Communication Skills

May 17th, 2014

A great deal of negativity has been directed lately at the practice of hiring for culture fit. I find this troubling because its a central tenet of Etsy’s hiring. This pithy insight was shared with me yesterday by one of our senior most engineers, and I slept better last night.

“As time passes, I focus more and more on interviewing for communication skills over technical skills.

Even the most brilliant engineer can get off course. But a great communicator might move slower, but they will always be moving in the right direction.”

(actually I didn’t sleep better last night, but that was the baby’s fault, not anxiety about contributing to oppression.)

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2 responses to “Communication Skills”

  1. The criticism about “culture fit” is that it’s a covert way that discrimination will happen. Often consciously as Max Levchin advocates, but sometimes unconsciously.

    I guess the problem is that testing for communication skills is subjective. You’re always testing in two directions – whether that person can communicate, and whether you’re disposed or able to hear their message.

    North American engineering culture has a lot of work to do, to accept that (for instance) even people with higher-pitched voices can also have sound engineering ideas. That said, I don’t think it’s an absurd idea that people from disadvantaged groups also have to change their communication style somewhat, to work well with an existing culture.

  2. kellan says:

    I understand where the critique comes from, the discomfort comes from squaring the valid critique with the fact that I don’t plan to stop hiring for culture fit, and that many many of the folks in our industry won’t be successful at Etsy who would be wildly successfully somewhere else.

    Having more concreteness about why we hire the way we do from first principles rather then arrived over time is where the sense of relief comes from.

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