Niall’s virtual diary archives – Wednesday 25th April 2012

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Wednesday 25th April 2012: 7.32pm. Finally got round to the third of my posts on interviewing with North American companies. Last time round I mentioned that there were a few horror stories, so here's the worst of the worst.

One of the companies I applied to had an employee review on glassdoor suggesting that the company contractually mandated ownership of all IP generated by their employees, including all open source contributions right down to bug fixes. In response they said:

"We still encourage and allow people to participate in open-source spare time projects. We feel it is the best way for our engineers to stay up-to-date with regard to promising new technologies."

... which totally misses the point of open source altogether. The point is that you, as a company and person, contribute back to the ecosystem from which you have taken, not as a free way of getting employees to train themselves. This wouldn't be so bad if the company in question weren't based almost exclusively on Linux and the wider open source ecosystem. Here's more fun from the same company:

"We relaxed our policy towards commercial spare time software projects. As per the new policy, those 1) whose performance is good or higher, and 2) whose commercial project doesn't overlap with what we are building at XXXXXXXX, are allowed to engage in commercial spare time software projects so long as their performance continues to be good or higher than good. We review each engineer's performance twice a year."

So, if I am a good little worker then they give me permission to do what I want in my own free time? Which, given it doesn't compete with them, really is none of their business? Needless to say I withdrew my application immediately. It didn't help they wanted a several thousand line model application written before phone interviews begin because, apparently, they are unwilling to read a CV or use a person's open source contributions as a signal that they aren't a time waster. That suggests to me that this is not a company who values people let alone their employees. And, as I said earlier, I don't program for free so any company who asks for free coding as part of the interview process is going to put me off.

Thankfully, companies such as these were in a minority. Even the big tech multinationals despite being often stuffed with obnoxious, insecure, ego driven types who take their technical mistakes being corrected as equal to being personally attacked, don't try imposing onerous conditions and free coding from the very start of the interview process, before you have even talked to someone on a telephone.

Still, it gives pause for reflection. Tech companies never shut up about the lack of talent (for a reasonable price) available. Right now, my top preference in the companies I'm in late stage interviews with comes with compensation about 35% below the others. That's because they haven't put barely a step wrong, contain engineers who like having their mistakes corrected, and have a reasonable IP policy that encourages open source contributions. As much as a 35% pay cut is a lot, I think it'll pay in the long run in terms of a less stressful work experience and working for a company who have a competent organisational culture and value their employees.

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