Tuesday 7 February 2012

If At First You Don't Succeed, Try, Try Again

In a very real sense, that's a big part of what we do in test-driven or behaviour-driven development, isn't it?

It doesn't only apply to classes and projects. Teams work that way, too. You can have someone who, on paper, seems just great to help you out with the cat-herding problem that's a large part of any significant project. The interview is fantastic; he's 110% buzzword-compliant with what (you think) you need The New Hand to be able to pick up and run with. There might be a few minor quirks, niggles; a voice in the back of your mind standing up and clearing its throat obnoxiously, and when that doesn't get your attention, starts screaming loudly enough that surrounding folk reach for ear protection. When that doesn't get your attention — because, after all, you're talking to such a fine candidate — the voice might well be forgiven for giving up in disgust and seeking the farthest corner of your brain to sulk in. And give a good kick to, every now and again.

And then Something happens, usually a string of increasingly serious, increasingly rapidly-occurring Somethings, and you realise that this really isn't working out so well after all. The candidate-turned-colleague may well be a very nice person, but you just can't communicate effectively. Or the "incremental" test that she writes requires changes to a dozen different classes that, in turn, break 15 existing tests. If that doesn't make you go 'hmmm...', then maybe your other team members are concerned about his professionalism: consistently showing up late to meetings; giving a series of increasingly outlandish reasons for not coming into the office and working from home despite having previously promised not to, and so on. Seemingly before you know it, the project is at a virtual standstill, team dysfunction has reached soap-operatic heights, and at least one vital member of the team starts running around and shouting "off with her head!" All of which does absolutely wonderful things to your velocity and project schedule. Or maybe not so wonderful.

And the funny thing is that, at about that time, you remember that voice in the back of your mind that was trying to point out that something was rotten in this particular virtual state of Denmark from the beginning; you were just too optimistic, and likely too desperately stubborn, to recognise it at the time. If you're going to go about hiring someone, have a good rapport with your instincts. Know when to walk away; know when to run.

Long story short, we are looking for an awesome new team member. As you might have gathered from the last few blog posts, we're a Ruby on Rails shop, so you'd imagine that heavy Rails experience would be tops on our list, right? Not so fast, friend. I/we subscribe to the philosophy that source code (and the accompanying artefacts) are part of the rich communication that must continuously thrive between team members, past, present and future. These artifacts are unusual in that they are in fact executable (directly or indirectly) by a computer, but they're primarily a means of communication. As such, ability to communicate effectively in English trumps wizard-level Ruby skills. If we can't communicate effectively, it doesn't matter how good you are, does it?

What we're looking for at the moment can be summarised thusly:

1) Demonstrated professionalism. This does not mean "a long string of successful professional engagements", though obviously that doesn't hurt, especially if they individually lasted more than the sensible minimum. Do you generally keep your word? (Shtuff happens to everybody; nobody's perfect, but overall trends do matter.) Are colleagues secure in the knowledge that you routinely exceed expectations, or are they continuously making contingency plans?

2) Fluent, literate standard English at a level capable of understanding and conveying nuance and detail effectively and efficiently. This would be first on the list, were it not for the series of unfortunate events that led to this post being written at all. It is an absolutely necessary skill for each member of a truly successful team, and a skill that is becoming depressingly rare.

3) Customer-facing development experience, ideally in a high-availability, high-reliability environment. We're building a service that, if we're successful, people are going to "just assume" Works whenever they want it to, like flicking on the lights when you walk into a room at night. Those of us who've been around for a while remember the growing pains that many popular services have gone through; we have no plans whatever to implement a "fail whale".

4) Ruby exposure, with Rails 3 a strong preference. You can fill in along the edges as we go along, but if we can't have an informed discussion of best practices and how to apply them to our project, you're (and we're) hurting. If you're unclear on the concepts of RSpec or REST or Haml or _why, you're going to have to work really, really hard to convince us that we're not all wasting time we can't afford to. And, finally,

5) Deep OO experience in at least two different languages. If you can explain and contrast how you've used different systems' approaches to design by contract, encapsulation, metaprogramming, and so on, and have good ideas on how we can apply that to making our code even more spectacular, rock on. "Why isn't this #1 or #2 on your list," you might ask. If you can convince me why it should be, and why your skills are so obviously better than anybody else I'm likely to have walk in the virtual door... then you've already taken care of the others, anyway.

We're a startup, so we're not made of money. But since we're a startup, money isn't all we have to offer the right person. Know who that might be? Drop me a line at jeff.dickey at theprolog dot NOSPAM com. Those who leave LinkedIn-style "please hire me" comments to this post will be flamed, ridiculed, and disqualified.

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