- E04 - Leadership! Google, Guido van Rossum, PSF

Jaap Spies j.spies at hccnet.nl
Mon Jan 2 20:40:39 CET 2006

Alex Martelli wrote:
> Anton Vredegoor <anton.vredegoor at gmail.com> wrote:
>    ...
>>>>only hire people with long backstabbing histories.
>>>Such as...? Guido van Rossum?  Greg Stein?  Vint Cerf?  Ben Goodger?
>    ...
>>No insider information is necessary, the job requirements make it
>>absolutely clear (at least to me) that Google is a company with an
>>elitist culture,
> Absolutely yes, in terms of who we want to work at Google:  we DO want
> GREAT people.  And we don't keep this a secret, either: right up there
> at <http://www.google.com/jobs/>, we say "our strategy is simple: we
> hire great people".  Rather than hiring a LOT of people, we prefer to be
> extremely, obsessively selective, and try to hire ONLY a few people,
> ones who we can convince ourselves do deserve that adjective, "great".
> This does mean that we definitely tend err on the side of caution, and
> FAIL to hire some people who are also great, just because we can't
> determine with sufficient certainty that they indeed are -- I've seen
> this happen more than once, and deeply regret it (for both Google and
> the person), but I have no idea how we could do better without relaxing
> our extremely elitist standards (we do debate these issues internally
> all of the time, trying to do better, but have found no magic wand yet).
> But this has nothing to do with "only people with backstabbing
> histories", which looks like an unsupported, generalized insult.
>>just like most universities. In fact I am convinced
>>that universities (and this time I have extensive, first person and
>>historic information) are elitist.
> No doubt they try to be, mostly (except where governments or other
> institutions "twist their arms" to force them to admit huge masses of
> students), but I've met many people with advanced degrees from even the
> best/most elitist universities, such as Stanford or MIT, where it sure
> looked to me as if the university's attempts to only graduate the very
> best have definitely failed.
>>We can discuss that if you want but to me it's appararent that *titles*
>>are a strong indication of elitism. Further more I am convinced that
> Requiring a certain title for a job is mostly a desperate attempt to
> reduce the huge amount of work and effort it takes to hire great people,
> whittling down the number of resumes to be considered divided by the
> number of hires from the high thousands to the low hundreds.  If there
> were available infinite resources for the job of hiring/selection, we
> could easily interview, say, 6000 candidates for a post, giving each a
> week or so of concentrated attention to probe their abilities; alas,
> this would require about 120 person-years from our people for the
> selection process.  So, if nobody at Google did ANYTHING BUT interview
> candidates, given that we have a bit over 5000 employees now, we could
> hire in the course of 2006 another 40 or so, without doing anything
> else.  (The numbers are all off the top of my head, but I think they may
> be roughly the right orders of magnitude).
> This is just impractical: we need to hire many more than 40, AND cannot
> afford to have all existing employees do nothing but select new ones.
> So, we need to shrink the ratio drastically, on both factors: say 10
> instead of 40 hours of selection per candidate, and 50 rather than 6000
> candidates being considered per post.  So we perform selection in
> stages, and most candidates out of those many thousands-per-job are
> "weeded out" at the very first stage, e.g. by failing to meet specific
> qualifications.
> I wish that, as you say, "titles" were indeed strong indications of
> excellence.  Unfortunately, they aren't, but in some cases they're
> better than nothing.  Many of our job descriptions, as I pointed out in
> another post on this thread, say "BS or equivalent experience" or words
> to that effect; if you can show the "or equivalent", and can get past
> the first hurdle, then that title is the least of the issues.  For
> example, if we advertised a job requiring "PhD or equivalent", and among
> the candidates were Bill Gates, Larry Page, and Sergey Brin, none of
> whom has obtained a PhD to the best of my knowledge, they would surely
> be able to display the "or equivalent" based on their accomplishments
> and experience, and thus get past that first hurdle.
>>uses to discredit paranormal phenomena. For example, careers are
>>"construed" because scientific success is credited to persons higher in
>>the hierarchy and mistakes are the faults of research assistents or
>>students. Only if this system breaks down we see reports of "scientific
> Can you show that happening for Guido van Rossum, for example, or Greg
> Stein?  What "hierarchy" were they in, to enable them, as you're
> accusing, to take credit for accomplishments that are not their own, and
> deflect blame to poor maligned underlings?
> You've made a very specific and insulting claim about Google hiring only
> people with long histories of backstabbing, and yet it appears that
> you're failing to substantiate it.  Hurling such accusations (ones which
> obviously must involve specific people, since the whole thread, as
> indicated by the subject, starts with Guido's working for Google)
> without being able to provide any substance is, in my strongly held
> opinion, quite reprehensible, and doesn't reflect well on you.
>>However for *me* personally, because I am deserted by my government,
>>the university community, friends and family, and left to fend for
>>myself, there is no pressing need to keep up the facade so I can
>>finally see it for what it is.
>>I hope this answers some of your questions about my position. Anyway, I
>>think its better to talk about positive things, like trying to convince
>>google to hire any and all people who can program irrespective of their
>>corruption history. 
> People who distinguish themselves as outstanding contributors to
> open-source projects can generally clear the "or equivalent" hurdle
> without difficulty.  Do you consider a history of such contributions to
> be a "corruption history" and evidence of "backstabbing", too?  To
> emerge as such an outstanding contributor, titles are irrelevant: all
> you need, besides willingness and ability to invest your time that way,
> are outstanding technical ability (particularly in design and coding,
> but testing and debugging are also very important, and so is a knack for
> writing good documentation -- one can become an "outstanding
> contributor" through many possible combinations of such skills) AND any
> of a wide range of suitable character and personality traits.
> To focus on the latter: I would never want Google to hire somebody, no
> matter how great a programmer they might be, who can accuse, for
> example, Guido van Rossum, of having a "long history of backstabbing",
> without any substantial data to back up the accusation, just to vent
> their frustration at their personal situation.  You DID say that Google
> hires ONLY people with long histories of backstabbing, and by the very
> definition of the word "ONLY" this means you are accusing me, Guido,
> Greg, etc, etc, of having "long histories of backstabbing" -- and after
> hurling such insults, and providing NO specific data to support them,
> you're hallucinating that you can now switch "to talk about positive
> things"?!
> One reason I'm so happy we've hired Guido is that, in addition to his
> technical excellence, he's just a great guy, wonderful to work with.
> Technical excellence is a necessary but not sufficient quality: one ALSO
> needs suitable combinations of character and personality, and Guido has
> them, in spades.  There is an enormous variation of personalities and
> character traits at Google (we DO value diversity!), but they all have
> in common the fact that they can combine into small, fluid teams which
> become even more productive than "the sum of their parts", because
> teammates LIKE AND RESPECT AND TRUST each other.  I do not see how
> somebody whose behavior included such unsubstantiated "backstabbing"
> accusations could be productive in this way.
> And, about the job-posting you liked better...:
>>Run by an engineer, this work environment is a meritocracy. You will be
> To me, "meritocracy" and "elitism" are close to being synonyms, in most
> contexts.  "Meritocracy" is defined somewhere on the net as:
> """
> A system of government whereby a particular standard of ability is used
> as the basis by which political leadership is determined or accrues to
> an existing elite.
> """
> Note the connection with "elite", which in turn gives us "elitism".  I
> do like "meritocracy" because it specifically mentions *ability*, but of
> course ability (including technical skill, which in turn is enhanced by
> appropriate experience, AND 'softer' character/personality issues) is
> what a successful firm bases its "elite" on (or tries to; if it fails,
> and hires people bereft of sufficient ability, it won't prosper long).
> Alex

That all been said. My recommandation: hire that man!


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