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Google: Better To Be a 'B' CS Grad Than an 'A+' English Grad 358

Posted by samzenpus
from the take-the-hard-road dept.
theodp (442580) writes "In a NY Times interview on How to Get a Job at Google with Laszlo Bock, who is in charge of all hiring at Google, the subject of grit-based hiring came up. Bock explained: 'I was on campus speaking to a student who was a computer science and math double major, who was thinking of shifting to an economics major because the computer science courses were too difficult. I told that student they are much better off being a B student in computer science than an A+ student in English because it signals a rigor in your thinking and a more challenging course load. That student will be one of our interns this summer.' Bock also advised, 'You need to be very adaptable, so that you have a baseline skill set that allows you to be a call center operator today and tomorrow be able to interpret MRI scans.'"
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Google: Better To Be a 'B' CS Grad Than an 'A+' English Grad

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  • *sigh* (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jythie (914043) on Monday April 21, 2014 @09:01AM (#46804513)
    Big surprise.. tech hirer not valuing fields they do not hire from.

    Though given how laborious and difficult an actual english degree is and how high the failure rate is, saying that CS has more 'rigor in thinking' and 'challenging' is laughable. Those upper level english courses require a lot of rigors thinking and are quite challenging, even if they do not get the same respect as the more profitable CS degree.

    And this is coming from someone with a Computer Engineering degree. However I wish there were more english majors in tech since they can bring some pretty useful skills and thought patterns to the table and can provide, esp if your department is aspie-culture heavy.
  • Riiiiight (Score:5, Insightful)

    by GrumpySteen (1250194) on Monday April 21, 2014 @09:02AM (#46804519)

    Bock also advised, 'You need to be very adaptable, so that you have a baseline skill set that allows you to be a call center operator today and tomorrow be able to interpret MRI scans.'

    So, basically, you should be ridiculously highly skilled in multiple specialized fields so that we can hire you and make you take on the work of three to five people for the pay of a single position (or maybe just for the glory of being an intern so that we can pay you even less!).

  • Well .... duh. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Mr_Silver (213637) on Monday April 21, 2014 @09:03AM (#46804527)

    In other news, industries where command and use of the English language is the priority will state that it's better to be a 'B' English Grad than an 'A+' CS Grad.

    Google's comments don't prove anything new about the value of the degrees of either course - short of the fact that it's generally better to have a degree in the industry you intend on working in.

  • Or win the lottery (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Rob the Bold (788862) on Monday April 21, 2014 @09:06AM (#46804547)

    'You need to be very adaptable, so that you have a baseline skill set that allows you to be a call center operator today and tomorrow be able to interpret MRI scans.'

    Sure, that's a good idea. If you were able to do every job, then there would always be something useful to do if your job or industry disappeared. But since we're talking magic here, why not win the lottery of inherit a fortune instead? Provided you've got a good finance guy, that's an even better plan for long-term economic stability in your household.

  • Context (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nine-times (778537) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Monday April 21, 2014 @09:16AM (#46804645) Homepage

    Note the context:

    I was on campus speaking to a student who was a computer science and math double major, who was thinking of shifting to an economics major because the computer science courses were too difficult. I told that student they are much better off being a B student in computer science than an A+ student in English because it signals a rigor in your thinking and a more challenging course load.

    I think it's important not to drop out the first part of that sentence. The message here is not really about the superiority of CS over English (at least I hope it wasn't), but the idea that "If you're worried about your post-graduate future, worry less about grades and more about what you're studying." There may be very rigorous, interesting, challenging English programs out there. From my experience talking to some CS majors, it seems that not all CS programs are very good. Making a strict comparison between different subjects isn't easy.

  • MRI ????? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 21, 2014 @09:21AM (#46804701)

    This Bock dude is full of it.

    Quote:" Bock also advised, 'You need to be very adaptable, so that you have a baseline skill set that allows you to be a call center operator today and tomorrow be able to interpret MRI scans"

    I've been looking at MRI's for over 15 years professionally, as a medical specialist, though i'm not a radiologist. I still don't think that i can " interpret an MRI". Sure i see a lot. Sure i know what to look for in my field. But i will never be able to " interpret an MRI"

    He/she doesn't know what he/she is talking about.

  • Re:*sigh* (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sribe (304414) on Monday April 21, 2014 @09:25AM (#46804751)

    Though given how laborious and difficult an actual english degree is and how high the failure rate is, saying that CS has more 'rigor in thinking' and 'challenging' is laughable. Those upper level english courses require a lot of rigors thinking and are quite challenging, even if they do not get the same respect as the more profitable CS degree.

    Oh, bullshit. Do not confuse laborious with learning to think rigorously. Do not confuse sophistry with rigor.

  • by mlwmohawk (801821) on Monday April 21, 2014 @09:33AM (#46804815)

    In 1999 Fast Search and Transfer was neck and neck with google for speed, volume, and accuracy. The board at FAST were idiots and said there was no money in search and basically stopped trying and let google win.

    What I learned in this time is that Google was no better than FAST, and is no better than any other company. They won because viable competition walked away. Google's only real innovation was thier revenue model. Right now, Google has BILLIONS to toss at projects. We hear about a LOT of successful or nearly successful projects, but how many failures are there that we never hear about? Its easy to be innovative when you are grossly profitable.

    For any "hiring practice" to be better than any other, you need to *prove* that the cost of labor compared to productivity (innovation, etc.) that is directly related to revenue has a better ratio than that in other companies. Frankly, I don't see it. Google sells ads, nothing else even comes close on their books.

    Google is just the Microsoft of the late '80 and early '90s. A pundit's darling, a fictional yardstick by which the ignorant measure what they don't understand.

  • Re:15" Golf Holes (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 21, 2014 @09:49AM (#46804963)

    but isn't it Google that thinks everything about everyone should be public?

    it keeps everyone honest.

  • Re:Riiiiight (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 21, 2014 @09:50AM (#46804967)

    I'm a radiologist. I interpret MRI scans. Doing so requires 4 year undergraduate training, followed by 4 years of medical school, an internship year, and 4 years of residency training. I've had to pass numerous national boards exams to get where I am today. What training does it require to staff a call center?

    The analogy is preposterous. There is an absolutely enormous amount of anatomy and pathology required to properly interpret MRI scans. One cannot go from being a call center operator to a radiologist overnight.

  • Re:*sigh* (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ebno-10db (1459097) on Monday April 21, 2014 @10:07AM (#46805089)

    someone shows up with a Lit degree but still knows how to code and program

    Now you're adding additional qualifications. I've known some excellent programmers who had degrees that weren't in CS or a related field. In that case though their degree is irrelevant. Why not hire people who have on HS diplomas? I've know some excellent people like that too.

  • Re:Riiiiight (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 21, 2014 @10:41AM (#46805441)

    I am a systems administrator who works for a radiology department. First, I would like to say that I wouldn't want a call center tech reading my MRI no matter how adaptable he or she is.

    It is a poor analogy, but I think I understand what the recruiter was trying to explain. Working with computers, you may need to understand how to capture counts and calculate glucose metabolism from a PET study, then how to write customized drivers for a robotic platform, then how to set up a network of unix and Windows PCs using a shared authentication mechanism. It can be frustrating to see so many recruiters that fail to recognize the value of someone who has a proven ability to adapt and learn as required for the task at hand. All job postings seem to be trying to hire the guy who just left. It's nice to see that this guy seems to get that even if his analogy took the concept to a ridiculous extreme.

    Of course, I also wouldn't want someone who was reading MRI's one day to be staffing a call center the next.

  • by Theovon (109752) on Monday April 21, 2014 @10:51AM (#46805549)

    Usually double-blind is a good thing, like when doing a scientific study or reviewing one. But in the case of Google, the hiring method (for software engineers) involves a sequence of engineers asking you to solve toy problems and scribbling notes on a single sheet of paper. That single sheet of paper is mostly what the hiring committee sees, along with your resume (which nobody looks at any more than superficially) and maybe some comments from your recruiter. There is absolutely no consideration of things like personality, team work, cross-polination from other fields, or even CS disciplines outside of software engineering (they do 90% algorithms, 10% computational complexity, 0% operating systems, 0% computer architecture, 0% programming language theory, 0% anything else).

    I have a PhD in computer engineering, and I currently I work as a CS professor at a major SUNY research center. Based on Google’s request (they called me!), I interviewed at Google's NYC office for a software engineering position (although my research area is computer architecture, which they didn’t quite seem to understand). I went there, I was friendly and didn’t stick my foot in my mouth, and I answered all of their algorithms questions (some I could have done better, but I think I did a good job). A few weeks later, I get a call from my recruiter. They were declining to make me an offer for two reasons. One was some vague statement about me not fitting with their culture. No idea why. The other was that I had appeared to have jumped around jobs too much. That last one made no sense. I worked one industry job for almost a decade, then I went to grad school (where I worked a research assistant and did a couple of internships), and then I got hired as a professor. How does that constitute jumping around too much?

    I checked out Google’s hiring practices on glass door (before I interviewed, of course), and I see a similar trend. Google has no compunctions against wasting people’s time. They regularly cold call people to interview and then decline to make an offer, even for people with doctoral degrees and/or substantial industry experience. I have two good friends who work at Google, and they’re brilliant at computer science theory, but even so, I still really don’t know what Google is looking for.

    Of course, maybe I just suck, and Google figured it out. I doubt it, though. I have a PhD for Ohio State, my dissertation is 120 pages (not including references), I currently have 13 major publications, three at top-tier conferences, first author on 9. I recently won an NSF CAREER award ($450,000 over 5 years). I started the Open Graphics project, which is basically dead right now but did produce real open source graphics hardware. And before all that, I worked in a small company where I had to do everything from tech support to IT to software development in a dozen languages to chip design. Among many other things, I designed a graphics accelerator ASIC that’s present in most air traffic control towers around the US (among so many other things I can’t keep track of). In the early 90’s I released ANSITerm for the Atari ST, which was very popular at the time and is still a very popular BBS terminal program among retro computing enthusiasts. I’m pretty sure I don’t suck.

  • Bottom Line: (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Ralph Spoilsport (673134) on Monday April 21, 2014 @11:44AM (#46806149) Journal
    MOST employers really don't give a flying fuck about your grades. You have a degree in CS? Cool - show me some code - show me an app you developed. Is it good?
    Yes? Cool - you're hired. You got a C in (major subject in CS)? Who the fuck cares? Your code is good enough for our purposes.
    No? Then you should have switched to English, and found some MEANING IN THIS CRUEL EXISTENCE other than being an entry level code monkey, which you clearly suck at anyway.

    As a professor in a media dept, I always tell my students to have *exploitable skills*. I don't care what it is. Bicycle Repair. Programming. Editing. Whatevs. Because working in the arts is a crap shoot at best. Even the most determined and talented people don't necessarily make a living at it. So, sure - grind out a degree in something you dislike, get the job, and then get a Masters in English Lit or Comp or Painting or whatever. Then you will have the financial basis to do what keeps you sane (creativity) and the means to put food on the table (grinding out code for some bank to vertically extract billions off the backs of the taxpayers). Eventually, you will figure out what matters most to you: being true to your inner voice and convictions, or, finding out that your inner voice and conviction is being a slave and putting food on the table for your family. THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH EITHER POSITION.

    You are not a better person for going for the practical degree and being trained to do some skill for the mindless heartless maw of capitalism, any more than you are a better person for being that special snowflake and finding your purpose in life as a poet while you deliver letters as a postman, or as slinging coffee at Starbucks. Society needs all of it. I would much rather have the world's wittiest barrista serve me coffee and go home to attempt writing the Greatest Novel Ever than some mouth-breathing drone who goes home and watches TV and masturbates to re-runs of Baywatch. And if you're a mouth breathing drone, but have a knack for numbers - there's a place for you cranking code for some bank vertically extract billions off the backs of the taxpayers. Go for it. It pays really well.

    In other words: there's room for everyone, and you need to find your place in things - just: Don't Be Stupid. It hurts to watch.

Dennis Ritchie is twice as bright as Steve Jobs, and only half wrong. -- Jim Gettys

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