The Years of Experience Myth

I recently received an email from Andrew Stuart of the Australian firm Flat Rate Recruitment. Andrew related their technical phone screen process, which is apparently quite similar to the one outlined in Getting the Interview Phone Screen Right. I'm glad to hear it works. A proper phone screen is critical. I completely agree with Andrew: you should be 95% certain that a candidate would be a great hire before they ever set foot in an interview room. Anything less is a colossal waste of everyone's time.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at:

I have been told “not enough experience” (in terms of years) so many times… It’s pretty frustrating. OR I hae been skipped over for people with no experience, that’s equally frustrating.

I should clarify by “no” I mean, someone who had never programmed in css/xhtml had gotten a job instead of me because they were ‘cheaper’.

Scott Mitchell seems to think otherwise…

I interviewed for a Business Analyst position once where the interviewer (a QA guy) thought I was more of a “systems analyst”. I thought he was more of an, well, anyways.

Been doing this long enough to get employed as a BA, SA, developer, project manager, etc.

People love to pigeon-hole.

I’ll take the type of personality and aptitude over total years almost anytime.

Ha! My thoughts exactly!

Many developers claim to have 8, 15, or whatever years of experience, but what experience? The quality and intensity of experience or huge factors too!

I often compete in interviews with people who have maybe a couple more years than I do. I ask them: “How many years have you been driving?”… “Oh, then if you take a rally, or a formula 1 drive who has driven 2 years less than you, you must be a better driver, yes?”… that pretty much closes the case

I remember reading The Mythical Man-Month, in which Fred Brooks talked about the “first project” rule, whereby every developer/programmer who works in industry messes up on the first big project they are part of. This is due, normally, to lack of experience in cross-team communication, etc. Such communication skills can only come from time working as part of a software team. Thereby he suggests only hiring for reasonably senior project positions someone who has prior “experience”, at least as part of a working team, if not part of a software team. But you are right that actual programming skill is more important than experience with an actual technology/language.

It may be generally true that you hire for the ability to learn, but it isn’t perfect. It is better to think in terms of “types of skills”. I’d hire a Java guy into a .Net role in an instant. The C++ people can go into those roles too, though I’d prefer someone with experience dealing with garbage collection issues within a VM. On the other hand, the most brilliant C++/Java/.Net guy may completely suck at database because SQL just requires a different way of thinking. Likewise, those Lisp hackers might do javascript really easily, but a Java guy may not.

I always look for people experienced with a way of thinking, not for a specific skill.

These recruitment related posts are very interesting. I totally have to agree with the point that the years don’t matter much, but only when talking about people with “natural” talent.

If you have a person who isn’t talented, he will need a longer time to learn a tech, and I think sometimes such years are posted in job offers exactly to make such people not submit their resumes etc., while a brilliant programmer will know he will do well. Of course, the company might refuse to interview them without the experience, but like said, then the company is probably not that worthwhile.

There is one thing I think years help in, though. That is the speed you can pick up new things. The longer you’ve been programming, the easier new stuff will come to you in my opinion.

Oh and Jeff, please please PLEASE… FIX THE FONT.

It’s horribly ugly in every other browser than Internet Explorer here with Win XP. I know you like IE, but not everyone uses it.

It’s actually quite weird that the font is bad, I would expect someone like you to actually spend a bit of time… you know, testing that it actually looks good in other browsers too.

re: Font – it looks fine with FF on W2K, but yes, bad with FF on XP.

Oh and Jeff, please please PLEASE… FIX THE FONT. It’s horribly ugly in every other browser than Internet Explorer here with Win XP. I know you like IE, but not everyone uses it.

Short answer: Turn on ClearType.

Long answer: If you can’t or won’t turn on ClearType, remove the “C” fonts from your system (Calibri, Consolas, etc) that were installed with Office 2007. They are designed for CT and will look horrible forever on your system until you enable CT. Once you remove these fonts, the CSS stylesheet falls back to Tahoma.

You really, very seriously, need to get a “format for print” or “print” button. A blog without one is half-assed at best.

I agree entirely, I recently found out, I got my last job because I managed to get into a recruitment site by faking the GoogleBot UserAgent, because I was not part of the site, my employer found this to be a nice trait and employed me. He only told me this, a year after working for him, I thought it was for my good looks!

excellent article! And it gives me some hope. I’m just about to begin my final year of my degree and I was (a little) worried that it’d be hard to find a half decent job.

I’m not expecting to jump into the deep end or anything, but it’s inspiring to hear that not EVERYONE looks for experience. I like to think I’m a little ahead of the pack (and by no way am I at the lead) because of the way I tackle a problem - and the way I learn the required technologies.

One year to go - and there’s some light at the end of the tunnel.

I cannot agree more. The rule “you either get it or don’t” should be one of the Ten Commandments of programming.

I might be wrong but in the UK you can no longer ask for x amount of years any more as it is seen as discriminating.

That is so lame. Discrimination is the point. Next you won’t be able to discriminate between a lazy person and a non lazy… oh wait…

The most extreme example of this is when companies ask for more years experience than a technology has existed for - for example 10 years .NET and C# experience.

This reminds me of an advert for a Java position I saw back in 1999. They asked for 5 years experience - even though Java was only released 4 years earlier.

I guess they were hoping James Gosling would apply.

Its like when you got a new client and a new big project. What if all our clients would require that we had 3 years experience of their internal structure, programs and tools? We would be out of work in no time.

Our customers expect us to quick pick up what they want to be done, understand the whole concept, implement our own knowledge over their needs and come out with a great plan to make it happen.

We do it every time, thats our job. Quick learning and understanding the customers need.

So that is what is important to look for when hiring.

And, from a developer perspective, how fast is your cluefulness rising?