The F*ckhead Pattern

While we’re discussing hiring, I interviewed lots of people who learned English as a second or third language but I never had anything this funny happen in an interview.

Becoming Arthur Miller

So Steve Yegge has graced us with another post tome huge honkin’ bunch of loosely associated words chock full of spin off ideas. The gist of said words is that Joel Spolsky’s “Smart and Gets Things Done” is a really great way to hire clones of yourself but that for various reasons (namely that you suck but you just don’t know it) this is a bad idea. Some of the possible spinoff blog posts that I think might be interesting are “Steve’s Right! You do suck and just don’t know it”, “Steve Yegge really needs an editor” (oh the irony, it burns!!), “How do I become a Done and gets things smart sort of guy so that people will love and adore me?” and “Extended interviews sound great as long as I’m the one doing the interviewing and not the poor schlub being interviewed”. In the end, given my propensity for stringing a huge honkin’ bunch of loosely associated words together, I decided to touch on most of them in one post, once again showing my complete and total disdain for a laser like focus on anything. . .oh look a chicken!

At my last job, I did a reasonable amount of interviewing and I almost exclusively used Joel’s advice. In the end, I don’t think we hired a bunch of my clones because we didn’t do much hiring anyway (it seemed to be some sort of exercise where we would bring in someone and then not really ever do much with them, but whatever). However, when you work in Corporate America, your ability to actually hire someone who is Smart and Gets Things Done is greatly hampered by the fact that very few people who fit that qualification want to work for you. This is because writing software in Corporate America (not Captain America, writing software in him would be. . .probably kinky, never mind) sucks big hairy horse balls. The politics, the egos, the politics, the CYAness of it all, the politics. People who are smart and get things done just don’t want the overhead. People who are Done and Gets Things Smart won’t even know your job posting on Monster exists so you’ll never even get to interview them and turn them down because they aren’t a clone of you.

So leaving Corporate America aside, what in the hell can you do to make your interviews useful? Well, I really like the extended interview idea. There are quite a few companies out there that do this and I think it makes total sense. Yes, I understand that hiring someone for 6 months and then letting them go because they didn’t turn out like you expected is very expensive but seriously, do you think it’s as expensive as keeping them around? Face it, Steve’s right and hiring good people is almost entirely blind luck, of which you probably don’t have very much anyway. Unfortunately, the extended interview technique only eliminates false positives and if you remember from your basic statistics class, when you lower beta. the corresponding alpha goes up and so now you have a technique that leans towards hiring everyone and seeing who makes it. Not good.

So if hiring good people is basically a crap shoot, what’s a good hiring manager to do? Beats me really. I’ve given a lot of thought to interviewing and hiring (though not nearly as much as Steve) and the sliver bullet for identifying people who are smart and gets things done continues to elude me. Lots of tech companies just ask a bunch of trivia questions but then you tend to hire people who learned the ins and outs of the technology but can’t code or can’t communicate or can’t understand why having code reviews might just be important. You can ask them crazy questions like “how much does this building weigh?” or “how many midgets can you fit in a phone booth?” (both great interview questions if you want to find out if a person can handle anything other than Visual Studio) but that’s not going to get you far enough down the road to success.

Man this post is getting long. My guess is I’m the only one still reading.

So if I can’t contribute to hiring the right people, lets tack off towards another subject, how do I become one of the Done and Gets Things Smart that Steve is talking about? (As an aside, if you haven’t read Steve’s post (and I know most of you haven’t), there’s a difference between “Smart and Gets Things Done” and “Done and Gets Things Smart” and basically, the Cliffs Notes version is that the former is Arthur Miller while the latter is William Shakespeare.) The short answer and probably the only answer is that “I don’t.” I don’t think you can mold yourself into the type of person he’s talking about, regardless of discipline and certainly not in programming. For the same reason I can’t become Kobe Bryant, I’ll never by Paul Graham. It’s at least 75% genetics and while I’m no slouch, I’m not really above average by much either. Hell, I’m still trying to get my head around the 475 ways you can use Castle and I’ve been working with it for 5 months.

This post is getting depressing too and I’m not even drinking. Not only can you not hire the people you need to hire, you (and by you, I mean me) will never be able to get to the level you want to be because you weren’t born hardwired in the right places to achieve it.

However, I now think (after several years of thinking the opposite) that while you can’t become “Done and Gets Things Smart”, you can become “Smart and Gets Things Done.” You do this by constantly reading, broadening your technological scope, losing the ego (I’m lucky in this regard, I’m pretty sure I suck at most everything so I’m ahead of the game) and constantly learning.

I’ve got some more thoughts on ways to either gather up Smart and Gets Things Done types but this post is already long enough to have cured insomnia. Maybe I’ll spit that out tomorrow night.

Out On A Limb

Ok, so it’s June, the election is in 5 months-ish and therefore, it’s time for me to make my prediction. On one hand, we’ve had 8 years of Republican leadership which makes it seem like maybe the country is ready for a change. On the other hand, you’ve got a Democratic candidate who is young and energetic which is attractive to the youth vote (do the youth vote? no but whatever). And on your mutant third hand (the one with 6 fingers and 7 thumbs), you’ve got Ralph Nader. Ok, he doesn’t count but still, he’s funny like a mutant third hand with 6 fingers and 7 thumbs.

So who’s it gonna be? Here’s my 5 minute guess pulled out of my ass masquerading as analysis. People who think Obama might win don’t understand the South and they certainly don’t understand the Second Amendment. Here’s the latest Harris poll on 2A where adults were asked whether said amendment provided an individual right to bear arms and 2 out of every 3 said yes. Support for stricter gun controls is 49%, down from 69% ten years ago. Without the idea that 2A is just as important as 1A, I don’t see how Obama can win many states in the South. In fact, current polls show exactly that. Note that several states that are tossups (NM, CO, NV) are also Western states where anti-gun candidates typically have problems.

So my prediction? McCain wins a close one (assuming the whole age thing doesn’t seriously hurt him, remember Clinton came from a huge distance back to win in ’92 based on the economy and his younger age, hmmm sounds like deja vu all over again). Remember, you heard it here first.

These Are The People Democrats Want To Run Healthcare

Amen Brother, amen.

If you can’t run a bloody cafeteria, how in the hell do you suppose you can run the health industry in this country? Lord, we’ve elected some weiners.

RIP, Jim McKay 1921-2008

The sports world lost one of its luminaries this week when Jim McKay, longtime ABC sportscaster, passed away. I always remember his lines from the Wide World of Sports that I watched a lot when I was a kid and he carried himself with more composure than most men could hope for when he covered the 1972 tragedy at the Munich Olympics. He hadn’t been doing much in recent years but his voice and spirit will live on in those who learned about sports by the sound of his voice.

Not Being a Sheep

How in the world does one man stab 17 people? This would never happen in the southern US and it certainly would never happen in Texas. If some lunatic plowed a 2 ton rented truck into pedestrians and then jumped out and started stabbing people, at least one person would pull out a gun and shot the idiot on the spot. Even if no one had a gun, I’m guessing at least 4 burly, mean Texas dudes would walk up to him and break his scrawny little neck, machete or no machete.

I feel terrible for the people who died and their families but this is the final result of disarming the citizenry. If the good guys can’t protect themselves, the bad guys have all the advantages.

The Ultimate Geek Friday Night

Seriously, what could be better than pizza ordered online while sitting at the computer and code?

You Really Want The Leftmost Button or Possibly No Button At All

Have you ever watched someone repeatedly do something over and over again even though it didn’t do what he thought it did? Like in The Princess Bride when Vizzini kept saying things were inconceivable even though those very things had already in fact happened and thus, could not by any definition of the word be considered inconceivable? Have you ever seen that to happen in real life? For the most part, I think it never happens (evolution kinda prevents it, long term speaking and all) but there is one event, one thing that is so horrifically misused that reams of Internet bits have been spewed forth about its misuse and still, the despicable behavior lives on, in apparent infamy.

It must be a sign of my impending descent into senility and general all around crotchetyness but people who hit reply to all when in fact they shouldn’t be hitting reply to all at all cause me a great deal of consternation. I spent a full 20 minutes today trying to figure out what in the world makes people do this thing, this reply to all with a single word that can’t possibly be intended for everyone. Seriously. I sat there, trying to explain a behavior that is inexplicable (mmm smells like irony). I’m losing it. Do they need validation that they exist (“Look, I’m alive!”)? Is it more sinister (“I’m more important than everyone else on the email chain!”)? Is it less sinister (“There’s a Reply button?!?”)? I asked these questions over and over for 20 full minutes. And I’m writing a 500 word blog post about it. I AM losing it.

Look, email is almost rendered useless as it is. I used to write long, wonderfully explicit emails regarding best practices and processes and gotchas until I realized that email is probably irrevocably broken, not to mention requires entirely too much attention for the average person to spend in one sitting these days. Not unlike my blog posts.

However, you can do your part to make email useful again. It’s really easy. If you have a habit of hitting reply to all when you really ought to be hitting reply, take a deep breath, have a sip of scotch or coffee or arsenic and ask yourself if what you are about to say is really worth the 5 seconds of my life (and every other persons’ life on the email chain, hey I’m a hedonistic utilitarian if nothing else) that I’ll never get back after I read your email that I made the mistake of thinking might be important. It’s the least you can do.

[This post is written in honor of my friend, Nish, the world’s worst offender of the Reply To All button though in her defense, what she usually has to say is relevant to the conversation at hand.]


I haven’t read Coding Horror in a long time but I was going through my badly neglected RSS feeds tonight and ran into Strong Opinions, Weakly Held and it really struck a chord with something I’ve been giving some thought to for quite awhile. It’s a deep dark secret I’ve got, one I’ve been harboring for a long time, one that I think it’s time came out in the open:

There, I said it. Whew, it feels good. Don’t get me wrong, I like feeling like I know just about everything but in reality, I have this huge streak of insecurity running through me about just about everything and I’m mostly OK with it. You see, experts make me nervous. People who have an opinion on everything make me real nervous. When I see people who lust after validation through external achievements and accolades, I get downright skittish. I’m never going to be a Microsoft MVP or have 5 certifications or be able to say I architected a huge flux capacitor enterprise level CRM MOSS portal. It’s just not me.

I like to get my hands dirty doing things like setting up builds, making sure unit tests run, facilitating communication by creating a wiki no one but me will ever read (if I set up a wiki and no one reads it, is it still communication?) These aren’t things that get you an MVP. But they are things that long term will make your software better. In the end, it’s good that I don’t want to be an expert. I’m not nearly smart enough. I make up for smarts by doing the dirty work. I’ll have to leave the hard stuff to the experts.