I’ve been blogging about human resources, in one capacity or another, since 2004. While I’m the first to indict human resources for its stupid behaviors, I also serve as a character witness for the men and women who are in office parks and factories around the world—serving leaders and employees who don’t deserve their genius.

So when LinkedIn announced that it was asking 300 interns with very little work experience to hack their way to a better version of human resources, I was a bit confused. There’s a misplaced belief that 300 fresh and bright eyes might see things that the old people in HR don’t see.

Don’t believe the hype.

Some people think that banishing experts from brainstorming sessions is a good idea, but that’s only been shown in small studies and very contained environments. If you do further reading, science tells us that LinkedIn should just ask 300 women to attack existing HR problems. That would work, actually.

And collaborative efforts are tough. First, you have to agree on the problem. Simply muttering “HR sucks” is not a very effective problem statement. Then you have to get the right people in the room who operate with the right behaviors. Sounds unnecessarily complex because it is complex. If we could hack our way to solutions, we wouldn’t need to hack in the first place. The solutions would appear before us after a long night with a little Adderall and some Diet Mountain Dew.

Listen, I’m all for good work.

But you can’t remove scientists and solve the problem of drug-resistant TB. You can’t get a group of marketing professionals together and solve Beal’s conjecture. How can you get 300 interns to solve HR problems?

Maybe I’m missing something, but this seems sorta dumb.

Hackers know how to hack. Corporate nerds don’t.

I just hope LinkedIn asks their interns to bring more than just enthusiasm. Real hackers bring a very substantial set of tools with them to the party, if you know what I mean. They’re eager to solve problems, of course, but they don’t just show up to the party with their smartphones and a bag of weed. They start with solid computer skills and have a broad understanding of the protocols and technologies that they’re about to dismantle.

Then they might smoke some weed.

Which is why I just can’t believe that 300 interns—with limited work histories and nothing more than a stereotypical worldview of HR that’s been fed to them by consulting firms and academics who benefit from the dismantling of HR—would have more insight on the function of human resources than LinkedIn’s very own HR team.

And what do these interns have that LinkedIn’s HR team doesn’t have?

If LinkedIn doesn’t employ HR domain experts who are steeped in the future of work and implementing those philosophies within their own organization, isn’t that a wholesale indictment of LinkedIn’s business model?

Anyway, the LinkedIn HR Hackathon seems hokey and stupid to me. Just like a bunch of HR tools to watch the for-profit dismantling of their career paths from the sidelines and cheer it on. Ugh. There are days when I feel like Sisyphus, and today is one of those days.

So you can jump on the hackathon bandwagon, but I’m going to sit this one out.


  1. Are they kidding? Stupidest idea I ever heard. Takes crowdsourcing to a new level of ignorance and incompetence.

  2. Asking LinkedIn to hack HR is a monumental waste of time! They can’t even get their own shit straight and in some semblance of order and logic. Anxious to see if they come up with anything worthwhile.


  3. The challenge of being in HR is that everyone thinks they can do it because everyone is directly impacted by HR. Think of the typical executive team meeting – IT isn’t questioned because it’s “technical”, Finance isn’t questioned because it’s “math” (plus there isn’t as much transparency about the numbers as they like us to believe), Engineering isn’t questioned because it’s “science”.

    But HR is ALWAYS questioned. We are to blame for some of it, but I really think a lot of it is because everyone has an opinion about it. “I have employees…I AM an employee…HR is easy!” (By the way, I think Marketing gets this sometimes, too – “I buy stuff. Marketing is easy!”)

    Anyway….good stuff. This seems like such a publicity stunt. (Huh…maybe marketing IS easy…)

  4. This falls right in line with (sadly) current corporate thinking – that the up-and-coming workforce (millennials) have all the answers and we must look to them and adopt their ways of running our businesses (open space, everyone’s a winner, holacracy?!) and acquiesce to their whim.
    The biggest issue is execs running the show – chasing the next shiny thing. In 45 years on the job, I’ve never seen management fold like this, under the worship of a specific group.
    They’ll get exactly what they asked for.

  5. I sense much fear in you.

    Seriously I see nothing wrong about looking at a problem through fresh eyes. Does this mean that LinkedIn, or anyone else for that matter is going to change how they choose to recruit? The answer to that is no. Might there be one good idea that comes out, that can be thrashed around, and added to the current system…. yes. I have seen more than one seasoned professional get blinded by “well we have never done it that way in my 45 years of recruiting” and who cannot think outside the box.

    If this kind of thing does not suit you… then my suggestion is stay away from the Bay Area, and particularly stay away from recruitment at large scale internet companies. Because it is obvious that you do not understand, what you do not understand.

    I am a Gen X’er, I don’t care when an engineer was born, I just care about how smart they are, how adaptable, and how much they really understand how things work. I have recruited at more than a few large scale internet companies (have not recruited at LinkedIn yet). I have learned from people older than me, I have learned from people younger than me, and I have even gotten good ideas from college kids.

    Instead of poopooing an idea, look for what maybe some good ones, or close to good ones, and expand on that.

  6. Let’s be honest, I know a dozen great HR practitioners, who, if given the authority, could absolutely “fix stuff” – but that’s not really generating any publicity for LinkedIn. You probably know several (if not all) of them too.

    I am always (I’d like to say “almost always” but I’m being honest) skeptical if anyone who tries to fix my problem when they have little to no practical, hands-on experience in the area of the problem.

    Theoretically I know how to change the spark plugs in my car. I understand how the engine works, I have watched someone else change spark plugs, but I can’t tell you how to do it more efficiently.

  7. Thanks Laurie. I get so sick and tired of hearing people say they can fix HR. Well then, why the heck haven’t they? Maybe because it isn’t necessarily broken. Perhaps management and leadership (or lack of both) are more broken? I’m just saying. Love your comment about women.

  8. Ideas are plentiful and lots of folks in HR (and outside of HR) generate lots of great ideas for improving HR. What bugs me about every one of these “let the new generation fix it” is that it’s pretty disrespectful of experience and folks that have been doing the good work day in and day out.

    When I came into the job 20 years ago, I had the same youthful energy. I had ideas. I had enthusiasm and drive. If I had a dime for every time I heard “hold up hotdog” and “wait your turn, it will come” — I’d have a lot of dimes.

    I have that same youthful energy, ideas, enthusiasm and drive 20 years later. I waited my turn (sometimes;)) and I learned a lot of lessons about executing plans, constraints, and reality.

    I would love to hear folks’ ideas, just as I would have loved to have so many of my naive ideas heard. Problem is… it’s not likely this group of 300 people will look at the system with a complete analysis across multiple contexts (HR is not a borg-hive.) Making suggestions without first asking questions won’t yield much fruit. Making assumptions and not sticking around to do the hard work, to fail at times, and to push through to make real positive change work… isn’t the work of solutions. It’s complaining and throwing darts.

    THAT… is what *could* make this a joke. On the other hand, maybe 300 fresh folks at a typewriter could write a best seller:P

    • I like. You know, I wasn’t even focused on the generational issue but rather why any company would disrespect its core buyer so much.

  9. I´ve been working in HR since the year of 2000 and sometimes get tired of how everybody thinks they know how to do HR the “right way” – like the education and experience many HR-people have count for nothing.
    Of course we are not (all) perfect 😉 but I don´t know many HR-people telling the CFOs of this world how to do their jobs….

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