Customer Reviews: Smart and Gets Things Done: Joel Spolsky's Concise Guide to Finding the Best Technical Talent
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After driving cross-country in 49 hours, I returned home to find this book waiting for me... Smart and Gets Things Done: Joel Spolsky's Concise Guide to Finding the Best Technical Talent by (of course) Joel Spolsky. Since I wasn't in the mood to start a large 300+ page novel, I figured this book would bridge the gap between naps quite nicely. It's a no-nonsense look at how Spolsky thinks hiring in the software industry should be done. While I may quibble on a few things, I think he's pretty accurate.

Content: Hitting the High Notes; Finding Great Developers; A Field Guide to Developers; Sorting Resumes; The Phone Screen; The Guerrilla Guide to Interviewing; Fixing Suboptimal Teams; The Joel Test; Index

Spolsky takes the hard line that you should only be hiring *great* developers. In his terms, these are the people who are "smart & gets things done." Using the observation that a great programmer can be 10x as productive as an average programmer, he feels that the additional cost in salary and recruiting to find the gem is more than paid back in the work product produced. In fact, hiring average programmers (or clueless ones) actually lose you money in the long run due to rework and inferior quality. Spolsky uses a number of techniques outlined in the book to filter out average developers in order to concentrate on the few that show real potential. In fact, he maintains that you should be working at getting interns and contacts before you need staff, so that you can have a good idea as to what potential hires can accomplish in the real world. If an intern shows real talent and is happy with their internship, the hiring process is streamlined and little risk remains.

In some ways, I tend to disagree with a few of his attitudes. For instance, he feels all developers should have a thorough understanding of how pointers work. He'll ask those types of questions during interviews. He believes that having that sort of knowledge shows that a developer has more than just a basic understanding of how a language works. I would contend that depending on what your software base is, you may pass by excellent developers who have never had to use pointers. Also, the book is slanted heavily towards companies that create software products, not companies that have an IT department. While an IT department made up of people who pass Spolsky's tests would be great, the company would also likely be understaffed at all times. It's hard to find those types of people, and companies have far too many projects going at once to be that selective.

Even with those caveats, I think this is a very good read. Hiring good development staff is important to a company, and it's not the same as hiring a file clerk. After reading this book, you'll likely rethink your attitude and process of hiring.
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on June 29, 2009
I enjoyed the read, and one side of my brain (not sure which Side) cheered and said I want to work for a company that hires like that. I want to fly first class and be treated like a star. The other s side of my brain says we cannot treat everyone as a star, Maybe If you are a Boutique maybe you can do so. My own experience says that small elite groups of architects may come up with great Ideas, but you still need to lay the bricks, or frame the house. If you are building Custom Homes that might be fine, but if you are building tract homes, you need lots of brick layers and framers, and if you pay and treat them like architects, you are going to have a lot of issues on your hands. Stalin said that quantity has a Quality all of its own! I gave it a 5 star read but 3 stars for practicality.
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on July 22, 2007
This book represents Joel Spolsky's approach to hiring programmers. Smart and Gets Things Done is based on Spolsky's weblog, like his previous book, Joel on Software.

The main thrust of the book is to state that you should only hire the best. While many people would think this is reasonable and obvious, Joel takes the advice much farther than most. He describes in detail his methods for recognizing top talent, convincing them to join your company, and keeping them once you've got them. Joel is not talking about some useless slogan ("We hire only the best"), he is really talking about identifying the best and doing whatever is necessary to hire them.

His advice will probably annoy many managers and some people in human resources. Most programmers will probably love his advice. Whether the approach will work for a company different than Joel's is another question altogether.

One surprise to me was the fact that this book contained new material that was not on Joel's weblog. The book is extremely readable. Whether you agree with Joel or not on the specifics of his approach, the book is definitely worth reading if you are involved in any way with hiring software developers. It will give you insight into the people that you are innovating and show glimpses of what you may be competing with.
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on December 23, 2013
As someone who has read practically every article on Joel Spolsky's blog, Joel on Software, nothing here came as a surprise. Most of the general concepts, and some of the specific stories and anecdotes were repeats. But it's still an excellent book. And if you're in charge of hiring, you certainly have more than the $9.99 price for the kindle edition in your budget, and an afford to buy this book versus re-reading his entire blog to find the relevant bits.

If you've never read Joel on Software, you should. And after you read this book, you'll want to, because Joel is fun to read (even if you're not in the business of software, you'll be entertained by his style).

The book is well organized, and presented in a logical fashion. Some key points you'll learn to address are:

* How to advertise your open positions to attract the most qualified candidates, while not attracting the least qualified candidates
* How to read a resume to identify the most likely candidates for your position, without relying on buzzwords
* How to do a phone screening
* How to conduct the in-person interviews
* How to treat candidates like royalty to make them WANT to work for you
* How to transform an existing team which may be floundering
* And a bit of a "bonus" section on management styles and techniques, especially as it relates to motivating and retaining good talent
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on December 21, 2013
The previous book I read by Joel Spolsky was just a dump of his blog posts. When my co-worker handed me this title to read, I questioned whether it was more of the same. It wasn't. This book is actually organized.

It covers Joel's take on hiring the absolute best developers. This means he is competing with Google and the like. Most people don't need the absolute best developers and would be happy to settle for "merely great" ones. I did get a few useful things out of it, like how to conduct a phone interview better.

The book inspired me to think about many of the topics he brought up and blog about them. So it was certainly inspirational. The topics I had the strongest reaction to were:
1) Insulting banks
2) Paid interns
3) Employee referrals
4) Private offices vs team rooms (discussing this one in the forums)
5) Passion at interviews
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on October 26, 2007
Though I don't always see eye-to-eye with the writings of Joel, I always do enjoy reading his material. This collection of his articles is no exception. Some of the claims and lines of reasoning are a tough sell, but they do call out important things to consider in your organization's hiring strategy.

Just realize before you buy this book, there is a chance somewhere between slim and none that you'll actually be able to implement all of Joel's recommendations. Still, you're sure to find a few areas where you can take action and improve the quality of your new hires.
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on January 1, 2008
The book is a quick read at 169 small pages and engaging. The book meets its intended goal of finding the best rock star technical talent for product development. He acknowledges that rock stars are not needed for many types of development (page 16).

Knowing that he was concentrating on rock stars, I bought the book anyway, looking for tips that I translate to my world where my customers are late adopters of technology and development is usually mixed in with O&M.

I did find some tips. Some just confirmed what I already believed to be true. The most useful chapters for me were Chapter 4 - Sorting Resumes (3 of my 6 dog-eared pages are in this chapter), and Chapter 7 - Fixing Suboptimal Teams.
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on August 10, 2008
I've been developing software for fifteen years but picked up this book to gain insights into hiring practises of a solid software company in Fog Creek software.
Honestly, I did not learn much new here. Find the brightest developers you can find (hiring them right out of college is best Joel says), pay them well, give them good working conditions and treat them with respect.
Also, value problem solving skills over technical knowledge in the hiring phase.
OK, maybe I did learn a bit but these tips apply to attracting the best employees in any industry. Maybe I've been lucky but most places I've worked at follow these ideals.
A quick read.
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on April 22, 2013
This book goes over so many of the simple things we know but don't realize how important they are in the big picture of things.
The author does a great job of sitting down with the reader and going over in detail many of the things that can actually hurt a business instead of help.

He also gives you a chance to see the other side of the coin and just how much better some decisions can actually help a company if they took the time to consider and implement things.
I agree with many of the things he brings up because i think the author is looking at the big picture of things and definitely working towards having a better company for owners, employees and clients.
If more businesses took his advice i think they would be more happy and profitable at the outcome of their business decisions then they have been lately.
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on July 8, 2007
Written in Joel's typical "light" fashion the book is a quick and easy ready (as advertised). There are some useful insight amidst the many long-winded passages. Overall I enjoyed this book and felt it was worth price.
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