I have this seminar I’m running for free for college students and I’m going to show them this picture before we start. It’s a picture of someone graduating from college. You can’t tell, but you can guess that they’re probably $150,000 in debt. Written on the top of their mortarboard with masking tape it says, “Hire me.” The thing about the picture that’s pathetic, beyond the notion that you need to spam the audience at graduation with a note saying you’re looking for a job, is that you went $150,000 in debt and spent four years of your life so someone else could pick you. That’s ridiculous. It really makes me sad to see that.
While I understand what Seth Godin is suggesting, I also think that it’s largely reflective of his incredibly privileged position. When people are leaving schools with that amount of debt, with knowledge that they want to start a family and not suffer (total) financial ruin by starting something and failing, then those individuals may quite reasonably want full-time regular employment.
Godin’s most common response is that ‘such employment doesn’t really exist anymore - so adapt!’ While it’s a great response for some people who are willing to take on heightened risks in their lives it isn’t one that ought to be imposed on all individuals. Moreover, the thought that it’s “ridiculous” to want to be picked and work at a meaningful job and launch a career with a business that is compatible with your training and expertise shouldn’t make anyone sad. Instead, what should be “sad” is that such aspirations are less and less likely to be realized as companies abandon long-term commitment to employees and instead harden their ‘flexible’ hiring strategies that facilitate profits at the expense of human life.
Valve’s Handbook for New Employees has made its way to the Internet. While such handbooks are normally incredibly dull - I mean, really, who hasn’t almost fallen asleep or committed suicide to escape reading one? - Valve’s is excellent.
It lays out corporate culture, modes of engaging with other employees, identifying tasks worth doing, and how the company actually functions. It doesn’t take itself too seriously and is scattered with jokes. Valve has, effectively, created a whimsical and useful document that embraces employees. Employers could learn from what Valve has done.
Kevin McArthur has a response to firms who are demanding highly credentialed security staff: stop it!
Much of his argument surrounds problems with the credentialing process. He focuses on the fact that the time spent achieving an undergrad, MA, and set of professional certifications leaves prospective hires woefully out-of-date and unprepared to address existing security threats.
I recognize the argument but think that it’s somewhat of a strawman: there is nothing in a credentialing process forcing individuals to solely focus on building and achieving their credentials. Indeed, many of the larger companies that I’m familiar with hire hackers as employees and then offer them opportunities to pursue credentials on their own time, on the company dime, over the course of their employment. Many take advantage of this opportunity. This serves two purposes: adds ‘book smarts’ to a repertoire of critical thinking habits and makes the company ‘stickier’ to the employee because of the educational benefits of working for the company.
Under the rubric of enabling education opportunities for staff you can get security talent that is very good and also happens to be well educated. It’s a false dichotomy to suggest that you can have either ‘book smarts’ or ‘real world smarts’: there are lots of people with both. They don’t tend to be right out of university or high school, but they are out there.
What’s more important, and what I think the real focus of the article is meant to be, is that relying on credentials instead of work accomplished is the wrong way of evaluating prospective security staff hires. On that point, we entirely agree.