The first speaker at a tech conference takes the stage and says that “you should never hire your friends”. He then tells the audience “It’s hard to be the boss – you will end up treating your friends differently from other employees.”
The second speaker comes up, and says that the best thing he did was hire his closest friends from college. They knew each other well and got along.
We hear generalizations all the time: “Never hire someone from X school”. “Never trust someone who went to business school.” “Never hire someone who is from X country because we did it in the past and it didn’t work out.”
As humans, we are wired to generalize.
Both entrepreneurs giving contradictory advice thought that their experience was a function of the fact that the person they hired was a friend. In reality, there are more variables to consider including the company situation, timing, and skill-set of friends that contributed to the success or failure of that hire.
In software, people say that remote offshore development will never work and that it is very difficult to hire anyone who is not in your office. That’s not always the case – fab.com, 37 signals and Automatic (WordPress) not only have remote teams, but also have talent in different time zones all over the world and have been able to build great products. These companies felt that it did not make sense to limit their engineering pool to a 50 mile radius from their main office. Of course, some areas have higher density of great engineers and a higher percentage of great engineers, but that does not mean that great talent does not exist around the world.
“If others tell us something we make assumptions, and if they don’t tell us something we make assumptions to fulfill our need to know and to replace the need to communicate. Even if we hear something and we don’t understand we make assumptions about what it means and then believe the assumptions. We make all sorts of assumptions because we don’t have the courage to ask questions.” Miguel Ruiz,
Generalizations happens all the time in outsourced software development. A recent client was looking to build a calendaring app and had heard horror stories about offshore development. Many people advised them against offshore development work and to stick with US providers. As their budget was limited, the firm was forced to pursue developers outside of the US. We recommended companies that we had pre-screened and had past experience with this type of development. After speaking with these providers, they were able to find a skilled development team with highly relevant experience.
The key is that the experiences we face working, hiring, managing or interacting with people are a function of more than a person’s degree, school, background, and ethnicity. It is important not to generalize based on one dimension. We like to call this type of misinformed generalization “tech discrimination”.
Can a venture capitalist who ran companies in the 90’s tell you how to run your company today? The fact that they ran a company in the past means that they may have great anecdotes, experiences and observations, but we must not generalize and assume that a strategy that worked in the 90s will work today.
In order to better understand why a situation did or didn’t work, we have to understand all the details. What generalizations have you heard in the tech industry?