Saturday, August 19, 2006

Hiring based off years of experience

[This was originally posted at]

I often see a job openings that require "X years of experience". While this makes sense as a general rule, there are a lot of exceptions. The problem is that you're hiring a developer to design and ultimately write code, and the computer doesn't care how old you are. Instead, it cares about what you type into the keyboard, i.e. do you know how to program? The question is how does a developer know how to program? Recruiters look at "years of experience" because they hope it will equate to "knowledge of programming", but there are many reasons where the correlation breaks down:

  1. A younger dev may have worked 50-60 hr weeks. An older may have only worked 40 hr weeks (so the younger actually has more experience).
  2. A younger dev may continually work on new features. An older dev may just do redundant work (so the younger actually knows more).
  3. A younger dev may continually solve hard, new problems. An older dev may just copy and paste code (so the younger has better problem solving skills).
  4. A younger dev may have a huge background in related technologies. An older dev may have slightly more "experience" in the specific requested technology - but nothing else (i.e. 5 years Java + 6 months C# is better than just 1 year C#).
  5. A younger dev may have started programming when they where just 10. An older dev may have just started after college (so the younger actually has more experience).
  6. A younger dev may just be smarter, and can pick up new concepts quicker. An older dev may be slower and while he knows the current concepts, can't pick up new ones (which is huge because the technology keeps changing, so you continually need to learn new techs).
  7. A younger dev may be motivated (perhaps seen through extra-curriculars like open-source projects and articles). An older dev may be apathetic.

Of course "years of experience" matters - certainly you want senior devs and architects to be experienced veterans. But "years of experience" is only one factor to determine how qualified someone is, and it's a weak factor if two candidates are only a few years apart. Assessment tests, writing code on a whiteboard, checking for extra-curriculars, in-person interviews filled with conceptually questions, even certifications, etc... can all tell you much more about their skill level than "number of years".

On a a related note, it reminds me of back in 2002 when recruiters would say "This position requires 3 years of ASP.Net experience", and I explained to them that ASP.Net hadn't been around that long. "Years of experience" is a nice generalization, or minimum bar, but ultimately we're all trying to hire motivated and talented people - regardless of their years of experience.

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