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Columnist: Michael E. Duffy
July, 2017 Issue

Michael E. Duffy
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Columnist's Blog

In any business, it’s the employees who ultimately determine success or failure. (At least until the robots take all our jobs, and even then there will most likely be some brands of robot that “work better” than others).  And nowhere is this more true in businesses that rely heavily on the brain power of their employees.  I should know: I work in the software business, which is basically employees translating their thoughts into working code.

Successful tech companies spend a lot of effort trying to identify, hire, and retain the very best employees they can.  But how do you identify a great software engineer?  How do you know they have the right stuff? And how, if you’re a fast-growing company, do you keep finding these people at the rate of tens (or more) per month?

Assuming you can get people to apply for your position (and realizing that a position that sounds interesting will attract lots of applications), what next?  Somebody has to winnow those resumes and cover letters down to a manageable number.  That’s a subject for another time, but it’s fraught with peril—you run the risk of missing great candidates based on your screening process.

At Cryptic Studios, where I work, once someone is screened on the basis of a resume and cover letter by our in-house recruiter, the first step in the process is a phone interview.  Passing that leads to a fairly intensive take-home programming task (requiring several hours to complete, and someone to review it), and passing that leads to an on-site interview where applicants are given a series of programming problems that exercise concepts which are frequently found in our work.  The candidate is also assessed for “cultural fit.”  One key aspect of our process: it’s applied the same way to every applicant (allowing for the fact that humans play a big part in the process).

Each of these elements is conducted by two experienced programmers/leads, taking time out of their regular work.  Hiring is an expensive process, but based on the caliber of people I work with, it’s well worth it.

A good hiring process isn’t static, either.  We periodically re-evaluate our hiring process to see how it can be improved. It’s important to note that without a structured interview process that’s applied the same way each time, it’s impossible to do that kind of process improvement.

If you’re serious about trying to hire great people, the on-site, in-person part of the interview process is unavoidable.  But what about the “hiring funnel,” the activities leading up to the final vetting of an applicant?  Can that be outsourced in some way?

Triplebyte ( thinks so, asking potential applicants to “take our coding quiz, get offers from top companies.”  It’s actually a little more complicated than that.  You start by filling out an online profile.  After doing this, you can take the coding quiz at your leisure (which they advise takes 30 minutes).  The quiz consists of questions where you read a block of code and answer questions about it.  And, once you begin, you discover each question is timed.

The coding quiz is a completely performance-based filter.  It doesn’t matter if you went to Cal Tech or are self-taught.  An applicant self-selects for a full-time programming job with the kinds of companies using Triplebyte, which include both established companies like Facebook, and early-stage startups like those funded by Y Combinator.  Self-selection means a candidate is comfortable with being judged on their skill, which implies a certain amount of self-confidence.  About the only downside is that applicants with test anxiety may not perform well. (Of course, someone with test anxiety probably won’t apply.)

Of course, Triplebyte gets paid (on a per-hire basis) by the companies that use them.  For a company, the attraction is that Triplebyte will “send you engineers interested in working at your company. [ Where every ] engineer has gone through a full technical interviewing process with us before you talk with them.”  Basically, Triplebyte allows a company to bypass the phone-screen and generalized technical testing that precede a formal interview.

Probably the most important quality about Triplebyte is that its success depends on making good on their promise of providing better candidates:  candidates more likely to get a job offer, and more likely to do well after being hired.  That means they are focused on improving their process, something that only the biggest companies can really afford to do.

What happens if you pass the quiz?  Come back next month and find out when I reveal what happened after an experienced programmer (me!) applied to Triplebyte.


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