I have applied to work at a certain software company twice over the years. Both times I already had a job, so it was really a probe. It was a way to see what’s out there and how it might fit me. I carry no guilt in looking. I actually believe it’s healthy. And it was at the encouragement of a good friend who works there. I like the person, we get along very well, are a good team and we’d gladly work together again.
As part of this company’s vetting process – to qualify or disqualify candidates – they give you a test. I forget the name, but it involves a fake but integral (sound) computer language that is progressively unveiled as the test goes on. The syntax and semantics are to be quickly processed and a series of around 25 questions is to be answered in 30 minutes. If you fail, the company wants nothing to do with you and management sends you a form letter that makes you feel like an impostor human being.
Now, it is that company’s right to do whatever they want to qualify people. The CEO wants who he wants and doesn’t want who he doesn’t want.
But I’ve worked with enough people in management that I’ve seen the addictive draw of metrics – any metrics – that classify or rank people. They’re always in large part wrong. They always tell only part of the story. But they make life easier for those who don’t really want to think about people. You know – for those who want to manage them like objects. And presented with evaluative measurement data, that is a constant balance to be struck among responsible leadership everywhere. On the other side, employees will conform to any metric at the expense of integrity, competence and real work throughput. And that’s a whole other topic.
So you probably guessed that I have flunked this test – twice, that is. That’s not how I learn computer languages. I try them. I tinker. I read examples and see how they work together. I apply principles of programming and data management that span languages. I would say my way of learning technology is vastly superior to manual-reading. And yes, I guess by some metric I have a deficiency in that.
Now when it is my focused job to write code, I write up to 10,000 lines a year. That’s quite a bit, for those outside the software industry. It’s hard to argue that my way of learning is inferior.
Concerning the test, what then is it meant to eliminate? What kind of people does it reject? Well, all non-technical people will certainly fail. But among the technically literate, it rejects those who might ask questions and thereby interrupt the work of others. THAT is the underlying business goal. And THAT is dubious.
To be sure and to be fair, there are those who are a constant interrupt to work flow. They have poor work skills at any job. But this goes beyond that and hits at the heart of human interaction at work.
So let me provide some reasons that avoiding interrupts is a foolish goal, addressing management in the 2nd person:
- Communication is two-way. During one of the dreaded interrupts, your existing work force is not merely giving information, they are receiving it. If you think there is no gain in hearing experiential wisdom from the new hire, then you should never hire anyone, regardless of the test.
- Interrupts happen and they are not bad. If your claim is that your existing employees are so focused and productive that they always make right decisions and always take optimal paths in work flow then you are intolerant of their mistakes. And very wrong. If you can’t make a mistake, you can’t make anything. I have seen huge, overwhelmingly beneficial changes in my work just by receiving the advice of another. It happens in your company too, whether or not you see it or officially allow it.
- Collaboration is the birthplace of genius. Speaking to some employees, the company I spoke of above apparently has one “idea guy”- the CEO. All others are his implementers. I don’t believe that; the company would have gone under a long time ago if that was the case. Great invention happens as a brain child of one, with contributions from collaborators. It’s happened at your company whether you’ve authorized it or not.
- People are wisest investment. The supposed cost in interrupts is a small price to pay for years of productive service and the great benefit an employee brings to your bottom line. My portion of contribution to my employers is somewhere between $250M and $500M, by way of raw calculation. They have made a profit from my employment. And that’s just talking about monetary gain. The personal, emotional and spiritual contribution of human beings to a company don’t make for metrics you can graph, but your company would dies without them.
This is not an exercise in sour grapes. I had a job when I applied at this company. I now have a job and I will have a job. It’s about lost opportunity and poor judgment among those in charge. A leader with responsibility to make progress against objectives does need to protect his/her productive people. But s/he also needs to grow people; it’s just good leadership (a different word from management, reader take note).
And recently someone dear to me was also disqualified from work because of similar concerns. There was no patience and no investment in the time for that person to get up to speed. And it is to the loss of that boss and his organization that the investment was not made.
And I have no animosity towards the managers who have these policies and practices. But I will say categorically that they are simply not worthy of the talented people working for them.
I’m glad and proud I flunked the test.