Ayende @ Rahien

It's a girl

There is no WE in a Job Interview

This is a pet peeve of mine. When interviewing candidates, I’m usually asking some variant of “tell me about a feature you developed that you are proud of”. I’m using this question to gauge several metrics. Things like what is the candidate actually proud of, what was he working on, are they actually proud of what they did?

One of the more annoying tendencies is  for a candidate to give a reply in the form of “what we did was…”. In particular if s/he goes on to never mention something that s/he specifically did. And no, “led the Xyz team in…” is a really bad example.  I’m not hiring your team, in which case I might actually be interested in that. I’m actually interested in the candidate, personally. And if the candidate won’t tell me what it was that s/he did, I’m going to wonder if they played Solitaire all day.

Comments

Phillip Haydon
08/18/2014 09:23 AM by
Phillip Haydon

Hmmm I understand your peeve, but on the flip side it's actually good if what the candidate told you was that he was working collectively as a team being involved in the creation of a feature they were proud of.

No point in hiring a top notch dev if he can't work as a team player.

If that makes sense.

Mathew McLoughlin
08/18/2014 09:33 AM by
Mathew McLoughlin

It could just as easily be a case of wanting to be modest.

kristof
08/18/2014 09:46 AM by
kristof

Maybe he's just a good team player. Although if you are, you can always specify what your role and ideas were... Sometimes people perform better in team, than just being alone. However, there are cases that you'll have a strong individual performer!... Difficult to notice, just on the 'We'-specifics. I take it you've questioned him more thoroughly?

Jef Claes
08/18/2014 10:25 AM by
Jef Claes

I wonder if this says something about the company culture at Hibernating Rhinos.

Tudor
08/18/2014 10:34 AM by
Tudor

In many companies, a developer rarely has the chance to develop a entire feature of an application alone - usually it's a team involved - a Db dev. working on stored procedures, a front-end dev. working on the UI, 2-3 developers working together at the business logic etc..

Craig
08/18/2014 10:48 AM by
Craig

If the person talks about "we" that's generally a good first impression to me as long as they can also back it up with individual contributions that they made.

Jason Evans
08/18/2014 10:49 AM by
Jason Evans

I don't seen an issue with stating something like

"In my last team, we implemented a new caching infrastructure....."

as long as the candidate can follow up that statement with, for example, "My focus was on building a new serialization component, using technology X, which significantly improved performance of sending blobs over the wire by 20%"

So, basically, we now know this person is a team player, but also we have some insight as to exactly what they did on that team, for that particular project.

Jakub Konecki
08/18/2014 12:12 PM by
Jakub Konecki

I agree with the previous comments. However, I've seen enough CVs someone worked on something that turned out that they were just sitting next to the guy who did it.

I think that's what Ayende is trying to say: screening out people who claim they did something they actually didn't do.

Mike Henderson
08/18/2014 12:33 PM by
Mike Henderson

I wonder how a person would answer if they came from a pair programming environment. I have don't do pair programming, nor am I a fan. But if a someone was working in a shop that practiced pair programming in its most strict form, could one honestly answer "I wrote X" to your question?

James McKay
08/18/2014 12:49 PM by
James McKay

@Mike: In that case, I assume the appropriate approach would be to talk about your hobby projects (which, as Ayende has previously stated, are a mandatory requirement at Hibernating Rhinos.)

Tyler
08/18/2014 02:45 PM by
Tyler

I'm damned if I do but more damned if we don't? Hahaha...

Be a team player. Don't use the "I" word. Say "we." These are the lingua franca of the modern IT world.

Don't be too hard on people who find it difficult now to speak in the first person singular. ;-)

Ryan Heath
08/18/2014 03:00 PM by
Ryan Heath

We do that talk all the time ;)

// Ryan

Steve S
08/18/2014 03:07 PM by
Steve S

You guys are reading way too much into this. Oren is looking for exactly what he says he is looking for. He wants someone who is as smart and arrogant as himself. :-)

But I agree with the other commenters... saying 'we' isn't bad, I'll follow up asking about the how and why to see what they actually did and if it's a senior position the why... did they understand what was the point, or were they just following orders?

Kijana Woodard
08/18/2014 03:51 PM by
Kijana Woodard

"If the person talks about "we" that's generally a good first impression to me as long as they can also back it up with individual contributions that they made."

THIS.

FWIW, I kinda wish that software was built by teams instead of by individuals sitting at their own desks.

Right now, "team" means we occasionally get together in order to recommit ourselves to: - upholding Conway's Law - success! - disproving The Mythical Man Month - failure. :-[

Kijana Woodard
08/18/2014 03:52 PM by
Kijana Woodard

"In many companies, a developer rarely has the chance to develop a entire feature of an application alone - usually it's a team involved - a Db dev. working on stored procedures, a front-end dev. working on the UI, 2-3 developers working together at the business logic etc.."

Shoot. Me. Now.

João Bragança
08/18/2014 04:37 PM by
João Bragança

I think there is a slight miscommunication; the interviewee clearly meant the royal we.

Kirill Osenkov
08/18/2014 05:22 PM by
Kirill Osenkov

Use "she" or "he" when talking about candidates, otherwise there might be an impression that you only consider male candidates.

Ayende Rahien
08/18/2014 06:44 PM by
Ayende Rahien

Phillip, I can live with people with no human interaction skills, assuming they are good. It is better if they can work in a team, no questions about it. But the problem with the WE style is that it is often the case that there isn't really a great deal of value in a particular person. Even if the team is great, and I had the chance of working with great teams, but decomposed, it basically fell down to people who were very effective doing what they were currently doing, but they had a lot of luck to fall into a sweet spot of team talents, architecture and requirements. Pull them out, and they didn't have any qualitative edge over any other candidate.

Ayende Rahien
08/18/2014 06:45 PM by
Ayende Rahien

Mathew, I ask specific questions to try to narrow it down. What did you did? What was your role in this effort, etc.

Ayende Rahien
08/18/2014 06:47 PM by
Ayende Rahien

Tudor, In that case, great. That means that they have a lot of devs that can't do the work we need them to do. That means that we won't be hiring them. We don't have any position for UI dev or a DB dev. I have a guy at work who worked one day on memory pressure for high ingest rate and a couple of days later on the screen layout for sql replication editor screen. I want to have fully rounded people.

Ayende Rahien
08/18/2014 06:49 PM by
Ayende Rahien

Mike, Yes, they could. Because they could say stuff I worked on this feature as part of a pair. I figured out that...

Consider the case of really good pair, composed of one excellent dev and one semi literate one. On the outside, they are excellent. Would you want to hire the second one?

Ayende Rahien
08/18/2014 06:52 PM by
Ayende Rahien

Kirill, I explicitly used "s/he" to denote both sexes. Note that in my native tongue, unspecified gender is usually male. "Here is a dog" (which would be male by default) "Here is a cat" (female by default)

"I want a developer" (male by default, referring to both genders.

Brian
08/21/2014 03:24 PM by
Brian

Personally I wouldn't put too much weight on their use of either term "we" or "I". If they say "I" there's just as much of a chance that they're taking credit for work others did. It's on you to uncover as much of the real story as you can based on further probing questions and your other "forced demonstrations".

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