STEM Scarcity Claims and Fb’s $19 Billion Acquisition of WhatsApp

Tech titan Fb’s latest acquisition of WhatsApp for the discount basement worth of $19 billion in money and inventory (barely lower than the inflation adjusted price of the Manhattan Mission) generated a spate of stories articles noting that each WhatsApp co-founders Brian Acton and Jan Koum had been turned down for jobs at Fb. Notably, Brian Acton appears to have gone via an prolonged job hunt in 2009 and was turned down by each Fb and Twitter (at the very least based on his Twitter feed 🙂 ).

Each Acton and Koum had years of expertise as paid skilled software program engineers at Yahoo on the time they have been turned down by Fb. Acton is a graduate of the top-rated Stanford College as nicely. It’s tough to see a considerable technical distinction between Yahoo and Fb; each are gigantic “free” web pages with a spread of providers reminiscent of search, messaging, and e-mail supported by promoting {dollars}. Each engineers look like glorious potential workers for Fb on the time they have been every turned down.

Fb, it could be famous, has been distinguished in claiming that it can not discover certified software program engineers via a spread of teams together with,, and Compete AMERICA.

The broadly watched “What Most Colleges Don’t Train” inspirational video comprises a press release (begins at about 3:00) by Fb CEO Mark Zuckerberg:

Our coverage is actually to rent as many gifted engineers as we are able to discover. The entire restrict within the system is simply that there aren’t sufficient people who find themselves educated and have these abilities right this moment.

The turndowns of Acton and Koum counsel that Fb’s downside, if actual, lies in Fb’s hiring practices quite than in any real scarcity of certified software program engineers. Merely put, Fb and lots of different expertise corporations are excessively and irrationally choosy in hiring, ignoring or turning down many extremely certified candidates.

Certified however Can’t Get A Job

The WhatsApp turndown tales should not uncommon even in media protection of the expertise trade, which, with uncommon exceptions reminiscent of Patrick Thibodeau’s protection at ComputerWorld, tends to parrot trade claims of a determined scarcity of certified software program engineers and different STEM professionals. Each few months, actually, brings articles and private accounts that always describe nice problem to find jobs within the expertise trade regardless of what look like spectacular {qualifications}.

I lately wrote about Chand John’s article The PhD-Trade Hole in The Chronicle of Greater Schooling about his prolonged seek for a job, regardless of graduating with a Ph.D. in Pc Science from Stanford’s extremely rated laptop science program.

Jennifer Wedel gained nationwide information protection when she described her husband, out-of-work semiconductor engineer Darin Wedel’s prolonged after which unsuccessful job hunt after being laid off by Texas Devices, to President Obama in a web based Q&A session. These printed accounts match many “anecdotal,” word-of-mouth accounts that I’ve heard or, to some extent, personally witnessed.

It’s at all times tough with particular person instances to make sure of the explanations and to know all the particulars. For instance, Darin Wedel was (is?) unable to relocate out of Texas as a consequence of a baby custody scenario. He reportedly obtained a number of affords from main expertise corporations for jobs exterior of Texas following his spouse’s Q&A session with President Obama. Trade apologists have tried to make use of this to dismiss his case as irrelevant. Nevertheless, on this period of e-mail, Skype, and many individuals working efficiently within the expertise enterprise from a big distance (e.g. India or China), why precisely couldn’t the determined “ravenous” expertise corporations provide him a job he may do from Texas? Not so clear. There are additionally many expertise corporations in Texas reminiscent of Texas Devices and Dell. However apparently they aren’t all that determined both. 🙂

Thus, there might have been good the reason why Fb turned down Acton and Koum, regardless of their seemingly spectacular credentials and Fb’s recurrent claims of being unable to seek out certified candidates. It’s fairly unlikely that the issue was that Acton or Koum couldn’t program — “code” in present parlance. Neither dismal public faculties that don’t train “coding” nor restrictive US immigration coverage (Koum is an immigrant from the Ukraine who allegedly lived on meals stamps at one level) can clarify the turndowns. As veterans of Yahoo, each Acton and Koum definitely seem like real “purple squirrels” with precisely the technical abilities that Fb was searching for and wanted in 2009 — earlier than the present cellular mania started.

Certified or Younger?

One factor that stands out is age. Each Acton and Koum are previous by Fb requirements. Acton was born in 1972 and would have been 37 in 2009, nicely over the magic age of 35 when software program engineers typically start to informally report encountering problem discovering jobs regardless of spectacular {qualifications}.

Fb founder Mark Zuckerberg has been quoted as saying: “Younger persons are simply smarter. Why are most chess masters below 30?” By the way, the assertion is debatable. World Chess Champions for the reason that FIDE (the Fédération internationale des échecs or World Chess Federation) chess championship system was established in 1948 are about evenly break up between below 30 and over 30. The truth is, the world champion on the time of the reported quote (2007) Viswanathan Anand was thirty-seven and was forty-three when Magnus Carlsen lastly defeated him in November 2013. Zuckerberg was born on Might 14, 1984 and can flip thirty this yr.

As well as, in 2009, Acton would have had over ten years of paid skilled expertise as a software program engineer. It’s uncommon to come across job ads for software program engineers or different STEM professionals with greater than ten years of expertise. That is even true in exceptionally advanced fields reminiscent of molecular biology the place ten years is sort of definitely too quick for even very clever individuals to grasp the sphere.

One might notice that it’s theoretically unlawful to discriminate on the idea of age in hiring in the USA. 🙂

Water, Water, All over the place, however Not a Drop to Drink

The truth is, expertise corporations look like extraordinarily choosy in even selecting to interview candidates, not to mention truly hiring them. This pickiness alone most likely accounts for the perceived “scarcity” of “certified” candidates. It additionally explains why a minority of software program engineers who match or seem to suit the extraordinarily slender, quickly altering, and sometimes unspoken standards of the tech corporations report fierce competitors and a number of job affords, whereas many others like Chand John or Darin Wedel (and maybe Brian Acton in 2009) report an extended irritating job hunt.

Empirically, many components individually or together appear to often push software program engineers out of the “scorching” software program engineer class into the “unqualified” class regardless of spectacular precise {qualifications}. These embody:

  • Lower than three years of paid skilled expertise working for a business agency.
  • Greater than ten years of paid skilled expertise
  • Over 35 (generally over 30)
  • Look over 35 (even worse)
  • Grey hair (actually unhealthy)
  • Has a Ph.D.
  • Freshly minted Ph.D. (even worse)
  • Membership in some low-status “minority” teams (e.g. Black or Hispanic with American Indian Ancestry)
  • Feminine
  • An prolonged interval of latest or present unemployment — over six months
  • Lack of a school diploma
  • Said skepticism about at present “scorching” applied sciences even when is aware of them (e.g. the applicant thinks Git is an terrible model management system after utilizing Git for years)
  • Scores completely on a coding check interview (higher than interviewers may do) 🙂
  • Simply plain totally different in another manner

Observe that I’m not endorsing any of those typically hidden standards. Some actually are unlawful in the USA. Nor am I arguing that they’re consciously used — though I imagine they’re used consciously in some instances. The requirement of three years of paid skilled expertise, for instance, is often explicitly listed in job ads and job descriptions for software program engineers and different STEM professionals. Neither am I arguing that these standards are utilized by all tech corporations or by responsible corporations all the time.

I take advantage of the phrase “Hispanic with American Indian Ancestry” in my record for the next motive. The Silicon Valley is situated in California. In line with census information, about thirty-seven p.c of Californians self-identify as Hispanic-Latino. Nonetheless, it’s pretty uncommon to come across Spanish surnames in Silicon Valley tech corporations, particularly amongst software program engineers. Amongst these uncommon software program engineers with Spanish surnames, individuals with apparent American Indian ancestry appear uncommon, though that is widespread amongst Hispanics as a gaggle in California. And sure I’ve met software program engineers and different STEM professionals with Spanish surnames and apparent American Indian ancestry within the Silicon Valley and Southern California.

I take advantage of the phrase “some low-status minority teams” to differentiate these teams from minority teams reminiscent of Asians and Indians (from India) who’re widespread in software program engineering — closely overrepresented, actually, compared to their proportion of the US inhabitants. Social standing appears to be the important thing subject quite than merely membership in a minority group.

By the way, with respect to my record, based on information experiences Jan Koum dropped out of San Jose State College and presumably lacks a school diploma. In line with information experiences, each Acton and Koum “took a yr off to tour South America” not lengthy earlier than making use of to work at Fb, giving each a latest interval of extended unemployment.

Sure, Mark Zuckerberg can also be a school dropout, however tech CEO’s typically seem to use a distinct normal to individuals they rent than themselves.


Fb turning down the founders of WhatsApp after which paying $19 billion for his or her firm just a few years later might be merely one other instance of the extraordinarily choosy hiring practices of expertise corporations, a pickiness that often seems unrelated to precise technical “{qualifications}.” Know-how corporations can most likely remedy their “scarcity” by discarding hidden and/or unconscious non-technical standards in addition to discarding excessively slender “purple squirrel” technical necessities in hiring software program engineers and different STEM professionals. Doing this can save them money and time (presumably $19 billion in Fb’s case) and even make the world a greater, fairer place on the similar time. 🙂

© 2014 John F. McGowan

Concerning the Creator

John F. McGowan, Ph.D. solves issues utilizing arithmetic and mathematical software program, together with growing video compression and speech recognition applied sciences. He has intensive expertise growing software program in C, C++, Visible Primary, Mathematica, MATLAB, and lots of different programming languages. He’s most likely greatest recognized for his AVI Overview, an Web FAQ (Incessantly Requested Questions) on the Microsoft AVI (Audio Video Interleave) file format. He has labored as a contractor at NASA Ames Analysis Heart concerned within the analysis and improvement of picture and video processing algorithms and expertise. He has printed articles on the origin and evolution of life, the exploration of Mars (anticipating the invention of methane on Mars), and low-cost entry to house. He has a Ph.D. in physics from the College of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a B.S. in physics from the California Institute of Know-how (Caltech). He might be reached at [email protected].