Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence

I am on a mailing list of engineering leaders and someone mentioned that they have found Github to be a very good indicator of whether a candidate is a good choice for them.

Of course, every company will emphasize different aspects of software development–for some technical expertise is more important than communication, while others have that ranking flipped. Some may emphasize ability to work in large teams, while others may prefer folks who are self driven.

But I see a fair bit of emphasis on Github profiles, which makes sense–you can actually look at the code someone has written, and how they developed it.

But here are some reasons why someone might not have a stellar Github profile.  They might:

  • prefer to use bitbucket so their code is private
  • have a restrictive employment contract
  • not want to program when they go home
  • want to learn about software by experimenting on their local computer
  • learn about other aspects of software development by reading rather than doing
  • focus on answering questions on Stackoverflow
  • not have time to have anything on their profile due to other commitments

If someone has a great GH profile, that’s probably an indicator they are a good developer. But if they don’t (full disclosure, mine is kinda weak), that’s no indicator of anything other than that they haven’t made it a priority.


Hiring: Apples and Oranges

I ran across this great article about hiring in my twitter feed.  (Incidentally, the author is seeking employment at the moment.)  Here’s the author’s take on what’s wrong with hiring in tech today:

Job postings focus on the current tooling and products rather than factor in future plans. Interviews focus on the immediate technical knowledge and abilities of candidates, rather than on the candidates’ capabilities for learning and adapting. Companies hire the wrong people for the wrong reasons, then are surprised to find they can’t scale or adapt to meet strategic goals.

It really resonated.  It crystallized what I’ve seen reading and writing job descriptions over the past 20 years, which is typically an over focus on hard skills and an underfocus on softer skills.  From a higher level, it’s a focus on immediate needs vs long term compatibility (perhaps the emphasis on ‘fit’ is a counter to that).  Job postings focus on current needs to the exclusion of adaptability because it’s a lot harder to measure adaptability.  After all, everyone is capable of change in some aspects of their lives, so how do you know if an employee can handle change in the particular manner you need?

The entire article is worth a read.  Next time you write a job requisition, think about whether you need someone to hit the ground running with a particular technology, or whether you can afford to hire someone who’ll have to either be trained up or transfer skills from a similar but not identical concepts (from rails to django or vice versa, for example).  If the former, do they need to be an employee, and if so, what will happen to them when the exact need is done?  If the latter, you’ve vastly expanded your talent pool.


Interview with a boot camp grad

Lots of folks are moving into development and technical fields these days.  I remember that happening during the dot com book, but back then folks just read one of those “Learn Java in 24 Hours” books.

Nowadays there are a profusion of boot camps that help people gain the skills they need to be a developer. I have interacted with a few of these grads and was interested in learning more about their experience. Noel Worden, one of the organizers of Boulder.rb and a blogger, agreed to an interview.

– what was your background before you were a developer?

I got my degree in fine art photography, spent 5 years working in NYC as a Digital Technician in the photo industry, then moved to Colorado and was a cabinetmaker for 3 years.

– how did you land your first job?

I found the posting on the Denver Full Stack meetup whiteboard (https://www.meetup.com/fullstack/)

– what surprised you about the software industry?

How willing everyone is to help. It’s very different in the photo world, [which is] much more competitive, it’s hard to find guidance and mentorship.

– how did you pick your boot camp?

Bloc had one of the longest curriculums I could find in an online program. I figured when push came to shove, having more experience under my belt couldn’t hurt when competing with other junior [developers] looking for that first job. Bloc also has a part-time track, which allowed me to still work [a] full-time job while going to school.

– what is good about the job? What is challenging?

I appreciate the balance of being challenged but knowing I have the full support of any other engineer on the team if I need to reach out for assistance. Canvas United [ed: his current employer] has a lot of projects that I’ve been maintaining lately, and all are running different versions of Rails, which makes for interesting challenges. 

– what do you see current boot camp students doing that you’d advise against?

Not getting out and networking while going to school. This industry is all about networking and if you’re hoping to capitalize on the advantages of a good network you have to be building it while still in school.

– why did you want to transition into technology and development?

I wanted/needed a career path where the leaning curve wouldn’t plateau. I’m not a ‘cruise control’ kind of person, as soon as the challenge isn’t there for me anymore I lose interest.

– how can employers help boot camp grads in their first job?

Be ok with answering questions, and be transparent with the employee about the proper channels to ask those questions. Also, be upfront about the fact that it’s ok to fail (assuming that’s the case) a few time before you get to the best solution [ed: if it isn’t ok to fail, find a new job!]. Also also, a healthy balance of low hanging fruit and multi-day problems. Nothing kills my morale faster than ticket after ticket of problems that grind me into the ground.

– should employers have any different expectations of a boot camp grad vs someone who just graduated from college or high school?

I definitely think that it takes a particular type of management style to successfully level up a boot camp grad. If you’ve hired them you must have liked something about them, play to those strengths, but also sprinkle in challenges to help that developer evolve.

[This content has been edited for grammar and clarity.]


Gluecon 2015 takeaways

Is it too early to write a takeaway post before a conference is over? I hope not!

I’m definitely not trying to write an exhaustive overview of Gluecon 2015–for that, check out the agenda. For a flavor of the conversations, check out the twitter stream:


Here are some of my longer term takeaways:

  • Better not to try to attend every session. Make time to chat with random folks in the hallway, and to integrate other knowledge. I attended a bitcoin talk, then tried out the API. (I failed at it, but hey, it was fun to try.)
  • Talks on microservices were plentiful. Lots of challenges there, and the benefits were most clearly espoused by Adrian Cockroft: they make complexity explicit. But they aren’t a silver bullet and require a certain level of organizational and business model maturity before it makes sense.
  • Developer hiring is hard, and it will get worse before it gets better. Some solutions propose starting at the elementary school level with with tools like Scratch. I talked to a number of folks looking to hire, and at least one presenter mentioned that as well at the end of his talk. It’s not quite as bad as 2000 because the standards are still high, but I didn’t talk to anyone who said “we have all the developers we need”. Anecdata, indeed.
  • The Denver Boulder area is a small tech community–I had beers last night with two folks that were friends of friends, and both of them knew and were working with former colleagues of mine. Mind that when thinking of burning that bridge.

To conclude, I’m starting to see repeat folks at Gluecon and that’s exciting. It’s great to have such a thought provoking conference which looks at both the forest and the trees of large scale software development.




Content generation for employee acquisition

interview photo

Photo by MattHurst

I was brainstorming the other day and thought of an add on service for recruiters. My explication of this service is focused on tech companies hiring engineers, but could easily be modified for any organization that is trying to find high value employees that are difficult to hire (high performing real estate agents, sales people, financial advisers, etc).

If your company is doing interesting things–solving tough problems or using interesting technologies–potential employees are very likely interested in your activities. How, though, will they find out about the cool problems your company is solving? Well, there’s your company website, back channel communications through professional networks, or presentations at conferences or meetups. But the traditional website serves many masters (including converting ‘customers who will pay you’), and content may be hard to generate or place. Professional networks often scale poorly, depending on where you are and what sector you are in. And presentations or meetups are rather scattershot and time consuming.

Enter the company tech blog. Write about solving interesting problems. Because the blog is tech focused, you avoid the issues with the traditional company website. (Of course, don’t write about any trade secrets or unprotected intellectual property, but in my experience a large chunk of the engineering problems solved at any company are scaffolding, not core knowledge.) It also scales, because the content is write once, recruit for years (not forever, because eventually the problems you discuss won’t be interesting). Basically, any argument in favor of content generation for customer acquisition can be applied to content generation for employee acquisition. So, set up that company blog and have your engineers start writing blog posts about interesting work they are doing. Soon, you’ll rank in Google and/or have Hacker News fame (see 42 floors).

Wait, what? You say that most engineers who are competent to write these articles either have no time, no interest, no ability or some combination of all three? I’ve seen many many company tech blogs that start off strong and interesting and then slowly fade away. This is more prevalent since other information dissemination platforms (your twitters, your facebooks, what have you) have proliferated, but for whatever reason, the key to a content generation strategy is to keep at it.

And that is where my idea shines. As a value add service for a recruiter, hire reporters to interview engineers. Have the reporters write the article, with engineer review to make sure it is correct, and have both on the byline (or use ‘as told to’). An interview about an interesting tech problem will probably take about an hour, and you can expect an hour for review, so you still have to carve out two hours from your engineer. If you have a team of ten engineers, and half are willing to be interviewed, that is less than two hours a month for a weekly blog post. Of course, you have to pay the reporter for more than two hours, but reporters are less expensive than engineers. Sure, this is an extra cost, but the article will be published. And the next one will get done. And eventually, the company will have a recruiting site working for you. Hard problems aren’t everything for engineers, but they count for a lot.

I mentioned this business plan to a friend and his feedback was–“seems like a great idea, but couldn’t an intern and a junior marketing person do this”? I think so, so I’d love to see more companies doing this! Hire that intern and that marketing person and start blogging about the hard problems you have faced and solved! However, maybe you outsource your recruiting efforts. If so, ask your recruiter about their content generation strategy.

If you are a recruiter, consider offering this as a value add service. (Eventually you may work yourself out of a job if your only value add is finding people, but good recruiters I’ve talked to offer more than just finding people–they screen them, make sure they are a culture fit, help the candidate through the process, and more.)

Do you know any companies or recruiters that are doing this? Do I have a fatal flaw in my idea? Let me know.



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