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Why Do Companies Ask For Passion?

Nočnica Fee on July 19, 2021

Cover image from Passion (1954), public domain. Screenshot by Wayne77. Popular job advice, especially in highly competitive fields like tech, ofte...
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Benjamin Delespierre • Edited

"We're looking for someone passionate" on a job description translates to "We want someone that works harder at no additional cost." Prove me wrong.

I reply to them with "How is excellence measured in your company and how is it rewarded." The answers are quite interesting.

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aghost7 profile image
Jonathan Boudreau

For me its just about finding people that have an eye on quality instead quantity. I want to work with devs that are going to try to find ways to improve the code, and not just work on stories. I want thinkers not robots.

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rydra profile image
David Jiménez • Edited

I fully agree with you. I'm a picky developer in terms of code quality, and I want to deliver always as best as possible within time frame. This pursue of quality is what motivates me to find new approaches and technologies, listen and learn from people and, at the same time, share my knowledge. I would call that passionate.

I have something clear though: I'm a professional and I appreciate and give a lot of value to my free time. If something I do on my free time casually matches the company interests then good for them, but it's not my main driver.

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aghost7 profile image
Jonathan Boudreau

Yes, you also have to make sure boundaries are respected. In my experience when those boundaries are not respected its usually caused by one or a combination of:

  • Lack of communication from the developer. Lets say a developer tries to fix things without discussion during a tight deadline. This will result in working beyond normal hours. If a refactor needs to happen but there is no time in the sprint, it should be brought up to the lead / team members and put in the backlog.
  • Lack of understanding from the manager as to how good software is made. It is best to work with the lead to try to address things. For each sprint, plan for some "fix time" works pretty well.

In short, "passionate" is a small part of what constitutes a good hire. Definitively a good trait to look for though.

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bdelespierre profile image
Benjamin Delespierre

Interesting point of view!

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Dhaiwat Pandya

You can be competent without being passionate.

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aghost7 profile image
Jonathan Boudreau

Agreed.

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citizen428 profile image
Michael Kohl

You can be competent without being passionate.

And vice versa. Case in point: my golf game. I'm very passionate about it, doesn't make me competent.

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bdelespierre profile image
Benjamin Delespierre • Edited

So true! I'd like to note here that some of the best developpers I've met in my carreer are dads with other preocupation than maximizing their entreprise's wealth. What they lacked in passion they made up for in diligence and patience, which are qualities that I admire.

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Nočnica Fee Author

In my own personal experience, I think of this as being separate from passion. Some people (and I agree they're the best developers often) simply don't like delivering flawed, unmaintainable code. For me that's separate from someone who is "passionate" in terms of always working super hard.

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aghost7 profile image
Jonathan Boudreau

How is it different from passion?

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citizen428 profile image
Michael Kohl • Edited

How is it different from passion?

Because diligence and passion are orthogonal. If you pay me to do a task, I'll try to do it properly, even if I'm not passionate about it. That's a function of my upbringing, my own personal values and more.

Conflating the two things isn't particularly helpful and also not expected in other areas. Nobody expects garbage collectors or cleaning professionals to be passionate about their jobs, they still hope/expect they do it well though.

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bdelespierre profile image
Benjamin Delespierre

That's amazingly well said. I'm saving this in my quotes folder if you don't mind!

+1 point for using the word "orthogonal" 😁
"conflating" I had to look it up (I'm not an english native) but still +1 point.

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citizen428 profile image
Michael Kohl • Edited

I'm saving this in my quotes folder if you don't mind!

Be my guest 😊

i'm not an english native

Neither am I. The more important point is what can I exchange my two magic Internet points for?

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bdelespierre profile image
Benjamin Delespierre

The more important point is what can I exchange my two magic Internet points for?

putting on orange eye-mask Yes.

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Matt Curcio

Well, Jonathan you need to be expicit here. Are you saying that you do ask for "passion" or do not? So, does passion create better code? I guess there is a point to be made on either side. no?

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aghost7 profile image
Jonathan Boudreau

It isn't a requirement, but a good quality for a developer to have. I will favour developers who have this quality the same way I will favour a candidate which is already familiar with part of our tech stack.

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Matt Curcio

How is excellence measured in your company and how is it rewarded.

Ben, you have opened up the floor to this VERY interesting question. So...

What are the answers you have seen in your travels?

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Benjamin Delespierre • Edited

Well most of the time they hit me with the old "Errrrrrr..." because they have never thought about it (that's about 70% of the companies I've met.) They simply believe that a fair compensation is enough for their developpers to give 100%. I personnaly doubt it but it's debatable.

A tiny 5% have a direct incentive with clear, well defined objectives and associated bonuses.

The rest of them (25%) simply have packages for the overall enterprise / team / personnal performance. That is to say IF the company performs well AND the team has delivered on time AND your annual meeting with your manager went well, then MAYBE you'll get a few hundreds bucks.

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mccurcio profile image
Matt Curcio • Edited

Interesting, so it seems like the majority (70%) don't have a clue(so to speak). The rest have some incentives while only a small portion (5% in this anecdotal survey) have clear objectives and bonuses, i.e. have their shite together.

In my experience working with other companies outside hi-tech that sounds about right. lol

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Benjamin Delespierre • Edited

Most companies view tech as a cost center whose function is to provide services to the rest of the company. It doesn't produce value by itself. Value is only created when software is being used by the rest of the company or its clients.

In this context it is very difficult to provide an incentive for developpers to generate more value because there is no direct value produced by them in the first place. Software is only a cost that needs to be lowered - just like refilling your tank with gasoline, who cares if it's better gasoline as long as the car goes, right?

By contrast it's very easy to boost sales by increasing the cut (bonus) the salespeople get, because for every deal signed, there's an amount in dollar attached to it.

Note this is merely an accounting perspective but sadly, most companies understand tech that way as far as I know...

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mccurcio profile image
Matt Curcio • Edited

Interesting, the programmer/company model you describe is almost exactly how I would describe the Biotech research company model.

Basic and pre-clinical research which includes animal testing are treated exactly the same. These researchers are viewed as 'overhead' even though they are creating future pipelines and products. The fewer resources a company can give to this branch of the company and the quicker these scientists can produce anything close to a product the better overall for the company. Ironically, historically 'basic' research over the last century has actually been the area where science has (arguably) achieved the largest gains.

Similarly, those in Manufacturing/production, for example those making vaccines for people, are viewed as the most valuable employees by upper management.

A friend of mine summed this idea up by saying. Manufacturers of drug substances are the closest to the cash cow. The father one is away from that cash cow the less important you are.

The model is not just tech but maybe any science endeavor when it meets business. lol

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Benjamin Delespierre

That's what happens when CEOs are accountants... Sometimes hired by other accountants (the shareholders & investors) to merely balance the books and cut costs. All those guys see and understand are spreadsheet, business plans, and financial reports.

Sometimes (5% of the time?), a visionnary CEO may convince them to bet on ideas, innovation, research etc. But most of the time they'll stick to the safe route. They'd rather have $1 with 100% certainty than $100 with 1% certainty.

Also the bigger the company, the stronger the effect. Rendering some of them incapable of innovating because of the fear factor and the "what ifs".

So yeah, the farther you are from the "cash cow", the less the value is tangible, both in minds (it's difficult to understand what those shady scientists are up to, we don't understand a word of these devs mumbo-jumbo...) AND in the spreadsheets - they produce derivative value, not actual value, that is to say value whose yield depend on something else.

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mccurcio profile image
Matt Curcio

The more things change,
The more things stay the same.
Haha

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Sami

ignore this comment

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greenroommate profile image
Haris Secic

I will not. You're not mom

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Muhammad Hasnain

Wow. What an amazing reply. 👏🏽👏🏽

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Pavel Morava

Great. I would comment alike. You spared me the effort.

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Ishaan Sheikh

Would love know the answers you got.

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Benjamin Delespierre • Edited

You may jump to this comment

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Akash Shyam

Ah nice one! Will use that in the next interview 😂

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John Colagioia (he/him)

My rule of thumb is that, if the questions use the word "passion," it's always a cynical attempt to filter out candidates who won't center the company in their life. (A similar question is "why do you want to work for us?" because it frames their leadership as something to aspire to have in your life.)

It's far safer when they ask questions about contributions to projects, that might provoke a passionate response. That could still be about filtering people, but it's more likely that they're figuring out which project to put you on or confirming that you care about your work.

I can say that, when I've been a part of the interviewing process and the candidate doesn't get excited about anything they've worked on, that's a "no-hire." It actually has nothing to do with passion as such, but rather that they've made me suspicious. If nothing in their work history provokes an emotional response or even a story, it sounds suspiciously like they've been pushing work off on their colleagues.

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Nočnica Fee Author

I really like this response.

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Juan Diego Palomino

Good article-- I never thought about the passionate bias like that but it makes a lot of sense. I'm cynical and believe that most companies use "passion" to see if they can get extra work hours, but I believe that there are more facets. Asking myself "why is passion important?" the loudest answer is morale. Ceteris paribus, I believe people who are passionate think a little bit more clever, code a little bit faster, communicate a little bit clearer, take misfortunes a little bit better. Not because of any conscious effort but because of an unconscious fire-- they want to do this, they like to do this down to their core. This hypothesis also explains why companies are now looking for passion in all roles, even where it seems ridiculous-- morale is infectious.

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dastasoft

In some cases I think companies look for passion in programmers because it means that the person is paying attention to detail and finishing projects in a polished way rather than a poorly tested and unfinished project.

Maybe, in that example, we are talking about passion when we should just call it being professional, because if we are talking about passion per se, maybe it would be more important to be passionate about the field of the company, whether it is medical, games, banking, etc. rather than being passionate about programming in general.

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Davide de Paolis

while I agree that in many company Passion is translated to - work more pay less, or work extra hours for free or spend your entire weekend learning the framework we will start using in the next project (. in the end what's best than doing what you love?!?!) I don't necessarily consider a Red Flag.

As any Senior Engineer would answer for almost any problem: It depends

Honestly I can't understand how somebody that is not passionate about coding, technology and solving problem could even do this job, or at least be good at it.
Programming is hard, it is frustrating, it requires to learn a lot, and to unlearn a lot, things change constantly, so, if you don't really like it, how can you dedicate 40 hours per week to it.
Sure it is definetely better than dedicating 40hours per week to Cleaning Toilets or as a Cashier in a Supermarket, but then, well yes.. ** if your only reason to work as a Developer is "there is worse than that" probably then yeah.. that might not be the Passion companies are looking for.**
But then.. how do you demonstrate passion?
Sure, contributing to OS could tell a lot.

Sure, blogging about Software Engineering counts.
Sure, reading articles or learn something out of your working hours is important.

but all this, to a certain extent, to me that could also tell that you _ don't have a life _ . And as soon you find a partner, or you get a baby or find some hobby then you will stop doing all that.

Passion is to be demonstrated at work, during standups, during meetings with stakeholders, during code reviews, while pair programming. It is showing that you care about what you are doing, that you are interested in the feedback you are getting from your colleagues and you like sharing your knowledge to others, it means being proactive, have initiative, find joy in whatever challenge you are faced ( be it fixing a lint rule error or writing UML diagrams, refactoring a crappy piece of legacy code, or architecting a new app.
not just waiting for the PM to assign you a ticket, work on it trying to meet the estimate, push and wait for what's next.

Don't let company exploit you in the name of passion. But please be passionate in what you do.

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Matt Curcio

Coming from the biotech/science industry, people do not ask about 'your passion.' To many, that would be a ridiculous question. When I first heard this discussion, I became cynical about its use. But then I thought back to other interviews I have played a part in. Those questions were only slightly different. The questions I have come across (in my career) seem more pointed than the vague and blunt tool about your passion.

In the conservative world of biotech, people ask 'what are your interests' or 'why do you study x?' From there, people infer what is important to you. To me, that seems more direct than asking about your 'passion quotient'. The idea (at least in my tiny mind) is that there is/could be a certain amount of enthusiasm in our work and that enthusiasm should be born out to some degree.

Another question that I have come across that interested me was, "Would you consider yourself ambitious?" That seems to cut right to the heart of the matter more than this vague passion term. I guess one could even extrapolate this line of thinking to "What are your future plans?" Isn't that more attune to what you really want in your life, be it your personal and professional life?

To me, the term and question regarding passion is just another poor rewording of the same questions that have been around for a long time.

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sometimescasey profile image
Casey Juanxi Li

I really liked this - not because you're arguing that companies shouldn't be asking for "passionate" employees, but you're being very explicit about the real reason they do so.

There's a normative judgement and social capital in the word "passionate" - it's usually reserved for someone who is full of energy, dedicated to their craft, will achieve great success, etc etc.

I don't think your cynical answer is cynical at all - it's just that no company in their right mind would write "We prefer candidates who will willingly put in more hours for no extra pay because they will prioritize their job above other things in their life - family, friends, health, personal interests" etc, even though that's 100% the truth.

I personally appreciate you stripping the pseudo-meritocratic veneer off of this word when it's used in job descriptions. It has nothing to do with merit and everything to do with what is in the company's best interest.

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Valeria

I think it's clearly the case of "be careful what you wish for". What companies do not realise is that a passionate person is much harder to keep at bay: they are driven by passion after all. It's good to have a visionary on the team, but not all of them. Luckily for companies, most hires are truly passionate about providing for their families.

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John Peters

To me it means nothing. Why? I and all the others I know in this industry are already passionate. In fact passion drives persistence, which is mandatory in order for us to keep our jobs. How many new things did we learn just last week even though we've been in programming for 25+ years?

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Francisco Quintero 🇨🇴

Interesting topic. In my case, whenever I've had the chance to interview people, I don't ask for passion but I try to identify it from every candidate. I do it because, to me, it shows they like what they do, they like to dig deeper, and also learn.

If those candidates I see as "passionate" work extra hours or learn on their leisure time, it's mostly their choice. Myself (and the company I work for) encourage people to not work extra time, to stop working on time or earlier. This is way I do look for "passion" but don't ask directly.

Nonetheless, what you mentioned is really important and it's something I'll bare in mind next time I interview someone and don't find the "passion" on her.

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nocnica profile image
Nočnica Fee Author

Thank you for reading and commenting!

For me, I'm looking for something milder than passion. Call it satisfaction. If someone feels like the work is something they enjoy and often feel satisfied by, that's great.

If they hate the work, that's obviously bad. It's also concerning if they really really love the work.

So i suppose i want someone for whom work is a 7/10, pretty good thing.

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Patrick Wendo

Sometimes, what employers mistake for passion is actually “plenty of free time” or “some disposable income to spend on personal projects.” This can make passion a metric that inadvertently locks out women, people of color, and working-class people from tech positions where they might otherwise thrive

I couldn't agree more.

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Ben Sinclair

Phrasing in things like job descriptions is actually my partner's area of expertise, and some of it's rubbed off on me. I could talk about whether you should ask for it, but I'm inclined to think that most of the time, "passion" is a catchy-sounding space-filler like, "detail-oriented" or "team player" that HR or recruitment agents put in because they can't think of anything original.

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Matt Curcio

To me, the term and question regarding passion is just another poor rewording of the same questions that have been around for a long time.

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LUKESHIRU

Great article! ✨

Nowadays I see the word "passion" in a job description as a red flag 🚩. More often than not, companies are looking for people to exploit (less pay, more working hours, and so on). In a company I worked for, the "interview committee" saw people not wanting to work for free (aka doing an app from scratch for the interview process) as something negative, which is ridiculous to say the least.
I'm one of those folks that codes in his spare time, but I code stuff for me, not for the company I'm working on, and obviously I support people that only codes for work and don't do a single line of code in their personal time.

Cheers!

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zivita

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I tried to look you up on LinkedIn/Twitter,
If you are interested in hearing more details pls reach out :)
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Zivit

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Jan Küster

I wouldn't demonize the question for passion in general. For example: an interviewer might ask you "what are you passionate about" to get a better idea about you and your values.

However, I totally agree that this can be easily misused to find out how much you are willing to do for free. If the job requires "passion" I would in return ask for the way they count working hours and how overtime will be compensated. Note, that overtime compensation makes only sense if there is a system established to measure overtime, otherwise you will never officially get overtime counted...

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Okiki

I agree with you and I think what some workplaces want are devs who have integrity and take pride in their work, those are the devs that will, with every ounce of their being, work hard to complete tasks and projects without supervision.

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Emil

You can always ask your self "have you ever had success with something when you did it without passion"

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leob

It's a stopgap and the most cliche thing ever to put on a job description, belongs right there on the bs/buzzword bingo card ... yeah I understand why the word is used, but I'd say avoid it.

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Mayank Pathak

Like the Cover Image you used😀