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This Is 2016 Not 2012

Her eyebrows knot themselves. A pencil grates back and forth on her legal pad. Scratch. Scratch. My back itches; a tiny incessant itch that demands more attention with each passing second. Should I itch it? 

Better wait. 

I can hear the sound of a clock ticking somewhere else in the office. Tick. Tick. Tick. I’m still wondering whether I should scratch my back.

“Can you describe any relevant background experience you have for the position?” Her eyebrows unknot themselves expectantly.

“Well, I’ve been programming since I was 10 years old,” I start.

“What languages?” She cuts me off before I can finish.

“Started in Basic, but I’ve done Java, C, C++, and a lot of web stuff: Rails, Python, Javascript. You name it.”

“It says here you went to the University of Pennsylvania for undergrad. Were you an engineer there?”

“No I actually studied Philosophy in the College of Arts and Sciences, but I did take some computer sciences classes there.” Fuck. I look like an asshole.

“Which classes?” She retorts. Eyebrows slightly furrowed.

I list a few of them that I can remember. Mostly intro ones. I didn’t go to them very much.

“I see,” she says. Her pencil hovers over the pad again.

“But I did do a lot of programming in school,” I start. If she marks her pad one more time I’m done for. “Freshman year I started a website with some friends called WhereMyFriends.Be. We got over 40,000 signups. That was in Mashable. I also interviewed at Y Combinator. Then sophomore year I built a site called DomainPolish and sold it in a few months. That was in TheNextWeb. And then I created Airtime for Email with a few friends. I’m not sure if you took a look at the articles I attached with my resume. We raised a bunch of money, and we were profitable. Eventually we had to shut it down but it was a great experience.” At this point she must know that I’m well qualified for this job.

She clears her throat and puts the pencil down.

“Dan, can I be honest with you about this position?” She glances up at me with a concerned look on her face.

“Of course.”

“I applaud your entrepreneurial initiative, I really do. In fact three of my coworkers ran funded companies as well so I understand what kind of drive and dedication it takes to do something like that,” she starts in.

“And I see that you also have some technical experience. But this position requires more than just web-development skills. The problems we’re working on involve in-depth data analysis that require an extensive math and algorithms background. Most of the people applying studied computer science in school and have relevant work experience in that area. Can you point to any experience in that area?”

“Not specifically, but I mean I’m sure I can learn on the fly,” I reply sheepishly. At this point anything I say is like spitting into a hurricane.

“Believe me I’m sure you could. A few years ago building an app or a website was enough to get you a job at a lot of different companies. But it’s not like that anymore. We just have too many qualified candidates to take a chance on someone with limited in-depth technical experience. This is 2016 not 2012.”

The pencil hovers over the pad again. Scratch.

If you liked this post you should probably follow me on Twitter. Or check out my startup Airtime for Email. We help you market your products in your email signature.


21 Apr 2012, 2:32pm | 34 comments

  • giniji

    Been there, done that. Exact same experience almost down to the scratchpad.Some of us are unemployable. Some of us are meant to build businesses, not work for others in some job we don’t really want to do.Some of us are meant to be on the other side of the table.Let’s keep it that way.

  • Fred Jones

    Giniji, that’s just rationalizing away the fact that you don’t have a solid computer science background and that web app entrepreneurship doesn’t really require it … in the veginning.However, having seen the results of non-engineers building out ever-growing systems time and time again, I’d say it’s not to your long term benefit and anyone lacking the requisite background should not only be unemployable, but should also not be a viable investment candidate unless you can actually get someone with real technical skills on your team.

  • Timothy Moody

    I don’t understand why you’re interviewing for a job in the first place if everything you referred to in your resume is true.”We raised a bunch of money, and we were profitable. Eventually we had to shut it down”Why would you shut down something profitable?

  • Arun Raj

    This article makes a lot of sense in India where programmers are dime a dozen. There is a very related article which stresses upon the need to know computer science, math and algorithms: http://susam.in/blog/infosys-tcs-or-wipro/ Do read the follow-up post: http://susam.in/blog/re-infosys-tcs-or-wipro/

  • Hero

    Well…if the job requires discrete mathematics, she should ask you some discrete math questions and if you can answer them then you are probably qualified. If that’s not the kind of developer you are then don’t apply to those roles. I am self taught myself…never went to shoot for it. However, I do want to take my engineering to the next level and sadly that requires ability to answer data structure and algorithm questions….companies like amazon and google per screen heavily for people who can answer those types of questions.The good news…if you have an existing degree, you have covered all the filler humanities and breadth courses it is likely and may be able to skip directly to the CS major requirements classes. Good luck bro.

  • Dan Shipper

    @Timothy Moody everything cited is true except for the fact that we raised money – that’s still hypothetical. But there are plenty of examples of companies that are marginally profitable and are shut down for other reasons.

  • rodriguezartav

    It’s a well written article. congrats;It’s a great point. However, if in this story you were applying for a job that matched your experience; you would have gotten it. The modern complement for experience is personal marketing; So start positioning yourself today; and by 2016 you’ll be interviewing those that want to hire you.

  • anandjeyahar1
  • Michael Rose

    Hey Dan,I definitely agree (to a degree). I still think growth will outstrip demand for a long time. The industry as a whole has only the sky as a limit as more of our commerce and day-to-day lives are managed through digital devices.There’s room for everyone, but it will be the professionals with prestigious positions. Startups will continue to create professionals (as well as products).It’s my optimistic hope that things will go well for weekend hackers as well as entrepreneurs and established CS graduates.

  • llewellyn falco

    “Just too many qualified candidates”considering that each year the number of CS students goes down,and each year the amount of companies that need programmers goes up.Why do you think there are SO many qualified candidates? I’ve been hiring programmers since 1998, and NEVER felt there was an abundance of qualified candidates.I think this blog is more out of fear than anything else.

  • Irakli Nadareishvili

    Dan,I don’t know what that company was looking for and if they really required mathematician who can code (maybe, yes), but as far as programming goes: it’s extremely annoying how many people think programming is some kind of branch of mathematics. It is NOT.I’ve been in this business quite a long time now, and I am not afraid to say: the best programmers I have seen and met were not math geeks at all, some of them actually sucked at math.If you do not mind unsolicited advice: you are better off learning about civil engineering and architecture that “algorithm development”.And whatever you do: learn as many languages and frameworks, as well as you can. Breadth of the horizon is the most important thing. Seems like you are on that path already.cheers.

  • Sean MacGuire

    So, is that company still around? You still looking for a job? I suspect I know the answer to both those questions.Consider yourself lucky; that really sounded like a “cultural mismatch”.

  • tempire

    College Shmollege.Go to khanacademy.org, watch the Linear Algebra, Probability, and Statistics playlist; make sure you understand all the content. Buy and read through a couple of O’Reilly books on data analysis. Top it off with the lectures and problem sets from Discrete Math and Algorithms from http://aduni.org/courses/.You've saved yourself 100k+, and you know more than most college graduates, and you’ve saved 3 years of your life.

  • Foo
  • Amazing guy

    Trying to fix the commenting system.

  • etscrivner
  • cotpi

    In addition to khanacademy.org and aduni.org you can test your math skills in a funy way by practising puzzles from http://cotpi.com/p/.This has a collection of original and old mathematical and logical puzzles.

  • Susam Pal

    I came here after my blog got a few hits from this page. The HTML for comments to this post seems to be broken as can be seen from the comment above (posted by me). tempire’s comment above was the first one that broke the comments’ HTML. Then I posted another comment as ‘cotpi’ to experiment. It seems posterous cannot handle comments if a paragraph ends with a specially crafted URL that has “.<x”>I managed to post this comment by clicking somewhere above the specially crafted comment and then pressing lots of tabs to navigate to this comment form.I think the two comments above this must be deleted so that users can post comments conveniently once again.

  • Susam Pal

    Ah! The above comment fixed things again. But anyone can break it again simply by posting a comment that has one paragraph that ends with a URL that ends with “.<p”> followed by another paragraph.

  • Greg Benison

    To everyone who seems to be taking this article as a literal story – it is not yet 2016, therefore this is fiction.The author is telling the story to make a point, which I believe is this: right now, with mobile devices still a relative novelty, there is a lot of pressure to _just get them to do something remotely useful_ – kind of like the 90′s when you could put just about anything up on the web and it was a novelty just because it was on the web. But that’s going to change: in a world flooded with applications for mobile devices, people are going to demand increasingly that applications not only look good, but do something useful, and do it well, and that this will shift demand towards programmers who can think about the best ways to solve hard problems.I hope the author is right.

  • tormaroe

    I DO believe it will be harder to get a serious programming job in “2016″. I don’t know if education necessarily will be the most important criteria though. Uncle Bob Martin once said:“I think one of the problems we have as an industry is that we got way too many people slinging code. And we should probably reduce the number of people slinging code to the group that cares about it.”It would be great if you had to have real passion to get a job as a programmer. Programming real solutions is hard, and requires dedication – education is not always required, and never enough by itself.

  • jonathanconway

    I completely agree with @rodriguezarta.Market yourself correctly and focus on applying for jobs that you’re qualified for.You need to specialize and find a niche within the industry rather than being yet another generalist programmer who can do anything and nothing.If you don’t have any specialization then find one! And find it by looking at which specializations are being hired for, NOT by chasing the latest trend or buzzword that might be big on Twitter and blogs, but not relevant to the actual job market.

  • languagehacker

    So long as you’re continuing to grow your skill set into an interesting niche during your time in these enterprises, and not just playing with APIs, you won’t have that worry. As someone with a non-CS degree, it’s part of your job to develop an interesting, useful, and competitive set of skills that someone more comfortable talking about big-O notation may not have industry experience in. Unfortunately, yeah, you may need to do more than play with APIs — it’s always important to try and actually pick up that CS stuff in your spare time. The subject of this hypothetical story just didn’t devote enough personal time to professional growth.

  • Peter Boyce
  • Brian_Bassett

    Completely identify with your situation, understand the frustration and the bewilderment. Keep going and you’ll find something that’s right for you. But I do think that your vision and drive could be lost at some big business, you might be built for better things than being on the other side of the desk scratching a pad.

  • 2016 foos

    So many people skimmed, missing the point! Note the date – 2016; it’s the future. He’s saying knowing how to work with data is the future.

  • Luke G

    The reality of software is that there just isn’t that much technical math/CS stuff to do. Most code is GUIs, workflow, and automation-type stuff. There will always be programming positions for “non-technical” programmers.That said, it’s true the most lucrative positions will be first available to the more technical candidates. Companies are always finding new profitable areas that require pushing technology to its limits. As you mention, data mining is one recent trend that will probably grow as more and more data is available, such as through social networks and websites that track users. Another thing is making use of multithreaded and distributed code, which typically requires good knowledge of algorithm design and hardware.But, I feel like the real takeaway here is something else. As others have pointed out, there are many other skills than programming and many other jobs in technology that aren’t just writing code all day. If you write code all day, entrepeneurial skills don’t come in to play very often. The candidate was interviewing for the wrong position. (Which is quite common, btw, so don’t be discouraged if it happens to you.) You should look for a different position that would give you more involvement in product development.

  • Reed Rosenbluth
  • tomandyourmom

    Oh, and echoing “2016 foos” — it’s amazing how many people missed the point of this article. Absolutely shocking.

  • tomandyourmom

    To any potential programmers reading this, please do exactly the opposite of what Irakli Nadareishvili said. Learn as much math as possible, don’t worry about languages or syntaxes or frameworks. And learn algorithmic analysis. Lots of it.Irakli doesn’t understand the difference between an outsourced code monkey and an actual software engineer. Here’s a hint: One is an in-demand, challenging, secure career. And one is an outsourceable exercise in commotidization.

  • simondlr

    I’ve had an almost similar experience recently, when I tried to intern for Facebook.http://simondlr.com/post/20672292897/finding-my-niche-part-1-interviewing-forhttp://simondlr.com/post/20711839211/finding-my-niche-part-2-what-do-i-really…I’m a jack of all trades. I’m technically able from coding compilers in C, front-end coding to new technologies such as working with AWS, mongodb and node.js. I also studied marketing and socio-informatics, started two successful websites and have a keen interest in UX and psychology. The problem is… I’m not an expert in either of these fields.But I try. And just keep doing what I like doing. Luckily, I’m still busy with my masters and have some “free” time to learn what I want to learn.Best of luck to you Dan!

  • Gonçalo Cabrita
  • Jay

    OMG. It’s exactly me. Started programming at the age of 10, same skills. Infact, will be graduating in 2015 :DDid a lot of web stuff. The only difference is that I am a computer science major!so…hell yeah :D

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