Social Profile – Interviewing – Part 3

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This is a continuation in the series of Interviewing.. Here are the first two parts Part 1, Part 2

I’ve shared my views about the recruitment process in general and the absence of actual coding/programming for programmers. In this topic lets talk about resumes.

What are resumes for.. to define one’s body of work and experiences that one has had in his career/lifetime. They give a glimpse of what the person has been doing in their lives till then.

By looking at a resume (in software industry) you can say that a person is interested in Java/.Net/Ruby and understand that he’s executed multiple projects in these technologies. And most importantly (and mostly useless..) his number of years of experience.  They effectively become the basis of the face-to-face interview that follows next, where mostly one is asked to define the things that are presented in the resume.

Now, how much can you tell about a person by just looking at his resume?

Frankly, the resumes that I’ve seen in last 5-6 years, Not Too Much

Most of the resumes look very similar and there’s very little information that can be termed useful in any way. Frankly, a visiting card would give you the same information that most of our resumes contain.

Now, here’s an alternative.

Let’s read the person’s blog. What does he like to write about? What does it tell you about his personality, his attitude..

Let’s look at the content that he likes to share with others.. Twitter, Google Reader, StumbleUpon, Digg, Delicious.. What are his interests?

Let’s look at some of his code that he’s written.. Github, Google code.. What does he like programming? What’s his style?

Let’s attend to some of his conferences.. Barcamps, Devcamps, Tech conferences.. How good is he in communicating things? What’s his style of presentation?

Now compare the information that you just got with his resume, and see for yourself..

Yes, it requires more effort than reading through a mundane resume.. but your chances of hitting a good programmer are extremely high. (if you’re looking for one..)

After this.. Interview becomes exactly what it should be.. a process of exchanging views. When both of you are moving in the same direction, well.. you join hands.

Many organizations are doing it very actively.. It should only be a matter of time before it becomes fairly mainstream.

how to choose software projects to work on..

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Some time back, I had finished up one of my pet projects and was looking for something new to work on.

It’s amazing to see the number of choices one has right now in terms of choosing a software project to work on. I primarily develop web applications and like to focus on Rich Internet applications. So was looking around for things in that section. Thought of checking out with people to what they tend to choose..

It went like this.. The choices were rails, mvc, python/django, grails, jquery, spring web, gwt, flex, silverlight, scala/lift, and a few more..

Wow. I mean, look at the list. and its not all.. we’re just getting started.

Each one of them have their own pros and cons, and choosing among them is really interesting and difficult too.. I started to compare some of these to decide where to start. After few weeks, I was still at the same point and had not been able to make any decision. I always felt like missing something.

Then I realized that I was doing it all wrong.

Nowadays, there are so many things that one can’t keep on top of all thats happening. So I started thinking about how I should approach this thing. Sometime later, in one of the podcasts from Joel and Jeff (from Stackoverflow), I listened to an interesting conversation about choosing what to work on, and I totally agreed and understood the concept behind it.

Technology is a means to get something done. If you’ve found what to work on, as in a domain (or) a problem to solve, it’s fine with what technology you’ve chosen.

One needs to find something worth doing, a problem worth solving and then choose the technology that should back that up. Thats the trick.

Frankly, if you’re doing something really good, it doesn’t matter even if its in php.. nothing against php folks.. 🙂

Ok, fantastic. So then I started looking for a good problem to solve. Found couple of interesting ones. Started working on them.

The technology chosen is grails, was a good fit for our kind of team and nature of the project. Well.. lets see how it goes.

working for vs. working with Customers.

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Customers are always right.

Customers know what they want.

In my career with customers ( and I’ve met a few), I’ve concluded that both our previous statements are not entirely true.

One thing that is true is, Customers have a problem to be solved. And When they hire consultants or vendors, their plain expectation is that they’d solve it.

Most of the times, customers can define their problem fairly clearly. Other times, they don’t. But lets ignore the latter ones for this post.

Ones who’ve managed to define the problem, also seem to have an idea of a solution. A solution that would work, not necessarily the best solution to the problem.

This is where consultants/vendors come in.

There are two approaches that are possible from this time on.

1. Consultants can try to reach the actual problem, and propose multiple solutions either supporting or contradicting customer’s idea.

2. Consultants can just help in executing the conceived solution for the customers.

This is the crux of the title of this post. First point is what I would like to call “working with” and the second one as “working for”.

I’ve always believed that if you have a part in designing the solution for the problem, it becomes dear to you. The level of dedication goes up a notch. This doesn’t necessarily mean that your design has been chosen as the one, it’s just that you’ve been part of the process of arriving at a solution is the key. You tend to relate to the problem better. You tend to feel a part of the solution. End Result, you perform better.

I’ve not been totally convinced with the second part. Its like a Hit-man at his job. He gets a phone call.. a picture of the person to kill.. and he goes kills him.. done. Engineering doesn’t work like that. There are many things that go into executing a solution. Morale and Passion are a big factor. If you lack that in you or the team you’re working with, be ready for mediocrity. That is what it would result in.

So you decide what you want to do.

Work with customers and relate to their problem. Deliver a solution to their actual problem (which may be better than they had thought. Exceeding expectations) or

Work for them. Deliver the solution they asked for (which may not be a solution at all). In this mode you’ll be doing great if you match expectations. Most times you’ll fail to do that too..

Modern organizations, work with customers. They’re much more concerned about customer’s investments, and most importantly.. they believe in delivering a solution that actually works.

Pluggable products.. competing by collaborating.

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A while back, I wrote about competition and collaboration being tied to each other in today’s market place. That was directed towards organizations collaborating with right partners and competing in the space. Recently, I’ve been looking at a similar trend in software products. Its very difficult to separate collaboration and competition. In fact, as ironic as it seems, collaboration has become an essential requirement in today’s competitive environment.

We need applications that integrate seamlessly with other web services like twitter, facebook, flickr, etc. A standalone application is just not good enough.

We need applications that expose themselves through apis, so we could build plugins over them. Few years back, it would have sounded totally absurred to have applications which expose themselves to the outer world.

Think about it this way. You have a product. Of course you’d like people to use it. That’s the reason why you have a product at the first place. Now think about what would make it more interesting for your users.. More features. Well.. not necessarily extra features, but some improvements on the existing product. As a single provider, it’d take you enormous cost and time to try and deliver all by yourself alone. You’d need an additional hand. Expose apis and allow people to lend you that hand.

Its almost like outsourcing some of your development to external developers for no cost. You don’t just get some of your features done, but you also get another perspective on your product, which in certain cases can really change your product itself.

There are certain products like Mozilla Firefox and few other who have created a certain sticky-ness just because of their plugins. Lot of people don’t migrate to other browsers just because they don’t have the plugins that they’re used to in firefox. There are also products that are adding all sorts of new integrations to lure their users. Google Maps, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, iPhone, Android, and the list goes on..

Ok. So the message is.. if you’re building a product, think about pluggable architecture right from the initial phases instead of building it later.

Coding. Interview as a Service – Part 2.

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This is a continuation of the Interview as a service series. You can visit the part 1 here, where I talk about some of the common shortcomings in recruitment process of IT organizations.

Well.. to jump directly onto the subject, Coding. How many organizations have coding as a standard practice in their regular interviewing process? To your surprise, not too many. It is absolutely mind-boggling to how one can recruit programmers without actually testing their programming skills.

Programmers are supposed to program. Code. In any language, but Code. That is a absolutely non-negotiable. Any concept, any theory, if it is not demonstrated through code.. it is not correct. It is not good enough if one talks well, is well dressed and knows few technical buzzwords/jargons floating around in the industry. We’ve seen such folks struggle to write even the simplest of programs. And for all the referral process fans here.. these folks have lot of friends like themselves. They will refer everyone. No doubt about it. So you end up having a fantastic team of programmers who can’t program. Not program even if their lives depended on it.

This decision has to be made by the organizations. Do you want such posers in your system? If your answer is we’re fine with it, you can stop reading further. This one is not for you.

Ok. If you’re still here, I believe you understand the importance of recruiting right programmers. One of the important exercises to be done immediately is add 1 or more coding exercise in your recruitment process. Start with a simple problem, one  that requires some of the programming constructs and ask them to write code for it. Not pseudo-code. Actual program. Make sure the problem contains atleast 2-4 constructs like conditional logic, looping, modularization, data structure, etc.. as one sees fit. An example could be, from a list of numbers give me all numbers that are divisible by 3. As simple as that.

Look at how quickly one gets to solve the problem. In my experience, good programmers would be solving this the minute you’ve finished your question. Speed is not necessarily a measure of quality but can be treated as an indicator.

This is fine if you need just programmers. How about requiring good programmers? Do you need them? Yes.. ok lets go about doing it then.

Present a problem that involves more programming constructs and add a bit of design into it. You’d like to see how one goes about arriving at a solution. What are the approaches he takes. What are the approaches he doesn’t take, and reasons why. It can be a really exciting experience when you carry this exercise with a real good programmer.

I’d suggest doing this on premise and actually going through the whole process of arriving at solution. Thats the best way to do it.

One of the other approach I’ve seen is sending the problem to the programmer and ask them to submit the code. After submission, on premise, discuss with them about their choices and practices.

If you go with this approach, I’d rather suggest submitting code katas, screencasts.. This would give a nice idea of how a programmer goes about doing his job. How comfortable is one with his editor. What shortcuts does he use to get the job done. What classes he comes up with, etc..

To summarize, to build a good or even decent software organization, you need to focus on the kind of programmers you let inside. Better the programmers, better the kind of services or products you provide.

My interactions at Devcamp chennai..

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Wasn’t a regular saturday for sure..

Last week, on saturday, I was in NDTV office observing the shooting of a show on social media and its influence on the way we interact..  One of the arguments was that People have forgotten the art of social interactions. There are very less real-world communities.

Well, this saturday, this argument was totally written off. At Devcamp, we had 100+ programmers (creators of the virtual world) under one roof and discussing the thing that they love most. Technology.

This is not a recap of all the things that happened at devcamp. Its only restricted to my interactions there..

First mention to few people who I was meeting after a long time. Mr. Dorai Thodla(iMorph), Mr. Suresh Sambandham (orangescape) and Sriram Narayan(Thoughtworks). I admire each of them a lot and for different reasons. Was great to catch up with them and talk about various things..

Next, loved the self-organizing nature of the event. People were free to move around, talk to different people and discuss things the way they liked. Although, I felt the awareness level about Open Space Conferences was fairly low on the attendees. So at times it got a bit chaotic. But taking nothing away from the charm and enthusiasm, it was a nice show.

The presenters, I expected much more live code and variety of styles, which was missing. Most of the presentations were powerpoint stuff. Seriously.. in a devcamp you need to see more code. Editors, syntax, program, they were a little less. Guess, that will improve in the further sessions.

I had a presentation of my own along with Deepan, my colleague and friend, on “Code smells and Refactoring”. Got few techies interested and had a nice time discussing finer details of programming. (I had a full code session. No presentation.)

Next up was lightning talks/fishbowl sessions, which disappointingly had very little participation. So we thought, we’d change the style and invite people to talk based on topics we chose. It was an interesting little session, which really caught my imagination. Some really interesting topics discussed there.. Some of them are as follows:

1. Inspiration as a programmer.. Names starting from Larry Page to Joel Spolsky were mentioned as inspirations for being a programmer.

2. Products that we’ve appreciated.. Stackoverflow, Delicious, Winzip, Hibernate, Gmail, etc. were mentioned.

3. Products that’ll make future interesting.. Google Wave, HTML5 & CSS, Mobile apps, mobile/e-commerce. Here’s a post on it by Dorai.

Apart from these, there were couple of young Entrepreneurs (still in college), who are trying to change the world. Pretty neat stuff.

All in all, Devcamp was a step in the right direction. Though, there’s a long way to go still.

Check out few tweets here

Pairing – Why does it work?

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Pair programming is an extreme programming (xp) practice that involved two programmers work together to finish off a task. They typically share the same workstation too.

Well.. the general perception of programming is, you have more programmers you get more stuff done. Now, it seems extremely inefficient to have two folks working on a single workstation. You’re working at 50% capacity in someways.

This is absolutely false.

When correctly used, pairing can be a great productivity boost, also helping in sustained growth in quality.  Let me share my perception on pairing since I’ve used it..

1. Sharing tool.

A team can have its senior folks pair with its junior folks on a regular basis and ensure that knowledge is shared in the best possible manner, at work (inspite of a theoretical session).  Even within a project, knowledge of different modules can be shared with all members of the team through pairing.

2. Dependency management.

By sharing and distributing knowledge with team members, you’re also reducing the dependency on individual programmers/members of the team. Hence reducing the risk of people moving out or overpricing folks.

3. Culture of equality. (No hero worship)

Since the knowledge and responsibilities are divided so evenly, you tend to have less heroics at work. Hence providing a very healthy culture of trust and respect within a team.

4. Reduce Developer Block time.

As developers, we often get into a state where we are blocked with a problem. Either we do not know a solution or we know a couple of them and are not clear which one to go for.. With a third eye always with you, this can be reduced to an extent. Two people thinking about a problem increases the chances of a better solution coming along, since both programmers can bounce ideas off each other.

5. Parallel Code Reviews.

With people working with each other, you are getting reviews done parallelly without hurting each other’s sentiments :). Typically Code reviews happen to be badly done. Most developers hate to accept review comments once they’re done with their code. But since its done while they’re coding, it works fine for both parties.

6. Development of good practices.

There are many habits and shortcuts that can’t be taught in isolation. Sharing small tricks and shortcuts become really easy with pairing. Also when you’re pairing with somebody good, it can really motivate you towards programming.

I’ll have to agree that I did not believe in these things before I started incorporating them in our daily exercise.

It works for me.