Wordslinger • Dissident • Webwright

The other side of the interview table

Published 04 July 2008

As I mentioned before, the NFL is expanding their Web staff, and that put me into a strange position: the interviewer. I’d spent the better part of three years interviewing, studying and networking trying to get a job, and suddenly I was being asked to evaluate candidates who were going to be…well…me.

We went through a ton of candidates. It amazed me the range of skills and knowledge people applying for a Web Developer position had. But in general, I ran a few common issues that soured me on many candidates.

Know what you don’t know

One of the first questions I ask candidates is how they rate themselves on a one-to-ten scale with HTML, CSS, JavaScript and Flash. Amazingly, most of the candidates rate themselves a nine or ten in HTML. Now I’m pretty sure only Ian Hickson, and maybe Anne Van Kesteren grok HTML in it’s fullness, but if you rate yourself a ten in HTML and cannot describe the differences between HTML and SGML, or the parsing irregularities between the four major browsers, it reflects poorly. Many candidates rated themselves a seven or higher, but could not describe the purpose of a <label> element.

JavaScript is not just frameworks

I wasn’t prepared for the number of people with little or no idea how to program professionally in JavaScript. While I don’t require an intimate knowledge of the various native objects or having the ECMA standard memorized, good Web Applications require understanding why framework makers have to work around quirks like the event model—not just that they do.

In addition, most self-taught programmers have little grasp of good programming patterns that save time and make self-documenting code. The best Web application in the world is useless to me if I have to re-write it form scratch a month later because it would take less time than learning how it works.

I had a number of candidates ask me how I came about my JavaScript knowledge, and I didn’t have much to offer them. I’ve never taken a JavaScript class, although my unsuccessful interview at Google could be considered one. I do, however, recommend two books: PPK on JavaScript by Peter-Paul Koch and Pro JavaScript Design Patterns by Dustin Diaz were invaluable resources. The first is a very low-level examination of the history of JavaScript, while the second is a high-level translation of classic programming methods to JavaScript.

Play

The people who stand out to me are the people who play with the discipline. If your resume is a Word Doc or PDF, you’re starting with a strike against you. Have interesting side projects and who show a curiosity in the medium. Own yourname.com or yourlameinternethandle.com and show me what interesting things you’re doing with the Web 2.0 API of the week. Even if it’s a horrible hack or you code is just plain bad, I’d rather have that than a code wizard on autopilot.