Category Archives: Career

So You Think You Want To Write Code?

Intro

I had the opportunity to present a couple of sessions at the inaugural Dev Fest Fam conference today.

I’ll predict your next question: “Is this what has been keeping you from posting  the sequel to 2014 Developer Learning Guide Part 1?” The honest answer is no. I’ve been busy, it’s true, but I want the next installment of this post to be very good so I’ve been particular about publishing it until it is 100% ready.

#DevFestFam

http://devfestfam.com/#sessions

This conference is a fantastic idea! It was put on by a couple of local Google User Groups and hosted at Utah Valley University. For a first time conference, it was great and I have the feeling it will only get better. The beauty of it, was that coders/programmers/developers/engineers were to bring not only their spouse or significant other, but also their kids.

I took 3 of my own and they LOVED IT. My 10-year-old daughter coded all night long until it was time for her to go to bed after we came home! So cool!

My first session, “So You Think You Want To Write Code?” was a big hit and well attended:

session attendance
Almost a full house!

 

The second was at the end of the day and was titled: “Websites for Smarties”. It was a beginners hands-on-session teaching the basics of HTML. I used w3schools and Google Sites  as resources for teaching. I won’t post more on that here.

So You Think You Want To Write Code? Resources

The slides from my session “So You Think You Want to Write Code?” at Dev Fest Fam 2014 for kids age 8 and up.

 

The videos played:

 

I also handed out a flyer with the following information.

Online Resources
Code.org – code.org
Codecademy – codecademy.com
Pluralsight: Free Courses for Kids – http://www.pluralsight.com/training/Kids
Kids Ruby – kidsruby.com

Languages/Platforms
Scratch – scratch.mit.edu
Hopscotch – gethopscotch.com
Alice – alice.org

Other
BOOK: Snake Wrangling for Kids – http://briggs.net.nz/snake-wrangling-for-kids.html
GAME: Hakitzu Elite: Robot Hackers – Google Play and iTunes
MORE RESOURCES: http://happynerds.net/

Interview/Hire Great Devs: Part 1

Hiring great technical people starts and ends with making a great impression on the best people. This means you have to get the best people in the door.  Once you have hired some of “the best”, your team will attract more of the same but starting out can be difficult. This post focuses on what to do once you’ve attracted their initial interest. I’m specifically covering interviewing and hiring awesome developers, but much of this is applicable across technical disciplines and other skilled positions.

Initial Phase: Resume/Profile Screening

Know What You Are Looking For

NYSpyglassStart the process by knowing what kind of great technical people you are looking for. Are you looking for great young talent that is unafraid of making mistakes? Or tried and tested people who account for exceptions before they arise? Are you looking for teachers or learners (or both)? Do they need certain specific skills or only the great desire and ability to learn, grow, and improve? What is the near, mid, and long term composition of your team?

Many questions should be asked and those questions don’t always have a clear answer. Do you need a consultant or full-time hire to help determine what you are looking for?

Be able to narrow your search quickly based on your must-have criteria and let the rest be discussion points during later phases of the hiring process. Don’t spend more than 5 minutes per resume, LinkedIn profile, or StackOverflow Careers profile weeding out the “No Call” people. It should be obvious because you already know what you are looking for.

I recommend creating two Top 5 lists to assist with knowing what you are looking for. The number of items on the list isn’t the focus. Use 3 or 7 or whatever suits you. It’s the exercise that is important. Write down 5 must-have attributes and 5 must-not-have attributes. Use these lists during initial screening. Pass on anyone with less than 4 must haves or more that 1 must-not-have.

Second Phase: Phone/Online

Personality First

Phone screen or Skype/Hangout for personality and team fit first. I prefer to see people face to face but this isn’t always possible. If you are starting a new team, this phase is even more important. The person you are screening should be someone you can see yourself having an interesting conversation with over lunch. You will be spending a lot of time together building a team. Getting along well is vitally important.

Split PersonalityThe personality screen doesn’t need to be long. Maybe 15-30 minutes. If it goes well, move on to the next phase without hesitation. If is doesn’t, this is the end of the road for this candidate regardless of their other credentials. This may seem extreme or harsh but honestly it saves your time and effort as well as the candidate’s.

On the flip side of this is the importance of representing the culture and personality of your group as accurately as possible. Talk about your goals and aspirations as a team and as a company. This gives the candidate an opportunity to self-select out of the hiring process as well. You don’t want to hire people who won’t be happy in your environment. Honesty is definitely the best policy.

If you are looking for a leader (or emerging leader) this is also the time to make a early assessment of the candidate’s ability to fill this role. Confidence and charisma matter more here that they might otherwise.

The Learning/Knowing Equation

A technical (and partly cultural) phone/online screen of the people you think might be a good personality fit is the logical next step. The interview should be performed by a trusted technical member of your team. This phase is going to go back to the first section because you must know what you are looking for. Rank candidates based on that knowledge.

That said, don’t hold out for a “unicorn”. For our purposes, a unicorn is a developer who knows your tech stack inside-out, knows your business, and knows what you need to do to solve all your current and future problems. I believe unicorns can be developed if you hire people with the right potential, but they cannot be found and hired. At some point the mask comes off.

unicornDeveloper

With this in mind, your focus should be on the candidate’s ability to learn and on gauging what they already know and their ability to teach it. These traits are and probably always will be vital for a technology employee. Of course you’d like someone with experience in some of your technology. The point here is not to miss out on someone who is a fantastic learner/teacher and doesn’t check all of the other boxes on your checklist.

teaching LearningI describe this second screening as partly cultural for a reason. Your interviewer should be verifying that the candidate not only can learn and adapt quickly, but also if they enjoy learning and adapting quickly. When going through the things they do know, the interviewer should look for something they are personally less familiar with. They then can encourage the candidate to teach it to them.  Remember to discover if the candidate is not only capable of teaching but also if they enjoy it. The collaboration component is important.

There are great tools to help with this phase. A good screen-sharing app like GoToMeeting, Skype, or Screen Hero is the best way to do some quick pairing on a simple problem. The problem should be something the candidate may not be wholly familiar with so that their capability of dealing with the unknown can be assessed. That said, this should still be fairly short and sweet. 30-45 minutes tops.

If it seems like this is a good possible fit, personally invite the candidate to visit your facility. If you don’t have a facility, invite them to lunch. If you are looking at remote or relocation hires and the position is permanent, you should arrange transportation/lodging. Under no circumstances should you ever make an offer at this point in the process.

The candidate should have a clear and concise understanding of the next steps at this point. If you are unsure if you should move on to in-person contact, the answer is no.

Part 2 Coming Soon

I will cover the particulars of the types of things you should be doing to “Hire Awesome” in the in person interviews. No specific date, but stay tuned. In the meantime, I’d love to see your thoughts and comments here or on Twitter.

When To Quit Your Job

A friend asked for my advice on this subject recently:

I’m kind of thinking about changing jobs. I’m doing good at [COMPANY] so no concerns there. I would honestly rather be working in the software and technology space, instead of the financial industry. […] The other factor is that I’m not in an area where I can attend conferences and be involved in a good development community. I’ve only been at [COMPANY] for [less than 12] months. What do you think?

While I was flattered to be asked for such personal advice, I’m not really qualified to say what’s best for anyone. Maybe not even myself. Remember this.

The following is the philosophy that I try to follow in terms of changing jobs in case helps anyone.

When To Leave

First, as anyone I’ve talked with about this will tell you, I’m a big proponent of changing jobs at least every 3-4 years.

Departures

In our profession, this helps us remain fresh and exposes us to new tech/architectures/ideas in a way that is hard to ignore. This is a good thing. My general rule holds unless there are special circumstances. For example: vesting concerns, when nearing retirement, or another important life event. I’ll also interview every year or two in order to keep my interviewee skills honed and because it helps me to be a better interviewer when I’m performing interviews at my current company.

When To Stay

As for a shorter end of the tenure spectrum, I usually will stay a minimum of 1-2 years.

Again, this is a rule of thumb. I’m not going to cover all of the exceptions here. If circumstances like a hostile work environment or an amazing new opportunity came up, I would consider breaking it. I have a friend who left a company after a couple months once because it ended up being hostile. I can’t imagine any decent future employer who would fault him for this. However, it is the only instance like this in his career. An established pattern of “hostile” work environments is a read flag all by itself.

If you are making an immediate decision, sleep on it. One more night can help organize your thoughts and shouldn’t hurt anyone involved.

Regrets
Don’t make a hasty decision you might regret.

As for my recommendations, the first year is basically for resume purposes… taking a full-time employee position and then quitting before a year is up might make some employers question the value of going through the cost and effort of bringing you on. It may even be “interview prohibitive”.

The second year and beyond is often when I find that I learn the most about a business, can contribute the most (due to knowledge, trust/influence earned). It is also when I solidify relationships with people I work with.

Contracts

MercenaryAll of this is basically thrown out the window for contract positions. Contractors are expected to be mercenaries, to an extent, and might switch companies/projects every month without much scrutiny. I think there are some interesting things to be learned from that as well but I don’t have a lot of personal experience. I’ve considered joining a firm similar to Catapult or StG that sends contractors out to multiple companies and has a bench program for downtime. I believe it would be a valuable experience.

Summary

So the short version is: except for contracts, aim for a 1-4 year stay whenever starting a new job. Commit to this mentally, or don’t accept the offer. An exception could definitely be made in either direction under the right circumstances, but don’t plan on it. In practice, I have stayed at each of my gigs for 2-3 years without exception.

In my friend’s case, his company/team doesn’t match the values he wished they had and isn’t working on anything terribly interesting. Also, he is considering leaving the area. Not an emergency per se, but not great either.

My advice to him was to stick it out until a year is up while doing his best to influence change at the company. If things don’t start to improve in that time-frame, (i.e. if he felt he wasn’t having a positive impact) start looking.

Again, I’m not really qualified to advise anyone on their particular situation. I do believe these ideas have value and should be discussed.

 

I Like Food

Hopefully this article isn’t as banal as the title suggests. “I like food” is what I say when someone in the office asks me to join them for lunch (usually).

Why?

food-question-mark-628x363

 

Because I like my teammates? Sure.

Because I’m hungry? Usually.

Because I like food? Also true.

Because want to enhance my relationship with my coworkers and build camaraderie among the group? Getting warmer but not quite. The familiarity that comes from knowing someone outside of work does tend to humanize them and help with relationships and camaraderie (and all those touchy-feely things we engineers aren’t supposed to care about because we’rerobotswhoonlyknowhowtowritecodeanddrinkmountaindewandurinateinemptybiggulps).

In my experience, the real benefit is in improvements to communication and cohesiveness. It’s in the ability we gain to understand each other as people, to know our strengths and weaknesses, to use shorthand in communication, to avoid causing or taking offense, and to just be more effective working together. Whenever possible, I like to participate in non-work activities with my brothers-and-sisters-in-code (and sometimes with others at the company as well) because it makes us more effective. Good companies/managers understand this concept and go out of their way to engage teams in “teambuilding”. This can be a dirty word in the wrong environment. Don’t work in that environment!

ready_to_eat

So unless I have an important errand to run or previous plans, invite me to lunch. I like food.

Thermonuclear War: Or How To Make Recruiters Behave

If you’ve ever posted a technology-related resume on Monster, Dice, LinkedIn, or any number of job board sites, you know that tech recruiters/headhunters can be a huge time sink. We spend time building an online reputation and sometimes it seems that our only reward is to be bombarded by calls and emails from people who barely grasp computer basics let alone the complex work that we do.

Recruiters Want You!

My take on recruiters varies. Some are spambots (or just as annoying) and many don’t understand our industry very well having only memorized a few buzzwords so they can “sound” knowledgeable. These are the emails and calls we get regarding positions for project management, that esoteric language we had 6 months of experience with 8 years ago, or some other equally random position.

The trouble is, when you’re looking for work (or worse, out of work), recruiters can be something of a necessary evil. Also, in the current job market, I’ve had the occasion to point several unemployed friends to specific jobs that had been forwarded to me by recruiters.

There are also an elite few technical recruiters who have worked in the tech industry and ACTUALLY GET IT. These recruiters can be valuable allies and will only work with quality positions/professionals/companies. Having a few in your email and LinkedIn contact lists is highly recommended. They can advise you on preparing for your interviews and help negotiate acceptable salaries. Most importantly, they point you to positions that are exactly what you are looking for in every respect.

My advice is to start building a list of recruiters you feel comfortable working with now and filtering out those who spam you or merely fail to stand out from the crowd. I know that networking is distasteful to many technical people, but it is worth the time it takes in terms of finding interesting, meaningful, and lucrative work with people and companies that you like.

Here are a few tips to get you started:

Thermonuclear War

  1. Unsubscribe from automated emails. This will save many hours of headaches reading job descriptions that are barely related to your skills. If this does not have the desired effect, filter them to spam.
  2. Be direct with recruiters. Tell them exactly the kind of positions you are interested in. Include background, preferred companies, technologies, and locations. See Example 1.
  3. Don’t be a complete jerk. Like everyone else in the world, technical recruiters are trying to earn their paychecks… Also, if you make a name for yourself as being difficult to work with, the best recruiters will avoid you.
  4. Proactively manage your recruiting contacts. Let recruiters know your policy of not working with them if they aren’t useful and nuke the ones that have been ineffective. See Example 2.
  5. Follow through. This probably goes without saying, but stick to your guns! There are plenty of recruiters out there, choose to work only with the best!

EXAMPLE 1: An approach I took when looking for work (but not too urgently).

Subject: Opportunity Search and New Resume/CV

As may you know, my current employer has recently performed layoffs. I still work for the company but I’m seriously entertaining other options at this time.

Management has always interested me and my experience has grown in this area so I will be focusing my search on leadership roles (Software Development Manager and equivalent). I am willing to relocate to make this career jump and am searching far and wide but I am particularly interested in opportunities in the states of Utah, Texas, Oregon, and Washington. I am mainly interested in permanent positions but contract-to-hire could be acceptable as well.

I’m attaching two recently updated copies of my resume for your review. Please note that one is management focused and the other is software engineering focused. All of the differences between the two resumes are on the first page. As always, I welcome any and all feedback: positive or negative.

Sincerely,

William Munn

EXAMPLE 2: Clearing out ineffective recruiters now that I am settled in my new position.

Subject: Recruiters/Talent Sourcers

Friends,

You may not have noticed, but I’ve recently trimmed my LinkedIn contacts to remove people I have little connection with and that includes about half of the recruiters who were connections. I’m trying to keep the list more clean and will continue to blow the cobwebs out of the corners occasionally.

The point of this email: If you and I have ever worked together and it resulted in my being offered an opportunity with a company, GOOD NEWS! I probably won’t be removing you… ever (but don’t let that stop you from writing a recommendation for me)  Those of you who haven’t, you should consider this notice that you might want to find a good reason to stand out in my mind from time to time or I will likely drop you as a connection in the next 6 to 12 months. This will be even more difficult because I’m happy with my job and not currently looking for a change of any kind. Most of you have already done this to an extent or I would have cleaned you out with the recruiters who made no impression on me at all. You are the cream of the crop. The best of the best. Insert more Top Gun references here!

I know this is very blunt and probably a bit brash as well but I feel it needs to be done. Remember, I’m still more than happy to stay in contact with professionals who I feel can bring something to the table that might be interesting to myself or my large pool of talented former/current work colleagues. I know I’ve alternated the tone of this message between serious and lighthearted but I assure you I am very committed to working with people who have something serious to offer. Just keep in mind that this is an ongoing initiative for me and my memory is short!

All the best!

Sincerely,

William Munn

Please email or tweet me your comments and suggestions on how you manage recruiters and I will update this post with the best of them. My contact details are available on my profile website http://www.dubmun.com

P.S. Special thanks to my proofreaders: Dwayne, Kelly, and Jeff!