Hiring developers

It turns out to be quite difficult to hire good developers. I’m involved in the hiring process at deviantART, and it has opened my eyes to just how unqualified the majority of applicants to these jobs are.

To give an example of this, I estimate that we hire perhaps 0.2% of the people who apply for a job with us. I haven’t gone back and tallied this up, so all figures in this example are ballpark at best… but I’ve tried to err on the generous side.

First, we collect resumes. We advertise on all sorts of job sites, we post things to Hacker News, and generally we try to get the word out. Filtering the resumes eliminates about 95% of them, depending on where we’ve been advertising. This is simultaneously the step where unqualified applicants are most expected, and the step that’s most likely to be rejecting perfectly qualified people because of some random quirk of their resume.

Then we ask promising applicants to do a simple exercise. This one, in fact. It really is fairly simple… not FizzBuzz, but still trivial. This gets reviewed by the entire hiring team. Passing it is somewhat subjective; there’s a list of things we look for, along with an ineffable “code style” component. This weeds out about 90% of submissions.

Next comes a phone interview with those who passed the test. Again, with the entire hiring team on the line. Since you’ve made it this far we’re pretty positive about you, and strongly suspect that you can code competently, but we’ll still try to dig into your past experiences and quiz you on the reasons for things you did on our exercise. Ideally you’ll have left a small bug in the exercise that we can get you to debug while we’re on the call. It’s not uncommon for us to be underwhelmed here, and we tend to turn down maybe 60% of candidates on this step.

Finally comes a three month trial period. Which we take seriously. I’d worked places with a trial period before, but it was always just a matter of not showing up to work drunk and you’d make it. We evaluate performance, work style, and general team fit… and we seem to lose perhaps 20% of hires here.

Adding all that up, P(we hire you) would seem to be 0.0016. Or 0.16% if you prefer.

The step that seems the most telling is the exercise, because it goes out to people who are generally already making a living as a developer. And, like I said, it’s not difficult. So we get to see how many professional developers apparently can’t perform their job function. For that matter, a hefty chunk of the people who fail that step just plain didn’t complete the listed requirements.

Despite all that, feel free to apply! 😀

UPDATE 2011-10-01: Some people have mentioned that PHP is keeping them from applying. Can’t blame them there; it’s not cool and modern, and it has some ugly warts. But we’re an old website (11 years now), and back in the day it’s what was picked. Rewriting into something cool and modern is technically possible, but would also be a genuinely ridiculous amount of work.

UPDATE 2011-10-02: It was pointed out to me that I may not have conveyed my point correctly. I mean to say “hiring good people is hard”, not “we are too awesome for you”. The numbers are intended to indicate our low success rate more than our exclusivity.

Random recommendation: Virgin Mobile

After resisting smartphones for many years, I got one a few months ago, just before I moved. It turns out that they’re pretty nifty. Who knew, right?

I got an LG Optimus V on Virgin Mobile. One of the big things that had been stopping me from getting one before was that I couldn’t quite bring myself to pay as much as you have to for a phone plan with data. Virgin Mobile gets around this objection by offering phone + unlimited data for $25/month… which is frankly insanely cheap compared to everyone else that I looked at.

It runs Android, and is pretty easy to root and flash to a newer version, which I have done. I held off on it for ages, but then my wife did it and I was impressed enough by CyanogenMOD to want to do it myself.

It’s not a fancy phone; it has a smallish screen, and not a terribly powerful processor. But sufficient for my needs.

So, consider this recommended. If you’re cheap like me. 🙂

Signs of adulthood

I bought a house.

Strangely, this makes me feel like more of a “grown up” than producing a daughter did. Possibly because health insurance meant that producing the daughter cost appreciably less. Actually, according to the explanation of benefits letters I got from my insurance company, childbirth was almost exactly one third the cost of a house. America is crazy.

This lets me add a little bit of extra context into my post, though. Here’s where I’m sitting right now:


Maphilight 1.3

I released maphilight 1.3 just now. (Though really I consider github the more authoritative source.)

So, IE9 broke maphilight because it was finally exposing the has_canvas codepath to IE. Turns out all the canvas stuff worked beautifully, but one call to setTimeout was relying on a non-IE feature. So that’s fixed!

Also changed since the 1.2 release (one year ago, gosh):

  • New option groupBy lets you bundle several areas together
  • New option wrapClass lets you set a classname for the wrapper div created to hold the canvas elements used by maphilight. If it’s set to true it’ll use the classname from the image.
  • .data(‘maphilight’) is checked for areas, as well as the metadata plugin. With jQuery > 1.4.3 this means that you can use JSON in an HTML5 data- attribute to pass this in. See the API docs for details.
  • Performance on image maps containing a lot of areas was terrible because I was stupid about where I triggered an event.
  • Opera compatibility was harmed by jQuery bug #6708 (fixed in 1.6), so work around that.

Feel free to submit issues / pull requests on the github project.

Unintuitve effect of overflow:hidden

I found myself having to fit a textarea into a space which had user-provided CSS (“skins”) applied to it. This worked surprisingly well, but someone found a skin which had a right-floated sidebar which was playing hell with the textarea, since the textarea needed a fixed width and textareas refuse to overlap floats. So the textare got pushed way down, which looked terrible.

(To make things easier to see, the textarea will be background:transparent throughout.)


I looked into absolute positioning to solve my woes, and put the textarea in a position:relative div with an appropriate height, and set the textarea to be position:absolute in the top-left of that div. This got me closer.


After this I just started fiddling with it. It occurred to me to try overflow:hidden on the textarea’s container, which had an effect I did not expect.


So. Overflow:hidden + absolute positioning + floats = floats not interfering with content. I’m sure this follows rationally from the CSS spec, but I totally didn’t expect the effect.

Further experimentation did reveal that it’s not specific to textareas. Any absolutely positioned content will have this effect if its relative container has overflow:hidden.

Identical effect in: FF3, Chrome, and IE8. Not tested elsewhere yet.

You can see all the CSS involved on this demo page.

(@cheald says that it looks like a variant on Pup’s Box Flow Hack. I’m just happy to have independently stumbled onto something that weird.)

Change your surroundings

I work from home. I like it. However, it’s easy to get distracted and slack off.

I find that the longer I spend with my workplace set up in one location at home, the less productive I get. I seem to come to associate that spot with being distracted, instead of working.

So I move regularly. Spend a few days/weeks with one workplace, then move to another in my home. Or spend a week going out to a coffee shop every day to work there. It breaks the association and lets me get things done.

Works for me, anyway.

My experience working in offices indicates that the peer pressure of other people being around working balances out the accumulated slacking habits of a single desk. Still, given the choice I’d rather work at home and have to move around.


Another new-ish release, this time a PHP webcomic content management system called simplecomic.


  • Multiple comics per day
  • Schedule posting of comics in advance
  • Masking of comic filenames so scheduled comics can’t be easily found
  • Comic descriptions, alt text, and transcripts
  • Optional chapter divisions for comics
  • “Rants” as a lightweight blog, with scheduled posting
  • Theme system
  • Static pages
  • Support for the frontpage showing the first comic from the most recent day with comics, to allow posting of “issues”

I wrote it for a friend who wanted to start her own webcomic and wasn’t happy with the existing options in the field of webcomic CMSes.

You can see an example here. It’s a dead webcomic that I happen to be hosting for sentimental reasons. Ignore the Comic Sans… it’s also there for sentimental reasons. 😛

Get it on github.