Joel Inc., Stackoverflow Careers and Jumping Sharks

Joel Spolsky is a legend in the programming world. His blog—Joel on Software—is the most popular and well-known programming blog. In mid-2008, Joel and Jeff Atwood—of Coding Horror fame—launched Stackoverflow, a free site for asking programming questions.

Stackoverflow is clearly a success but the sister sites haven’t fared nearly as well. Recently Jeff and Joel launched Stackoverflow Careers, a site for programmers to find jobs and employers to find programmers.

Stackoverflow Careers may just be a bridge too far.

Let’s Talk About… Joel

Joel on Software was the first blog I ever read. I read it before anyone really knew what a blog was. Controlling Your Environment Makes You Happy was one of those things I read that completely changed my perspective. How Microsoft Lost the API War I consider to be almost prophetic in its predictions regarding the then-Longhorn now-Vista boondoggle and desktop bloodletting by Web applications.

But something isn’t right in the Land of Joel.

In the late 90s during a brief flirtation with strenuous physical activity, I learnt to SCUBA dive. I went to one of these courses that was an evening of instruction of the evils of nitrogen, a weekend in the pool and then a weekend in the ocean. This was a PADI course and is very much the consumer-grade diving education and I state that as a simple observation not a judgement or accusation. At the other end of the spectrum is NAUI.

PADI is all about selling you stuff—gear, courses, whatever. A friend remarked to me that PADI stood for Put Another Dollar In.

NAUI on the other hand is much more highly regarded but less prolific. It is a not-for-profit organisation. Whereas some accuse PADI of dumbing down SCUBA training, nothing of the sort is levelled against NAUI. That same friend said NAUI stands for Not Another Untrained Idiot.

What does this have to do with Joel? Whereas Joel was once the NAUI-like font of wisdom, now it just seems like he’s trying to sell me stuff.

Jumping the Shark

Of course I’m not the first to articulate this.

In recent times Joel has taken quite a bashing, for example Joel Spolsky, Snake-Oil Salesman and Sten Anderson’s I Heart Joel on Software.

Sten’s comments are particularly interesting because what he says is true: all Joel’s endless talk about great programmers is thinly disguised disdain for the 99% of us that didn’t go to MIT, Stanford, UW, Yale, Harvard or UPenn.

Amusingly, Jeff Atwood posted several years ago Has Joel Spolsky Jumped the Shark? going so far as to say:

I reject this new, highly illogical Joel Spolsky. I demand the immediate return of the sage, sane, wise Joel Spolsky of years past. But maybe it's like wishing for a long-running television show to return to its previous glories.

I guess he got over it.

Side note: Jeff was responding to Language Wars (emphasis added by Jeff):

FogBugzis written in Wasabi, a very advanced, functional-programming dialect of Basic with closures and lambdas and Rails-like active records that can be compiled down to VBScript, JavaScript, PHP4 or PHP5. Wasabi is a private, in-house language written by one of our best developers that is optimized specifically for developing FogBugz; the Wasabi compiler itself is written in C#.

I admit it: I love a good rant. And not just ranting for ranting’s sake but a rant with a message, an essential kernel of truth, a pearl of wisdom. It’s hard to forget Zed Shaw’s now-infamous (albeit retracted) Rails is a Ghetto rant of nearly two years ago. Yesterday I read Giles Bowkett’s Blogs are Godless Communist Bullshit. It’s long but entertaining and absolutely worth reading.

But is all this criticism justified?

Firstly, some background.

IT Recruitment

In Europe and Australia programmers (and other IT professionals) are found in three ways:

  1. Direct recruitment by the employer. This usually means big employers who have dedicated HR departments to filter out CVs, book interviews and so on. Such candidates will most likely become salaried employees of the company;
  2. Word of mouth; and
  3. Through recruitment agencies.

In my experience recruitment agents are loathed by IT workers (eg Why is IT recruitment so bad?). Most of the time they’re utterly clueless (I have in all seriousness been asked “I see you have 7 years of Java experience but do you have any J2SE experience?”). Horror stories are legion. IT recruitment in London in particular is a soul-destroying experience.

Recruiters will fill positions on a permanent (salaried) or contract (paid by the hour, day, week or month) basis.

The recruiter will earn a fee that is typically around 10-15% of the candidate’s annual salary upon successfully filling the position. If the employee leaves in the probationary period (typically three months) some or all of that will be refunded.

With contractors the recruiter will typically earn a margin of 10-25% (or even higher) on top of the contractor’s rate either for a fixed term (eg it scales down after a year) or in perpetuity. Expat contractors typically have criminally high margins put on top of what they earn, at least initially.

So recruitment is expensive.

Compare that to placing ads on job boards will typically cost hundreds of dollars (eg jobs.joelonsoftware.com FAQ and Monster Job Posting) and last weeks. One ad can potentially fill multiple positions. Employers will typically keep CVs on file and getting contacted some time after applying is not uncommon. So ads can be effective although there can be a lot of chaff.

IT recruitment is broken so there’s definitely room for a solution.

Stackoverflow Careers

Careers is another site hoping to capitalize on the success of Stackoverflow. Programmers routinely demonstrate the ability to self-organize, which I think explains—at least in part—its success. Computer science is also a centuries-old. Yes I said “centuries old”. So before some reddit lurker points out computers were born in the mid-twentieth century, I suggest you consult the Timeline of computing 2400 BC–1949 and the work of Charles Babbage and others.

The latest money-making venture is Stackoverflow Careers, heavily cross-promoted by Jeff Atwood (Introducing Stack Overflow Careers and Stack Overflow Careers: Amplifying Your Awesome) and Joel (Upgrade your career and Programmer search engine) as well as echoes in the blogosphere.

Despite the success in terms of audience size (Joel in his Google Tech Talk claims a ~30% programmer share, which is huge if true), programmers are a hard bunch to monetize (see Our Amazon Advertising Experiment). Careers is the latest incarnation.

It’s free to have a public CV but having a private CV costs money (allegedly $99/year after 31st December but don’t be surprised if that changes). The private CV is searchable by employers and allows (as Jeff/Joel put it) “deep” integration with Stackoverflow.

The employers are paying too anywhere from $500 for a week to $5,000 for a year (see the FAQ).

Not cheap. So what are we getting for our money?

The Hollywood Analogy

Joel claims:

In Hollywood, studios who need talent browse through portfolios, find two or three possible candidates, and make them great offers. And then they all try to outdo each other providing plush work environments and great benefits.

Make no mistake: you’re being sold something here. The allure of stardom is deliberate bait. Giles succinctly sums this up:

This last part is laugh-out-loud funny. That's not how Hollywood works. I'm an actor, I've been studying acting for years, and I know award-winning actors who still have to go out on auditions like everybody else. You might wonder how a newbie like me, with nothing but Cop #3 in a student film to his credit, can claim to know award-winning, seasoned professionals. It's simple: because they have to go on auditions like everybody else.

I will take one issue with what Giles said:

Robert Downey Jr. had to fight like hell to get the lead role in Iron Man.

Yes, but there’s a reason for that. He had a serious drug problem and any studio is going to balk at betting a billion dollar franchise on a cokehead.

But I digress.

Here’s another difference: actors are basically the most flexible labour market in the world. They go where the work is. The film shoots for 40 weeks in Siberia? Fine, no problem. Actors go where the films are.

Programmers on the other hand are not nearly as flexible. Programmers are regular workers. We have families, friends, mortgages and so on. Sure we might move from St Louis to San Francisco for a job but we also might not. I think it’s safe to say that more often than not, we’re not looking to move across country. Hell, we’ll even turn down a job if it’s in the wrong part of the same city.

Imagine how far you’d get as an actor if you said “I’ve love to work on your TV show but the studio is in Burbank and commute from Radondo Beach is a bitch so i think I’ll pass.” (only knowing LA to change planes I make no apologies for any gross errors in LA geography I may have just made).

So instead of there being a handful of job markets for actors there are probably 100 or more for programmers.

So What’s In It For Me?

From the FAQ:

If you are seeking employment, we do require a modest annual payment to file your CV. Filing your CV makes it eligible to appear in searches by hiring managers via our private search interface. This fee allows us to ensure employers that everyone they find is actively looking for a job.

Isn’t the fact that I’ve filled out a CV and ticked a box that says I’m looking for work sufficient? Apparently not.

Consider Finding Great Developers:

The great software developers, indeed, the best people in every field, are quite simply never on the market.

So the target market seems to be those developers who think they’re great developers but actually aren’t. If they were they wouldn’t be looking. I get it: everyone is better than average.

Giles sums this up:

The number one rule of the con: you can't con an honest man … Try to get something for nothing, just because Joel Spolsky said you could? You're going to get burned.

I should point out that I signed up in the beta. I was under no illusions however (then again, who ever thinks they are?). The chances of an employer looking in my remote backwater are next to nil but I figured at $30, at worst I was out two lunches from Nando's.

And If I’m A Hiring Manager?

Approximately 6,500 Stackoverflow users have 1,000 reputation or more. This is an arbitrary number choice but the point is this: integration with Stackoverflow only adds value if you’ve contributed a sufficiently large number of answers to mine. Go up to 2,000 rep and you’re down to less than 3,200 users. And so on.

Let’s be optimistic and say the potential audience for whom Stackoverflow will add value to their CV is 10,000. A number of these can be eliminated as being students, retired, incapable of working (eg disability or serious prolonged injury) or simply not looking for work.

Joel claims:

But Stack Overflow Careers doesn’t have to be massive. It’s not for the 5.2 million people who visit Stack Overflow; it’s for the top 25,000 developers who participate actively.

Want to know what the 25,000th user looks like?

I mean no disrespect to these people but “participate actively”?

Take careful note of the language too: 25,000 from 5.2 million? Hell, you’re already the top half of one percent! You’re elite, positively l33t! Uh huh.

Crunching the Numbers

There are at least 100 distinct geographical job markets for an employer. If you’re lucky 10% of the pool is accessible to you either by being in the right place or willing to relocate.

Of those 10%, maybe 10% have the right skills. The importance of programming languages is definitely overstated by (typically clueless) HR departments and recruiters. It’s also true that good developers can program in anything (given sufficient time) but not all languages are interchangeable in all situations. I would consider a Java Web developer to be largely interchangeable with an ASP.NET C# Web developer (in that there is sufficient crossover to enable a sufficiently speedy transition) but I wouldn’t hire a Ruby programmer to do C programming for microcontrollers and embedded devices. The transition from unmanaged (eg C/C++) to managed (eg C#/.Net) code can be steep enough.

Of this reduced pool, how many have the right experience? The more experienced you get as a developer, generally the more important domain knowledge becomes. I wouldn’t hire a mobile telephony architect to design a system for market-making options on commodities futures because you’d spend 6 months explaining bid/ask, spreads, what a future is, what an option is, in-the-money, out-the-money, out-the-money, short, long, contango, volatility, Black-Scholes… the list goes on.

Of the remaining few who has the right amount of experience? You wouldn’t hire a fresh college grad to mentor junior developers.

Now you’ve got a short list (“short” being the operative word) consider how many are available?

And you haven’t even interviewed anybody yet!

So if you optimistically assume that 10,000 people sign up for Careers, chances are you’re down to less than five. Of those, how many are seriously looking? They’re paying by the year so why not have your CV out there just in case?

Don’t be fooled, paying to file your CV doesn’t ensure you’re seriously looking. The only thing it ensures is that you’re a revenue stream.

Critical Mass

Matching candidates to employers is low probability. The number who fit the profile is probably 1 in 1,000 or even less.

So of the 10 to 25 thousand relevant potential candidates, some percentage will actually be looking for work. Of that percentage, a smaller percentage will pay to be seen by employers, less than might otherwise be seen if the service was free (for job seekers). I expect that number to be 2,000 or less and that number is, in my opinion, inflated by the cheap beta registration.

So an employer is going to pay big bucks—much more than a typical job ad—to reach a much smaller target audience?

People will pay money if they are getting value for money. Paying $15,000 to a recruiter to find you a programmer is cheap because the recruiter is doing most of the legwork and assuming a large part of the risk (in that they don’t typically get paid if you don’t find someone you like). Job ads are cheap because they may reach tens or even hundreds of thousands of candidates.

It’s like Careers is charging as if it’s already a proven success.

Things like this work on the principle of critical mass. Take eBay. People buy on eBay because there are things to be bought. People sell on eBay because people will buy them. Without either group the site fails. A job board is no different. People go to them because they have jobs they want. Companies advertise on them because they reach the right audience.

So what job board—and let’s be honest; that’s what it is—is going to survive by restricting itself to 10 to 25 thousand candidates globally? Perhaps Jeff and Joel are thinking that it will be so successful that everyone else will just have to sign up anyway.

Good luck with that business strategy.

Is It Legal?

I have to wonder if anyone has bothered to ask this yet. Consider Job seekers are hit by illegal fees. Not just in the United Arab Emirates is it illegal to charge job seekers. Also, How job seekers can best use recruitment agencies (emphasis added):

Recruitment agencies make their money by charging employers a fee for a permanent hire or an hourly or daily margin on a temporary placement. It is illegal to charge job seekers a fee for finding them work.

That’s for Australia. The point here is that Jeff and Joel probably need to be very careful about how they define the Careers site if they don’t want to run afoul of laws set up to protect the unemployed from unscrupulous practices.

Smoke and Mirrors

From the FAQ:

If you are seeking employment, we do require a modest annual payment to file your CV. Filing your CV makes it eligible to appear in searches by hiring managers via our private search interface. This fee allows us to ensure employers that everyone they find is actively looking for a job.

We’re being sold something here.

Also consider Upgrade your career:

Employers can see how good you are at communicating, …

OK

… how well you explain things, …

OK

… how well you understand the tools that you’re using, …

Er… OK.

… and generally, if you’re a great developer or not.

Whoa. Sorry, but the fact that I know how that parsing HTML with regular expressions is retarded, I can explain how to add a jQuery click() handler and that not sanitizing user input to SQL statements is idiotic doesn’t make me a great developer. It means anything from I like teaching to I’m narcissistic enough to like hearing the sound of my own voice (virtually speaking), perhaps both.

And let’s not forget that all of this can be established by simply including a URL to your Stackoverflow profile on your CV.

Conclusion

The numbers just don’t add up on this one. My only question is how long it’ll be before that sinks in and the model changes. With so much free choice, its just not viable to charge job seekers while severely limiting the candidate pool for employers while charging them an arm and a leg for information they can get from a URL.

53 comments:

Anonymous said...

What a gabudgeon of flinkflank and Jibba Jabba

Anonymous said...

I agree with anonymous

Mark P Neyer said...

Just a heads up, it's Redondo Beach, not Radando Beach.

Anonymous said...

I am all for giving some background information before you get to the point, but this is just ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

TLDR

Mark P Neyer said...

I agree with you here. I've answered a few questions on Stack Overflow but it seems to me that the people with the most points aren't going to be superstar developers, they're going to be people who want to spend their time answering other people's questions.

Don McArthur said...

I'm more concerned with Spolsky's disparagement of open source software models while harvesting the value of voluntarily-provided knowledge and experience of StackOverflow contributors. For them, nothing. For him, everything.

He knows what he's doing, all right. The problem is that it's just evil.

id said...

This seems like you had an opinion about StackOverflow Careers then tried to find some facts to fit your opinion. You really lost me when you said "Isn’t the fact that I’ve filled out a CV and ticked a box that says I’m looking for work sufficient? Apparently not." Actually, no. I think the point Joel is trying to make is that the people who put some skin in the game are more likely to be people who are not just window-shopping for a new job. They really are interested. Whether or not that is true is another question, of course, but I think your comment wasn't fair.

sinamdar said...

This is a long post but a thought provoking one. I never looked at it that way.
Only time will tell if this is a viable model or not.
In the mean while, I am continuing with the URL approach.

Anonymous said...

booooooooooooooooooooring. and by that i mean rambling and poorly written. you're all over the place with this homeboy.

Anonymous said...

Wow, reddit make it on here? I enjoyed it - thanks.

fogus said...

"… and generally, if you’re a great developer or not."

And let's not forget, "... and you're sitting around hitting refresh all day in order to jump on the new questions."

It shows moxie!

-f

Anonymous said...

you got beef brother?

crazy ass mofokas up in this bitch, for real.

aleccolocco said...

Very good post, very articulate, and very brave of you. The unconditional Spolsky fans are already quite negative with very stupid arguments (reasoning it's long, boring, and not positive.)

Anonymous said...

"boooooooooooring..."

Joel is that you?

Anonymous said...

ah you can always count on the internet for some anonymous hatred.

i for one enjoyed your post and thought it flowed great. perhaps your other commenters aren't at my level of reading comprehension.

spolsky and atwood should break into televangelism next, imo.

artem said...

> ...It means anything from I like teaching to I’m narcissistic enough to like hearing the sound of my own voice

Very much true! I honestly think they should be judging more based on number of questions, not answers

Anonymous said...

Wait. What? Charging for a service is evil? That is just dumb. Settle down.

William Shields said...

To those of you complaining about length, perhaps Twitter would better suit your need for edutainment.

Dan said...

Interesting analysis. There was previously some discussion on Meta about the legality of the fees:

http://meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/25274/it-is-legal-under-uk-law-to-charge-someone-to-post-their-cv

After a bit of Googling it seems that it probably is illegal under UK law too.

Michael said...

From the beginning of your post, it seems like you dislike Joel, but I'm not sure how that supports your thesis that StackOverflow Careers is flawed. That part of your article sounds like DH0 and DH1 ( see http://www.paulgraham.com/disagree.html )

The part about the 25,000th user on SO being a bit weak as a candidate is the most accurate part of the post, but I think your ending by saying that your 75k rep on StackOverflow means you are a narcissist and not a good programmer is too self-loathing. (Don't beat yourself up! You are a good programmer too :)

You misinterpret Joel if you think just because you didn't go to a US Ivy league school that you aren't a good programmer. This sounds like a straw man argument. In fact the way StackOverflow Careers works is that employers can find good programmers based on something *other* than the school you went to -- they can look at your communication and knowledge skills (also see github careers)... if anything, the existence of that site directly contradicts your erroneous characterization of Joel's opinion on what makes a good programmer.

Lastly, you wrote a few paragraphs which assumed a lot of information but had no basis in fact. I'm not arguing that blog posts should be scientific journals, but saying things like "So if you optimistically assume that 10,000 people sign up for Careers..." and "The number who fit the profile is probably 1 in 1,000 or even less" and "So of the 10 to 25 thousand relevant potential" is misleading. People do this when they pitch business ideas in reverse. They say "There are 1 million people in this market and so if I just get 1% to buy my thing, we'll have 10,000 customers!". All of those numbers are made up. You're doing that same thing in reverse to prove that SO Careers is a bad idea. You're entitled to blow smoke, but you should recognize that's all it is.

The result from you saying that means SO Careers needs to publicize the matches that happen so people are confident that it works. I'm certain this is going to happen (I've seen tweets about people finding jobs already).

Anyway, thanks for the publicity. Hopefully it follows the adage "There's no such thing as bad publicity!"

Phil Booth said...

I agree with everything in this post. When I was sat in DevDays and Joel was pitching the special offer at everyone, I almost took the bait. Now I'm glad that I didn't.

Of course, cognitive bias ensures that most people who have paid for the service will not recognise that they've been conned. Human nature is such that they should find plenty of ways to justify the cost as worthy. Both to themselves and, most likely, in these comments on your blog. :)

Michael said...

Just a note, SO Careers offers you your money back within 90 days for whatever reason. See http://careers.stackoverflow.com/faq

I'm not sure of many "cons" that offer you your money back if you aren't satisfied for any reason.

Dillie-O said...

Greetings fellow SOFUM'er

I agree with your sentiments. I've been with the SOFUM architecture since the early beta (sadly the rep not so hot 8^D) and there were many things that didn't quite seem right with the careers path.

It appears to me that they are marketing an "elite circle" to get that "rockstar job" by registering with careers. But if you're hard up for cash, and there's no guarantee you're going to land a job, is dropping $99 really going to be worth it? Weren't we always warned to avoid those freelancer websites that were promising the best jobs, but you had to pay money to register in order to bid?

I still like StackOverflow and won't be leaving anytime soon, but after the stack exchange and careers, sometimes I get the sense that a "walled garden" is starting to rise up, which is something Jeff has blogged his distaste for on multiple occasions.

William Shields said...

Michael, firstly thanks for taking the time to respond. I appreciate that.

First, I have no predisposition against Joel. But I feel obligated to speak up when the man is selling a bill of goods.

Second, no self-loathing (or self-pity) was intended. I'll cop to both liking teaching and narcissism and that's a simple observation, no more no less. Then again, I don't consider ego to be necessarily bad so take that how you will.

Lastly, my summation of Joel's attitude is better explored by Sten Anderson but while it may not be completely true I think it's at least partially true.

Phil Booth said...

Michael, there are actually many, many cons that work in exactly this way. They rely on a number of cognitive biases that we all exhibit, for instance choice-supportive bias [1], post-purchase rationalization [2] and wishful thinking [3].

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Choice-supportive_bias
[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post-purchase_rationalization
[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wishful_thinking

Nathan Hughes said...

Wow, I've been on StackOverflow for about a week and I'm already 25,000th. Great article, you're dead on.

Anonymous said...

Definitely agree with Don and with the author of the article. Am i the only one that will never register to stackoverflow?
Why should i do that? To answer to questions that a google search could solve, read for the 100th time that parsing HTML with regexp is a bad idea (;)), earning badges and giving Joel a community that he could milk for a new source of income?
No thanks, the internet has plenty of other forums and communities...
And regarding his blog/internet-presence, while it surely has an "historical significance", in 2009 it has nearly no remaining technical/informational value left for someone that has already read the classics (soft-eng books, peopleware-like books,etc...).

Darren Kopp said...

I think employers that put too much into the rep # aren't going to get what they bargained for. I personally, have around 6.5k, and when SO launched was on page #2, but works gotten quite busy since SO launched and I haven't had very much time to use SO, so my reputation has stagnated. Am I a good programmer? yes. am I one of the elites on SO? no.

And didn't they say in the podcast that you would get your money back if you couldn't find anyone? that might have been for the jobs.stackoverflow.com though, can't remember.

Darren Kopp said...

@anonymous: gotta give credit to stackoverflow, you don't have to register ;)

Anonymous said...

I like you made your "this won't work" point at the end of the article by basically up numbers that make your point correct.

Also you ignore the fact that by getting answer upvotes on stackoverflow.com other programmers are vetting you.

If two candidates with equal resumes are trying for a Django python job the one with the 3000 upvotes for the python tag should win everytime.

ZacharyPruckowski said...

" 'The great software developers, indeed, the best people in every field, are quite simply never on the market.'
So the target market seems to be those developers who think they’re great developers but actually aren’t. If they were they wouldn’t be looking."

To be fair, I suspect the difference here is how you define "in the market". In the usual system, you have to be actively looking for a job to be "in the market", under which definition the only time great programmers are "in the market" is when they either got fired or are near to quitting their job. The point of SO-Careers seems to be redefining "in the market" to mean "open to the idea of taking a better job", a standard under which more "great programmers" fall.

That said, interesting article, if a bit meandering.

Bobby said...

William,

I think I'm beginning to realize something:

Being a good programmer is hard. Being a Great Programmer is virtually impossible. Writing good prose is hard. Writing something useful, new, imaginative, innovative, insightful -- basically worth reading -- is harder than being a Great Programmer.

If you want to write something half-decent about StackOverflow Careers and Joel. You should call Joel or email him, ask him questions, get his answers, ask him some more questions -- tough ones that cut to the root of things. Then write an article.

That would be interesting! I would love to read something written by someone who actually spoke to Joel and asked him the tough questions that we all want to ask. Ask Joel about Wasabi, FogBugz, the future of his blog. Ask him what he thinks about the balance between being the CEO of a for profit company and being the voice behind Joel on Software. (Spend some time thinking of some better questions.)

Imagine if the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times wrote articles like yours? Bah!

Anonymous said...

Finally someone adressing this !

And I don't think you put enough emphazis on the total lack of connection between StackOverflow's Popularity score and good programmers.

Popularity vs Real skills: http://itlater.com/?p=8

Anonymous said...

You can critique the hell out of anyone if you really try hard. Joel and the products he's been involved with quite simply rock!

Nathan said...

You make a number of good points on this post, but I think that calling careers.stackoverflow.com evil is a bit too much. At the end of the day either it will succeed or it will fail.

If it succeeds, then it will prove your post wrong. If it fails, then so what? It seems like SO is an economic success in its own right, and a failing careers site won't stop that.

Jeff & Joel haven't kept it a secret that SO and the related sites are primarily a business venture intended to make money. Why are you upset that they're trying to milk it for what they can with something that may or may not work?

Anonymous said...

"If two candidates with equal resumes are trying for a Django python job the one with the 3000 upvotes for the python tag should win everytime."

Any notion that upvotes mean fitness for a particular job is pure bullshit. Check the top voted answer here: http://stackoverflow.com/questions/101268/hidden-features-of-python. Whoa, you can chain comparison operators in python! Ka-ching, 184 upvotes. The most upvoted answers are usually uninsightful and obvious. Anyone using numerical value of rep for anything serious is plain stupid.

dave said...

Bobby, you have some great suggestions. Your final critique is a bit weak, though. This is a blog, not the WSJ nor the NYT.

William, would you consider interviewing Joel? I would hope that Joel wouldn't be bent out of shape over your article and be willing to respond to your comments/questions.

richard said...

Amazed at how negative some comments on here. You might be right, you might be wrong but it's an interesting post.

In passing I'd just say I find it funny the way Joel has acquired followers by telling programmers what they want they hear - "you need comfy chairs and big screens, you get treated badly by most employers". Ha !

Anonymous said...

Very nice post indeed, and good to read something that is not dumbed down/shortened to the common denominator (now who's being elitist).

I've wanted to believe that answering questions would make me awesome and a great developer people would want to hire, and I am all for teaching and things since it teaches you the most as well.

But really, if I have to decide between explaining non-niche things on stackoverflow (required for a high karma) and working (possbily on my hobby projects) or spending time reading up on things I don't know yet... the choice is not that hard.

William Shields said...

I have to ask where the notion comes from that I'm calling Careers "evil"? The only time I used the word "evil" was in relation to nitrogen so I'm curious where that comes from.

I need to stress that I have absolutely no issue with Jeff, Joel or anyone making money. I'm not questioning that end, just how you go about it and whether what you're doing can work.

I'll also say that I think SO is fantastic. Just compare it to the "evil hyphen site".

Anonymous said...

Joel is an arrogant tool, and Atwood routinely makes errors of fact in 'Coding Horror'.

Don't get me wrong -- they both appear to be competent developers, but they suffer the dual curse of bloggers in spades. That is they both believe at the same time 1) that their personal experience is universal; and, 2) their understanding of said experience is unique.

What makes Joel's arrogance so offensive is the utter mediocrity of his product. If his company produced something amazing, or even an audacious failure he'd have more cred. A bug tracker? You're looking for the best and brightest summer interns to work on a bug tracker? I'd like to see the resumes he gets vs. Jane Street Capital.

MikeWoodhouse said...

I'm watching the career of Careers with curiosity. I've paid my 3 years' subscription - I figure I can just about scrape together $0.80 a month, even after the Chancellor announced that I will be required to contribute more to the Greater Good next year.

Do I plan to change job in that period? Probably not. Do I expect signing up with SO Careers to alter that outlook? Honestly, no. As you point out above, domain knowledge is often important - a large part of my relatively comfortable income derives from my scarily long service in the finance sector. (Although I have to admit to having forgotten what a contango is.) I would be surprised if a suitably interesting and remunerative position turned up through SO. I don't consider it impossible though, just unlikely. I figure the risk-reward probably works out.

Is it really only $5K for year-round access for an employer? As a London-based developer (from time to time involved in recruitment) I wouldn't be surprised to pay 25-33% of starting salary to an agent for a successful hire. And for that I have to talk to agents, which is a real, if unquantifiable cost in itself. Should we be recruiting in the coming year, I'd be tempted to take at least a week's worth to see what a trawl might throw up.

jbionsoftware said...

Entertaining, but pointless.

Sten Anderson said...

Great post -- very well written. I enjoyed reading it.

Also, thanks for the link...

Anonymous said...

Joel has always been selling us something. "Joel on Software" exists to convince you that only the best of the best work at Fog Creek and simultaneously provides the challenge "Are you good enough?"

Google did exactly the same by putting really hard math problems on billboards.

Tommy McGuire said...

Ok, so I have a cold and have spent far too much time reading about the Stackoverflow Careers flapdoodle; I have to comment.

Speaking as someone who has spent the better part of the last 20 years playing the contracting game, I have just one piece of advice for job-seekers: Do not pay someone money to find you a job. It is a scam. Don't believe me? What happens if you don't get a job? They still have your money, right? In the SO Careers case, it seems to be an unintentional scam if you can in fact get your money back. Or perhaps it is the same sort of scam as mail-in rebates---the fraction of people who don't take advantage is large enough to make it a fair revenue source. In any case, it is a bad idea and you do not need to do it. If you really want to advertise your SO greatness, put a link to your profile on your web page or resume.

Well, I actually have two pieces of advice: Looking for a rockstar/superstar/whatever-star/wonderful-fun-exciting job? Don't bother; they are made, not found. Take a look at the history of those people who have those jobs.

Here's a prediction for you: as MikeWoodhouse pointed out above, SO access is much cheaper than normal recruiter's fees. Unless there are some stringent principal-only requirements for SO access, it will be full of the recruiter/contracting/head-hunting employers that fill Dice, Monster, and the other employment sites. Nothing wrong with that, really, but don't expect wonders.

Speaking of head-hunters, there are a couple of problems with the SO Careers idea. First, the idea that it is, or should be, limited to "serious" job-hunters. It has been more-or-less axiomatic for quite a while in recruiting circles that the people to look for are 1/ already employed and 2/ only casually looking for jobs. Those "superstars" that are actively looking are only a small fraction of the good people out there and they are also only a small fraction of those actively looking.

Second, if you are a superstar, you likely have a mail folder full of recruitment offers. Why would you want to pay to get more?

kristianp said...

I didn't read the whole of this post, it is just too long.

When I read about joel's job board, I created my own, which can be used by any blogger, not just those at the top.

Anonymous said...

WHEN I READ ABOUT JOB

Anonymous said...

In my very personal opinion, the founders created the careers branch to create wealth, to create money. Thats all, the only reason. So, well, look at it from this perspective and it all makes sense.

A humans sense should not be to find a (better/healthier/better-paid) job.

If you HAVE TO find a job, then concentrate on why you think you have to do so.

Anonymous said...

The number one problem with anything connected with Joel Spolsky is that Fogbugz is a so-so product. It's definitely not a top contender in its product category.

Because of the Joel mystique, our company included Fogbugz in a recent evaluation process. It didn't even make it into the top five contenders.

So with all of Joel's years of commentary on elite programming, it's a little telling that his own product doesn't live up to his rhetoric.

This colors everything else he's connected with, IMHO. Sorry, but "the emperor has no clothes on", is all I have to say on the matter.

Johannes Rudolph said...

It's impressive to see how many programmers don't even know about stackoverflow. The very fact that you are actively trying to engage in a community of peers and try to learn something (that's why I like browsing SO) puts you in front of a lot of developers. That's really what I think makes SO attractive for employers.

But you are right nonetheless.

There is an increasing amount of "plz sent teh codez" questions. But seriously, even if those people filed their CV on careers I am pretty sure no employer would want to make them an offer. The signal to noise ratio is getting worse.

Anonymous said...

Please visit our new redesigned site: http://careers.stackoverflow.com/

People are finding employment using our services and companies are finding great programmers - Life Is Good!!

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