Education and Awards

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Updated August 24, 2022
Technical Recruiting and Hiring

You’re reading an excerpt of The Holloway Guide to Technical Recruiting and Hiring, a book by Osman (Ozzie) Osman and over 45 other contributors. It is the most authoritative resource on growing software engineering teams effectively, written by and for hiring managers, recruiters, interviewers, and candidates. Purchase the book to support the author and the ad-free Holloway reading experience. You get instant digital access, over 800 links and references, commentary and future updates, and a high-quality PDF download.

Academic Background and Achievement

Degrees from academically exclusive schools are a notable signal, because getting into and graduating from an elite institution like MIT reflects success with well-known curriculum and level of rigor. When assessing how rigorous a computer science program is, it can help to know rankings of these programs in the United States as well as those in other countries; for example, the IIT schools and the related JEE rankings reflect competitive admissions across India.

However, it’s a common pitfall to look mainly for “brand name” schools or obsess on school rankings. (For more detail on how academic background can be a source of bias, see Diversity and Inclusion.) looked at whether the school that candidates attended had any bearing on interview performance. In a study of 1,000 college students, it turned out there wasn’t any statistically significant difference in performance between students who went to elite universities and students who went to other schools (at least among those who had decided to sign up for an interview practice platform of their own volition).*

For many general programming and engineering roles, a higher degree is not required. But some roles, like machine learning or algorithmic roles, do require graduate-level knowledge.

dangerSchool rankings is probably the one signal that’s most overweighted. Exceptional technical talent can come out of any school, or from no school at all. In another study* from, researchers cross-referenced interview performance data from 3,000 candidates with attributes listed on their resumes. This time, what mattered most was whether a candidate had taken programming classes via MOOCs like Udacity and Coursera.

Awards or Other Achievements

Has the person achieved something that requires unusual talent or dedication to achieve? This may include side projects that achieved some recognition or significant use, talks, industry awards, or the like.

One of the things we’ve seen from all our data crunching is that GPAs are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless—[there is] no correlation at all except for brand-new college grads, where there’s a slight correlation.Laszlo Bock, former SVP of People Operations, Google*

controversyComputer science MS degrees can be a confusing signal, especially when achieved after a non-computer science undergraduate degree. Some recruiters find that people returning to school for an MS degree in CS may signal inadequate programming experience, which could lead to poor technical interview performance. One theory as to why this occurs is that CS fundamentals instruction tends to happen in undergraduate computer science courses, and some MS programs are geared toward students who have never done any programming either—such programs serve professionals eager to return to school and learn some basic technical skills. At certain schools it is possible to get an MS in CS without ever taking an algorithms or data structures class. Another point is that MS degrees tend to increase income by about $10K per year. But someone already employed and successful as a software engineer would probably earn more by staying in their job, rather than leaving work to return to school for an MS degree.

Employment History and Achievements

Next are the signals you can collect from all of a candidate’s past roles.

Notable Roles and Achievements

Getting an offer and holding a job at a company that has a well-known, high hiring bar is a notable positive signal. For some companies, the stage at which a person joins may indicate level of difficulty in being admitted; for example, it was probably harder to get a job at Google in 2005 than in 2015. The same caveats apply to name-brand companies as to name-brand schools. Key here are unique high-responsibility roles. Someone who is tech lead, architect, or manager of a team with significant importance to a company is a particularly strong signal.

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