Today bank holiday languor drew me to idly wonder if the JavaScript for The Guardian’s Comment is Free section could be tinkered with to send multiple upvotes on a post – pretty unlikely, as it depends on a server-side response. But, as Douglas Adams once noted, I’d already had as many baths as I could usefully have in one day, so I gave it a go, and found an open developers job ad hidden in the linked JavaScript.

“WE ARE HIRING”, reads the shouty legend in line five of the JavaScript (see main image above), which continues: Ever thought about joining us? http://developers.theguardian.com/join-the-team.html

Though the ad’s attention-grabbing ASCII-art is buried a little deeper in the code than the likes of Flickr and Uber secrete their own developer opportunities, at least it’s still human-readable. If The Guardian had really wanted to run a gauntlet it would have split the output into an array and forced the disgruntled dev to evaluate it with a ‘for’ loop (a technique beloved of hackers attempting cross-site scripting and hoping to hide the evil intentions of their code in functions).

Cryptic approaches to developer recruitment have been in the news this past week due to a Business Insider article detailing how Google ran an unexpected series of challenges on a Python programmer who was searching Google’s results for code-related information – and eventually offered the young neophyte a job. Many have likened the moment when the programmer’s Google results split to reveal the challenge to the moment that Keanu Reeves’ character was ‘challenged’ by Morpheus in 1999’s The Matrix.

The invitation Google extended to Python programmer Max Rosett via his search results for 'Mutex lock'

The invitation Google extended to Python programmer Max Rosett via his search results for ‘Mutex lock’ (http://www.businessinsider.com/i-was-invited-by-google-to-its-secret-interview-process-2015-8)

In 2012  German advertising agency Jung von Matt dug deep into the autopiloted work-flow of designers, leveraging their need for placeholder text to infiltrate an ad for its services into the very clipboards of overworked designers:

This is arguably a perfidious tactic, since those laying out the copy are almost never those who commission it. Nonetheless the company exposed the position available to 200,000 people in a week by this method. Two years earlier the Daily Mail website had used its own site’s robots.txt file – a  templated list which tells search engines such as Google of pages that it does not want indexed – to advertise for an SEO manager.

The puzzle Google posed to potential employees on a Silicon Valley billboard in July 2004

The puzzle Google posed to potential employees on a Silicon Valley billboard in July 2004

Returning to Google, the Chocolate Factory’s own unconventional recruiting techniques have been the stuff of controversy and even a mainstream movie, and intercepting the web-searches of  avid programmers is not the strangest approach the company has made to potential employees. In the summer of 2004 Google posed a mathematical quandary via a public billboard in Silicon Valley, the resolution of which would eventually lead the successful inquirer to a special recruiting microsite for the company.

There’s a distinct logic in using this kind of ‘contextual recruiting’ to lower the signal-to-noise ratio of respondents; anyone who opens a console on a Guardian page is either a Guardian tech, a hacker worth an attempt at converting, or someone at least in the correct educational and motivational space for a potential dev employee. It makes sense likewise to hide SEO opportunities in HTML code, front-end development openings in JavaScript (as the Guardian have done) and back-end dev positions in HTTP headers.

Who knows how many recruitment ‘Easter eggs’ are live now, and actually relying on non-disclosure to maintain their value as recruiting tools? Or how deep some of them may make you run down the rabbit hole?