Saturday, May 24, 2008


Hiring people is important to the success of your team and project. I strongly believe that you cannot deliver great products if you have a low-performing team. I strongly believe that regardless what you want to achieve with your team, it heavily depends on the quality of the people. I'd like to discuss a few of the principles I use to select people for joining my team.

Elite Team

It is almost like a positive, reinforcing cycle. If you have an excellent team, people will learn about it, and then they want to join that team. This leads to a greater pool of people you can select from, which in turn provides you with high quality candidates you can select from.

So in that sense an elite team, thinking, or attitude is acceptable and even desirable I think. The challenge is certainly to avoid coming anywhere near arrogance. But if you are pushing your team all the time to become even better - to outperform themselves, and if you have hired people with good character and attitude than this is a no-brainer anyways.

Hiring Process

It is important to distinguish between trying to assess the quality of a candidate in general, and assessing how the candidate fits with your team. I think you should focus very much on whether a person fits your team. If a candidate is a perfect engineer but isn't a fit for your team, hiring that person will not do any good. Similarly rejecting a candidate doesn't mean that the person is a bad engineer. It merely says that the person wasn't a good fit for your team.

If given the choice of a) a candidate that is perfect as an engineer but has weaknesses on the interpersonal side, and b) a candidate that is a perfect fit regarding interpersonal skills but has some weaknesses on the technical side, I would always go for b).

Part of my hiring process is a programming task. This is a very simple task with about half a dozen stories. Good solutions typically fit on two letter/A4 sized pages including tests. It is amazing how good that filter works. I have seen "senior" engineers claiming to be experts in Java, C#, and C++. But when asked about the differences of generics (Java, C# - different in both cases) and templates in C++, I looked into a face that spoke a clear language: "I have no clue."

Sure that was an extreme case. But still. If a candidate cannot even do a very simple programming task it won't be much better if the task is part of a regular project.

Team Buy In

I believe this is an important aspect as well. When you hire a person always keep in mind who you expect the new person to collaborate with most of the time.

The technique I use is to basically ask two of my team members to run the actual interviews. At the end of the hiring process those two people then can make a recommendation who they believe is the best fit.

This does not take away your responsibility to make the decision. But it allows your team members to be heard and to voice their opinion about the candidate.

Once your team members have voiced their opinion and assuming you follow their advice, you will find that the buy-in of your existing team members with regards to a hiring decision is substantially higher. At the same time you ensure that you don't overlook something. When selecting new development workstations I ask my senior engineers to look at the specs as well. Why would I want to reduce the quality for the hiring process?

Hiring Managers

Admittedly I don't have a lot of experience in this field. Still I believe that the above principles apply to hiring managers as well. Even if you seek advice from your team the final decision is still with you. After all a commercial enterprise is not a democracy.

By not asking your team members for their thoughts about different candidates you basically reduce the buy-in, and potentially you might even overlook an important detail. You are missing an opportunity for building an even stronger team.

Certainly, your department is your "ship". You can run it any way you like. But I believe that with flat hierachies and with self-organizing teams, and given that we are now in the 21st century, and people are more self-directed and teams are more self-organized, it definitely is a good practice and pays off when you involve your team when hiring, including hiring managers. I don't see why the principles that work for engineers shouldn't work for managers as well.

Just my two cents. As I said I don't have a lot of experience so it might well be that I'm overlooking something here.

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