Open Letter from Geeks to IT Recruiters and Hiring Managers

Preface: No, I'm not looking for a job, although I do get the occasional ping from headhunters. I've seen it before, and my friends (some currently unemployed) are seeing it still. My own boss is actually doing pretty good with the below tips.

For the love of all things good in the world, learn how to hire and employ a geek. You're doing it wrong.

Office Politics
Try to measure productivity in output, not in hours.

Geeks automate. Geeks script. Geeks compile. They summon computing power to get things done quickly on their behalf. If your geek seemingly spends all day on Twitter and Fark but somehow manages to still complete tasks ahead of schedule, your geek is multi-tasking. This is normal.

Assign tasks to the geeks who are most interested in them, not the ones with the most experience.

When geeks are interested, they are passionate. When they're passionate, they learn fast. You'll get more productivity out of an interested geek with no prior experience than you will with a bored drone who's been doing the same thing for the past five years. Sometimes, the one with the most experience is the one that's most interested. In those cases, you are a lucky manager!

Segregate the corporate, compensatory hierarchy from the leadership hierarchy.
With a team of geeks under you, one or more will eventually become to go-to guy (or girl) for certain things. You don't usually need to assign a "team lead" - Through meritocracy, the Alpha Geek will emerge. That Alpha Geek may lack seniority, but will have the most influence. It's best to let this occur naturally. It's awkward when the one who best fits the role has to answer to someone else just because they've been around longer. Furthermore, the members of your team will still go to the Alpha Geek because the wrong person has the "Team Lead" label. As Paul Glen puts it: Geeks don't hate hierarchy. They hate your hierarchy.

You'll know you've found the Alpha Geek when you see people from your team (and likely other teams) at said geek's desk getting advice or validation on a frequent basis.

Pre-hiring and interview

Have all screening and profile "paperwork" in one comprehensive online wizard or form.
Geeks do not like pens, pencils, or clip boards. We also despise giving you the same piece of information more than once on fifteen different sheets of paper. We'd rather not be sitting on an uncomfortable chair in a room that's far too brightly lit just so that we can give you the information that you want. It's easy to get the information to you electronically.

Only ask for information you need to make a hiring decision.
W2's, Direct deposit information, full fingerprints, home address and all that crap can be handled during orientation. The only personally identifiable information you need before hiring is a name.

Don't grill us on our resume and work history.
You don't hire a geek for what he or she did two years ago. You hire them for what they will be able to do for you now and in the future. Ask your geek to describe scenarios where problems arose that required them to pick up a new skill set to solve. All geeks worth their salt have stories like that and love telling them.

Instead of asking about skills that qualify them for the position, ask about their interest in the kind of work they think they'll be doing.
Remember: Interested geeks work harder. The above requirement will still let you H.R. types ask that oh-so-predictable question: "What is it that you think this company does?" while offering your candidate a chance to really show he or she will be a good match.

Recommended Reading

I saw Paul Glen speak at IT Security World 2008, and his book, Leading Geeks has a lot more sage advice for those who find themselves leading a technical team.

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