Mike pointed me at Gretchen and Zoe's blog about how we recruit people at Microsoft. I'm really enjoying reading it, both because it is engagingly written and because I'm fascinated by the whole process of hiring people. I only ever see the technical interview end. (Which I should blog about one of these days.)
You hear all the time the line "our employees are our number one asset", and I can't help but suspect that at a lot of companies it's simply not true -- a pleasant fiction, surely, but a fiction nevertheless. Is it really the case that at, say, AT&T, the employees are the most important asset? What, the millions of miles of copper wire, fiber, switches, satellites, etc, are chopped liver? At many big companies, surely the number one asset is some kind of stuff: giant tunas, fleets of trucks, clarinet reeds, whatever.
At Microsoft, and in the software industry in general, there really are only two assets: the source code, and the people who design, write, build, test, maintain, document and market it. Software is the abstract notion of algorithmic computation made concrete; the only assets we need are the people who can have the right abstract notions and translate them into real products. The computers and buildings and whatnot are a trivial cost compared to the human capital.
There is nothing more crucial to the long-term health of a software business than hiring the right people. Ironically, that is a highly non-technical problem! I'm pretty good at solving technical problems, but it takes a whole other skill set to do the kinds of things that recruiters like Gretchen and Zoe have to deal with every single day. I'm constantly trying to become a better interviewer, and I've gained a lot of insight into their end of it just in the last day of reading their blog.