A few months I ago, I applied for the positions of rock star, ninja, genius, guru, and even sparkly code princess at several local wetware receptacles. My reluctance to do so was legitimated immediately by the application process, which is—like many things mangled by technology, including this blog—over-engineered and dehumanizing.
Where I expected hard drugs in ritzy hotel rooms, I was made to wrangle poorly-designed forms in the plain urbanism of my own dwelling. When I attempted to HI-YA my interlocutors, I was gate-kept by mid-nineties hold muzac.
The oppressive hunch with which one best interfaces to the Machine cramped my yogic breathing, and my glitter-bomb résumés either malfunctioned or dazzled too well—I’ll never know. They, along with the cover letters over which I so labored, were acknowledged rarely… and, one assumes, on accident.
When I managed to break through, startups subjected me to online coding challenges before I even knew on what trend they had next pivoted. Automated personality tests examined my fear of and submission to authority as they sussed out my passion. Cultural fit remained something to be attained.
All this is necessary, you see, because there is a talent shortage. We must each of us do our part to barricade the West Coast against the dross of humanity who can’t radix sort.
What pixelwit deployed you?
– Margaret Atwood, Take Charge
The application and interview procedure is a journey for the living down the river of suffering. The course we take in the tech industry is particularly neurotic because it’s our tools and data enabling this mess. How fitting that we are finally becoming our first victims.
I got nauseous bobbing down these tributaries in December and disembarked the boat. Then I walked the rest of the way into an unpaid internship (gak!) at a nonprofit magazine (oops) which has since hired me (phew).
But the horror of unemployment stays with one longer than all that; worse, it looms in my future through the smoke of burning newsstands. So before my station combusts, I am here to educate high-technology that it may reconfigure itself to better suit me.
§ Touch our Large User Base
Welcome to late modernity, where everything is a game and employment is gained by lottery! Let’s start with online coding challenges.
Here we play a timed round. You may be given ungrammatical instructions; remember that mysterious ways to fail lie about like land mines. Play the match by yourself, alone but under possible surveillance. Goals may be scored if you calculate a figure or sort input by ambiguous criteria and output the correct answer in a way the algorithm recognizes it as such.
Well do the best you can.
– Margaret Atwood, Take Charge
As part of the interview process, these tests are insidious for two reasons.
First, because they are inherently insecure against legitimate coding practices considered cheating in this scenario (e.g. googling or partner-programming), they will insist the candidate install screen-capture or key-logging spyware. In one case, I was even encouraged to record myself with a webcam while I worked.
These requirements inhibit trust between the potential employee and employer over something that yields a useless indicator of employability. And they shift the focus away from a candidate’s programming skills onto the moral matter of whether the candidate completed the challenge by his- or herself.
Let me shout plainly: DO NOT OUTSOURCE MORALITY TO AN ALGORITHM.
What’s the draw? The results offer employers less than a quick look at a code sample or—better yet—flip through a repository provides, except an excuse for them to defer that modicum of time and effort. Code review will have to be done by an actual human at some point, or Turing was wrong.
On the other hand, paying a service to make candidates do unpaid make-work reducible to a quotient representing their susceptibility to conformity optimizes the whole process.
§ Refactor Humanity
Second, online coding challenges contribute to a disturbing trend in recruitment practices away from human interaction. True, there is nothing worse than unmediated exchanges with another human being; I try to avoid them myself. But what lengths won’t we go to erase the existence of others?
All this colludes in something more distressing: candidates who participate do so out of desperation for an actual interview (with my sympathy) or ignorance of these social side-effects, and their compliance normalizes infringements against a much larger population of users (AKA real people).
The System prefers those unconcerned by it. Don your tinfoil cap and speculate wildly: by selecting employees willing to compromise their own privacy through hiring practices established by the tech giants and social media monoliths, are entrepreneurs enabling them to sell out our lives from under us?
(Despite it’s obvious answer, the question bears the incredulity and misdirection of mainstream editorial.)
If hiring talented humans is a legitimate problem, these are lazy ‘solutions’ that perpetuate it. Engineering solves social conundrums perhaps once an epoch, but it is very good at obfuscating them long enough for someone to make off with our savings and loans in the meantime.
Rather than spend money on automated recruitment services that waste our time and endanger others, perhaps companies should invest in those humans they call resources: humanize recruitment by fostering interpersonal skills of hiring staff, and train them to identify programming ability.
By all means, screen resumes, emails, and phone calls. But read and reply to those cover letters over which we spend hours agonizing. Check online portfolios and github accounts. If you make it that far, meet us in person. Every candidate turned away is still a connection the broader community of coders and ‘technologists’ in your area, and an experience that contributes to your skills as an interviewer.
At the very least, it’s a burden on your bottom-line avoided.
§ Eternal Recursion
What broad swath of anthropology will the brilliant minds of our time next disregard (if not outright trample) in their rampage for profit and power? Return next week when I exhaust the results of my BC Tech Fair personality assessment.