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Recruiting and interviewing in confusing times

For context: This post is about recruiting and job-seeking in the area of software development, testing, infrastructure engineering, and related disciplines. It isn’t general.

There’s a lot of discussion just now online and offline about endemic problems in the software industry around discrimination, pay discrepancies, hiring practices, humane workplaces, and questionable interviewing methods. Most of that discussion is highly emotionally charged, to such a degree that it’s “unsafe” to disagree with just about any comment online, or even to agree with a comment using words the “owners” (is “dominators” a word?) of the discussion haven’t approved.

That situation does not seem healthy or constructive to me. So, I thought I would take a few minutes to try and cut through some of the emotion to understand what’s wrong with recruiting and hiring in our field, and whether there are some concrete steps people can take, on both sides of the interviewing table, to improve things.

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Using programming problems to screen technical candidates

For some reason, the majority of technical interviews consist only of talking. Sometimes there’s a written quiz of some sort. Rarely, there’s a programming challenge; typically the candidate is free to complete the challenge on their own, in any amount of time whatsoever, in any manner whatsoever, with no opportunity for the interviewer to observe the candidate’s thought process or methods.

And yet, there’s general agreement that professional software development is a team sport involving collaboration skills as well as technical knowledge, and that software isn’t written once and discarded, but rather must be “habitable” for many years into the future. Weak screening methods don’t separate people who can handle that kind of work from those who can’t.
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It’s a question of its context

I read an article in Harvard Business Review today entitled “I won’t hire people who use poor grammar,” by Kyle Wiens. Wiens assesses job candidates, in part, on the basis of their use of English grammar. He goes so far as to administer a written grammar test to all applicants.

Amusingly enough, the website generated a URL by truncating the title to “i_wont_hire_people_who_use_poo.” I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t, either, unless using poo happened to be part of the job description. “Seeking howler monkeys for stock floor trading positions. Throw your résumé against the wall and see if it sticks.”

Um, okay, where was I? Oh, yeah. Is Wiens’ approach excessive? Ah…wait a second. Should that be, Weins’s? Does it depend on whether you’re in the US or UK? Does it depend on which form your fourth-grade teacher thought was “the rule?” <sigh/> I guess my chances of passing Wiens’ grammar test are low. Oh, wait…is it okay to use faux XML in a narrative? I’m so confused!

Anyway, comments on the article run the gamut from strong approval to strong disapproval. I find myself both agreeing and disagreeing with Wiens.

Let’s start with the points of disagreement. That’s usually more fun.
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