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  1. Do You Need a Degree to be Hired to Develop Software?
  2. Three Ways to Answer “Tell Me Something No One Knows About You”
  3. Managing Expectations Between Two Internal Candidates
  4. Series on Hiring Technical People
  5. 7 Tips to Starting a Job Search
  6. More Recent Articles
  7. Search Johanna Rothman, Management Consultant » HTP
  8. Prior Mailing Archive

Do You Need a Degree to be Hired to Develop Software?

I retweeted a link to Here’s a Thing: There’s No Correlation Between a College Degree and Coding Ability. I was a bit surprised by some of the reactions to that link.

One colleague said, “I question whether people who wait until a college assignment to learn to code have the same obsessive interest in the topic.”

I was quite surprised. Back when I went to college, people didn’t have access to computers except in school. And, what about those of us who only discovered programming by accident, say our sophomore year in school (me), or a few years later (another colleague)? Would a hiring manager penalize us for not knowing about programming when we were 12?

Do developers need an “obsessive” interest in programming? I don’t think so.

When I hired developers, I looked for a number of preferences, qualities, and non-technical skills:

  • Ability to learn our system fast
  • Ability to get along with the rest of the team
  • Ability to take feedback and provide feedback
  • Problem-solving abilities in several domains: ways to look at both technical and non-technical tradeoffs
  • More things depending on the role and environment

Of course, I looked for technical skills also:

  • Ability to explain their code to me and others
  • We always did a technical audition, so we could see somebody’s technical skills at work
  • Ability to explain how their code fit into the whole of the system they were working on at the time
  • More things depending on the role and environment

In all the time I hired developers (about 10 years), I never made a college degree a requirement. Nor did I make obsessive interest in coding a requirement.

One guy came into my (quite technical) software testing team via the IT group. He had a high school diploma. He’d been automating scripts for IT and was looking to expand his skills.

He automated everything he had to do more than once. He was fast. He was great. He was a sponge. He learned everything we could teach him, and then he taught the rest of us.

I’d been giving him raises all along because he proved his value. I tried to give him a specific raise because he was worth it. HR didn’t let me because he had no degree. I ranted and raved, and lost that battle. By this time, he’d worked in our group for a couple of years. I suggested he consider a bachelor’s degree. Not because it would make him more marketable. But, because it would allow me and any future managers to pay him what he was worth.

I had a colleague at a previous job who had no degree. He was a whiz at embedded systems. He was terrific at discovering the technical details that would make or break a system. He was great at coding, at iterative design, and incrementally building things that were resilient. I’m not sure how he got into software, but he was great at it.

I’ve also seen people with and without degrees who have no idea about the hardware architecture that they work on. I’ve seen people who had no idea how to design for performance or testing. They had degrees from accredited universities. Often, their degrees were much newer than mine (1977).

A degree is a sign of perseverance. It has little or no bearing on whether someone’s code will work. (See Hiring Geeks That Fit for other suggestions of what to filter on, aside from degrees.)

If you make a degree necessary for your candidates, you are unnecessarily filtering some great people out. Why do that?

Your career has taken some path. Don’t think everyone else’s career should take the same path. We are all wonderfully unique. Hire for uniqueness, and you might just create a great team.

    

Three Ways to Answer “Tell Me Something No One Knows About You”

Hiring managers who haven’t read Hiring Geeks That Fit are now asking another irrelevant question:

Tell me something no one else knows about you.

Now, in case you aren’t sure, this is an irrelevant question. It doesn’t directly help an interviewer learn how the candidate can perform the work or fit with the team. It doesn’t help the candidate learn about the job. That means it’s irrelevant.

However, if you are looking for a job, you can use this question. I would focus the question back at the work. Here are some ways to answer this question:

  • Tell a personal story about how you exhibited problem-solving or fit with a team. Something that you know or suspect the interviewer is looking for.
  • If this is a first question, ask the interviewer, “What does success look like for this job? I can tell you how I did something like that in the past.” If you do have that experience on your resume, point to it.
  • Think back to the value you bring to an organization. Now, think of a personal story that shows one or more of those values.

Answer this question with a story. Your interviewer is looking for something personal.

If you’re not sure how to answer or define your value, look at Manage Your Job Search. I have a number of examples of how to answer irrelevant questions.

    

Managing Expectations Between Two Internal Candidates

You have an open position. You have two internal candidates. You’re going to hire one of them. (See Two Candidates, One Position.) Now you have a problem. You have one person who will not be happy. This often occurs when you have two candidates for technical leadership or management positions.

You might have a political problem. You certainly have a challenge. How can you “save” both people?

This is a management and expectation problem.

You need to clarify to yourself first, why you want to hire one person over the other. Once you understand your thinking, you can set expectations with both candidates.

Here are some scenarios:

  1. One candidate is ready for the new position. That candidate has demonstrated that he or she can already do the work required. The other candidate is not quite ready. In this case, you owe the not-quite-ready candidate coaching, if the candidate wants it. You also owe the candidate specific examples of what he or she can do to be ready the next time.
  2. Neither candidate is quite ready, but you think one candidate has more potential. In this case, you might need to change the job description. You will have to coach the candidate you hire. You will have to manage expectations with the other candidate and offer coaching.
  3. Neither candidate is good enough for the role. You will expand the search outside the organization. In this case, both candidates need feedback and coaching.

Note that in all cases, you can reset expectations and “save” the other candidate with feedback and coaching. That’s just the first step.

You can fix these problems if you have an expertise criteria chart for all your positions, individual contributor and leadership/managerial.

An expertise criteria chart explains what people need to have demonstrated to achieve a certain level. These criteria are all about the non-technical skills, qualities, and preferences for the role. Sometimes, HR wants to put an education component in the role. I find education is irrelevant. These criteria are about accomplishments.

The expertise criteria arise from your job analysis. What qualities, preferences, and non-technical skills do you want people to have in your organization? Here is an example:

You might value the ability of someone to coach other people. In that case, a junior person can be coached. A mid-level person can coach one or two people about something he or she knows well. A senior person can coach a team, regardless of the domain. A manager would be able to coach about career development in addition to the other coaching.

Now, people can see where they fall in the criteria. Someone who has not tried coaching peers is not ready for a senior position, regardless of other experience—if that is what is valuable to you.

What do you do with the candidate who didn’t get the job? Offer to provide coaching for the pieces of the job that the candidate was not qualified to perform. it doesn’t matter if that candidate wants coaching from you or not. It’s about providing coaching.

Whatever you do, do not say, “You’re too valuable where you are.” A manager said that to me years ago, and I was almost out the door when my new boss started. She had gotten the position.

She said, “Let me coach you and give you feedback so you can do this job in a year.” I agreed, and she showed me what great managers do and don’t do. I learned a ton under her tutelage. I worked for her for more than a year, quite happily.

Know that you will have a disappointed candidate, as well as a happy candidate. Prepare for the conversations and make sure you have internal candidates who can meet the criteria. Don’t lose the disappointed candidate—offer feedback, coaching, and a knowledge of the expertise they need to show before you consider them for another position.

    

Series on Hiring Technical People

Have you seen Nick Korbel’s series about hiring techies? See On Hiring Techies.

There are several posts:

  • Evaluate Potential, Not Accomplishments. He’s talking about evaluating qualities, preferences, and non-technical skills.
  • Coding Challenge: A pre-interview audition. The cool thing is that they then discuss the audition in the interview.
  • The Team Interview. I dislike panel interviews. It sounds as if Nick has some positive experience with it. I prefer one-on-one interviews with an interview matrix to organize the interviewing. One thing I do like is that Nick says the entire team must agree with the hire. (Yes—Fist pump!)
  • Hire For Cultural Fit. Nick says, “I can teach someone a new technology. I cannot teach someone how to fit into our culture.” Believe it.

If you want to see some of my posts, check out:

Skills for 2013: It’s Not About Tools or Technology

Three Tips to Streamline Your Interviews and Auditions, Part 4. Also, check out my audition tag.

Assign Roles for Group/Panel Interviews and Plan for an Interview with an Interview Matrix

My own cultural fit posts:

HiringGeeksThatFit.150 You can always get your own copy of Hiring Geeks That Fit. It explains everything all in one place.

    

7 Tips to Starting a Job Search

Do you have a resolution to find a new job this year? Check out these tips for a better, streamlined job search.

  1. Develop your LinkedIn Profile along with your resume. You need both. You might want to read 7 LinkedIn Profile Tips and Tricks in 2014 That Make a Difference. You  cannot afford to ignore LinkedIn. It is just as important as your resume. And, you don’t need the same information in each. You don’t have the room on a resume. You do have the room on LinkedIn.
  2. Consider who you want to ask for references, and contact them first. You may want to have several sets of references if you are not sure exactly what new role you want. If you contact your references first, you can discuss with them this question, “What will you say as my reference?”
  3. Network in person, as well as online. I meet people all the time who think they can network online, and never leave the house. Nope, networking doesn’t work that way. You need to meet people. They need to see who you are, in person. That leads to the next tip.
  4. Assess your appearance. You do not need to have 6-pack abs. You do not have to have a $300 haircut. However, you do need to look put together and clean, whenever you leave the house and network or interview. Do your teeth need a cleaning? Do you need a haircut? Do you have professional-looking clothes? Even if you are a developer and you normally dress in jeans and a ratty t-shirt, that outfit is not acceptable for job searching. Make sure your clothes are at least business casual. Everything needs to fit and be clean. So do you. You want to be able to smile and not worry about your teeth, your body odor or anything. Don’t be distracted by your appearance; focus on meeting people when you network and the interview when you get one.
  5. Develop a target network list. Your target network is the list of 25 organizations that you might want to work for. If you can’t find 25 organizations, is your role too constrained? Is your role no longer something organizations pay for? Do you need to change what you do?
  6. Work on your job search each day. You don’t have to go to a networking every night. You don’t have to participate in online groups or work on open source projects every day. But, if you are not working on your job search: determining how to meet people on your target list, improving your resume or LinkedIn profile, somehow connecting with people, you are not working on your job search.
  7. Make sure you have created small enough chunks of work so you can succeed with your job search. I like personal kanban for this. With small chunks of work, you can see your progress, and see how to review your progress.

I hope you like these tips. If you want more help with your job search, read Manage Your Job Search.

    

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