When hiring from campus for the last many years, I had noticed a pattern that is useful to keep in mind when choosing the college to go for recruiting depending on the slots you get. The earlier prime slots mean you get good performers and is a steady decline in the overall quality of the talent pool. People who do well in college irrespective of their school performance is something indicative of how they may do in office as well. School is largely structured and has a fixed week by week milestone to go along. College on the other hand throws in some subjectivity and derails a lot of people in the initial days when they move from structured to semi structured environment.

As life moves on subjectivity creeps in and structure to lean on to disappears. This is especially true for knowledge workers. When hiring, the biggest mistake people do is to look at the present state but not the trajectory of people’s growth and performance across different situations. Graduate talent pool can be represented as below.

Do not confuse the word ‘good’ with ‘topper’. Though subjective ‘good’ just means that comfortably cruising across the semesters without repeated failures or consistent low grades in college or in the top 25th percentile at school. Hiring the top right quadrant is the most desired and in demand. I have observed the next pool of candidates whom the hiring manager target are the top left quadrant where they are just doing ok in college but had done well in school. By default, those who did well in school will always be associated with bigger & elite brands in education so there is a lure to these brands.

My experience has been different, I prefer to concentrate on the bottom right straight away during the hiring season. This pool of candidates had a bigger growth trajectory compared to other cohorts and have realistic expectations in terms of what future has to offer and often are eager to prove themselves in a more unstructured environment. Hire for the growth mindset, not the association to a big brand.

Recently I have seen a lot of leaders put up policies on their linkedin walls saying they respect sane working hours, weekend holidays, encouraging personal time off and many more. This is a case of giving back what was taken from others but disguised as a perk. Working late and on the weekends had been baked into as a given thing for a lot of leaders. It gets equated to more effort which was presumed to end up in more productivity.

The mindset is infectious, a person who comes into the workforce gets subjected to late working hours and weekend work, it becomes imbibed into their minds and they repeat for other new comers. The idea continued to grow stronger by Lindy effect, with people promoting workaholics and thereby creating more workaholics.

There is a change in workforce dynamics. Two decades ago, knowledge work boom brought in jobs that elevated the standards of living. The upgrade in lifestyle was so big that people were ready to do what was asked at the workplace. Leaders who were used to manufacturing mindset jumped on the opportunity and took it towards a downward spiral. Eventually people who worked insanely long hours and weekends were seen as committed irrespective of the outcome they bring.

What changed now is the workforce that is entering the market, a good chunk of the workforce has a pretty decent standard of living and what they look for is quality of life. The long working hours immediately removes the quality of life aspect and hence a lot of leaders are scrambling to understand how to improve productivity without stretching the people.

It was never fruitful to prolong the working hours to get more done in a knowledge work situation, yet a lot of leaders held on to that opinion strongly and rewarded hustle culture. Now that there is not much option to hold on to the hours of working, people are forced to return what was never theirs and look for different ways to engage and improve effectiveness.

In the software world, focussing on developer experience will attract and retain talent while helping achieve goals in a sane and sustainable pace. This involves balancing standardisation vs freehand, homogenous vs fragmented tech, governed vs federated ownership along with information symmetry and clean communication.

We would have read the story of ‘The conditioned elephant’ where a fully grown up elephant is tied using a small rope but it never tries to break free as it was conditioned as a kid that it cannot break a rope. We humans are also trapped with those constraints that we learned to become helpless. I have some stories during my journey.

When I started to program, access to computers were very limited. I have to write my program in paper, verify it a few times, get it reviewed on paper before getting system time and trying how mine works. Even my first few job interviews, I wrote the programs on paper and my interviewer went through the input and output manually before pursuing my candidature to solve tougher problems using a computer.

What this meant was I learnt the language fundamentals well, I understood many gotchas on the syntax and often I can write 100s of lines without syntax/compilation errors, without referring to any manuals or help articles. My behaviour continued even when I had my own system full time along with internet access. I spent a lot of time understanding in detail before I would claim myself proficient in a specific language or a tool and also refused to use IDE.

Barring a few occasional WOWs, I was slowly slipping into struggle like “The boiling frog“; observed in an experiment that a very gradual raise in temperature can kill a frog without it realising that it is being boiled. My years of conditioning with poor hardware and no internet meant I had to get a fair degree expertise before I could code professionally. While it is a good thing that something forces you to master a topic, the bad thing about this is I learnt to have a delayed feedback about trying new things out. When it came to experiment I used to lag behind as I was more inclined to deep dive instead of fail fast.

Every time someone whom I know coaxes me into changing my ways of working, I was held back by IT policy of “not upgrading the machines until they fail”. For a few years my machines at work never supported anything beyond a simple text editor which reinforced my older ways of working. It was only after an upgrade (I bought my own laptop), I realised the joy of programming in an IDE. For the first time TDD was a breeze and I fell in love with that method but not before wasting a few years in an outdated style.

Every few years information, hardware, connectivity, software is becoming more accessible. It is churning up faster than we can sense and adapt to the new landscape around us. We are often caught up like boiling frogs and stick to our trusted and tried methods at work until a jolt comes externally. New year beginning is always a good time to identify what constraints are we victim to and do they really exist? Every year I keep finding things that are outdated in my style of working and upgrade them. It is not just limited to workplace, it is in every aspect of life. Try finding out, what constraints are holding us back and do they exist?