You Can't Build a Team in the Thunderdome: Better Hiring through Empathy

Wednesday, December 7, 2016 - 4:45pm5:30pm

Ryan McKern, Puppet


A strong team is more than a loosely affiliated assemblage of individuals or an echo chamber of like-minded people who speak as one multi-headed hive mind. Hiring new people for your strong team is probably one of the most challenging tasks your team will have to do. All too often strong technical teams use some variation of the "Standard Technical Interview." This self-propagating interview "process" seems to be designed to both wear out the team giving the interview and emotionally flatline any candidates subjected to it.

I believe that hiring is one of the most important contributions you will make to your organization. Hiring well should be about more than just getting Unicorn candidates to sign on the dotted line. After years of technical interviews with different types of organization, I’ve realized that most technical interviews suffer from focusing too deeply on problems the team had yesterday instead of the team they want to be tomorrow.

I want to talk about what happened when my team tried treating candidates like peers who already had the job instead of giving in to Repetition Compulsion and inflicting trial-by-combat on them just because that's how we were hired. Interviewers felt like they had a better grasp on their role in the process, candidates did not feel like there was some secret handshake or passphrase they were missing, and the company didn’t collapse even though nobody wrote pretend-code on a whiteboard!

Ryan McKern, Puppet

Ryan McKern has been a dishwasher, a bakery clerk, a telemarketer, and a Taco Bell employee. As a member of the Release Engineering team at Puppet, he now uses those skills to teach others to replace soda syrup and CO2 in the company kitchen. Having abandoned Boston winters for Portland’s apartment shortage, he’s excited to return to Boston and share the techniques he’s used to survive the horrors of countless "Standard Technical Interviews." He is a friend to all cats, an avid soda connoisseur, and hard of hearing from too many concerts without earplugs.

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@conference {201502,
author = {Ryan McKern},
title = {You Can{\textquoteright}t Build a Team in the Thunderdome: Better Hiring through Empathy},
year = {2016},
address = {Boston, MA},
publisher = {USENIX Association},
month = dec

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