Book review Smart and gets things done is a pretty apt description of the kind of people we want to recruit into our development teams.
Unfortunately, this is no easy matter. And, given the consequences of a wrong choice for either party, it can often be a pretty hit and miss affair.
Joel Spolsky, of VBA and Joel On Software fame, has put together this slim little volume that aims to let us all into the secret of recruiting the best of the best of the best. Oh, and along the way we get to learn a lot about Joel, his company, and what a great place it is to work in...
The key issue at play is that a great developer is streets ahead of a good developer in much the same way that a chess Grand Master is streets ahead of a Master.
It's not just Mr Spolsky who says this, it's a point backed up with solid research and a point that Steve McConnell makes in Code Complete. While others point to productivity gains, Joel also points out that great developers have other kinds of smarts too, and that this can pay off in ways unrelated to pure code quality.
Given the need to recruit the very few great developers out there, what is the best way of going about it? If these developers are that great, how is it that you can make them interested in the first place? How can you even get to them (placing ads online only nets thousands of CVs from not-great developers)?
Spolsky makes the point that the pool of talent is always limited, and that the really good people are never in the job market for very long. He also suggests, quite rightly in my opinion, that the best developers are never solely motivated by money (though they can become demotivated by lack of money just as easily as the next guy or gal). The trick is to pitch interesting work, good tools, good environments, and a set of high-performing peers. The aim should be to make your company an attractive place to work for people who are smart and get things done.
Assuming you've done what you can (and Spolsky does a very good job of pitching his company to readers, rest assured), how do you decide that the person in front of your really is a superstar and not just a convincing also-ran? There are some good recommendations on offer, and some sound advice on interviewing, testing, and how to treat prospective candidates once they arrive. And, to round things off, there are a few additional chapters on management styles and on how to fix sub-optimal teams.
All of which makes for an interesting and entertaining little read, for people on both sides of the interview table. For interviewers, it provides some food for thought on how best to screen unsuitable candidates and on how to attract the kind of people you need. For applicants it provides some ideas on how to gauge the organisation doing the recruitment.
Smart and Gets Things Done
Verdict: Worth a quick read, particularly for those actively engaged in recruitment.
Author: Joel Spolsky
List Price: £12.99
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