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April 25, 2010

Comments

Francis Hwang

Yeah, I dunno, it doesn't sound like he's got it quite right. For one thing, a lot of jobs you can get when you're right out of college are shitty jobs and don't deserve your loyalty. I think you can be somebody who's smart and wants to do great work as part of a team, but right out of college you're likely to have very little sense of what to look for in a prospective employer so you can make a bunch of bad decisions in a row.

Another thing is that some people have career needs and desires that are actually highly particular, so it may take them longer than their peers to figure out exactly what sort of job makes them happy. That can be both good and bad, but sometimes when those people do find the one thing that works for them, it makes them really passionate, and tenacious. I have a number of friends who looked like big-time slackers 'til their mid-20s, and then hit the opportunity of a lifetime and succeeded in a huge way from it.

Vivek Sharma

Great counterpoints Paul. Mark Suster's post never really sat well with me. You hit the nail on the head regarding ownership. The relationship between company and employee has to be two-way and his post reeks of one-sided expectations.

I'd like to see Mark respond to an older post by Chris Dixon: http://cdixon.org/2009/09/19/climbing-the-wrong-hill/

If someone early in her career was doing a random walk to find her place then would she pass Mark's loyalty filter?

So what can a company do to make itself a more compelling place for a go-getter to work? There's a saying that "sales fixes everything". It's simplistic but execution does grow the pie and gives every employee a greater role and ownership in success.

Mike Kavis

I can see points in both sides of the argument. I always worry about engineers who never stick around longer than a year or two at any point in their career. I also worry about people who have been at one place in their entire 20 year career. Both have a narrow perspective about the world. The hopper never gets to see the long term consequences of decisions and is apt to make the wrong choices again and again. The long term guy/gal only knows one world and often is oblivious to the world around them. Regardless, it really comes down to attitude, skills, and experience. Loyalty is a thing of the past. You can't expect to have loyal employees when the industry standard is eroding benefits, 2% raises, and layoffs. Employees are out for #1 and they should be.

If I see someone who is intriguing but I see a lot of job hopping, I'll ask why. If every hop has an excuse that shifts blame to the employer, then I will probably pass on the candidate. That is a true job hopper when everything is everyone else's fault.

On the point of VCs not funding organizations with job hoppers. If I was a VC and the management team of a startup were hopping like crazy and never saw the execution of a biz plan, I would not invest a cent. I wouldn't focus so much on engineering, although I would want the lead IT person to have some stability/track record.

Anyways, I agree and disagree with both sides of the argument. There are always exceptions to the rule and I would never rule out anyone without giving them the benefit of the doubt.

jj

Agree here. All respect to Mark but he's a hammer and every problem looks like a nail to him. If you read his posts, you'll notice that pattern across all topics. It's one way to approach entrepreneurship and it looks like it works for him. My only criticism is that everyone in the industry starts thinking his approach is the only way and then he causes more harm than good.

Matt McCormick

Very good rebuttal. I thought his argument was poorly thought out with a lot of gaping holes. It came off as being incredibly biased. That's fine, we all have our biases. However, I would have liked him to go into more detail about what experiences he had that led him to that conclusion. Maybe he has been burned badly a few times by "job-hoppers." As I recall, he didn't give specifics on his own personal experiences.

roger


Anytime anyone has a hiring theory that selects on a single attribute of people, you're excluding everyone else. Teams are made of multiple people, and homogeneous teams typically significantly underperform heterogeneous ones.

Therefore, if anyone claims that they have found the one thing to discriminate against, they're always wrong.

-Roger

Francis Hwang

"If I see someone who is intriguing but I see a lot of job hopping, I'll ask why. If every hop has an excuse that shifts blame to the employer, then I will probably pass on the candidate. That is a true job hopper when everything is everyone else's fault."

That's a very good point, Mike. I think it's quite common that somebody's going to have a few misfires in finding career direction early on--in fact, the more anarchic and startup-y the field, I think the higher the odds of the job being something you weren't counting on. But in the midst of that it's a big deal to hear the candidate be able to talk about those difficulties with a certain amount of introspection. Even if you didn't have the greatest job experience, you need to be able to learn from it nonetheless.

Kevin Pruett

really great take on mark's discussion. i agree wholeheartedly that the company and its environment is responsible for retaining talented employees.

i just got done writing my own rebuttal to mark's "job hopping" debate. it's great to see the topic discussed from a fresh pair of eyes too.

Ryan

There are some really interesting points in here. I agree with Paul that hiring risk-taking startup-types (that are looking for the right environment to feel ownership and cultivate their skills) are probably the best targets. People like that obviously may have gone from job to job to job. However, when I read suster's assertions, I immediately pictured resumes that look like this:

IBM 2 years
Qualcomm 1 year
TI 6 months
Broadcom 1 year

In other words, lots of big corporations. In my experience, people that hop around like this are bad news. It has nothing to do with loyalty or anything. It has more to do with what that person was able to accomplish at each of these positions. It's very difficult to consistently take projects from start-to-finish-to-support when you are hopping constantly. Maybe that is because his boss sucked at every company. Maybe it's because he doesn't feel a sense of ownership. Not sure. There could be a reason for leaving every position. But in my experience, it's normally because the candidate is a better talker/interviewer than he is actually executing.

I still think some of suster's points are valid for "hoppers" that go from startup to startup as well. Paul places a lot emphasis on the responsibilities of the hiring company: make the position that you are hiring worth it for someone to want to stay. At my startup, we could do everything right in creating a perfect atmosphere for a new employee... and it could still be struggling. Would this person jump ship at the first sign of trouble to a startup that is performing better? That is what new startups should watch out for. I do agree with Paul, and I think this is his main point, that you save this judgment more for the interview as opposed to the resume stack. (He does think like someone who's never hired anyone before, however. Doubt he's ever had to parse 1000+ resumes before. This won't be a problem for us.)

twitter.com/msuster

Paul, nice robust rebuttal. I still hold my POV that employer's should focus on hiring people who have proven some "staying power" and at least worked at one job for a longer period of time (say, 3 years) but realize that my post didn't cover the employee's point-of-view. Today's post is here: http://bothsid.es/62o and looks at it from the employee's point of view.

Paul Dix

Hey Ryan, I have a couple of counter-points. First, on this: "one of the things I've heard before for startups is: "At my startup, we could do everything right in creating a perfect atmosphere for a new employee... and it could still be struggling". One thing I've heard before is that you should be quick to fire. The wrong hire can completely ruin your chances of success. If you're giving someone every chance for success and they're still struggling, it's time to have some serious discussions. Of course, that has nothing to do with the resume filter.

The second thing: you're right that I haven't had to sift through 1,000 resumes. At my last job we had a full time recruiter that piped candidates to me. I probably did about 70 interviews over the course of a year to help identify people for a team that added 10 people. A directed recruiting effort is much better than putting a bunch of job posts out there and getting thousands of resumes. That means searching through LinkedIn, looking on Github (probably the best for developers), and hitting more targeted sites (like WorkingWithRails for Rails devs).

Basically, be more proactive in your recruiting effort. Don't post to a job board and get back 1k anonymous resumes. Finding talent is hard. It should be a core competency for startup founders. Of course, get back to me in a year and I'll be able to give a more experienced opinion. :)

Paul Dix

Thanks Mark. Just posted a comment on your post.

Rich Friedeman

I had to go back and read Suster's post to be sure I could see where you were coming from. To be honest, this post reinforces to me that you've never hired anyone.

You're absolutely right that you want to hire the best you can, and that you will miss out on some very skilled people by using Suster's filter. There's a lot more to an employee than engineering talent.

Ultimately, you don't care about their talent, you care about what they produce. Highly talented engineers, when productive, will clearly produce more than less talented ones, but "when productive" is an important qualifier. Talent isn't the whole equation.

The farther you get into a project, the more work on someone's part and time is involved in bringing a new person up to speed. Lean startups (and frankly, most organizations) can't afford to do frequent on-boardings. A new person's productivity is basically zero on day 1. It may ramp up quickly, but quickly can still easily be 2-4 weeks of lowered productivity -- longer if you're in a frenzy of effort and have no time to fully orient them.

Combine that with looking at when people quit. It's almost never a good time, but the likelihood goes up when the going is getting tough -- you've had a problem, or a deadline is approaching, or have to do a major retooling due to competitive pressures. In short, when things get even more stressful. That's when you need someone you know isn't looking for escape routes from day one.

It's all well and good to say you want to hire the best people and make your workplace so awesome that they always want to stay. It's a nice goal, but as a staff plan, it's on the Bill and Ted level of "Be excellent to each other": Appealing, but rarely that easy. Work will often suck not because the jobs are bad or the company you're building is bad, but because it's work. If it's nothing but fun, someone else is already doing it for free.

Someone with a track record of endless short-time work indicates that they're probably less likely to put up with that and tough it out. It doesn't mean they're not really talented, and it doesn't mean they're not good, interesting, and worthwhile people. But they're not a great choice as an employee.

In the end, staff churn (on large or small teams) is very expensive in terms of opportunity cost and often real cost. This is really what Suster wants to avoid.

He may not say it in the most appealing way, but he's a lot more right than wrong.

Paul Dix

Hey Rich, I agree that staff churn is bad and should be avoided. However, I don't agree with your thought that my goal to create a fantastic work place equates to "Bill and Ted" thinking. Look at Fog Creek Software. Joel has written and spoken publicly about creating the most excellent workplace for developers. The result? Zero churn. None. And this is to create bug tracking/project management software (something that most devs find uninspiring).

Seeing a bunch of jobs on someone's resume is certainly a signal of something. It's a signal that they haven't found the right job yet. It's a stretch to say that it's a signal of character flaws that make the person a miserable hire. You could find someone with only one job of 10 years on their resume. Is it because they found the perfect job or because they're a lazy piker that will stay in whatever position that won't fire them and asks the least of them for a paycheck? You just don't know until you talk to them more (and even then you're still making a guess, but with more information).

Flinn

My favorite line: "It's a company, not a commune." Says it all. Nice rebuttal.

Donnie Cameron

Unskilled, unproductive, unimaginative labor is worse than staff churn.

I was a job hopper for many years, but now I've had the same job for over 5 years. One thing I noticed in every new job I took was that my job-hopping history made me a far more valuable employee than my peers. I would start at a company and quickly turn things around, improving productivity, training my peers, embracing and pushing for new cost-saving technologies, and generally delivering work that the people who had been working there for 10 years could never think about delivering. In fact, I was always surprised that my non-job-hopping peers hadn't even heard of technologies that I was intimately familiar with (the latest of these: Subversion, Git, wikis, REST, SVMs). And this was not because I was smarter. Never. It was simply because I had a broader range of experiences. And, O.K., maybe because I followed programming news feeds, which most businesses would frown upon anyway.

Embracing new technologies can have a giant impact on productivity and costs in general. My argument is that job hoppers often have a better understanding of emerging technologies, both because of experience (they've worked in more places) and because they necessarily have to be better at learning than people who tend to remain at one company for many years.

Given the level of competition and the rapid and ever-increasing rate of change that we're experiencing now, I believe technology businesses need to make sure that they experience at least some judiciously guided staff churn.

Ryan Angilly

+1 for "That's capitalism."

Nycplayer

Agree with Donnie above - I never would have acquired the skills I have by staying in one place for 6 years. Only one company I ever worked at was open minded about bringing in new technologies, and objectively assessing them. They were great, but when the hard times hit - well, let's just say they upper management didn't have any qualms about laying off our entire team, and winding down the customers for our product.

Nycplayer

Also - I have to disagree with the "Bill & Ted" remark above.

If you can't keep your people when others try to lure them away the fault is 100% on you. The paycheck you give your workers earns their labor, not their loyalty.

If you want their loyalty, you have to make a lot more of an effort.

You have to care about them, and the families they are trying to support.

You have to make sure they are keeping their skills sharp and marketable for the day you decide to shut down and leave them jobless.

You have to have decent benefits so they aren't having to make financial calculations when deciding whether or not to take their kid to the ER.

You have to respect their input and value their contribution to your success.

You have to treat them like adults with valuable skills, not commodities, or clock-punching automatons.

You have to be running a business they can be proud to be associated with, not something that is scamming your customers.

And you have to hire people passionate about their craft.

If you hire great people, and treat them right they will have your back during the hard times.

Raj Dash

Mark Suster sounds like he's talking from the position of a VC, not the position of ever having had to struggle in his career, competing in tough markets, constantly having to upgrade skills, and then ultimately shuffled aside for kids who might be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed but haven't learned the tricks that hardcore coders have, to cut down coding time. Because if Suster has ever gone through this, then I doubt he'd ever say such things. Even his article title alone (which is where I stopped reading, so maybe I'm being unfair?) can be disproven with symbolic logic.

Anyone with an ounce of compassion knows that people go through rough spots in their lives and sometimes are "dragged" around in their career before they can take control -- by which point they're already tagged as being "difficult". What hope would they be left with in their careers if everyone thought like this? But aren't most VCs about profit, not compassion?

Kim

I get to see the viewpoint from both the employers and employees because I work with both sides.

Visualize how you would feel if you were this employer. Real live situation from last week's conversation: Job hunter got a job offer that he didn't feel was adequate for his skills sets and money requirements. He took the job anyway and continued to job hunt with the intention of leaving the second he got a better offer even if it's within a month or two of the new job. He was asking for advice on how to hide the current job on his resume so it would not trigger red flags.

How ethical is that? This is what I classify as a job hopper. Someone who is taking a job with the intention in mind of leaving before they even started.

As an employer, would you not feel burned and as a result have a negative bias (whether conscious or unconscious) in the future. Can you afford to throw away thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars when you own your own business.

Paul Dix

Hey Kim, that's an extreme case for sure. Mark's definition of job hoppers included people that stayed at a position for 1-2 years and moved on. He wasn't even talking about people that are making obviously unethical moves.

That's why it's important to check references and find out what kind of people you are hiring. Again, that has nothing to do with filtering a stack of resumes.

The truth is that you won't be able to catch everything. You can't plan as though you'll never make a bad hire and you can't let the possibility deter you from getting things done. It's kind of like sacrificing freedom and liberty for security... you'll get and deserve neither.

Karthik Hariharan

This is a great post. I took Mark Suster's post as one taken from a business person's perspective, not that of a software developer. Your post explains things from a developer perspective. The fact is, as a developer, your marketable value is always tied to the technologies you work with and how current you are with patterns, practices, and technologies. And unfortunately it's extremely rare to find companies that understand that keeping programmers loyal also means keeping their skills relevant. That means approving projects that might require costly refactoring, trying new technologies when relevant, looking back on legacy code and seeing if there's ways to make it work faster and cheaper to maintain -- even if customers see no immediate benefit. In my experience, very few companies understand this.

I say this as I sit in a company that has "loyal" developers who still work in Classic ASP, C++, and Perl day by day and have for the past 10 years. Things like GitHub, RSS, Continuous Integration, NoSQL, etc are completely foreign concepts to them.

On paper, sure they may might pass Mark Suster's test. But not one of them would have a clue on how to build an efficient, low cost infrastructure from scratch using modern technologies to power a startup. Those things are only gained with solid experience, and that kind of experience is what leads good developers to job hop.

Darrel

Should we be surprised that a VC would put the blame on job hopping on the candidate rather than the companies?

Loyalty is a two-way street and, alas, for a while now, it's been re-routed into a one-way street. If Mark hands me an outline of his companies 6-month severance plans the day they interview me, then maybe I'd cut him some slack. However, in the era of annual layoffs, I can't blame anyone for looking out for their own career even if that involves a bit of hopping.

Brian

If employers want to cut down on churn, they can start by eliminating "at will employment" and instead return to contractual employment.

For example, I worked at a job where either party had to give six months' notice of intent to end the position. If I got laid off, they had to either give me six months' notice, or pay me six months' wages on my last day. And I had to give them six months' notice before leaving my position. It worked well, I worked there for almost six years and we were both happy.

But employers want things both ways. They want an environment of at-will employment where, to beef up the numbers for a quarter, they can fire people without any costs at all and change benefits without any trouble. But they also want lifelong slavish employee loyalty from people who will turn down offers better for their and their families' economic futures.

Sorry, free markets don't work that way. Either you as an employer create an environment that attracts and retains people -- creating incentives to stay and disincentives to leave -- or you stick with the employer-created at-will free-for-all that we have today. If you make the latter choice, then crying over employee mobility and wage competition is just stupid.

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