A post at the Canadian Developer Connection blog last week caught my eye. Joey deVilla posted about something he had read at the Harvard Business blog related to interview questions. In both posts you learn about Captain Chesley Sullenberger, the pilot who safely made an emergency landing in the Hudson river last month. What does “Sully” do in his spare time? Anything and everything related to aviation, apparently. As a result, both posts argue that the most important interview question to ask, is:
“What do you do in your spare time?”
I couldn’t agree more. People who are excellent at their jobs are probably passionate about what they do, and spend more time and energy on things related to their area of expertise/interest than the average person. My experience with software development definitely backs this up. The best developers are usually the ones who go home and work on a hobby project after they’re done with the “day job”. There are exceptions, of course, but as a general rule I think you need to practice your craft outside of work to be good at it.
I’m currently reading Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, and right near the beginning of the book he argues the same point. Practice makes perfect. He estimates you need to spend 10,000 hours practicing something to truly master it. Gladwell uses The Beatles, Bill Joy, and Bill Gates as examples, and argues that in addition to their hard work it was a series of fortunate events that made it possible for them to spend about 10,000 hours practicing, and that’s what truly made them successful.
Every time I look at a resume, I look for the “extra” stuff. In the case of a developer, I look for programming competitions, contributions to open source projects, anything outside of school and work. It’s amazing how few mention anything like that.
I want to see passion, and by extension, practice!