GPA to performance relationship: was Trent's projects

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Author: Steve Litt
To: plug-discuss
Old-Topics: Re: Trent's projects
Subject: GPA to performance relationship: was Trent's projects
On Sat, 27 Jan 2018 21:00:25 +0000 (UTC)
David Schwartz <> wrote:

> What I will say is this:
> I’ve interviewed enough people in my time that I think I’ve noticed a
> pattern. I’m curious what you guys think.
> The higher the GPA, the less such people seem able to do
> out-of-the-box or even off-the-cuff thinking.

There's enough anecdotal evidence of what you observed that it's
acquired a proverb:

"The A students become college professors, and the B students work for
the C students."

> I think my overall GPA was 2.76 and in my major it was a little lower
> (because of required math classes I really didn’t like or find
> stimulating). I was bored out of my mind most of the time, and I
> spent a lot of time playing with other things.

You just implicated a possible CAUSE for what you've observed: A zero
sum relationship between grades and learning. You could have buckled
down and gotten a 3.9, but curiosity caused you to hack, thereby
becoming a much better programmer.

<prejudice> Most 4 year colleges promote a zero sum between learning
and grades. My belief is that they do this to justify their existence:
If prospective students thought the subject matter was easy enough to
do it themselves (Read Wirth's "Algorithms and Data Structures" and
analyze it in a study group, for instance), they'd never get a student.

As opposed to community colleges, which just want to get the student
ready for the marketplace. When I learned programming at Santa Monica
Community College, it was so easy to get an A that I did all sorts of
special projects and still had a 4.0.</prejudice>

Long before Santa Monica College, I was a BSEE major (and grad) at
Illinois Institute of Technology (I think about 2.5 GPA). In the dorm,
I got a big old capacitor, charged it up, and discharged it on peoples'
doorknobs, making a loud pop and sending sparks 8 inches out. One guy,
with much better grades than mine, asked in awe "What is that thing?"
When I said a capacitor, he couldn't understand, and I finally had to go
through the math to show him how a capacitor could store a given amount
of charge at a given amount of voltage. Finally I got him to understand
that a capacitor is more than two parallel lines on a paper: It's a
physical thing that can do some pretty interesting stuff.

My friend in the preceding paragraph was in it for the money. He didn't
mess around with radios, or dream of doing strange logic with nand
gates, or make spark gaps. When he turned 17, he had to figure out what
to do with his life, and electrical engineering seemed as good as
anything. With his excellent grades, I'm sure he did just fine. But I
wouldn't expect anything earth-shaking.

> I’d prefer to hire people with similar GPAs and avoid those with 3.4
> and higher, since they can’t seem to figure out how to break out of a
> paper bag given a few nominal restrictions. (Yes, it’s a
> generalization, but that’s what I’ve found.)

If one assumes that the generalization is mostly true, it's still
prudent to look at factors that cause both great grades and paper bag
breakout. In my opinion, if a person went to an easy school (like Santa
Monica College, or perhaps a 4 year equivalent), then there was no
tradeoff and he might be excellent. If he graduated at an advanced age
(above 28,for instance), it's likely he's a great technologist who went
back to school to learn the theoretical underpinnings whose lack were
bottlenecking him. Also, maybe the guy's just a plain genius who can go
to the most confusing college and still get straight A's combined with
spectacular projects. In those three situations, you'd be missing a
good candidate to reject because he's over 3.4, even though in general
you just might be right.


Steve Litt
January 2018 featured book: Troubleshooting: Why Bother?
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