How To Interview For a TW Job

Subject: How To Interview For a TW Job
From: "Anthony Markatos" <tonymar -at- hotmail -dot- com>
To: mbreinha -at- us -dot- oracle -dot- com, tonymar -at- hotmail -dot- com
Date: Mon, 27 Sep 1999 15:13:48 PDT

Tony Markatos said:

Unfortunately, about ninety-eight percent (98%) of all companies are at CMM levels 0 or 1. And it is impossible to get real respect in such companies.

Mary Reinhardt asks:

In relation to most companies being at a level 0 or 1 on the Capability Maturity Model (CMM), my question is, how can you tell from the outside what level a company is at in their documentation processes?

Seven months ago when I was graduating from a master's program in tech writing and interviewing with numerous companies, I tried to ask questions about processes, audience analysis, etc. aimed at figuring out what level a prospective employer was at. The problem was, 99% of them gave answers that would have put them at a level 2 or even 3.

Any suggestions for interview questions which let you know exactly what type of environment you're in for?

Tony Markatos responds:

The vast majority of job interviews are more like a frat-house rush party than a serious negotiation. Even when the applicant is serious (which you obviously were), it is almost impossible for the company to be.


1.) Realize that you can ask questions forever and never find out what it is 'really' like within a company. Been there. Done it.

2.) Realize the truth in the old saying 'the first steps are the hardest' (and the most important). In software, the first step is analysis. All other processes are dependent upon the output of the analysis phase; if the analysis was conducted poorly, it is impossible to implement effective processes downstream (in design, testing, and documentation).

3.) Ask for about 45 minutes to review the output of the analysis effort for the software product you will be working on. (This animal is often called a Software Requirements Specification.) If they have not started analysis, ask to see the output of the analysis effort for a similar product. (Within a given company, the quality of the analysis seldom varies from project to project.)

4.) If the analysis output (i.e., the spec) has true value, a computer novice should be able to study it for about 45 minutes or less and gain a fairly rigorous understanding of the essential tasks that the system is to perform and how all of those tasks interrelate (unless, the system is truly monstrous). You want to gain an understanding of WHAT the system does (i.e., what end user goals it supports) not HOW it does what it does.

5.) If you find a company having analysis output of such quality -- go to work for them! Don't ever leave them! If they have not currently implemented a set of formal processes for design, test, and documentation, doing such is relatively straight forward.

6.) Unfortunately, very few software companies produce specs to the quality mentioned in Step 4.) (above). In considering the others, it is a matter of how bad are things. Can you at least get the gist of the essential tasks? If so, than it is a better than average company. The worst cases: totally unreadable or even no formal analysis analysis output is produced. These are your Level 0 and 1 companies.

CLOSING REMARKS - The Importance Of Process Maturity

I started my corporate working career back in the 80's at Hughes Aircraft Company. I was fortunate to be a member of a small team of software professionals who were really gun-ho on Structured Systems Analysis (SSA)techniques. SSA techniques are implemented through a set of rigorously defined processes. I lead projects in which we were very successful with these techniques. I learned that once you have experienced the joy of high productivity only possible by working within the constraints of defined processes, going back to the old (ad-hoc) way of doing things is very depressing.

Tony Markatos
(tonymar -at- hotmail -dot- com)

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