The culture problem in computing: I Would Have Hired NSA Whistleblower Edward Snowden
I read this piece as an explanation for a computing culture that leads to “Donglegate” and a thousand paper cuts. Hostile, uncommunicative, arrogant, impolite, eccentric — none of those are impediments to getting hired. That’s what we have to change to broaden participation in computing. We have to change the culture.
Snowden’s lack of formal education—no high school diploma—wouldn’t have bothered me. The ideal was a person who was sharp, independent, systematic, and very careful. The top tech programs—at places such as MIT, Caltech, Carnegie Mellon, Stanford, UC–Berkeley, and the Ivies— produced many strong candidates, but a computer science degree from most other universities was less of a positive indicator. People with nontraditional educations sometimes did just as well. They usually had some gaps in their knowledge of algorithms and data structures, but I cut them slack, because teaching yourself is harder than being taught, and often more valuable. If you could run the gauntlet of five or six whiteboard coding tests, you stood a good chance of being hired. Sometimes an applicant would be too hostile or uncommunicative, but for me at least, technical skill was the deciding factor the vast majority of the time. There are a nontrivial number of techies who are smart but literally impossible to work with because they are incapable of compromise or politeness. When eccentricity is the norm, it’s hard to have a litmus test for what acceptable eccentricity is.