Charlatan developers and the Blunt truth

Summary: A rant on political correctness in the programming world.

Ayende, developer of RavenDB and author of popular programming blog, has been blogging the ugly, cringeworthy interviews resulting from his company’s recent hiring round.

Some developers couldn’t sort a list of strings. Others didn’t know what framework they were developing in. Aptly summing the lot, one developer with 6 years experience and a CV mentioning multi-threading experience said, "I only know BackgroundWorker."

The short of it is, we have a lot of charlatans in our industry. (See Why can’t programmers…program?)

But the comments to these posts tell a different story: bleeding hearts sympathizing with the interviewee and chiding Ayende for blogging about the bad interview.

Kelly Somers (@kellabyte), big data extraordinaire, complained:

"As an employer, I don’t think posts like this are a professional way to behave. Although they are anonymous, there is a human trying to make a living being humiliated here and I can only imagine how they might feel after having a bad interview only to then read it up on the internet in the public eye."

Patrick Smacchia, creator of NDepend, chimed in agreement,

"I am with Kelly here…You’d better mention only positive things that happen in the interview room."

“Only the positive things.” ಠ_ಠ

I have much respect for both Kelly and Patrick and the things they’ve built. However, what’s more important, a person’s hurt feelings or telling the truth?

If I was that interviewee, I’d feel bad, sure, but I’d also come to appreciate the truthful feedback. I’d want to know that I’m failing to use loops. Had I interviewed at DataStax or NDepend, I’d probably be calling them repeatedly, receiving uncertain answers about whether I’m hired or not, everyone beating around the bush and no one telling me just why it is that my calls aren’t being returned.

Contrast with Ayende’s approach, I’d just know straight up my current skills are lacking, and that I shouldn’t be advertising my many years of developer expertise if I can’t work with for loops.

When I visited Israel the other year, people were blunt, to-the-point, and honest. It was jarring, but good. Having lived in the US for my entire life, it’s been drilled into me that you never say what’s really on your mind. Criticism should be withheld for sake of politeness. If it will offend someone, nobody really tells the truth here.

Ayende’s honesty is wonderful for that reason. Yes, even if it were my code being criticized, I’d appreciate the honesty. Wouldn’t you?

I suspect this blunt honesty is foreign to most folks from the US, and is the reason some people are chiming in with bleeding hearts. They think "positive only" is better. “Think of the human being searching for a job!” But this sort of thinking is not really thinking at all, but rather emoting, thinking with your emotions rather than intellect. Compassion to the point of untruthfulness is not actually helpful to human beings.

I’d rather know the truth, even if it hurts. Wouldn’t you?