Sunday, May 6, 2012

How Important Is Your Background?

Scott Thompson, the CEO of Yahoo is in trouble for lying on his resumé. He said he has a degree in computer science but it's really accounting. The first few articles I looked at left out what I think is even more important -- what school? I looked it up and found he went to Stonehill College. "Stonehill is a selective Catholic college located near Boston on a beautiful 375-acre campus in Easton, Massachusetts."

Yeah, I'm not thinking that's actually an accredited engineering school. Bragging you're an engineer from a liberal arts school is kind of like bragging about your culinary skills from being a line cook at Waffle House. His college does let some of their students go to Notre Dame for the last few years and then they call themselves engineers. That's really not the same thing. You can't have an engineering culture in a school that outsources engineering.
"And that’s really the background that I have and it started back in my college days, and I think that’s really the wonderful part thing of being an engineer is you think that way." Thomson goes on to say, "And we love hiring very bright engineers because we're asking them to do what they do best."
This is as close as I got to Catholicism at Georgia Tech. That's the top of my head at the bottom. We had a steady stream of evangelists on campus telling us knowledge was evil. We just laughed and went to math class where we knew true suffering.
Just for the record I don't have an engineering degree either and I brag about thinking like an engineer all the time. But I was an engineering major for three years and then changed my major to something HARDER, at a real engineering school. I met some of the smartest people I will ever encounter in my life. I miss that most of all.

One of the co-founders of Waffle House actually went to Georgia Tech. So did Jimmy Carter before he got accepted into the Naval Academy. Dr. Clough, the head of the Smithsonian, went to Tech and he was a bona-fide civil engineer before he got into administration. I used a paper with him as a co-author in my Coastal Geology class. My major professor, Dr. Patronis, also taught Gil Amelio, CEO Emeritus of National Semiconductor and Apple. I knew these but I looked them up to double check.

I scanned down the list in Wikipedia and saw a name of somebody I knew personally when I was 18 years old. As a sensitive person that rattled me. I was a little sister in the fraternity of J. Paul Raines, the CEO of GameStop! I worked on the Ramblin' Reck with him! GameStop turned me down for a technical writer job last year in Austin! Those bastards! Don't they KNOW WHO I AM?!

Actually I can't even look at LinkedIn for that reason. So many of my old friends from Tech are executives at big important companies now. Hell, my old lab partner OWNS Baker Audio now, the first company I worked for as a contractor after I graduated. I used to get A's on lab reports and he got B's. (To be fair he taught me how to work an oscilloscope, I was just good at the write up.) The only reason I got that first job at all was because Joe was still in school. It took him two years longer to graduate than me. By the time he got out I'd moved on to another contracting gig and he took the next opportunity to come up at Baker Audio. And now he owns it. And I haven't worked in anything related to audio and acoustics, my major course of study, since 1990.

So what's the point? Career success may have less to do with your educational background and more to do with ambition and the ability to get along with others and not be a highly sensitive hermit who can't tolerate stupid people.

Did I mention I knew J. Paul because he was my fraternity brother? That's a great way to learn to get along with people and work as a team. That background was probably as important in making him a CEO as his industrial engineering classes. Unfortunately there are no skills to be gleaned by a girl hanging around a fraternity. I already knew how to get along with guys. I had a brother and two male cousins. It's girls I couldn't fathom. I really wish somebody, like my aunts who were all in sororities at that other school in Georgia, had told me what they were. They could have prepared me for rush and talked my dad into paying for me to join. I was just looking at it practically. The 5 tiny sororities didn't build Ramblin Recks, they didn't have band parties, the houses weren't big enough for you to live there. I just didn't see the point. The 30+ fraternities had big houses like dorms, and kitchens that served meals and they threw big fun parties and welded up elaborate contraptions for the Ramblin Reck parade at Homecoming. I wanted to do THAT!

I mostly wrote this up today because one of my readers told me yesterday that he gets angry when he reads complaints that people can't get good technical employees when I can't get a job. He's concerned about there not being enough women in the STEM fields. I'm just useless for that I'm afraid. I researched this whole thing berating myself for not doing a better job of planning and implementing a career the way all these other people did. I had the same opportunities they did, the same classes for chrissakes! And now they are WAY up at the top of the career ladder. This is how I think. It doesn't occur to me that all the people in that list of important Georgia Tech alumni are men and I'm not one. I just don't think about being a woman as anything special. It's possible that's my main problem. But I have so many other flaws I have a hard time blaming the one I can't do anything about. THAT is how an engineer thinks.

(After I finished this I had to go find a picture to break this up. In 2010 I shot a bunch of pictures of my college newspaper to put on Facebook to tease my friends that used to write movie reviews for me. This cartoon seemed to fit the topic. After I pasted it in I thought, "Wonder what ever happened to Ergun Akleman? He was SO TALENTED!" so I googled him. FOR FUCK'S SAKE, Ergun! He's a goddam professor at Texas A&M. Professional cartoonist, of course, because, look, and thanks to his PhD from Georgia Tech he's also a computer graphics researcher. I have to get in bed and weep now.)

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