Sunday, June 29, 2008

Hiring software developers

Going through my usual dose of tech blogs I stumbled across Alex Miller's post on the "mismatch problem" in hiring which took me back to my studies in organisational psychology back in uni days (psychology was my minor).

One detail I remember vividly is that informal job interviews tend to show negative validity in respect to various measures of job performance. Meaning: the more you like someone in such a job interview, the better you are sending them away.

It gets better the more you structure a job interview, so you should always try to plan your interviews well beforehand and stay on topic. The only criteria I remember to do well in studies is looking at work samples and the expensive option: assessment centers (although they can vary a bit).

How you get work samples for the positions in software engineering is another question that isn't easy to answer, though. Of course you can let them code a bit or try to debug something, but unless you really need a hard-core coder that tests an aspect of software development that isn't that important in a modern team-based environment. For an architect position you can let them give a rough sketch of what they would tend to do for a given set of requirements, but again that is usually only part of the job description.

One thing I like to look at is an existing portfolio, which you get if the candidate has been involved in open source development. That includes not only code they have written, but also documentation, mailing list posts and commit messages. The nice thing about such an open source portfolio is that it covers the technical side as well as writing style and social behaviour. But of course not every candidate has such a portfolio to look at.

In the end it is just plain hard. And as in project management people like to pretend it gets easier by introducing numbers, even if they are usually proven to be useless fast. Like SLOCs all these grades and test results seem just too pretty not to be good.

Having said all that: it has been years since I really looked at scientific work in the area and my memory is not always the best. So take this with a large grain of salt and fell free to correct me if you can -- I'm happy to learn more about this topic.

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