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Rapid Hiring & Firing to Build the Best Teams

108 replies on 8 pages. Most recent reply: Apr 10, 2010 12:52 PM by Aye Thu

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Flat View: This topic has 108 replies on 8 pages [ « | 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 ... 8  | » ]
Claudio de Lyra

Posts: 1
Nickname: codelyra
Registered: Nov, 2007

Re: Rapid Hiring & Firing to Build the Best Teams Posted: Feb 8, 2010 5:54 AM
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Hello All,
This is the first time I am posting in Artima developer. I am said to read replies that were too much passionate, but I understand this is not the norm. I have seen excellent points raised, all of which are substantial material for further thinking.

For example, I wanted to focus on Paul's first comment, specially about two words that captured my attention:
1. Peers
2. Fun

Point number 1 reminded me of one fantastic director that i had for 4 years. He was also one of the company owners, he was actively managing several projects and contributing with excellent code as a programmer, but still
he would find the time to seat together with people, when necessary, for the sake of sharing knowledge.
At one point I remember he asked about my evaluation of a colleague. I was honest to clearly expose my colleague´s defficiencies, and I remember thinking to myself that after my remarks there would be no alternative but firing this guy.
Well, my director said "let´s see what we can do". Later he called the employee to his room and lecture him, like a peer, side by side sharing the same screen, on all the topics that were preventing this colleague from progressing.
Can you imagine an initiative that would be more motivating than this one? Or an initiative that would preserve more cleverly the company investments? And still, at the human level, be more generous and rewarding to everybody?
At that moment I learned a powerful lesson.

Fun is the opposite of boredom. How many times have we seen beamed presentations that are more than an one-way scripted monologue and which achieve their real objectives, leaving a persistent impression behind, simply because they are hilarious?
To be fun about any subject requires previous, although quick, meditation: our neurons are forced to trigger numerous associations and comparisons to sometimes complete diverse themes before they can produce anything funny.
This process only deepens our individual understanding. In this regard, a funny joke is nothing less than an enterprise radiator of wisdom.

So, somehow, I think this two things are connected and contribute to the aim of building great teams in a more human environment.

Kay Schluehr

Posts: 302
Nickname: schluehk
Registered: Jan, 2005

Re: Rapid Hiring & Firing to Build the Best Teams Posted: Feb 8, 2010 7:47 AM
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> You're German, so I'll give you a break..you people need
> it.go dork around on LTU.

Are you stalking now after me?

Paul English

Posts: 23
Nickname: kayakcto
Registered: Feb, 2010

Re: Rapid Hiring & Firing to Build the Best Teams Posted: Feb 8, 2010 9:18 AM
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Kay,

I can tell from your emails that KAYAK would never hire you, which is probably good for you too.

But I think you'd find -- if you actually talked to current or former KAYAK employees -- that people like it here.

--Paul

James Watson

Posts: 2024
Nickname: watson
Registered: Sep, 2005

Re: Rapid Hiring & Firing to Build the Best Teams Posted: Feb 8, 2010 9:21 AM
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> Hi Chris,
>
> I'm a big fan of hiring people of all levels of experience
> in terms of number of years, but even when we hire college
> grads, we really work hard to find the best-of-the-best.
>
> --Paul

I'm curious. How do you determine who are the best of the best with college grads?

James Watson

Posts: 2024
Nickname: watson
Registered: Sep, 2005

Re: Rapid Hiring & Firing to Build the Best Teams Posted: Feb 8, 2010 9:36 AM
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> Kay,
>
> I can tell from your emails that KAYAK would never hire
> you, which is probably good for you too.

That's odd because given what I know of Kay he seems to be quite a gentleman and pretty damn sharp too. There seems to be a lot of grumpiness here today. Note: many Americans are hungover today.

I think the above I think is what makes people nervous about this kind of management style. That some bad day or bad week will mean getting canned. I've had a number of bosses that thought the biggest dumbass on the team was the star and the real contributors were slackers. I had a sinus infection for about 2 months last fall. I know it affected my performance. Would that have gotten me fired? What if an employee's spouse or child were to pass?

I'm interested in this from a management perspective. How do you decide who gets let go? "Best of the best" is meaningless. "Not neutral" is very vague.

Paul English

Posts: 23
Nickname: kayakcto
Registered: Feb, 2010

Re: Rapid Hiring & Firing to Build the Best Teams Posted: Feb 8, 2010 9:48 AM
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Past success is the best predictor of future success.

If someone won awards in high school -- best hockey player, chess champion, best essay, best science fair -- they are more likely to perform well in the future than someone who did not achieve.

Of course there are exceptions to this, and for some reason, especially in America, we like to talk about those exceptions all the time.

But by the numbers, I go by past success, in high school and in college.

We also test people for general brightness/speed, and for attitude (fun, confident, humble, ethical, kind, etc).

Paul English

Posts: 23
Nickname: kayakcto
Registered: Feb, 2010

Re: Rapid Hiring & Firing to Build the Best Teams Posted: Feb 8, 2010 9:52 AM
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Employees are not canned for a bad week. And we definitely take personal situation into consideration for performance.

(We've been known to pay people full salary for several months off when they need it for medical situations. This in not common in the US, especially for a small startup like us.)

People at KAYAK work about 40-45 hours a week. We are very flexible on what time people arrive and leave; we hire strong people who can manage their own time. We don't believe in micro-managing. People are accountable to their peers as much as to managers, and in fact, we mostly treat their managers as their peers here.

It is my personal opinion that I would never hire Kay, based on his postings here. I have a right to my opinion. If you like Kay, you should hire him into your company.

James Watson

Posts: 2024
Nickname: watson
Registered: Sep, 2005

Re: Rapid Hiring & Firing to Build the Best Teams Posted: Feb 8, 2010 10:00 AM
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> It is my personal opinion that I would never hire Kay,
> based on his postings here. I have a right to my opinion.
> If you like Kay, you should hire him into your company.

I'm not saying you have to hire anyone. I just wonder what kind of person you would hire. Are you looking for people who don't challenge ideas?

In 'organizational behavior' I was warned that firing someone based on their personality is considered discriminatory as is hiring or promoting based on personality testing. Do you worry about lawsuits?

Paul English

Posts: 23
Nickname: kayakcto
Registered: Feb, 2010

Re: Rapid Hiring & Firing to Build the Best Teams Posted: Feb 8, 2010 10:35 AM
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Challenging ideas (especially ideas from "management") is not only encouraged, it is a requirement. One of the rules at KAYAK is "no silent disagreements".

As for personalities -- with all due respect, too bad. If people have dysfunctional behaviors that hurt my team, I take them out. Sorry if this is offensive to you.

James Watson

Posts: 2024
Nickname: watson
Registered: Sep, 2005

Re: Rapid Hiring & Firing to Build the Best Teams Posted: Feb 8, 2010 11:05 AM
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> Challenging ideas (especially ideas from "management") is
> not only encouraged, it is a requirement. One of the rules
> at KAYAK is "no silent disagreements".

So what is it about someone like Kay that would make you not want to him him?

> As for personalities -- with all due respect, too bad. If
> people have dysfunctional behaviors that hurt my team, I
> take them out. Sorry if this is offensive to you.

I'm not offended by much, especially not something like this. I'm asking this question to gain practical knowledge. The problem you are trying to address is one that I have particular interest in. I appreciate your time and merely want to understand how you make your strategy work from a legal perspective. What would you do if you were sued by a former employee for firing them for personality reasons. It's well established that this is not concerned a valid reason to fire someone (from a legal perspective.) I get why that's a desirable thing to do. How do you make it work given the legal realities?

James Watson

Posts: 2024
Nickname: watson
Registered: Sep, 2005

Re: Rapid Hiring & Firing to Build the Best Teams Posted: Feb 8, 2010 11:06 AM
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> Challenging ideas (especially ideas from "management") is
> not only encouraged, it is a requirement. One of the rules
> at KAYAK is "no silent disagreements".
>
> As for personalities -- with all due respect, too bad. If
> people have dysfunctional behaviors that hurt my team, I
> take them out. Sorry if this is offensive to you.

Forgot to add... I appreciate your time if you choose to humor my questions.

Thanks.

Paul English

Posts: 23
Nickname: kayakcto
Registered: Feb, 2010

Re: Rapid Hiring & Firing to Build the Best Teams Posted: Feb 8, 2010 11:40 AM
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nobody has sued us yet; i'd feel pretty confident defending against such a suit, as we have a clear requirement that 50% of anyone's responsibilities at KAYAK are to help make this a fantastic team; also, our offer letter is clearly employment-at-will, and lastly, as mentioned, i think we're pretty generous when it comes to the separation agreements

as to kay, i don't feel comfortable discussing particulars in this public forum; i probably owe him an apology as i'm sure he is a great guy and very competent (yet still i'd not hire him based on my personal opinions of his comments, but i don't want to go into that)

James Watson

Posts: 2024
Nickname: watson
Registered: Sep, 2005

Re: Rapid Hiring & Firing to Build the Best Teams Posted: Feb 8, 2010 12:09 PM
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> as to kay, i don't feel comfortable discussing particulars
> in this public forum; i probably owe him an apology as i'm
> sure he is a great guy and very competent (yet still i'd
> not hire him based on my personal opinions of his
> comments, but i don't want to go into that)

I think it's important to realize that forum posts are extremely easy to misinterpret and that how someone interacts on a forum isn't necessarily how they will behave in a more personal setting.

Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing isn't clear to me. That people express opinions or thoughts that they might otherwise suppress is part of what keeps me coming back to forums such as this.

Chris Perkins

Posts: 4
Nickname: percious
Registered: Sep, 2009

Re: Rapid Hiring & Firing to Build the Best Teams Posted: Feb 8, 2010 1:01 PM
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Thanks for posting this Bruce. I've been thinking a lot about this topic lately as I am in a position of hiring Python developers these days. I think you keyed in on an important point, which is that detecting a poisonous person during the hiring process is often difficult.

Lately I am reluctant to hire people _not_ involved in OSS. That's not to say that people with closed experience are not good, it's just that the smaller projects that I staff cannot take the risk of hiring someone that produces no net benefit for our projects.

The nice thing about open source developers is that their work is exposed. The way they communicate is held in blogs, mailing lists, and irc chat logs. Their coding ability is recorded in code repositories like http://bitbucket.org and http://github.com. You can usually see how active a person will be in your closed project by evaluating their participation on the open side of things.

My style of hiring is to hire smart people as they come on the market and see how they will fit in my general team. This usually means that we might grow a little slower as an organization, but we can meet the needs of our customers without taking on additional risk of hiring people that are less-than-stellar. And yes, I have had to "fire" 2 people in the last year, and it was a painful drawn-out process because they are people I work with in OSS, but they just didn't have the time they thought they had to contribute to my pay-for projects. I was finally able to convince them to step aside. If anyone has a better way to manage this problem I'd like to know about it.

This is a bit of a tome, and I appreciate if you read this far, but I just wanted to mention one more thing before closing my note. I _do_ come across good developers with the skills I need that are not doing OSS. The interview process for these folks is more costly, and what I try to do is to get the individuals involved in an upcoming sprint. This benefits the OSS project, allows me to see how the person communicates in an intense, LIVE setting, and also gives me an indication of their dedication, since sprints are usually more about starting things than finishing them up. Even if I don't hire the perspective developer, he benefits by getting to know an OSS project in his given domain more intimately, and receives notoriety for his contribution.

Just some thoughts.

cheers.
-chris

Kay Schluehr

Posts: 302
Nickname: schluehk
Registered: Jan, 2005

Re: Rapid Hiring & Firing to Build the Best Teams Posted: Feb 8, 2010 1:03 PM
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> Kay,
>
> I can tell from your emails that KAYAK would never hire
> you, which is probably good for you too.

This is quite possible but also telling how harassing and exclusion of critical minds work in our brave new economy. It might even become dangerous to insist that work is still just work and not something else like sports, fun or any other joyous totality experience.

On the other hand sociologist Richard Sennet is going to derive pleasure and meaning from work and advocates perfectionism in his literature about craft. This however doesn't come as a psychological dressing but as a continous involvement with the material and the working piece. His idealist notion of craftmanship attitude is "doing a thing well for its own sake". One can so far to say that Sennet attempts to give a positive definition of non alienated work. This is mostly bound to individual work in Sennets examples though and he doesn't discuss labor division a lot which is both crucial for the whole of the industrial age as well as the glorified teams of our new economy. I do think there is a tension which just won't ever go away. I worked very successfully in small teams ( last time over four years in a duo ) where it was actually this tension which had a strong life on its own. Noteworthy and related but on a very different scale is Jaron Laniers recent polemics about "digital maoism" and his defense of individualism.

BTW I'm very pleased about your openness. Not many people in your position would even respond to any sign of negativity. This certainly speaks for you and the company you represent.

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