Software Recruitment Is Broken

I read an article recently on TechCrunch by a guy Danny Crichton which put into words something I noticed about the field of software development — it can be, at times, incredibly elitist, self-congratulatory, pathologically suspicious of the credentials of its practitioners and demographically homogeneous.

I’m lucky enough to work for a company that doesn’t use these practices but you only have to look at the recruitment practices of some other software companies; multiple interviews conducted remotely and in person spanning several weeks, the inquisition of whiteboard architecting, an obsession with technical minutiae and obscure algorithm pop questions. Very quickly you start to get the feeling that you are seen as guilty of being a spoofer, a charlatan, a fraud, a chancer, until proven innocent.

Forget what your CV says, or what you say your experience is, every potential hire is also a potential liar, and should be set traps that they must avoid to be proven worthy. While interviewers would no doubt disagree, this is a hazing culture. There is no better way to describe it.

What is most remarkable about this is that these are technology companies whose work by its very nature is (hopefully) precise, detailed and methodical. How surprising then that they rely on such unscientific and demeaning techniques for finding potential new hires.

Often, the recruitment literature is dressed up in terms like “changing the world” and “doing something really meaningful.” I’m pretty sure Facebook, AirBnB and Uber said something similar, and there is uproar at present about their unethical business practices.

Another bugbear is the much sought-after “culture fit.” What does that even mean? It’s either someone who works hard, is conscientious and ambitious, in which case that’s everyone who ever applied for a job. Often times I think its something more insidious, looking for someone who fits and perpetuates the status quo within a company. Surely, diversity of ideation is the key goal here, not hiring a cohort of tech bros who all high five each other after a successful deployment and get shitfaced playing beer-pong every Friday.

Some really good techies interview really badly, due to anxiety or impostor syndrome, and the typical interview set up doesn’t seem far off a police interrogation room, so a more radical or compassionate approach might work more effectively, like placing the candidate into a live project — not so much that they can steal proprietary IP or bring down a service, but get a feel for how well the candidate gets on with the other team, is able to ramp-up and is comfortable with the technology they say they are.

I know this might sound like pie-in-the-sky stuff, but recruiting tech folk is hard, expensive and time consuming as it is. You can’t always trust who recruiters are sending you as they are essentially GREP’ing LinkedIn profiles and forwarding the results. Acknowledging the human factor, and the fact these candidates are not interchangeable parts in a machine might lead to a better outcome for employer and employee.