Wednesday, February 5, 2014

A Tale of Two Recruiters

It was the best of recruiters, it was the worst of recruiters ...

TheHackerCIO was recently impressed by a recruiter. That's rare. Really rare. But he always gives credit where it is due, and in this case, justice demands praise. And the reasons can be seen by contrast with another recruiter. Comparison and contrast always highlights important points. 

Unfortunately this pair -- both hero and villain -- have to be anonymized: to protect both from embarrassment, but embodied in very different forms. Those rightly abashed at their conduct have a very different emotion from those uncomfortable with public praise. 

The only justification for putting forth this contrast is the principle it underscores. And principles have to be embodied in the tersest wording possible, so they can be used. This one is newly articulated by me, so here goes an attempt to formulate it; after that we'll examine the illustrative examples.

The principle is: Seek those who also seek work-arounds to procedures. In other words, when bureaucracy impedes, those who evade it are the ones you want to work with. 

Let's see the villain first. Enormous Behemoth Recruiter contacts TheHackerCIO with a tempting position. I've taken the liberty of excerpting all the temptations and buzzwords, claiming:
  • very beginning stages
  • learning new things everyday
  • vision of changing
  • brand new approach
  • building great software
  • energetic trailblazers
  • creative mindset
  • rapidly deploying
  • competing with ... Google
  • competing with ... Apple
  • competing with ... Amazon
  • Technology is the ‘product’
  • innovation through technology products
  • quality
  • innovation
  • transformation
  • innovation
  • quality
  • speed
  • smaller product teams
  • quality 
  • speed
  • effectiveness 
  • A/B testing
  • frequent releases
  • adoption of “agile”
  • very large transformation

The catch was that you had to enter your whole resume into their on-line system. You couldn't simply email them a resume. And, supposedly, their automated system would pull this information from LinkedIn. But it didn't work on mine. I suggested an alternative to the recruiter, who claimed to have direct contact with the CIO:


I'd be happy to have you present me to the CIO. Can you use my LinkedIn 
profile? LinkedIn seems to have been failing to import as it is supposed to. 


But the reply came, SOP, SOP

Hi James, 

Thanks for the reply. I can’t present anyone unless they formally apply to 
the position. Standard protocol at <NameDeleted>. Once you apply I can 
certainly present your information to the management team. Below is the 
link to apply to the position. Please let me know when you have completed 
your application so I can submit everything as soon as possible.



Notice, by the way, how the reply suddenly backtracked away from direct presentation to the CIO. But I ignored this bad sign, and wasted quite a bit more time attempting to use the broken, but mandatory system. Finally, TheHackerCIO came to his senses. I realized how I had been deluded by the Silicon Valley location and various claims and buzzwords and wrote the following: 


Hi <Name-Deleted>: 

Just to let you know, I've wasted too much time messing with this. You site will not load my information from LinkedIn. I've tried it from a mac with Safari, Chrome & Firefox and with a Windows 7 box running Chrome, and Firefox. I suppose I could enter my details manually, but the experience reminds me that I don't want to work in a place with a firmly bureaucratic "process" that can't be gotten around. 

I've worked for clients larger than <NameDeleted>, and universally I've been stymied from their programs of alleged "change," by the bureaucracy. So, I'll take this as an indicator that I should focus on smaller clients where these kinds of impediments are either not present or can be worked around. 

This is just by way of explanation -- thanks for your interest. 



Now we turn our attention to the contrasting example.

This recruiter, (we'll call him Ted, to ensure anonymity) when I responded that I had to update my resume, and could he use my LinkedIn profile and/or blog in lieu of it, responded "yes." He would see if there was interest using those materials, and wait for me to get an updated resume to him.

He copied me on the correspondence, where he presented my LinkedIn profile & the URL of my blog, and asked the client to see if there was any interest, at which point something could be entered into the applicant system.

Now that is an example of putting the substance ahead of the form. It's an example of working around the bureaucracy and procedures, which, after all, were designed to get good candidates, not make the whole experience hellish.

This is what good software developers and technologists of every stripe have to do everyday. When something doesn't work, you have to generate work-around ideas and try them, until you find something that works. Why should technology recruitment be any different? Is the goal to place the right person in the right position, thus benefiting everyone? Or is the goal to adhere to the sclerotic bureaucratic process? Unfortunately, far too many believe that process automates success.

But Process Never Automates Success. (the Rothering Principle)

And, TheHackerCIO works with those who work-around obstacles.

I Remain,


Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Paradoxical Incomprehensibility

Several times in past years, TheHackerCIO has been amazed to see the paradoxical advantage gained by a knowledgeable person shielded by an impenetrable accent. One person in particular had an exceptionally good technology background, but a very thick european accent. Let's call her Karl, in keeping with the PC policy of being as confusing as possible with pronouns.

Whenever Karl put forth her technology proposals, they were sound. But the advantage she garnered came from avoiding any questioning or probing, which uniformly foundered on the shoals of her thick accent. I knew from my own intimate acquaintance with the implementation, oftentimes being coded and tested by yours truly, that these questions were receiving what the lawyers call "non-responsive" answers: that is, the answer was not a response to the question asked.

Was this a deliberate "mis-understanding" of the question posed? At times, I'm sure it was. Perhaps, other times it was genuine. But the misdirection, coupled with the difficulty of comprehension, seemed to provide a cover for Karl, so that no opposition could effectively field a contrary viewpoint.

Notice that this didn't help in the big-picture-sense of the word. It didn't help the policy to be correct, or better, or even succeed. It did help Karl's career and/or her specific goal of implementing whatever technology was desired.

There were two reasons for this:

  • the generosity of the listeners, who naturally, and generously assumed that the question had simply been misunderstood by a non-native language speaker. Also, to actually dig in and demonstrate that the answer was not connected to the question properly would seem very combative and perhaps even mean-spirited. 
  • bits and pieces of the answer were correct, technically, and based upon a deep and proper understanding of the underlying technology, which reassured the listeners that a proper approach was being taken, even if it was surrounded by the fog-of-incomprehensibility of Karl's accent.
To return to the big-picture, note that comprehensibility and communications are the number one issue and problem in technology development and application. A miscommunication of requirements is clearly far more devastating to total cost than any other single item conceivable. From my own experiences with Karl, I know that the objections of the "loyal opposition" within the company could only have led to an improvement in the overall approach taken, because I know from my own firsthand experience that many improvements were missed out by my inability to penetrate the verbal fog quickly enough to be able to tweak or adjust it to suit the particulars of the situation. 

Incidentally, this comprehensibility-overhead has to be factored into any attempt at outsourcing. If you're going to uphold the primacy of communications principle (and I think one must!), then it only follows that you have got to dig in, bite-the-bullet, and resolve each and every communications issue that arises in the course of the project.  Rigorously. At all costs. If that means that you lose any, or all, or even more than all of the cost-advantage that came from outsourcing to a foreign organization, then that's just the way it is. You simply have to find ways to emphasize that you're "sorry to be difficult", and so-forth, to counteract these communications-barriers. And that is true regardless of whether you're outsourcing. 

Because communication is the primary issue. 

I Remain,


Monday, February 3, 2014

PilotAngel and the Newest Wearables

One of the winners at the AT&T Hackathon, PilotAngel, made interesting use of an interesting wearable: the Neurosky Mindwave sensor.

It just looks like a little-bit-heavyweight headset:

But it allows your brainwaves to be digitally monitored and reordered.

Most of the applications available on the actual web-site appear to be self-experimental: attempting to get yourself into the meditation zone, or something like that.

But at the Hackathon, several real-world applications of interest were seen. One of these was Pilot Angel. 

The idea is, that if the operator of a vehicle starts entering into sleep brain-wave patterns then an alert goes out, which if unresponded to, gets escalated to a supervisor. It's kind of amazing that such things are rapidly leaving science-fiction and entering the realm of actual technology.

From their presentation:
It's time to stop the catastrophes seen in the news with ships, airlines, trains. Often this is not negligence but loss of focus and “Highway Hypnosis”.
eam "
Pilot Angel" 
  a functioning proof of concept at the AT&T DevSummit hackathon
for CES 2014 u
  • Neurosky Mindwave sensors
  • a Nokia Windows Phone app,
  • a pebble smart watch
they monitored and analyzed pilot’s brain waves in real-time,  detecting
loss of
 focus and  triggering awareness-boosting lighting using Philips Hue lights and text-messaging & Pebble watch alerts to the pilot and their supervisors along with GPS location data. PilotAngel is looking to make the proof of concept a reality
 and create a start up. 
Pilot Angel
 is open to team up with various partners and angel investors.
Read more about this and a few other wearables here.  And you can see the demo here:

I hope that Pilot Angel -- a team that had my vote -- goes forward with their idea. I think it's important for hackathon winners to take their ideas as far as they can.

I Remain,