It’s tough to hire good people these days in the Silicon Valley mostly due to the world renowned event known as the “dot-com bubble”. A lot of people my age decided not to pursue software engineering, or switched jobs so the talent pool is pretty small. Additionally, there seems to be a “Bubble 2.0″ brewing in the Valley as a new battallion of small “Web 2.0″ companies are sprouting up like mushrooms after a rainy day. It’s especially difficult to find mid level people with 3 to 6 years of experience because those are the classes that graduated during the great technology depression. In the past few years of working in the Valley I conducted many interviews, and here are some stories and lessons learned.
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When I started out, I was not yet 22, and I had to interview a lot of people much older than me. That was a bit intimidating, and there are times when the candidates actually started telling me what I should do in my job. It was pretty annoying because it felt like they were interviewing me and giving me advice. Later on I learned to just take the reins of the conversation and stop candidates when they babble on. An interviewer really has to be in control.
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You spend most of your waking hours with your coworkers if you work at a regular office with a regular eight hour shift. So it’s really important to reject the people you don’t want. There is a problem when someone above you is bent on hiring someone you don’t like, but object as loudly as you can. I’ve already had to deal with this twice. The first time my own manager hired someone he didn’t want because a VP above him wanted to hire the candidate who happened to be the VP’s excoworker. The end result was that the new person really didn’t fit in well within our team but had the support of the VP, and I ended up leaving the company, and then my manager and two other team members also left so the only person left was the VP’s excoworker. The second time, I really thought that one candidate wouldn’t be able to learn as quickly as she needs to, and told my manager that. However, he hired her anyway, and the end result is that she felt really overwhelmed and quit in three months. It’s an incredible waste to hire someone that could destroy an entire team or produce discord in an otherwise happy team. It’s hard to assess a person in a short amount of time, but if you can’t even deal with someone for thirty minutes to an hour, it would be very hard for you to work with them for eight hours a day. If you’re not the hiring manager, it’s best to voice your objections as much as you can before a horrible hiring mistake is committed. Now I think my manager trusts my opinions more because I was the only one who really objected to the hiring of that particular candidate. If your manager isn’t open to suggestions and objections, then he/she probably isn’t a very good manager anyway. That’s why in my last company my whole team left after that particular VP took over.
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I’m not saying “don’t be nice”, but don’t talk to a candidate like you would talk to a friend. Be courteous but not too familiar. Useless smalltalk in interviews really bother me and they’re a waste of time. At the time of the interview, I really don’t care that a candidate loves cats or can cook really good vegetarian food. I also don’t like people who read the things on my shirts and ask me about them. I am also disturbed by compliments on my looks, because that’s almost like sexual harassment. I liked to get to the business of interviewing and nothing more
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I just went through two beyond painful interviews today with two candidates with 10+ years of experience. It’s almost like they write as much as they can on their resumes without actually having corresponding skills to back it up. It’s really easy to just throw a few simple questions at them and discover that they pretty much lied on their resume. That really doesn’t sit well with me. I asked a candidate once why she wrote all that stuff she clearly didn’t have any knowledge about, and she said, “well, my friend told me that I should write every technology I have heard of”. That is really not the way to go. So now when I see resumes with too many keywords I go into the interview fearing the worst. Most people are experts in a few things, and I think it’s better to highlight one’s expertise rather than writing every hot buzzword there is on the resume.The problem is, HR people can only search on resumes, and they tend to be fooled easily by these liars and we end up wasting some time.
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Basically, don’t be afraid to reject a large number of people you interview and don’t take their feelings into your consideration. They might find another job with a competitor, and possibly create an inferior product. That’s better for your company anyway. So don’t feel bad for them.
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The technologies we use change very rapidly, and it’s important to upgrade my own skills. I have interviewed a few people with more years of work experience than years I have been alive, but their skills are no longer applicable. It’s really easy to learn things these days because there are so many manuals and tutorials available on the web. Having a few horrible interviews actually motivated me to not become a dinosaur and upgrade my knowledgebase in order to be competitive.
Okay, enough of the serious stuff. Now I bring you some highlights of comical and craptacular interviews:
- Once I was asking a candidate a question, and he said, “excuse me, may I go to the bathroom?” So of course I let him go, and then five minutes after he came back he asked again, “may I go to the bathroom?” At this point it was clear to me he had some sort of bowel problem. So we finished up the interview and I returned to my supervisor. I said to him, “I think the candidate has diarrhea”. My supervisor almost fell out of his chair and exclaimed, “WHAT?!”. I repeated, “I think he has diarrhea.” He seemed relieved and said, “oh my god, I thought you said he DIED”. We all had a pretty good laugh about it over happy hour. I guess the lesson here is to cancel interviews if you’re feeling sick.
- Once there was a man I interviewed that I could barely understand. When I asked him what about the company interested him he answered, “when you guys go public lots of money!” I really appreciated the honesty and thought that was a better answer than the cliche answer “I like your product”, but unfortunately, he had none of the technical skills we were looking for.
- I’ve gotten some horribly wrong answers to some of the simple technical questions I ask. One of the simplest questions I ask is “how do you get an output of all the lines in a text file that start with a certain word or letter”. This is a list of horrible answers I have gotten (a few were from today): ping A, ls -lrt, dir, find A, head, tail,some Unix command. The one that takes the cake is “ping”, because two different people gave this answer independently. Is there some demented interview guide that tells interviewees just to say “ping” to things they don’t know? In my opinion, even answering “manually copy and paste the lines that start with the word or letter” is better than throwing out random command names and hoping it’s right.
- This one is short, and it was funny to me. I walked into the interview room and introduced myself. Then the candidate got a call and looked extremely nervous. When he got off the phone he said, “I need to go back to work” and left.
Interviews are the closest thing to blind dates. It’s hard to find that special someone, especially in this mad place. People are always switching jobs and doing new things here, and maybe one day I will be interviewed by one of my ex-interviewees (the horrors!). Anyway, if you know someone who is awesome at programming or QA please send me a note and maybe we can set up something.
I know many couples that work for the same company or the same industries because they either studied the same thing in school or met each other through their jobs. There is nothing wrong with working in the same industry as your significant other, but there are advantages to do something completely different.
Insurance against Industry Recessions — With the latest real estate boom, there have been couples that jumped into the real estate industry together as real estate agents and loan officers. Now with the housing bubble quickly deflating, many of these double income real estate families have degraded into zero or half income families. If one spouse was doing something else, it wouldn’t be so bad. The same applies to all other industries since there are peaks and troughs in any business, and when one spouse’s professional industry is in a rut, it is great to have a back up income.
Wider Professional Network — It’s very likely that two people in the same field know a demographic of people with similar expertise. It is generally advantageous to know people in different areas of the business world to secure further opportunities, or even just to get some expert advice on a variety of subjects.
Less Job Related Competition — If you have the same career as your spouse, there may come a time when you both compete for the same job. That could put strain on the relationship. Additionally, it’s possible that spouses work for competing firms in the same field. In that case, conflicts of interest may arise that could endanger one person’s job.
Less Work Related Disagreements — A couple with the same job may have disagreements on how work should be completed in their own professional opinions. For example, a former classmate of mine had two child psychologists as parents, and she remembers that they would just argue all the time about her psychological state. She found it incredibly funny, but if they didn’t have the same job, they wouldn’t have had those arguments.
Of course, there are advantages to being in the same industry as your spouse, too. Most notably, you will be able to understand your mate’s work related frustrations and offer usable advice. Sometimes competition can also be healthy and drive you to advance in your careers. Anyway, the most important and most difficult thing is still to pick someone who can deal with the good and bad times with you.