Skip to main content

Case Study: Hiring Process Valve vs. Traditional.

I was thinking how I like to be a swiss-army knife tech guy. I am studying for the LPI Linux exam, and wondered suddenly why employers don't value an "answers guy" (or gal). You know, a person you can go to with questions and problems and he (or she) can figure out or just knows the answer. Then it struck me that Valve's model kinda does that. I've been reading a lot about the company and I wish there was a case study about them. Their flat management style seems extremely effective and unfortunately unique. Being a private company, it can run its ship however it wants so Valve runs it in an interesting way. They don't hire people for particular jobs. They hire people and basically let them figure out where they can contribute the most. Desk have wheels because on a project per project basis you may be moving around forming different teams. It sounds like an Agile-dream workplace. But a key here is not the way they work but how they hire. While they look for people with certain skills, by not hiring them for a specific job, their "answer guy/gal" abilities are fully tapped. Is your sys-admin really good at marketing? In a traditional company you'd have no way of knowing and even worse no way of using that talent. Defined roles segregate and also limit the scope of the possible contribution. I always felt ham-stringed in my previous roles, having to play politics sometimes successfully and sometimes not to contribute to different areas than my little circumscribed job responsibilities. The traditional way also treats people like machines, do this, get that, and so makes the automatization of their job at least by the rough 10,000 feet view possible. So weirdly by enforcing the limits of the job title you get the value that a machine would produce or could produce and you get less of that human magic that no machine could substitute.

While I worked in Quality Assurance, I wrote programs (with the help of tech guys like Jason Rowlands or Roupang Wang) that allowed my job to be more automated, even though this reduced my "job security" it increased quality by automating certain tasks. I'm thinking of dub-card creation, where me and Jason hashed out a Javascript script for Photoshop that allowed you to output as many perfectly formated cards as you wanted out of one source psd file. Together it took us around thirty minutes to hash out what I hadn't been able to do on my own. This actually made me more replaceable and I had to seek out Jason out of his normal work duties, and create space in my schedule to tackle the creation of the script. Yet it saved massive time and increased quality in the future. The sort of step that betters productivity and quality that businesses so crave. And it came from my own time. I basically had to slightly subvert the system to do it.

At another time I was teaching myself programming in the break-room. I had my massive book(I use it for weightlifting now) 'Learning to Program Python' plopped open while I ate. Roupang asked me why I was reading that. I told him I needed a simple program that would reverse letters in a line but not the line order to convert Hebrew and Arabic text from the input order (left to right) to the reading order (right to left) so I could use them in graphics. The order of Hebrew letters seemed to be a perpetual problem in many of the international graphics I got at the time. The program is dead simple, I even recently coded a Sinatra app that does it, but invaluable if you need it and need it quickly. Roupang, a programmer with the company, offered to write it for me. He said it would take him 5 minutes. And he was right. Yet after it got out he'd done that for me access to the programmers by production (and hence Quality Control) was restricted and the production team was 'reprimanded' for not seeking approval. Shortly there after Roupang's office was moved behind a glass wall into a different department. I was specifically denied entry to it. Yet a 5 minute program that was so useful that when I showed it to the graphics people, they immediately wanted to copy it and include it in their workflow. But again by giving them my little program, I increased quality but reduced my "job security." Because my "job security" was so tied to the specific tasks I'd been assigned to do not my contributions to the company.

This top-down segregated management is clearly not optimal, but stems from the view that people are like 'cogs' in that they are interchangeable and only do one job. And this view starts with the hiring process. What can you do (for us)? What can you do (to make us money)? What can you do (for me)? Seems to be the only filter that is used. A more valuable one is to hire great people and let them go where they can contribute the most. It's not only more human, I have a feeling it can also be largely more profitable. Other qualities like how much a person knows, how quickly they can learn, how good they are at benefiting the team, their creativity and passion then become valuable assets, not ones that need to subvert the system to survive.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

How to configure Ubuntu's keyboard to work like a Mac's

Typing accents on a PC is a complicated Alt + three numbered code affair. One feels like a sorcerer casting a spell. "I summon thee accented é! I press the weird magical key Alt, and with 0191 get the flipped question mark!" For a bilingual person this meant that writing on the computer was a start-and-stop process. With Mac's it a whole lot easier, just Alt + e and the letter you wanted for accents and alt + ? for the question mark. No need to leave the keyboard for the number pad and no need to remember arcane number combinations or have a paper cheat sheet next to the keyboard, as I've seen in virtually every secretaries computer in Puerto Rico.

Linux has a interesting approach to foreign language characters: using a compose key. You hit this key which I typically map to Caps Lock and ' and the letter you want and voilá you get the accent. Kinda makes sense: single quotation mark is an accent, double gets you the ümalaut, works pretty well. Except for the ñ, wh…

Contrasting Styles of Writing: English vs. Spanish

There is interestingly enough a big difference between what's considered good writing in Spanish and English. V.S. Naipul winner of the 2001 Nobel prize for literature publish an article on writing. In it he emphasizes the use of short clear sentences and encourages the lack of adjectives and adverbs. Essentially he pushes the writer to abandon florid language and master spartan communication. This is a desired feature of English prose, where short clipped sentences are the norm and seamlessly flow into a paragraph. In English prose the paragraph is the unit the writer cares about the most.

This is not the case in Spanish where whole short stories (I'm thinking this was Gabriel Garcia Marquez but maybe it was Cortázar) are written in one sentence. Something so difficult to do in English that the expert translator could best manage to encapsulate the tale in two sentences. The florid language is what is considered good writing in Spanish but unfortunately this has lead to what …

Fixing Autocomplete in Github's Atom Text Editor for Ruby

I really like Github's Atom Text Editor. I really like that it's multi-platform allowing me to master one set of skills that is transferable to all platforms and all machines. 

On thing that just burns me of the default set-up in Atom is the Autocomplete feature that seems to change my words as a type them. Because Ruby uses the end of line as a terminus for a statement you usually finish a word with pressing the return button and you get really annoying changes to your finished typed word a la MS Word. I find myself yelling "No that's not what I wrote!" at the screen in busy coffee shops.

I disabled autocomplete for a while but it is a very useful function. Then I found out they changed the package that gave the autocomplete to a new one called "Autocomplete Plus" that gives you more options. All that I needed to change to make autocomplete sane again:

1. Open Atom's Preferences
2. Search the bundled packages for "Autocomplete Plus"

3. Go to t…