Monthly Archives: June 2009

stats on getting enineering dev offer at Rapleaf

Here are some interesting stats from our recruiting process:

  • 1/4 of resumes to Rapleaf get the go-ahead for online interview
  • 1/8 pass on the online interview
  • 1/5 pass first round engineering phone screen
  • 1/2 pass second round with VP Engineering
  • 1/2 pass full in-house interview and get offers.

so out of every 1,000 resumes we get, roughly 1-2 get offers.  

FW: Clear to Cease Operations

I got this message today from Clear. It was a good idea but ultimately doomed to failure…

I wonder if they will ever refund me 🙁

—–Original Message—– From: Clear Customer Service []
Sent: Monday, June 22, 2009 7:44 PM To: auren
Subject: Clear to Cease Operations

Clear to Cease Operations

Dear Auren Hoffman,

At 11:00 p.m. PST today, Clear will cease operations. Clear’s parent company, Verified Identity Pass, Inc. has been unable to negotiate an agreement with its senior creditor to continue operations.

After today, Clear lanes will be unavailable.

Sincerely, Clear Customer Support

Everything you learn in college is wrong

In college, they teach you to use big words to make things sound important. If you are writing in college about the problems at GM, Ford, and Toyota, you’d write about the “automotive industry.” Today, you’d make it simple and talk about “car companies.”

In college you need to double space everything. Why was double-spacing so important back then and so never-seen today?

In college, they teach you to dress up for work and dress down for social gatherings. In the real world, you dress down for work and dress up for social gatherings. (In the one business class I took in college, they taught us how to wear a suit to do the presentation. In the 13 years since then, I have yet to ever wear a suit for work.)

In college they teach you to write papers for your professor. In the world, you need to write documents for everyone.

In college, longer papers are better. In the real world, shorter is always better.

In college, grammar is really important. In the real world, people just don’t care.

In college, they give students little autonomy over their destiny. The administration often sets the rules with little regard to students. In the real world … well, it is the same.

In college, you learn how to consume massive amounts of beer and try to find romance. In the real world, people consume massive amounts of wine and try to find romance.

In college you eat huge amounts of instant noodles and cereal. In the real world, you spend your entire paycheck on Whole Foods and tofu.

In college, you spend all your time on Facebook. In the real world, you spend all your time talking about Facebook.

productivity tip: Always schedule meetings that last an hour

Even when I have a quick call on my calendar, I always try to block off an hour.

That does a few things:

First – if the person is late to the call (I try never to be late … more on that below) … then you can still talk to the person and not reschedule.

Second — You’ll never have more than 10 meetings scheduled in a day. Which is important for your sanity.

Third — you will also have lots of opportunities to carry out your microtasks (like keeping up on email) throughout the day – because if your meeting only lasts 20 minutes (which is the avg length of my phone meetings), you’ll have another 40 minutes for tasks, meeting follow-ups, etc.

Fourth – you won’t be late for meetings and you’ll be able to respect other’s time as you would want them to respect yours.

Productivity gains in software engineering are powering innovation

Engineers are the best deal – so stock up on them

Everyone is more productive these days. This has been a consistent trend for at least the past decade, where productivity gains have been particularly strong within the business sector.  According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, today’s business industry workers are on average 30% more productive than their 1998 counterparts (productivity growth of roughly 2.6% per year).

Growth chart  
(Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Within the technology industry, productivity has increased more.  Thanks to smartphones, improved search engines, better CRM software, and ever-increasing bandwidth, salesmen and marketers can find, receive and process information faster than ever. 

The most dramatic gains, however, have occurred within software development.

Software engineers today are about 200-400% more productive than software engineers were 10 years ago because of open source software, better programming tools, common libraries, easier access to information, better education, and other factors. This means that one engineer today can do what 3-5 people did in 1999!

3589792404_65192f9038 The advent of open source software makes engineers particularly efficient.  One VP Engineering that I talked to gave me an anecdote about one module where they used open source files with about 500,000 lines of code and then wrote 7,000 lines of code to stitch it all together.  Open source software is also free.  In the company I was running in 1999, “software” was a huge budget line item – we had to buy databases, testing suites, libraries, and more.  Today all that stuff is free … a start-up might spend more money on sodas for the office than it does on software. 

We’re all familiar with Moore’s Law – that the power of computers doubles every 18 months.  In my 15 years of software development, I’ve seen 5x-10x productivity gains in engineers.  Which could mean that the productivity of a well-trained engineer doubles every five years.  (note that this Law is much harder to prove than Moore’s Law – but potentially just as profound).  That would mean that the productivity of an engineer is growing at roughly 14.9% per year!  That’s fast … really fast … much faster than the 2.6% yearly gains the population as a whole is making. 

This means that today’s companies are able to do more software engineering and build more stuff with fewer people.  But should they do more with less? It could be much more prudent for a company, especially for a small company, to do the opposite … and to double-down on engineering.  You can use the productivity gains in software development as a strategic advantage and invest aggressively in engineers. First, doing so contributes the most to progress and also increases the chance for breakthroughs in innovation. Second, engineers – as opposed to salesmen and marketers – can often hit the ground running (assuming you have a good on-boarding system) and have a positive impact within a few weeks. 

Alternatively, many large traditional companies might be able to get by with FEWER but DIFFERENT engineers.  These companies might need to change their approach to engineering to take advantage of the new tools.  The companies that can benefit from fewer engineers are likely ones that haven’t changed their technology platforms radically in the last ten years.

Although engineers contribute more to an organization than ever before, their pay – relative to other functions in a company – hasn’t followed suit.  I’ve polled a few dozen companies and have found that over the last ten years, an engineer’s pay has held the same relative salary to marketing and sales.  This is odd behavior … usually when something outputs more, its cost goes up.  So why have engineers’ wages in the U.S. stayed constant relative to salespeople and marketers?  Here are two contributing factors that lower demand:

1.    Off-shoring.  Because of new technology and higher bandwidth, more companies are off-shoring their software development.  But this does not fully explain the flat salary phenomenon since firms are also off-shoring sales and marketing (though to a lesser degree).

2.    Need for software engineers has decreased.  Because software engineers are so much more productive than they were ten years ago, many firms are opting to hire fewer of them.  If a company is not doing hard-core engineering, it actually needs fewer engineers as a portion of its total workforce than it did ten years ago.  (I personally think this could be a big mistake … but I will get to that later). 

Both the off-shoring and the decreased need for engineers has led to a lowering of the demand which has likely put a check on wages. 
One problem, of course, is that measuring “output” of an engineer is a really hard thing to do (as opposed to the output of a salesperson) … so it is really hard to quantify the productivity gains.  And even if you can measure output in engineering, it is sometimes hard to tie that to an increase in profitability.

And, like sales, the quality of engineers varies wildly.  A great engineer is potentially 2-4 times more productive than a good engineer.  Ben Ling from Google pointed out to me that some great engineers are massively compensated – because they tend to be the early hires at a company and get lots of stock (most of Google’s first 50 employees were engineers). 

Let’s recap:  The productivity of a software engineer has increased 2-3 times that of a marketing person in the last ten years.  Yet their relative compensation has remained about the same.  That means if you are a savvy company, you should stock up on engineers.  In fact, you would want as many great engineers as you can get a hold of. 

This engineering productivity boom will only increase and continue to create dislocation and creative destruction.  While the extent of growth and industry makeover are hard to gauge, what is certain is that corporations relying on technology and engineering paradigms from the 1990s or before will find themselves hard-pressed to compete with the new and nimble movers. 

(special thanks to Jonathan Hoffman, Michael Hsu, Ben Ling, Jeremy Lizt, Naghi Prasad, and Dave Selinger for their feedback and edits).

on search engines, bigger is still better (yes, size matters)

If you look at the top three search engines – Google, Yahoo, and Bing – all of them deliver very good search results. All are very impressive. And all do a good job with making search relevant and delivering results.

If you actually play with all three search engines, you’ll find that Google does not do a better job of getting the most relevant results in the top three. In fact, often Google does a worse job than Yahoo or Bing.

But what Google and Yahoo do better is sheer scale and size. Google’s index and Yahoo’s index are MUCH larger than Bing’s. my guess is that it could be ten times bigger. That means that Yahoo and Google will likely have much better results for longer tail (or more specific) searches.

For instance, as of today, Google has indexed 413 million pages on Facebook. Yahoo was indexed 214 million pages on Facebook. And Bing has indexed 125 million pages (even though Microsoft is Facebook’s search partner).

For MySpace: Google (229 million); Yahoo (149 million); Bing (6.15 million)
For Typepad: Google (4.3 million); Yahoo (11.7 million); Bing (190 k)
For Friendfeed: Google (5.67 million); Yahoo (14.73 million); Bing (86 k)
For Lefora: Google (265 K); Yahoo (450 k); Bing (22 k) For GoodRec: Google (218,000); Yahoo (3,348); Bing (16,400)

After using the Yahoo search engine for the last few months, I personally think it gives the best results … but it likely doesn’t have the breadth of Google yet. Bing/Microsoft still has a long way to go (but they are on the right track).

what are best questions to ask references of people you are interviewing?

I recently asked the question "what are best questions to ask references of people you are interviewing?" over Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter and here are some of the responses I got:

"If you were in my shoes, would you hire this person?"

What advice would you give me as a future manager this person?

What are the major accomplishments of the candidate? Are there any areas that are development opportunities for the candidate?

Based on what you know of this person's desires and capabilities, what do you see him/her doing in 3-5 years?

(other than making sure to contact references other than the ones they gave you) – how about "do you trust this person's integrity, capacity, and intellectual curiosity?"

does he know if he has 5 pairs of white socks and 5 pairs of black socks, and he HAS to get dressed in the dark… how many socks does he have to pick to actually find a pair?

or just, would you work with this person again???

Are you friends outside of the work?

Why do you no longer work together? And how come you haven't hired him/her already.

is there anything else that I should know about so and so.. last question.. the truth comes out usually if they have been lying..

I'll pay you $500 if you save me from not hiring this person. A great person will have sufficiently impressed that reference so that they would reject this.

What kind of a drunk is he/she?

i always ask if the reference would hire that person again to work directly for them. usually gets a good response.