This winter in NYC was particularly long. I am SOOO happy that it’s finally summer. But season of polar vortex after polar vortex combined to make me really quite depressed, and I started wondering… why are we here? Specifically I mean, why are we coding physically in NYC?
It’s crazy expensive, the weather in the winter sucks, it can be crowded and smelly. Given that we can code from anyplace we’d like that has power and internet access I understand a bit why silicon valley happened in California. Who wouldn’t choose nice weather?
Well it seems like a few others in the NY community have had the same exact though (even the same exact location I was contemplating) :
Sounds like a blast, but even though I’m a freelancer I am at the whim of my current largest client who wants me to basically be a full time employee, on location and all. The reality is that even though we technically can work remotely, there’s plusses and minuses to all of it and the powers that be have decided that it’s in the best interest of any particular company to make sure everyone is in the same place at approximately the same time.
I’ve never worked for a company that let you work remotely the majority of the time, but it would sure be nice to be able to set my own schedule and location… at least for a few months… in beautiful Costa Rica!
The most recent trend in interviewing developer candidates is the normal phone screen, but with a live window in which you can type and the interviewer can see what you’ve typed. Something as simple as Skype with a chat window open, or a more complex website like collabedit which gives nice syntax highlighting and auto-indentation, etc. (but not VIM key bindings, grr). I’ve noticed with this new method the questions are more difficult, closer to standard whiteboard questions than standard phone screen questions where you do not share a code editor. I’ve also noticed with this new method that I’m suddenly doing much worse on interviews than when they were phone only and/or in person on a whiteboard but I think I’ve finally figured out why.
Human behavior is complex and determined by lots of factors. All kinds of things can bias your decision making and your performance on tasks like this. I think the specific bug that’s being triggered is something called priming.
Priming is when something (usually unnoticed) in your environment changes your perception and thus your behavior. When psychologists were testing to see if irrelevant details affected our behavior, it turned out they do. The most famous example is that people who are holding hot cups (coffee) have a more favorable opinion of an interview candidate (hey, maybe should ask my phone screeners to grab a cup of coffee before we begin ;)) as compared to those who had no beverage. The exact opposite happens when people are holding cold beverages, they have a more negative view of a candidate.
I think the fact that I’m sitting in front of a computer with a text editor open is affecting the way I think about problems. I type very quickly, and normally when I have my editor up I already know how to solve the problem I’m attempting to solve because I’ve already white boarded it with a colleague. Basically my instinct in this environment is to code, not think (if that makes sense), and this is hurting me. When I’m at a whiteboard, I know that hand writing out the code is going to be slow and so I want to make sure that what I’m going to be writing out is already the near optimal solution before I start writing. This isn’t the case with the text editor open, my unconscious instinct is to start coding something that works quickly, and optimize later.
Hopefully now that I recognize what’s happening, I’ll be able to override my unconscious instincts and behave more like I’m in front of a white board, because I don’t think my request to not code live will go over so well 😉
Every now and then I receive emails from various recruiters trying to find technology people for their company. I was surprised when I came to New York that there were head hunters, and that they were looking for tech people. I had heard of executive head hunters, but as far as I can tell there’s not really a head hunting/recruiting market on the west coast. But the second I started working in NYC, the calls from LinkedIn started pouring in.
Most of these recruiters are terrible, and know nothing about the technology they’re for which they’re recruiting. In general, anecdotally I’ve seen that most founders of startups in NYC are not technical but rather sales/marketing people in Publishing, Marketing, or Fashion.
Anyway, I’m at the point in my career where I’m interviewing companies just as much as they’re interviewing me so I like to send back to these blanket emails some questions of my own.
Here’s the most recent letter I received from Perka
And here was my response questions
It’s been a couple days and I haven’t heard anything, which makes me think they have little interest in an engineer who cares about the business and how it’s run but are rather just looking for someone who will do what they’re told. After all they’re the geniuses with all the brilliant ideas, and you’re just some code monkey who should be GRATEFUL for the OPPORTUNITY to be paid in fake money (shares/options) for working on such a great idea! Know your place engineers, you’re the blue collar workers of the information economy and they’re the smart management.
I’m being a bit hyperbolic here, but I don’t think I’m too far off the mark based on conversations and general discourse with ‘idea guys’ in NYC. I can’t help but feel that computer programming is definitely seen as a second class citizen (if only subconsciously).
One of the most surprising things to me when moving to NYC was how often I would NEED CASH. It seems, anecdotally, that most restaurants and bars in the village are CASH ONLY (also most cabs prefer you pay in cash, and can be real dicks if you try to pay with a card even though legally required to accept them)
Personally I would rather not carry cash for security reasons, as well as convenience reasons and it seems like the rest of the world is headed in that direction (I remember when it was a big deal that McDonald’s started accepting credit cards).
The other day I heard a story on Marketplace about how no one in Africa uses cash anymore, instead they all do mobile to mobile payments.
NYC has always seemed a little techno-phobic to me (also obsessed with OLD things: antiques, old apartments, etc.) and I think this explains why many businesses here don’t accept mobile (or even credit card) payments just as much as the additional overhead cost (not to mention that you can better hide cash transactions from the tax man)
But now I’m just embarrassed that Africa seems to have better payment and p2p transfer technology than NYC in the country that invented the mobile phone.