Once Bitten, Twice Prepared

A couple weeks ago I found myself in a typical Silicon Valley party with at least 50% of attendees from local technology start ups. Someone offered “offshore nightmares” as a discussion topic, that turned out to be a great icebreaker as everyone of us had a few of those laughs & tears stories to tell. More tears than laughs I have to say. Among the stories there were a few common threads; one of them was very close to my heart and painful experience – a practice of misrepresenting developers’ competence popular among some offshore providers.

  • Joel: we selected a vendor based on results of developer phone interviews. They were very good: great technical knowledge, decent communication skills, etc. We hand-picked tech leads and key contributors and moved forward with the engagement. People we picked were assigned to the project and we were expecting them to hit the ground running. It took a little while though – contact negotiations, setting up environment, you know. To our great surprise the productivity and quality of code was far below the expectations. The vendor blamed problems on communication, quality of requirements and so on. We tried to improve on those, put an on-site coordinator to resolve the problems, but the issues did not go away. After much ado we decided to send one of our key guys to India; he happened to be one of the people involved in the initial interviews. Few days later he called me saying that none of the people we interviewed were actually involved on the project. The people working on the project had “same names” and emails but were not the people we interviewed… [NK: Frankly, that story seemed so bizarre that I would probably did not believe it if I had not known Joel for long time.]
  • Vlad: When we started working with [NK: a well known top tier vendor] I received many resumes of people for the QA team we were building. Many of those 20+ page resumes. Honestly I was not at all excited to read them but that was my only window into the future team so I had to go through that recycle paper. It indeed turned out to be a waste of my time, even though it was a slightly entertaining pulp fiction – I found that the same text, not only description of the projects but personal achievements and responsibilities, was copied from resume to resume…
  • Nick: A few years ago I was going through the resumes of the team I had inherited. One of them was a resume of a junior engineer that came onboard from a corp-to-corp contract-to-hire arrangement just a few months before I took over the team. The resume had a lot of relevant experience and skills. It looked like we had gotten ourselves a great deal: the gal was perfect and hugely underpaid. These were good times, employee market, and I was not about to lose her on salary basis… I talked with her and was “pleasantly” surprised to learn that she actually never saw her resume; it was produced by her employer and had nothing to do with her real skills, experience and background…

I could bore you with more stories I heard that day and examples of similar nature, but I think the point is sufficiently illustrated. Offshoring brought putting a spin on one’s career in a resume to a new level. Misrepresenting skills of resources appears to be a common practice even among rather large companies. Fortunately, dealing with this issue requires just basic diligence on you part, here are a few simple guidelines:

  • Do not rely on resumes – interview your workforce.
  • If possible interview face to face: go to the vendor’s site or use teleconferencing, even simple webcam + Skype would do.
  • Include resume validation questions in your interview.
  • Consider including tests in your interview.
  • Do not take vendor suggested resource ranking for granted.
  • Develop ranking criteria in collaboration with the vendor.
  • Rank resources based on results of the interviews not resumes.
  • If sourcing and ranking is a black box for you control the individuals’ output (metrics, design reviews, code review, etc.)
  • If even control of individuals’ performance is practically impossible work at macro level holding your vendor to accountable for KPIs that should be outlined in your SLA.

I hope that the vendor(s) you work with have high standards and impeccable integrity; unfortunately, even those companies are not immune to subcontractors’ and employee fraud, so whether you have been bitten or not stay twice prepared.

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