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Hiring Developers By Algorithm 326

Posted by samzenpus
from the nice-profile dept.
Strudelkugel writes in with a story about how big data is being used to recruit workers. "When the e-mail came out of the blue last summer, offering a shot as a programmer at a San Francisco start-up, Jade Dominguez, 26, was living off credit card debt in a rental in South Pasadena, Calif., while he taught himself programming. He had been an average student in high school and hadn't bothered with college, but someone, somewhere out there in the cloud, thought that he might be brilliant, or at least a diamond in the rough. 'The traditional markers people use for hiring can be wrong, profoundly wrong,' says Vivienne Ming, the chief scientist at Gild since late last year. That someone was Luca Bonmassar. He had discovered Mr. Dominguez by using a technology that raises important questions about how people are recruited and hired, and whether great talent is being overlooked along the way."
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Hiring Developers By Algorithm

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  • by WWJohnBrowningDo (2792397) on Sunday April 28, 2013 @04:16PM (#43575871)

    Leaving a backdoor in this program would be the ultimate job security guarantee.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 28, 2013 @04:16PM (#43575877)

    Hello, captain obvious. Yes, having a piece of paper doesn't mean you're good at what you do or that you even know what you're doing; plenty of college graduates are merely imbeciles.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 28, 2013 @04:33PM (#43576009)

      It's not just that, though. The interviews based around brain teasers or algorithms that very few people use in real life, which are supposedly used to see how the candidate thinks, are generally extremely biased towards people who either just got out of school or spent a lot of time studying for those sorts of questions. Neither of those things have much, if anything, to do with predicting job success.
       
      At my old job, we had a pretty revolutionary strategy for picking someone: We talked with them. You can see who's in over their head very quickly, and the interviews at least seems like a lot less pressure because we shot the shit about programming and past jobs. There was no requirement or bias towards you reading otherwise useless brain teaser books, no requirement that you have to memorize all the terms from gang of four, etc. We had a great track record with our hiring. It amazes me more companies haven't tried of this method.

      • by ebno-10db (1459097) on Sunday April 28, 2013 @05:14PM (#43576243)

        At my old job, we had a pretty revolutionary strategy for picking someone: We talked with them.

        I've always done that too. Just get the interviewee to talk about their work, what was interesting about, the problems they encountered, etc. If a person doesn't know their stuff they won't be able to talk about it intelligently. Some people you have to coax out of their shell a bit, but that's it. If a person is reluctant I'll even ask them to pick something out of their resume to talk about instead of me suggesting a topic. I accept that most resumes have some exaggerations in them, so just let them pick something that isn't exaggerated. Also talk to them about the project they're being hired for, see what kind of questions or suggestions they have, etc.

        It's purposely a low pressure technique. Some very good technical people don't do well being drilled about nonsense or brainteasers, or clam up if the interviewer starts playing Mr. Tough Guy and tries to trip them up on everything. Remember, you're trying to hire good technical people, not good interviewees. For other type of work this technique might suck.

        It amazes me more companies haven't tried of this method.

        Too simple and obvious - takes away the mystique of being a great interviewer. Also you've got to know your stuff to use the technique.

        • by icebike (68054)

          Too simple and obvious - takes away the mystique of being a great interviewer. Also you've got to know your stuff to use the technique.

          Nail hit squarely on head here.....

          Many companies try to centralize hiring into HR departments who pretend they can evaluate any other field. These guys are easily bluffed and bafflegabbed and overly impressed with silly pieces of paper and training certificates.

          Even when the HR department refers someone for a departmental interview, it is commonly done by some middle management type, rather than the actual programming team the recruit would have to work with.

          Both HR and Manager types tend to think of peo

          • by Grishnakh (216268)

            Having HR do any kind of interviewing is a waste of time. I had to participate in some hiring of contractors at one job, where a group of us full-timers would together interview the candidate over the phone and then vote on him/her. The candidates were all pre-screened by HR, who assured us they were good candidates. Many of them, we found, had completely lied on their resumes and didn't know the basic things they claimed to know (like C++).

            HR just looks at resumes, compares to some buzzwords, and thinks

          • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

            by TapeCutter (624760)
            I've been in the game for 23yrs, I have a fair bit of (Australian) experience on both sides of the interview, I have never seen the situation you describe occur in real life, no developer I have ever worked with was hired by HR, they were hired by the project manager.. HR simply "thin" the resumes based on what the project manager tells them and normally the senior techs/team leaders are part of the interview. HR also do background checks, questions such as - Does the person have a clean record? - Is that b
      • by ATMAvatar (648864) on Sunday April 28, 2013 @05:54PM (#43576447) Journal

        At my old job, we had a pretty revolutionary strategy for picking someone: We talked with them.

        The beauty of hiring people based upon a program is that it's not the hiring manager's fault when the new hires are terrible. It's the computer's fault.

      • by stanlyb (1839382)
        Idiot. Let me land you down in the real world:
        1. It is natural for human beings to surround themselves with the same way behaving human beings. Translated for you, you, would, NEVER, ever, would hire, anyone, who is better than you, if he, just for example, hates your favorite baseball team.
        2.You assume, wrongly, that you and your mates are genius, and that's why you hire genius, because you are able to recognize them. I will say only one thing. You are an idiot.
        3.People, for some strange reason tend
      • We talked with them. You can see who's in over their head very quickly,

        Yep, it's easy. If you know what your talking about you can spot a wannabe/bullshitter in the first 2 minutes. I don't know where all this fuss about hiring "rock star" programmers comes from, is it an American thing? What most employers in Oz want is a good solid worker who can turn unfamiliar and vague ideas into working code (I've hired at least 50 of these people since 1990, and done a few hundred interviews to find them). Sure, if they happen to be a genius it's a bonus, but it's not a requirement. Of

    • by ttucker (2884057)
      In the CS program where I was studying, having a degree could just mean that you are good at freeloading on group work.
  • Hiring based on previous references isn't really a new thing.

  • Sadly quite true (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gestalt_n_pepper (991155) on Sunday April 28, 2013 @04:28PM (#43575973)

    I've been programming professionally since 1994. I'm sure I'll get around to taking a computer course one of these days. My first task with any new job is "Get past the HR moron" followed by "Find someone who actually knows something." If you're lucky, this is a manager. Frequently, however, describing the code abstraction structure in your overall application design often whizzes right over a manager's head.

    My suggestion? Keep it simple. Have some apps to show them, or a a web site with your latest web apps. Talk about how it solved a problem. Don't worry about the details until you get to another developer.

    • by hedwards (940851)

      Whether or not you need the degree really depends a great deal on the specifics. If the company isn't paying for properly engineered code, then it probably doesn't matter at all.

      If they do require properly engineered code, then it probably doesn't matter, provided you've bothered to learn the necessary engineering outside of school and can convince them of that fact.

      The big problem is that HR morons are being used to make the hiring decisions. That's a pretty huge red flag and I never take such a job when I

      • We're artisans (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        ... you've bothered to learn the necessary engineering outside of school and can convince them of that fact.

        We're talking about programming here and software design. By 'Software Engineering" are you referring to this [wikipedia.org]? I have never seen anyone with that cert or anyone who really cares. Has anyone actually seen it asa requirement for a job?

        Actual "Software engineering" is something that I have never seen in practice - ever.

        Every company that I've been at and every project that I've seen everywhere including all over the internet, designs and develops software the same way: hand over vague specs, figure it out and

        • Re:We're artisans (Score:5, Interesting)

          by ebno-10db (1459097) on Sunday April 28, 2013 @05:38PM (#43576359)

          We're Artisans - not engineers.

          As an electrical engineer I can assure you that engineers largely work the same way. And the job titles that they're always playing with are ridiculous. Programmer, system analyst, software engineer, computer scientist, blah, blah, blah. Please, nobody try to educate me on the fine distinctions. I know them, I don't care, and I think anybody who really does care is either a stuck-up ass or so insecure about their abilities that they cling to buzzwords. At least EE's just call themselves EE's (and I've never met anybody who bothered to distinguish between electrical engineer and electronic engineer). The best programmer I ever knew (who also had a Ph.D. in CS from a fancy school) simply called himself a programmer.

          • by phantomfive (622387) on Sunday April 28, 2013 @11:01PM (#43577909) Journal

            Please, nobody try to educate me on the fine distinctions

            There aren't any. I routinely call myself by all of them depending on which will help me most in a given situation. But in situations where I go based on my own preference, I call myself programmer. It is a noble title and quite accurately describes what I do.

        • Except there is actually an engineering organisation that actually owns the word Engineering, and if you take an actual software engineering course instead of computer science you are learning quite a lot of difference skills.

          I was in one for a few years. If I had graduated I would, for example, been able to OK the blue prints of a bridge, I was told. When you are an engineer you are considered, legally, to know what you are doing, and can practice in any engineering field (because if you say you know enoug

      • The real problem is software that is being used to automate so much of HR task. Writing a resume to get past an HR drone is easy. "Check all that apply" then "penalty of perjury", that's harder.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 28, 2013 @04:30PM (#43575987)

    Sorry, this article did not make it past my keyword scanning filters. Moreover, it does not have 7 years of experience to back up it's introductory claims. Since I cannot find a suitable article, I will have to source one from India.

  • by BoRegardless (721219) on Sunday April 28, 2013 @04:31PM (#43575993)

    Sounds like one more boost that will give impetus for more people to become involved in open source projects.

  • I'm now trying to envision a Strudelkugel - man, it's a doughnut!
    First its a ball shaped object like a Kugel, and then a vortex appears in it, i.e. a Strudel. This creates a hole, ideally a in the midst of it. The result is a torus.

  • He is the only one (Score:5, Interesting)

    by houghi (78078) on Sunday April 28, 2013 @04:42PM (#43576069)

    He is the only one who reacted to the spam?

    I get tons of job offers and the only algorithm they seem to be using is that I at some point in the past was looking for a job. By pure chance one will fit me, I am sure.

  • If I have a day job? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by poached (1123673)

    I am beginning to worry about this trend to have an online coding portfolio.

    I think open source is great, but once I got done with my day job coding, I never want to touch another line of code until work the next day. Adding to that, what about the basic need to socialize, spend time with the family, and spend time on hobbies?

    I have definitely seen SF job postings for people with extensive open-source commits. Those posts are biased towards a few people who are lucky enough that their company pays them to

    • by MrEricSir (398214)

      Having some sort of portfolio of previous work (that you can share, of course) isn't that crazy of an idea in any field.

      What is crazy -- and sort of sick -- is the idea of hiring people based on what they do in their off hours. The private life of a potential employee should be off limits as far as hiring is concerned.

    • by epyT-R (613989)

      Why wouldn't you? Especially if he likes doing that?

    • by seebs (15766)

      If programming is not one of your hobbies, you are going to be worse at it than most of the people for whom it is also a hobby.

      Passion matters. So does experience. People who enjoy programming will have more of both.

    • by dbIII (701233)
      This site pretty well grew out of Rob Malda's online coding portfolio. He had this cute little monitor app called ePlus, in some ways like gkrellm is now, and a few other bits and pieces.
  • Algorithm's can do what you create them to do:
    They can measure specific data points, such as would constitute "technical merit".
    They can not measure 'human undefinable's', things such as human co-interaction, gut instinct, charisma.

    (I would think once we have enough data points to define how, for example, 'gut instinct' is actually determined by out brain, we could put that in an algorithm as well)
    I think society would really be shocked if things were actually merit based.
    • by seebs (15766)

      True, but the neat thing is: For stuff like "evaluating the prospective success of employees", they utterly stomp the best humans can do with instinct or expertise right now. Want to measure likely future success? Even half-assed use of data and metrics will beat the best human evaluations available right now. See also Daniel Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow for lots of explanations and evidence.

  • The question is, do you have something that works better at finding talent, can be administered for a cost reasonable relative to the additional productivity it identifies, and will stand up to scrutiny by the EEOC?

  • To paraphrase TFA:

    Dr. Ming, who *now* has an undergraduate degree in cognitive neuroscience from the University of California, San Diego, a Ph.D. from Carnegie Mellon in psychology and computational neuroscience and completed a fellowship at Stanford -- *after* flopping at college, kicking around at various jobs, contemplating suicide, and hitting the proverbial bottom -- is working to identify talented non-traditionally trained/skilled potential employees. Interesting.

    More interesting, from both an in

  • by Wovel (964431)

    The summary was a POS full of qualifiers and gave no idea what the story was actually about. Try harder.

  • If you're trying to be a better filter than the typical HR department, it's not hard. An algorithm based mostly on a random number generator would likely work. Including the xkcd RNG.

  • the first step in getting people to accept algorithmic excuses for mass firings, hiring discrimination, and mandatory career planning is to propagandise the rare, unlikely (faked?) positive flukes.

    you thought you trained to be a computer programmer, but our magic computer says you're better suited to order fulfilment in an amazon warehouse with crap conditions and crap pay.

  • by jythie (914043) on Sunday April 28, 2013 @09:00PM (#43577371)
    Great.... so now Klout has moved from sales and marketing to engineering. From reading the piece, that sounds like all this really is, a test of how socially connected and active the programmer is. Introvert and professional who have non-programming hobbies need not apply. I imagine non-OSS and non-web people would also struggle with this since those are domains that tend to be well represented in visible projects, while people in the app and embedded fields tend to not be able to show off their code like that.

    So yeah... not impressed.
  • by CodeBuster (516420) on Sunday April 28, 2013 @10:41PM (#43577845)
    As much as HR would like to see "out there" people with tons of blog posts and lots of check-ins on open source repository sites the fact remains that many great programers labor on in obscurity because they're too modest to promote work that while useful isn't exactly brilliant. Just because somebody checks in a lot of code and writes me-too blog posts doesn't mean that they're a great programmer. You want to know what really attracts good developers, especially experienced ones with grown up responsibilities and families to feed? How about making them some basic promises when you hire them, like a 2 year deal with a guaranteed severance package and some time at work to either work on personal growth projects or work on new skills that will be useful in future projects? The problem with these Silicon Valley types is that they want bright young hotshots fresh out of school and not experienced enough to recognize the fact that they're being used up and thrown out by people who don't really care about their careers or their futures. The other thing about bright young hotshot coders is that you can't tell them anything. They think that they know everything and that everyone who came before them was a dumbass and then proceed to make every mistake in the well worn programming book of things not to do. If you want to relearn the programming mistakes of the past, hire that hotshot fresh out of school. If you want it done right, look for the experienced programmer described above and pay him what he's worth. It's just better that way for everyone in the end, even the blue flame special straight out of school.

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