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I Am Unhireable

vorahsa profile image Jaakko Kangasharju ใƒป3 min read

Following discussions around programmer recruitment, I often come across people who talk about simple criteria they have for who could even get an interview. And when thinking about such criteria, I typically discover that I don't fit them. I guess all this makes me unhireable?

(Phrases in quotes are paraphrases of the common attitudes I see, not quoting any specific people.)

I am in my mid-40's

"Programming is for young people." I didn't even become a professional developer until my mid-30's, though my work before that did involve coding. Granted, I don't think my mind is as quick as it was, but that also helps me avoid making my code too complex. And I do have quite a bit of experience, and even experience in now-obsolete platforms can turn out to be useful.

I've worked in the same place for 10 years

"I am suspicious of anyone who's been in the same place too long." "2-3 years is the optimal length of one job." I don't really see any point in making a change just for the sake of making a change. I like my job, I like the company, and I've had the opportunity to develop myself in interesting and challenging directions.

I learned to program in the university

"All good developers started young, playing with their childhood computer." We did have a computer when I was a child, but I mostly used it to play games. I knew some BASIC but whatever I did with it wasn't much help later on. I didn't even get the point of subroutines. Sure, it probably helped me become comfortable with computers in general, but it's not like I did anything of the sort that people tend to expect.

My Github is small and irrelevant

"I always look through a candidate's Github and expect to find a professional portfolio." Here are my Github contributions

In fact, the period shown here has been exceptionally busy for my Github.
Furthermore, practically everything in my Github is small side projects, not showing anything of my actual professional work. Anyone going through my Github is going to have a very distorted view of my skills.

I don't have a "passion" for coding

"Good developers spend their free time coding, they cannot stop." I never feel like coding just for coding's sake. I occasionally have side projects, but those are for real problems that I want to solve where the solution involves coding something. I do like coding, which is good since it's my job, but when I finish at work, I tend to do something else on my free time.

I have a PhD

"I want to hire practical people, not ivory tower academics." This is perhaps not a bad thing everywhere. But in Finland, my native country, it definitely is. Fellow students of mine who worked in the industry hid their PhDs at work to avoid being pigeonholed. And recently I've been getting a feeling that there is beginning to be more sentiment against more academic backgrounds in general in software development.

Nevertheless...

Despite all these ways in which I am "unhireable", I'm still employed, still well-respected at work, and consistently get great feedback on both my programming and social skills. So maybe making snap judgments on one characteristic is not the best way?

It does make me sad when my colleagues talk about using some of these criteria or similar ones. I've gotten into the habit of saying "Doing that would mean you wouldn't hire me. Is that what you want?" but, as one could expect, it doesn't really cause them to re-evaluate their thinking all that much.

Finally, of course all that is irrelevant since I possess the most sought-after skill of a developer: I am excellent at coding algorithms on a whiteboard.

Posted on by:

vorahsa profile

Jaakko Kangasharju

@vorahsa

I'm a generalist developer, preferring to have some skills in a variety of areas to being really good at only a few. I need to see how a technology solves real problems to really understand it.

Discussion

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I giggled with the PhD a bit. I don't have one I gave up after two years... They gave me a MPhil Based on the impact my work had.

Anyway funny thing is that 3 years ago (I am 41 btw) I went to an interview with nearly 12 years of experience in the industry and a few years in academia (like 2ish) ..and they told me that my CV feels too academic and they don't like academic mindset.

I was like wtf? Happens

 

'feels too academic' === 'we risk to have some thinking mind rather than a code monkey'

 

Geez, that sucks. Hope you found somewhere better. Developer interviewing can be so random.

 

I would be really surprised if I didn't. To be fair most companies don't care about that ..that much, it's just another qualification it's not something that necessarily defines you

 

I don't have a "passion" for coding
"Good developers spend their free time coding, they cannot stop."

You can be passionate about coding without doing it 24/7. I love coding, but when I'm home I relax. I have to, else I'm not at my best the next day.

 

I'm also in my mid-40s and learned Basic on a C64, then taught myself machine language on the C64. Fast forward roughly 30 years, with a great career in infrastructure, networking and unix systems, (ironically very little development work)... it's safe to say a position really needs to be very special and interesting for me to want to leave.

If someone doesn't find it cool that I was doing machine language (albeit on an 8bit machine) when I was a teen, I'm not sure I want to work for them.

 

Same .. but you lucky devil had a C64 ? With a sprite chip ? I only had a Plus-4. No cool graphics for me :)

Assembler was great on that machine though. So simple and satisfying.

 

I can relate to a lot of your experience.

I didn't even become a professional developer until my mid-30's

๐Ÿ™Œ

I never feel like coding just for coding's sake

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I'm also a foul-mouth person who laughs too loud for any open space to be bearable.

And recently I've been getting a feeling that there is beginning to be more sentiment against more academic backgrounds in general in software development.

I guess the backlash comes from the prejudice against non-academic backgrounds that has been prevailing these past few years. In France, a lot of recruiters still look for prestigious schools on a resume. EIther of these prejudices is just stupid, imo. ๐Ÿ˜„

Thanks for this post @vorahsa , it was refreshing to read!

 

Interesting take on the mental quickness versus simplifying. I find myself on the latter half of that equation, and often wonder if I'm oversimplifying due to mental limitations, or if it is indeed preferable e.g. for maintainability.

BTW your last paragraph is sadly very much on point! :)

 

almost fitting in your desc. except I've passion for coding and my longest time in a "company" was a 7-year period as a researcher at uni.

still all this unhireable attitude is IMHO driven by paranoid and outsource-oriented front-end market.

In my main field (automation) a 10 years old coder is difficult to hire because it costs a lot, no other reason. And I've got my main customer as a freelancer because of my PhD (machine vision stuff).

nice writeup!

 

Eh, the question strikes the other way around - would you want to work for people who hire based on those particular ticks on a sheet (I can't bring myself to call them criteria, no)?

Funnily enough, around TMSR where I am, pretty much all of the above are waved as totally irrelevant at best. Why not come and have a look and a chat?

 

This is very similar to my situation, except I don't have a PhD, nor am I a developer right now.

 

// , Looks like the (perhaps deserved) backlash against the school system has taken a bit of an impractical turn.

But trust me, the number of places that spurn academic credentials is still dwarfed by the number that require them.

 

Wow! What a slap on the face of so many HR people. Well put Jaakko.

 

I have a PhD

Yes, it happens.

However, there are really few companies, but they are, that only hire Ph.D. or higher, for example, mining companies.

 
I have a PhD

Yes, it happens.

Quote of the day!

 
 

The whiteboard is where it's at. Couple that with memorising 200+ common algorithms that you'll never actually have to use let alone write yourself. Buzz Fizz: You got the job!

 

How old are most the people at your office?

 

I can tell you why you are stuck...

It will hurt so don't take it personal:

  • Seems like you made a mistake by staying for too long in a company, that means doing the same over and over which is really bad because you did not experienced new things or faced new challenges.
  • You have not invested enough time in learning.

How to fix it:

  • Learn something you will love to make money with.
  • Show what you have learned.
  • Find a job or create a startup.
 

I disagree with you, as an employer, I would love to have somebody who has worked at the same place for 10 years, because that would prove that that person is loyal. Also just because you work at the same place for a long time, it doesn't mean that you're doing the same thing over and over again and that you're not evolving or facing new challenges.

 

About loyalty (not directed at you, but as a general note), it's good to remember that loyalty is a two-way street. Loyalty in an employee is a good quality, but the employer also needs to be deserving of that loyalty.

 

I'm not sure you read the whole post here.

He never said he felt he was stuck... nor did it sound like he was having trouble finding or keeping a job since he's currently employed in a position where he gets consistently good feedback and doesn't seem like he wants to leave.

The main point is to challenge some of the stereotypes in the development community about each attribute he lists in the article. He DEFINITELY doesn't seem like he's "not invested enough time in learning" (I mean... it's right there... The man's full title is Dr. Jaakko Kangasharju), but these points don't sound like a person who feels stuck or is looking for advice on how to get out, but more like a great programmer who is mystified at some of the prevailing biases (Age discriminatory, anti-academia, anti-work-life balance, anti-mid-career switchers, etc) currently prevalent in the industry.

 

You are making a lot of unfounded assumptions about the author, who, by the way, never said he was "stuck", but on the contrary seems to rather enjoy his current work.

I should know, since I am a colleague of his. I can also inform you that, working at a software agency, he experiences new things and faces new challenges on a regular basis, and moreover needs to invest a considerable amount of time in learning. (This, I think, you would have seen had you read any of his previous posts here, many of which show some of the things he's learned over the past couple of years.)

Perhaps founding startups or making money is what works for you, but it's not what works for everyone.