too can have a chance to get one on the rare occasion I need to.
posted by sfenders at 7:24 PM on January 16, 2013


If the metaphor were accurate, he wouldn't have had an article to write.
posted by davejay at 7:26 PM on January 16, 2013


The better version of this game is: What if drivers were hired like software developers?. I chuckled.
posted by bleary at 7:35 PM on January 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


the discipline presumably includes non-overlapping competencies, e.g., GUI design is not procedural, real-time graphics programming is not database programming. You wouldn't ask a neurosurgeon to do a liver transplant, even though he is technically a surgeon.

Right, but you're talking about problem domains -- looking for good indications of real skill in those problem domains related to the relevant product/service is a very good idea when screening for key team members.

Though you could probably get away with less specific experience for junior roles, and the ability to read up on theory and practice really does go a long way in this industry.

And I'm much less convinced that language/library/stack facility is deeply important. I'd worry more about that if I only saw one or two languages on the resume, or if the dev was deeply opinionated about one language uber alles. It does take time to understand intricacies and particular idioms, but syntax transfers very quickly, so the question becomes where else you've likely seen similar idioms and patterns and if you've internalized some idea of the kinds of decisions programming languages can embody and the benefits/problems that come with it.

So if you're looking at a candidate who:

* has worked in a handful of languages across the landscape and can talk intelligently about the differences
* can show you working things they've built in those languages
* will solve problems in them with you on the whiteboard
* can discuss algorithms independently of the language

and you choose not to hire them specifically because they don't have N years of specific experience with language X, I think chances are probably good you're making a mistake.

"Well, I mean talking is talking, isn't it? It's not like Spanish is any harder to learn than English is, right?"

There aren't a lot of programming languages in popular use that I'd place at Spanish-English distance. What diversity there is in the mainstream is about like diversity among Romance languages.

(Yes, if you're hiring people to write Prolog or Haskell or Forth, you're arguably dealing with a greater distance, and fewer people can bridge that gap without experience. On the other hand, I've seen high schoolers with little previous experience get reasonably proficient with Prolog and Lisp in two weeks, so there's something to consider.)

I have nothing against C# and .net developers, but I wouldn't necessarily hire one to work on my Java web app

C# vs Java would not be my first choice for illustrating the potential for big differences between languages.
posted by weston at 7:48 PM on January 16, 2013 [13 favorites]


"Yep, I have five years experience driving that car."

I was waiting for the good old "requirement: five years experience driving on road X [which was built last year]".

Or maybe the noncompete clause which states you're not allowed to use any public roads for a year after the end of the rental/job/contract.

Alas.
posted by hattifattener at 7:48 PM on January 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


"Well, I mean talking is talking, isn't it? It's not like Spanish is any harder to learn than English is, right?"

Uh.. as a working programmer, Java and C++ are very similar in ways English and Spanish are not. It's much, much easier to learn a new programming language than a natural language. Granted, going from something like Fortran to Haskell will be difficult, but it's more often the case that switching from one large project to a different one will be more difficult than picking up a new programming language.
posted by Wemmick at 7:49 PM on January 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


The kinds of companies who do these sorts of interviews deserve the leftovers they get.

I assure you that even top-notch companies get 95% lousy candidates. I've interviewed about 45 bad candidates this year, and of those, about 35 were scraping the bottom of the barrel. Perhaps 3 or 4 good ones in the mix.

The people who make the most impressive (read: ludicrous) claims on their resume inevitably lack the skills to understand what makes them so ludicrous. It's worse when they have decades of experience. Somebody is getting a bum deal.
posted by zvs at 8:18 PM on January 16, 2013


I think the metaphor they were striving for was, "Imagine if taxi drivers were hired like programmers".

Washington, DC.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:39 PM on January 16, 2013


When I was studying Computer Science in University (admittedly in the 80's) I don't recall any of the profs writing code in an actual programming language till 3rd year in a course on computer architecture. He wrote some machine code from time to time, and I had an AI course where the prof wrote some lisp but the rest was all discussion of algorithms, proofs and mathematics. Code snippets were written in "pseudo-code", not any actual programming language; lines of code were details you figured out on your own.

Good design is largely independent of the language. I like weston's interview tips above.
posted by Walleye at 8:49 PM on January 16, 2013


I've been told there's a noted CS professor at CMU (?) who rather famously doesn't own and doesn't use a computer, because it's not necessary for theoretical CS and they feel it would just be distracting. Or something like that. My googling is turning up nothing, so it's possible it's just an urban legend, but there's no reason why it couldn't be true.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:09 PM on January 16, 2013


They can't even tell the difference between the customer and the vendor.

Clearly he's not used to working in strongly typed languages.
posted by a dangerous ruin at 9:20 PM on January 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


Those are the ones that make you want to punch the keyboard, right?
posted by fleacircus at 10:11 PM on January 16, 2013


This is the dumbest analogy ever. For starters, when you rent a car, you are paying money to the rental agency, so they want to prove their worth to you. When you interview for a job, they pay money to you, so it's on you to prove your worth to them. What's funny here isn't the dialogue - it's how the author manages to write so much without ever once coming to that realization.

This entire article reads like it was written by a bitter unemployed ex-programmer. If he wants interviews where the company falls over itself to court potential employees, he should start by building a time machine and going back to the 90s.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 10:15 PM on January 16, 2013


If you are such a good developer that you can easily pickup languages and frameworks; then get yourself trained before you get into an interview with me. I put them on the job powering for a reason.
posted by humanfont at 10:28 PM on January 16, 2013


Fortunately, developers spring wholly formed with perfectly relevant experience. Else someone might have to actually train them.
posted by underflow at 10:49 PM on January 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


Kadin2048: You're probably talking about Edsger Dijkstra. He's in every intro Data Structures and Algorithms class (a.k.a. "the class material that interview questions are mostly drawn from"). He was Dutch.
posted by curuinor at 10:49 PM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


This looks like an sucessful interview to me. Don't call us, we'll [decline to] call you [because you're a fucking idiot].

Yep, because what that programmer said is "I ignore exceptions and return codes." FAIL.
posted by eriko at 3:40 AM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


This could apply to interviews for any kind of job. Funny-sad. Or sad-funny. Oh the absurdity.

This.
We're sorry, Mr. Programmer, that you must now endure the indignities of job interviews like the rest of common society. Times change, I guess.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:36 AM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've been on both sides of that interview.

He forgot the part where they ask him to demonstrate his driving skill with a simple test, and he begins to cry and gets angry for having to prove he knows how to drive.
posted by blue_beetle at 6:07 AM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


We're sorry, Mr. Programmer, that you must now endure the indignities of job interviews like the rest of common society. Times change, I guess.
There are certainly many cases of "entitled" programmers who think they're "artisans" (see: the whole nonsensical "code is art" argument), but this is not one of those cases.

When I started looking for my first programming job, I was completely dismayed by requirements like:
- "Must have 15 years experience with [INSERT VERY SPECIFIC LIST OF PROGRAMMERY-THINGS]"

The thing is, there's no reason anyone needs 15 years of experience working with your company's specific Java and XML based technology stack. And that goes for other common stacks as well. These are tools designed to produce maintainable software (at least, in theory). Any decent engineer who knows Java should be able to pick up your Java application and figure out most of it on their own. Most of the learning will be figuring out a) how your developers screwed up when they started the project, and b) the inner workings of your business. Which demands a more nuanced, qualitative interview style than the typical "ask you a series of hypothetical programming questions over the phone" type interview.

Corporate HR doesn't get this, though. They just put in the job posting whatever the tech manager or CTO says, even though it doesn't make sense and every single person that applies for the job will not meet the overly specific requirements. It's just not an effective way to hire programmers.

The following is an excerpt from a real job posting I saw recently:
- "Must have 5 years experience with Node.js"

Node.js hasn't existed for five years, and nobody except a narrow category of early contributors have really worked with it for more than three. The "5" seems to be a symbol for seniority (e.g., "you have been out of college for five years"). What the posting means to say is, "We want an experienced senior engineer with a background in Node.js. Desire to take on a leadership or management role in the near future preferred."

So, yes, while this particular article fumbles a bit with the metaphor, it is playing off a real problem.
posted by deathpanels at 6:28 AM on January 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


As someone who spent years working for a leading applicant tracking system vendor, a lot of the problem is the automated search tools within those systems. Typically they parse out a bunch of keywords and throw the resumes missing them into a reject bin. Frequency of terms and proximity to things like "5 years" is (or was a few years ago) important.

Those tools have some value, but it's funny to me that the same tools both:

1) suck in resumes from job sites and other places in order to bring you a ton of candidates, and
2) provide automated tools to filter out most of those candidates since the flood is too overwhelming for the hiring managers.

An of course, the same long-string-of-acronyms resumes that do well in these systems are a nightmare to read. I have some writing skill and I have to work hard to not reject people because their resumes are a godawful ugly unformatted mess.
posted by freecellwizard at 6:50 AM on January 17, 2013


They left out the part where the rental car agency only rents cars built between 2010 and 2012, but won't talk to you if you don't have five years of experience driving a car made during one of those model years.
posted by Mayor West at 7:02 AM on January 17, 2013


The analogy had the quality of both ringing true and false, which is interesting. I've been casually looking for work in the IT field and interviewing for technical positions is downright depressing. I've gotten the "we need X skill" claim before (and it wasn't like I was trying for some long stretch tech transition) and I've explained how I've rapidly learned the tool set at every past job and made productive gains as a result.

This ^^^^ is the value proposition of a programmer. The person who fits the slot with the exact skill set is a safe HR choice, but it isn't necessarily smart. The technology stack and requirements will change over time, so why not from the start hire people who are proven to adapt to both? It boggles my mind how broken the IT interview process has become.
posted by dgran at 8:26 AM on January 17, 2013


There's a lying feedback loop at play. The folks writing job reqs, figuring that applicants will pad their resumes, "compensate" by padding their requirements. Applicants, knowing that a notable percentage of the requirements are bs, but must appear on their resume to pass the filter, "compensate" by further padding their resumes. The folks writing job reqs, in order to filter out the resulting false positive, pad the reqs even more...

Eventually neither the resumes nor the requirements have much in common with reality and it becomes near impossible to match actual skills in an applicant with actual skills needed to do a job.
posted by Karmakaze at 1:14 PM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Scan the job postings before you start looking. Identify the frameworks and skills outlined in the positions you are interested in. If you pick things up quickly, then go pick them up. Don't wait until you are at the interview. Developers don't spring fully formed, but talented ones focus on managing their skills and constantly seek to learn tools and technologies that are in demand.
posted by humanfont at 1:57 PM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


The "5" seems to be a symbol for seniority (e.g., "you have been out of college for five years").

I'm seeing the same things with the 'social media marketing'. Though the various social media services are relatively old, from what I understand, the job did not exist until relatively recently- at least in the format of needing someone to babysit Twitter and build a facebook strategy and so forth. But there's people asking for very large amounts of seniority...
posted by Phalene at 4:50 AM on January 18, 2013


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