Archive for the ‘recruiting’ tag

Ksplice and the intern army meet the Internet

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This week I wrote a post on the Ksplice blog, our first substantive post, following an intro post by Waseem. As I mentioned last month, we swelled from 8 to 20 people this January with interns, and were triumphant in making the whole scheme work productively. If you want to know how we did it, read the post. In fact, just go read it. I’ll wait.

The crackerjack Ksplice PR team (*) got my post to show prominently all day Wednesday on Reddit and Hacker News, and then it went up on Slashdot all Wednesday evening and Thursday during the day. Traffic numbers were much, much more than anything else I’ve ever written, except YouTomb.

Naturally, we learned some things about interacting with your average comment-leaving reader on the Internet. The first wave of comments, a few both on link aggregators and on the post itself, were vicious denunciations of us for the (apparently) illegal practice of employing unpaid interns to do real work. These commenters were of course wrong—you can’t get any intern in software for free, let alone the kind of people we wanted, and we paid as much or more than they could make with their skills in research jobs on campus. I clarified that, I and others replied, and the comments shifted to mostly positive. Then when we landed on Slashdot, the text was a classic opposite-of-the-article Slashdot item: we had claimed to “bust” Fred Brooks’ pioneering observations on software project management. Dozens of commenters poured in to grouch that we hadn’t disproved his law, only sidestepped it—which was of course our point.

Fortunately, not all commenters are just being wrong. We had several good comments, but this afternoon came one last comment from a source far beyond any response I imagined. I feel a twinge of regret now for comparing the OS/360 project to Windows Vista, apt though it was. Prof. Brooks, of couse, did far better than the Vista managers in the end, in that he learned lessons from the experience and put them in a book that the whole profession learned from.

How we’re going to top that comment in our next post, I don’t know—it might be tough, for example, to get a comment from a man who hasn’t used email since before blogging was invented.

(*) Namely, us and our friends on zephyr/twitter lending a few upvotes to our posts. Several others at Ksplice made substantial comments and edits before the post was published, too, which greatly improved it.

[Update, 2010-03-18: there is now a straight-up newspaper-style article about... the comment threads on my post. The Internet never ceases to amaze me.]

Written by Greg Price

March 15th, 2010 at 3:23 am

How many MIT students does it take to change computing?


A new SIPB chair and vice-chair are taking office tomorrow, and the other night several of their predecessors took an evening to give them an orientation.

SIPB has two priorities: people and projects. Each active project has its own organizers, maintainers, and/or developers who move it forward and make its decisions, so the role of the chair and vice-chair is about keeping track of how things go, helping connect the project to outside resources and connect new contributors to the project, mediating shared resources like the machine room, and making sure that key projects get passed on from year to year.

It makes sense, then, that we spent most of our time talking about people—bringing people in the door at SIPB, making the office a welcoming place for them, drawing them into our community, and electing them as members. We hear in almost every membership election about how the organization could do better at this. Here’s a quick version of why it’s so important:

Every year, about 1/3 of student SIPB members graduate.

Put another way, in steady state:

Size of SIPB = 3 * (# new members / year)

For example, right now SIPB has 26 student members, and by my count 9 are planning to leave MIT in June. So the only way SIPB can stay as strong as it is is to get 9 new members this year, and about as many again the next year, and the next year, and so on. Fewer new members ⇒ fewer members ⇒ fewer awesome projects, fewer people to learn from, fewer people to hire away to Ksplice (ahem, maybe not everyone shares that motivation).

Fortunately, we built a good track record over the last few years:

    academic year          freshmen &
      starting     total   sophomores

        2010        ???       ???
        2009         7+        4+
        2008         9         6
        2007         8         2
        2006        10         3
        2005        10         2
        2004         5         3
        2003         4         2
        2002        10         3
        2001         8         2
        2000         3         2

From those numbers in the last five years, it’s not hard to see how we got the organization to the point where three strong candidates stood at the last election for chair, and where the office is full to crowding at nearly every Monday’s meeting. It’s also clear how it wasn’t always this way—the numbers from the 2004 and 2003 academic years led directly to the election of 2005 in which the nine-member EC comprised every student member of the SIPB.

But my favorite aspect of these numbers is in the column on the right. When I was the chair in 2008-9, I put an emphasis on getting people involved in SIPB in their first and second years. I’ve heard a lot of people’s stories over the years of showing up at SIPB as a freshman or sophomore, going away for a variety of reasons, and finally coming back two or three or more years later and becoming members. Some of them went on to become highly active and valued contributors, and it’s too bad for everyone that we didn’t succeed in bringing them in the first time around. With the record 6 freshman and sophomore new members in the 2008 academic year, I think we succeeded in turning a lot of those stories around into members who will be active students for a long time. Edward and Evan have gotten this 2009 year to outpace 2008 so far, so the new team of Jess and Greg have the chance to finish it at another record. 2010 will be theirs to create, and I wish them the best of luck in outdoing 2008 and 2009 both.

Written by Greg Price

February 15th, 2010 at 1:58 am

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