Interviewing: The Real Life RTS Game

I’ve been doing this interview song and dance, and it’s an odd game. You think ET for the Atari 2600 was bad, or Raiders of the Lost Ark for the Atari 2600 for that matter, but this is right up there only with better graphics.

Geek translation: it is hard, not because you are not skilled at video games (or the job you are interviewing for), but because the process itself doesn’t make a whole lot of logical sense.

I’ve been corresponding a bit with Rory on this subject matter, asking advice, which is a bit ironic considering he’s currently unemployed. However, he’s had some really great things to say that have made me a bit less nervous about interviewing and answered some of my WTF questions.

It's dangerous to go alone! Take this!
I wanted to share some of the wisdom he’s given me, passing along wisdom to you like the old man in the cave in Zelda giving Link his sword. He gives great advice, telling you not to go alone, and giving you a sword. Link, now sharing the company of a sword that shoots lasers, is better equipped to deal with the issues.

Do not go alone. Allow me to arm you with a laser shooting sword. It will be like carrying Rory with you, only not literally. I mean, technically you’ll still be walking in there and facing moblins and octorocks all alone, but it’s a metaphor you see (not a bad translation of a video game developed in Japan).

This is super applicable since Rory has been poking at readers to apply for a job at Microsoft, working for the JeffSand team.
So, below you will find some excerpts of emailed advice I edited together. Enjoy!

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Technology Job Interviews: The Real Life RTS
as told by Rory Blyth, edited by Cindy Chiuchiolo
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PART A – Sure, certify, but don’t look like a jerk.
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Get a few certifications – not tons, as it’ll make it look like:
1. You’re trying too hard
2. You’ve been out of work so long that you’ve had time to get every certification in the book
I used to consult for hiring managers, and I was always suspicious of the people who had tons of certifications. In my mind it translated to “No real world experience.”
Experience + A few certifications = always good.

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PART B – Don’t be too cool for school.
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Attending courses and seminars is important. The best way to make connections and find work is to sleaze your way into an extensive network.

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PART C – Pwn. Don’t be pwned.
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If you don’t feel comfortable, then treat it like a game. It really is a game, anyway. You’re playing an RTS (Real Time Strategy). Your goal is to amass as many resources as possible so you can stomp all over your enemy. Your enemy is, of course, your potential employer. Your employer is not your friend. Your employer will try to get as much work for as little pay out of you as possible.
…when you’ve successfully sold yourself.
If you get an interview, then walk in with confidence bordering on hubris. Demand pay that’s well above what:
1. They want to give you
2. What your experience dictates
Demanding more makes them want you more. You won’t get what you demand, but you’ll get more than they would have given you otherwise. You also suddenly look more appealing than the other applicants because you have confidence, can back it up, and will stand your ground when they try to screw you.

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PART D – Fuck up, but do it with confidence.
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Be willing to totally fuck up. Go in to your first few networking opportunities without your inhibitions. Make a fool of yourself, but not too much. Do it enough that you’ll feel confident when it’s time to approach people “For Reals”.
Where ever you are, target the person in the room with the most influence. People, especially geeks and creative types, are afraid of eye contact and what they perceive to be alpha males/females. Don’t be afraid of these people. Approach them. Ask questions that display your knowledge, but will also appeal to their egos. Anyone who teaches anything, or does any public speaking needs other people to approve of them on a constant basis.
The insecure crowd, of which I’m a part, will take every opportunity to talk about themselves, what they know, and how great they are.
The people I always remembered from giving my talks were those who approached me afterward, asked a couple questions, taught me something new, and did so without the slightest bit of supplication.
Showing nothing but humility to people in charge, especially managers and other morons, will bump you out of the running. They’ll use you for their own purposes for the duration of the interview. Then they’ll either hire you on as a low-paid sycophant, or they’ll never see you again, their personal needs having already been met.
When selling yourself, this is what you need to communicate:
1. You’re confident because you have every right to be.
2. You’re charging what you charge because you’re worth it, and although there are cheaper people out there, they’ll just fuck everything up. You’ll have to be brought in anyway to clean up their messes. This is true. I made a lot of money when people gave in and brought me in to repair all the damage wrought by the unworthy.
3. You’re an equal, but not disrespectfully so. You don’t want to appear prostrate. If you do, people sense it, and they will enjoy stepping on you. Put yourself on the same level as them, and use that to fuel your confidence. You aren’t lording your amazingness over the hiring manager, but you’re also not begging.
4. MOST IMPORTANT: You can and will make the company money. Demonstrate your value through whatever means you can, and always focus on how you can make them money. That’s the point of hiring you. Applicants get hung up on how much they will make, forgetting that the purpose of the job isn’t to pay people, but to turn them into cash for a business.
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PART E – Binary Truth
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While you don’t “have to” lie to get a job, you’re much more likely to get a good job if you mangle the truth a bit. I’m compulsively honest. I’ve shared extremely private thoughts with hundreds of thousands of people, and it doesn’t bother me in the slightest. So, when I tell you all of this, keep that in mind. Like Celes, and maybe you, I’m freakishly devoted to honesty.
However, in binary, 10 = decimal 2.
When you search for a job, you aren’t operating in familiar territory. You’re working in binary, or hexadecimal, or octal, or whatever. The same basic rules apply, but the representations of the values have changed.
Tell a child that 10 = 2, and you’ll have a hell of an argument on your hands. But 10 does equal two in the right context.
You aren’t lying when you say that 10 = 2. Under normal everyday conditions, 10 = 10, but when you’re working in unfamiliar territory (like binary), 10 = 2 is true.
Job seeking takes place in its own pocket of the universe. You deal with humans (kind of), and you probably use English to communicate (here, anyway), but because everybody lies, the baseline for truth is altered.
Understand as well that honesty and truth are only barely related.
Honesty is what happens when you provide what you believe to be the case without intent to deceive. Truth is absolute.
If your code of ethics tells you that being honest is the right thing to do, then being honest is right.
Regardless of your personal values, however, you will never be correct in this case.
Right and wrong are moral decisions based on those personal values. They’re like honesty.
Correct and Incorrect are absolutes like truth. And given how little we really know about the universe, the likelihood that you’re ever going to be correct is infinitesimal.
So, you can be right while being grossly incorrect.
To map it back to the discussion, you can be honest without telling the truth.
The truth is slippery, anyway. Most people would agree that the sky is blue, but, in reality, the sky most certainly is not blue. What’s blue is the light in the shorter wavelengths of the visual spectrum that didn’t get filtered out on their journey down through the atmosphere.
You could be honest and say, “The sky is blue.” It wouldn’t be the truth.
Now, apply this to the job world. The fact is, you don’t know what other people know. That is, you don’t know where their skill levels truly lie. How do you like that double-meaning? You don’t have nearly enough information to determine how qualified you are or aren’t for a job. Based on the interviews I’ve helped to conduct, I can tell you that the hiring managers sure as hell don’t know what the job is about or whether you’re qualified. They’re lost as anybody.
Yeah, they’ll do some talking, and, if they’re smart, they’ll bring in some of their employees who do the same or similar work to what you’d be doing. Even in that case you can’t assume anything. They may have hired entire teams of people who bullshitted their way through the interviews. Most of those people will have some skill, some knowledge, but usually no natural aptitude for their work. So when they question you, they won’t ask the important questions. They don’t know what the important questions are. They just don’t know what in the hell they’re doing.
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PART F: Creativity works
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Now we’re going to get you a useful context in which to operate while conducting your search:
1. Assume the worst about other people. Most people are average. That’s what average is. They don’t have creativity, and they fake their way through life. If you are creative, like Celes or I, you have novel ways of looking at things. Even if you assume that these people have a decent set of skills, creativity is something that can’t be faked. It’s in high demand right now. People are learning that creativity is much more important than many other qualities.
This is true.
When searching for test pilots to become astronauts, a bunch of pilots with extremely high IQs were rounded up.
It was thought that these pilots would do the best job of reacting to the unexpected, and since the unexpected is what awaited these people, an aptitude for handling crazy situations was required.
When these guys were tested, it was found that they reacted horribly. IQ tests are based on certain basic perceptual faculties, certain intellectual abilities, and so on. It’s all very linear.
These tests don’t measure creativity. There’s a French version that gets into creativity, but where logic and math puzzles can have “correct” answers, creativity isn’t so easy to measure.
The guys up in those planes could think their way through a situation, but they couldn’t feel their way through. And when the world is going terribly wrong terribly quickly, thinking through a problem is too, too, much too slow.
The high IQ pilots were replaced with a bunch of nuts. It turns out the wild, crazy pilots did much better. These are guys who had probably never tied their shoelaces the same way twice. They came up with new approaches to problems as a matter of daily routine. They were built for the unexpected.
Creativity is huge. Anyone can learn the linear aspect of assembling projects, but nobody can learn to be creative. You either are or you aren’t. If you have it, have confidence in that and value it over experience.
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2. Assume that the hiring managers don’t know what they’re talking about. This is nearly always the case. Even at Microsoft, managers sweat like mad over hires. It’s because they do not know what they’re doing. This is the corporate world. This is the business world. If the hiring managers are asking you what you want or what you’d like, it’s because they’re looking to you to provide guidance. They don’t know what to do, so they’re letting you run part of the interview. Take this and run with it. Or create this situation. But do your best to make it feel like it was their decision. That is, pick up on hints, questions, and so on, and work them into your game. Expand on their ideas for them. Where they drop off, pick up.
3. KNOW that you’re every bit as capable, if not much more so, as the other employees. Every job is a learning experience. You are NOT expected to know everything. You just have to demonstrate that you’ve got something going on and that you have the aptitude/skill/interest/determination to turn it into something bigger and better.
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PART H: Conclusion
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4. Don’t forget that 10 == 2. Job Hunt Reality is different than Reality. The values are changed. People have lied to the point that colors are swapped, humans breathe methane, dogs speak Italian, and so on. It’s all very Alice in Wonderland. You aren’t lying when you present a falsehood. You’re being honest in an unfamiliar context. Ask yourself what you believe about the situation. Do you believe that you deserve the job? Then you do. Do you believe that you can do the job as well or better than anyone else on the team? Then you can. It’s that simple.
Have fun. Treat it like a game. Look at your life as an experiment and take risks. If you’re already unemployed or have a job you don’t like, can it get any worse? Give new things a shot and trust yourself. Follow through even when you’re nervous. If you’re nervous, it probably means you’re taking a risk. Taking risks is the only way to stand above everybody else. Sometimes it works out, and sometimes you get stabbed in the face by a narwhal. That’s what risk is: it’s a potentially big win or a potentially big loss. It isn’t random or entirely up to chance. It’s up to you, your discretion, and your abilities whether a risk can succeed or not.
Don’t feel down because you fall on your face a few times. You’ll do that, maybe a lot. But there are jobs out there, and people need people to work them. People work jobs. Tons of people have jobs.
If those people have jobs, then you can have a job, too. There’s nothing magical about it. You just do it.

Dreams – Trick or Treat

I dream a lot- every night- more than once every night. I have nightmares frequently, and sometimes they’re so bad that upon waking it feels like I never slept. Sometimes they wake me up, or me shaking and gasping for air wakes me up. One night it’s one long dream, and others it’s channel flipping experience. Sometimes it’s the same dream repeating with different middles or endings. Sometimes I have a recurring dream I originally had years ago. Often I die in my dreams. Sometimes I die more than once (probably from growing up with a ‘multiple guys’ video game concept). Often it’s violent and on purpose. There are times I know I’m dreaming. I can control the dream after realizing I’m dreaming, or I wake up. I dream I’m me, someone I know, a character, a third person disembodied watcher, and I even occasionally play more than one character in my dream (switching from time to time). I fly, lose my teeth, go to school naked, save the world, meet aliens, forget my locker combination, run away from infested humans, make love, eat brownies, turn blue, and more.

I dream, and then I spend all morning trying to forget about the bits and pieces that stick with me. Sometimes I write or type them down.


It’s Halloween and all I want to do is go trick or treating, but my pillow case is empty and I’m going through the arcade first. On Halloween you get candy from games too, but sometimes it’s hard waiting your turn to get on some of the machines. I’m excited, and I’m here with friends laughing, moving from roped-off machine to machine. I put my bag near the coin slot where candy will come out if I score high enough. The lights are dim and tinted green and red. Fake cobwebs adorn the place. The place is set up like an arcade maze, machines against machines in zig-zagging patterns.

We have to leave (don’t remember why). We’re driving to find houses to trick or treat at, but there aren’t any. There’s just empty roads and countryside. We found a lone house on top of a hill, but they had no candy, only water and a bathroom. None of us know how to drive in the dream, but we do anyways because we want to trick or treat. I wish we could have just stayed at the arcade. One of my friends broke their arm because one of us drove so badly. There was no accident, they just got one from being in the van while it was swerving and stopping sharply.

I didn’t want anything to do with the bad driving, so I left, walking to the center of town. There was a club/bar with two floors and a patio in the back. It was open and packed. The tables were round and everything was wooden and stained- the tables, floor, walls, bar- and there weren’t any decorations unless you count the umbrellaed patio furniture outside. In this dream I’m not old enough to drink (even though I am) but I get served anyways. An old couple looks at me accusingly. I go outside to the patio with the Christmas lights because it’s so crowded inside and my dad was in there being loud and embarrassing. I tried to tell him about the lack of houses, but he didn’t care about my trick or treat woes. On the patio I found my friend with the broken arm. He had a green cast. He sat on the stairs outside alone. The night was clear and crisp. We breathed fog and looked at the moon.

You Never Really Know

First rule of life:

You never really know.

You think you know yourself, your friends, what you’ll do today, tomorrow, even next week. You think you know that you will never do something or that you’ll eventually accomplish that one thing that you’re sure you will get done before you roll over into the next world.

We assume all the time. It’s not just for asses.

We assume the floor will be underneath us when we roll out of bed in the morning.

And sometimes, it’s not. Sometimes, there’s not even a bed to roll out of.

I try to take this knowledge and with it appreciate all the times something does work out, go as planned, or just doesn’t go horribly wrong. I try to be thankful when I do have a bed to roll out of.

It’s a mantra. At least this. It could be worse that.

Bad memories are also mantras. All the worries and should haves tend to repeat, chanting in my head.

There are things I arm myself with in anticipation of a time when I lose sight of the way life is. So, I arm myself:

Swallow whole your whole self.
Every part is a piece.
Be yourself at peace.
Be content with being
the being who strives.
Against identity,
we strive to embody eternity,
when all we can be is now.