I've never fired anyone for technical incompetence

March 21, 2022
I've done a fair amount of hiring and firing over the years. But I've come to notice a disconnect.

I’ve hired a number of people over the years. Mostly software developers or operations engineers. A few Scrum Masters.

The candidate selection process has always been geared around detecting technical competence. Reviewing code the candidate wrote, talking about their technical experience, asking them how they would respond in certain technical situations.

I’ve also been involved in firing a few people over the years.

But you know what’s interesting?

I’ve never once fired someone, or even been tempted to fire someone, for lack of technical competence.

The reasons I’ve fired people have varied. It’s usually been a combination of multiple factors. Here are a few memorable ones:

  • Overt racism toward colleagues
  • Gross insubordination
  • Failure to simply do any work
  • Refusal to accept responsibility for their own professional improvement

In other words, looking back, I’ve only ever fired people for having an attitude that was not condusive to work.

Now to be fair, some of the people I have fired did have a technical competence issue. But that was never the reason they were fired. In fact, in every example I’ve been involved in, if they had been able to overcome their attitude problem, we would have given them plenty of more time to develop their technical skills.

This just makes me wonder: During candiate interviews, do we, as an industry, spend too much time focusing on technical skills, and not enough on the more “soft skills” aspects of our candidate pool?

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