No, I will not “lighten up”

Here’s a conversation I was in recently. It’s paraphrased and anonymized because I’m not here to name-n-shame.

Person1: Oh hey, $less_popular_project I work on was found to be one of the most secure!

Me: Nice! Good for them. /me boosts signal

Person2: Too bad no one uses $less_popular_project, lol

Me: Not cool. Don’t bag on other projects.

Person2: Lighten up. It’s a joke, jeez.

Had Person2 known Person1 I could’ve let it go as banter between friends, but Person2 didn’t. Person1 was a stranger to them.

I’d intended to leave it at that. I said my piece and pointed out bad behavior, but after thinking about it a bit, no. I’m not done yet. I’m sick of this crap and I’m going to plant my flag in the sand.

Person1 was excited that their project was receiving well deserved recognition for all of their hard work. Person2 used this as an opportunity for a cheap shot and hurtful language.

No matter what the intention (“It’s a joke, jeez.), hurtful language is still just that: hurtful.

There is absolutely no benefit to being mean here. This sort of micro-aggression is masquerading as humor but is amusing only to the teller, not to most of the hearers and certainly not to the target.

Angry cat photo from Flickr user jing.dong, CC-BY-NCFor many years now I’ve been (usually gently) calling people out when they try this sort of thing, but right now I’m going to be more direct about it:

Shaming people’s open source project or community, programming language, platform, editor, framework… This is what bullies do. It’s not funny. It’s not useful. It’s just childish and mean. Knock it the fuck off.

OK, maybe that was more than a little direct. Whatever. I’m tired of third-rate bullies hiding their attacks behind “it’s a joke, jeez.”

I will be firm, polite, and respectful when I do it, but make no mistake that I will call you on your shit and at absolutely no point will I “lighten up.”

At this point someone will chime in with “Yes, see Aurynn’s post, too!” so let me just beat you to that: The very good Contempt Culture by Aurynn Shaw

3 ways to improve your hiring process

The new year often brings the end to a lot of finance- or holiday-imposed hiring freezes and a rush to get the hiring process wheels back into motion.

Aside from having done a ton of hiring myself over the years, I recently had the opportunity to help several people through the hiring process at many different companies. This reminded me of some of recommendations I made to my clients when I was a tech/biz management consultant.

What follows are three recommendations for improving hiring at your organization. There’s a lot to be said about each of these topics, so I’ll just hit the highlights. As with most things (including hiring), how much you get out of these recommendations will depend on how much you put into them. Which is to say: Your Mileage May Vary.

These recommendations are written for a tech company audience, but they apply to most every team and industry.

1. Write Better Job Postings.

The majority of the job postings don’t reflect the position being filled. They may share the same title, but the details are lacking or inaccurate. Often they’re copied from a posting written years ago, for a position on which the requirements have evolved but the posting text has not.

Ensuring the text of the job posting accurately reflects the position being filled not only makes it easier for candidates to self-select for interest and qualifications, it also confirms that everyone on the hiring team is on the same page.

The description for the position should be specific, reflecting the job to be done and the work necessary to perform it. Examples of projects on which the candidate may work can make it easier for them to gauge their interest in applying. Also helpful is the name of the position to which this one reports.

The requirements and qualifications listed for the position must be limited to those actually required to do the job. "What-ifs" and "Maybe we could use" qualifications are not requirements. What they are is a sign that the hiring team hasn’t defined what they’re looking for.

If the tasks performed by the role do not require a formal education, either in computer science or any other pursuit, do not list a degree as a requirement on the posting. Including a degree requirement is a lazy shortcut on considering the skills legitimately required by the role. It’s also elitist, typically unnecessary, and discourages highly qualified but un-degreed individuals from applying.

All job postings should be reviewed for gender and cultural biases. Studies show that certain language in postings cause women to avoid applying, which leads to perpetuating the gender imbalance in the tech industry. Tools like Textio and the Gender Decoder for Job Ads can help uncover unconscious and unintentional bias in your job posting text.

2. Ask Better Interview Questions.

For years companies like Microsoft and Google were known for their trick interview questions. Where the big dogs go the little dogs follow, so a lot of companies were soon using this approach to interviewing. It came as no surprise to many when both Microsoft and Google revealed that their studies showed that this type of question did not help them hire better people and that they were discontinuing their use. Your company should follow suit.

Only ask questions which are directly applicable to the job. Real world discussions are more effective hypothetical questions, every time.

These discussions should determine the candidate’s ability to learn, to perform the job, to problem solve, and to get along well with others. Trick questions, inquiries into their personal lives, or those which ask for information which can be found on their resumes are not good questions for an interview.

During the drafting of the job posting you already determined the concepts and qualities which are necessary to succeed in the role. Many of these skills, such as building or using an API endpoint, are not programming language specific. Languages are, relatively speaking, easy to pick up once you’ve mastered your first. Unless in-depth mastery of a language is necessary for the role, avoid language-based questions.

Avoid questions which imply or require a formal education in computer science. For instance: if the candidate is unlikely to write Big O Notation on the job, do not ask about it in the interview. By all means ask about algorithmic complexity and optimization…if it is required to perform the role.

If the role requires that a candidate regularly write pristine standard-library-free code on a whiteboard, include a question about it. But only in this case. In all others, try talking through a recent or current problem the team is solving to see how the candidate will approach it.

3. Standardize The Process.

Most interviews are a bit of an ad hoc process. You see who on the team is available, hand them a candidate resume, and allow them to use whatever questions come to mind. This is wrong.

An inconsistent approach to interviewing will lead to inconsistent results in hiring. You cannot compare candidates fairly if you do not treat them equally.

A better process:

  • Build a team of interviewers who will meet with every candidate. Some people may resist this as a large investment in time keeping them from their "real" work. Usually a reminder that interviewing is also an important part of their duties is enough to quell any objections. However, please make sure to balance their other duties so everything can still be accomplished in a standard number of working hours per week (read: no more than 40).
  • Meet w/interviewers in advance so they all know exactly what the position is and what to look for. To avoid duplication of questions, assign each interviewer qualifications to query and discuss which questions they will use. Please allow them the agency of writing their own questions and using their own voice.
  • Each interviewer must meet with each candidate. They also must ask the same questions of each candidate. Both of these can be difficult to schedule, but are worth the effort. In this way the interviewer has the best idea of how each candidate compares against the others on the qualifications.

Like I said, these recommendations typically apply to all situations. However if they don’t, or if you’d like to chat about how to apply these or other suggestions to your hiring process, drop me a line.