“Grades don’t tell you anything”: Gabe Newell on how Valve hires new employees

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By on January 6, 2014 at 3:31 pm

Valve co-founder and beard-lord Gabe Newell has used a new interview with the Washington Post to discuss what the company looks for in potential hires, saying that ‘traditional credentials’ and grades have very little impact on their decisions.

“The traditional credentialing really doesn’t have a lot of predictive value to whether people will be successful,” said Newell in response to an observation that Valve seems only to hire modders. “One of the things you have to do to be successful in our business is to be responsive to reactions that people have. You can give ten people the same set of forum posts and only one of them will actually take it in a productive direction.”

“So the fact that somebody has been able to build something and ship it and not get sort of bogged down and give up and then deal with the gush of responses you get, filter through that in a useful and productive way and iterate is really the core of product design and development in our world. When you see somebody who has already done that, especially if nobody was teaching or leading them to do that it’s a really good sign that they’re going to be successful.”

Newell claimed that “Somebody having a PhD from an Ivy League school tells you nothing about whether they’re going to be successful in our space.”

“Grades don’t tell you anything,” he said. “Most people who end up being successful have good grades, but it’s orthogonal — there’s no extra information than if they put together a website and have bunch of fans who love coming and seeing what they’re doing. That’s true if they’re writers like Erik or Chet, or programmers like Steve Bond, or artists like Johnny Guthrie. They all have shown that ability to engage and entertain and respond to an audience which is the critical characteristic for people here.”

Source: Washington Post (thanks Patrick)

7 comments (Leave your own)

Nice to know at least one work place will look at something other than pieces of paper for applicants


Nice to know at least one work place will look at something other than pieces of paper for applicants

I know a lot of people say “it would be nice if companies didn’t hire on grades alone”, but I’ve never ever worked with a company that hired on university grades alone. With possibly an exception for some research/development areas which is different because because if you aren’t competent in theory then you struggle to be a productive member, even then grades would probably only be a contributing factor unless going for a graduate position.


If anything I have seen more companies that actively look down on overly high results. Unfortunately high uni results do not necessarily correlate with exceptional real world skills.


I think people also need to remember that statements like this don’t negate tertiary education either, I think it is just as ignorant to believe tertiary education is useless. Job listings often require degrees for a reason, it’s not just some ticket you hand to the job conductor who opens the gate to magical job land.


If anything I have seen more companies that actively look down on overly high results.Unfortunately high uni results do not necessarily correlate with exceptional real world skills.

Well, they don’t inversely correlate with exceptional real world skills either.

And high grades generally do correlate with high intelligence and good work ethic. So companies deliberately avoiding people with high grades would be effectively excluding the subset of people who are highly intelligent, work hard, and have “exceptional real world skills”. Sounds like a solid plan.

In my experience people who got crap grades at school or uni tend to be the ones who talk up “real world street smarts from the skool of life, yo”.

Also, since when does Valve care about an ability to ship products? I call b.s.


But good luck breaking getting into Valve without having first had another IT job….which you will often need those accreditations for.

From being at university there is a big difference between people that get Pass grades and those that get High Distinctions, and its not just about intelligence, people who get the high grades also tend to have a much better work ethic. That’s why companies look at grades.

But of course your grades only matter for your first job…..as soon as you have full time experience and examples of projects you’ve worked on then that.s what is going to be looked at for future jobs…..similar to how high school grades are only useful in order to get to university.



I was not condoning the looking down on high grades at all. I was merely observing that they do not necessarily correlate to real world job performance. I would definitely agree that low grades don’t tell you that someone has good skills! It’s more that uni tests a certain set of skills but there are many it doesn’t give you any idea on.

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