Hiring Technologists?

Hiring Technologists?

I’m not alone in saying that hiring is broken. It’s broken across the board, but seems to be worst in the technology sector. Think I’m just a bitter, pissed off, negative hacker? Check this shit:
“Nine Ways Recruiting Is Broken, Broken, Broken”
“Recruiting is Broken – But Your Job Search Isn’t”

As a hiring manager, and a manager of technologists, I like to talk about relationships and the power of people. The success of any technical project is half about technical knowledge and skill, the other half is relationships. People are critical.

Why? Bear with me through this exploration. Why is it that people and relationships are so critical in business? I mean, if developing a technical product is all about math and science and algorithmic stuff, why not just, um use an algorithm?

The same thing is true in start-ups. If business was just math (as some accounting types like to think) then why can’t we just develop an algorithm to make start-ups? Download the “I want to be a tech millionaire app”, press go, and wait for the algorithm to do its magic and you’re now partying with the big boys. Hey, it’s all math and stuff right? Shouldn’t that work?

Intuitively we all know that’s nonsense. You can’t reduce the complexities of developing a product or a process to a simple sequence of symbolic code. Again, intuitively we now this, but there’s actually a bit of nifty math that explains why, and it’s some of my personal favorite. Godel’s incompleteness theorem states that “all consistent symbolic formulations of number theory contain undecidable propositions”. A mathematical proof (science bitches) that says “you can’t know everything”. It also says that a symbolic system can either be complete and inconsistent (that is explains/handles everything but with internal disagreement) or consistent and complete. Think reducing everything to an algorithm is making it in to a “symbolic formulation of number theory”? Oh yeah.

I like to explain it like this: machines (mechanical or electronic) can be reduced to “symbolic formulations”. Machines per Godel don’t handle paradoxes. Put your transmission in to reverse at 80 MPH and bad things happen.

There is only one machine that can handle paradox. Oddly the best of them seem to thrive on paradox. That’s the wetware between your ears. So a few paragraphs into math and some personal philosophy and now I’m ready to talk about hiring techies.

I said “intuitively we all know that’s nonsense”. The nonsense being reducing complex business processes in to mindless algorithms. Well, apparently we all intuitively know this is nonsense except for HR managers and their personnel. Here the complexity of finding a paradoxical person to fit a role that cannot be completely defined is reduced to buzzwords, years of experience with certain titles (wow, talk about a very limited symbolic system). It’s borderline insanity.

Well, you need to hire techies and other talented, yet paradox laden creators. How do? How to find the paradox puzzle piece? That is the talent that you really need to make business things happen, not to fill a final step in some simplistic shadow of a process?

My suggestion to HR personnel and hiring managers (I was VP of engineering for a contract design house, I’ve got some experience at being a hiring manager) is to explore these:

1) Take risks. Check out this article hire someone with no experience .
2) Simplify your intake process. Taleo sucks donkey balls. True talent isn’t going to wade through crap to be your servant. One of the best versions of this I’ve seen in a while comes from Fizzmint in their openings. Each asks for 1) examples of your work (screenshots for graphics folks, github account for developers) and 2) a two line bio. This is how you do it.
3) Pay attention to your network. If someone you know and trust says “you should talk to this guy”, do it. Every time I have I’ve been happy with the results; every time I didn’t I regretted it. I applied to a Director of IT position in a Utah resort Park like City, had a well respected network friend even suggest me to their HR director (“no fee!”), and got the “we have a pool of talented applicants and are making our final decisions and will contact you if we have an appropriate opening” corporate lie. Two months later their listing the position as open again. Funny that someone who can make it that far up in HR is afraid to talk to someone like me – I’ve been a director of engineering and VP of engineering. I’ve managed million dollar projects involving military prime contractors; I’ve managed technologists from programmers to developers to engineers (hardware, mechanical, optical). Since I’ve never held an “IT” manager title I guess their simple search algorithm thinks I’m not qualified to manager their projects or personnel? They never even talked to me. Even more funny that they are now searching again. How’s that risk mitigation going for you?
4) Explore alternative recruiting presences. Cons, forums, makerspaces. Any place where you can get to know your target talent in their environment. Just don’t be an asshat about it; these places aren’t trade shows. Maybe even (gasp!) hire some people in to HR that know what the fuck tech is and how to talk to technologists.
5) Put your money where your mouth is. I tried for a while to get inside a way cool “we’re so super edgy” well known Cranial Bonbon firm. Their HR is a bogged down, algorithmic impenetrable fortress. If you want to claim to be edgy and cool and progressive, BE edgy and cool and progressive, including in your hiring methods. Hey, I’m still working on the networking backdoor thing there, but it’s a challenge.
6) Cut the crap. I remember back in the 90s seeing a job advert looking for a senior sysop with “15 years of Linux experience”. Um yeah. Stop making people lie to get your attention.
7) Don’t be an asshat. Seriously. If you’re a recruiter and go after someone for a position and they don’t get it, let them know. If I ever get out of the hole I’m in and get back to being a hiring manager, I will politely say “fuck you” to any headhunter that calls me. You’ve never helped me find people; you’ve never helped me find work.

To counter some arguments that are spooling up in some reader’s minds already. “Hiring should be about risk mitigation, not creating risk!”. Bullshit. Hiring true talent, rockstars everyone likes to say, is about looking at the risk/reward spectrum. Want real talent? Take risks.

“But time! How do I pare down the millions of applicants I get if I follow Fizzmint’s two step approach? I NEED Taleo to help filter!” Again, bullshit. If this, then that. If I like the two line bio and examples and a trusted friend says “talk to this person”, or one of my people know her from visiting a con or local makerspace, then jump. Can any HR professional honestly with a straight face tell me the Taleo way is better?

Stop trying to reduce a paradoxical complex relationship into a moronic algorithm. Hiring true talent is about understanding what true talent looks like, and taking the risks to get to know that talent, even if the “right” buzzwords are missing from their resumes.

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