I had the thought of writing a blog post regarding this matter several times in the past, and this time, I thought of finally putting it down here. In our industry (Software Development), one of the key concerns (if not ‘the concern’) in recruitment and career progression is the experience that an individual has in working in the industry. In most of the companies, this is the first thing that comes in the screening process, and also, most of the vacancy advertisements start with this.
It is a well known fact that if a person has done something before, it is usually easier to do it again, and from the past experience, it is also (usually) possible to do a better job on the second time. It is this well known fact that has been established as the roots in the software industry, which has been mandated as a key criterion for recruitment and selection for promotions. While there is no argument about the above well known fact, the way this so called experienced is measured is questionable.
As I have seen, this ‘experience’ is generally measured in terms of the ‘number of years’ that an individual has worked in the industry. A person who has been working for 4-5 years is usually considered as a better candidate to become a technical lead, compared to a person who has been working for 3 years (and yes, there are exceptions).
If we look at this from a general perspective, this seems logical. A person who has been working for 5 years should have ‘better experience’ than the 3 years guy. But this is not the case always. What a person really ‘does’ within that particular time period matters a lot. The 3 years person could have achieved quite a lot compared to a 5 years person, who could have been just ‘doing the job’ in a team without really getting into the nuts and bolts of it.
Let’s take an analogy. In military, there could be soldiers who have been in service for many years. They will possess a good deal of experience on the matters related to military work. But there could be soldiers, who may not have that much of experience in terms of ”years in service’, but who could have been in faced the evil depths of war, and learned a lot than the ‘more experienced’ soldier, in his short time span. If we consider the both, the one with ‘lesser experience in years’ might actually have collected more experience in the short time span, and will have the ‘scars to prove it’.
Likewise, in the software industry, the same scenario exists. If we really look at it, the person with less number of years in the CV might actually posses ‘more experience’ than a person who has a bigger number of years in the CV. But this fact is often overlooked by recruiters and companies. While a person can sit and wait till 5 years to go by and claim that they have ‘5 years of experience in Software Development’, another person could be working hard for just 2 years, and posses way deeper experience from that relatively short time period. This in turn, leads to bad hiring decisions, and turning down candidates with good potential, only to favor a person who might as well be just ‘doing the job’.
The scenario is often worse when fresh graduates are considered. A significant portion of today’s graduates contribute to open source work while they are working on their studies, and this experience can be considered as a valid ‘industrial experience’. But when considering the ‘number of years’ experience metric, such work tends to be treated as second class by some organizations. While it is all agreed that ‘fresh grads’ need to get their hands dirty to get started with (especially due to the today’s mismatch with academia and industry, looking at course structures of certain programs), but this ‘getting hands dirty’ does not necessarily mean that the person should sit and wait for years.
In conclusion, my point of view is that while ‘experience does matter’ for software development, the way it is being measured currently is inaccurate. While it may be applicable for the 60% of cases, mandating it turns down the opportunities for the rest of the 40% of cases. It is my belief that this aspect of tagging ‘experience’ by number of years should be revisited and revised to meet up with the vitality of today’s IT industry.
Thus, experience matters, but number of years? It doesn’t matter. Then again, that’s my perspective of the issue.