How Aaron Swartz hires programmers.
To find out whether someone’s smart, I just have a casual conversation with them. I do everything I can to take off any pressure off: I meet at a cafe, I make it clear it’s not an interview, I do my best to be casual and friendly. Under no circumstances do I ask them any standard “interview questions” — I just chat with them like I would with someone I met at a party. (If you ask people at parties to name their greatest strengths and weaknesses or to estimate the number of piano tuners in Chicago, you’ve got bigger problems.) I think it’s pretty easy to tell whether someone’s smart in casual conversation. I constantly make judgments about whether people I meet are smart, just like I constantly make judgments about whether people I see are attractive.
Aaron Swartz has some interesting thoughts on non-hierarchical management in the workplace.
A better way to think of a manager is as a servant, like an editor or a personal assistant. Everyone wants to be effective; a manager’s job is to do everything they can to make that happen. The ideal manager is someone everyone would want to have.
Instead of the standard “org chart” with a CEO at the top and employees growing down like roots, turn the whole thing upside down. Employees are at the top — they’re the ones who actually get stuff done — and managers are underneath them, helping them to be more effective. (The CEO, who really does nothing, is of course at the bottom.)
Swartz also quotes a friend who believes that people who act like jerks in the workplace are not worth the trouble.
I have a “no asshole rule” which is really simple: I really don’t want to work with assholes. So if you’re an asshole and you work on my team, I’m going to fire you.
I have worked with (and near) several assholes in my time and I’m convinced that firing one unpleasant person, even if they perform a vital function, is equivalent to hiring two great employees. The boost in morale alone is worth it.
Update: A recent episode of This American Life called Ruining It for the Rest of Us covered the asshole in the workplace thing.
A bad apple, at least at work, can spoil the whole barrel. And there’s research to prove it. Host Ira Glass talks to Will Felps, a professor at Rotterdam School of Management in the Netherlands, who designed an experiment to see what happens when a bad worker joins a team. Felps divided people into small groups and gave them a task. One member of the group would be an actor, acting either like a jerk, a slacker or a depressive. And within 45 minutes, the rest of the group started behaving like the bad apple.
(thx, scott & david)