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You want a juicy industry to disrupt? How about your own?
July 22, 2014 11:35 AM   Subscribe

It's astonishing how many of the people conducting interviews and passing judgement on the careers of candidates have had no training at all on how to do it well. Aside from their own interviews, they may not have ever seen one. I'm all for learning on your own but at least when you write a program wrong it breaks. Without a natural feedback loop, interviewing mostly runs on myth and survivor bias. "Empirically", people who wear suits don't do well; therefore anyone in a suit is judged before they open their mouths. On my interview I remember we did thus & so, therefore I will always do thus & so. I'm awesome and I know X; therefore anyone who doesn't know X is an idiot. Exceptions, also known as opportunities for learning, are not allowed to occur. This completes the circle.
According to Carlos Bueno, Silicon Valley is not a meritocracy, it's a mirrortocracy where startups hire the people that resemble them the most.

In a second post Carlos lays out a method to refactor the hiring process one of the points of which is:
Single-blind as much as possible. Ask your friendly neighborhood recruiter to remove the names and other identifying info from résumés before you read them. I've seen interviewers thrown off their stride because they assumed the candidate's gender and were wrong. It's a terrible source of bias. It's hard to overstate how badly people are biased by names. And of course, don't ask how a candidate did on other interviews before writing down your own opinion.
Something that Kristen V. Brown in the SFGate agrees with:
But by the mid-1990s, the number of women in the five leading orchestras had increased fivefold. By 2003, more than a third of players in the top 24 orchestras were women. Prominent women soloists emerged, as did female concertmasters.

The shift occurred as orchestras began conducting blind auditions. Throughout the '70s and '80s, applicants were concealed behind screens and drapes. When gender was hidden from judges, more women made the cut.
posted by MartinWisse (62 comments total) 55 users marked this as a favorite

 
Yes. This is essentially the case with any high prestige industry.
posted by JPD at 11:42 AM on July 22


Also true outside Silicon Valley.
posted by gimonca at 11:46 AM on July 22


That "hoops" quote from Levchin might be the most WTF thing I've read on the Internet today.
posted by kmz at 11:49 AM on July 22 [6 favorites]


It's a meritocracy in the narrow sense that good developers get the best jobs and good fundraisers/VCs make the most money. That is a large portion of what Silicon Valley is all about, but as the article notes, it's not everything and getting into the position to be fairly evaluated as a developer or an investment is not equally difficult for everyone.
posted by michaelh at 11:49 AM on July 22 [1 favorite]


The idea of anti-diversity is shockingly dumb.

Incidentally, if you want to interview a programmer, get them in front of a computer (with a variety of development environments in a variety of languages set up), ask them to solve a simple problem, and then add more and more complexity to the requirements. This catches people who merely pretend to know how to program, and it begins with an easy introduction that helps otherwise-good candidates keep from freezing up.
posted by Jpfed at 11:49 AM on July 22 [14 favorites]


I really wish hiring managers WOULD remove names from resumes of potential candidates when deciding who to call back. I have a much more difficult time finding a job than my male friends who are also job-hunting and part of me always wonders if it's because I am being prematurely written off by unconsciously biased hiring managers. Sigh.
posted by Librarypt at 11:53 AM on July 22 [17 favorites]


Another great pull quote in there:

The word "privilege" literally means "private law". It's the secrecy, deniable and immune to analysis, that makes the balance of power so lopsided in favor of insiders.
posted by gimonca at 11:56 AM on July 22 [12 favorites]


I work in an industry with the same problem, where an IT person can't move up in a multi-billion dollar company because they don't fit the stereotype of flannel-shirt-wearing-lumber-industry-man-in-his-50s. So, we end up with people making IT decisions with the absolute minimum of IT knowledge.
posted by swimming naked when the tide goes out at 11:57 AM on July 22 [2 favorites]


That "hoops" quote from Levchin might be the most WTF thing I've read on the Internet today.


So I play sports. Very casually, but I like to go down to the gym on Saturdays and play pickup with whatever people show (I mean, I'm not playing with ex-NBAers here, last weekend I played against a 17 year old girl balling barefoot because she didn't bring athletic shoes but wanted to play). And I'll play streetball if I'm on a court and enough people are playing I won't be dragging everyone down, because I'm real bad. And I'll play touch football and softball occasionally.

And the nerdy guys I've worked with get SO THREATENED if I happen to mention it, because, you know, that means I'm the kind of guy that beat them up in high school and am going to shove them in their locker and FUCK ALL JOCKS MAN.

It's probably a combination of that and people that play sports tend to want a life outside work, be that playing in the basketball or softball league or just NOT working 18 hours a day because they want to catch the game.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 12:00 PM on July 22 [13 favorites]


That "hoops" quote from Levchin might be the most WTF thing I've read on the Internet today.

Back in the day, when Salon had a chat thing (Tabletalk, I think?) there was this woman who was some kind of high-falutin' hiring exec in the tech industry, and she was running her mouth about how she wouldn't hire anyone who wore nylons (wouldn't fit in with the "team"), wouldn't hire anyone whose clothes looked "vintage" in any way (because someone who looked "quirky" clearly wouldn't take the job seriously), didn't like women who followed fashion too much....and boasted, like these clowns in the OP, about deep-sixing perfectly good candidates based on, essentially, classist and racist clothing stereotypes. Oh, she was a good liberal in that "been here since 1996" old-Salon style, and I'd line up to dance on her fingers if she were dangling off a cliff.

Teams!!! Oh, the team, always the team. It's like these fucking ex-nerds can't get over not being on the "team" in high school, so they want to run their own nasty little jock clique.
posted by Frowner at 12:01 PM on July 22 [49 favorites]


...you'd murder someone over that?
posted by michaelh at 12:04 PM on July 22


I think that "I would line up to dance on her fingers" is pretty blatently hyperbole. But she struck me as a truly vile human being.
posted by Frowner at 12:08 PM on July 22 [5 favorites]


Sorry, this is bullshit, in the same way that billion-dollar-valuations and million-dollar-exits are. I'm not impressed by another 'damning' essay aimed at the mythical brogrammer.

"Silicon Valley" has just become this mythical target to hang slam-dunk criticism on, based on generalities, stereotypes and myths. A few quotes from Max Levchin do not actually accurately describe a few million people at a few hundred thousand companies. But okay, tell me about that one time you watched Silicon Valley (the show).
posted by wrok at 12:09 PM on July 22 [13 favorites]


You want a juicy industry to disrupt? How about your own?

What does this mean?
posted by the jam at 12:15 PM on July 22



I think that "I would line up to dance on her fingers" is pretty blatently hyperbole. But she struck me as a truly vile human being.


And just to clarify: she struck me as a truly vile human being because her ideas about what made a good employee were bigoted and stupid and she flattered herself on them, meanwhile exercising a great deal of power (and making a good deal of money, as far as I could tell) making sure that her particular company stayed as privilege-y as possible in every way. It was trebly vile because here she was - as one knew in that long-running venue - patting herself on the back for her achievements and her values, genuinely thinking that she was contributing to the world.

People who have always had lots of money boasting about the tiny, stupid, non-empirical criteria they use to dismiss people from employment consideration like the whole thing is just a game instead of a scramble for a paycheck...yeah, that's pretty gross.
posted by Frowner at 12:16 PM on July 22 [22 favorites]


swimming naked when the tide goes out: "I work in an industry with the same problem, where an IT person can't move up in a multi-billion dollar company because they don't fit the stereotype of flannel-shirt-wearing-lumber-industry-man-in-his-50s. So, we end up with people making IT decisions with the absolute minimum of IT knowledge."

It works both ways; I've worked for single million dollar budget teams where the manager was the most technically proficient person on the team, and no demonstrated ability to budget, or manage.

Which of course means when they get recruited away, the next person in the succession chain has never seen a manager who wrote performance reviews, gave positive feedback, built relationships, put together a slide deck justifying an investment in the department's capabilities, or fired anyone. Domain knowledge, IT in this case, is useful for giving feedback, but a newly promoted manager needs to use their domain knowledge to train and give feedback, rather focus on the bits of their old job they loved.

But I think we've derailed from the subject of recruiting bias and interviewing. The author's blog post on refactoring hiring based on data driven principles somewhat ignores a crucial bit I hear psychologists and economists discuss. They say a truly scientific inquiry on hiring should

1. Formulate a set of questions
2. Interview all candidates with them
3. Hire every applicant, or, a sufficiently large random sample of the applicant population
4. Measure their on the job performance
5. Calculate which questions from 1. lead to better results in 4.

This of course, means either hiring a lot of people, or possibly some really bad people. Which is bad because the common belief is that firing is hard. Possibly because, as discussed above, nobody knows how to manage, of which firing is a subtask.
posted by pwnguin at 12:24 PM on July 22 [2 favorites]


You want a juicy industry to disrupt? How about your own?

What does this mean?


Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are trying to come up with technologies that will disrupt other industries, shaking up the old ways, making things cheaper and more accessible. Email instead of postal mail; Instagram instead of Kodak film; Uber instead of taxis. "How about your own?" is saying that Silicon Valley itself is stuck in the old ways and needs to become more accessible.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 12:26 PM on July 22 [14 favorites]


The word "privilege" literally means "private law". It's the secrecy, deniable and immune to analysis, that makes the balance of power so lopsided in favor of insiders.

"Private" (privus) in the sense of individual, peculiar or special. Nothing secret about it. Think executive privilege, e.g.

I take his point, but he needs to be more careful with his language.

Anyway, seems to me that this is an opportunity for some greedy bastard of an entrepreneur to hire the talented un-hired for less money and pocket the difference.
posted by IndigoJones at 12:34 PM on July 22 [1 favorite]


The whole "fit in with the brogrammer team" nonsense is probably specific to a particular subset of web/mobile Valley startups.

Nonetheless this:

It's astonishing how many of the people conducting interviews and passing judgement on the careers of candidates have had no training at all on how to do it well.

YES this SO MUCH THIS. Interview and evaluation are skills like any other; but most small companies invest nothing in developing these skills. Instead it's all ad-hoc; "can you interview this candidate?" "um, yeah, guess so."

It's strange because (a) it sells the employer short when its interviewers are ill-prepared, and (b) it can expose the employer to accusations of discrimination if an untrained interviewer happens to ask a question about a protected category.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 12:35 PM on July 22 [6 favorites]


A few quotes from Max Levchin do not actually accurately describe a few million people at a few hundred thousand companies.
wrok

Come on. This is bullshit.

Big Oil. Wall Street. Big Pharma. Big Law.

You read those and you have all sorts of ideas about what each industry is like, how it behaves, etc. Do you read one of the bazillions of articles on the finance industry that came out after the crash and say, "But wait, finance is an enormous industry comprised of countless individuals and companies! You can't say these mean things about it and just quote a few guys!"

Yet somehow Silicon Valley is just so special nothing can be said about the culture and mindset there? The truth hurts.
posted by Sangermaine at 12:39 PM on July 22 [29 favorites]


The issue is essentially that interviewing (even trained interviewing) is really really hard and the only way to really know if someone is going to be good at the job is actually ask them to do the job.

But just sitting down and talking with someone isn't going to answer much more than "do I personally like this person"
posted by JPD at 12:40 PM on July 22 [4 favorites]


I have to agree with wrok. The "Silicon Valley is broken because x" trend articles that are so damn popular these days feel more and more Baudrillardian every day.
posted by aspo at 12:44 PM on July 22


I'm not sure that "refactoring" the interview process would do very much about the lack of women the way it did for orchestras. Most women leak out the programmer pipeline way before they even get to this process. The female programmers I know don't have trouble getting hired, we have other workplace issues relating to sexism, but in general there just aren't that many of us.
posted by melissam at 12:45 PM on July 22 [2 favorites]


I swear this is a double, unless I read this on linkedin last week.

Anyway, holy shit I've seen some questionable hiring practices. Bring 10 applicants in a room, have then describe "why they want the job in one sentence", then kick out all the ones "you don't like the look of."

And then complain that you keep hiring people with poor performance!
posted by rebent at 12:46 PM on July 22


For anyone living here, it's obvious. For years, the likes of Facebook, Google, etc. have put out RFPs that blatantly require things like "recent graduate" (blatant age discrimination), from "top college or university" (socioeconomic discrimination) - and so on. There is a real snob thing that goes on re: many of the top firms, like Facebook, Google, Apple, etc. (there is also a second tier, like MSFT, Cisco, Intel, hp, etc. who are now second stringers).

Having consulted for many SV firms, and been involved in more than my share of interviews - I swear that most of the people appear as minor style, education, and work clones of each other. I know they're not - many different cultures are represented - but these similarities are astounding.

Same with VCs; there is a "look", a standard set of behaviors, etc. There is a kind of "cool jaded" vibe that most of the VCs have; it's like "show me your idea, peon, and make it snappy".

Bottom line, these are subcultures that - just like any other subculture - demand a kind of uniformity of dress, thought, and general behavior. They are far more conformist than the media makes them out to be. What they DO have, in spades, is lots of cash.

Incidentally, SV is WAY overrated on smarts and vision. Most of it is a toxic trash heap of people who were in the right place at the right time - with a ton of lemmings trying for the same brass ring. Sure, the money is good, but loook at what it costs to love here - many 6 figure execs are a paycheck away from foreclosure.

Visionaries are few and far between, with most of the true visionaries almost always initially (and sometimes, permanently) overlooked by the money people.
posted by Vibrissae at 12:50 PM on July 22 [15 favorites]


Big Oil. Wall Street. Big Pharma. Big Law.

Wow, four more sweeping generalizations? You've bought those stereotypes so wholesale you can't imagine that anyone else doesn't treat them all as one ginormous evil entity?

The truth does hurt.
posted by wrok at 12:53 PM on July 22 [2 favorites]


Vibrissae: what it costs to love here

Best mistake - if it was a mistake - I've seen all week. I can only imagine the toll that Silicon Valley must take on love.
posted by clawsoon at 1:02 PM on July 22 [6 favorites]


So I play sports.

And the nerdy guys I've worked with get SO THREATENED if I happen to mention it, because, you know, that means I'm the kind of guy that beat them up in high school and am going to shove them in their locker and FUCK ALL JOCKS MAN.


Is this just an American thing? I've never really ever noticed this sort of attitude here (in Britain). Indeed usually there's always been a fairly big overlap in my experience with people who are absolutely obsessive about STEM stuff and those who are also obsessive about whatever their particular sport/leisure activity is.
posted by dng at 1:04 PM on July 22 [2 favorites]


You don't get to say "the truth hurts" after only bringing nothing but vague contrarianism to the table. What truth?
posted by deathmaven at 1:04 PM on July 22 [7 favorites]


Interview and evaluation are skills like any other; but most small companies invest nothing in developing these skills.

My favorite one of these was where the team I was supposed to interview with was more or less taken ill en masse but they decided to go ahead with the interview anyway so I got interviewed for a marketing job by a bunch of people who had no idea what marketing was or how to do it. I even got a programming test because it was the only thing the random software engineer they pulled in knew how to do.

I got the job, ironically enough.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 1:13 PM on July 22 [1 favorite]


I really wish hiring managers WOULD remove names from resumes of potential candidates when deciding who to call back. I have a much more difficult time finding a job than my male friends who are also job-hunting and part of me always wonders if it's because I am being prematurely written off by unconsciously biased hiring managers. Sigh.

With LinkedIn and other social media they can use your photo as well as your name to discriminate.
posted by Dip Flash at 1:19 PM on July 22 [2 favorites]


Big Oil. Wall Street. Big Pharma. Big Law.

Wow, four more sweeping generalizations? You've bought those stereotypes so wholesale you can't imagine that anyone else doesn't treat them all as one ginormous evil entity?


Oh no! You're not respecting my oil company's individuality! You're not actualizing my pharmaceutical company's need for self-actualization! You're not treating my hedge fund as the special snowflake that it is!
posted by jonp72 at 1:29 PM on July 22 [5 favorites]


Oh no! You're not respecting my oil company's individuality! You're not actualizing my pharmaceutical company's need for self-actualization! You're not treating my hedge fund as the special snowflake that it is!

Exactly. There are countless posts on MetaFilter talking about the behavior of all kinds of industries that everyone is happy to discuss, but talk about trends in programming companies and suddenly it's all "bbbbut that's not fair we're so unique you can't lump us all together its just generalizations!"

You've bought those stereotypes so wholesale you can't imagine that anyone else doesn't treat them all as one ginormous evil entity?

I can imagine people caught up in the trends having a hard time seeing them, sure.
posted by Sangermaine at 1:33 PM on July 22 [6 favorites]


You got my Patagonia Fleece Vest confused with his Loro Piana Cashmere Half-Zip. Can't you see how different we are?
posted by JPD at 1:38 PM on July 22 [7 favorites]




Anyway, holy shit I've seen some questionable hiring practices. Bring 10 applicants in a room, have then describe "why they want the job in one sentence", then kick out all the ones "you don't like the look of."

And then complain that you keep hiring people with poor performance!


Hey, at least they didn't make the interviewees cook a meal and perform a choreographed dance as a group for 40 members of the senior staff.
posted by SisterHavana at 2:11 PM on July 22 [5 favorites]


Indeed usually there's always been a fairly big overlap in my experience with people who are absolutely obsessive about STEM stuff and those who are also obsessive about whatever their particular sport/leisure activity is.

In my experience the Brit nerd stereotype seems to be into sport, but weird niche sport like fencing say.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:35 PM on July 22


And cricket, obviously. Lovely cricket.
posted by dng at 3:36 PM on July 22 [1 favorite]


as he said, weird niche sport.
posted by JPD at 4:04 PM on July 22 [3 favorites]


The brogrammer thing isn't a myth. Nor is what lies behind it: the ongoing lionizing of white dev dudes and shitting on everyone else. (Seriously, everyone read the article linked by These Premises Are Alarmed. So apt.) And maybe for a longtime insider the rise in conversation is an annoyance, but for those of us who love tech work and hate the insularity of the industry, hate being expected to prove ourselves constantly to men with more self-regard than responsibility or accountability, each article is another reminder that we aren't crazy, we aren't alone, and maybe we can change it bit-by-bit.

And I don't care if other industries are "worse" or "just as bad." This is mine, it has a lot of things I love, and I refuse to be chased out or stay silent under the threat of ostracization. But I can only start to get this brave because I know more and more people are being brave too, and will support us.
posted by dame at 4:25 PM on July 22 [24 favorites]


You want a juicy industry to disrupt? How about your own?

What does this mean?


Also kinda redundant because the tech company's most common target for disruption is... tech companies.

I agree with him that there is something rotten, but I'm naturally cynical of the criticism that everyone is doing interviews wrong (except listen to meeee!), because it implies there is a way to make interviews successfully perform the task they're intended to do, but everyone's been chasing that holy grail and it's never been found, instead it looks more like the fashion industry - people making money out of purveying the New new, same as the old old.

If most tech companies are self-sabotaging through their hiring practices, then sit back, grab some popcorn, and watch an upstart company demolish those companies in the marketplace and usher in a new age. But I don't think it'll happen like that - I think no-one knows how to hire, including the HR fashion-houses, and the moral argument for change (that he explicitly denies making) carries more weight with me than the amoral argument that he advances in its place.
posted by anonymisc at 4:46 PM on July 22


Max Levchin is known for having strange hiring criteria. He is not the norm in Silicon Valley. He also espouses only hiring people who acknowledge him as the "alpha" and agree to be the "beta". He has various subtle tests that he applies during the interview (without the candidate's knowledge), to test whether the candidate is going to submit to his alpha dominance.

Do not take his quotes as the norm. You will only depress yourself that way. He is the top 1% of strange hiring criteria.
posted by vienna at 4:49 PM on July 22 [1 favorite]


It's astonishing how many of the people conducting interviews and passing judgement on the careers of candidates have had no training at all on how to do it well.

An interviewer (and the hiring manager) once told me that they didn't hire people who hadn't worked while attending college. They had a personal theory that a kid who had to work to pay tuition and other school costs would later have better a work ethic. The assumption may or may not have been true but geez, screw those snotty privileged kids who were lucky/smart/resourceful enough to get scholarships I guess. (This happened before people typically got massive amounts of student loans.)
posted by fuse theorem at 5:07 PM on July 22


The problem with gathering a bunch of logically-oriented young males together and encouraging them to construct a Culture gauntlet has nothing to do with their logic, youth, or maleness.

As someone who fits squarely into that category, i have to disagree with this declaration. It sounds like something someone in that group would say to try and shift the blame off of themselves.

How about we acknowledge that yes, getting a bunch of extremely similar "logical male youth" in one place and giving them all the power is going to create a circlejerk of fuckedupness that is fairly unique to them being that thing?

There's a lot of elements of what's wrong here that exist in greater nerdy young dude culture. This is like, their ziggurat of their ideal dream of a culture here and it's really fucked up.

So how about you not try and pass the buck?

Dip Flash: With LinkedIn and other social media they can use your photo as well as your name to discriminate.

There's also the trend of taking a cool photo and putting it right in the resume. Which i didn't even realize was a problem until someone pointed out those same discrimination issues to me. I just thought "Oh yea, i look pretty cool and i'm a photography hobbyist. i can take a really good picture of myself and that will help sell me!" until i realized in retrospect of that thought that i'm a 20something male, who checks all the cultural boxes, and looks white enough at a glance in a photo like that.
posted by emptythought at 5:13 PM on July 22 [1 favorite]


> > ...you'd murder someone over that?
> I think that "I would line up to dance on her fingers" is pretty blatently hyperbole.

I agree, I probably wouldn't actually murder a person like that, just cause their death by failing to help them. Like, if they were dying of thirst, I probably wouldn't pee or spit on them -- I think technically that's a different category of crime? Like neglect or something? Dunno not a lawyer LOL
posted by en forme de poire at 5:15 PM on July 22


But yes, one of the especially galling things is that many of the nerds currently in charge seem to be in vehement denial of the fact that they are now just as much "The Man" as someone you'd run into on the Goldman Sachs elevator.
posted by en forme de poire at 5:23 PM on July 22 [8 favorites]


Big Oil. Wall Street. Big Pharma. Big Law.

Wow, four more sweeping generalizations? You've bought those stereotypes so wholesale you can't imagine that anyone else doesn't treat them all as one ginormous evil entity?


I can't speak for the other three, but Big Law is not an unjustified generalisation. The top tier law firms are remarkably similar in their cultures, practices and approaches.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:10 PM on July 22 [1 favorite]


Also maybe it was mentioned and I just missed it, but no discussion of this type is complete without Paul Graham's realization that he had been personally biased towards people who merely physically resembled Mark Zuckerberg [NYT]:
“The cutoff in investors’ heads is 32,” Graham says. “After 32, they start to be a little skeptical.” And Graham knew that he had his own biases. “I can be tricked by anyone who looks like Mark Zuckerberg. There was a guy once who we funded who was terrible. I said: ‘How could he be bad? He looks like Zuckerberg!’ ”
posted by en forme de poire at 6:36 PM on July 22 [4 favorites]


Lol. And people wonder why VC returns suck.
posted by JPD at 6:40 PM on July 22 [2 favorites]


Sangermaine: Yet somehow Silicon Valley is just so special nothing can be said about the culture and mindset there?

It's not that nothing can be said, but that so many of the recent attacks on nerds are so ungrounded in reality as to be worse than useless. There are a lot of trenchant critiques of what's wrong with the Silicon Valley business of programming that bear some resemblance to what I actually have experienced. An incoherent mishmash of paranoia and conspiracy theorizing at the machinations of imaginary bad guys is just a waste of space. You have to read with a critical eye to tell the former from the latter.

Some of the recent articles, even from reputable sources like the Guardian, remind me of nothing more than stuff by Progressive authors circa 1970. I'll be reading along, nodding my head at what they say about social control, ecological imbalance, or the terrible crimes perpetrated on the Vietnamese, and suddenly there'll be a sentence about the monsters of M.I.T. who want to feed us to the war machine to appease their punch card gods. But I've read Steven Levy's Hackers, all about those very people: cheery and clever explorers of the frontier of computer science. (A lot of whom were active in the anti-war movement despite hostility and distrust because computers.)

"Big Pharma" is a good comparison. A critic who's paid attention to the way that culture works could really analyze it incisively. But a loudmouth on an anti-vaxx website claiming that Big Pharma wants us all popping pills so they can impose a THX-1138 style mind-control over our society is not worth the time.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 9:19 PM on July 22 [6 favorites]


When I was in college, working at the computing services office as a student coder, one of the older students offered his suggestion of The Only Systems Programmer Interview Question: "What is the phone number of Papa Del's pizza?"

Everybody laughed, of course, and it does capture the sense that anyone's who's already a good programmer is part of hacker culture at our school, and so would know the best pizza delivery in Champaign-Urbana. But it was a silly joke from a college kid to a group of others.

As I've gone on in life, I've begun to realize that the mindset behind The Papa Del's Question is pernicious and terrible. It really means "are you like us?" And, yeah, when you're in college it's probably true that the good programmers you've met have been like that -- college has a lot of self-selecting social groups, so if you arrive interested in computers you'll gravitate towards the pre-existing hacker crowd and pick up its lore and lingo. But when you're out in the real world, this is a recipe for tossing out everything you know about technically-accomplished geekery and replacing it with cognitively-biased cliquery.

(It's 359-7700, by the way.)
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 9:40 PM on July 22 [6 favorites]


OK, I'll shut up after this one...

fuse theorem: An interviewer (and the hiring manager) once told me that they didn't hire people who hadn't worked while attending college. They had a personal theory that a kid who had to work to pay tuition and other school costs would later have better a work ethic.

So many people I know in the tech industry have the same weakness when thinking about interview questions. They imagine the goal is to find tests you can run on other human beings that will reveal their true colors, without the other person knowing.

I was talking with a friend of mine about terrible interviewers, when he dropped on me his own idea for a great interview technique. "Write some code on the board and make a syntax error in it. If they immediately jump to point out the problem then they're detail-oriented, which is a necessary trait in a software developer!" Yeah, right, or maybe it means they can't see the forest for the trees, which is another necessary trait in a developer. Or maybe you should stop assuming you can learn anything about a person by putting them in an uncomfortable high-stress situation and peppering them with obscure diagnostics.

I've often wondered why so many techies love the idea of the subtle but revealing question. It might be that we're used to dealing with buggy black boxes whose faults are diagnosed with a few clever tests. But I think it's more down to our sheer terror at talking with unfamiliar human beings. We don't want questions that help us find out about someone by opening a good line of discussion, because we don't think we can find out about a person through open-ended conversation. Instead, we immediately leap to "what your answer to Moving Mount Fuji says about you!" because that lets us be insightful gurus.

It's a bit like the Pick-Up Artist wannabe guy. He doesn't want to know "conversational openers" because he doesn't trust his ability to make conversation; he wants foolproof strategies to make the woman fall for him.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 10:13 PM on July 22 [22 favorites]


"hire the people that resemble them the most"? People are even getting the dogs that resemble them the most.
posted by MihaM at 11:08 PM on July 22


I had a good friend who was called in to interview at Google. She had a bit of a rep, was a good programmer, and an excellent NOC; Google ran across said reputation and asked her to apply. She went through two interviews and made it to the "fly you out" stage of the interview process before someone realized that while she had an advanced degree, it wasn't in computer science. Their policy was to only hire people with an advanced degree in computer science, and so the interview process ended there.

A year or year and a half later, Google called wanting her to interview and she had to remind them that they had rejected her already.
posted by Deoridhe at 11:50 PM on July 22 [11 favorites]


I was talking with a friend of mine about terrible interviewers, when he dropped on me his own idea for a great interview technique. "Write some code on the board and make a syntax error in it. If they immediately jump to point out the problem then they're detail-oriented, which is a necessary trait in a software developer!" Yeah, right, or maybe it means they can't see the forest for the trees, which is another necessary trait in a developer. Or maybe you should stop assuming you can learn anything about a person by putting them in an uncomfortable high-stress situation and peppering them with obscure diagnostics.

These sorts of things infuriate me, especially when they come from an industry which prides itself on rigourous thinking and and where the people involved should actually understand the basics of scientific process.

You might as well include phrenology in your hiring process.
posted by dng at 3:16 AM on July 23 [1 favorite]


Related, regarding hiring, both to this and the discussion on work hours.
posted by frimble at 4:29 AM on July 23 [3 favorites]


With LinkedIn and other social media they can use your photo as well as your name to discriminate.

Good point. And the other side of that is if you DON'T post a photo, employers are less likely to click on your profile at all.
posted by Librarypt at 6:37 AM on July 23


I sometimes wonder if some of what's going on in Silicon Valley hiring practices is a form of what sociologists call "gender queueing." Gender queueing refers to how the gender composition of a job changes as the job becomes more (or less) desirable or lucrative. For example, computer programming used to be considered repetitive, low-prestige work that didn't require a lot of thinking, similar to being a secretary or an old-school telephone operator. Unsurprisingly, when that was the attitudes, most of the programmers were women. Then, the job of programmer became less repetitive, and it became easier to make money doing it. What happened next is fairly predictable. The job is no longer defined as "women's work," and men start displacing the women who used to have the job.

I think what's happening in Silicon Valley is that, in addition to male/female gender queueing processes, there is a queueing process going on in which two different styles of masculinity (call them computer science "nerds" and MBA/business "bros" for lack of anything better) are competing for the massive financial rewards that Silicon Valley has to offer. In addition, as this queueing process is going on, some of the "nerds" and the "bros" are starting to blend into one another. Nerds are getting more brazen in making sexist jokes and sharing pick-up artist techniques, while many bros are seeking out "geek cred" and bragging about how awesome their code is. As a result of this fuzzy process of jockeying for position, you get all these absolutely irrational hiring processes, which seem to have more to do with sussing out where a job candidate's cultural allegiances lie than about determining who's the most competent person to hold a job.
posted by jonp72 at 8:27 AM on July 23 [7 favorites]


RE wrok's comment, I don't view these articles as scathing critiques of SV - they seem to actually come from a person who wants to see improvements in diversity and non-standard thinking around hiring practices, in a sincere belief that those things will make the startups he's talking about better at what they do. These viewpoints are fascinating to me because they align very closely with what I see in terms of hiring everywhere - very little rigor, lots of unacknowledged bias, with incredibly mixed results - and no one who's doing the hiring EVER gets guidance or direction on how to do it better.
posted by gorbichov at 9:38 AM on July 23 [2 favorites]


How the Other Half Works: an Adventure in the Low Status of Software Engineers
Bill (not his real name, and I’ve fuzzed some details to protect his identity) is a software engineer on the East Coast, who, at the time (between 2011 and 2014) of this story, had recently turned 30 and wanted to see if he could enter a higher weight class on the job market. In order to best assess this, he applied to two different levels of position at roughly equivalent companies: same size, same level of prestige, same U.S. city on the West Coast. To one company, he applied as a Senior Software Engineer. To the other, he applied for VP of Data Science.

Bill had been a Wall Street quant and had “Vice President” in his title, noting that VP is a mid-level and often not managerial position in an investment bank. His current title was Staff Software Engineer, which was roughly Director-equivalent. He’d taught a couple of courses and mentored a few interns, but he’d never been an official manager. So he came to me for advice on how to appear more “managerial” for the VP-level application.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:53 AM on July 23 [8 favorites]


How the Other Half Works: an Adventure in the Low Status of Software Engineers

This is a really good article, and I recommend it to people who want to learn more about status dynamics in hiring processes in general, not just specific to tech jobs. I especially liked this sentence, if only because it seems to reinforce my theory of Silicon Valley culture as a cold war between nerds and MBA "bros," with a lot of double agents to keep the lines fuzzy.

Fail-outs from MBA-culture strongholds like McKinsey and Goldman Sachs found a less competitive arena in which they could boss nerds around with impunity; if you weren’t good enough to make MD at the bank, you went West to become a VC-funded Founder.
posted by jonp72 at 2:13 PM on July 23


A year or year and a half later, Google called wanting her to interview and she had to remind them that they had rejected her already.

And? Clearly they saw the error of their ways. Or forgot them. Or the hiree (assuming this was for the same position) didn't work out. Happens all the time.

Anyway, you left us hanging. Did she go for it anyway, and if not, why not?
posted by IndigoJones at 12:23 PM on August 3


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