Each person acquires their own character, but their official roles are designated by chance. You should invite some to your table because they are deserving, others because they may come to deserve it.
— Seneca, Moral Letters, 47.15b
Let’s say you are an engineering manager in charge of hiring a junior engineer, and you are considering two applicants. One is a student that went to a state college but didn’t finish. However, their Github account is quite compelling and it seems as if they have been writing code for many years. The other applicant graduated from Stanford with good but not amazing grades. Their resume shows one internship during their senior year, and there was no code provided with his application. Which do you choose?
Most people’s gut instinct is probably the latter. They graduated college from a top school and did an internship. However, they didn’t provide any context regarding their actual ability. All that code they wrote in their internship is proprietary; you wont get to see it. You have less risk in that they are credentialed and perhaps previously vetted by where they did their internship, but those are not necessarily indicators of ability.
On the other hand, the first student gave you information to de-risk their application: they gave you lots of code to look at. Browsing through it you can clearly determine they are not an idiot. However, they couldn’t seem to stick with a college program long enough to graduate and perhaps have no professional experience, so while their ability may be high you still have plenty of risk related to professionalism.
The real answer to the question is that you don’t have enough information. This is why we do tech screens, phone calls, interviews, and the like. We are trying to suss out each applicant’s character in addition to their ability. And they should be doing the same for the company.
Interestingly, most of the worst engineers I’ve worked with were senior and set in their ways. They all looked great on paper, but it turns out that you can do something wrong for ten years and still claim you have ten years of experience. You can also be a jerk who wields a masters degree like it makes you better than everyone else, but in reality it just means you have fewer years writing actual code that made it to production.
My point in all of this is to say that it is the character of these people that matters the most. Do not waste your time and energy on people who don’t deserve it. That said, give most folks a chance. Everyone has a different background and set of experiences, and that means they plenty to offer you.
Some parting thoughts on this concept:
- Unfortunately, luck does play a big role in life. You could be the hardest working person in existence and still be dealt a thunderous blow that destroys your health, wealth, family, or career. And, on the other side of the coin, you may reap tremendous rewards without truly working to obtain them. On the whole, a person’s character is their most valuable asset over the long-term.
- Remember that student above who dropped out of college but loved writing code? That was me. Always give young people a chance; find the ones who are worthy and let them earn their seat at your table.
- Don’t be afraid to dump, fire, or otherwise remove people with poor character from your life.