Saturday, April 14, 2007

Blogging: Blog as a skills assessment

When I joined ThoughtWorks, almost 2.5 years ago, I had a conversation with Paul Hammant where he said he always googles someone before he interviews them. At the time it was a good idea, but now I think it's a great idea.

It's fairly common, in my experience interviewing TW candidates, to list every technology a person has ever touched. If they've done a 'hello world' in IO, you'll find IO on their resume.

Contrast the above situation with what you find on a person's blog or in their emails to mailing lists. For example, I have done 'hello world' in IO, but there's not a single entry on the web that links me to IO. Conversely, a glance at my blog shows I've been doing Ruby/Rails full time for more than a year at this point and Agile for almost 3.

A quick search can save you from a lot of tracer bullet questions. Your first question in an interview usually needs to be very high level, to see where the candidate skills are at. The next question may be very detailed, to see how deep the candidate is. But, a simple search could have revealed the same information without the common interview dance: If you ask a high level question, you usually get a high level answer, despite the fact that the candidate may have a very deep understanding of the topic.

Of course, this wont work on all occasions. Searching for Michael Johnson isn't likely to produce relevant information, nor will searching for someone who never publishes anything on the web. But, even if it works 50% of the time, it's better than having to ask the same broad questions at the beginning of every interview.

Also, if this practice were more widely adopted, having a blog may become an advantage when searching for a job in the future. Personally, I'd prefer someone be able to size me up before an interview. I don't enjoy tracer bullet interview questions any more than the person asking them.


  1. So, do you imagine this is the reason all TWkers blog so much? =)

    Good point, though.

  2. @ola - you saying TWers are all looking for new jobs? :)

    @jay - perhaps CVs could include "Google for me with: 'Dr Nic Williams'" at the top, to highlight your googleability to prospective employers.

  3. Craig Cruden4:32 PM

    Googling a person's name and using that information as the basis of your interview can be good or it can be very bad.

    You could find his blog and some technical history that will give you a good idea of that persons personal skills, but miss information that would show you a persons lack of morality -- since most people that make morally objectional attacks on people are generally done anonymously.

    Worse yet, is that you may find comments that people have posted on views in relation to other issues that you are not legally allowed to ask in the interview process (tainting the interview process itself). One example is you find out he is married. I have known at least one employer that were biased in hiring married people since he believed that would interfere in how much of his time that person could dedicate to a project during crunch time.

    You may also find out information about that persons political views which could also taint the interview process.

  4. This is useful for people who use their blog as an outlet for their technical interests, but many people don't. Googling also doesn't tell you much about the type of code the person writes for work.

  5. I agree. The flipside is that if you wind up in the middle of some blog controversy, and you interview somewhere they have no idea it's even happening, that's a good metric for measuring a company's level of involvement with the development community.

    That being said, I think hiring on open source contributions probably makes more sense than hiring on blogging. My blog seems to influence people's thoughts on hiring me, but the thing is, you can say anything. I do a lot more blogging than OS contributing, so far be it from me to bite the hand that feeds me, but I think using blogs to eliminate time-wasting elements of the interview process is what's of value here. You still want other elements of the process, such as a skill test or examination of existing code, to continue pretty much as is.

    But again, if you've got code samples out there on the Web already, and a prospective employer says "can you send a code sample?", that to me says "this person's an idiot and I'd rather not work for them." It works both ways, really.

    Long story short, I think you're right, with the caveat that blogs should make the skills assessment process speedier and more efficient, as opposed to replacing that process entirely.

  6. Whether it's OSS, Blogs, Mailing Lists, etc, I think that it makes sense these days to google someone before interviewing them. Not as a replacement, but (as Giles already stated) as a supplement. I think it can eliminate some preliminary questions and make better use of your time and the candidate's time. You'll still need the regular amount of time for the interview, but I expect it to be more valuable since you should more easily be able to get to the point.

    Again, this isn't going to work 100% of the time. But, I'm not looking for a silver bullet, just an improvement.

    Cheers, Jay

  7. I would be very interested to know the legality of this sort of thing. I think it's a great idea regardless but I'm wondering how much you can legally research a candidate without their permission. You have to have permission to run a background check, is it okay to read their blog? How about calling or emailing the people they talk to on a mailing list? Can you port scan their servers to see if they fileshare?

    What are the limits to research?

    Methinks it's probably totally illegal to read people's blogs, possibly even illegal with their permission. (I really have no basis for this, it's totally a guess)

  8. I hadn't thought about the legality of it. I'd be surprised if it's illegal to look for public information such as blog entires. But, I have no idea truthfully.

  9. Anonymous5:08 PM

    Hm quite interesting but on the contrary, taking myself as an example, I use my nick ids for various purposes like for tech forums, other forums, for blogs or even post anonymous, but I am sure I know much more than what web can tell about me...
    Web anonymity is something I really like to posses, now that shouldn't be a disadvantage for me!

  10. Personally i like aggressive technical interviews to be frank if you have a problem surviving them then you have put stuff on your CV that you don’t really know for instance i have done some ROR [ruby on rails ] work but i don’t have it on my CV because as yet i know im not at a commercial level. The biggest problem i find interviewing people is they are not as good as they sell themselves i did a recruitment campaign recently and out of 60 Cv's i tech interviewed 20 out of those 20 2 passed the technical test. And most to be frank didn’t even understand OO basics. The problem is the poor quality of dev's out there right now i personally think. I don’t want this to sound arrogant but it is just what I have found, in short t i think if a candidate has it on there CV as a core skill then they should expect a interviewer to rip into it from both a high level scenario and deep core technical basis. So there for I would say the stuff I put on my blog is only a small snap shot of what I know and work with.



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