The awful experience of firing someone I hired for the first time

I hired people before, but I never had to fire them, also I fired people before, but it was not people I hired. This time I had to fire someone I hired, and to me it felt like one of the worst work weeks I ever had.

At the company where I am currently CTO, we needed someone to help with some minor programming tasks, for example updating our programs when the SDK is updated, or implementing some minor features, we had to choose what sort of employee to hire.

The choice made was to hire an intern, the first reason is that a full-time employee would be too expensive to us, to do minor tasks like these, the second reason was that our office is in walking distance of Universidade de São Paulo (the most prestigious Brazillian university both inside and outside Brazil), it was just a matter of hiring the intern formally with USP, and actually treating him like a intern (not like a “cheaper” employee like some places like to do).

We ended putting up our advertising in the middle of the school vacation, this meant that few people saw our ad, but some did. My hiring process was simple, first he guy had to pass the “Fizz Buzz” test, and then the candidate would be interviewer by me and the CEO.

I ended hiring a guy, let’s call him “Bob”, that is not his real name (not even close), and he worked for two weeks before I ended firing him. Those two weeks were one of the most stressful weeks I ever had, and the day I fired him my week got ruined, I fired Bob in the middle of the week, and I spent the rest of the days upset, grumpy and bothered with many things.

The first feeling of firing Bob, was that I was firing a dude that wanted to work a lot, Bob is one of the most persistent and organized persons I ever met, he really wanted the job, he was always on time (something very rare in Brazil), and he was always busy, constantly trying to do things, anything, also Bob is young, just starting his career, and firing someone with all those attributes made me feel bad, I felt like I was hurting someone, and making that someone sad, and maybe ruining his career or something, in fact this is the reason that I ended firing him earlier than I promised the CEO, and the reason why I was very honest and tried to explain how he could improve.

But still, although this was a pain, after firing the guy it passed, yet my week still felt ruined, and I was still in foul mood, and I had to figure out why, my bad mood was making it even worse, I was upset for being upset. The end result was me trying to figure why was that, and I reached a conclusion: I had failed.

I hired the guy, and he was a very poor fit, despite being a maths major, he did not knew that “difference” meant minus (he thought it was a division), he had no idea what a tangent was (but knew the calculation formula), and although his resume listed he as a C programmer, he had no clue what a pointer was. I had to fire him because many times I spent so many time explaining him how to do his tasks, that I figured that if I did them myself it would save time, the case was not only a failure to live up to his wage, it was that he made me waste time, his value to the company was negative, and I felt like a failure because I hired him in first place.

Why I hired the guy? It was because I was too desperate, there was not enough candidates, and he was the “less worse” candidate, he almost flunked the Fizz Buzz test, not knowing that the else statement in C applied only to one if  statement, and not to all previous ones, he claimed that he was rusty after a year working abroad as a pizza cook, and in desperation, I let him pass, the other candidates were just outright terrible, at least he knew what he wanted to do, only did not knew how.

This is why I felt bad, I cheated, the hiring process was fudged so I could hire someone when none was actually worthy being hired, I hired the “less bad” guy, and that was still bad enough to create problems for the company, I felt it was like a personal failure, it was not Bob’s fault, it was my fault, I allowed him to be hired, despite knowing that I should not have hired him, I allowed hope and desperation to lead my hiring process, and not the rules I had chosen, or even common sense.

It was a painful lesson, I fired the guy Wednesday, and ended skipping work Friday because I felt so bad that it compounded some medical condition I had and I got sick, from now on I know, never, ever, act out of desperation if there is a choice, the company could very much well wait for someone better, there was no need to do what I did, I finally understood why you should always try to hire someone better than you, why a “A player” hire another “A player”, instead of settling with a “B player”.


Fizz Buzz test