Monday, March 24, 2008

My Years of Experience - An Interview Gone Wrong

so I am just now catching up with some posting that I was fixing to do some time ago. I was reading an interesting article over at Coding Horror pertaining to the myth that when hiring someone it really matters how many years experience that they have listed on their resume. I have to say that for a variety of reasons I could not agree with the premise of this post more. Lemme provide a little background on my last search for a position:

The Setup

I was out shopping for a job and decided this time that I would give a head hunting company a try. I know, I can hear lots of people yelling "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO why would you do such a stupid thing" don't worry, in this case I got one of the "good" companies (JSync). JSync in this case told me that they had several positions currently hiring - one of the opportunities was a position at the Philadelphia Stock Exchange. It seemed like it would be an interesting and challenging place to work. It also seemed as if the description of the position was exactly what I was looking for, the PSE was looking for a talented Java engineer that had X number of years experience with a smattering of other experience required (tomcat and a few other items included) I personally and reflexively skimmed over the total years required and moved right into the things that I didn't have background in to validate that I could learn them without too much effort all seemed in good order as far as I was concerned. JSync set up a PHONE SCREEN that turned out to be anything but.

The Call

The call started while I was out on lunch (specifically because I did not want to have that conversation in the same building I was working at to avoid conflict of interest and all that). The conversation start out well introductions and pleasantries aside the tech guys started their questioning. The questions started out small and my expectation was that they were going to get bigger, instead the questions dove ever increasingly into the extremely minor details of certain items. PSE was interested in the minutia and academia about java and tomcat and a whole bunch of other items. I was one the phone for over an hour. I finally had to stop the interview/phone screen and thank them for taking the time to talk to me but it did not sound like I was the person they were looking for. I interpreted that experience to say that they were interested in someone with either more experience OR someone who knew things that are easily found in a book or on the web. What they seemed not interested in was my ability to learn and self start. Rather then be interested in the process that I go through to gain knowledge in new technology and process.

Jeff states in his article:
"what software developers do best is learn. Employers should be looking for passionate, driven, flexible self-educators who have a proven ability to code in whatever language -- and serving them up interesting projects they can engage with."

This is what I think the interview, er, um, I mean phone screen at PSE should have been attempting to ferret out. Can I learn what I need to in order to do the job that the PSE would need me to do. Their screening process, I do not think, came anywhere even close and as a result left me feeling like the interview was a bust overall. I neither got the job or an offer, I just didn't measure up to their 'experience expectations'.

So if you are in a hiring mode what would you rather have - someone that has experience in software programming or someone who can pick up and use anything with ease and speed when the task at hand calls for it. Would you rather have someone stuck in their way of doing things or someone who can utilize any tool to approach and solve the problem at hand.

Jeff notes:
"No matter how many years of "experience" another programmer has under their belt, there's about even odds that they have no idea what they're doing. This is why working programmers quickly learn to view their peers with a degree of world-weary skepticism. Perhaps it's the only rational response when the disconnect between experience and skill is so pervasive in the field of software engineering."

So like Jeff I pose the question, if you are looking for a job, why would you want to approach a company who is still using the 'years of experience myth' to do their job posting and searching. Like Jeff I find the attempt to be a simply ignorant move to weed out people that the companies think are all fluff and no stuff. Rather you should look for companies are searching for passionate people with a desire to learn. Companies should look for people that have a modicum of experience (6 months to a year) and consider their full experience as a programmer, the "learning range" of the person they are attempting to hire and search for excellence in that area.

In the end if your looking for a job, you'll be much happier and satisfied with the interview when the items above are what the company is interested in... if you are the company doing the hiring you will be much more pleased with the result of your hiring efforts when it comes down to doing actual work in new and creative ways.
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