Hiring for a Startup

I often like to entertain the idea of creating a startup. After all, the fun appeals to me, I have tons of ideas, I like to work hard (if it’s on something I’m interested in), and the potential to quickly have an effect on people’s lives is great too. Plus, you cn get rich, right? Here’s a striking quote from an article called How to Start a Startup on the topic of how to decide who to hire.

For programmers we had three additional tests. Was the person genuinely smart? If so, could they actually get things done? And finally, since a few good hackers have unbearable personalities, could we stand to have them around?

That last test filters out surprisingly few people. We could bear any amount of nerdiness if someone was truly smart. What we couldn’t stand were people with a lot of attitude. But most of those weren’t truly smart, so our third test was largely a restatement of the first.

When nerds are unbearable it’s usually because they’re trying too hard to seem smart. But the smarter they are, the less pressure they feel to act smart. So as a rule you can recognize genuinely smart people by their ability to say things like “I don’t know,” “Maybe you’re right,” and “I don’t understand x well enough.”

This technique doesn’t always work, because people can be influenced by their environment. In the MIT CS department, there seems to be a tradition of acting like a brusque know-it-all. I’m told it derives ultimately from Marvin Minsky, in the same way the classic airline pilot manner is said to derive from Chuck Yeager. Even genuinely smart people start to act this way there, so you have to make allowances.

It helped us to have Robert Morris, who is one of the readiest to say “I don’t know” of anyone I’ve met. (At least, he was before he became a professor at MIT.) No one dared put on attitude around Robert, because he was obviously smarter than they were and yet had zero attitude himself.

So the trick’s being genuinely smart. How do I get smarter? It’s hard to define. There have been times when I thought I was the smartest person I knew. But I’d just as quickly think I was the dumbest. It seems to depend on the subject at hand. To be honest, though, I think I’m getting up there. I just don’t want to fall into the wrong path.

And the article gets better. Highly recommended =]

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