Friday, August 24, 2007

The Rock Star Treasure Hunt

I've been interviewing a lot of people lately. Trying to find truly great employees is such an interesting process. I find it difficult to really put my finger on what predicts a future epic employee. I've interviewed a large number of people over many years. I've also hired a good number, and then gone on to see how they performed.

Over the years I have constructed a mathematical model to try to help me gauge different attributes of engineers and ultimately score them. Its not a terribly fancy model, but I do have a number of attributes I rank a candidate on after an interview; these scores are then combined to give me a final candidate score. In many ways, this is a ridiculous thing to do -- try and distill a human being down to a simple number between 0 and 1. What I find, is that I am constantly playing with the model to see which attributes really matter and in what relative weight to one another. I often go back and forth with numbers until I can align them w/ my intuition; I realize this is a silly game, but I find the process helps me think through the many issues and realize ultimately what is important. So I put the scores of the absolute best people I have worked with, and the worst, along with the scores I think I would have given them after interviewing them; this helps give me a little perspective. Some really key lessons stand out for me.

1. Programming problems and puzzles only take you so far. I like to ask a lot of tough questions, but the one lesson that sticks out in my head, is of the hundreds of people I have interviewed over the years, the one person who stood out as the uncontested best at answering my technical questions, turned out to be the absolute worst employee. As a candidate, I recall being utterly impressed by this persons answers. I kept drilling him from all angles, and then said, ok, these answers are simply great and I have to hire the candidate. I did, and then I realized what a mistake it was. It turns out, this person was a complete Bartelby the Scrivener, cleverly refusing to do any work. He simply would not do anything, other than reinstall various operating systems on his machine, and answer other people's questions. It turns out, he was really quite good at answering peoples questions, but a "mere" oracle was not what we needed.

2. Sort of the opposite of my first lesson, is that someone who my instincts tell me is worth hiring, but I may still be hesitant on, may still be great. I barely hired at least one of my greatest all time hires.

3. Motivation is a hard thing to gauge, but an essential part of any great contributor. People that have something to prove, can be incredibly motivated. For example, I once hired someone who had never programmed anything more than some toy applications based on a reading of "Java in 21 days." I knew I was gambling, but I was just so impressed with how much this person knew about something he knew nothing about only 3 weeks prior. Obviously he had many other great technical attributes, a strong math and physics background, etc. In any event, he was able to rewrite 6 months of work from a 15 year veteran in 5 long days and have the system really shining within a few short weeks. A few months later he was the star programmer amongst a strong team of 10.

Okay, I'll end this post, as I'm not sure what my conclusions are, other than, its not a straightforward thing to hire the best of the best.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Out of the dark - Hypertext Solutions buys InFact

Well for those of you who have wondered what my top secret quest for the past few months has been about, you can now, finally, read all about it HERE. It has been an extremely interesting time in my professional career leading the effort to make this deal happen. I have indeed learned a great deal about many things non-technical. I have met an amazingly talented bunch of people who have helped guide me through this amorphous and somewhat enigmatic process.

More than anything, I'm simply thrilled to join Hypertext Solutions (note: the name is just a placeholder, we're still in stealth mode) where I can focus on taking the work that has consumed the last 6 years of my life out to massive success. I'm so happy to be back in the start up world, and especially, a well funded one with a powerful and disruptive strategy.

Finally, for those of you who are interested in perfecting and building upon the world's best NLP based text analysis and search platform, send me your resume! I'd love to talk to you.

And now, here is a snippet from the press release:

SEATTLE--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Insightful Corporation (NASDAQ: IFUL), announced today the sale of its InFact search technology and associated intellectual property rights to Hypertext Solutions Inc. for $3.65 million in cash. Hypertext is a Seattle-based startup company focused on making information on the web more “intelligent.” The transaction closed today.

“Our move to sell the InFact technology enables us to focus on accelerating the growth of our S-PLUS product line and our Data Analysis business, which grew 14% during the first half of 2007 as compared to the first half of 2006,” said Jeff Coombs, President and CEO of Insightful Corporation. “We believe we are well positioned to drive additional growth in the predictive analytics space, and are currently investing heavily to deliver an increasingly enterprise-scalable platform and a series of high-value solutions targeted at the life science and financial services industries.”
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