I haven’t traveled this week (at least, not for work). As a result of that, I’ve sat at home, where I tend to have somewhat higher social media consumption. I therefore couldn’t help but see this post about “confessing coding sins.”
Twitter has, apparently, overflowed with established software developers ‘confessing’ that they would fail Gigantech Inc’s whiteboard/trivia interviews. I’d like to go on record to point out that I ranted about the foolishness of this practice long before DHH made doing so cool with this tweet.
Hello, my name is David. I would fail to write bubble sort on a whiteboard. I look code up on the internet all the time. I don’t do riddles.
— DHH (@dhh) February 21, 2017
Here we have legendary techie David Heinemeier Hansson confessing that the Silicon Valley Gigantechs of the world would fail him out of their phone screens. His tweet offers a compelling symmetry. After all, when a cranky Thomas Edison invented the ineffective fad known as the “job interview” (that we haven’t bothered to revisit in the last 100 years), his interview would have failed Albert Einstein.
So, when it comes to the humble job interview, we at least know that it’s consistent. It fails at its only job just as miserably today as it did in the beginning. All of the MegaTechs out there in The Valley (and emulators around the world) would have passed on hiring meteoric value-creator DHH, thus calling into question the ubiquitous and vacuous claim of every company out there that “we only hire the best and brightest.”
But let’s come back to DHH a little later. First, to celebrate the coming spring, I want to talk about baseball.
Wins Above Replacement (WAR)
Even if you don’t enjoy the sport of baseball, you should at least appreciate it for its data. Unlike many sports out there, baseball happens transactionally. The pitcher throws a pitch, and then a bunch of easily recorded stuff happens before play stops and this all starts over. Oh, and we’ve kept logs of this going back 150 years or so. This property has given rise to an entire discipline of statistics called sabermetrics. So even if you don’t like home runs and hot dogs, you can at least appreciate the Big Data.
Baseball has a fascinating stat known by industry nerds as “Wins above Replacement (WAR).” I’ll quote them directly on the meaning.
WAR offers an estimate to answer the question, “If this player got injured and their team had to replace them with a freely available minor leaguer or a AAAA player from their bench, how much value would the team be losing?”
Let me parse out the baseball jargon and simplify. It asks, “how much value (in wins) does this player provide compared to an unremarkable replacement?” Modern baseball clubs wager hundreds of millions of dollars answering this question. A player with WAR above 5 commands that kind of money whereas one with a negative WAR gets a pat on the butt and an imminently unremarkable minor league contract.
WAR ain’t perfect. But it pretty reasonably approximates player financial value.
What does any of this have to do with the job interview or whiteboard coding algorithms? Well, the job interview represents the business world’s ludicrous attempt to calculate VAR (value above replacement) of prospective hires.