What Your Text Editor Can Say About You

In my role as a manager on a growing engineering team, a lot of my time lately is spent reviewing resumes and conducting phone interviews. Resumes and LinkedIn profiles leave a lot to be desired when trying to evaluate applicants, but unfortunately they’re the only things we have. It is incredibly hard to gauge where a person is in their personal development as a software engineer just from reading a one or two page document and talking for an hour over the phone. Fortunately, one strong signal I’ve found is if the candidate has Vim or Emacs listed on their resume.

An important step in your personal development as a software engineer is the realization that you need to invest time in mastering your tools. In a similar vein to Steve Yegge writing about programmers needing to know how to type, programmers also need to put the time in toward mastery of their text editor. What makes Vim and Emacs such a strong signal is that to be able to be productive in them, you have to have made the decision that you’re going to spend at least some time learning how to use them. They both have steep learning curves and could even be said to be hostile to beginners, but investing the time to completely grok one or both of them shows that you have grasped the value of learning a tool will pay itself back over your entire career.

Now I’m not saying that people who use different text editors haven’t put time in to mastering them, just that having them on your resume gives very little if any signal. When you’re applying to jobs with a resume, the person screening the resumes is likely seeing many resumes a week on top of their standard day-to-day work, and is always looking something in the resume that jumps out to them and suggests a deeper investigation.