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'The Apprentice,' software style

"You can consider it the 'You're hired!' version," says founder of software company at center of documentary.

Joel Spolsky is a far cry from Donald Trump, but cameras will be filming workers at his software company this summer as part of a documentary inspired by Trump's popular television show "The Apprentice."

"Inspired" may be too kind a word. "Agitated into action" better describes how Spolsky was moved to arrange for a filmmaker to shoot the progress of four interns at Fog Creek Software in New York City.

"I always get frustrated by 'The Apprentice,'" Spolsky said on Wednesday. While viewers of the program are interested in seeing the realities of the business world, the NBC show serves up "fake" challenges for contestants such as selling chocolate bars to passersby, Spolsky said.

Joel Spolsky
Joel Spolsky

With a measure of ambition that might impress The Donald himself, Spolsky decided an interesting documentary could be made at his own small firm, which produces project management software for software teams.

The subject of the film is a summer internship at Fog Creek during which four interns are slated to create a software product, test it, ship it to customers and get feedback.

Other documentaries have focused on software companies, such as Code Rush, a film about Netscape engineers.

But these previous efforts failed to capture all aspects of the software business, Spolsky said. So did previous Fog Creek internships, which concentrated on code writing. This summer, interns will tackle smaller projects so they can move on to other tasks that are part of the "full lifecycle" of software, he said.

Three interns will develop the code, while the fourth will focus on product marketing.

Spolsky declined to say what the software product will be, but said it will be revealed about halfway through the 10- to 12-week internship. Fog Creek interns also will have a group blog.

Filmmaker Lerone Wilson, an NYU film school grad, will document the interns' progress. Fog Creek is paying him $5,000 and will reimburse up to $5,000 of his expenses, but Wilson has editorial control of the film, Spolsky said.

The project isn't Spolsky's first exposure to the limelight. He runs a well-known blog on software development and has been interviewed in publications such as Salon.com.

His company also is on the rise. It has just five full-time employees, but revenue has more than doubled every year since its inception five years ago, according to Spolsky.

Growing fame and business success...could Spolsky be another "Donald" in the making? Not likely. While Trump has a reputation for ruthlessness, Spolsky leads a company where he says it's rare for employees to work more than 40 hours a week.

Nor does Spolsky plan this summer to deliver Trump's famed line--"You're fired!" In fact, it's possible an industrious intern will get an offer of employment from Fog Creek, Spolsky suggested. "You can consider it the 'You're hired!' version," he said.