Sunday, December 09, 2007

Jobs and Mis-estimates

Elsewhere in the blog world of tcs, there is an ongoing discussion on job interviews. I remember a game we used to play in college where the goal is to propose a single word to summarize a given person, and the criteria of success was if two or more people who know that person agree it to be suitably descriptive or evocative word for that person. NY Times ran a similar game with "Country", in this case, "US", on July 4th, a few years ago.

Job interviews are like that. In any given organization, many people get to interact with the candidate; their views and scores, yearly propensities and daily quirks, candidate's moments, are all pooled together and a verdict emerges. A top research university judges for potential scientific glory or fat grants, a teaching university may judge for teaching/mentoring or the ability to write the definitive book, and a company, for the ability to conceive of systems, build and deliver, and fit in. Even at PhD level, hiring takes different forms because there are different positions: postdocs, tenure-track, glorified programmers, system builders, etc.

Academics tend to overestimate the ability of their graduates and mistake coding for system building (it is a skill that is not learned easily), and the Companies tend to underestimate the need to get employees who are trained to think methodically, and mistake novelty and anything their PhDs do for fundamental research.


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