When Everyone Is King (State of Nature)

Yesterday, I had an 8-10 day. Of it, 10-7 was straight back-to-back engineering lectures. This was five days into the flu, and after a nigh of less than five hours of solid sleep. Something similar is going to happen today after I stop typing, which will be in 100 minutes.

It’s after experiences like this I wonder what it’s all for. Does sitting through lectures 10-12, 12-2, 2-4, 4-6, 6-7 really help me? My dad had the same major, but he knew more and was able to do more with less. He came over a long time after graduating from Hong Kong Polytechnic, and all he needed to do was take the EIT and that was it. He didn’t even have working proficiency level in English, and yet he was able to work at a car manufacturing plant as senior engineer for twenty five years until it shut down. He didn’t know everything. He learned as he went – he often praises the marvels of the internet and how there’s so much information available without needing to drive around borrowing books and then using lots and lots of post-it notes just to forget which one was the one he needed.

Could someone like that get hired today?

A couple of weeks back there was a career and internship fair at my school. I printed out some resumes and went to it. I had no particular expectations; I know that I don’t have that many accomplishments and I’m really not that well prepared for anything. I knew of a couple of the big companies there, but I didn’t go to their information meetings. I don’t know who’s going to be at the information booth, and they don’t know me. But I went anyways, hoping I would learn some things about how to stand and deliver, and which methods would on average be more successful than not. A couple of the people there did teach me some things about how internships and applying for them work, and how to improve my resume. In a sense, this showed how little I really knew. But that wasn’t the reason why they pointed it out.

At one of the booths, the representative asked me what I do on my spare time which is related to my major. This I will admit is not much. I have attempted to join the intercollegiate airplane design competition for every year I’ve been here, but I’ve never done anything there. I was merely labor, toiling away on weekends sanding and sawing wood and building the thing while the upperclassmen did… what? Certainly not teach us anything or include us in the design process. This summer I joined the mechanical engineering equivalent, designing an electric car. This time I got assigned to the electric team instead, which made me: search the internet for compatible parts to buy. And model them in CAD, which is technically a little more related to work, but either way it’s not really doing anything. So I gave him the best answer I could: I can build and maintain bikes.

He then told me a story about how the woman on their posterboard took apart and put back together Jeep engines on her spare time.

I didn’t get called back for an interview for any of the companies. That’s fine, I don’t expect someone like me who has time to write and relax would be taken in for the best positions. One of my friends commutes a total of four hours every day for school. Another simply works every minute of his waking hours – when it’s not classes, then it’s tutoring or it’s peer advising or it’s band. And yet, they find the time to also have the material down more than me. Me, this is the first quarter I’ve even gone to all of classes I signed up for, much less straight ace the three I actually go to. They deserve some rewards. They really, really do.

But they didn’t get anything either. Because they didn’t take apart and rebuild a fucking Jeep engine multiple times, or something equivalent.

In principle I understand the seeking for excellence. If every single one of your early recruits is the MIT whiz who can do integral after integral perfectly and in simpler methods which you’ve never even heard of, and yet can still build their little electric car or pull campus wide pranks, why not have it? I recognize that each of those people has a team and a story behind them, and that they will not work as well if the only people around them are leaders. If all you have are leaders, nobody is going to do the work and nobody is going to actually keep the team together. This criticism I understand. This is solved by the companies simply hiring “gruntwork” later, and for lower positions.

But they don’t. They want every last person to be that good.

Everyone’s heard the stories by now. Highschool is nothing, need college. College is nothing, need masters. Masters, PHD. MBA. Law. Phd. Thing after meaningless thing. Don’t have em all, don’t expect to get hired. While in that case it’s fairly tame and detached (unless you’re one of those people who can see that ten years of school is more than 12.5% of your expected lifespan), these engineering requirements are really illustrating to me the actual mechanics and reality of this delusional fantasy they want people to be able to achieve. It’s commonly known that if you want to really understand the material you have to do extra problems on your own… but where is the time to do those problems? It takes time to go from here to there, to open the book to the problem, to write down how you got through things, to eat and to sleep, to go to some other place to do your Jeep deconstruction. Do those who get selected simply have time machines, or execute actions in a negative amount of minutes? Is “I want it done yesterday” something actually achievable by the best?

Or is it just bullshit?

Half a century ago, this country was able to get to the moon without calculators or computers. They weren’t split perfect, Apollo 13 is a fairly well known event. But today, after gathering our best and brightest engineering students with all the wonders of a however many bajillion calculations a second on a single personal computer, we build a VTOL jet which took who knows how long to design yet sucks shit and costs more than Australia. If that’s what the best people get to do, what will I get? Doing HVAC for some stupid shit social media “startup” which will freeze over in 6 months?

I know I’m not the best. But I’m better than this. I have a goal to achieve and I work towards it. Discipline isn’t useless; it’s the only reason why I was able to hold myself down and my eyes up and center when without this past year of writing and past two years of finally beginning physical training, I would’ve just stayed in bed all day yesterday, and even all day today. Even if it’s not the best, I can do shit, and I have an overall shit to achieve and complete. I have a purpose. I don’t care about just working for some small name big company middle level manager over people I don’t know or care about in some random place in the middle of nowhere. I will bring mankind to space and I am training the endurance, the energy, and the knowledge required for that. But it’s not enough.

How do I get there in a world which has no purpose? Or more functionally,

How do I get there without a team which shares my desires?

In the 70’s the American Army did a scientific study on soldier psychology. They researched stress levels when fighting aliens and the effectiveness of certain motivations in new recruits by comparing psychological evaluations of soldiers during the two world wars and the early BETA conflicts. They found and interviewed retired veterans from every corner of the globe.

They found some interesting results in the part of the survey asking why front-line soldiers fought.

What do you think the most common reason was?

Well, the obvious answer would be… for the sake of humanity or the Earth – And in the older wars, for the sake of their country I guess…

Wrong. That’s the reason given by soldiers who’ve yet to be sent out or are on their way to the battlefield. Some keep thinking that way even on the battlefield. But it seems that the more unfamiliar they were with real warfare, the more likely they were to give idealistic, political answers, or what their education told them. The families of those being sent out probably want to hear reasons like that in order to help them accept the painful truth.

Then… was the correct answer fighting for their relatives or loved ones?

Unfortunately, no, that’s also one most common before reaching the front lines. It also seems to be the real motivation for many of those being sent out.

In the end, the most common reason was… they fought for their comrades.

– Capt. Isumi to 2nd Lt. Shirogane, Muv-Luv Alternative

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7 thoughts on “When Everyone Is King (State of Nature)

  1. Pingback: Links & Ladies: October 26, 2012

  2. Pingback: Purpose and Loyalty (Mankind) « All Else Is Halation

  3. Back when I was in undergrad, I had the same problem. So did my roommate. Going through the reps sent to the school or through the HR office was an exercise in futility, particularly for my roommate with his 2.9 GPA.

    My solution was to make use of some contacts I had to speak to middle managers directly – and in person, most Game principles can be applied to job interviews, so I was able to charm my way into work. That’s great if you can swing it, but not everyone has that luxury. My roommate didn’t, so his solution was more ingenious – he was working at a restaurant, and branched out the work he did to help his boss and coworkers with their jobs. Eventually, he was handling the money and double-checking the books on a frequent basis. He got a letter of recommendation that basically said, “I trust this man to handle my money without supervision.” That finally broke through; the guy hiring him actually said so.

    Now that I’m in law school, I used the same tricks to get my first internship – networking and a letter from my old boss basically amounting to “This guy will get the inglorious stuff done so you can afford your affirmative action hires.” Bypassed the on-campus interviews entirely.

    That’s the best I can offer for help. Get a solid letter, even from a part-time grunt job, and do everything you can do speak to someone important directly. Not much, I know, but it’s what I have. Your class schedule sounds pretty brutal. Best of luck with the next round of job hunting.

  4. So part of this game is showing how much of the game you know is just stupid and are capable of completely evading.

    Fundamentally, much of it really makes sense. If you think about it from a mercantile and feudalistic, more traditional standpoint, you’d basically never hire some random guy off the street unless he showed extremely amazing skills on the spot. You’d almost always pick out one of your own guys or someone you know told you “I trust this guy with my life”.

    We don’t have this kind of culture anymore – “we”, as in everyone who isn’t born into the higher classes where all this is still close and tight-knit. We truly do live in the void. Everyone we knew in K-12, gone away or completely changed. Our parents are now “parental units” or “the parents”. Friends and family are now “connections” and “networking”.

    I’ll keep in mind that any letter of recommendation is still a letter of rec. I had it in my head that I need one from some high standing upper division professor in my department, but your point is correct: any good letter is a good letter.

  5. Came by from Captain Capitalism. Stuff the interviews. I am an engineer and I hire engineers by meeting people, or people who were recommended to me. HR is for clerks.

    By the way, the first few years of your engineering career will be spent folding drawings, sanding wood, and looking shit up on the internet. I have broken the dreams of more than one young graduate engineer. The crap you learn in university is less than useless to me and I don’t care about your dream. I care about how valuable the product of your mind is.

    Once you prove to me that you are mature, capable, and trustworthy, then I will ask you to do more. But only once, on the balance of the probabilities, I am reasonably assured you won’t kill anyone compared to the other people available to do the task.

  6. I understand how the stuff that is talked about is stuff that really doesn’t work and makes no sense at all, but I’m not really grasping how it actually does work, either.

    Why would I be hired or picked at all in the first place if all I can do sand wood? Is it because I sand more wood than the next guy, or because the next guy doesn’t sand wood? How would going back to the clubs on campus help me, over building a steam engine just with friends? Do I talk with the resident professors there and try to work up the system through them? In order for good work to be done, it needs to both be done and be seen. I am completely knowledgeless on how the latter begins.

  7. Pingback: Halation Intermissions 1 – Riding Between Shadows « All Else Is Halation

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