Saturday, July 25, 2009

Quick thoughts on "Smart and Gets Things Done"

Can't believe it's been a month since my last blog, wow, guess it's been a busy summer! Yikes!! I promise to post more consistently in the coming weeks/months!

Anyway, I just finished re-reading "Smart and Gets Things Done" by Joel Spolsky. You can find a link to Joe's blog and this book here. If you recruit for a living or manage a team of engineers you really HAVE to have read this book. I was wondering, has "Smart and Gets Things Done" been so over-recommended that no one reads it anymore? I've read it several times, but it strikes me as the kind of book that any recruiter worth their salt should read over and over again. So, I did a little research and Amazon has it ranked as number 94,865 on their site for books. Honestly, I found it pretty shocking as this is one of the few "must read" books on recruiting technical talent that I've ever come across. I'm hoping this ranking is because most people who recruit either have a copy already (doubtful) or they buy it used (maybe?)

Regardless, it got me thinking that I should do a quick blog that covers a few of the points that Joel talks about that really ring true and can help anyone who's looking to build a team, especially in the current economy. Hey, maybe I can even push "Smart and Gets Things Done" to number 9300 or something on Amazon.....riiiiight.

So, here goes! A few insights and thoughts that you can use to hire programmers or most any type of person.........(quotes from the book in bold)

The real trouble with using a lot of mediocre programmers instead of a couple of good ones is that no matter how long they work, they never produce something as good as what the great programmers can produce (page 11)

Can anyone argue with this? A bunch of mediocre programmers will create mediocre products, end of discussion. I'd argue that you could say mediocre salespeople would generate mediocre results, mediocre marketing people create mediocre campaigns...and on and on it goes. Even mediocre recruiters hire mediocre people! You could have the best idea but with a mediocre team it's unlikely to be enough. It's that simple, if you don't you'll be destined to a team of B players doing B work. The only way to succeed in business is to hire a great team.

The best people in every field, are quite simply never on the market (page 20)

THIS is the best quote from the book in my opinion. How many times have YOU put your resume on a job board? Zero? That's right, great people don't look for jobs. Jobs find them. Networking, employee referrals, alumni groups, etc are the only way to find great people. If you are a small or medium sized company that's using standard recruiting methods and job boards...good luck to you my friend. If you can't figure out how to attract/hire/retain great people then you will be playing catch up to those organizations who are magnets for the great employees you covet. Take the time to invest in your organization - facilities, benefits, technology, etc etc and figure out how to attract the best people in your industry. They won't be on the market, you won't find them on the job boards so you'd better be thinking of innovative ways to attract employees

To top programmers, the most maddening thing about recruiters is their almost morbid fascination with keywords and buzzwords (page 79)

I'm a recruiter and this drives me I can only imagine how it would make me feel if I was actually an engineer. Great engineers look at programming languages as tools. They LEARN new things if needed and are constantly improving. If you are looking for a great engineer to do some Python work but won't hire the best Perl programmer in the're missing out on a great opportunity. Hire the person, not the keyword. I can tell you that as a recruiter, I pretty much toss out the keyword section on the resumes I read. If you tell me you are an expert HTML, Java, C, Assembly and Cobol, ok, you MIGHT be but I have my doubts. My advice, skip the keyword section on your resume and only talk to recruiters who know what they are talking about.....and if you are a recruiter, spend some time understanding technology so you don't become just another add-no-value-keyword recruiter.

If you do have to say no to someone, do it quickly and respectfully....It's just common decency to let them move on to the next opportunity (page 119)

Couldn't agree more. This is hard, I mean REALLY hard to do if you are a recruiter. First, it stinks. No one likes to be the bearer of bad news. Second, you've got a million other things to do so this slides to the bottom of the list. As I write this, I know that I've told a few folks this week that they weren't a fit for my organization. They've gotten word, but I owe them a longer chat.... The worst thing you can do is become a black hole for your candidates, give them word as quick as you can. Voicemail, email, whatever you have to do just make sure you don't blow them off and further perpetuate the "recruiters never get back to me"

Ok, those are just a few of my quick thoughts on "Smart and Gets Things Done" by Joel Spolsky. Again, I highly recommend you give this book a read. It's a really short and easy read, maybe a day or two. Most of what this book says is great, I don't agree with 100% of Joel's conclusions, but that's what makes hiring and recruiting great as you can do lots of different things and still get great results.

You can learn more about Joel and his work at or follow him on Twitter (@spolsky)

Finally, Joel if you read this, we've never met but I would love to chat sometime and pick your brain on recruiting!