Tuesday, September 15, 2009

On Requirements

I like looking at job postings. It's kinda like shopping for a new TV. 'Oooh, this one is for designing analog circuits!' instead of 'Ooooh, this one has three HDMI ports!'

But they're still funny, funny things. There's so many problems with how people are hired nowadays. For instance, I rarely see jobs that ask for less than 5 years of experience in... something. Whatever the job is about. Want a job making circuits? Five years experience in making circuits, mandatory. Your resume is not even considered if you don't have five years of valid work experience. Go work for $random_big_corporation with a well-known name developing circuits for five years and we'll consider you.

What exactly is the value of five years of 'professional' work experience? Surely you have a number of designs under your belt, a list of components you use, probably a few contacts for samples, support, etc? But if you've been hacking together circuits since you were five and have a web page full of stuff you've done, but only two years of work experience then you're not supposed to apply. What does the five years working for a company guarantee them? Certainly not quality. Anyone can remain employed with a certain title and be bad at their job. I see plenty of people like that, but when they leave they'll put right on their resume - '5 years of bad designs, rework, lost profit and profanity. But my title was analog design engineer the whole time.' That guy wins.

And what's with the specific skills? 'Must use Eagle for schematics and layout.' Ok, I'll learn Eagle. Not my preferred solution but I'll do it if it gets me a job. Oh wait, it doesn't say that. It says 'Proficiency in Eagle schematic capture and layout required'. What? When you're looking for a mechanic do you put 'Must have proficiency with Craftsman brand crescent wrenches'? I've used plenty of schematic capture programs and none of them are black magic (except maybe PSPICE. Grrrrr....). I'm sure I can use Eagle very well if you give me a few hours to play with it. Heck, I can DOWNLOAD it and play with it - I'll get it done before I come to work for you! The tool is not supposed to define the job. If anything, arbitrary requirements only diminish the talent pool of people who can help you. (Note I said 'arbitrary' requirements. Some requirements are sadly justified.)

So your resume has to have a bullet point - 'Created 12346463113 circuit desgins for a toaster using Eagle'. Perfect. That gets past the filter. Why do the tools matter so much? True, if I'm going to work for a company that's doing a large program in C#, then I had better have worked with C# before. But that's what coders do. Code monkeys. People who get specifications in and produce code for output. Then a freaking computer checks their work with a unit test and tells them if they did it wrong. These people are automatons. Their job requires almost no original thinking. Engineering is supposed to be about creativity - finding solutions to problems. I always thought I would be sat down and they'd say something like 'This hyperdrive keeps overloading when we turn it on. We need to reach the Tok'Ra in three days before Apophis comes in his mothership and beats the crap out of us.' To which I'd say 'I'll put my engineering mind to work on that problem right away. And I need to work with Major Carter. Alone. Naked.' What's NOT supposed to happen is for them to then say 'Oh by the way, it all has to be done in Lisp. You have 5 years of Lisp experience, right?' Whatever happened to the right tool for the job? You know - how it's supposed to make things easier/cheaper/faster?

And don't you love how every job has its little 'niche'? This position is for an automation engineer, not an electrical engineer. This one is for an embedded application developer, not a software engineer with a specialty in embedded systems. The proposed scope is so small it's like it's not even worth it. Even if you have superior experience it doesn't matter.

'This position requires experience with PLCs'.
'Oh, those are microcontrollers with a whole bunch of electronics. I could design one of those. Can I have the job?'
'No, you just said you don't have any experience with PLCs.'

Or better yet, your similar experience is worthless:

'I studied to be a controls engineer but I think I fit for this DSP position. DSP and controls stem from the same theoretical background and I've also had extensive training in numerical methods for computer systems. Also, I created an embedded sensor platform that used DSP, so I have practical experience in embedded programming and DSP. Can I have the job?'

'I'm sorry, we're not hiring controls engineers.'

If I had to boil it down to one question it would be:

Why are businesses afraid to hire anyone but the person who exactly fits?

There are so many modifiers on these job listings that you'd think they had millions of people to choose from and they could afford to be picky. Ideally on the internet they do, but then they do stupid things like say 'Local candidates only' or refuse to pay for people to come out and be interviewed. Or not pay for relocation. Or not help a spouse get a job. So you're limited to whatever people can be found at hand. And they're not going to find their perfect match. I have friends who look for mates like this. Yeah, they're single. And they're missing out on a great part of life.

While it's true that companies cannot afford turnover, they also cannot afford to delay hiring for too long. If a job sits, the work doesn't get done. Or you overwork the people you do have which leads to turnover. All out of an.. ideal? Is it a value nowadays to not train people? To not give people a chance? Not to invest in them? To be picky? To not try new approaches, hire people with new skillsets?

While I can't fathom the reasons that businesses follow these hiring practices I can tell you that it is costing them people. Good people. Specifically, young people. Comparatively untalented, inexperienced good young people. These hiring practices are biased against those who haven't had the chance to develop whatever random skill that is in vogue nowadays.

But that's ok. Soon the baby boomers will retire. And then they'll have to be less picky.

No comments: