Pragmatic 10: Passion Over Academic Proof

27 January, 2014


John and Ben discuss the problems that arise when we rely on qualifications alone to gauge a person’s potential. Just how valuable are degrees, certifications and tests in evaluating someone’s passion, work ethic or dynamism?

Transcript available
[MUSIC] >> This is Pragmatic, a weekly discussion show contemplating the practical application of technology. Exploring the real world trade-offs, we look at how great ideas are transformed into products and services that can change our lives. Nothing is as simple as it seems. I'm Ben Alexander and my co-host is John Chidjy. How's it going, John? going exceptionally well, actually, Ben, for a few reasons. First of all, this is episode 10. So I'm really excited that we've just entered double digits, which is cool. Double digits. Also, yeah, I know, it's very, very cool. Plus, it's our first live show and personally, my first live show. Yeah, me too. Yeah, so I'm really, really excited about this one. So it's special for a couple of reasons, but... I'm not going to lie, it wasn't just that I am getting a cold. I was a little nervous. Really? Yeah. Okay. I'm always nervous. I get really nervous before any sort of live thing, and then now I'm fine. So it's just how it is. Fantastic. Well, that's good. Then nerves are normal. So, all right, to get into it, my thank yous and everything to everybody. Unfortunately, fortunately, depends on how you want to think about it. The list has reached the point now where I'm going to have start having saying general thank yous to everyone from Twitter and each week for their great feedback about the show. It's all really appreciated and as I said the list is just getting so long so I generally will thank people on the medium on which they contact me and thank them for listening to the show and I'm really glad they're enjoying it so now from now it'll be a general thank you if the list is as long as it was this week. I also have an apology to Zach who I believe is in the chat room. His last name is pronounced Zach Suchek. So my apologies for that. I realize Ben suggested his Twitter tagline was too many consonants, not enough vowels. So yes indeed. But anyhow, so Zach, I will now say your name correctly and apologies for that. Also want to have a special thank you to all the listeners who emailed me directly. And there's actually been quite a few. What it's done is it's sort of given me a bit of a handle on the demographics of the people that are listening. Beyond people that I normally converse with on Twitter and, it's been great because some people have a preference to email, sort of a little bit, maybe a bit more old-fashioned, I guess, up to an extent. But you can say a lot more than, I guess, 140 or 256 characters. So I have actually got a few listeners out there that are also electrical engineers or control system engineers. And I even got one from a theoretical physicist and mathematician. So that's really cool. I really appreciate when people take the time to send email and just, you know, tell them a bit about themselves and how much they're enjoying the show. So thanks very much for those. And they were fantastic. Also had another two reviews on iTunes, both from the USA. So thanks, guys. Thank you to Pretz009 and Scuzzbag. Great, awesome name, that. So, yes, that was brilliant. It's another radio station sounding stuff. Yeah, yeah. There's been a few of those. Scuzzbag in the butt in the morning. Oh, God, no. OK. I'm sorry. Yeah, you're not really that sorry, I don't think, but anyhow, moving on. Lovely. Okay. So I think we should dive straight in. All right. So this is one of those topics that's a little bit fluffy for me. It's not about engineering specifically, and it's a little bit meta. And I said at the beginning of the show, you remember, I said specifically that we were not going to do meta on this show. So not this show talking about itself in any aspect. And I kind of am going to be going back on that, I think, I'm afraid, a little bit for this episode. So what I want to talk about is essentially measuring knowledge and expertise in an age where we have search and the Internet and search engines and all this information at our fingertips. Essentially, do you have a degree or do you have a Google searching degree? And does it matter which you have? So I know it's kind of a weird one, but the reason that this came up is it came up personally for me recently, actually in about three different instances. So that was the impetus behind doing it. And also I thought it was a little bit different, a little bit different from what I've done previously. So for episode 10. So I want to start talking about impressions of other people, and I specifically want to narrow it down to relating to technical ability. Of course, people have got all sorts of levels of respect for different people. Like, I respect that guy because he can lift weights that are like, he can lift heavier weights than I can, or, you know, he's got- He can play a musical instrument that I can't, the great dancer. Anything that they do that you wish that you could do. Not really focusing on that. I'm more trying to focus on technical knowledge or technical ability. And that could be in a whole range of different fields, not just engineering, but it could be anything. Could be in web development or software design. It doesn't matter. So I want to try and look at this from two different angles and the two different angles that I've got have common threads. And that's one of the reasons why I'm sort of want to look at it from two angles. So the first angle is, it may sound a little bit strange, but the idolizing of other people. And this could be anybody, of course, people that you work with, people that you, perhaps professionals that are very popular. They could be, dare I say, bloggers on the internet. They could be anybody that you, that people tend to, when they get to a level of popularity, they tend to idolize other people and say, oh, they're really, really an expert in this field. and therefore I'm suddenly really interested in everything that they have, that their opinion on everything. And that's one of the angles that I want to explore a little bit. The other one is impressions of other people from an interviewing point of view. And it may sound a little bit strange, but from my position in the last decade or so, is I've done a fair bit of management and I've had to do a lot of hiring. Apologies for the door slamming there, very windy. I had to do hiring and so on. And during that time, I've interviewed a lot of people and I've seen people and their first impressions that they give you are critical to whether or not they get a role with the company and how they go in the company longer term. And the way in which we gauge their knowledge and experience has a lot in common with how we sometimes people idolize other people and just based on the content that they produce and the work that they're aware of. So, and one of the things about interviewing that I find, they always say that first impressions are the most important, but honestly, first impressions for me are the most misleading because most of the time, first impressions turn out to be completely different to what the person is actually like because the reality is people get nervous, people are tired, they have bad mornings and sometimes they just don't interview well and that's tough. So anyway, before we get stuck into too much of that stuff, let's try and look at the pieces that go together to what makes, what I believe anyway, makes knowledge. And this may not be an exhaustive list, but from my perspective, looking at, I think there's three pieces to what is generally perceived to be knowledge. So first is the learning of specific details, formulas, facts, you know, rote learning, that sort of thing. That's the first piece. Second piece is, you know, using your memory of that information to solve real world problems. So the practical application, if you will, of what you've learned in the first one. And the third one, experience in the first two allows you to focus on the details that matter. So if there's a hundred different details that you're trying to figure out for a software design because you've been doing it for a certain period of time, you've got, you've learned the specifics, you can apply that to the problem. With that experience, you can then pluck out the key components you know to spend the most time on. 'Cause I know I'm gonna have the most trouble with this, therefore I'm gonna focus on that. So when it comes to assessing each of those, turns out everyone tends to focus on number one. And the reason that they do is because that's the easiest. So that's where we'll start. So learning through repetition is kind of obvious. It's just the way that we, as an animal, we learn. We make connections in our brain. When we do certain actions, we keep doing them over and over. We get better at it, more refined, more precise, faster, all that kind of good stuff. The thing is that different people have different parts of their brains that are faster at making connections through repetition than some other people might have for those same areas in their brains. So some people, for example, have excellent learning and fine-notice skills. Other people, for the want of a better description, are uncoordinated, but they may be better at pattern recognition or logical problem-solving or all sorts of different things. I mean, the list is endless probably, but the point is that different people have the ability to learn different things and different aspects of life by repetition. And the rate at which people learn through repetition obviously varies from person to person. One particular kind of person has a gift or a curse, depending on how you want to think about it, it of something called an eidetic memory. And the funny thing is, reading up on eidetic memories, an eidetic memory sometimes used to be called a photographic memory. So if you read a book and you can recall word for word exactly what was in that book, then that's fantastic. You may well have a photographic memory or an eidetic memory. But it's also hotly debated as to whether or not that's actually a real condition or not, because it's difficult for people to prove definitively. And it's not a, I'm sorry, from what I've read, it's not pleasant. No, I don't think that it would be. Yeah, it's like this constant, I guess not noise, but you can't turn it off. Yeah, I agree. I would not like to have it, to be honest. Sometimes I think I would like it, but then, you know, perhaps the more you think about it, maybe that's a good thing that you don't have it. But in any case, from a fictional point of view, there've been plenty of people that have had this condition from a fictional point of view. For example, the most prominent one I can think of recently is Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory, if you're into that show. Also, Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had an identic memory. Another movie that I saw that I really enjoyed was a 1935 movie by Alfred Hitchcock called The 39 Steps. Mr. Memory in that particular movie was the sort of the ultimate, well he wasn't the star of it but he was certainly the I think certainly a key point, I don't want to ruin, no spoiler alert I can't spoil that Elizabeth Salander in Girl with a Dragon Tattoo, I think she has an identic memory I think you may be right, so there's actually quite a few cases of it in fiction, the truth is it's far more rare than that and again difficult to actually diagnose for sure but some real world examples that I found notable were John von Neumann and of course Nikola Tesla. So there have been people that actually do have this but it is very rare. So for the rest of us we have to read the same thing over and over and over and over in order to actually for it to sink in for our brain to sponge and absorb it up. So I'm kind of like I said kind of glad I don't have have an eidetic memory. I think it's not as much fun as they say. So school at pretty much any level is about repetitive learning for the purposes of instant or near instant retrieval of information, if you want to think of it that way, to the point at which, you know, you learn to count to 10, you learn your A to Z or A to Z, and you, you know, you don't stop and think what comes after the letter A after you've been doing it a hundred thousand times. It just comes to you. And that sort of instant retrieval and everything, that is the point of road learning. But what happens when a search engine like Google insert the name of another search engine that you might actually think is any good, like Bing, maybe, or DuckDuckGo or, you know, whatever. Which one, sorry? Ask Jeeves. Ask Jeeves, haven't... Oh, did you not have Ask Jeeves there? I've never heard of it, but then maybe I'm living under a rock. They're not around anymore, I don't think. Oh, that's a shame. It sounded kind of funny. But anyway, so when you've got a search engine that can yield very targeted results, I mean, it may take a little bit longer, but the information is more accurate than most people's memory. And I'm not talking about ABCDEFG, of course, I'm talking about technical details. So let's say you need the synchronous motor equation or you need to brush up on Fourier transforms, you're doing some A to D conversion, D to A conversion, whatever you're doing. Yeah, you're working at some level that you don't normally work at, but you're aware of it. You know that you can search for it and you can just pull that data up real fast. And it's all there. And it guarantee you that you're going to have a more accurate result searching through that than you will from relying on your memory from 20 years ago. let's say. So for at least a decade now, we've lived in a world where fast, accurate search of practically every mainstream fact is possible from a computer connected to the internet. But more interestingly, in the last five years or so, from anyone's smartphone as well, which you will have on you pretty much at all times. And so long as you've got a cellular signal and assuming you have a data plan on it, presumably, then you have that access in your pocket. Now, obviously, highly detailed, in-depth niche stuff is still going to be hard to find. But every year, there's more and more of it coming onto the Internet. People that are doing PhDs, they'll publish their thesis or they'll be white papers that scientists, top scientists and researchers from around the world, they add onto the Internet. Some of them you ought to pay for. Most of them they put out there just for free. You want a hard copy, you're going to pay for it, of course, but you know, there's a lot of stuff going on the net, a lot. It may take a little bit longer to find it if it's a bit more niche, but it's there. So I guess the point is that if you're employing someone in a role or assessing whether they're good or smart or qualified enough to to do whatever it is that you're wanting them to do, or if you're following their work, let's say, like a blog or the articles or podcasts that they're doing or whatever. How do you, where do you start in assessing whether or not they are either a fit for the role or they're interesting enough to follow or to be interested in what they say and what they do? Go a technical point of view. So back in the bad old days, it was a degree because the degree says, you know, you went to college or university for four or five years. You learn all this stuff and you passed, you know, piece of paper. Congratulations, shake hand, wave, all that kind of thing, photo opportunity. So the thing is that's a great way of testing it at that moment in time. And I've sort of written about this before. There was an article I wrote about called Nobody is Compliment, We're All Human. And I sort of delved a little bit into that, but it made me think about what I'm doing with this show to an extent, because, I mean, yes, I have a degree, but that was 20 years ago. And a lot of the stuff that I've done in that time, you know, your memory gets a little bit blurry, a little bit faded. You know, you know the key points, but where do I go? I now go to Google. I search on Wikipedia. I brush up my memory. I get out the textbooks very rarely now because the Internet is so such a massive repository of knowledge. And, you know, fair enough, you'll find some bad articles every now and then, but generally speaking, it's better than my memory. So I do a lot of research because I want to make sure that my memory is not fuzzy. I want to make sure that it's sharp and accurate and correct, because I don't want to be having, putting incorrect information or misinformation out there. So access to the Internet is very, very important from that point of view. And from a work point of view, it's just as important as well, because in a work, in fact, it's probably more important than just a podcast because it's your job. And so you need to make sure the information that you are executing in your job is the correct information. So I sort of find it a little bit annoying when employers curtail use of the Internet for all sorts of different reasons. And to me, it's one of the greatest, it's not all that, it's not free. Sure, it's not free, but it's certainly a massive resource. So can I make a really embarrassing admission? You can. on topic here. So the other day I was doing a little bit of work on the site and I wanted to put a JavaScript library in. And I completely forgot how to link to JavaScript, which, I don't know, I mean, you've done web development work, right, John? A little bit, yeah. I mean, I did for most of my career and it was like an ego blow, right? Like, I'm like, "Wow, Did I just- have I just forgotten everything? And it's only been a year, right? It's crazy how quickly that went away. But on the other hand, it just took a second to view source on the same thing and see what it was. But you know what I'm saying? It was, I don't know, confidence shaking. Well, people's memories- this is the funny thing with memory is because the brain compresses is information, it doesn't think it needs much anymore and shuffles it around. I mean, I'm thinking of it like a hard drive with zip files, but I mean, obviously it's not. But yeah, it's one of those things that people- I have to admit that I could have swore doing research on several of these shows that I was- I could have swore that it was, you know, that I was- I thought it was this. And you check, read through it, I'm like, oh, damn it. I know, okay, I was getting that confused with something else. And that's what the brain sort of does, at least. And this is something that's important to note, is that scientists are still learning about how the brain learns and stores information. And one of the ways that it seems to be is sort of like through common thread. So if there's a common sort of fact of knowledge that it sort of links together a little bit, so that's how you can sometimes get memories cross-connected and a bit confused. So I don't think it's anything to feel bad about. I think it's just a reality of being- Yeah, and I guess the flip side is in the, you know, year and a half since I've done any real web work, all my coding has been Objective-C. I've maybe just replaced those neurons with some different stuff for the time being. Yes, it's flexible, but that's one of those things I never thought I would forget, even for a second. Well, and that's it. And it's the thing of recent experience and recent memory. But the funny thing I found is that I did a lot of PLC programming and SCADA programming in my last job when I was actually two jobs ago. Gosh, time flies. And it was about two years ago. And when I was doing that, I do work on a function block and I deploy that out to the 43 PLCs and so on. And then I'd come back to it two months later and it was like someone else had written it. So, you know. Anyway, okay, so fundamentally, though, when it comes to qualification, and this is the thing that I find more than anything else, is that it's not actually a test of knowledge. And this is the really crazy part to me. It comes back more to a professional perception. So, and that's sort of built up over decades with colleges and universities essentially pushing their own wheelbarrow and creating their own reason for existence. And don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that educational institutions shouldn't exist. they should, but it's the importance of the degree, just how important is the degree and all the competition for all of the students' money. So, you know, Harvard or MIT and the ridiculous amounts of money that they charge attracting the best and brightest and richest usually, or people are lucky enough or good enough to get a really good scholarship, for example. All of that focus and attention has come from years and years and years of them churning out good students and having a solid, you know, study and plan for their students for different degrees and so on and so forth. But the funny thing is, for me, it's not just an assessment of the degree, it's from the university. But the funny thing is that 95 to 98%, I would say, quite comfortably of what I learned in five years at university, I simply have never used. And that's the tragedy, is that if you're really only going and spending five years of your life to get a qualification or some kind of knowledge that's two to five percent of those five years of your time and money, that surely is a ripoff, you know, especially if you've got, you know, a good search engine and all the information out there that's available to you and you can target specifically what you want to learn. So that's that's sort of the flip side of it. Because you go back 20 years, there was no other option, because how did you know what- Maybe you could get some of it from encyclopedias, but you want to learn about electrical engineering, you got to figure out what textbooks you need to read. Right. You know, what white papers you need to read. There was no- Well, there was an internet, but geez, there wasn't much to it. So all of this is changing it. So anyhow. For the first time in my life, a couple of months ago, I needed to use Trig because I was playing around with the new game APIs. - Oh yeah, and Sokka Tower. - Right, and that's it. And now it's easy. Like, oh, I never, I didn't understand why I needed it. I just, it never clicked for me in school. And I always did fine in math, but it just, the way it was presented was so disjointed and disconnected. I just never really, I think I just never really deeply grokked it. And, but yeah, not like spending basically, you know, an afternoon just playing around with something much firmer. And, but yeah, I totally agree. Like I decided I didn't want to finish an economics degree. And I looked at, you know, I wanted to do design or do, you know, do development work. And I looked at what the courses were and I said, ah, I think I'm just gonna go work for a guy and learn there. And I think it was the right choice. Yeah, exactly. And I think the problem- And I'm going to get some more into this in a minute, but the problem that I have with the education system is that, first of all, it's a snapshot of capability in time, and time changes your memory. That's just a reality of being a human being. You can't alter that. So, the other thing is that you have to see it for what it is. Is it simply a piece of paper that says, I have the commitment to do this, and it suggests that I might maybe be okay at this sort of work. But really, that's all it says. It doesn't really prove you can actually produce anything. It doesn't prove that you're actually knowledgeable. You can learn a bunch of facts, but can you apply them and can you develop experience as a result of that application? And that's really what matters, I think. And of course, if that's all your judgment is, if that's all that matters to you, then what is wrong with a search on the internet for what you want to know about. Right. So, okay. In engineering, I have to admit, it is hard to avoid certification and there's all sorts of reasons for that, which I talked about in an earlier episode. So, that said, there are lots and lots where it is very hard to justify qualifications where honestly The actual qualification itself seems almost like someone thought it'd be a nice idea to put a course together for this and, you know. So, and I'm not going to mention any specific ones because that will sound like I'm attacking specific- Can I mention one because it's what I used to do? Well, you may if you wish to, but yes. You may have heard of a company called Squarespace and they released a logo design service. Something like that. Yeah. The VCD program at Kent, where I went to school, was in 2001 when I left, you didn't touch a computer until you were, I think, in the second half of your junior year. And at Kent, actually, their fashion design and VCD programs are actually pretty competitive. you know, it's hard to get into and it actually counts for a lot, but they came out so far behind in favor of these kind of ossified, what you're talking about, you know, they needed to develop a program so they could have this degree and the entire industry had changed and continued to and it just had no, no, no reflection on reality. And that's actually a really good point, something that I missed is that the problem with the snapshot in time is that technology moves so damn quickly these days, that the tools change so quickly, regulations change very quickly, all sorts of things change and move forward. And that change is accelerating. So whatever qualification you've got may well be useless within three to five years time, or less. And that's kind of scary because you're sinking a lot of time and effort into these qualifications. So, you better be getting value for money out of it. So, okay. I guess I've thought a lot about this over the years. And the funny thing is, okay, I'm the guy standing here with a degree saying all of this. But honestly, why I'm saying what I'm saying is because I've seen people that have come in and I've interviewed that have worked for me and I've seen how they've succeeded and failed. And I think I've got- For me, anyway, I've seen a couple of things in common that are worth sharing. I wish, and whenever anyone starts a sentence with "I wish", yeah, take a few grains of salt with that, but, you know, I certainly wish that qualification would change such that you did not actually enrol in a university or a college. All you would do is they would produce a set of standardised tests. You could study. They got suggested notes maybe, and you would pay a fee every time you sat the exam and you could choose and there'd be a set of exams you could take and those would then give you a qualification. No going to lectures, no tutorials, no nothing. You are uptightly responsible for learning everything in order to sit and pass that exam, at which point, under control conditions, of course, at which point you could get the qualification. Just cut all that other crap out. Well, and we had that to some degree in the US, at least you can take- We call them advanced placement. And you're testing out of- Like I had four years of Latin in high school, so I just- I was able to test out of that and just didn't have to take a language. But yeah, it doesn't seem like it really extends beyond that. No, and this is the thing is you talk about all the big name, you know, universities, colleges and what have you, they don't do that. And what I would really love to hear from listeners is if there are cases of that around the world, I would love to know about it, because I honestly think that is a far better way of doing it, if you're going to do it at all. Because honestly, what you've got is you've got all the information available at your fingertips to learn what you need to learn to sit the test and to pass the test. You don't have to learn- This is the thing, if you sit in lectures for 13 weeks on for one subject, let's say for a semester or term or however it's broken up, you will not be tested on every minute of every lecture from those 13 weeks. You'll only be tested for an hour to three hours worth of content. It's such a poor payback on time. And what about all this other stuff that you're never going to get tested on, that you're never going to need to know for your qualification? I don't get it. To me, it just seems like it's a game that's set up for the colleges and universities to justify more of their existence. Oh, that's a lot of money. It is a lot of money. And just think about why that's- But the whole idea is against what colleges and universities would want, because, you know, what if they get no one interested in sitting their exams? And what if the exams are cheaper at someone else? you commoditize to some extent qualification. But why not? Why shouldn't it be more competitive? Why shouldn't you cut all that crap, let people do their own research, figure out what books they want to read. They still got to pass the test to get the qualification. So what does the rest matter? But anyway, like I said, I wish. So please let me know if there are other places out there that have got that. So right. I'd like to now move on to the next piece. So back to the real world. And by that, I don't mean to suggest that universities aren't the real world, but seriously, think about it. Back to the real world. So in my experience with employing people is that it comes back to testing practical ability. And there's that one word, probation, a probationary period. So you say, I'm gonna give you a trial and that trial period will vary. Sometimes it's three months, sometimes it's six months. know, whatever. Because what you have to do is you got to separate that illusion of experience and talent based solely on facts that they've conveyed to you in an interview or in an initial impression, whatever that impression may be. You just can't trust that, you have to see if they can apply it. And good signs of experience is watching how they tackle a problem, a methodology, a sequence to doing what they're doing, structure, All of those things are good science to look for, but honestly it takes time and you need to put that effort in and in that probationary period, seriously, it needs to be targeted on the area that they are being employed to do I mean so many times I have seen this and I have been through this myself where you start working at a company, there's a week of inductions, two, three weeks of inductions, your computer doesn't show up, you don't have logins to access network drives, the companies will piss away half of your probationary period with BS. And then finally, it gets time to do something and your probationary period is over. That's great for the employee to some extent, but for the employer, really? You really haven't put that time to best use. I mean, I remember someone who was employed to do drafting in AutoCAD and they had him doing filing in his probationary period. I don't think that's great for the employee either. No, it's not. I mean, in the long run, yeah, because you're always going to be a little behind then, and it's going to seep into the relationships, I think. Yeah, it's very disingenuous and disrespectful of the employee. It's like, we've got you to do something, we're really interested in your talent in this, you're really keen to do this. By the way, I have four weeks of filing it needs to be doing, and you're the new guy. Right. I mean, how many times has that happened to people? I know it's happened to me. Yeah, it's that kind of BS, right? And that's not what a probationary period is for. So I kind of- I think that probationary periods are vital, but you've got to use them correctly. You've got to- Yeah, and the funny thing is, the funny thing is, there's an analogy on Twitter, on the internet. I mean, let's say I'm going to follow someone that I think might be interesting. Let's say Benedict Evans, just to pick a name, why not? And I'm going to follow him for a month, two months, three months. And I want to see whether or not this guy produces the sort of stuff I'm interested in reading. And after the fifth article, and I feel like my eyeballs are going to, you know, go dry, I may choose, you know what, he's not for me. Or then again, I might be so excited after that, those five articles, after a month's time, two months time, three months time, that he's the best thing in the world. and I'm going to follow him for the rest of my life now. It's kind of the same kind of thing. It's like a trial period. And that's what people should do. It's an interesting parallel, I think. So- I think, you know, when we ran the design shop, I made a really bad hire once. And it's not that the guy wasn't talented. He just- He's a really brilliant photographer. and I think he's working for NBC now, actually doing promotional stuff for shows. We had no way of making use of his talent. But he was like 19, he'd just gotten out of the military, had a wife and a kid, and was really eager. So we were like, okay, well, we're just gonna fast track you into doing this job that you're just... We didn't think very much about whether he was suited for it. I had to fire him like six months later because it just, it wasn't working. And, um, like it's, you know, we, it was, we were doing a lot of work with, uh, home builders at the time and it was 2007. So that didn't go great. And we had, so we had to cut back and, and, but it was my fault. Like, and I told him, I said, look, it was, you know, this is not a reflection of you. I blew it. And it's, it's what you're talking about. Like we did not, did not evaluate that. Right. And it sucked. Absolutely. It was bad. I mean, yeah. Well, you've got- Yeah, I mean, this is the thing. And I think that's the right call in the end is to be honest and say, look, you know, and it sounds like you did the right thing. I just- It just happens so frequently, you know, and there's all sorts of legitimate reasons for people to be unable to engage. Sometimes the timing really is bad and you just can't give the new people the time they need or the the attention they need or the, you know, but it's something that I think people need to be aware of it so that they try not for it to happen. But- Yeah, you only want to do that once. Yeah, yeah, you don't want to jerk around too many people, it's just, that's bad. It's not a good thing emotionally to go through, but, you know, I guess, you know, I can forgive myself for it because I was 25, like, I didn't know any better. I probably should have, but what bothers me is that you'll see the same kind of thing happen in big companies where, well, maybe the fact that they're big means that they can't even do a better job, but they should, right? Places that have HR should be doing that. The bigger the company, the worse it is. Yeah, I know. Because there's all these levels of approval and all this sort of red tape and all the BS you've got to go through. And it's tragically terrible. And I think we've both been through that to some extent. A lot of people listening to this will have been through that. And yeah, it's tragically tragic. - But you know, in high school, I worked at a health food market, kind of a high-end grocery store and cafe. And just, it's like the counterpoint to like, they did a really good job there. They had a really good HR team. The managers were really engaged and really smart. And for me, it really worked out great 'cause I, you know, I went from washing dishes and busing tables to, I jumped over to like doing their signage and doing graphic design stuff for them. And then by the time I left, like halfway through school, I was running the database for the whole store, like all the pricing. And they got a good rate, like they got a really good deal. And I had a pretty awesome job. And that was, but that was just, I mean, what made that possible was my awesome boss, Diane, She just, she really was engaged in that way. And, you know, thinking back on it now, yeah, she's probably, she's probably trying to read me, right? Like, what is this, what is he capable of? What's the right way to go with it? And to this day, I mean, that, that the store that she runs is very successful because it's a small chain. Now, the store that she doesn't run is constantly getting bailed out. In terms of a manager, I think like that, The ability to like, to gauge talent and to gauge- To see things that aren't readily apparent, like that's it. That's your key. Yeah, and it's- And finding people that can do that and being able to do that yourself is actually very difficult, I've found. Some people, maybe it comes naturally to them, but I've had to work at that and I'm still not convinced I'm there. So it's hard. It's very hard. So, okay, on the home stretch now. So to wrap up a little bit, I guess the point I'm driving at is that technical knowledge, although yes, you can assess it and yes, you can present a piece of paper that says, yeah, I probably know something and that'll help people hit the ground running. Sure. But in the long term, it's really not that that will determine their success. And this is the thing. In the long term, it's their desire to learn and their enthusiasm and their drive. And for the want of a better word, passion. And I think we talked about this on Pulling the String a while ago. That to me, the passion that someone has for what they are doing, what they want to do, that matters so much more than just their raw knowledge when they check in at the door. So, you don't need a degree from a college or university to have passion. You don't. In fact, I've seen degrees kill passion, to be honest. I've seen it. And it's actually quite soul crushing to watch it happen because people get to this place where they think that they simply can't pursue their dream because they have to do the degree and work in the environment that they've sort of guided down this path of, rather than taking everything that they've learnt with a grain of assault and said, okay, well, here's what I want to do. I'm going to pull all these little bits of experience from my degree and I'm going to go and apply them. You know, rather than doing that, they sort of like, oh, I guess I'm going to be a sysadmin for the rest of my life or something. You know, and that's to me, that's soul crushing to watch that. Yeah, I have an anecdote on that, too. It's I think that extends well beyond kind of our wheelhouse, talking about technology and that sort of thing. Um, sure. My, my Jen, my wife is, uh, she, she's an attorney, but she also, she, uh, she went and got her master's in taxation. She works for an accounting firm now, but the class that she went through in law school, they, they basically graduated into the worst job market ever for lawyers. Um, the, it actually contracted for the first time and the N and pretty much nationwide. all the schools were lowering standards and getting bigger classes, kind of the same, really the same thing that's happening at the undergrad level. Except, I mean, aside from maybe architects and doctors, there is no more strictly professional degree system in America and I imagine everywhere. And so these people ended up with a ton of debt, a lot of ongoing continuing education responsibility and working at Starbucks. And it's bad. I mean, like to the point that schools are getting sued, that kind of thing. And it's kind of bends way back to the beginning where we're talking about. There's a real, I think a lack of like, you know, real ethical consideration of what these schools are doing when they're- When they're pushing people out with a piece of paper that doesn't, you know, necessarily mean a job. And it's kind of- Well, this is- But it's a promise of one. It's this implicit promise of one. That's the fairy tale. Right. That's the fairy tale, isn't it? I mean, that's the fairy tale we tell people. We say, you go to uni, you work hard, you get a degree and you'll get a job. Yeah. And that's the narrative, right, that people are told so often. I heard it. And, you know, and here I am saying this and I got it. I did exactly that. So, you know, hey, I guess it worked for me. But I know so many people that didn't. You picked a good field. I picked a field that I loved. Right. And- But you were lucky. I mean, you know, engineers are always going to be in demand. Yes and no. But look, I mean, honestly, yes and no, really. It does sort of ebb and flow with major projects. It's funny, but before I went to- No one's building anything. No one needs an engineer. I did an internship at a law firm before I went to school. I went to college and the accountant there was like, don't go into economics, go into engineering, go into engineering. It's what I wish I had. That would have been a much better choice. I should have taken that. Well, the funny thing is, I actually wanted to be a theoretical physicist, and that's why I kind of, you know, I had a massive grin on my face when I've got, I know that as a listener, who is a physicist. My brother wanted to do that and he's now he's working at a super computer lab in Chicago. But he's going through grad school and it's a totally dysfunctional work environment. I mean, just think of any software project you've ever inherited that's a complete mess, exact same thing. Like more cores doesn't make a difference there. And so now he's messaging me for advice on just how to like, how to one, look for, you know, let's find open source solutions that can solve the actual problems they have. Because most of those are like these kinds of structural, the way the place operates. And we're, you know, he ends up But cobbling together things, again, because of this kind of this ossified structure that someone decided this was the system they were going to use pretty much by fiat, you know, 15 years ago and they're stuck. So like even that, like, so even if you, even if you get that, that dream, it could still, if you don't have a, I think a real practical application where, where there's, I think a direct correlation between you working efficiently and money coming in the door, places get really out of whack. Yes, absolutely. Well, just wanted to try and wrap it up now, we're sort of getting close to time, so I guess my message, I think the message is you don't need a degree in order to get knowledge, considering that Google search or Bing or DuckDuckGo, whatever, internet search is able to provide you with all of this knowledge. All you need to do is go and get it. And that's why when I'm looking to employ somebody or I'm looking to follow people, I want to follow people that are passionate about what they do. And I have a history of doing good work, if there is a history. If there isn't, you're going to take a little bit of a punt on that one. But still, keep in mind, no one is an expert about everything and stick with the elements that they're good at and you won't be disappointed. I see occasionally this symptom from some managers that have got, some people have got, where they say, "this person's really impressed me about blah, therefore, they're going to be really good at all this other stuff that I have no idea if they've got any knowledge about or any experience with". And it's just, it's such a flawed idea, but so many people just do that. Oh, you know, I'm so impressed by this one thing, therefore they are amazing. And it's like, no, just narrow your focus a bit there and focus on the bit that was impressive. And that's the bit, everything else, maybe they are, maybe they aren't, that's fine. Just judge them on their merits that way. Well, when you're talking about passion and drive, I've just put down a little note because I was thinking about my own experience with that. And because I think, you know. I always tested well, so I was always able to skate through any of these kind of of gates. But most of my passion and drive were in things that were directed outside of the prescribed path. And that's usually served me well. But I think the thing that. If you're doing that, If you're looking for passion, you're looking for drive, and you're looking for that dynamism, you also have to look back at yourself if you're making a hiring decision, right? I think it's real, well, for me at least, the most passionate people cannot be at the bottom of the food chain, right? It needs to, your managers need to be the same, to express those same kind of ideas and to role model in a way. Otherwise-- - Absolutely. the I mean, like. As soon as I get that sense that this other person doesn't care, almost immediately I lose. Just, no, I don't want to do it. And it's gone and it can dissipate like that. And it's all I mean, I'm not I'm not super happy about that, about myself, that it's so easy for someone else to affect how I feel about my work. But it's the case. I mean, I've and I've I've kind of always run my own work or, you know, but, you know, work for myself or run my own business because the boss doesn't care, I can't. Absolutely, and when I say this, I'm not just, I don't want to necessarily go into organizational structures and everything, but honestly, I totally agree with you. And I think that everyone at every level of an organization, that they should have an element of passion about what they do. And if they don't, then you're going to have a less successful organisation than you otherwise could have. A motivated organisation has a lot of people that are passionate about the same thing, and that is the thing that the company stands for. And that's what they do. And I'm not going to say any company names here for anyone that, you know, I'm not thinking of any specific company quite seriously. No, I'm not. Anyhow, so when you give new employees a strong focus in their probationary period and give them a chance to prove themselves, then that will ensure a better outcome. Also, don't cripple your internet access for goodness sake. It is the greatest reference tool in all of human history, without a shadow of doubt. Yeah. And there has never been anything like it. I mean, you can throw your encyclopedias away, you can give up your damn uni textbooks if you had them, or any of your notes from anything you've ever had. You've got the internet, you've got it in your pocket. It's unbelievable. Absolutely unbelievable. Alex Robinson in the chat room, he said, he works at a web development company and he runs into tons of problems with pages being blocked for being in the category of security. So literally, he's looking up how to fix problems and he can't find the answer. Like, yeah, it's ridiculous. But it's so typical, isn't it? I mean, it's not like they're blocking TMZ, right? It's blocking the thing that he needs. The joke, yeah, and the running gag where I work is that I can access Twitter and Facebook through the web. I can't believe it. I cannot- Sometimes I hit access denied for reasons of, you know, and then they give you a list of like a dozen, two dozen things. And you're like, all I'm trying to do is look up some resistance on some, you know, thing I'm installing. Like, you know, those websites that have got the PDF, so they archive the PDF for you, they show you a page at time, but they got a ton of advertising on them and all this other stuff. Well, sometimes that's the only time I can get a PDF that I'm looking for. And nope, can't look at that. So, anyway, and finally, I'm at the point where I'm getting- I'm going to go meta on you. So, it was coming. I love meta, John. That's your thing, I don't care. I know you don't care. I know. Okay, look, a lot about what I've been talking about is how I feel about pragmatic. And I only want to cover topics that I'm passionate about, topics that interest me. And I've thought a lot about it, and that's just what I want to do. And it's not meant to be- This is not meant to be the learning channel. This is not meant to be- John's going to tell you how a capacitor goes- gets put together. Whilst there's a part of me that finds it interesting, really not passionate about how capacitors are constructed. What you said the other couple of- well, last episode, we were talking about biology. Yeah. Yeah, we're talking about the hearing issue, like, you know, not interested. Okay. Because biology, right, Shrug? Okay. Exactly. And I just, I sucked at biology, man. I really hated it. Anyway, never mind that. That's fine. All you biologists out there. The knee bone snapped into the- Some other bone. I don't know. And it doesn't really matter. My leg works. That's all I need to know. And see, that's terrible. I can say that, but I'm set at anyway. All right. So the point is, I started out doing this, wanting to do a 10 episode run, and then I was going to sit back and assess where we were and decide if I was going to keep going. I only had about eight ideas, topic ideas. I didn't even think I'd have enough to make 10. And here we are, we've done 10 and I've got another dozen topics. And we've got 22 on the thing now. Yeah. So I've got another dozen topics. For every episode, we're adding topics faster than I'm talking about them. So, it turns out, and what surprises me is just how many things that I am actually passionate about, that I am actually interested in. And that's what I want to focus on. But the point is, I guess, of this whole, this discussion is that if I ever reach a point where I'm researching a topic that I'm not passionate about, that I don't really care about, then that's when I know it's time to wrap it up and to end it. That is nowhere in sight at this point. So there are still lots of stuff to talk about. And I know that you don't mind and maybe there's some listeners that don't mind, but in any case, I wanted every show to have a moral or a message or something people would take away from it, something useful. Won't always achieve that. But this one still, I think that it's important that people understand, you know, I say important people understand. I guess this is my point of view, obviously, why I see the value that other people add. I've watched younger engineers come into companies and fail, and I've seen other ones come in from time to time that are diamonds in the rough. They are just special, you know, and the ones that are special, the common themes I see is that they're passionate, they're enthusiastic. I'm not interested in working people into the ground, but most of the people that are passionate and enthusiastic will do work and research on their own time, and you won't ask them to. They love what they do. You have to get them to take breaks. Yeah, yeah, you do. Like, you know, it's 2 o'clock, man, you should have some lunch. And they look up and they go, "Oh, wow. Okay, sure." And it's intense. But you know what? Those are the sorts of people that you want to work with. They're the ones that will- It's just more fun. It's not just more fun. It's a better result for everybody, but it is fun too. That's true. And I've seen some of the brightest gifted engineers that I've worked with did not have a university degree. And I say, I call them engineers, engineers from different disciplines. And they're working in control systems now, just through a stroke of luck. They had no knowledge walking in and they've been some of the best because that's what they wanted to do. So it's not about the piece of paper, It's about what you want to do and what you care about. Well, that's the thing. So much of that piece of paper is why. Because so many people end up getting in through the side door and you see it all the time. Even in places where you think that there's no way this person ended up in this job because they haven't gone through the rigmarole, but they did. it. And, uh, yeah. Well, I've, um, reached the end of my notes. Do you want to wrap it up? Well, I, you know, just going back to the passion thing and doubling down on, on meta discussion. Um, so we, you know, we have gotten a lot of, of, of good feedback for the show and in some, you know, when, like when we ended up on kind of getting the bump when we ended up on iTunes, um, which was this kind of awesome surprise, It always kind of puzzled me a bit because I didn't understand why it worked, right? Like I wanted to do the show, like this would be fun, it'll be cool. But I think it's only been over, you know, over the past few weeks as we've started to get emails in and the thing I see again and again isn't that, you know, John is amazingly knowledgeable and he knows exactly this thing or that. What I see repeated is that he's passionate about it. These are subjects that could be dry and they're not. And that if it was, you know, if you said the same things in a monotone and clearly didn't care, it wouldn't work. But since you do, it does. And that's it. And like, you know, for me, that's the, I'm kind of always thinking meta about the show. It's sort of, you know, my, my job, right? So I can do a monotone if you want. Bueller. No, no, no, no. Employ, follow people that are passionate. No, I can't do that for long. Sorry. We'll do a transcription and have Siri read it, and then we'll put that in the feed. I like that stuff. That's when you- That's when I think you may have too much spare time in your hands, mate. That's all. But OK, sure. I'm quick because I'm- Half of my brain is Google. Well, with this transcription thing that's been going on a lot lately, and I have transcribed a few things in the past, not lately, I'll admit, but it can be a very time-consuming, tedious exercise. So- Actually, I want to talk to you about that. I just- Zach, Saichi and I, actually right before the show, I found some interesting stuff that looks like it's up your alley because there's a lot of fast Fourier transforms. Ooh, FFTs, eh? But it's also this app from, well, I won't go into the ads, not even meta, I don't even know what that is, but it's- Well, just don't- It's not English, I'm not even sure it's human, what these people are speaking, so. Don't make me cross with your Dot product, that's all I'm saying. And that is a terrible, terrible joke. How many people get that out of our audience? I don't know. I don't know. We should do a show title. Oh, we should do a show, yeah, okay. Yeah, Zach's right. It's three to four times the amount of time it takes to listen to the show. Yeah, I just saw Zach post that in the chat. Absolutely. I'm not surprised, Zach. That is a considerable investment of your personal time to do the transcribing. Now what I've been doing is if I play back at half speed, I can keep up, but it's still a lot of, yeah, I think three times. But I'm working on something for that. But I do want to talk to you about it because that's my idea. Okay, fair enough. Okay, I think we're done with the main topic. Shall we wrap it up then? Yep. If you want to talk more about this, you can find John on Twitter @johnchidjie. It's the same on, and you should check out John's site If you want to send an email, you can send it to [email protected]. I'm Ben Alexander, and you can reach me on Twitter @fiatluxfm. You should follow @PragmaticShow on Twitter to see show announcements and other related materials as well as announcements for future live shows. We had a lot of fun so I think we're going to do this again. Thank you. I just want to, okay, before we go I just want to say thank you to everyone who's been in the live chat room. Thank you so much. It's been, I think it's been fun and we will do this again and yeah, thanks again guys for your support and yeah, appreciate it. (upbeat music) [Music] (electronic music) (thunder rumbling) [BLANK_AUDIO]
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Ben Alexander

Ben Alexander

Ben created and runs and Fiat Lux

John Chidgey

John Chidgey

John is an Electrical, Instrumentation and Control Systems Engineer, software developer, podcaster, vocal actor and runs TechDistortion and the Engineered Network. John is a Chartered Professional Engineer in both Electrical Engineering and Information, Telecommunications and Electronics Engineering (ITEE) and a semi-regular conference speaker.

John has produced and appeared on many podcasts including Pragmatic and Causality and is available for hire for Vocal Acting or advertising. He has experience and interest in HMI Design, Alarm Management, Cyber-security and Root Cause Analysis.

You can find him on the Fediverse and on Twitter.