Tag Archives: aaron-swartz

On Hiring Talent (Not Just Programmers)

You could hire through open source like GitHub (“we hire ‘The Girl or Guy Who Wrote X,’ where X is an awesome project we all use or admire”) or use a check-list to recognise competency (passion, self-teaching, a love of learning, intelligence, hidden experience and knowledge of a variety of technologies) and no doubt find some fine programmers.

You could also take a similar approach to hiring marketers, writers, designers and those in many other industries, too. While this may guarantee competence, it does not guarantee success (business and/or interpersonal).

Combine the above with the approach Steve Jobs takes to interviewing (via Ben Casnocha) and you may be on to something (emphasis mine):

When I hire somebody really senior, competence is the ante. They have to be really smart. But the real issue for me is, Are they going to fall in love with Apple? Because if they fall in love with Apple, everything else will take care of itself. They’ll want to do what’s best for Apple, not what’s best for them, what’s best for Steve, or anybody else. […]

How do I feel about this person? What are they like when they’re challenged? Why are they here? I ask everybody that: ‘Why are you here?’ The answers themselves are not what you’re looking for. It’s the meta-data.

Take heed of how Aaron Swartz hires programmers using three questions (via kottke) and you’re likely to end up with the best candidate. Those three questions:

  • Can they get stuff done?
  • Are they smart?
  • Can you work with them?

And to answer those questions:

  • To find out if they can get stuff done, I just ask what they’ve done. If someone can actually get stuff done they should have done so by now.
  • To find out whether someone’s smart, I just have a casual conversation with them. […] Under no circumstances do I ask them any standard “interview questions”.
    • First, do they know stuff? Ask them what they’ve been thinking about and probe them about it. Do they seem to understand it in detail? Can they explain it clearly? […] Do they know stuff about the subject that you don’t?
    • Second, are they curious? Do they reciprocate by asking questions about you? Are they genuinely interested or just being polite? Do they ask follow-up questions about what you’re saying? Do their questions make you think?
    • Third, do they learn? At some point in the conversation, you’ll probably be explaining something to them. Do they actually understand it or do they just nod and smile?
  • I figure out whether I can work with someone just by hanging out with them for a bit. […] The point is just to see whether they get on your nerves.

Scheduling and Non-Hierarchical Management

These two essays have been doing the rounds of late, and for good reason:

Paul Graham’s comparison between the schedules of Managers and the schedules of Makers (creatives). The gist? A manager’s day is divided into hour-long blocks of time, makers work in much longer, relatively unconstrained and non-discrete units of time. The problem is in making these two work together.

When you use [the manager’s schedule], it’s merely a practical problem to meet with someone. Find an open slot in your schedule, book them, and you’re done. […]

When you’re operating on the maker’s schedule, meetings are a disaster. A single meeting can blow a whole afternoon, by breaking it into two pieces each too small to do anything hard in. Plus you have to remember to go to the meeting. That’s no problem for someone on the manager’s schedule. There’s always something coming on the next hour; the only question is what. But when someone on the maker’s schedule has a meeting, they have to think about it.

With the philosophy that a manager is more servant than dictator, Aaron Swartz offers tips for non-hierarchical management (via Kottke). This is specifically for startups, he suggests, where the tradition ‘org chart’ is flipped upside down, but these tips seem sound no matter what the organisation:

  • Management is a (serious) job
    • Stay organised
  • Know your team
    • Hire people smarter than you
    • Be careful when hiring friends
    • Set boundaries
  • Go over the goals together
    • Build a community
  • Assign responsibility
    • Vary responsibilities
    • Delegate responsibly
  • Clear obstacles
    • Prioritize
    • Fight procrastination
  • Give feedback
    • Don’t micromanage
  • Don’t make decisions (unless you really have to)
  • Fire ineffective people
  • Give away the credit
  • Few people are cut out for this