Friday, February 19, 2010

Smart and Gets Things Done: Joel Spolsky's Concise Guide to Finding the Best Technical Talent by Joel Spolsky

This is a great book both for people who are interviewing programmers and for programmers who are looking for a job. I've read it briefly a couple of years ago and now I read it again. This time from cover to cover, taking notes, thinking of what the author says, how it aligns with what I did on the interviews and what I should do differently next time. I have several interview books in my collection, But this one is probably the best so far. This book is short, to the point, with lots of practical advices. It is written in a style that makes it fun to read.

Once in a while I have an opportunity to interview candidates for a position in my team. I never had a formal training on how to interview people. I was always curious how to learn the most important things about the programmer in an hour. What to ask? What not to ask? How to make sure that the person is motivated and able to learn things required for the job? How to make sure that the person will deliver what he or she promises, can and will write solid code, has a good judgment and makes smart decisions to solve code and design problems? It is pretty hard to do in an hour. Any practical advice on how to do that is very important to me. This book has a few practical things that I found useful.

First of all, it has a whole scenario on how to run the interview. It is simple and easy to follow. Second, it narrows down the focus on what specifically needs to be asked and how, so you learn the most important things about the person's skills and how he or she applies them. Third, it explains why writing the code during the interview is important. It explains how to do it right. I went through many interviews in the past, and had to write the code on the whiteboard a lot, but I was always curious why do I need to do that if I have a computer? :) Well, now I know.

The second part of the book talks a bit about the management styles and the teams. I found it very interesting actually. I think this part could be more useful to the candidates. It helps to understand a few things about a good team culture and the management styles. It gives some pointers to what to look for when you are applying for a job and want to find a great team to work with.

I think this book was one of the most important books I've read about interviewing. It was worth getting back to it in two years and reading it again. I should probably add a note to my calendar to reread it in two years once more. I hope Joel will write a new edition by that time. :)

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