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The Ghost Who Codes: How Anonymity is Killing Your Programming Career

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He lurks quietly in the darkness emerging only to briefly churn out some markup during business hours. He has no face, no name, no records. His only weapon is his word. He is:

The Programmer - "The Ghost Who Codes"

This is not the work of fiction, these ghosts walk among us, blending seamlessly into their environment until one day they emerge, seeking a job somewhere else. And when they do, prospective employers look for them and… they can’t be found. Anywhere.

Yes, the “Ghost Who Codes” is real and you may even be one of them without realising what it’s doing to your career. But it’s not too late – you can still emerge from the shadowy darkness but it must be done promptly, it’s not something to delay.

On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog (or a programmer)

The classic cartoon made light of the fact that the internet affords you the ability to create your own identity; you can claim to be whoever (or whatever) you desire. A resume is not that different and this is at the heart of what I want to get at; CVs where claims are made but because the candidate is a metaphorical ghost there exists no record of them – no substantiation of them – anywhere on the web. Maybe this is something you’d expect when hiring, say, a Battle of Gettysburg historian but it’s not something you expect when hiring someone in the high tech online-centric world that is the software industry.

Here’s what I’m talking about: a CV comes in and naturally it’s a glowing account of all the wonderful things the individual has done over many years including their vast experience across a wide range of technologies and versions. But it’s their account of history and naturally they’ve embellished things either to improve their marketability or because they’re unconsciously incompetent (that’s not intended to be a derogatory comment, “you don’t know what you don’t know”). So as a conscientious potential employer you seek out more information to substantiate the vast wealth of knowledge the candidate promises to bring you:

You look for their LinkedIn profile. There either isn’t one or it’s a copy of the CV and doesn’t reflect any group membership, peer discussions, endorsements, connections or any sort of engagement with the software community.

So then you look for a Stack Overflow profile. No luck there, there are no questions asked and no answers given. They’ve not contributed knowledge nor have they sought it out in any active way.

Maybe they just like sticking to the Microsoft channel and have a healthy MSDN profile for the same reason? Hardly.

How about a GitHub account or other participation in open source? Nope, nothing there either.

Perhaps a Twitter account or public Facebook page to demonstrate the sort of information they feel is relevant in sharing or even just contains some of their wittier insights to raging semicolon versus non semicolon debate? Nope.

Could there even be a Disqus account highlighting their agreement (or not) with any of the hundreds of thousands of useful pieces of software development material the comment engine accompanies? No chance.

A blog? Forget about it.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say this: if this is you, it could be killing your career prospects because it paints a very unfavourable picture. Let me explain why.

Truly effective developers leave a paper trail

Scott Hanselman calls them Dark Matter Developers; they make up a significant proportion of the universe yet you never see them! In his usual affable way, Scott points out that these guys are probably happy getting the job done with their ASP.NET 1.1 and punching out when the clock ticks over home time before making a hasty retreat, assumedly to some form of non-programmer based activity.

That’s fine, but these are not the people with passion. They’re also far from the most productive (can you imagine no generics, no web forms master pages, no MVC, no ORM, etc.) and they’re not going to be introducing any innovation or contributing much to improve the environment they work in beyond perhaps being good company.

But one of the biggest deficiencies with this audience is that they’re working in a vacuum. What happens when they get stumped on something? Everybody gets stumped on something and it’s usually not an odd occurrence, question is, what happens when you do? Those who can recognise they’re stuck early and reach out to the community for support stand a significantly better chance of not only getting the problem fixed early, but probably getting it done better as well. Of course this then leaves a paper trail on the likes of Stack Overflow.

Conversely, does a developer ever contribute? I’d say it’s reasonable to assume that 99% of coders reach out to the online community to take information when they’re stuck (let’s face it, Google is the first stop when this happens), but how many repay the favour? These communities only work because enough people are willing to devote expertise for free, what does it say when someone isn’t prepared to do that whilst still benefiting from the free labour of others? I’m not saying become Jon Skeet, but c’mon, maybe answer the odd question, make an edit or leave a comment to improve the value of content for future fellow developers.

So what does it say about developers who don’t have this paper trail? Well firstly, they’re almost certainly spending more time banging their heads against the wall trying to solve problems than they should be. They’re also unarguably not using the tools at their disposal effectively – they’re working less efficiently than they need be. You could fairly extend this more insular way of working beyond just Q&A as well; are these people actively seeking out other ways to improve their development practices? Are they following what’s happening in the industry and bringing these improvements into the office with them?

“The best programmers are up to 28 times better than the worst programmers”

This is from Facts and Fallacies of Software Engineering and it’s extremely important for employers because it makes a massive difference to the value of their investment. And make no mistake about it, employees are investments. You’ll read similar things in The Mythical Man-Month when it talks about a group of experienced developers:

Within just this group the ratios between the best and worst performances averaged about 10:1 on productivity measurements and an amazing 5:1 on program speed and space measurements!

Imagine that – being able to gain a 5 or 10 fold increase on your developer investment just because you chose the right guy! But you’re not going to get that with the developers who work in their own little cacoon, at least not from those working with modern technologies that are evolving rapidly. That’s the really important value proposition for employers and that’s why engaged, switched on developers who know how to maximise the resources at their disposal are so valuable and those who do not, well, not quite so much.

Much has been written on the programmer interview process, Joel Spolsky has an excellent piece on The Guerrilla Guide to Interviewing which is always a good place to start. All of this is about trying to weed out the lesser developer – the ones that are 10% or 20% as effective as their switched on peers – and get to the “cream”. Interview techniques are great, but there are also those that will attempt to “game” them to the fullest extent possible. I myself have recollections from many years ago of studiously memorising everything I could from certain large programming books so that I could repeat this knowledge verbatim in interviews the following day.

Imagine now being able to have someone say “Here’s my public GitHub repositories, go take a look”. Assuming there’s enough in there to weed out the copy paste developers (and you can substantiate that pretty easily), it adds a wonderful dynamic to an interview. You can actually discuss coding practices in the context of real work! It becomes a much less philosophical discussion and particularly once there’s some history in there too it affords you insight you just can’t get from discussions or even sitting the candidate down for a coding test (and let’s face it, those are always a bit stressful for the poor dev).

Education? Great, but what have you actually done?!

If I was being operated on I’d want to be damn sure the surgeon had some serious qualifications. When I jump on a plane I want to know the pilot has been strenuously tested, and very recently at that. But when I hire a coder the single most important factor is what they’ve actually achieved and that I can verify it beyond the hearsay that is a CV (or at best, a reference). Generic degrees in computer science related disciplines give absolutely no assurance that someone is a top notch developer and certifications merely prove someone is able to pass a course.

Many will argue that these things open doors that wouldn’t otherwise have been opened without them. Of course that depends on who is opening the door and how much emphasis is placed on paperwork versus a verifiable track record. I would argue – and I think fairly so – that particularly as the “older guard” move on and those responsible for hiring are increasingly of the internet generation, the focus is becoming a far more practical, evidence-based one. We couldn’t really do this even a decade ago. We can now.

Mind you, none of this is to say don’t go and pursue tertiary education or gain certifications, they may well help you develop skills that you can use to actually do something. But make sure that “something” is actually done.

There has long been the conundrum amongst those in the early stages of their careers as to how they become employable without having a track record. Education was the only thing they could hold up as some form of assurance that they weren’t entirely incompetent. That’s no longer the case – now we have all the channels mentioned earlier on and frankly if someone comes out of three years plus of tertiary education in a programming discipline without a Stack Overflow profile or a GitHub account or a social media trail of tech talk, what on earth have they been doing?!

But all is not lost…

None of this may ever matter to you. You may not be put in a position where you’re either looking for a job or are competing with those who aren’t ghosts. Maybe. Perhaps.

Now of course none of this means that the Ghost Who Codes is unemployable, far from it, but when they’re put next to someone who on paper is equal except that they have this rich, independently verifiable history of engagement and community contributions then there’s no competition. What it means is that they have nothing more than their word on which to base the entire premise of their employment and as convincing as this can be, it’s no longer enough.

But the good news is that if you do want to emerge from the shadows it’s dead easy to get started and big things can happen in short timeframes. Take Iris Classon; have a look at what she has achieved in a short 18 months. That’s not 18 months of an experienced programmer attempting to build some public kudos, that’s 18 months of going from no programming experience at all to thousands of followers, multiple speaking engagements and participation in some really well-regarded programs. That speaks volumes to a potential employer that a fancy CV or on-paper qualifications never will.

Ultimately, complete lack of public profile doesn’t make someone a bad programmer. On the other hand, a rich track record of engaging with the community, asking questions, demonstrating enthusiasm and actively participating in the industry gives you a bloody good head start on the ghosts.

Footnote: It has not escaped me that those who will comment are, by definition, not the ghosts I refer to! Those who comment on the ghosts’ behalf further serve to to put themselves out there on the readily discoverable, public timeline :)

Published at DZone with permission of Troy Hunt, author and DZone MVB. (source)

(Note: Opinions expressed in this article and its replies are the opinions of their respective authors and not those of DZone, Inc.)


Mark Walker replied on Wed, 2013/02/13 - 12:48pm

Great article, I particularly like the eduction vs. what have you actually done perspective. Given that universities can merely be mere degree factories -- there are exceptions -- don't shoot me; what a person has done, and is passionate about is far more relevant.

Heck, at my high school we didn't even have a computer until I was in the second year of the CS program. We joined after school classes, later posted to bulletin boards (remember them) and coded because we enjoyed it. It's not a job: it's what I like doing.

Deepak Bawa replied on Wed, 2013/02/13 - 6:03pm

 Great article. Motivates me to share what I learn.

Jeffrey Richman replied on Thu, 2013/02/14 - 4:20am

I think you want to be careful about equating message board participation with competence.  Hell, could we apply the suggested logic to, say, geopolitics, or law?  It's as if you're arguing that XKCD-esque youtube comments are the prime indicator of a strong intellect.

Community interaction is absolutely important, but I've personally spent over a decade helping people, and sometimes being helped, on IRC.  I have hundreds of megabytes of log files backing that up, but none of it will appear on a search engine.

I do agree, however, that SHOWING what you as a developer can do is vastly more important than TELLING.  I'm at a point in life where I'm focused on coming out of the closet, as it were, and creating a personal site to illustrate what I can do.  I think that's truly essential, particularly since much of what professional developers work on tends to be proprietary and often cobbled together solutions which don't show off their best abilities.

And no, ORM's aren't always worth it.

I guess my point is, presence is important, but ultimately it's content that sells.  To think otherwise is to buy into the lazy HR school of thought in which google result count is this year's magic metric.  (God forbid we start an SEO war between development candidates.  If only for the sake of the internet, let's back away from that particular button.)

Troy Hunt replied on Thu, 2013/02/14 - 9:01pm in response to: Jeffrey Richman

Directly equating message board participation alone with competence is clearly not wise. The point is that this sort of forum offers insight into the sort of discussions and competence the individual has over a period of time. That may not actually work in their favour! But it does give an employer a more independently verifiable source from which to form some opinions on the individual in a way which a written CV or interview never will.

IMHO, it's all just information that ultimately contributes to the employment discussion. Candidates may use it to establish "brand" and employers may use it as an additional source of research.

Jason Pritchard replied on Sat, 2013/02/16 - 2:42pm

I don't disagree totally with what you're saying. However, it is a little frustrating for someone that works on side projects or similar to know we're being discriminated against just because we don't have all the time in the world to be embedded in the "community". I can't afford to sit and stare at SO boards to try to be the first to get that answer in. (Not to mention the fact that I've never seen a software board that didn't devolve into sarcastic google-it, or rtfm responses.) 

I'd agree that it would be good to participate in healthy discussions, but no one should be pre-judged if they can't open-source everything they do to github. Those of you that hire people by doing just that could seriously be missing out on quality people. And like Jeffrey said, some help in other contexts. As a manager, would you rather have the guy that helps the online world answer how to do outer joins or do you want the guys that helps the junior dev sitting a few cubes over understand a given pattern. Both are good, but which has better ROI for your division (for managerspeak)?

A final annoyance I often hear is this sentiment on education, that Troy and Mark share. Usually when I hear people say that "what you do counts" and not your education, it's by people that never went back for postgrad or anything higher. Those that have know that the amount of work and the LOE can be much higher than anything that most people do at "work" on any given day (at least for those of us that took it seriously). You also get to learn things that you never will have learned otherwise in your professional life. Things that help you think about problems in entirely new ways. Perhaps if it weren't for all those people sitting in classrooms, not doing any real work, wasting their time doing those darn non-productive research projects, we just might not have some of these technologies that you do your real work with. Like say.... the internet or maybe the servers that you get to build your community on.

This can be a double-edged sword BTW. It would say a lot to me, as a candidate, if a manager used this very narrow set of criteria as their basis for judgement. I'd be more inclined to respect a manager that had an understanding of people, e.g. how to recognize psychological profiles and how to work within those, and not just ask to see my repos.

All that said, it's not a bad idea to try to stay out there and in-touch. Personally, I think it should stop there, at being casual and helpful. The problem using online presence the way you do is that it turns profiles into commodities. I don't see the productization of the 24hr cycle of a person's life as a good thing. Sometimes they should be allowed to just be off... doing their own thing... and not posting every second of it. Finally, just keep in mind that not everyone shows their passion for their field by running to SO or github. So maybe just give them a little break when you start talking to them in interviews. Who knows, you may be surprised by the person you talk to that doesn't have all or any of those profiles. If you can't tell if someone is passionate about what they do by talking to them as an adult, then maybe you need to improve your interviewing skills more than they need a social media class.

Lund Wolfe replied on Sun, 2013/02/17 - 4:01am

I doubt that there is any correlation between being a public contributor and a quality developer.  It shows passion for their work and their values, which may or may not be the same as yours, but I don't think it says anything about technical competence or intelligence.  Many more people use reviews on Amazon than write reviews.  Many more people use SO than comment on SO.

Not all public contributions are quality contributions.  You, the employer, still have to be able to identify good developers based on interviews and recent code, preferably based on your coding assignment so you can judge fairly between applicants.

Mark Walker replied on Tue, 2013/02/19 - 11:45am in response to: Jason Pritchard

Jason, please note that I said "can be degree factories."
Emphasis on can.

Likewise I never meant that all graduates are incompetent fools that merely gulped and spewed their way through exams and assignments -- just that some are. I know, I've both interviewed and worked with some. Therefore I would always balance educational requirements with experience requirements, and if that experience happened to come from "blue-sky thinking" on some post-graduate research project that would be okay as well. The key however, would be what did that candidate contribute to said project?

Jason Pritchard replied on Tue, 2013/02/19 - 2:41pm in response to: Mark Walker

My issue is not with you or how you said it. My issue is the overall sentiment, which maybe you don't share, that has been phrased that way before. It's something I've heard many times from many different types of people. The premise that all education has been devalued because of the for-profit style of degree that many colleges are churning out these days is profoundly irritating. I just don't see many legitimate engineering programs doing this (business is another story). Postgrad is where I really get frustrated, which compelled me to respond to this article. There's just not a lot of group-think to fall back on, at least not in any program I was in. Real engineering programs are mostly do or die, and I didn't see much tolerance for crap work (for which I see daily professionally). Ultimately, the degrees just bloomed my passion for learning and my field, and I've learned more that I ever would have without them. Maybe I'm an exception in going above and beyond in the amount of effort, but I seriously doubt it. I just say this to ask that you folks that hire not dismiss those of us that went that route just because it wasn't 2 or 4 years writing some grunt-work app for company X as low-level hires. I'd ask you to see it as the passion and drive that was discussed above, and for all the blood, sweat, and tears that it took to survive.

On a side note, I know you and others may have read that and thought "I don't devalue education..." or "I don't think like that...". My issue is also a PR one. When there's a dependency on phrasing like that, it muddies the point. Reading that education counts less in any regard causes a perception problem (@see politics). Someone may not think like that always, but seeing that argument (or variations of) made in many different contexts will eventually start to show up on other conscious levels. OK, there's a chance I'm in black helicopter territory on that one :). I just hate seeing the cultural shift in our education system where the argument that even "some" schools are degree factories is a valid one (one that I can't challenge by any means). 

Mark Walker replied on Tue, 2013/02/19 - 3:25pm in response to: Jason Pritchard

Fair point Jason.

Note: I try not to take things too personally on message boards anyhow. Seen too many programming religious wars come and go to take anything too personally.

Subbu Kumar replied on Wed, 2013/02/20 - 8:27am

 So, you think the best programmers are paid 28 times the worst programmers?

Gonzalo Arrivi replied on Wed, 2013/02/20 - 9:37am

Great article.

Personally, I get a bit sad thinking that you are so right in many ways. In an era where you can know everything about everyone, impressions won't be based only in a CV (and impressions are almost everything to some employers, I think), specially in an area so technologically-involved as ours.

I thought about this ocassionally, but I think I'll get a little more proactive thanks to you.

Edward Garson replied on Wed, 2013/02/20 - 10:23am

"That’s fine, but these are not the people with passion. They’re also far from the most productive ..."

I take strong exception with the notion that Ghost Programmers are "far from the most productive". Just because a programmer doesn't blog, participate in open source projects or otherwise cultivate their online persona has nothing to do with their productivity or competence.

Gonzalo Arrivi replied on Wed, 2013/02/20 - 10:50am in response to: Edward Garson

I comply, but I take that in the article it's said as how a potential employer sees it. That's why I say it's kinda sad, because I think it's true.

Robert Brown replied on Wed, 2013/02/20 - 11:07am in response to: Jason Pritchard

"I'd agree that it would be good to participate in healthy discussions, but no one should be pre-judged if they can't open-source everything they do to github. Those of you that hire people by doing just that could seriously be missing out on quality people. And like Jeffrey said, some help in other contexts. As a manager, would you rather have the guy that helps the online world answer how to do outer joins or do you want the guys that helps the junior dev sitting a few cubes over understand a given pattern. Both are good, but which has better ROI for your division (for managerspeak)?"

While it's true that you may think you want someone who helps the guy in the next cube over the guy posting on a dev site, there's pretty much no way to know that the person you are going to hire is the "help a guy in the next cube" type of person until you hire them. The point of this article is How do you make yourself stand out a the next interview, and the corrollary, how can an employer get a good feel for a potential employee.  Both of those things are easier now with the advent of the internet and publicly accessible proof, so If someone has answered 3-4 items on StackOverflow, that shows that they are willing to help period.  If on the other hand they have answered 200 in the last week, you have the flip side to think about and wonder if they are actually doing any work.  Of course if the 200 are all cogent and good information, then you probably want him in your place anyway.  

" If you can't tell if someone is passionate about what they do by talking to them as an adult, then maybe you need to improve your interviewing skills more than they need a social media class."

Interviewing is expensive and people ARE hard to judge, you are trying, in less than an hour, to determine if the person you are talking to is X or Y and they are trying in less than an hour to prove that they are what you need.  So of course they are going to come off as passionate about what they do, seeing through that initial impression is important.  The more information you have the better, so employers are going to be looking, as a prospect the more footprint the better.  When you fill out your resume do you not put down speaking engagements you have had?  or important conferences you've participated in?  Those are the same as a blog entry or SO answer or whatever.  It's just that the tech is available now for the employers to do extra digging.

Nilesh Thali replied on Wed, 2013/02/20 - 1:38pm

Incredible article. totally resonated with me - i'm one of the ghost coders who makes desultory attempts to step out of the shadows with my blog, or asking/answering questions on forums. But Iris Classon blew me away, and i think anyone who's just starting out should be following that role model (no pun intended)!

Kerr Schere replied on Wed, 2013/02/20 - 3:05pm in response to: Jeffrey Richman

And no, ORM's aren't always worth it.

That's exactly what I was thinking when I read the huzzah for MVC / ORM blurb in this article!  Categorically, I wouldn't go as far as Ted Neward or Jeff Atwood have, but I've certainly met some ORMs that I'd just as soon forget.

Daniel Granatshtein replied on Wed, 2013/02/20 - 3:11pm

Great  article and even better the debate.

I do agree that programmers that are not engaged are missing on opportunities in their career and by not contributing to others will find it harder to get back when in need.

But.. i think this is biased to people that are engaged in the conversation, and obviously from the reason they are engaged, then are misjudging the ghosts.

I think that the problem is with the COMPANIES! Some do not encourage embracing new technologies enough and sharpening the saw (if at all), some fear heaving employees abounding them as a result of being exposed to the "outside world". But my point is (like others have said" that those ghosts might be brilliant engineers who should be cultivated/coached to a more social interaction, but again in the right channels that suite them. An example to that might be to engorge programmers to contribute to open-source projects, but help them in the open source cloture and conversation. 

Bring the conversation to your ghosts!

Last i agree that most ghosts will not comment here, and say that beyond that i am not sure they are even reading this!

Thanks for this article :)

Jason Pritchard replied on Wed, 2013/02/20 - 3:20pm in response to: Robert Brown

I understood the point just fine, which is why I said I didn't totally disagree - adding that debate is a positive. However the point wasn't simply an interviewing tip. The tone here implies that it takes a higher weight than all other factors, and that if you don't do it you are somehow not as qualified or not a team player or maybe even unemployable (check the title if you don't believe me). No one ever said interviewing was easy, but just like on the interviewee side, some can be terrible at it. The difference is that a bad interviewer will use this a crutch to base their interviews on, and if you're not a [blogger] you're therefore not passionate about what you do.

I'm still inclined to think that you want the person helping the people sitting around them. That doesn't exclude people that help online, but I think it's better team building if you have one or two that help out alot in-house. It seems to have a ripple effect and encourage others to help when they can. I can see how that might be hard to tell in an interview except that most people, I'm guessing, would mention it or maybe you could ask them (perhaps indirectly) about it. Again, the online community participation is fine and I'm not taking away from that. But you have a community in your office too.

On your last point, I'm not sure I buy that [blog...] is the same as speaking, publications, ... To me I think the LOE, research alone makes them fundamentally different. That doesn't make [blog...] unimportant, but they shouldn't receive the same weight. In some ways, this says that you shouldn't have gone to school or consulted or whatever, you should have been blogging for the last 2 years to make yourself relevant - or as the title implies, not have your career killed. 

Robert Brown replied on Wed, 2013/02/20 - 4:06pm in response to: Jason Pritchard

"I'm still inclined to think that you want the person helping the people sitting around them. That doesn't exclude people that help online, but I think it's better team building if you have one or two that help out alot in-house"

Absolutely, you would want the person who helps those around them, the problem is during an interview process you can't really determine what the interviewee has been doing with his fellow team members.  Asking him "do you help your fellow team members?" won't work, because those who answer no, you don't want and those who answer yes are either lying or telling the truth, and unless you can tell the lie you can't accept the answer.  

Because there's a new public forum out there that is able to be referenced, it makes sense for an employer to check those out, and as more people become involved online it will become more and more important to be involved online because if you are not and the other guy trying for the job is involved, then the employer has more data to make a decision on and will likely choose the person who they can find out the most about.  (unless of course the new data shows that the person is a bad fit for the position). 

"On your last point, I'm not sure I buy that [blog...] is the same as speaking, publications, ... To me I think the LOE, research alone makes them fundamentally different."

You're right I wouldn't put them on the same level, but they accomplish many of the same results.  An independently confirmable view into your qualifications.  I.E. if you put down that you were a teacher at Oracleworld 3 years in a row, that means that you are likely to know certain things and be able to present them in a coherent way, and the interviewer can confirm this by researching your claim and maybe even viewing the courses.  Similarly, if I have 30 posts over 2 years on StackOverflow, the interviewer can read those posts and gain a better understanding of my skills in both communication and tech than my counterpart who did not have any postings.  

" this says that you shouldn't have gone to school or consulted or whatever, you should have been blogging for the last 2 years to make yourself relevant - or as the title implies, not have your career killed. "

My take about what the article is saying is that in Addition to doing all of those other things, blogging is becoming a requirement for relevancy.  And actually, if I am looking at 2 candidates and one has a PhD in Computer Science and has been working as a consultant for 5 years, but no way to independently confirm their skills and another who has a lesser degree, but has a github site with actual running code on it, and some coherent thoughts posted in a blog or forums, AND those thoughts are in line with what my company needs, I'm probably going to go with the blogger.  I don't know what the PhD guy is actually like or can actually do, but I do know a little about what the other person can actually do and say.  

There are no guarantees of course, but more data is usually better than less, and as both an interviewer and an interviewee this article makes a lot of sense. 

Jason Pritchard replied on Wed, 2013/02/20 - 8:01pm in response to: Robert Brown

Yea, I won't argue with you that interviewing is hard. And maybe I just don't give enough credit to how well people can lie (not the first time unfortunately).

On the PhD example, I'm curious about one thing. If it were a PhD from a legitimate school, wouldn't you be able to get some background and reputation on the program (if not the candidate), just as you would in researching the bloggers blog and repo? Also the PhD would have published articles that you could see real research. I'll grant you that with no other data available, you'd probably have to go with the blogger. Sorry, I'm not trying to poke holes in your arbitrary example, and I realize that it's all in the specifics of a given case. I just think generally that data could come in many forms, and I'd like to think that more than a small subset is being considered. I'd also like to point out that not everyone is encouraged/allowed to participate in a lot of the things discussed here (esp when you work govt with a clearance).

Elina Hazaran replied on Fri, 2013/02/22 - 5:47pm

The article is really great, but give a little break to students - education gives the most important thing - a capability of logical and critical thinking which is crucial and fundamental to all further practical experience. So let us concentrate on getting this first :)

Dirk Starke replied on Sat, 2013/02/23 - 4:43pm

I think contribution to the community might show knowledge (and is, of course, important to all of us), but learning is more associated with reading blogs, not writing blogs. So in interviews you would better ask "what blogs, magazines, books or whatever do you read?"

Robert Brown replied on Mon, 2013/02/25 - 12:10pm

Hi Dirk, 

The problem is what happens when the person answers "I read stackoverflow and Dzone and XYZ blogger".  Does that mean the person understands the things they read? or just that they understand what things they should read?  In an interview you want to tease out the information the person knows about not necessarily where they got the knowledge, and because it's becoming easier to figure out what some developers know because they blog about it or answer/ask questions that you can read, those developers are easier to make a determination on.  As an example what would you say if someone says they read an article on noSQL that mentioned Hadoop?  Does that mean they understand Hadoop?  Not necessarily and you would have to dig deeper during the interview to tease out the true understanding.  On the other hand if someone wrote a question about noSQL and engaged in an active response thread, or posted a github example of  using mapreduce to solve a problem, you can make a ballpark guess at what their knowledge level likely is without even asking the question during the interview.  

It's not the only thing to look at of course, but if I was looking at two people otherwise the same and one has a masters from MIT in CS but can't show me anything they've done and the other is a high school graduate that has an active blog and interacts on some forums, I'm going to be able to tell a little more about the high school graduate's current work than I am about the Masters degree person, so if I'm looking for someone to get things done, and I liked what the blogger wrote I'd probably lean toward him.  I can still be wrong of course, but having concrete examples of work is pretty powerful and forums, blogs and github is making it easier and easier for employers to get those examples.  


Dirk Starke replied on Mon, 2013/02/25 - 3:02pm

I agree that writing blogs and contributing to the community is a very good way to present your knowledge. But writing a blog is no substitute for reading blogs - this is far more important for acquiring knowledge and (perhaps) becoming a high class software developer. I am a ghost coder. And yes, I feel that I should start blogging. But I also have two children, my employer does not support blogging in any way (why should he?). In my "free time" I am reading blogs, magazines, and books. Writing a blog would be work on top of that, because I'd still have to read all the stuff I am reading now to be up to date. I am sure I am not the only one being that kind of ghost coder.

Well, I did not do many interviews in my life. Surely your experience exceeds mine by far. But I think some questions regarding the details of a topic will separate the experts from the pretenders. Ok, there will still be some remaining risk. If your new colleague does not fit in, well, you'll have to fire him. You are not doing yourself and him a favour not doing so. Also remember you need every kind of people. A horde of university professors might not get the job done while a team of mixed knowledge workers does.

But not inviting someone to an interview just because he or she likes anonymity (just joking) could miss some good people out.

Robert Annett replied on Wed, 2013/02/27 - 7:09am

You are perpetuating myths! Please read "The Leprechauns of Software Engineering"

I would also like to add that I have worked with several people who very involved in aspects of the software community and great programmers but achieved nothing for the organisations they worked for... because they spent all their day on OS projects and NOT what they were paid for!

Somnath Shantveer replied on Thu, 2013/02/28 - 4:29am

 Looking at your heading of your post I thought its about some hackers, But when i started to read it, boom its about me!! I almost disappeared, Ghost in making (lol).

Great article. Though there are some people who don't agree this, but its become a norm to check your online presence before hiring.

Troy Hunt replied on Mon, 2013/03/04 - 4:32pm in response to: Jason Pritchard

I spent years studying a computer science degree at university in the mid 90s that was frankly almost useless. I was extremely unhappy with the lack of relevance I saw to the IT world that was emerging around me (the web) and whilst it was "the thing that you do", it turned out to be a mere academic exercise. But certainly I agree you learn things you never would in the professional world (I still vividly recall the chemistry work I was required to partake in), but that's simply because so much of it is never of relevance!

Working hard doesn't mean working smart and whilst I wouldn't discourage people from pursuing tertiary education in this field (I'm sure it's much better these days), I will always favour those who able do demonstrate ability.

Philip Puthenvila replied on Mon, 2013/03/04 - 7:57pm

 It is a nice and well wriiten article, I am sharing this url with my other friends and colleagues.

I was also hiding from sharing , if I got stuck just google and use the information available, I did not even post a question for long time. I want to be active in the forums and share my knowledge.

Thanks you for this article.

Uenhan Inay replied on Tue, 2013/03/05 - 9:43am in response to: Lund Wolfe

 I completely agree with Lund. As he mentioned the private/public contribution doesn't say anything about a person. The only point to emphasize maybe is that public contributors are more open to the public, they have probably better soft skills in communication, but that's all. Another point is that some public contributors use also self chosen nicks to hide their identity. There are other thoughts which can be listed, but i want to finish here ;)

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