Google’s hiring approach

There are five hiring attributes we have across the company [Google].”
Laszlo Bock, SVP of people operations for Google.

The following is a list of the five key hiring attributes sought by Google, as described by Laszlo Bock. Interestingly, they are very similar attributes to the ones I’d look for in new OSS starters. I’ve seen individuals with proven Telco technical skills, leadership skills, people skills and many other attributes all flail badly when assigned to OSS projects so higher education and intelligence are not necessarily indicators of success in OSS. The following are better indicators though:

  1. The No. 1 thing we look for is general cognitive ability, and it’s not I.Q. It’s learning ability. It’s the ability to process on the fly. It’s the ability to pull together disparate bits of information.
  2. The second is leadership — in particular emergent leadership as opposed to traditional leadership. Traditional leadership is, were you president of the chess club? Were you vice president of sales? How quickly did you get there? We don’t care. What we care about is, when faced with a problem and you’re a member of a team, do you, at the appropriate time, step in and lead. And just as critically, do you step back and stop leading
  3. Third is humility and ownership. “It’s feeling the sense of responsibility, the sense of ownership, to step in, to try to solve any problem — and the humility to step back and embrace the better ideas of others. Your end goal, is what can we do together to problem-solve.
  4. Intellectual humility. Without humility, you are unable to learn. It is why research shows that many graduates from hotshot business schools plateau. Successful bright people rarely experience failure, and so they don’t learn how to learn from that failure
  5. The least important attribute they look for is “expertise.” If you take somebody who has high cognitive ability, is innately curious, willing to learn and has emergent leadership skills, and you hire them as an H.R. person or finance person, and they have no content knowledge, and you compare them with someone who’s been doing just one thing and is a world expert, the expert will go: ‘I’ve seen this 100 times before; here’s what you do.’ Most of the time the non-expert will come up with the same answer because most of the time it’s not that hard.”Sure, once in a while they will mess it up but once in a while they’ll also come up with an answer that is totally new. And there is huge value in that.

There are two others that I feel are vitally important, which are both intertwined with the five listed above:

  1. Attitude – a combination of humility, tenacity, positivity, humour, etc rub off on your team, just as poor attitudes drag your OSS team down
  2. Tolerance – closely linked with humility too, it’s the ability to see a solution through the eyes of others to gain wisdom from their perspective, particularly since the supplier and customer often speak in different terminologies. On long-distance OSS projects, tolerance is a key to getting positive results from teams that are in high-pressure situations whilst isolated from friends and family.
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