Former programmer and current CEO Joe Sinkwitz wears many hats at Saas startup Intellifluence -- one of which is hiring developers. We talked to Sinkwitz to learn about his unique take on computer science degrees, cultural fit, and more.
I’ll call myself a former programmer because it has been a while since I’ve really had to dig in and monkey with stored procedures on SQL Server to make sure the Powerbuilder code isn’t blowing up (yes, it's been that long).
During a typical day now, I spend a great deal of time performing outreach to media outlets, doing demos for agencies, writing for blogs that my future customers might be reading, tracking down bugs in Zendesk, and reading our Git logs that get posted into Slack. Before I know it, the sun has risen and already gone back down.
I’d like to think that being a former developer gives me some special insight, but really it just helps me to understand that the thinking process required for technical roles needs to be logic-oriented, and preferably also skews towards temperaments that can withstand everything breaking at once. The calm, collected mind that can dissect and order in terms of criticality is an overlooked skill set for technical people.
One trick I like to employ might irritate some, but I prefer to hire philosophy majors over computer science majors. This isn’t to say I don’t like the CS degree, I just find there is a labor wage-to-talent gap for those that hold a philosophy degree, and I’m trying to close it. Philosophy majors have to take as much math as a CS major, plus have to be even more logic-focused in solving riddles, except they can allow themselves to be wrong more in the light of new evidence supporting an alternative method. Beyond that, programming is just syntax and can be taught, so for entry level positions I’ve had an enormous amount of luck hiring top philosophy students.
Cultural fit is always something that you really can’t figure out until the person is entrenched in the company; it is trite to say, but hiring for cultural fit and thinking ability is more important than whether someone has a set of technical skills at the lower levels. The downside is that most people that are going to quit end up doing so relatively quickly (if they decide that programming in a startup environment isn’t what they want to do with their life). Those that stick with it usually advance pretty quickly and can absorb both the new skills and new responsibilities as we allow them to grow.
Watching someone gain confidence is very rewarding because it can catch you off-guard, in a good way. One of our developers taught himself Python in order to assist in his efforts creating a scraping tool, and because our product roadmap is visible to all employees, he took it upon himself to inject his new learnings into the process and solved the problem without being asked. Who wouldn’t love that as a CEO?