Doing vs Learning

Recently a guy, say Mr. B. applied for a job in our company as an android app developer. As soon as he arrived in for the interview, his phone started ringing, and I allowed him to receive the calls. He received several phone calls during the interview session. After every next phone call, he’d tell me that some other company is calling him to join them. After he repeated the same thing twice, I decided to see what this guy has that I might have overlooked. I had made my initial judgment from his answers to a few of my questions related to android app development.

Several applicants visit our office every week. As of now, my company does not have any standard interview or any filtering mechanism. Whoever calls us, we invite them over. After talking for a few minutes about their interests and past experiences, I ask about their expectations. I also ask about their plans in the near future. Their answers, combined with a little bit of behavioral analysis help me decide whether they are a good fit for our company. I give a take-home task to interesting people. For others, my usual response includes a suggestion to go read about the platform, or the technology or the developer documentation for whatever post they applied for.

We hardly ever receive applications from experienced developers. That’s mainly because we are based outside the Kathmandu valley, and because we are a startup, working on in-house projects using the latest tech available at the moment. Experienced developers find it harder to switch their roles; let alone work in a small product at a small startup using the tools they rarely hear about. That’s perfectly fine for us, because we are still experimenting a lot of new ideas, and mostly learning while building everything from scratch. Since we have this culture of learning by doing, I usually judged the applicants form what kind of projects they chose to start, and how far they went with it. I believed that if someone has built something (s)he must be knowledgeable in the tools/technology they used to build it. But Mr. B. changed my belief entirely.

He had built some kind of reminder app, that he had previously phrased as a prescription management app. The app that he described helped people to keep track of their prescriptions and medicine intake. But actually what he made was a reminder that showed a notification when it was time to take a new medicine. It did not keep a record of whether or not they took the medicine. The app could easily be replaced with the stock Alarm app. Setting up a few repeating alarms with custom notes would do everything he wanted his app to do. Well, he had built an app anyway. I started asking simple questions like how he fetched the data from the internet, and which library he used to display the images.

He was quick to answer a couple of questions; then his answers started falling apart. I asked about a file that had lots of comments; writing that amount of well-written comments is unusual for a beginner. He told that his teacher (“sir” in his words) gave it to him. That lead to a series of questions, and what I heard totally shook up my belief. He told me that whenever he had a problem, he’d go to his teacher and ask how to solve the problem. The teacher would guide him, and sometimes give him the source code. When I asked why he didn’t search on the internet instead, he didn’t have a reply.