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Posted on: Saturday, 05 June 2010 by Rajiv Popat

My team at Multiplitaxion Inc, happens to be a group of really seriously kick-ass programmers where even some of the weakest in the team can kick some serious butt. Fred clears multiple rounds of interviews for Multiplitaxion Inc, and wants to join this team.

I cringe.

As far as I am concerned, if you are joining my team, I prefer that you have, either gone through my interview and met my criteria or have proved yourself within the organization in one way or the other before you are made a part of my core team.

Fred as it turns out, has done neither.

He is a young and budding programmer fresh out of college who has taken an engineering degree, answered a few math questions and a few puzzles correctly and cleared the Multiplitaxion Inc, interview with flying colors.

A few mails back and forth, the really awesome folks at the Human Resources department Multiplitaxion Inc, allow me to screen the guy and they give me the liberty of taking him in my team or letting him move over to a different team.

I spend some time talking to Fred, asking him a simple question - We have a month to build anything that you want to build. Can you spend a day thinking about what you want to work on and let me know tomorrow. We will start working on whatever you pick and I'll help you as we move on. After a month we will evaluate what we have built and if it's good enough you join the team.

Fred looks at me like I just dropped a rodent on the table.

The next day he comes back with three things that he would like to work on:

  1. A brand new operating system - which is what you often fantasize about building when you are in an engineering college and if you are lucky they even let you build a small theoretical kernel as your college project.
  2. A brand new security algorithm - again a hugely academic project I am sure a million mediocre students in a million colleges around the world are working on.
  3. A Patient tracking system for a hospital - this one, I'd rather not comment on, for the fear of sounding very nasty and mean.

Then Fred basically tells me that even though he has thought of these, he is not going to actually work on any of these. Put simply he is not up for this whole lets-innovate-idea. He wants an assignment and he wants to start working on it right away.

On any given day I get bombarded with dozens of ideas which I tend to put on the back-burner till they find me, grab me by my collar and make me work on turning them into realities. In our days, we became programmers, because it was fun and because it was empowering. It allowed you to think of stuff you could build and turn this stuff into reality.

I see, talk and work with countless programmers around the world and while the niche still gets it, I think, overall we are just breeding 501 programmers who join the software business because its good money or because their friends are joining it. Of all the things that young and budding programmers coming fresh out of college these days tend to lack, is the ability to find their own sources of motivation.

We are screwing the software development world and letting it loop in the infinite loop of failure by turning it into factories where clones are produced. If you are reading this and are responsible for hiring folks in your organization, might I suggest that you turn this into an interview question.

Ask a candidate what he would build if he was given one month of free time to work on anything that he wanted to work on. His reply may or may not impress you, but it will tell you a lot about why he wants the job. Now make an objective decision on if you really want him on your team.

Go hire programmers who can drive themselves rather than folks who want to be driven like a folk of sheep.

I wish you good luck.