Diversity: Hiring Without Bias

Unintentional bias is in the news a lot lately. Our unconscious need to seek out familiar patterns leaks into our decision making process, soiling our ability to make balanced choices. It comes as no surprise that hiring biases are rampant in the tech world.

Years ago, I read a great article by Mark Suster, author of the blog Both Sides of the Table wherein he advocates talking to pretty much anyone who reaches out. His reasoning: You never know where your next great hire is going to come from. I love talking to people and I will usually take a coffee meeting with just about anyone; I am always interviewing people. I probably speak to 4 or 5 developers a month who are looking for a job, or looking to break into the tech field, or who just want to talk to me. In short, I talk to a lot of people.

Over the years, I have gotten out of the bad habit of seeing if a fellow techie knew as much, or more, than I did. Some of the most talented programmers I’ve worked with are career switchers with no formal Computer Science training. I see the field as a spectrum from beginner to the insanely talented and I sit somewhere in the middle. With the influx of new developers from coding bootcamps, and having started one myself, I started focusing on the spectrum.

I begin my conversations with developers with open ended questions, letting them lead with their answers. I treat it more like a dinner party conversation than an interview. I’m aiming to figure out where they were in their journey, what their current skill level is, not how it measured up to an industry title or to me, or anyone on my team. I make sure to mention this when I’m talking to people. I’m not looking for right or wrong answers per se, I’m looking to see where their skills are. Once I assess that, I see if we have a need for someone of that level. I found that this inadvertently and significantly reduces bias because I’m not looking for someone to answer a question correctly, I’m trying to figure out how much they got right and how much they have to learn. From my time at Mobile Makers, I learned how fast some can traverse the distance from wrong answer to deep understanding of a concept. I’m also trying to assess how eager they are to learn.

My ultimate goal is team diversity and I find that decreasing bias increases the potential for diversity. Why do I care so much about diversity? Simple: Diverse teams produce better results. That’s not me, study after study find this to be the case. I will not supply the thesis for this argument, so many great people and organizations have already done this. Just type “diverse teams perform” into Google. Or check out this little snippet from Simon Sinek. People’s perspective colors their journey to their solution. And it’s so much more fun to be around diversity.

Don is the co-founder of Eight Bit Studios. A rowdy bunch of pixel slingers located in River North, Chicago.

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