Thanks for identifying the good programmers for us


Many years ago, my manager told me about a recruiting trip he made. In response to a large number of job applications submitted from a city where a major competing software company had its offices, a small group of Microsofties travelled to that city to interview those applicants and hold a mini-job fair, so that other interested parties could also show up and interview for positions.

When the company learned that Microsoft was coming to interview people, they called an emergency meeting which all their top programmers were required to attend, timing it to coincide with the job fair. The theory must have been that if their top programmers are at the emergency meeting, then they can't go to the job fair. Problem solved.

Well, except that the plan backfired. Sure, all the good programmers didn't come to the job fair, but it also told the interviewers which of the applicants were the good ones: They were the ones who didn't show up for their interviews!

Comments (25)
  1. It wasn’t by any chance City X? Sorry, couldn’t resist, just guessing :-)

    Rgrds Henry

    [This is your only warning. Remember, no guessing allowed. Otherwise I’ll just delete these types of stories from the queue. -Raymond]
  2. Henry, don’t bother to ask. Raymond never states actual company, people or product names, because of (I think) legal and ethical reasons. And I think he’s absolutely right :-) .

  3. I see, sorry I got carried away. Kind of forgot that this isn’t exactly a private conversation spot!

  4. Doug says:

    Of course, it was only the programmers that management thought were the best.  Which is not always the case….

  5. Nick says:

    Oh Raymond, I’m disappointed (not really).  You should made that edit be:

    "It wasn’t by any chance City XVII?"

    Ha ha ha! Okay, not that funny.

    PS: So, does this little captcha also stop the real spam problem most MSDN blogs I’ve seen have? That is, have the blog maintainers finally disabled those worthless ping-backs?

  6. Ben Hutchings says:

    Ah, but what if they anticipated your recruiters doing that, and kept back the not-so-good programmers?

  7. tr3v says:

    I feel much better about myself. I never went to the interviews therefore I am a good programmer.

  8. porter says:

    > I feel much better about myself. I never went to the interviews therefore I am a good programmer.

    Ah, but were you invited to the emergency meeting?

  9. lousy opportunist says:

    Programmers which management thinks are the best are those who aren’t teamplayers.

  10. steveg says:

    Ah, but what if they anticipated your recruiters doing that, and kept back the not-so-good programmers?

    The battle of wits has begun!

    (and a little later:)

    Iocaine! I’d bet my life on it. And there are the princess’s footprints. She is alive, or was an hour ago… if she is otherwise, I shall be very put out!

  11. Rivari says:

    Why is Microsoft going after the employees of another competing company?

    I think it’s fair to let individuals choose the best for their careers by themselves, not by actively pursuing them.

    [The individuals did choose to apply to Microsoft: “In response to a large number of job applications…” -Raymond]
  12. crygin says:

    "I think it’s fair to let individuals choose the best for their careers by themselves, not by actively pursuing them."

    …And then you get beat out by the company that does recruit.  Thanks for playing.

  13. Adam says:

    My company has done that several times in the past. Not really an emergency meeting, but a scheduled one that just happens to coincide exactly with a major job fair each year. Not surprisingly, when the date for that job fair suddenly changed one year, the date for our special meeting also magically changed for unknown reasons.

  14. Cheong says:

    But is that effective selection?

    I mean… if some of those talented programmers really wants to go to Microsoft, even if the emergency meeting is there, they could just take *cough* sick leave *cough* so they could go…

    An emergency meeting that’s sole purpose is to stop people go to interview seems to have very slim chance to stop people doing so…

  15. porter says:

    > People who have been in the industry for more than 17 minutes should know that emergency meeting are, by and large, utter rubbish.

    Unless there is free pizza.

  16. Dean Harding says:

    Did someone say "free pizza"?

  17. Miral says:

    @Cheong: Well, obviously it wouldn’t be *called* the "let’s stop you working for Microsoft meeting".  I’m sure that Company X came up with some plausible excuse for it.

  18. tsrblke says:

    @Pax,

    Of course "rubbish" and "mandatory" aren’t mutually exclusive.  I suppose you could take the chance of not showing up, but then if Company X (Microsoft?) Chose not to hire you (even for legit reasons, like your background isn’t really in their plan) Company Y (Spacely’s Sprockets, perhaps?) decided to be petty and fire you for looking for other work, you’d be out of a job.

  19. Gunther says:

    Follow-up question:

    Since the "top programmers" were identified by their absence, did they actually get invited to re-schedule the interview?

  20. Pax says:

    Actually the good programmers were neither at the interviews nor the emergency meeting. People who have been in the industry for more than 17 minutes should know that emergency meetings are, by and large, utter rubbish.

    By all means, send a sacrificial lamb to bring back the details. But keep in mind that 40 employees times a 1-hour emergency meeting is one **week** of lost time.

  21. Kevin Eshbach says:

    Sounds like the competing company was bleeding money from failing to anticipate what the customer would want in the future.

  22. dave says:

    I think it’s fair to let individuals choose

    the best for their careers by themselves,

    not by actively pursuing them.

    I don’t find it unfair to be pursued. But it had better be a good offer; no time-wasters, please.

  23. Danny says:

    And now we know why windows is written badly…because Microsoft fails to hire the good programmers :P:P

    Bad joke, yeah I know, but I could not resist to nitpick a little ;)

  24. arnshea says:

    @Danny, I suspect you were only kidding but in response to comments like these I’ve come up with the following rough filter for programmer "3l33t3"-ness:

    Probability of person x being "3l33t3" is inversely proportional to the number of times they bash microsoft code.*

    Come on, how many guys like Raymond Chen, Eric Lippert or Mark Russinovich do you think MS has to hire before they start producing top-notch code?  Ditto for the old-timers you see in the articles reprinted in old copies of MSDN (e.g., Ruediger Asche).  

    Of course the sort of person that makes these kind of comments usually hasn’t read any of those MSDN oldies-but-goodies.  Nor anything else that wasn’t in the first 5 hits of their solution-by-google-search method of programming.

    *-filter is rough.  interval resets every 12 months :)

  25. Danny says:

    @arnshea

    omg dude, I already said in my initial post it was a bad joke on my side…will you chill now?

Comments are closed.