We shall be reading together (with all of #bitcoin-assets) from How the Other Half Works: an Adventure in the Low Status of Software Engineers by said Michael O. Church.
Bill (not his real name, and I’ve fuzzed some details to protect his identity)
Protect his identity from what ?
is a software engineer on the East Coast, who, at the time (between 2011 and 2014) of this story, had recently turned 30 and wanted to see if he could enter a higher weight class on the job market. In order to best assess this, he applied to two different levels of position at roughly equivalent companies: same size, same level of prestige, same U.S. city on the West Coast. To one company, he applied as a Senior Software Engineer. To the other, he applied for VP of Data Science.
I may be the only one, but barbarisms like "two levels of position" bother me. I see them as the early signs of anomie.
That aside, two companies may be said to be equivalent, but you always need some criteria. There's no equivalency in se, of the things themselvesi. From a financial perspective for instance, two companies are perhaps equivalent if they meet the same ROE values or market share or whatever other indicators or basket thereof we may be interested in. From a highway patrol perspective, two companies are perhaps equivalent if their employees get the same number of speeding tickets over a time interval. In no case I can think of two companies are equivalent because they are located in the same town, and while the criteria may be constructed that'd leave companies "equivalent" based on employee headcount or office floor space they do promise to be quite torturous. So what I want to know is, what the fuck is "the same level of prestige" ?
I'll propose to you an alternative theory, to constructively explain what's going on here. Michael O. Church is the sort of scumbag that has reached a conclusion and is trying to fit the data to it, and then claim the title of "experiment" for the dubious concoction thus distilled. You know, like women do, the sort of women that then wonder why there's not more women like them in tech. Much like dreams proceed from a final state through subjective interrogation towards "explanations" that are then presented as anterior to the "final" state that actually spawned them, much like the ignorant never educated mind proceeds to "think", Michael O. Church has decided that he'll make an experiment, whether what he's doing there has anything to do with the scientific method or not, and he's decided that for his "experiment" to be an experiment he needs "equivalent" companies, and so they will by god be equivalent, declaratively, through a scummy fuckwit's fiat (apparently these can alter reality now) and in order for them to be equivalent there shall be some reasons. They're in the same town, and they both have 95 prestige.
Isn't life inside a computer game wonderful ?
Bill had been a Wall Street quant and had “Vice President” in his title, noting that VP is a mid-level and often not managerial position in an investment bank. His current title was Staff Software Engineer, which was roughly Director-equivalent. He’d taught a couple of courses and mentored a few interns, but he’d never been an official manager. So he came to me for advice on how to appear more “managerial” for the VP-level application.
There is a lot wrong with this, not all of it directly to do with the particular glob of filth (also alternatively referred to as Michael O. Church at other places in this article). For instance, in no way is a "Staff Software Engineer" Director-equivalent. Not "roughly" in any sense of roughly and not in any other way. To understand each other : a staff tech is any one of the numerous monkeys a company may employ. If it's a construction company, a staff architect may be any one of ten thousand guys working on plans. If it's a software company, a staff software engineer is any one of ten thousand guys working on code. If it's a restaurant chain, a staff cook is any one of the dudes working the stoves in the back. Meanwhile a Director is one of the dozen or so people that sit on the board of a company. They're not the cooks the company employs, they're the fucking board. I can readily understand why any monkey would wish to present itself as in charge : to impress the she-monkeys if nothing else. Hell, every poor street urchin in Mogadishu will pretend, if only for a moment, he owns any parked car he passes by. Nevertheless : being a Director requires some skills, some particular, rare and valuable skills. Anyone can learn to monkey code. This difference is very, very important : only some people may ever be Directors. Any people, and a large majority of chimps, can learn to java or whatever the hell.
Which leads us exactly into the other problem (we're skipping the indignity of banks calling middle management "Vice Presidents" in lieu of actually paying them) : why would someone wish to appear more manager-y than he is ? Management is not a sort of a hat, it's not the equivalent of being "cool" or "hip". Management is a professional field, it's like being a doctor. Would you like to be a doctor just for the sake of the title, skipping the school and the practice ? What do you do when they bring you some guy in pain ? This nonsense is setting oneself up for disaster for absolutely no good reason. So do me a favour : if you want to be a manager, go apprentice at the foot of a good manager that'll have you. Don't just call yourself a manager like some sort of African "doctor"/shaman with dirt under the nails. It's not how this white thing called civilisation that we've got going works, okay ?
His first question was what it would take to get “managerial experience” in his next job. I was at a loss, when it comes to direct experience, so my first thought was, “Fake it till you make it”.
It is extremely expensive to learn how to open cans by throwing random items at a random selection of cans. It is much more effectual and much more effective to have someone who knows how to open cans show you how to open cans.
There's no such thing as "fake it 'till you make it be a bridge", you don't want people falling to their death because your parents didn't know when and how to beat that offensive, empty ego out of you. Moreover, the approach is offensive, my objection here isn't that this scumbag Michael O. Church is dispensing fundamentally broken advice, but the meta-problem : this Michael O. Church fuckwit actually believes that he has electricity and water piped in his house so he can shave in the morning through a process of... well... first day he pretended to shave, then he kept pretending to shave and lo and behold! today he's actually shaving. Copper wire and PVC pipe just sorta grew by itself under the ground, he dun knoe.
Could I make Bill, a strong but not exceptional data-scientist-slash-software-engineer, over into a manager? The first bit of good news was that we didn’t have to change much.
Basically, in every internet derp there's a hair stylist struggling to get out.
Bill’s Vice President title (from the bank) could be kept as-is, and changing Staff Software Engineer to Director didn’t feel dishonest, because it was a lateral tweak. If anything, that’s a demotion because engineering ladders are so much harder to climb, in dual-track technology companies, than management ladders.
It didn't feel, it didn't feel dishonest, you see. If I run into Michael O. Church's wife I'm going to push her against the wall, rip her panties off and stick my penis into her. And it won't feel like rape, you see, which should be sufficient. In fact, it'd be almost like a demotion, I usually get much better tail anyway. Right ? Getting the sort I normally get is so much harder than getting the sort he normally gets that I can just up and take his for myself.
Everything in Bill’s “management résumé” was close enough to true that few would consider it unethical.
Fancy that, a democratic approach to ethics! From what I hear, a gangbang is enjoyed by roughly nine out of ten participants, and therefore it roughly speaking meets the same standard, and... how shall I put this... is it perhaps EQUIVALENT ?
We upgraded his social status and management-culture credibility– as one must, and is expected to, do in that world– but not his technical credentials. We turned technical leadership into “real”, power-to-fire leadership, but that was the only material change.
Let's try and reconstruct the original from that :
I told her that I'm not a virgin, because it's not like girls can tell anyway.
Sounds legit, good thinking there.
We spent hours making sure we weren’t really lying, as neither Bill nor I was keen on damaging Bill’s career to carry out this experiment, and because the integrity of the experiment required it.
If you learn to awk someday changing John's name to Bill won't take hours anymore.
In fact, we kept the management résumé quite technical. Bill’s experience was mostly as implementor, and we wanted to stay truthful about that. I’ll get to the results of the experiment later on, but there were two positive side effects of his self-rebranding, as a “manager who implemented”. The first is that, because he didn’t have to get his hands dirty as a manager, he got a lot of praise for doing things that would just have been doing his job if he were a managed person.
Which happens to be exactly what he actually was. But it's not technically a lie, it's merely equivalent to one.
Why all this preoccupation with getting praise one didn't actually earn, I wonder ? Most people I know, should they find themselves in a situation where they are praised for things they didn't do will curtly point out they didn't do it and that's that. Perhaps I'm wasting my life with the wrong crowd, but I tell you... wouldn't it be kinda lame to discover this guy you know, go have lunch with, whatever is actually this fucking infantile ? What sort of manager is this going to make, some twerp who's ready to lie for a bonbon ? Or whatever they give trick dogs these days, I don't think it's bonbons anymore, popcorn or whatever it may be.
Would you do tricks for popcorn ? And if you actually did... would you think you're a manger ? I don't know any managers like that. I know a bunch of cocky kids with delusions of self importance whose careers are going nowhere that are exactly like that... but no Director I ever knew seriously takes them for managers. I guess I need new friends.
Second, and related to the first but far more powerful, is that he no longer had to excuse himself for menial projects or periods of low technical activity. As opposed to, “I was put on a crappy project”, which projects low status, his story evolved into “No one else could do it, so I had to get my hands dirty”, which is a high-status, managerial excuse for spending 6 months on an otherwise career-killing project.
Leaving aside the stupidity of this, let's try and think ahead. So I see this candidate come in, and I judge that I want some guy who seems to be easily bullied into doing something other than his job. And I make the decision to hire him. What do you expect will happen next ? I'm going to assign him to a crappy / career killing project, n'est pas ? THAT'S WHAT I FUCKING HIRED HIM FOR.
But whatever, that's not really Michael O. Church's problem, he's not paid to get people good jobs, that they like and enjoy. He's just paid to package shit and cash that sign-on bonus, like a porn paysite or whatever. Nice country to live in, that fabulous space populated by nothing but little Michael O. Church clones, running around trying to sell broken shit to each other, while pretending to be managers, businessmen, vice-presidents, directors and whatnot. You know, for all the shit people talk of the third world, people there are generally a lot less contemptible.
In fact, one could argue that Bill’s management résumé, while less truthful on-paper, was more honest and ethical. Yes, we inflated his social status and gave him managerial titles. However, we didn’t have to inflate his technical accomplishments, or list technologies that he’d barely touched under his “Skills” section, to make a case for him. After a certain age, selling yourself as an engineer tends to require (excluding those in top-notch R&D departments or open-allocation shops) that you (a) only work on the fun stuff, rather than the career-killing dreck, and play the political games that requires, (b) mislead future employers about the quality of your work experience, or (c) spend a large portion of your time on side projects, which usually turns into a combination of (a) and (b).
So this would be how the other half lives, now we finally know : they select a subset of reality that's not okay to lie about, then lie about all the rest, which is fine because hey, it wasn't in the holy set! They're objectionable racists in their day to day life, but hey, never ever have they said "nigger"! That's all it takes, formal complaisance, no substance whatsoever required. Built on these coordinates the whole of the US is practically speaking an endless fractal implementation of the exact opposite of robustness. The slightest breeze in any direction threatens to topple the cardboard-and-paint, termite-eaten echafaudage, and you can't even predict which way it'll fall, because it's not really directly obvious or all that transparent which domains were picked by which actors in this endless game of transactional psychopathology.
A sad state of affairs if there ever was one.
Was this experiment ethical? I would say that it was. When people ask me if they should fudge their career histories or résumés, I always say this: it’s OK to fix prior social status because one’s present state (abilities, talents) is fully consistent with the altered past. It’s like formally changing a house’s address from 13 to 11 before selling it to a superstitious buyer: the fact being erased is that it was once called “13”, one that will never matter for any purpose or cause material harm to anyone. On the other hand, lying about skills is ethically wrong (it’s job fraud, because another person is deceived into making decisions that are inconsistent with the actual present state, and that are possibly harmful in that context) and detrimental, in the long term, to the person doing it. While I think it’s usually a bad idea to do so, I don’t really have a moral problem with people fudging dates or improving titles on their résumés, insofar as they’re lying about prior social status (a deception as old as humanity itself) rather than hard currencies like skills and abilities.
I would say that Michael O. Church has no inkling of an idea as to what "ethical" means, but I rest at ease knowing that he has a ready "equivalency" for it. What really gets my goat, however, is the impudence of random clerks deciding actual management is "a supersitious buyer". If the manager doesn't want a house at #13, the real estate agent is not at liberty to decide that the manager is wrong. The real estate agent is also not at liberty to imagine he knows better. If I ring the hotel desk at three o'clock in the morning and order a large cucumber brought up it's similarly not the place of the butler tasked with serving me to decide I should have a tomato instead. He's there to ask if I want it warm or refrigerated and gofer presto. That's it. That's the relationship here, let's stick to it.
Moreover... it's the sign of a very poor con man to make definitive statements so easily falsified. Changing the house number definitely matters for obvious purposes, such as receiving mail. What sort of "I'm not even trying anymore" level nonsense is this ? All deception is "as old as humanity itself", what's this supposed to be ?! Who is the intended audience here, ESL seventeen year old McD chief-associate-vicepresident-supervisors ?
Bill faced five hour-long technical interviews. Three went well. One was so-so, because it focused on implementation details of the JVM, and Bill’s experience was almost entirely in C++, with a bit of hobbyist OCaml. The last interview sounds pretty hellish. It was with the VP of Data Science, Bill’s prospective boss, who showed up 20 minutes late and presented him with one of those interview questions where there’s “one right answer” that took months, if not years, of in-house trial and error to discover. It was one of those “I’m going to prove that I’m smarter than you” interviews.
In the post-mortem, I told Bill not to sweat that last interview. Often, companies will present a candidate with an unsolved or hard-to-solve problem and don’t expect a full solution in an hour. I was wrong on that count.
I know people at Company A, so I was able to get a sense of how things went down. Bill’s feedback was: 3 positive, 1 neutral, and 1 negative, exactly as might have been expected from his own account. Most damning were the VP’s comments: “good for another role, but not on my team“. Apparently the VP was incensed that he had to spend 39 and a half minutes talking to someone without a PhD and, because Bill didn’t have the advanced degree, the only way that that VP would have considered him good enough to join would be if he could reverse-engineer the firm’s “secret sauce” in 40 minutes, which I don’t think anyone could.
So out of four valley firms, one has a competent VP in a key position. News at 11, seriously. Why did you think it's called a bubble ?
Honestly that's about all the Michael O. Church I can stomach - I'll gladly skip the living wage inanity discernible under the surface, it's not surprising that scummy fuckwits think everyone should get a job no matter if they're qualified or competent, and it's perfectly okay to be neither, why should you be. After all, no work is roughly equivalent to hard work and what do those people who can figure shit out think themselves so smart for anyway! Fun discussion, but for some other time.———
- This is a very old, and very lame cold caller/con artist trick : showing equivalency in some aspect and from that pretending to infer "equivalency" pure and simple. It's fraud, basically, and while one may excuse retired old waitresses from falling for such miserable tricks, one'd certainly expect any college graduate to be able to disentangle a skein of thought and detect what is sophistical enough to not fall for this sort of nonsense. [↩]