Coders Who Don’t Job Interview: Zed Shaw

by barce on July 12, 2011

I wrote a piece about the current state of job recruiting from a coder looking for work. I wondered:

What would it be like if you didn’t have to do a job interview?

(The non-tl;dr summary is below.)

By “job interview,” I just mean the normal process where I job candidate replies to an ad, contacts an employer directly, or works with a recruiter, and gets a job through that process. High-profile experts are courted, or work out a mutually beneficial deal where it doesn’t feel like an interview.

I asked around for folks that didn’t have to interview. One name that consistently came to the top was Zed Shaw.

Zed is the creator of the Mongrel Web Server, and a really great framework that is powered by Mongrel, Tir. Personally, I first heard of him from a video Leah Culver linked to on a talk that Zed gave, “The ACL is dead.” A careful viewing of that talk is always rewarded, especially if you are a coder freelancing for a corporation.

Here’s my interview with him (conducted over email). Thanks Zed!

Barce: What’s your own process for choosing the projects you want to work on?

Zed: Within my profession I try to just work on whatever is needed to get the
project or job done. Sometimes that ends up being a lot of crap work so
other people can do more important stuff. Professionally I don’t mind
this kind of work as it’s low investment and removes the pressure off
other folks who would rather do interesting things. I think I also tend
to pick off the lower level work because most of my original ideas are
usually too weird for a professional setting.

Personally, I tend to work on projects that match ideas I might have,
and usually they have a secondary motive that’s outside of programming.
Many times these ideas come from combining a couple of concepts, or
they’re based on a problem I’ve noticed, or they are just a kind of
funny joke or cool hack I thought up.

I think the most important thing is I don’t try to plan my inspiration
in my personal projects, but instead go with it when it comes. I don’t
have a “process”, and in fact I think “process” kills creativity.
Proess definitely helps make creative ideas a reality, but it doesn’t
create the initial concepts very well.

Professionally though, inspiration is for amateurs and I just do my
work.

Barce: What advice can you give someone who feels trapped by their job or surrounded by recruiters?

Zed: Well, if you’re trapped by your job then I’d say start working on
getting a new one. Nobody is every really *trapped*, but maybe you
can’t just quit right away. Instead, work on projects at home,
constantly look for new work, and move to where the work is. Even if
it’s temporary, moving to say San Francisco during the boom times could
be a major boost to your career.

I’d also say that going back to school is a good way to update your life
and change your profession. I’m a firm believer in getting government
student loans and using them to go to school. They’re cheap, low
interest, and the US government is usually very nice about letting you
pay them back. I’m not so sure about other places around the world
though.

Barcee: What’s the most disruptive technology you know about right now?

Zed: If I were to be honest, I’d have to say Facebook, even though I
absolutely hate it. It’s probably the one technology in recent history,
maybe after HTTP and the Browser, that is changing the way governments,
societies, and regular people work. It’s also sort of irritating that
the most important thing to hit most people’s lives is also one of the
most privacy invading companies in the world.

After that I’d have to say the rise of automated operations and
virtualized machines. Things like Xen, kvm, and even llvm as compiler
infrastructure are changing how systems are managed and deployed, which
then leads to bigger automation for large hetergenous networks. I’m
sort of waiting for operating systems to catch up and realize that their
configuration systems are getting in the way of real automation.

Barce: Thanks again, Zed, for the interview. The take aways that I hope readers get from this are:

  • Zed has open source projects that free him from the normal interviewing process. Building your own open source project is one way to free yourself.
  • “Professionally though, inspiration is for amateurs and I just do my work.”
  • “[W]ork on projects at home,
    constantly look for new work, and move to where the work is.”
  • Facebook is the most disruptive technology that’s changing governments… Virtualization / Cloud technologies are a 2nd.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Nick Martini July 12, 2011 at 7:43 pm

PLUS ONE INSIGHTFUL

Onur Gumus July 12, 2011 at 10:14 pm

“Zed: If I were to be honest, I’d have to say Facebook, even though I
absolutely hate it. ”

I stopped reading after this

Paul Stevens July 13, 2011 at 12:01 am

Congrats Onur. One conflicting view and you cease to learn. Typically, those from whom you will discover the most, especially in tech, are those who have a completely different view. 90% of the noise in technology comprises of pseudo experts spouting the same thing that’s been said before with slightly different wording. That instant knee jerk reaction to something counter you consider against your own view leads you to missing some important points.

Steven Don July 13, 2011 at 4:39 am

Indeed… it is all the more remarkable to be able to recognise the importance, influence and merits of a technology even if it is something that goes against one’s personal preference.

Smith Norton July 13, 2011 at 10:41 pm

Onur, you stopped reading it because you want to stay ignorant.

OuluPulu July 14, 2011 at 5:35 am

“Zed: If I were to be honest, I’d have to say Facebook, even though I
absolutely hate it. ”

Obvious in hindsight – the Arab Spring was backed up by facebook :D
I moved city to work in the business I work in, and got my current job from an Open Source application too – I’d totally hire this guy, but I don’t think we can afford him :)

Fred Bed July 14, 2011 at 5:41 am

I guess I don’t get the point of the post… It’s probably the least insightful interview of one of the least insightful people I’ve read in a long time.

“Building your own open source project is one way to free yourself.”

Wow… he thought of that all by himself. And you thought it was worthwhile to repeat not once but TWICE?

Fred

barce July 14, 2011 at 7:16 am

Actually, I wish I came up with that insight by myself. It was built on the shoulders of jobless coders who had no code to point to during the last dot-com crash. Thanks for your comment.

Dan July 14, 2011 at 9:04 am

FB as “disruptive technology”? I understand that FB is disruptive, and a huge social force. But what “technology” are we talking about?

Kevin July 14, 2011 at 10:37 am

Onur,

If you stopped reading because you disagreed with something, then you’ll never expand your own worldview, knowledge, and so forth. Even if you disagree with him, find out why he said what he said. Just ignoring him is a nice way to never grow, and I’m pretty sure that’s not a valid option in the technological field (or pretty much any other).

Karl July 16, 2011 at 5:46 am

“I’m a firm believer in getting government student loans and using them to go to school. They’re cheap, low interest, and the US government is usually very nice about letting you pay them back. I’m not so sure about other places around the world though.”

In many other industrialized countries, university tuition is free or very low. And you can get loans for that and to cover room and board.

Alexandre Bairos August 1, 2011 at 5:22 pm

Dan, this http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technology , in a broader sense.

Alpheus November 10, 2011 at 12:55 pm

I’m not sure if I found this article enlightening or not. At the very least, it gave me something to think about.

Ironically, I completely agree with him on his belief about Facebook, but not with regard to student loans–I currently have a PhD in math, and am stuck in work I don’t like, but must do, because of this debt looming over me. Indeed, by providing cheap loans, government is destroying education. (I don’t want to go into the “why” right now, at least not here.)

+1 to all those who say you shouldn’t stop reading, just because you encounter a viewpoint you disagree with. As for myself, I should have stopped reading at the “The takes I hope people take from this” paragraph; this is was just a complete recap of an already brief post.

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