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A teenager's guide to avoiding actual work (madned.substack.com)
1464 points by mad_ned 8 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 254 comments



I love stories like this. I have one of my own, actually.

When I was first getting into IT I started sending out CVs. Mine was terrible. I had been working in call centres for years at this point and all my "experience" was basically self-taught, so not really experience at all. As a result my CV was void of any actual content a hiring manager in IT would want to read, thus it was binned a lot.

I applied for a job at a nearby network hardware repair place. They needed someone to look after their Cisco kit and about 30 Debian Linux systems. I was attracted to the mix of responsibilities so I applied, sending in me not-so-good CV. I was eventually asked to come in to have a chat after waiting about a week to hear back from the place.

At the end of the interview, Bob (let's call him), said I was more knowledgeable than the RHCEs that were coming through his door. This was nice to hear, but then he said something that really made me smile...

Apparently my CV was worse than I thought. It was so bad, that Bob literally put it in the bin under his desk. About four days later, Bob was reading through a local Linux User Group (LUG) mailing list and he saw a name he recognised: mine. So he opens the email and reads the thread in which I helped another LUG member compile a sound driver for their kernel. The instructions I gave worked.

Bob was impressed but he couldn't quite remember where he had seen the name. At this point the business owner, John (heh...), was standing besides Bob's desk and noticed my CV in the bin. He pulls it out and reads my name across the top. The penny drops for Bob and I get the call to come in and have a chat.

I got the job.


>> Bob was reading through a local Linux User Group (LUG) mailing list and he saw a name he recognised: mine.

I had the opposite happen.

I took a job doing some programming, some Linux administration, some helpdesk. I came across a convoluted database setup, nobody in their right mind would run multiple servers on the same machine this way... After researching the issue, I found that it was totally unnecessary, and likely a holdover from an earlier (like 15 years earlier) version of the software, because now it was natively support.

During my searching, on a mailing list I found a message from my now-boss. Asking how to do the exact thing they were still doing. And a couple messages from developers of the software basically saying, "If you did it this way, it would in theory work, but it won't ever be supported"


When I was younger, I inherited a lot of old PC hardware from my father. One particular motherboard had a massive gouge through the heatsink for the southbridge, and I could never figure out why.

One day, I was trying to get Mac OSX to run on this particular system, and on page six of google search I finally found a guide to configuring the BIOS for this board that actually worked! It was one of the very first boards that supported UEFI (iirc, before the spec was fully ratified), and the documentation was very incomplete.

I dug a few pages deeper in the thread, and the same poster was describing the poor design of the heatsinks and how they interfered with the full length PCI cards that were used in pro audio at the time. The same poster described how they carefully prized the aluminum heatsink off, screwed it to a board and used a dremel tool to make a slot just wide enough for the card to safely fit.

That was strange... I had exactly the same groove cut in my heatsink...


And the OP was your father? That would have been a nice coincidence.


Sounds right up there with filed-down cards or connectors that had longer grooves cut in them!


I had a parking light burn out on my car. Went to the car store, and a replacement bulb was $$. Perused the lamps on tags in the aisles, and found one that looked the same but had different "ears" on the side.

Bought it, and filed off the ears so it would fit in my car's socket. Worked perfectly, for a small fraction of the price.

Of course, my car is full of aftermarket parts, so I am used to making "adjustments" to get them to fit.


They’ll have different resistance. Sometimes it matters, sometimes it doesn’t.


I came to post this. The offset ears on the bulb base are used to specify either a dual-filament bulb, such as tail lamps and brake lamps combined, or high-resistance, low-wattage parking lamps that are designed to not run down the battery while the alternator is not charging.


That makes sense. The cheap bulbs I bought were just slightly dimmer. So they must have had more resistance.

But heck, even a parking light will flatten the battery if left overnight.


  > But heck, even a parking light will flatten the battery if left overnight.
Nominal modern car batteries are about 12.6 volts. I wonder if the high-resistance bulbs will completely dim once the voltage drops to a specific threshold, say around 12.0 volts. If they do, then they should leave just enough charge to crank, as most starter motors can safely crank over with about eleven and a half volts (and all the way up to over 14 volts).

That might be an interesting experiment to test.


I had to look up what a parking light is. It sounds totally unnecessary to me, but I'd say that about a lot of things put in cars after the 90s.

Probably not important in this case since it's just a light for parking, but lights for cars cost more due to having to meet exacting DOT standards/testing. I wouldn't do this with a brake light or real headlight.


> a lot of things put in cars after the 90s

True ... we just moved on from a car build in 1999 to one build in 2011 ... got the "non-extra" version which was half the price.

We still got an AC and bluetooth connectivity.

What we did not get was a multimedia center, a panorama roof, seat heaters and fancy front lights.

I can see that you quickly get used to that ... but tbh I think that most of these are just to justify a higher price because the actual service, getting you from A to B, has not changed in 30 years.


Parking lights are a lot older than the 90s. In Riverside, IL, they have "historical" streetlights that inadequately illuminate the streets (or at least did in the 70s). As a result, it was required if you were parking on the street in Riverside after dark that you left your parking lights on.


Apparently the light setting I always skip past is parking lights and I never knew. I always found the headlights/reverse lamps adequate in the dark though.


About every 6-9 months, I'm searching through error logs looking at odd messages, or trying to see why we have some obscure configuration parameters set, when I start reading something relevant-looking on a Blogspot blog.

It becomes uncannily relevant, even to the point of familiar IP addresses or pathnames in the blog, at which point I realize it was written by my predecessor.

The obscure parameters are usually obsolete, and were required because they were running the very latest versions of the software before the defaults matured. The blog was something like documentation at the time.


It once happened to me that I had a really hairy issue with a sound card driver. After half an hour of web search I found a conclusive answer, written by none other than myself, but four years prior.


The best answers on StackOverflow are those I wrote myself, because they match exactly my own question.


There was a thread on HN a week ago [1] about "How to write a resume that converts" and the most voted comment starts with a sentence "The importance of resumes has been overstated for many years now, and I look forward to the day they are phased out entirely."...

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=27112542


Last time a headhunter managed snatch me was weird. I wasn't really active before deadline because I was on a holiday trip and the headhunter said "it's okay, let's call after your holidays". I wasn't actually looking for a new job but couple of the buzzwords sounded promising so I ended up having calling one of those chitchat calls with the headhunter which then led to a chitchat with the company guys.

When I was meeting the company guys, I'd updated and printed my puny resume in case they would've wanted it but realised they had "my resume" already. Basically the headhunter had copy pasted my puny LinkedIn profile data into their some sort of resume template and the guys were thinking I was actively looking for a new job.

Weird coincidences but ended up taking the job and haven't regretted after 2,5 years.


I wonder if the headhunter used a geek code[0] to resume generator?

Alternatively I wonder if a modern version of geekcode could be created with a service that automatically compresses a submitted resume into a comprehensible string of Unicode characters?

[0] https://www.geekcode.xyz/geek.html


A geek code based on distributed peer review (no blockchain) could be very elegant. A kind of shared CV encompassing gitlogs, third party reviews, customer satisfaction, and actual "thinking when it matters" ability recognition.

Where are the semioticians when we need them? Syntax, grammar, pragmatics, all develop at a rate of knots, but we still use a subset of ASCII for the vast majority of our symbolic computation. Could we do better than a joke from the nineties?


It is, and always been: who you know more is more important than what you know.


This is really an unhealthy and flawed understanding of what is a necessary part of life. The problem is how to find good people, and the more society downgrades objective measures of excellence, the more people need to rely on personal recommendations. It's not that people wouldn't take a stranger for a job, but when there is a lot of uncertainty, they can't absorb the risk of the stranger not being qualified. So they will always prefer someone they know is qualified over someone who they don't know is qualified but might be better.

The above is as necessary and unsurprising as rain falling to the ground. There is no other way that things can work. Thus the practical advice you can give someone is not only to learn something but to widen their professional network so that there are many people who know they've learned something.

It is the exact same thing in a big bureaucracy. You have to know how to sell yourself, which just means you need to successfully communicate your accomplishments. Too many people do great work, but they don't communicate their accomplishments, and then they are surprised that less qualified people are promoted over them, and they grow cynical or resentful when it is really their failure at communication that has caused the problem. Like many things in life, it's better to be mediocre at two necessary things rather than excellent at one and skipping the other. But no amount of righteous anger about the unfairness of life is going to change the fact that people are not omniscient and that talent is hard for strangers to evaluate.


> their failure at communication

So much to unpick in that statement.

The potential for communication differences in culture, gender, and personality to outweigh job performance.

That communication is a two way street, but poor communication is often attributed to one party.

The tendency for the promotion process to favour “upward focused” communication and communicators.

The fact that objective performance measurement, which could ameliorate some of these problems, is a joke.

It’s true that communication skills are essential, but laying the blame on poor performers just perpetuates problems.


> the more society downgrades objective measures of excellence

I'd really rather go with "the more society discovers that we don't know how to obtain objective measures of excellence". We really don't have good tests that can fit in the interview slot for a lot of software engineering jobs.


You can say this over and over again, but that doesn't make it true. It is just a wish of how you want reality to be, and the US is sufficiently wealthy that people can indulge in these delusions and still put food on the table. For a while - there is a lot of wealth and human capital to destroy before things start to break down. These types of delusions are what makes it harder for newer people to enter fields and so inhibits human capital formation. Getting rid of grades in schools or giving different races different grades, getting rid of standardized tests, etc, this all destroys information and human capital. It also makes the nation less competitive when it competes against the (majority) of the world which does not suffer from these delusions and is more interested in acquiring human capital than destroying it for the sake of some equality myth.


You wrote a lot about the issue in general without actually addressing the claim. We don't have an objective measure while interviewing software engineers. Any too specific test will fail on some good hire during an interview. On the other hand generic tests need to adjust as you interview so they're subjective.


People always say that, but only one of the full-time jobs I've had in my thirty-year career has come from networking. In one other situation I was the guy who got several former co-workers hired, all at once, a frankly freak occurrence I still don't quite believe actually happened. My current job, I was contacted out of the blue by the team's manager on LinkedIn. Most of my jobs have come from being active on the Internet, or else from applying cold.


It depends a lot on your network and pure luck.

Here's an example of how much it can matter:

* I co-founded my first company with people I met at university.

* We got our first investor thanks to a chance encounter between said investor and one of my co-founders at a bar.

* When we exited that company, our investors lawyer arranged a meeting for us with another of his clients, who hired us.

* One of the execs at that company hired me for his next startup, and introduced me to his brothers, so I could work part-time for them until he got funding.

* One of my co-workers at that company was one of my co-founders at my next company, and our other co-founders were friends of that person. One of them had worked for the VCs who invested in our first round.

* [I went to Yahoo for a couple of years -- no connections there.]

* The general counsel at my last pre-Yahoo startup pulled me into my next startup.

* [I then went to a web dev agency, no connections there]

* The co-founder of the company I worked at before the web-dev agency contacted me about some contracting, and I ended up joining full time (my current job)

So Yahoo and the web dev agency are the only places I've worked over the last 26 years where my resume has mattered. Even then, at the web-dev agency I name-dropped one of people who'd hired me previously, and it impressed them, so who knows how much my resume really mattered there either.


>People always say that, but only one of the full-time jobs I've had in my thirty-year career has come from networking.

Funny, only one of the gigs I've gotten in my 30 year career has come from not networking...my first one. Every job after that has come about because of people I know recommending me for the job.

This has been super helpful over the past 15 years as I've been an independent consultant. In fact, I went indie because I had a network.

I don't need to look for gigs anymore, people come to me. I turn down way more gigs than I can take. And I haven't had to have an actual interview for a job in over 20 years.

I'm sure this isn't the norm, but it certainly makes work life a lot easier.


> People always say that, but only one of the full-time jobs I've had in my thirty-year career has come from networking.

Does that not just imply that your network wasn't that good but not necessarily that the adage "who you know more is more important than what you know" is actually false?


Many people do get hired cold, but it is the last choice of anyone hiring. If you know the right person you skip to the front of the line with no competition.


I've got exactly zero jobs without networking. =)

My first summer jobs were with people my dad knew. The first actual programming job I got because I happened to be tagging along with my friend who had a job interview.

From there on in I got jobs mostly because I had a friend inside vouching for my talents.

This also goes the other way, I wouldn't join a company where I don't have inside information on how shit actually gets done.


I have the opposite experience. I have never landed a job that I didn't already have a good contact and recommendation for, of course that is probably because I have never tried.


Interesting... Only two of my jobs have not.


I think that is often true, but I work for a Fortune 500 company and did not know anyone who worked there before getting hired. In the 20 years I’ve worked there I’ve been involved in tons of interviewing potential hires. Every single one got their foot in based on their resume. I’ve never seen anyone hired because they knew someone at the company. I’m sure it happens, I’ve just never met anyone it has happened to.


That’s how the saying goes but what really matters isn’t who you know, but who knows you (and was impressed by your work).


I have had mediocre experiences, at best, with people bringing in people that they knew from outside the company. There were positive exceptions but usually it ended up being a kind of weird political move that increased divisions in teams. Like there was the group that knew each other from outside and everybody else. something to be wary about


Successful people put themselves in situations where they can get to know the people who are important.

For example, attend the tech conferences in your field. Contribute to open source projects they are involved with. Hang out where they hang out. Etc.

Make it easy for chance encounters to find you.


I think the issue is rather that many people have a hard time of communicating the skills they have in a way the other side actually gets the level you are at via simple text.

If they already know you, you can skip that step and the risks involved. Depending on your personality and flaws however it might also be a negative thing if people know you : )


In none of the last four jobs I've gotten was there anyone there who knew me. What I knew seems to have been the important factor.


I've hired a handful of referrals, but when I get referrals I immediately look to see if their resume has relevant experience.


Ha! My first job was effectively through a LUG as well. In the early 2000's, I moved to a new city and joined the LUG there. A few months go by and I'm chatting with someone in the room and they ask what I do. I replied that I was going to college but also looking for part-time work. The next day, another LUG member who owned a small consulting company called me up and said he overheard what I said and pretty much just offered me the job right over the phone.

In fact, looking back at my employment history, only one of my jobs was a direct result of someone seeing my resume before they even met me.


As someone currently wading through resumes and kinda worried about missing some one like this, here's a tip to anyone else like you: The purpose of a resume is to get you hired. If you have something like an incredible technical sound driver support email chain like that... put a link to it in your resume. Yeah, your resume has standard fields, and those are indeed sorted on by HR, so don't leave out the skills & experience... but otherwise, the resume is free form. Generally not prose exactly, but free form. Link to ANYTHING you think will help you get the job.

And don't just say "I participate in some LUG"... that can mean you show up to the meetings once every couple of months to eat the free food. Show your helpfulness in an email chain. Show a project that you did with them with a link that explicitly says you did a big portion of it. If no such link exists, get one created!

By no means do I promise wonders if you do this. HR filters may still eat your resume. But if you do get through to a real human, they may look at those things, and the ones who will understand what this means are the ones you want to work for anyhow.

If you've got the skills to pay the bills but your resume looks like any other high school dropout's, I can tell you, from the other side of the desk, you've given me no way to tell any different. It may stink that all we have are resumes in the initial process... but at least that resume is under your control. (Mostly. Sometimes it gets chewed on. But speaking for myself, I'm looking at raw resumes straight from the candidate and that's not uncommon.) Don't be afraid to use it, and don't be afraid to toot your own horn, that's the whole point of this particular document.

(Similarly, to the extent possible without lying, don't say "I participated in some project" as your work experience. Write something you did in the project. Don't say "I participated in a billing system upgrade", say how you rewrote the UI in React to conform to accessibility standards and made it run 10 times faster than before and customers uniformly loved it and paid lots more money or whatever. "Participation" could be "I had my hand held for every bug as I struggled to keep up" and it could be "I stepped up and took more responsibility than anyone expected and almost single-handedly completed the project, freeing up the other developers" or anything in between. Unfortunately, based on experience, I kinda have to assume the worst because it's usually right. If "the worst" interpretation of that phrase isn't right, don't leave it open to me!)

Believe me, if you're doing Linux support on a mailing list, or anything even remotely like that, you stand out, at least to the right people. Do whatever it takes to work that on to the resume somehow. The "standard resume form" is a skeleton to be fleshed out, not a straightjacket of form.


This. This is why I always encourage people who I mentor to have a skills section.

My first job I got the interview because at the time I was attempting to turn a snowmobile into a hovercraft. I had plans and everything.

I put this on the resume.

The first question in the interview? "Look, if nothing else we had to bring you in to ask. How the hell are you planning on turning a snowmobile into a hovercraft?!?"

The project never went anywhere, but it got me the job.


When you are involved in hiring, it's surprising just how bad most resumes are. Have a single page of highlights that are going to make me want to talk to you. The interview is the time to go deep on details, if that's how the conversation goes.


It's really hard for somebody to know what's going to appeal. Maybe "planning on building a hovercraft" looks great to you; maybe it looks like somebody padding their resume. Maybe "had a really cool email thread" catches your eye; maybe it looks like an irrelevant detail.

A resume page isn't very long, especially presented as bullet points as expected. And especially when you have absolutely no idea who it is will be reading it. I can tell you great stories about every project I've ever done, but not in a bullet point.

I have no doubt that most resumes are incredibly bad. But I'd venture to say that a substantial fraction of the resumes you think are very good will be considered very bad by the next hiring manager over.


Yup. That's life. But if you make a resume like everyone else's, you're going to get everyone else's results. That's life too. I don't have a magic solution that will guarantee you a resume so awesome that literally every hiring manager in the world will break down in tears and hire you on nothing more than your resume.

You can turn this to your advantage, which I alluded to in my original. If you want to work with people who thing making hovercraft out of snowmobiles is awesome, put it on there. If you want to work with people who think that is a strange distracting thing to put on a resume, by all means leave it off. I'm sure HN is largely biased towards the first, so let me say I'm not being snarky at all about the second and I'm totally serious; if you are interested in a banking or government job you may well have those sorts of external interests yet find it a bad idea to put it directly on your resume.

Really my main message here is, take advantage of the fact that the resume is free form and don't just thoughtlessly put your name, work and educational experience, and three one-word bullet points about your hobbies or something on your resume, and then stop, because "that's what a resume is". Put whatever will get you hired. If there isn't a standard category/heading for whatever that is, make one.


> I can tell you great stories about every project I've ever done, but not in a bullet point.

If you can figure out some way to distill an important project down to a point or two, it's definitely going to work in your favor. A resume is not the place for great stories but it should make me want to ask.

I agree with your last sentence, although I don't think you will find anybody wanting a long resume from you. You could always provide a link to your online CV that is complete while the one you submit is an edited down version tailored to the company and position you hope to interview for.


As an outsider how sends resumes, it is difficult to know what a good resume is because one has not had the on hands experience of actually knowing what others are doing. Some searching on the internet may be helpful in the end but the jobs I got so far felt like blackboxes in the hiring process.


I'm guess your resume was still otherwise impressive


It wasn't awful. I was a new grad though, so I had a grocery store job, some volunteer experience and then fluffed up with whatever skills were on the job posting.


Second this. And especially the "I participated in" bit - that almost immediately makes me heavily discount the value of that experience because it tells me nothing and it's exactly what someone who has had only peripheral involvements but wants to play up their importance would say.

If they get through to an interview, fine, they'll get a chance to be specific, but failing to be specific might well get them filtered out before that.


Great point.

HR might not even understand what the link is about, but if they see something technical they don't understand but is related to the job, they will ask some technical person.

I got a call when I was younger because I was the maintainer of a package with several million downloads on RubyGems. It wasn't even a Ruby job, but the HR person's rationale was that "at least he's making stuff people are using".


Do you have a preferred template that gets past the filters? I imagine much of bad resumes comes from people using traditional ones.


> Apparently my CV was worse than I thought.

I have seen some awful resumes, including for people with PhDs and long records of accomplishments. Even people who have been through resume writing seminars at job search organizations.


Damn. Sometimes the world works with a chuckle.

If interviews worked, then Bob would not have not needed two slaps upside the head to get it right.


It was 1992 and I was a high school senior. My teacher got me a job at the local DPW in the electical department. I was to work in the warehouse under a guy named Al who was an old timer and lost his hand in a forklift accident 30 years prior. My job was to clean the warehouse, and when I was done Al told me to 'go hide somewhere' which I did, at the top of the shelves 20' in the air, which I had also cleaned. This got boring and so I wandered into the main office where people were huddled over a computer. They were doing a mail-merge with quick basic to inform customers that their power would be out, and it wasn't working. I looked over their shoulders and it was exactly what I had been doing to send out mailings to companies for free stuff as I had read in Radio-Electonics magazine. I fix the problem, and the Chief Engineer said 'come with me' and takes me to the (air conditioned!) sub-station and into an even colder computer room where they had just setup the SCADA system to control the towns breakers and monitor the power. Nobody knew how to program it, so he pointed to a 3' pile of manuals and said this was my new job. By the end of the summer we saved the town millions by siphoning power from the local college at peak power demand. I still hung out with Al, and helped him in the mornings. The linesmen still made fun of me, even more so when I accidentally turned off half the towns power for 15 minutes.


This is pretty much exactly how I got my first job programming. The only student job I could get at college was working for the HVAC department: organizing filters in warehouses around campus, taking out the trash, etc. I got a very similar "go hide somewhere" from one of my bosses at the time, and so I started reading about the control system(s) HVAC used.

Eventually word got out to the controls department that some student worker knew a ton about the controls system, and I got moved there. They had an issue that they wanted to know the forecasted weather, so we could get the central plant going before demand started kicking in, and the vendor kept telling them custom development was coming in a couple of years. I ended up writing a server for BacNET/C that did it for them, and it ran under the desk for years.


This is a fantastic story. Your capitalization of BACnet and your use of /C confuse me. BACnet IP? BACnet MS/TP?

I assume you didn't write a BACnet stack from scratch so I'm very interested in what the "server" was running.


> saved the town millions by siphoning power from the local college at peak power demand.

I'd like to hear more about the details of how this worked. Did the college have its own power source like a research reactor? Was this technically legal or in some part of a grey area?


I think it is more common than you are expecting. The University of Connecticut has its own co-gen plant on campus. It has capacity to power the actual school facilities, not just research.

https://fo.uconn.edu/departments/facilities-energy-services/...


I think cogeneration (cogen) plants are fairly common for colleges / universities. In addition to generating electricity for the camps, they often generate heated and chilled water for building heating and cooling purposes. That water is pumped throughout the campus and into the HVAC system for individual buildings. I've worked for two of the larger universities in my state and both were largely dependent upon the local cogen plant for all of these services.


A lot of universities have their own power plants, especially of a certain age. The U of M in Ann Arbor has a plant and uses the waste heat to keep the relevant sidewalks free of ice and snow in the winter.


We could always see where the steam tunnel broke from the sidewalk and went into the building because there was a patch of bare grass growing in the heat the steam gave it underground.


Yep.

The steam tunnels were somewhat notorious for awhile there, played a role in the Dungeons and Dragons chapter of the satanic panic of the 80s.

Still, there were always a couple ways to get in. Fond memories.


> Did the college have its own power source like a research reactor?

Not the person you're replying to (and never directly involved in electricity generation), but my university just had it's own small power plant: https://www.fs.utoronto.ca/utilities-and-building-operations...

I assume it was a mix of historical coincidence and a solution for less-interruptible power supply for the labs, but I'm not really sure.


University of Toronto had a research reactor back ~20 years ago: a "slowpoke" reactor.

I don't believe it generated incremental energy, but it was used for irradiation.

I worked there one summer and enjoyed it immensely!


The university I attended had large smoke stacks that old maps said belonged to the power plant. I never saw anything come out of them, so I assume by the 90s they had switched to using city power, but I wonder now if it was common for universities in the old days to have their own power plants?


The land grant universities were often in the middle of nowhere. I imagine not uncommon.


This is one of the best things that I've read here. It's awesome that you got the opportunity, figured it out, saved energy and money, and still helped out on the physical work. Unrelated, Woods Hole does great work.


Such a fun story. I’m glad you and Al still hung out.


I have a kind of similar story when I started studying in the late 2000s years. There was a company that had a specialized and really expensive measurement device. But the vendor went out of service. They changed part of their system but kept the measurement device only to find out it could not talk to the new system because the file system of the data was proprietary to the measurement device.

I got a student job at that company and one of my first tasks (and that of several students before me) was to open measurement results on the device and type them into excel spreadsheets. I did this for an hour or so until I became totally bored so I started to tinker around. The measurement device had it's own PC that booted Windows (I think it was 95 or 98) and autostarted their software in full screen/some sort of . This was easy to bypass via the task manager and running explorer.exe. I found out that the proprietary file format was simplay an MS Access file with a different extension. I tried to open it, but the file was password protected. At this time I had little to none experience with programming or anything else that was "low level" computer stuff, but I occasionally stumbled about writeups about hacks and exploits and skimmed over them. So I was pretty sure that there had to be a hardcoded password somewhere. I started to open every file I could in a text editor with no luck. Then I got a hex editor and opened the binaries and finally, in a dll there was a password. The next few days at this job I spent teaching myself enough Python to read the Access files and write the contents into an Excel file.

This worked and I used the free time to study/eat/sleep while getting paid for it but then one of my supervisors found out that I wasn't doing anything but still got results and wondered how I did it. He immediately put me onto another problem they had, thus starting my career as a software engineer.


Its weird how luck plays a part in all this - I remember as a Student temping for the giant Audit firm, Arthur Andersen (become accenture eventually). I was doing something like typing from one system to another. I think I found VBA and demonstrated how I could do a weeks work in a lunch hour.

My boss took one look, freaked out and I was back at the Temping agency.

We are still very far from a Software Literate society.


My dad did this for someone's whole team as a favour because he overheard what they were doing over lunch or something like that. Later, he met the manager of the team he'd done it for and asked if they were going to transfer any of the employees that got freed up for the work and she said "no, there's still lots of work to do and the speedup, while helpful, wasn't major."

Went to her retirement party a year later and got the truth: Her pension was tied to her salary as a manager as an average of her last three years, and her salary as a manager was directly tied to her number of reports. If she'd have given up half the team as she could have, she would have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars over the rest of her life.

There was a lot of that type of stuff going on when computers first came in and hackers here and there started optimizing things. Individual interest and politics doesn't disappear.


It wasn't the humble beginnings of my programming career (far from it), but I still ran into a similar situation in an internship at a recycling company, just a couple of years ago. "Hey we got all these daily excel sheets that someone needs to sit down and aggregate into these monthly balance sheets." A couple hours of VBA later and I had automated it.

Then a few days later, I happened to talk to someone from the accounting side about this experience. She mentioned that they were actually also tracking these same numbers and apparently had an automated system already. The production floor just knew nothing of it and had been doing the same task by hand forever. I guess the realization how inefficient organizations can be was probably the greater learning experience for me there.


Your story is probably the more common one by far. Most employers and managers (especially for starter/entry-level jobs) are incredibly insecure, and any sign of intellect or creativity scares them. I've learned the hard way to never ruffle feathers by trying to think or solve problems at full power on a job. Just do what's expected and move on.


> I've learned the hard way to never ruffle feathers by trying to think or solve problems at full power on a job. Just do what's expected and move on.

This might be the saddest thing I've read recently.


It's also why the nimble newcomer can often disrupt and slay the giant incumbent. It's a lot easier to create high-performance environments when you have teams small enough for all members to know each other personally than when you have hordes of people and have to use lowest-common-denominator bureaucracy to manage them in bulk.


Trust in Mr Schumpeter :-)


I'm doubt much of this behaviour is driven insecurity / fear of intellect and creativity - it's mainly an incentive problem IMO. If I'm incentivised to keep an inefficient manual system going, I'll fight for that inefficient manual system until the bitter end. Sending a smart but non-business-savvy temp back to the temp agency is small potatoes.


I don't think it's insecurity all the time, although I have run into people who refuse to trust an automated process because they can't see the work getting done...

I think a lot of resistance is due to, like others have said in this thread, unexpected incentives.

If someone's career progress, financial incentives, or work politics require the status quo, no changes will be welcome, and might even be perceived as an attack. (Yep, been there.)

If you miraculously can get the incentives changed, then you can make progress...


Same story here. Was working for a manufacturer doing help desk/support. One of two people in the dept. First task was to help someone in a different dept sort through PDF files, and rename them to the company standard format. I wrote a python script to do this instead of renaming one by one.

Got reamed because "there's no way that is accurate and it might mess something up".

They where renaming the file based on the date of review, and the creators name.... Both of which were in the damn metadata.


If your position was independent enough, you could maybe get by with a "show me a mistake, and I'll acknowledge and fix it and eat crow. If you are just guessing, go look for an error."

Or if there was storage space enough, make a mirror directory with copies renamed, so there was obviously no loss of original files, then invite them to check as many as they wanted.

I do understand that many people don't trust automation like this, I've been there too.


I have a rule that helps me be a decent human being. Automate to make my jobs easy, never automate someone else's job. Too many hot shot software developers think that putting someone out of a job is a good thing


This is super similar to my start. I was hired at 17 one summer to do data entry for a surveying company, by putting timesheets created in Excel into a central system for billing clients. That got boring after a day, so I figured out how to use VBA (Excel on Macintosh System 8!) and wrote a macro that I linked to a button and put on the spreadsheet template, hidden off in the corner somewhere. When I got the next set of sheets back I hit the buttons and my job was done.

I showed the bosses, and was immediately put to work on some much more interesting stuff linking Lotus Notes with SQL Server for reporting and dashboarding, and then I was off to the races.

(The previous year I'd spent the summer making concrete garden ornaments with a group of ex-cons in a shed in the back of a farm - an experience which certainly made me appreciate the comforts of doing spreadsheets in an air-conditioned office, though my muscles were never quite as good.)


Apparently this is the "story time" thread, so here's mine, of how I hacked the Linux kernel without ever having written more than maybe 50 lines of C code.

This was in early 2001, I was an exchange student in Japan, and I'd bought a really cool gadget in Akihabara that almost nobody had heard about: a hardware MP3 player. For storage, it used MMCs (precursor of SD cards), affordable ones held 32MB. To get music onto those cards, I also bought a USB card reader.

And there I ran into problems: the PC in my dormitory room was a used Pentium Pro desktop I'd gotten very cheaply without an OS, and I'd installed Linux on it. But at that time, USB support on Linux was still rather spotty, and while the card reader was in principle supported as a mass storage device, the USB driver would reproducibly freeze up after a short time accessing it.

As mentioned above, my C skills were basically non-existing, but compiling your own kernel was at that time still a pretty common thing for Linux users to do, so I had some experience with that. And I was motivated. I enabled kernel debug output, and discovered that just before freezing up, the driver would report that it had received an event with a certain ID. I found the code that handled events, and I found the code that handled the problematic event. I looked at it and realized that I was many months of learning away from being able to fix it.

So instead, I deleted it. I simply made the driver ignore that type of event.

It worked. I could use the card reader to put MP3 files on the MMCs and listen to them on the player.

I felt a strange mixture of achievement and embarassment.


This story I believe, largely because there's no money or fame involved, and because it's the software equivalent of "hit it with a hammer until it works again."


Ha, reminds me of overclocking the Tegra 2 in some Toshiba tablet. People were saying it's impossible, with various modified files linked by people saying it should work but it doesn't, must be something hardware related.

Being a naive dumbass, that did not stop me, I looked through the source files and thought "why not just edit the voltage/frequency tables in all of the files?"

And it worked. Could've easily bricked the device, but it didn't. I believe I had the same feeling as you. Yay for ignorance, I guess :D


That's like a scene in some old TV series about a startup I only vaguely remember. It's important demo day, but a bug is threatening to ruin everything. Everybody is trying to find the bug. Somebody yells out "I found it!" and everybody rushes over. For a long moment, they all stare quietly at a big red flashing line of code on the screen. Then somebody blurts out "delete it!" and the person at the keyboard deletes the bug with a single keystroke. Everybody cheers. The startup is saved!


Does anyone know this TV series? Seems like something I would enjoy :)


what tv series was this?


This reminds me of something, too. My siblings and me often play a (now) old RTS - Battle for Middle Earth II - against AI. When these matches go on a while, sometimes it crashes when defeating an AI.

Well I looked at where it crashes, and simply nopped out the code where it crashes (it was a null pointer access I think) ... and we haven't noticed any weird effects of that so far ... one of these days I'll get around to making it an if (ptr) fix and see that happens then, but it is not this day!


Is your hack shared anywhere? I think I hit this bug last time played with my brother.


No, I don't think I ever shared it outside of personal acquaintances.

Diffing the game.dat we use vs an "untouched" cracked one there are a few more differences than I expected (I at one point fixed the random version number and the 3:30 auto defeat if the game thinks you copied the game illegaly).

If you send me a mail to the email in my profile, I'll send you the binary!


Ahhh, the rm -rf approach to problem solving. My favourite!


"The best code is no code at all."


I love it. This is true hacking to me. You had a problem and kept digging until you solved it.


Brings back the days of my youth in about the same era. We had a recession on in my country at the time that made student jobs in the tech industry scarce and I ended up working in landscaping during the summer to try to meet the tuition bills. One of our jobs was at the site of a rapidly expanding local tech firm (the telecom monopoly had just been forced to open the market to allow competition and the industry was beginning to boom). I remember digging holes for planting trees and looking through the tinted glass windows at a couple of guys in their white shirts and ties sitting at a terminal and thinking "some day I'll be on that side of the glass". Sure enough, after 40 years, I work for a company with offices that overlook that same building. The trees I planted are large and mature, I managed to eventually pay for my education, and I never forget my roots as I sit down at a terminal window.


> I never forget my roots.

I hope the pun was intentional.


The classy way of handling puns is to avoid them if they're not intended and leave them unstated if they are. It's funnier to everyone who notices that way, and less distracting to people that are just there for the content.


Instead of puns, you can substitute the synonym for the word you're punning. So instead of "I never forgot my roots" you can say, "I never forgot my tree butts" or whatever word silly rephrasing you can imagine.


Same here, thanks Ned, this really touched me. I was 9 yo on a hot Italian summer day of 1985 when my dad bought his first computer for the bag-handcrafting company he still has with mom. I had my C64 since 1983 and I was also quite fluent in Basic at that point, so I was super curious to see the new IBM XT 8088D in action.

The sales agent from this "big" Italian company arrived, unboxed the PC, and started to explain to my dad the default MS-DOS commands. I was sitting there sneaking the prompt commands he was typing when, while installing the accounting software (which was the selling reason) the installation utility failed with an error twice and the sales guy was in a panic. A new version of the software was shipped early that week, and this was the first live installation of it. He tried some commands, started to screw up turning the PC OFF and ON, and at the end, he was completely clueless.

That's when I've stepped in - I've gently asked him permission to touch the keyboard and once got access, I started to play with MS-DOS and found the batch file that was responsible for the installation. The guy was looking at me with an expression that mixed surprise and hope when I've found out this file was a script that was similar to Basic and I've found a way to edit it. After poking for 1 hour in tests and trials, I've finally fixed a bug on a conditional that was bringing the data loading to a dead disk path.

The guy talked with his department the same day, and a manager from the company called me to understand what I did. They were so thankful! Nobody paid me a cent for this but after that phone call, I realized my passion could also be my future job and life, and 36 years later is still true. Thanks again!


I wonder if with this "big" Italian company you mean Olivetti. They had their own 8088 PC and if I remember well they also sold IBM back in the 80s.


Thanks, yep I think you are right about Olivetti, but in this case the company was Buffetti, a national-wide office supplier company that moved into software in the '80s to surf the PC era, cooperating with IBM for the hardware. I think at that point that was the first version of their software, and the department didn't last a long time.


Same here. The machines were really good looking too.


I love this. When I was 17 my dad got me a summer job on the plant he worked at. 40 hours a week in the parts shop, ordering parts, getting parts, and running around to different places to pickup parts. Actually I didn't mind it, but it was hot and dirty and my dad was my boss.

They had a computer system there to keep the inventory, running dBase III and hooked up to a NetWare network.

First day: No reports could be printed. Reloaded the various drivers, re-ran the reports.

Second day: They told me about a bug that caused the counts to be off so after checking things in, I had to manually add the right answers to the totals. Fixed the bug in dBase app.

Third day: The pull me to the front office, I'm working in the IT department and somebody's else kid is working in the parts shop.


I have a story similar to many of the others here. Mine was in the mid 90s when a kid could make good money developing websites. The hardest part was the client interactions, which is not something a 14 year old is particularly good at.

But the real take-away is that this era of computing was a true green field for the kids growing up in it. My cousins, who are over 10 years younger than me, grew up in a totally different world and, despite having used computers their whole life, have no idea how they work or how to build stuff with them.

A childhood spent writing batch files in order to run DOS X-Wing is very different than one spent loading a CD into the 1st gen Xbox.

I feel bad for my own kids, who are surrounded by technology that is walled off and inaccessible. Even 'View Source' on web pages is virtually useless now-a-days. It's a lot harder to get into the internals of systems than it used to be.


I had a long conversation about this a week ago. My worry is that "hacking" things — in the sense of "finding a way to use a program in a way that the developer didn't directly intend" — is getting harder every year and that this may have implications for the next generations of developers and indeed power users.

"View source" is not only virtually useless on many pages, but also unreasonably difficult to access in the first place (if not completely impossible) on systems like iOS.

UX, generally, seems so rigid now that, especially if it's on a more locked-down platform or a web-app, it seems there's often almost no way to use an app in any way other than the developer intended. The barrier to entry for hacking seems incredibly high now.

I don't know when the concepts of batch processing and scripting — or even keyboard shortcuts — came to be seen as a hindrance to UX, but I have a feeling it developed in parallel with touchscreens and the ever-increasing incentive to make apps addictive. In that respect it seems like we haven't really evolved in the last 10 years (at least), but actually regressed to some pre-computer, pre-automation age.

Perhaps everything I've just written is a load of rambling nostalgia. These thoughts come to me almost on a daily basis though.


Absolutely. I want to make products that are accessible under the hood. It‘s not for computers any more, but then there are many other objects we’re adding computing to.

In the meantime, I’ll start the kids on my old Apple ][e if I can smuggle it by my spouse.


Again we see similar issues that motivated RMS to create the free software movement. The buy bought a program but did not had the ability to read or edit it, today you will get a DRM on top of the program and some TOS that would say it is illegal to even attempt to get pass the DRM. Video game crackers show this DRMs will eventually get broken so the industry switch to services instead, now you are really screwed , you can't flip a bit to fix an issue or you can wake up and the software is now updated with nice new bugs or pointless UX changes.


These stories are are always fun to read, and this one was especially well-written, so I'm glad it was posted. At the same time, there's a fair bit of survivorship bias and mythology in the "wiz kid teen helps out a clueless adult and starts a great career in tech!" story.

For starters, this was largely a phenomenon confined to a narrow strip of time from the late eighties to the late 00s. Before that, computers were too expensive and restricted for most teens to have access to, even fairly well-off ones. After that, smartphones hit, people moved away from desktops and local computing/admin to phones and consolidation in the cloud(SaaS etc), and a generation that didn't grow up with computers was replaced with a generation that did. So the days of "Hey, I know how to do that computer stuff!" "Great! Get in here!" are largely over.

Second, even in that time period, most teens that knew their way around a system never managed to hook up with one of these sweet deals. You'd (begrudgingly) provide support for friends and family for free, and maybe make a few bucks off some extended work for a friend of a friend, but nothing large or ongoing. It's like hitting sports really hard in high school and college: some will go pro. Most will not.

I'm not trying to be a downer with any of this. But the story of the wiz kid who makes it big by accident has essentially become an archetypal story by now in some circles, and it's important to remember it's more mythology than reality. Most teenage nerds who liked messing with computers as a hobby didn't spin it up into an explosive career overnight. Some decided to get more formal training, and gradually built a career in the traditional way. For many more, it never became anything more than a hobby, in part because the labor demand for people who are just "pretty good" with computers is actually fairly small, and has shrunk dramatically over the past two decades due to consolidations (SaaS again), offshoring and outsourcing.


I don't think this phenomenon is quite "over," nor do I think it will ever be. I actually got my current job because of a similar situation:

During high school, I worked two summers as a lifeguard and didn't really care for it. It was boring, hot, and didn't pay particularly well, especially for what we had to put up with (read: incompetent management and being sorely understaffed). There were days where we had so few staff that we had to get untrained gate staff/food&bev to run slide dispatch since that didn't require a lifeguard license, but I digress...

My senior year, I decided to do something different– tutor online for computer science and math. Pay was much better and I definitely enjoyed the work more. One of my returning clients was working on his Master's and was taking a class that was central to his major involving python scripting. He didn't know much Python, but found me online and I taught him the basics and we had a good relationship going.

After he finished his course, he was very happy with the work I had done, and he actually offered me a job! I've been working for his company for several months now and just recently converted into full time for the summer.

So, yes, the era of "wiz kids" might be over, but getting jobs that you might not technically be "qualified" on paper for through strange connections absolutely still happens.


> this was largely a phenomenon confined to a narrow strip of time from the late eighties to the late 00s.

OP dates from 1982. I actually had a comparable experience in 1982 as well, with a Commodore PET-like. There are similar stories dating back earlier, with minicomputers. And I don't think it has stopped, if you know where to look for it. The days of BASIC may be over, but there are more business critical spreadsheet macros around than ever.

> So the days of "Hey, I know how to do that computer stuff!" "Great! Get in here!" are largely over.

I'd say there are more low grade computer problems out there waiting to be fixed than ever. You could probably ring a random person's door and they'd have a dozen issues with their computer / smartphone / WiFi / Universal Remote bugging them.

> Most teenage nerds who liked messing with computers as a hobby didn't spin it up into an explosive career overnight.

And I don't think the story was about that, in the sense of turning that job into a business as such. It was more about the insight that there was gold in them thar hills.

My 1982 experience was that an acquaintance of my parents got kicked off his mainframe account, and needed a different way to process the responses to a questionnaire he needed for his work. His program was written in some "real" programming language like PL/I or Fortran that was not readily available on the CBM machines that were available at school, so I wrote a replacement in BASIC for him. No exciting or sophisticated technical details, I'm afraid.

Details of payment were not worked out in advance, so I was quite pleasantly surprised to earn a multiple of the hourly wage I had made in a factory vacation job earlier. It was then I realized that this might be the right profession for me.

That acquaintance with the questionnaire happened to be a school guidance counselor, so he actually found me a career without even trying to do so…


You make an interesting point. I was a teenager during that critical period myself, or perhaps just after.

However, those who love tinkering with computers and technology of their own accord have far more opportunities and resources than we did when we grew up.

If you love tech, you've been teaching yourself for years -- it will shine through during those first interviews and through all the years of your career.


Under questions you’re unprepared for, years ago at a Wall Street job a couple of weeks after a re-org my new boss calls me into his office and asks me what sort of bonus I was expecting. Caught completely off guard I quoted him the real number I had been expecting.

He smiled and said great, which let me know I had absolutely left money in the table. A trusted colleague then told me if that situation ever came up again, take your real, reasonable expectation, double it and add 20. The situation has never come up again.


Probably you meant 20%. So that's X * 2 * 1.2. Or X * 2.4. Or make it easier and say 2.5. And 2.5 is 10 /4. So another way to say this is "take your reasonable expectation, multiply it by 10 to become really unreasonable then make it reasonable again by divide it with 4".


$10,020.


Loved this one. When I was mid-20’s I found myself in a “how much” situation as well. Thankfully I had the gumption to “go for it.”

I had found a solution to save the business 100k+ when another contractor charged 10k+ and failed to complete a job because the business couldn’t pay them any more. The thing is, once I started digging into it, the other contractor had done 95% of the work; It just needed a nudge to get finished. But As far as the business was concerned, it was 0% done because it was an all-or-nothing situation (either it worked or didn’t).

I did the final 5% and charged $3,000. I presented it as “I can fix the problem for 3k.” Was that completely fair to them I sometimes wonder? I don’t lose any sleep over it — they had a problem and I fixed it. I think it was wrong for the first contractor not to finish the work up and deal with a final invoice rather than insisting on pay in advance and abandoning them that close to the finish lone.

As far as the business was concerned I was a very cheap solution, and I made an hourly rate of about $2k per hour.


That's just economics. It's just like Apple or Samsung "magically" deciding that the price to fix your broken screen is just slightly under what it costs to buy the same phone used.


Old fashioned economics ;) http://happyplanetindex.org/


You saved the business 100k+ and you charged 3k? Next time call yourself a consultant and add another zero.


The business was pretty strapped for cash (they had to pay me $3k over two payments).

But yeah, it was a 100k problem. All or nothing. Either it was fixed or not. The previous contractor had completed 97% of the work, had billed $10k, and then left when the company wouldn't pay any more.

I swooped in, finished the last 3%, got all the glory, and charged 3k. The business thought I was a miracle worker.

To be clear, the previous contractor did a crap job communicating with the business to explain how things were progressing and made it look like this would be a black hole the business was throwing money into. Had the previous contractor said "we're really close, we just need a little bit more money" the whole thing likely would have resolved without my intervention. But communication matters, I suppose.


Well they had failed to pay “$10k+”, so it seems likely that $30k wouldn’t work.


It's crazy sometimes the gap between an appropriate hourly pay and the monetary value of the output. I'm sure OP would have come up with something in between as well, but being put on the spot and caught completely off guard like that for the first time I think the $100 was a fine deal.


I had two jobs in high school and learned a lot from them.

In the first, I was a temp worker for a P&G re-packaging facility. This means some temp agency was paid $12/hour and they passed on $9/hour to me. The job was backbreaking, in intense heat, and with very strict management rules (e.g. no lunch break, sitting down for even a moment was grounds for being fired).

In the second, I did lawn mowing for individual families for $20/hour. I found them by referrals and networking, and could control my schedule for when I went to do jobs.

This taught me that being creative to find good jobs was super important.

In college, I found a series of high-pay, flexible or comfortable jobs. A few examples:

$1000 for one week's work to hand out 2 pallets worth of coke zero to college students. I was allowed to keep the extras and ended up with a 1 year supply of coke zero for myself and all my friends. Oh, they also gave me coupon for 1,000 free burritos and despite a very diligent effort to hand out as many as humanly possible was left with ~300 burritos and told to just keep them. Qdoba was my primary diet for quite some time.

A job selling cameras on eBay for a camera shot that went out of business. They paid me a 25% commission and had one of the largest private collections of highly collectable cameras (I sold one for $8,000). I only did it for a summer, and probably should have taken a semester off college to just do this full time and could have made enough money to significantly reduce my college loans.

A freelance role, for a German re-insurance company to write white papers for $50/hour and could create my own agenda for what I needed to write, and work whenever I wanted.


>> should have taken a semester off college to just do this full time

This is very adjacent to what you're saying, but every time I hear this idea, I can only think that it's really taking an entire year off. Most of my courses were structured in a way that if you took a term out of the normal hierarchy, you'd have to wait until that course came around again at the same time the next year.


It's definitely highly variable by university and major. I know all the chem e people I went to school with suffered through the same track together, for the most part. But the comp sci program was much bigger and most core courses were offered both semesters or weren't serious blockers for other courses. And there were plenty of non-core classes to choose from to satisfy the in-major credit requirement.

On the other hand a friend's brother had to do an extra semester at a state school because a class he needed to graduate filled up before he got a chance to register.


> was allowed to keep the extras and ended up with a 1 year supply of coke zero for myself and all my friends.

that's pros or con? :P


Definitely con considering back then all "zero sugar" soft drink had Aspartame as replacement and there are studies that link Alzheimer to Aspartame. I'd say OP has a very big chance to develop Alzheimer if he drank so much in such a short time.


My first job was at a local computer shop. I literally got out the phone book and called them all in order. The one that finally hired me was called ZAM.


My first tech job was web dev at a small local shop. I also got out the phone book (and performed extensive google searches) to find all of the local web development companies.

I emailed them all, and wound up with two interviews. One was a wordpress sweat shop, and the interview went poorly--the owner had not even read my resume, started my interview while on a conference call, and told me my job responsibility was to "make her happy." When she said that, I politely declined to finish the interview.

The next went fantastically, and I wound up landing that job in a 3-person shop. I loved those people, and I'm very grateful for the opportunity they provided me. I also think we provided a lot of value for some important causes, which makes me remember the work very fondly, despite being in way over my head many, many times.


Great story. Two things:

1. Would this still be possible today? It's a certain timeframe (for software) where this was possible. Today it's things like SAP, integrated systems and DMCA on top of it (or Excel).

2. I did the menial route and am still happy for it. Flipping burgers, cleaning dishes, repairing truck tires and cleaning office buildings. It's a different sort of grit and stamina than the one that gets you far in your office career, but I still look back fondly on the lessons about hard work. It was also an introduction into diversity. I've met people on those jobs the 16-year old me never met before, and since. For me the lesson is: whatever my kids will do in jobs on the side, it pleases somebody enough to give them money and them enough to do the job it's a worthwhile lesson.


1. <Professor Farnsworth voice>Oh my, yes!</Professor Farnsworth voice>

I run a "CTO-for-hire" service with about 25 devs, product managers, and designers. I'd say at least a quarter of what we do is dropping in to rescue projects that have gone bad.

We're often treated like gold just for showing up, doing decent work, and bailing them out of a problem.

There's tons of work out there like this if you grow a reputation for being good and trustworthy, and you're willing to work through those really hard moments of everything being broken with no reason why yet. I'm 40 years old, and still just got the rush of excitement last week as I solved a major production problem for a company after a string of late nights. It's just fun.

2. Totally agreed about the value of other types of jobs as well. I will treasure my teenage and early 20s experiences as a Pizza Hut cook, Grocery cashier, and bet-taker at a race track for what I learned about those industries, how people work together, and the differences between intellectual and manual labor. As a salesperson, I also STILL reference knowledge from my experience in those industries when talking about new projects.


> Would this still be possible today? It's a certain timeframe (for software) where this was possible. Today it's things like SAP, integrated systems and DMCA on top of it (or Excel).

There's still a lot of utterly awful, sloppy business software around, especially for SMBs.


I beg to differ. Using a rare and specialized skill to fix critical business software is "actual work". The example in this story created a fantastic amount of value. It was also probably the model for the author's entire professional life.

Maybe a more accurate headline would be "Deciding not to take a job filling potholes was a good move" "Show up and be being willing to try to fix difficult problems"

Other things of note: Character matters. If he'd lied to his mom about the outcome of the highway department job she wouldn't have known to connect him to the used car shop. She helped make a safe place for him to tell the truth. He made good by admitting a difficult thing. Gaining skills and learning to solve problems pays off. Being poised to take an opportunity that arises is probably a sound life strategy. $100 was actually a reasonable number. It recognizes that computer work is not equivalent to minimum wage labor, is a significant discount off of professional software work and gives the client room to make a compelling offer for continued engagement.

People ask if we'll ever run out of software jobs. My answer is, "will we ever run out of business problems to solve? Opportunities for efficiency, laborious tasks to automate?" Not in any future I can imagine. Maybe when AI learns to code. But at that point the world as we know it is over anyway.


Here's mine. I'd just coming to take my GCSE's and decided to audit the school's website which was a Frontpage '97 powered site. I found the passwd file in the _vti_cnf dir (iirc) and ran it through a brute forcer. Found the password quite easily but instead of defacing decided to inform the webmaster. They were impressed and ended up getting me some paid work experience at ICL for the summer, working on an NT4 rollout (those were the days). If I'd defaced the site or done something a teenager would have perhaps done to impress his peers then I wouldn't have had that experience which definitely helped to get another job. It's funny how so much of life can pivot on quick, seemingly insignificant choices.


For me, the key take-away from this story is right at the end, where he contemplates whether he short-changed himself. If you look at it on a per-hour basis, he got paid decently ($100 for a few hours work in the 80s? Incredible!). However, if you look at it from the perspective of the business value he delivered to Jim in that transaction, it was a bargain for Jim ($100 once-off to fix a problem taht was costing many multiples of that each month? Hell yes!).

And therein lies a fantastic reminder that if you can frame tthe cost of your work in terms of the value you will provide to your customer, rather than a flat labour rate for your time, you stand to earn a lot more.


On the other hand, I'm not sure the author would have been offered a job had he named a higher price, so that could be seen as some kind of investment too!


Key quote which shows that this young person was a problem-solver, even if his computer skills weren't elite:

> I created a “good” BASIC file from scratch [...] Then I compared it to one of the “bad” ones.


I was GOING TO comment this. He was a teenager and found a solution no one else has found. That's some great problem-solving skills if you ask me.


> GOING TO

... mate :P


At least it's not COME FROM.


INTERCAL is a wonderful thing.


That scenario happens so often as a programmer.

You could read the docs or find the right person to talk to but its just faster to poke the black box and watch it's behavior.

Aka the scientific method of debugging


I think this method skips step one.

1) You turn it off and then on.

2) You look at one that works.


Nobody ever taught me step 2, and I learned step 1 from the IT Crowd (ok, not really).

Seriously though: are there are any other steps that everyone knows?


There's always

* change stuff at random, look for observable differences


it reminds me of the time I "hacked" a strip poker game on my C64. I noticed some files on disk had a number after them and assumed they were images. I just reversed the numbers and voila, I started out with a naked lady that gradually got clothed. I didn't really care to learn poker anymore after that.


"A strip poker game on my c64."

I can only imagine what this must have looked like.



NSFW... if anyone was in doubt


Less is more!


This part resonated with me and took me back to when I was picking up PHP on my own and breaking apart a Wordpress installation, file by file, line by line, method by method. Has some good "first principle" vibes to it.


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