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This developer created the fake programming language MOVA to catch out naughty recruiters, résumé padders

Multiple Object Versionless Architecture is as popular now as it was two decades ago

Alan Holden, the inventor of the MOVA programming language, doesn't mention it on his resume, which isn't entirely surprising since it never really existed.

Holden, a California-based application developer, gave the language a name, which stands for Multiple Object Versionless Architecture, but not much else. There's no documentation, no standard library, nada.

As he explained in a phone interview with The Register, MOVA was intended to be vaporware. Its reason for being, back during the dot-com boom of the late 1990s, was to weed out recruiters and job applicants, who were overabundant at the time.

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"We didn't want to give it too much backstory," said Holden, who started working for a now defunct Los-Angeles-based company called PeopleLink, Inc. in 1998. "We didn't want to represent it really existed. If we had too much on it we'd basically be defeating our own purpose, which is that it's not real."

The language was a bit more than a name. Its name expressed its organizing principle: It was supposed to provide a way to represent objects that could mutate from one data type to another, on their own, without any versioning scheme.

"We basically said that the objects could mutate and they didn't need to be cast to a certain type," said Holdren, chuckling. "They can change themselves and they're versionless, which means they're always the latest version."

Stopping the spam

The idea for the language arose, he said, during discussions with his developer colleagues about how to limit the flow of resumes and recruiter calls.

"We had a lot of different mechanisms to weed people out," he said. "We were getting lots of applications because this whole internet bubble at the time hadn't burst."

One tactic used, he said, was a word association test where they'd say terms like "FTP," "HTML," and "IPO" to see what came back.

One colleague, Holden recalled, suggested adding a programming language that doesn't exist to our requirements. "I came up with Multiple Object Versionless Architecture," he said.

After that, to elaborate on the joke, a graphic designer with PeopleLink mocked up an O'Reilly Media programming book cover for MOVA, which Holdren recently shared to a Facebook group for ColdFusion programmers. That was back before there was a web app to create fanciful O'Reilly titles.

The non-existent MOVA programming language

Click to enlarge

The trap didn't catch many. "We got a couple [people who mentioned MOVA]," said Holden. "It wasn't necessarily in writing. Sometimes a headhunter or candidate would mention it. They'd say they dabbled in MOVA but I didn't know it that well."

Holden said serious recruiters weren't big fans of lying.

Sachin Gupta, CEO of developer recruitment firm HackerEarth, told The Register in an email that he hasn't seen traps of that sort to catch dishonest people but added that companies do have their own filtering mechanisms. He pointed to Google's approach to pre-screen applicants by putting up billboards with a complex problem, the answer to which is a URL the puzzle solver can use to apply for a job.

Google also recruits by presenting searchers who enter a series of search terms related to computer science and algorithms, like "Raft consensus" in conjunction with other similar searches, with a command line running in a virtual machine so they can participate in a technical challenge.

Those recruiting developers often pose challenges that include deliberately introduced bugs that, it's hoped, the applicant will notice and fix. But Gupta said that's more about weeding people out on the basis of skill rather than honesty.

At the same time, the idea of a screen trap hasn't entirely vanished. A ColdFusion course taught by the NDD Academy, run by Next Door Digital, asked prospective applicants whether to rate their knowledge of a series of real technologies and one fake one, Quasimodo.

Asked whether there's still a need for such subterfuge, Holden was skeptical. "The information age has matured to the point where it's very difficult for people to represent themselves as something they're not," he said, pointing to sites like LinkedIn and GitHub as vetting mechanisms.

Even so, Holden on his Facebook post, responding to commenters who joked about the great time they had at MOVAcon and how the language influenced their views on software development, said he looks forward to seeing everyone at MOVAcon '21 in Agloe, NY.

We're looking forward to it. ®

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