Apache's hunt tactics for developer skills

How does the The Apache Software Foundation work out who are the best people?

Let’s remember that the foundation itself is a non-profit corporation established to support Apache software projects, including the Apache HTTP Server… so anybody joining its ranks has to be of a certain standard, obviously.

The name ‘Apache’ was chosen from respect for the Native American Indian tribe of Apache, well-known for their superior skills in warfare strategy and their inexhaustible endurance. It also makes a cute pun on “a patchy web server” — a server made from a series of patches — but this was not its origin.

So again we ask… how does do the members of the Apache Foundation work out who the best developers are?

Sally Khudairi, founder/CMO of OptDyn and vice president at The Apache Software Foundation says that we need to go beyond the ‘binary’ issue of (just) testing for skills requirements.

She argues that this need to be augmented/replaced by ‘can this candidate think critically/creatively?’ sorts of questions to demonstrate intellectual abilities.

“[In the recruitment process] both our Founder/CEO Alex Karasulu and CTO Niclas Hedhman would review the candidate’s code (on GitHub or wherever it was contributed) as well as their interactions on mailing lists to get a clearer idea on how the individual performs technically an well as socially. There is something to be said about the transparency of open source,” said Khudairi.

Alex Karasulu says he usually breaks candidates into two categories.

Karasulu is founder/CEO of OptDyn and member/project mentor at The Apache Software Foundation.

“The first category are the unknowns. They need to be low balled and put into a 60-90 day trial period. The other category are those who have activity in open source and those I would check what they’ve done code wise and their interactions with others like on mailing lists. You can also check how well they’ve organised their code and how persistent they have been on their projects which shows passion. Passion is a key ingredient: you don’t want to work with people without the passion to innovate. Of course this is if I have time and am involved,” said Karasulu.

Niclas Hedhman, CTO of OptDyn and member/project mentor at The Apache Software Foundation agrees with Karasulu.

Hedhman also says that both Google and Microsoft have research on this topic and have found that they are incapable of predicting the post-hire performance from any test, any questions and any previous field/experience. A reality which he finds quite discouraging.

“When I hired for myself, there was two ways that worked for me: find the person I want by looking at open source work performed — and personal recommendation where the recommender had something to lose (reputation). Everything else was a flip a coin accuracy, mostly negative (don’t meet expectations) outcomes. I agree with that big firms end up asking strange questions on details,” said Hedhman.

Hedhman recounts an experience at JP Morgan where he was given a one hour coding task. Candidates got the test cases to pass for a event receiver limiter in front of a high frequency trading engine. They had 60.0 minutes to complete and any time over the application went straight to dustbin.

In his opinion, this is a mad way to hire.

Lars Bøgild Thomsen is director of infrastructure at OptDyn. Thomsen explains that some years ago, he saw a list of questions used by Google to assess system admins. He was ‘absolutely baffled’ how much it focused on remembering details rather than on understanding how to figure out the details.

“I would assume a lot of developer assessment fall into the same trap – assessing how much the applicants remember rather than how good and fast they are at figuring it out. Hence the ‘broom’ approach – something I really (seriously) would like to see in practice one day: the idea being when new staff walk into the door give them a broom and tell them to wipe the floors UNTIL they themselves find something more important to do,” said Thomsen.

The concept above is, if they are too proud to sweep – kick them out right away – if they still wipe floors after 1 week – kick them out too.

Existing staff have to be in on it and obviously share stuff if the sweepers walk up and ask.

“It’s so bizarre it is funny but it came up based on a discussion that a lot of people seem extremely unwilling or unable to figure out where their effort is most needed. Or where they themselves could make a difference. It wouldn’t work with everybody but I honestly do believe that whoever passed that test would be valuable assets in just about any organisation,” he said.

Techie recruitment continues to be a hard nut to crack, so we have to thank the team at Apache and OptDyn for sharing so openly.

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