I lied my way into this career

Published 2015-08-06
This is one of my favorite essays

I lied my way into my first full-paying web job (as a junior web developer at a large electronics company headquartered in the Portland suburbs). I reckon the statute of limitations is probably up on this lie.

Interviewer: Do you know ASP?

Paul: Oh yes sure.

Interviewer: [two hours later, by phone] You’re hired. See you Monday.

Paul: [to self] Crap, what is ASP? [Spend all weekend at Powell’s Tech reading up on ASP in a cold sweat]

This was way before Stack Overflow obviously.

Lucky for me there was another dev at this shop who sniffed me out right away, and handed me a bunch of code including the ORM/CRUD stuff (Access backend!) I never would have figured out on my own. I lied my way into that job (and thus, this career), and trusted bravado to carry me through my first week. I hoped that one week of boot camp would be sufficient education to make me actually competent on my second week.

I was not the only person who did this in 1999. It was a very different job market. I more than half-suspect the hiring manager barely cared. There was a mad scramble to fill seats with warm bodies on any project even remotely touching The Web — which was itself only about five years old in popular consciousness. So no one had any depth and everyone was to some degree making it up as they went along.

Young people: I do not recommend you lie in a job interview. In any job market. This was stupid and reckless. This story isn’t about the lying. It is about the learning.

Anyway I was relaying this story today on Facebook as a haha-funny anecdote about the go-go DotCom boom.

I thought at best the lesson here was something about reverse Imposter Syndrome (Duning Kruger effect maybe?) but I realize I'm telling a story about Diversity in Tech & the myth of the 10x programmer. I was a computer newb, heck I had never had a single CompSci or art class in my life. I certainly never had to write a FizzBuzz algorithm or anything. But with sufficient motivation and a supportive work environment I went from zero to “competent” in an alien technology in about 2 weeks. What we do isn’t that hard. You can train an intelligent person to do web dev stuffs at a basic level in a matter of weeks.

If you want a more diverse work environment, it is probably only as hard as hiring someone who is not like you. Are they “qualified?” That’s the wrong question. Can they learn to do the job?

I dunno, I did.

Addendum 2016-07-13

It’s worth noting here that I had acquired some basic computer skills before My First Big Kid Web Dev job. In particular my academic and archaeology backgrounds had given me some experience with Unix and databases, respectively. I had also been fooling around with my own websites since 1995. But these were, again, not hugely weighty subject areas. They represented only a few months of cumulative learning, probably, compared to say everything I had learned about hominid evolution or stratigraphic seriation.