Of coding superheroes and their superpowers

Career / Wednesday, May 3rd, 2017

I was recently in talks with a very well-known brand for an opening in software development. During mail exchanges, their tech mentor asked me what my coding “superpower” was. This confused me; was he asking the language I knew very well, or some mighty accomplishment I was proud of? A little more into the exchange and I was told that the next step would be a voice call where we’d have a “deep dive” into “algorithm design”. It’s not really relevant for this post, but for the sake of closure, here’s what happened next: I bowed out.

The obsession of software world with puzzles and algorithms is beyond belief. While I’m sure in many, many software shops, people are writing new algorithms, for the vast majority of cases this is simply not the case. And this particular brand, in question, was an NGO / social welfare of sorts. How many times during the average workday do their developers need to balance trees and write Sudoku solvers? I’m betting the answer is “zero”.

Why, then, do platforms like HackerRank thrive? And why do companies still look for talent as if they wanted to write a better version of MySQL? I’d say the answer is ego, sometimes mixed with insecurity. The candidates want to stamp their genius, and naturally flock to algorithms and coding competitions. The companies mostly don’t have a clue about the type of people they need, or how to identify them, and resort of what seems like an objective measure.

Unless one is hiring for Machine Learning type of roles, deep knowledge of algorithms matters very little. When your Redis server crashes because of the I/O limit was reached because of a runaway process, algorithms are not going to save you. Similarly, knowing the difference between Node.js and Go will help prevent hype and run into long-term problems, when algorithms won’t save you.

I could go on and on about what matters in hiring and what to look for, but the Internet is chock full of advice. Those who understand this nuance of culture know the basics already, and those who really need it think they don’t, so I’d better save my energies.

I guess this post is more of a rant than anything else.

Gosh, I feel better already. 🙂

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