Sometimes a person sticks in your mind at the age you last knew them well. In my imagination, sometimes I remember my youngest sister as 11 years old, the age she was when I left for college, even though she’s an adult now, lives near me, we see each other and do adult things.

Similarly, to me Daniel Gross is a 19-year-old getting ready for Demo Day, full of nervous energy, pitching Greplin with as much confidence as he can muster. But, as time goes on, this memory is getting further and further away from the reality, in which Daniel is a successful investor, cowriting a book with Tyler Cowen.

The Book

It’s a very interesting book. Talent. Nominally it is about how to “discover talent”. Part interviewing people to determine whether they have talent, part discovering them in the first place.

The striking thing to me is that the sort of talent Dani and Tyler are looking for is a somewhat unique sort. Daniel is looking for start founders, and Tyler is looking for different positions but often for Emergent Ventures which is sort of like venture capital but not necessarily so capitalistic. They want unusual, creative, leaders who have the potential to do something that nobody else has done, the potential to change the world in some way.

So, personally I have done a lot of interviewing, and I have a lot of opinions about it. And as I read this book, I compared it to my own experience, and I found myself wanting to be that sort of talent rather than wanting to be able to identify that sort of talent.

What browser tabs do I have open? That’s an interview question? Well, it seems like a fair one. Maybe, in my life, I should occasionally evaluate myself on how interesting the browser tabs are, that I have open.

Can I imagine the world being very different than it is today? I want to be able to imagine the world being very different than it is today.

Software Engineers

Nevertheless, reading this book makes me contrast it to hiring software engineers, the sort of hiring I have done the most of. When you hire a software engineer, it’s really important to evaluate whether they can code pretty well. You ask them to code in some way, and evaluate how well they do it. All these other issues - do they engage with other cultures, are they thoughtful, do they spend their spare time obsessing about work - I have met great software engineers on both sides of these issues and I feel like they are secondary.

Great software engineers are just not very alike in personality. Some of them are quiet, don’t engage much in issues outside of software engineering, and simply write good code. Some of them are intellectually engaging, loud, quick-talking, disagreeable, and write good code. Many of them do not speak English well or are nervous talking to strangers and it will be very hard to assess any of their personality traits in an interview. There is some sense in which you want maturity - you don’t want someone whose interpersonal issues will tank a team - but most people are just fine on that front, your job as an interviewer is more to filter out the occasional psychopath.

There are two points about hiring software engineers that I think are underrated. One is that how your team interviews quickly becomes more important than how you personally interview. Once you have a few software engineers, most of your interview-time will be performed by people who are not you. So you have to spend a lot of time teaching, encouraging people to share good practices, helping out the people who are not great at interviewing, and figuring out a process for combining the interview feedback from different interviewers. Those things quickly become more important than how you yourself interview.

The other point about hiring software engineers is that for most great software engineers, the interview is not that important, because it’s pretty obvious you’re going to hire them. I would say 6/8 of the best 8 engineers I have ever hired, it was just an easy consensus from all the interviewers that this person was great and we should hire them. Instead, the important thing is “top of funnel”. You need to get those great engineers talking to you and interested in applying for a job with you in the first place.

It isn’t easy to do this, and I am not the best at doing this, and this post is getting long, so I’ll just say… good luck.

Hiring Talent-Style

This book seems pretty relevant if you are a CEO or a VC. If you’re looking for a company founder to invest in, you are betting on a future where they do something unique. You want to bet on someone doing something unique.

Similarly, as a CEO you are often hiring someone to be the head of some functionality in your company, and you want people who can take control of weird new initiatives. Your first product manager, or a head of a functional group of the company, you need unusual sorts of leadership here. Maybe all sorts of product management could use some of this.

And it’s worth reading anyway if you are not hiring for any of these roles. Because maybe you want to be the sort of person who can achieve a weird new thing. Maybe reflecting on these qualities will help you realize that you want some of them.

By the way, I have two tabs open right now. The GitHub repo for this blog, and how to install Jekyll on Ubuntu. Take that for what it’s worth!