By Dennis D. McDonald. Ph.D.
Michael Loukides’ O’Reilly Radar article Resume Driven Development laments how too much hiring in the software development world is based on what resumes say about easy-to-label software tools and not enough on the applicant’s actual design and decision-making skills.
It’s probably too easy to blame HR for latching on to what programmer resumes say about tool experience and certifications. Who can can blame them for “taking the easy way out” in screening when each advertised position generates a flood of resumes?
Having been involved in hiring both technical and nontechnical staff I can attest that this situation is not limited to the spheres of programming and software development. It’s true with any profession where there’s a constant turnover in tools and techniques. Applicants are taught to incorporate certain keywords into the resume to please automated tools that perform initial screenings. Figuring out what the applicants’ real judgment, design, and decision-making skills are requires actual time-consuming conversations with knowledgeable individuals who understand what target positions actually require. That process can be expensive when done right.
There’s another simple truth underlying the hiring process for technical positions: who wants to take the time and money to train someone on Tool X if you can hire a Tool X person somebody else has already taken the time and money to train?
Given that so many technical jobs are short term or temporary contract positions, the expectation of prospective employees is that staff will jump from project to project as they acquire experience and skills. Add constant tool advances to a job hopping culture and you can see how any effort to shorten the hiring process will be tried, especially in organizations with a tendency towards bureaucracy and functional or departmental specialization.
Which gets us back to the “meat” of Loukides’ article: the need to reach beyond tool knowledge and certifications to more subtle and difficult to measure skills. I have a similar reaction whenever I see things like “Microsoft Project” and certification such as “PMP” on applicant resumes. I know these things are important but I always want to to ask, “But can you actually manage a project?”
I’m no hiring expert. I figure that professionals in HR field hear these kinds of complaints all the time. As someone with a lot of small and midsize business experience, though, the process of hiring often is done in a hurry and on top of everything else that has to be done in servicing clients and running a company. Things don’t always work in an ideal way. The result is that hiring — and firing — often get to be skills learned on the job while using whatever tools are at hand and familiar.
Breaking out of such a rut is hard and hopefully one can do so without making too many bad hiring decisions!
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Thanks to Thomas Gideon (@cmdln) whose initial tweet brought Loukides’ article to my attention.
Copyright © 2014 by Dennis D. McDonald, Ph.D. Dennis is a project management consultant based in Alexandria, Virginia. He is currently working with Michael Kaplan PMP on SoftPMO project management services and with BaleFire Global on open data programs. His experience includes consulting company ownership and management, database publishing and data transformation, managing the integration of large systems, corporate technology strategy, social media adoption, statistical research, and IT cost analysis. His web site is located atwww.ddmcd.com and his email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter he is @ddmcd.