June 2007

I have a healthy regard for the mesmerizing power of an overscheduled, overpopulated, hyperstimulated existence. It’s designed to monopolize our attention, to sell us things, to speed us from one place to the next, to focus us on matters that appear to be vital, even when they’re not. It’s such an encompassing artificial environment that it can seem to be all there is.

Nature, by contrast, is slow-moving, undemanding, maybe underwhelming for many people. But if you never put yourself in the midst of nature–to understand that its essence is our essence–then you’re inclined to treat it as trivial. You become willing to abuse and destroy it through carelessness, not recognizing that to do so is wrong. Nature becomes the wallpaper of experience . . .

But what we do to nature we do to ourselves. The magnitude of environmental destruction is now on a scale few ever foresaw; the wounds [of nature] no longer simply heal themselves. We have to act affirmatively to stop the harm.

Al Gore, An Inconvenient Truth, 161.

Apparently, there is a skills shortage in the Canadian IT industry. Well, it all depends on what hiring managers are looking for–specific skills or the ability to learn, unlearn and relearn? According to Diana Oblinger, the keynote speaker at UBC’s 2007 e-Strategy Town Hall, the future jobs we are preparing our students for do not yet exist! The world is moving from “command and control” to “collaborate and participate.” To meet that challenge, problem-solving abilities involving pattern recognition and metacognition will be highly sought after. Isn’t it interesting that Google’s approach to hiring talent is to place ads with complex problems, challenging job seekers to solve them? This flies in the face of the common approach requiring a few years of AJAX programming experience, without which the screening database would not even highlight a resume.

How then should employers look for the ability to learn and problem-solve? Instead of having an initial phone screening interview, ask your most talented developer to design an open book test. What problems have been solved in the past year? Recast them in the form of questions. Invite shortlisted candidates to the test. Give them access to the Internet, let them call their friends, refer to manuals, and ask questions of the examiner. The level of difficulty with each progressive question or task should increase exponentially.

The basic aim is to identify candidates’ foundational skills. Beyond that, the most important part of this test is to hear the questions asked by candidates. Those questions will reveal strategies used by candidates to problem solve. The examiner may give hints to nudge people along. Because talented job seekers may interview poorly, the results may be surprising.

On one occasion, a college educated programmer who spoke poor English completed a series of programming problems in 5 minutes when a university graduate was still stumped after an hour. The college guy was hired!

We sometimes get HRDC grants in the summer to hire student trainees. This is usually awarded in the beginning of summer, but after all the best students with the highest grades have secured internships. Using this testing process, we have identified and hired a few promising programmers. Some are children of immigrants who are studying in community colleges and seeking transfers to university in their 3rd or 4th years. One student in particular performed so well that we could not give him enough work to keep him busy.

There are lots of job seekers out there who may not have skills but have talent, who may not have credentials but have the ability and desire to learn, who may not have experience but have innate passion. We’ll talk about passion in the next post–hiring passion!

Every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life are based on the labors of other men, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have received and am still receiving.

Guess who said that? A humble person? Yes. A dedicated person? No doubt. A great person? Absolutely! This quote is by none other than the iconic scientist of the twentieth century, Albert Einstein. It is obvious that new scientific discovery is built on the ground of established science. What is amazing is that Einstein perceives that his interior life of reflection, spirituality, and identity were dependent and interconnected with others.

So if we pray well, could it be because others have prayed or are praying for us? Or because others have written about prayer, or preached on it. Or we have been in churches and prayer meetings with people who prayed well. The same could be said of any other skill, including that of sports. Kicking a ball may come naturally to some, but to bring the skill to the next level requires practice, learning from others, being coached, watching and studying the moves of great footballers.

Others have made the same point as Einstein. In Telling Secrets, Frederick Buechner wrote that it is important, “to keep track, you and I, of who we are and where we have come from and the people we have met along the way because it is precisely through these stories, in all their particularity, that God makes himself known most powerfully and personally.”

Henri Nouwen echoes, “We are called to lay down our lives for . . . people. This laying down . . . means first of all making our own lives — our sorrows and joys, our despair and hope, our loneliness and experience of intimacy — available to others as sources of new life.” (Bread for the Journey)