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

Joel Spolsky
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

June 1 2007 1590598385 978-1590598382 1

A "good" programmer can outproduce five, ten, and sometimes more run-of-the-mill programmers. The secret to success for any software company then is to hire the good programmers. But how to do that? How to recognize a good programmer? How to even define "good"? These are questions the software industry has struggled with for decades. Managers and others involved in hiring programmers are constantly faced with the dilemma of trying to divine talent for programming based on their perception of a candidate’s talent for interviewing and socialization. The result? The result is all too often the hiring of a good talker rather than a good programmer.

In Joel on Hiring, Joel Spolsky draws from his experience both at Microsoft and running his own, successful software company based in New York City. Joel writes humorously, but seriously about his methods for sorting resumes, for finding great candidates, and for interviewing, in person and by phone. Joel’s methods are not complex, but they do get to the heart of the matter: how to recognize a great developer when you see one.


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From the reviews:

"Programming-employment decisions are a critical managerial process. … Spolsky asserts that ‘the real trick to management is to make people identify with the goals you’re trying to achieve.’ … Spolsky concludes with the self-designed ‘Joel Test,’ which rates the quality of a software team. … Managers, recruiters, and programmers will enjoy this easy read." (Brad Reid, ACM Computing Reviews, September, 2008)

About the Author

Joel Spolsky is a globally-recognized expert on the software development process. His website Joel on Software (www.joelonsoftware.com) is popular with software developers around the world and has been translated into over thirty languages. As the founder of Fog Creek Software in New York City, he created FogBugz, a popular project management system for software teams. Joel has worked at Microsoft, where he designed VBA as a member of the Excel team, and at Juno Online Services, developing an Internet client used by millions. He has written two books: User Interface Design for Programmers (Apress, 2001) and Joel on Software (Apress, 2004). Joel holds a BS from Yale in Computer Science. Before college he served in the Israeli Defense Forces as a paratrooper, and he was one of the founders of Kibbutz Hanaton.


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5.0 out of 5 stars The hiring bible for knowledge workers Aug. 3 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book is essential reading for every hiring manager in software development.

It helps you pick the stars out from the also ran's, and gives you some good guidelines for how to interview, test, and figure out who is the best candidate.

In today's incredibly hot market, some of the ideas are a little hard to pull off unless you are among the top 5% of companies that people want to work for, but even those "out there" ideas have nuggets you can use for yourself.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  39 reviews
46 of 52 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars This should cause you to reexamine your hiring processes... June 20 2007
By Thomas Duff - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
After driving cross-country in 49 hours, I returned home to find this book waiting for me... Smart and Gets Things Done: Joel Spolsky's Concise Guide to Finding the Best Technical Talent by (of course) Joel Spolsky. Since I wasn't in the mood to start a large 300+ page novel, I figured this book would bridge the gap between naps quite nicely. It's a no-nonsense look at how Spolsky thinks hiring in the software industry should be done. While I may quibble on a few things, I think he's pretty accurate.

Content: Hitting the High Notes; Finding Great Developers; A Field Guide to Developers; Sorting Resumes; The Phone Screen; The Guerrilla Guide to Interviewing; Fixing Suboptimal Teams; The Joel Test; Index

Spolsky takes the hard line that you should only be hiring *great* developers. In his terms, these are the people who are "smart & gets things done." Using the observation that a great programmer can be 10x as productive as an average programmer, he feels that the additional cost in salary and recruiting to find the gem is more than paid back in the work product produced. In fact, hiring average programmers (or clueless ones) actually lose you money in the long run due to rework and inferior quality. Spolsky uses a number of techniques outlined in the book to filter out average developers in order to concentrate on the few that show real potential. In fact, he maintains that you should be working at getting interns and contacts before you need staff, so that you can have a good idea as to what potential hires can accomplish in the real world. If an intern shows real talent and is happy with their internship, the hiring process is streamlined and little risk remains.

In some ways, I tend to disagree with a few of his attitudes. For instance, he feels all developers should have a thorough understanding of how pointers work. He'll ask those types of questions during interviews. He believes that having that sort of knowledge shows that a developer has more than just a basic understanding of how a language works. I would contend that depending on what your software base is, you may pass by excellent developers who have never had to use pointers. Also, the book is slanted heavily towards companies that create software products, not companies that have an IT department. While an IT department made up of people who pass Spolsky's tests would be great, the company would also likely be understaffed at all times. It's hard to find those types of people, and companies have far too many projects going at once to be that selective.

Even with those caveats, I think this is a very good read. Hiring good development staff is important to a company, and it's not the same as hiring a file clerk. After reading this book, you'll likely rethink your attitude and process of hiring.
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars If only the world was like that June 29 2009
By D. R. Pitts - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I enjoyed the read, and one side of my brain (not sure which Side) cheered and said I want to work for a company that hires like that. I want to fly first class and be treated like a star. The other s side of my brain says we cannot treat everyone as a star, Maybe If you are a Boutique maybe you can do so. My own experience says that small elite groups of architects may come up with great Ideas, but you still need to lay the bricks, or frame the house. If you are building Custom Homes that might be fine, but if you are building tract homes, you need lots of brick layers and framers, and if you pay and treat them like architects, you are going to have a lot of issues on your hands. Stalin said that quantity has a Quality all of its own! I gave it a 5 star read but 3 stars for practicality.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A somewhat different view of hiring developers July 22 2007
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This book represents Joel Spolsky's approach to hiring programmers. Smart and Gets Things Done is based on Spolsky's weblog, like his previous book, Joel on Software.

The main thrust of the book is to state that you should only hire the best. While many people would think this is reasonable and obvious, Joel takes the advice much farther than most. He describes in detail his methods for recognizing top talent, convincing them to join your company, and keeping them once you've got them. Joel is not talking about some useless slogan ("We hire only the best"), he is really talking about identifying the best and doing whatever is necessary to hire them.

His advice will probably annoy many managers and some people in human resources. Most programmers will probably love his advice. Whether the approach will work for a company different than Joel's is another question altogether.

One surprise to me was the fact that this book contained new material that was not on Joel's weblog. The book is extremely readable. Whether you agree with Joel or not on the specifics of his approach, the book is definitely worth reading if you are involved in any way with hiring software developers. It will give you insight into the people that you are innovating and show glimpses of what you may be competing with.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good book Oct. 26 2007
By J. MCADAMS - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Though I don't always see eye-to-eye with the writings of Joel, I always do enjoy reading his material. This collection of his articles is no exception. Some of the claims and lines of reasoning are a tough sell, but they do call out important things to consider in your organization's hiring strategy.

Just realize before you buy this book, there is a chance somewhere between slim and none that you'll actually be able to implement all of Joel's recommendations. Still, you're sure to find a few areas where you can take action and improve the quality of your new hires.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars It achieves its intended goal Jan. 1 2008
By Robert A. Mara - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The book is a quick read at 169 small pages and engaging. The book meets its intended goal of finding the best rock star technical talent for product development. He acknowledges that rock stars are not needed for many types of development (page 16).

Knowing that he was concentrating on rock stars, I bought the book anyway, looking for tips that I translate to my world where my customers are late adopters of technology and development is usually mixed in with O&M.

I did find some tips. Some just confirmed what I already believed to be true. The most useful chapters for me were Chapter 4 - Sorting Resumes (3 of my 6 dog-eared pages are in this chapter), and Chapter 7 - Fixing Suboptimal Teams.
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