What to Do

We interviewed a candidate today at work. I was part of a group of three that administered a technical interview. The other senior developer and I both agreed that this candidate was the best of the four we have interviewed for this position and that this guy would be a productive member of the team. So you would think we made the guy an offer, right?

Nope.

"What for?" you might (rightfully) ask. It seems that some of the other interviewers felt that he was not the best communicator. I do not dispute their assessment, but in my opinion we are not hiring someone for their excellence at communicating. This is a technical position. The candidate is expected to develop Java code. While a modicum of communication is necessary, I most assuredly do not want to hire someone just because they have top-notch communication skills. Nor do I want to exclude a technically excellent candidate just because his communication skills are "merely" adequate. So I am pretty frustrated with the process because there just are not that many recent college graduates who have both excellent coding skills and excellent communication skills. I told the group that I do not foresee all ten of us ever agreeing on a candidate.

But what I am having a much harder time shaking is my feeling that a significant part of why this candidate was rejected was because of his physique. I neither know how much the guy weighs nor do I care, but he appeared to be quite a bit heavier than the average person. While I am sure he has a harder time finding clothes than most, his size did not preclude him from sitting in a regular office chair or using a desk. (Those are the two main physical activities in this line of work.) I was somewhat surprised when I first saw him just because I was expecting someone who looked like the other three candidates. But I also did not expect a six-foot-six-inch former defensive tackle when I interviewed my manager at CenterSpan and he is both a good candidate and a good guy.

Software is one of the fields where us freaks and geeks can find a degree of acceptence. The fact of the matter is physical beauty (according to society's current whim) and intellectual acuity rarely occur in the same person. Not never, just not very often. Most people in technology were outcasts during school and tend to have an appreciation for what it means to not fit in. So I am both surprised and saddened by the prospect of such baseless discrimination in my team.

I have no explicit proof that my manager discriminated against this guy because of his physique. I do, however, have past experience with other hiring managers who admitted to making decisions based solely on the physical attractiveness of the candidate. (And, no, I was not on the casting couch as it were.) My current manager is a marathoner and has expressed derision of "bad" foods, so I think it is not too much of a stretch to say that he probably considers high-body-fat people to be lazy or of defective character. None of the reasons he gave for rejecting the candidate seemed to me to add up to the amount of negativity he expressed.

Another coworker has in the past expressed concern that all of the candidates are white males. While there are statistically more males than females in computer science, a significant portion of the computer science students are Asian. I know of no cultural reason why Asian graduates would not want to work for an established, publicly-traded company with a good benefits package. However I have no evidence that race or ethnicity is factored into the screening process at all. (Unlike my manager at Vesta who would only hire Chinese people.)

I like my manager and I think that he is a good guy. Which is why I think I am so bothered by my fear that the candidate was not given a fair chance. We all discriminate every day and with good reason: we choose the better course of action over the worse course of action. I think there is nothing wrong with judging people based on relevant skills when selecting for a job. But I also think there is lots wrong with judging people based on anything but relevant skills.

I have proof of nothing. But my intuition tells me that there is more to this hiring process than meets the eye. And I have learned the hard way to trust my intuition.

Damn it. I hope I am missing something.

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