(2008-06-30) Yegge Done And Gets Things Smart

Steve Yegge's Blog Rants: Done, and Gets Things Smart. Everyone knows and quotes Joel Spolsky's old chestnut, "Smart, and Gets Things Done." It was a blog, then a book, and now it's an aphorism.

Unfortunately, "smart" is a generic enough concept that pretty much everyone in the world thinks they're smart.

As soon as you write your first working program, you've gotten something done. And at that point you probably think of yourself as being a pretty hot market commodity, again because of the Dunning-Kruger Effect

So, like, what kind of people is this Smart, and Gets Things Done adage actually hiring?

Having a good memory is a serious impediment to understanding. It lets you cheat your way through life.

This is why everyone loves Smart, and Gets Things Done, which Joel always writes in boldface. We love it because right from the start it has the yummy baked-in assumption that you are smart, and that you get things done. And it also tacitly assumes that you know how to identify other people with the same qualities! But... you don't.

Incompetent people grossly overestimate their own competence

Incompetent people fail to recognize genuine skill in others

How do you hire someone who's smarter than you? How do you tell if someone's smarter than you?

it appears that the answer is: you can't. You just have to get lucky.

Interviewing isn't a particularly good predictor of performance

As far as identifying good people goes, the best solution I've ever seen was at Geoworks, where you were required to do a six-month internship before you could get hired full-time

However, I'm convinced that it only worked because Geoworks seeded the engineering staff with great people.

I've long felt that Amazon's success was due in no small part to Bezos having seeded his tech staff with great engineers. World-class great. I don't know where or how he found them, since, again, how do you hire someone who's smarter than you? He's a brilliant guy, but his original choices (ex-Lucid folks, by and large) seem a stroke of blind luck that's hard to attribute to mere genius. ... time-to-market is a pretty powerful business force. Maybe that's the missing link? Lucid was founded by Richard P Gabriel, the "worse is better" guy, and Amazon took the "worse is better" idea (internally) to untold new extremes. Dunno! But it sure worked for them.

The "extended interview" (in any form) is the only solution I've ever seen to the horrible dilemma, How do you hire someone smarter than you?

The Smart and Gets Things Done approach to interviewing will only get you copies of yourself, and the work of Dunning and Kruger implies that if you hire someone better than you are, then it's entirely accidental.

Don't get me wrong: you should still try! Don't throw the bath and baby away. Smart and Gets Things Done is a good weeder function to filter out some of the common "epic fail" types.

The Done, and Gets Things Smart approach is also a way of finding great people, but it recognizes that the Dunning-Kruger Effect requires some countermeasures.

Geoworks, Amazon, and Google, all of whom had one thing in common: they hired brilliant seed engineers

Let me ask you a brutally honest question: since you began interviewing, how many of the engineers you've voted thumbs-up on (i.e. "hire!"), are engineers you'd personally hire to work with you in your first startup company?

The people you'd want to be in your startup are not of the Smart and Gets Things Done variety.

Someone who always seems to be finishing stuff so fast it makes your head spin. That's what my Done clause means. It means they're frigging done all the time.

they waved some sort of magic wand and improved the system while they were in there: they would Get Things Smart. Make the systems smarter, that is.

You can't interview these people. For starters, they're not interested

You can only find Done, and Gets Things Smart people in two ways, and one of them I still don't understand very well.

The first way is to get real lucky and have one as a coworker or classmate.

These people aren't just pure gold; they're golden-egg-laying geese.

I've realized that one of the Google seed engineers (exactly one) is almost singlehandedly responsible for the amazing quality of Google's engineering culture. And I mean both in the sense of having established it, and also in the sense of keeping the wheel spinning. I won't name the person, and for the record he almost certainly loathes me, for reasons that are my own damn fault. But I'd hire him in a heartbeat

I think Identification Approach #2, and this is the one I don't understand very well, is that you "ask around". You know. You manually perform the graph build-and-traversal done by the Facebook "Smartest Friend" plug-in, where you ask everyone to name the best engineer they know, and continue doing that until it converges.

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