Tuesday, May 01, 2007

May 7, 2007


Finding a good programmer can be a difficult task. Often times you will come across a candidate who interviews well and appears to have impressive credentials, yet you discover too late that he is simply not as proficient as you thought he was. Now you have someone you will either have to eventually eliminate or invest considerable money in to bring him up to speed (or both). What to do? True, you should probably improve your interviewing skills and learn to read between the lines of a resume, but there are a few other things you can do.

Basically, there are three things you, as a manager, want to know about a new employee; his background (job history), his knowledge, and how well he will adapt to your corporate culture. His background should be revealed by the interview, his resume, and any references he might have, but determining his knowledge and adaptability to the corporate culture is a little trickier.


I have discussed the importance of corporate culture many times in the past; in particular, see: No. 28 - "Understanding Corporate Culture" - June 13, 2005

Basically, in order for any employee to properly function and succeed, it is imperative that he is able to adapt to the corporate culture. If not, the culture will reject him and the employee will become an outcast. Before we can evaluate the employee's adaptability though, we should understand our own culture first. For example:

  • What are the corporate ethics? Do you value honesty and integrity or are you a politically charged environment with considerable backbiting, finger pointing, piracy, and other questionable office tactics?

  • Do you commonly seek "quick and dirty" solutions or do you operate more as skilled craftsmen?

  • How rigid are your operating policies, e.g., dress codes, hours of operations, conduct, etc.?

  • What are interpersonal relations/communications like in your office; e.g., speech, form of address, decorum, cooperation, etc.?

  • What form of management do you practice; dictatorial with considerable supervision or do you empower your employees to make decisions?

Ascertaining a candidate's adaptability will be primarily based on your observations of the candidate during the interview.


A candidate's resume will say one thing, but you may be looking for something else. As part of the interview, you may want to ask the candidate to complete a Skills Assessment which lists the skills pertaining to your area and his level of competency (proficiency). After the candidate has completed the Skills Assessment, it should be compared against his resume in order to look for discrepancies.

In terms of pertinent skills, the programmer should be able to list the languages he knows, including computer control languages and tag languages, operating systems, DBMS architectures, and the various development tools he is familiar with.


Now, more pointedly, you need to know if the candidate truly knows how to program or not. College degrees, certificates, and participation in trade groups are important, but you need to convince yourself the person has substance as opposed to facade. Samples of work are useful, but then again, are you sure the person actually produced it? We have always found it useful to provide a simple programming test for the person to verify he knows what he is talking about. He can either substantiate his knowledge through a test or he cannot. The test should be designed in such a way as to reveal the person's general knowledge as well as to demonstrate he has the skills he claims.


Testing is an invaluable means for determining if candidate qualifications as stated in resumes are legitimate. Basically, it helps differentiate between facade and substance. Some Human Resource departments frown on such testing, others welcome it. For programmers, I consider it vital. Frankly, you have better things to do than waste time on someone who is not truly qualified for the position. Remember, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

OUR BRYCE'S LAW OF THE WEEK therefore is... "A resume is either an accurate description of a person's capabilities or demonstrates how well someone can write fiction."


Whenever someone brings up the idea of "Spring Cleaning" it conjures up an image of people stuck in cabins during the winter and need to clean out their shack after hibernating inside for several months. But basically, Spring Cleaning is used to force us to get organized. There are a lot of us who are just plain slobs who tend to act like pack-rats and collect a lot of debris, be it at home or in the office. Spring Cleaning, therefore, is intended to clean up the flotsam and jetsam around us. And I think this is important, particularly in offices.

There are those who believe a sloppy desk is indicative of a brilliant mind. Baloney. A sloppy desk is indicative of a pigpen and the person is disorganized and undisciplined. Too often people use a cluttered desk to give the illusion they are being overworked and use it as an excuse for being late on a project. For managers who have been around the block a couple of times, a cluttered desk doesn't fool anybody anymore. In our office, we would tell our programmers to subscribe to the military concept whereby you either work on something, file it, or throw it away. If we need more file cabinets, we'll get them, but let's not let our desks become pigpens. To enforce this rule, we would periodically go through the office at night and throw all of the debris on the desks into the garbage. You do this a couple of times and people finally take you seriously. Keeping a clean and orderly workplace can have a dramatic and positive effect on the demeanor of your office workers and they will start to behave more professionally.

People still practice Spring Cleaning at home as well. You see signs of it by the many garage sales in the Spring where people circulate their junk to other people who recycle it around the neighborhood. I tend to believe there is a certain amount of junk we simply rotate from one household to another, so why bother with the garage sales? Let's just play musical chairs with it. Better yet, why don't we just dispose of it once and for all?

I remember my Scottish grandmother in Buffalo, New York was a big believer in Spring Cleaning. Every year she would lead the family in cleaning the house like Atilla the Hun. Beds would be turned, rugs taken out and beaten, windows washed inside and out, silverware polished, kitchen and bathroom floors and fixtures scrubbed, etc. You get the picture; she was very thorough. But she wouldn't stop with inanimate objects, to her way of thinking "Spring Cleaning" also meant cleaning up the family. To this end, once a year she would brew a pot of tea made from Senna Leaves, a very powerful herbal stimulant laxative. I guess she figured it was needed to clean out the toxins in our system, and as anyone in our family can testify, it works, perhaps too well. Not long after drinking a cup of this tea, your system would be flushed of impurities right down the toilet, perhaps hours at a time. It was rather brutal. This stuff was so strong, it would even clean the dirt from behind your fingernails and the wax from your ears. Small wonder Spring Cleaning conjures us a bad image in my mind.

As a result, I tend to keep things orderly and tidy all the time as opposed to waiting for a Spring Cleaning. Maybe that is what my grandmother was trying to teach us all along. Nonetheless, I haven't had a cup of tea in years.

Such is my Pet Peeve of the Week.


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I received an e-mail from a Q.B. in Minnesota regarding my recent "Pet Peeve" on "Weathermen."

Q.B. writes -

"Yes, being a weatherman is an odd career choice. How often can one find a career where you can be downright wrong MOST of the time and still keep your job?"

Thanks Q.B. for your comments.

Again, thanks for your e-mail. Keep those cards and letters coming.

MBA is an international management consulting firm specializing in Information Resource Management. We offer training, consulting, and writing services in the areas of Enterprise Engineering, Systems Engineering, Data Base Engineering, Project Management, Methodologies and Repositories. For information, call us at 727/786-4567. For a complete listing of my essays, see the "PRIDE" Special Subject Bulletins section of our corporate web site.

Our corporate web page is at:

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This is Tim Bryce reporting.

Since 1971: "Software for the finest computer - the Mind."


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