Secret language

Microsoft Careers: “If you’re looking for a new role where you’ll focus on one of the biggest issues that is top of mind for KT and Steve B in ‘Compete’, build a complete left to right understanding of the subsidiary, have a large amount of executive exposure, build and manage the activities of a v-team of 13 district Linux& Open Office Compete Leads, and develop a broad set of marketing skills and report to a management team committed to development and recognized for high WHI this is the position for you!”

This is ironic, to use the Alanis Morissette meaning of the word [NSFW video].

The whole reason Microsoft even needs a v-team of 13, um, “V DASHES” to compete against Open Office is that they’ve become so insular that their job postings are full of incomprehensible jargon and acronyms which nobody outside the company can understand. With 93,000 employees, nobody ever talks to anyone outside the company, so it’s no surprise they’ve become a bizarre borg of “KT”, “Steve B”, “v-team”, “high WHI,” CSI, GM, BG, BMO (bowel movements?) and whatnot.

When I worked at Microsoft almost two decades ago we made fun of IBM for having a different word for everything. Everybody said, “Hard Drive,” IBM said “Fixed Disk.” Everybody said, “PC,” IBM said “Workstation.” IBM must have had whole departments of people just to FACT CHECK the pages in their manuals which said, “This page intentionally left blank.”

Now when you talk to anyone who has been at Microsoft for more than a week you can’t understand a word they’re saying. Which is OK, you can never understand geeks. But at Microsoft you can’t even understand the marketing people, and, what’s worse, they don’t seem to know that they’re speaking in their own special language, understood only to them.

Let’s stop talking about “backups”

Is your desktop backed up?

Did you backup that server?

Are your backups on a different machine?

Do you have offsite backups?

All good questions, all best practices.

But let’s stop talking about “backups.” Doing a backup is too low a bar. Any experienced system administrator will tell you that they have a great backup plan, the trouble comes when you have to restore.

And that’s when you discover that:

  • The backed-up files were encrypted with a cryptographically-secure key, the only copy of which was on the machine that was lost
  • The server had enormous amounts of configuration information stored in the IIS metabase which wasn’t backed up
  • The backup files were being copied to a FAT partition and were silently being truncated to 2GB
  • Your backups were on an LTO drive which was lost with the data center, and you can’t get another LTO drive for three days
  • And a million other things that can go wrong even when you “have” “backups.”

The minimum bar for a reliable service is not that you have done a backup, but that you have done a restore. If you’re running a web service, you need to be able to show me that you can build a reasonably recent copy of the entire site, in a reasonable amount of time, on a new server or servers without ever accessing anything that was in the original data center. The bar is that you’ve done a restore.

Let’s stop asking people if they’re doing backups, and start asking if they’re doing restores.

Stack stats

The higher someone’s Stack Overflow reputation, the more likely they are to have submitted a CV to Stack Overflow Careers:

This is not entirely surprising, of course: the more time someone has invested in Stack Overflow, the more likely they are to (a) know about Stack Overflow Careers, (b) be willing to invest $29, after all the hours they’ve already sunk, and (c) have the confidence that their CV is going to impress the kind of employers that are using the site.

Still, the participation rate in Stack Overflow Careers is pretty impressive, and it somewhat confirms the claim we’re making to employers, which is that when you search for CVs on Stack Overflow, you are looking at some pretty gosh darn good programmers.

While I’m rattling on about statistics, here’s a little bit of data about Stack Overflow traffic itself that you may not have seen.

We use Quantcast to measure our traffic. Currently, they’re showing us as the 740th ranked site in the world (of all sites), with 6 million monthly unique visitors, 1.9 million from the US. And the growth is pretty steady, except for a couple of weeks at the end there which reflect the holiday season:

Comparing our traffic to our big competitor is difficult because they don’t use Quantcast, so we have to rely on Alexa, which has a reputation for particularly terrible data, but here’s what that looks like:

Are there any sites out there for programmers with more traffic than Stack Overflow? I haven’t found any, using the available data… even has less, according to Quantcast, but I find that hard to believe.

In either case, having decided that Stack Overflow was the biggest programming site in the world, I thought, “hey, it should be easier for us to get ads.” I asked our ad guy, Alex “DailyWTF” Papadimoulis, if Microsoft had bought any ads. They’re about to launch Visual Studio 2010, which is probably going to have the biggest marketing campaign (in dollars) in the history of developer tools, and you’d think they’d want to spend something at the biggest programming site in the world. Here’s what he wrote back:

“Microsoft is doing huge spends, but they’re going through McCann for the VS2010 launch (IIRC). Agencies really don’t like us. Now if we go to video units with fly-over… oh they’ll start loving us!”

What he’s referring to is the fact that we don’t accept any kind of animated ads on Stack Overflow, because, well, they’re evil, so we lose a lot of revenue from advertising agencies who are looking for the most aggressive possible ways to get in people’s faces. Whatever. Don’t care. We hate animated ads and I’m pretty sure our users do, too.

When and how to micromanage

“Like most entrepreneurs, Ryan and I are still learning about how to manage people and teams. And we’re both used to hiring very smart and dedicated people who will get things done to a high standard if you give them some general direction and set them free. But on this trip, we started to notice that this style of hands-off management, which works so well with our own staffs, just wasn’t working when we had outside vendors involved.”

From my December column in Inc.: “When and How to Micromanage


Programmer search engine

For as long as I’ve been in the industry, which is, I think, about 74 years now, the problem I’ve had with hiring programmers was not interviewing them or deciding if they’re smart—it’s been finding them in the first place.

What I’ve dreamed about is a programmer search engine.

The ideal programmer search engine would only include programmers who are actually looking for jobs. If you’ve ever emailed someone based on a resume you found through a traditional search engine, you’ve probably discovered that they’re not actually on the market.

It would only include people willing to work in your neck of the woods.

It would show you CVs right away, and, ideally, it would show you something about their programming skills besides the usual resume blahblah.

Well, OK, that day is here, and I’m like a kid in a candy store. Nom nom. Announcing the other half of the employer’s side!

Right now, there are about 928 candidates on there. That’s a start. What’s more interesting is whether there’s a candidate who meets your needs.

Let’s say you’re searching for a full time Java programmer within 40 miles of Palo Alto. Right now there are 11 candidates listed. All but one are active on StackOverflow… one even has reputation over 4000 points.

Want a bit more choice? Check the box that indicates that you’re willing to relocate. Now there are 80 matches, all of whom have the legal right to work in the states. Candidates have a lot of flexibility indicating where they’re willing to work. Even if you need a Ruby on Rails programmer in Oklahoma City, as long as you’re willing to pay for relocation, you’ve got 7 choices. You’ve got 14 choices in London (with the legal right to work.) If you think that a Python programmer could learn Ruby, you’ve got 51 choices. There are plenty of choices whether you’re hiring in Tel Aviv, Sydney, Silicon Valley, or New York. There are four programmers in Copenhagen right now. No relocation required. All of them highly qualified, actually; any one of them would qualify to interview at Fog Creek.

Stack Overflow Careers is something of a chicken-and-egg business. We have to get a big audience of programmers and a big audience of employers all at the same time, and then it’s like a junior high school dance, with the boys on one side of the gym and the girls on the other side, and for a while you just sit there holding your breath to see if anyone will dance. We invited a few hundred employers as beta testers… these were the companies that have been listing jobs on StackOverflow over the last six months, and so far, they’ve found a few dozen candidates that they liked. Once it gets to that point, we’re out of the loop, so we don’t really know how many people are actually finding jobs, but please email me your success stories and failure stories so we can keep working to make it better.

In the meantime, Jeff and the StackOverflow crew have done something brilliant: they’ve made it possible to do searches and see how many candidates match even before you have to pay. So if you want to try it out but are afraid that there aren’t students looking for OCaml internships in Houston, you can try it, and find that there is, indeed, one. So, try it out right now. There’s no obligation, and we’re happy to give you your money back if you don’t think you got good value.