Poetry of Anything. Now I Know This Is Called Flarf!

So.

I. Have. Forgotten. To. Save.

Last Quarter’s Search Terms.

I hope you missed my poetry already. What could I do to compensate for that?

Inventing an allegedly new genre.

Poetry of Anything.

The rules are similar as for Search Term Poetry or Spam Poetry: Use continuous, unedited snippets from questionable internet sources.

  • Pick snippets from random internet sites.
  • Select exactly one quote from every page.
  • Snippets have to be used in the order they have been encountered. Deletion is not allowed.

The following are preliminary rules – I will make them more loophole-proof below.

  • ‘A page’ is defined as the content accessible via one click or one ‘Enter’ after having entered data into a form, or having typed an address. If there is infinite scroll, you are lucky.
  • Do it reasonably fast. Less then 30 seconds per page.
  • Two clicks originating from the same page aren’t allowed.
  • It is not allowed to submit a desired phrase to a search engine and pick a line similar to the search term from the search results.
  • Don’t aim at navigating to pages you know well in order to pick phrases you know.

Here is the first Poem of Anything:

Know before you go

Sleep and Dreaming
how is it that we have studied it
no items to show

Protocols
This has been an issue for a while now.
The Abyss Beyond Dreams
It doesn’t get nearly enough coverage.

Could a person do this?
I really just like whatever you decide to produce
Dark Energy and Dark Matter

after the first shock waves
Waiting for the vapors to clear
I Only Know Who I Am When I Am Somebody Else

Lost in Translation
From papyrus to pixels
Finding Poems
a kind of corrosive, cute, or cloying awfulness.

fake blurbs, real e-mail, dream narrative, conventional lyric
That was a difficult period and I couldn’t maintain my sanity
struggling with this today

The cake was clearly delicious.
we may use cookies
BS

a new way to see the world
Speaking the Language of the Supernatural
Sorcerer’s Apprentice

Regulations
Could not process
This is how it will be at the end of the age
walking around with big targets on their backs

Regrets
heightened reality, almost cartoon-like
We had a reactor leak here now.

Please, give Positive Feedback

~~~

This was a nightmarish experience – feeling trapped in Hollywood gossip sites or photo blogs with hardly any text or outbound links, struggling a single line of error code, legal terms, my webmail page clicked in error. ‘BS’ was the degree of a guy mentioned on an About page.

Now I attempt to tighten the rules. (The list is the set of rules, not yet the poem)

  • Pick any start page of your liking or submit a term to a search engine.
  • Then advance from one page to the next only via links. One page is defined as all the text accessible via scrolling.
  • You have to pick one phrase from each page.
  • Lines must not be reshuffled or deleted.

I start with a Google search term – my chosen title:

Where Will This End

eventually suck the wind out of our sails
everyone is welcome

you can’t take control back
it can do whatever

some consider this exemption to be
which is used unless otherwise noted.

Latitude/Longitude
We do a little bit of magic

Maximize Conversion
possible ultimate suspension of your ability

fastest response
Must be prepared

Thank you for visiting

~~~

Now I was actually stuck within a bunch of IT security related sites though this was not intended. The hardest thing is how to get out again. Not for the faint of heart.

I have learned that all this is serious poetry – called Flarf!

From Can Flarf Every be Taken Seriously? (2009)

Almost a decade after its creation, the experimental poetry movement Flarf—in which poets prowl the Internet using random word searches, e-mail the bizarre results to one another, then distill the newly found phrases into poems that are often as disturbing as they are hilarious—is showing signs of having cleared a spot among the ranks of legitimate art forms.

Still, with its subversive stance, meta-mind mentality, pop-culture detritus, and mildly offensive language—this edgy new art form is difficult to pin down. Poet Sharon Mesmer describes the process this way: “There’s this idea that juxtaposition creates a little pop in your mind to take you out of your immediate, mundane reality. When we do these crazy things with Google, a lot of times we’re putting something beautiful together with something ugly, and it makes this third thing that is completely delightful and unexpected.”

L-29. 02707 FLARF (5099809437)

(The first image that came up when searching for Flarf on commons.wikimedia.org)

I Picked the Right Blogging Platform! (Book Review: The Year without Pants)

Before starting this blog I compared blogging tools in 2011. These two facts about WordPress and Automattic did win me over:

Now I have read the book on Automattic’s corporate culture:

The Year without Pants: WordPress.com and the Future of Work by Scott Berkun

Scott is a former Microsoft manager and long-term author and speaker. He has been hired my Automattic’s founder Matt Mullenweg to help introducing the first tier of middle-managers ever to Automattic’s so far flat hierarchy. Scott accepted, provided he can write a book about his experience. For him it was a test: Will he still be able to do the work of management and not only write and speak about it?

The book is a blend of personal essay and reflection of work and management in the tech world, and palpable anecdotes from a very peculiar workplace.

He did his duty in the trenches as a Happiness Engineer:

You get access to real tools and work on real things. If you do well, you’re offered a job. If you don’t, you’re not. The many phony parts of hiring, from inflated résumés to trying to say what you think the other party wants to hear, disappear.

At the end of this stint in support Scott admits how much easier work of a writer is – in contrast to the relentless never-ending flow of clients’ tickets:

This pressure made me feel like a wimp for complaining about writing deadlines or tough lecture audiences.

I guess skeptics would say a venture such as WordPress can hardly work – hadn’t they been successful for years now:

The business is firmly grounded in Open Source software. In 2002 18-year old Matt Mullenweg forked the copylefted software used for his own photoblog as its lead developer had left. In August 2003 there were over 10.000 blogs running on WordPress. For an extensive account of WP’s history see this.

The central values of the organically growing WP culture were: Transparency of discussions, meritocracy of authority earned – not granted, and the longevity of the project – which should live forever even if Matt himself would once give it up.

There is free WordPress.org for self-hosters, the service WordPress.com and other products by Automattic – according to Scott the business model was difficult to explain at times.

Based even on my own anecdotal experience of using WordPress.com I can say that it works – I pay for the Custom Design Upgrade for two blogs and think it is a fair deal.

Employees are fiercely independent, curious, and funny individuals, working at locations all over the world.

Many of them are former independent WordPress designers and developers – so probably people who don’t like to be (micro-)managed, who are fine with being paid for results and not for office face time or hours put in.

They do meet in person occasionally, and costs of meetings in real live compensate for savings due to lack of offices.

Matt Mullenweg – whom Scott describes as a renaissance mind with an epicurean desire to understand basically anything – has written down a creed:

I will never stop learning. I won’t just work on things that are assigned to me. I know there’s no such thing as a status quo. I will build our business sustainably through passionate and loyal customers. I will never pass up an opportunity to help out a colleague, and I’ll remember the days before I knew everything. I am more motivated by impact than money, and I know that Open Source is one of the most powerful ideas of our generation. I will communicate as much as possible, because it’s the oxygen of a distributed company. I am in a marathon, not a sprint, and no matter how far away the goal is, the only way to get there is by putting one foot in front of another every day. Given time, there is no problem that’s insurmountable.

Using colorful anecdotes and funny screenshots of WP-internal communications Scott demonstrates which key factors are important to make this work:

Mastery of asynchronous, written communication

Chat-like message exchange is preferred over audio or video calls, and tracking and discussion of work items is done using a blog called P2 (named after the theme used).

The reason for the first is probably surprising – and it might even sound discomforting to those who are stressed out by the constant stream of popups brought up by corporate instant communication tools: WP employees’ communications is based on the assumption that anybody else is working on some items in parallel or having some Windows open. It is not expected that people respond instantly to chat requests and some lag is allowed for – in contrast to the all-encompassing nature of calls.

Everyone understands it’s just a window on the screen and that you may be focusing on other things.

You could discuss pro’s and con’s of online meetings endlessly but I think Scott perfectly nails it:

Most people doubt online meetings can work, but they somehow overlook that most in-person meetings don’t work either.

P2 communications is reminiscent of those legendary nested e-mail threads – I answer inline in redI answer in greenI answer again in blue… I praise collaborators to the skies who are capable of following and processing such nested communications – you can literally do whole projects by asynchronous e-mails.

Everybody at Automattic can on principle read every P2 conversation. This, I guess, provides for self-regulation, and it limits the tactical use of communication tool, such as subtle hints by picking CC recipients etc.

WordPress people compensate for lack of cues in face-to-face communications by letting personality shine through written communications. Scott says that WP internal communications is refreshingly free of corporate world jargon:

No “deprioritized action items” or “catalyzing of cross functional objectives.” People wrote plainly, without pretense and with great charm.

From my few but pleasant encounters with WP’s support team I can attest to that.

WordPress’ culture seems to be positively self-selecting for people who fit in.

Insider humor

Sharing a common sense of humor is in my opinion the single best indicator of how well you will get along – and work! – with somebody. It is even more indispensable in this distant working environment.

Laughter leads to running jokes, and running jokes lead to a shared history, and a shared history is culture. What is a friend, a brother or sister, or a partner but someone you share important stories with?

Also the title of the book is a running joke. For a reason no one could explain later the prompt above the comment box on Scott’s teams’ P2 site turned from What’s on your mind? into

Do you know where your pants are?

No incentives

It was my conviction ever since that any sort of company-internal competition and incentives for individuals or teams will not do overall goals any good. The dissipation of energy invested in facing competition will outweigh the benefits of challenging individuals to go for stretch goals.

So I was delighted to read this:

How do you know if you’re doing a good job? They all shrugged simultaneously and I laughed. Unlike most corporations that emphasize performance evaluations, none of them were particularly concerned. … It seemed to them like an odd question to even ask. … It was not a promotion-oriented culture. Instead they cared mostly about how much value they were getting out of the work.

Frequent shipping of features

Against mantras of quality control and change management new features are rolled out all the time. I believe the reason why this has worked great so far is that risk management best practices are applied in an intuitive way: Features to be shipped are small, or their dependence on other features can be cut down. The overall risk of breaking anything major is negligible – and glitches be fixed quickly based on feedback in the production environment.

I think that all those controls in larger organizations rather prevent people from taking personal accountability – and Scott confirms this:

A major reason it works at Automattic is belief in a counterintuitive philosophy: safeguards don’t make you safe; they make you lazy. People drive faster, not more slowly, in cars with antilock brakes. American football players take more risks, not fewer, because of their padding.

Geeky, but end-user-centric

Probably my impression is due to the fact that Scott has led Team Social that dealt with building features like WordPress JetPack that adds WP.com features on top of the self-hosted version.The team used some funny ‘socialist’ hammer and sickle symbols for their internal site.

His team put in many hours in trying to understand the experience of normal users WordPress wanted to serve – and I think this spirit and the idea to democratize internet publishing can be felt when working with WP. They tried to feel what a user feel who struggles with getting his or her first posting done – as astonishingly:

50 percent of all blogs never publish a single post.

A tricks that help are writing an internal launch announcement for a feature long before it had been launched – forcing you to focus on the value of this feature.

Tame the bureaucrats and policy enforcers

Another pet peeve of mine – I remember myself in a job role that theoretically had demanded of me to chide entrepreneurial small departments that they don’t adhere to corporate standard IT hardware procurement guidelines or that their website they didn’t comply with ‘CI rules’.

The volunteer culture Automattic inherited from WordPress, where contributors were under no obligation to participate, defined a landscape that granted wide autonomy to employees. Schneider and Mullenweg went to great lengths to keep support roles, like legal, human resources, and even IT, from infringing on the autonomy of creative roles like engineering and design. The most striking expression of this is that management is seen as a support role.

T-shaped employees

This means having some very deep skills in a specific area but in addition the abilities to quickly become fairly knowledgeable in other fields – and applying that skills hands-on as needed, just as any in sort of start-up environment.

This is counter the culture (in ‘mature’ corporation) of denying to do X because you are not qualified, it is beneath you, it has not been included in your shop description, or nobody commanded you to do it.

Caveats

The book provides is a much needed real-live positive example of a company who has ‘got it’ – among cheerful analyses of a New World of Work and gloomy critique of debatable implementations (The documentary Work Hard – Play Hard having being one of the finest).

But Scott  warns against trying to copy WP’s culture and tack it on an existing one – e.g. by scheduling company meetings in open space style without and agenda, hoping that employees will simple start working together spontaneously – as they did in Seaside, the artificial settlement that served as the set of one of my favorite movies, The Truman Show. It was a company meeting that

looked more like a party at a very nice but geeky college dorm.

Chances are that in a different culture such experiments would be loathed just as other team morale events or the casual Friday, or any socializing event moderated by external psychologically trained moderators with a questionable agenda.

Conclusion

It is not only possible but beneficial to work on serious and sensitive stuff in remotely dispersed teams of self-motivated individuals. Scott’s account is convincing – he often emphasizes that he had been skeptical: He had considered his earlier success as a manager critically dependent on being in the same room with people and looking them into the eye.

The importance on a common culture and humor cannot be overstated. The most daunting crisis morphs into legends soon to be told by the fireside, if you are still able throw on some Douglas Adams’ or Monty Python quotes or give your test servers funny names such as panic.com.

I don’t think this is an IT / geek thing only – geekiness might help as there is this globally available template of a culture (42!) that fosters common humor. But I don’t see a reason it cannot be applied to other work that is in essence based on shuffling data – and communicating in an asynchronous way already:

The very idea of working remotely seems strange to most people until they consider how much time at traditional workplaces is spent working purely through computers. If 50 percent of your interaction with coworkers is online, perhaps through e-mail and web browsers, you’re not far from what WordPress.com does.

Many stories about famous start-ups are written when they have grown up – when they have scaled.

I am a small business owner by choice and I often ask myself – probably based on bias – does anything good have to scale? Scott answers this question confidently with No:

…greatness rarely scales, and that’s part of what made it great in the first place.

So in summary I consider it a great book, highly recommended if you use Automattic’s products are are just curious, or if you are an ‘office worker’ or a manager of those and thinking about the best way to work as a team.

It is an honest and entertaining manifesto:

The most dangerous tradition we hold about work is that it must be serious and meaningless. We believe that we’re paid money to compensate us for work not worthwhile on its own.

Communist heart

Honoring ‘Team Social’ (Wikimedia)

Generation X. (I Resist Adding a More Zeitgeisty Header.)

Yes, this is really about Douglas Coupland’s landmark book.

Generation X comprises people born between early 1960s and early 1980s. Thus I am perfectly average Gen X, and I re-read this book once in a while.

As for the content I cannot do better than the blurb:

Andy, Dag and Claire have been handed a society priced beyond their means. Twentysomethings, brought up with divorce, Watergate and Three Mile Island, and scarred by the 80s fall-out of yuppies, recession, crack and Ronald Reagan, they represent the new generation – Generation X.
Fiercely suspicious of being lumped together as an advertiser’s target market, they have quit dreary careers and cut themselves adrift in the California desert. Unsure of their futures, they immerse themselves in a regime of heavy drinking and working at no-future McJobs in the service industry.
Underemployed, overeducated, intensely private and unpredictable, they have nowhere to direct their anger, no one to assuage their fears, and no culture to replace their anomie. So they tell stories; disturbingly funny tales that reveal their barricaded inner world. A world populated with dead TV shows, ‘Elvis moments’ and semi-disposable Swedish furniture.

Not much is happening – summarizing the few milestone of the main storyline of that framed novel would constitute a spoiler. Please note that I really do like the book although I am not at all into pseudo-intellectual non-storyline fictional movies that win prices at obscure European movie events.

Palm Springs Amtrak Station

In order to demonstrate what the stories told by the protagonists are like, this snippet might be instructive:

The first chink of sun rises over the lavender mountain of Joshua, but the three of us are just a bit too cool for our own good; we can’t just let the moment happen. Dag must greet this flare with a question for us, a gloomy aubade: “What do you think when you see the sun? Quick. Before you think about it too much and kill your response. Claire, you go first.”
Claire understands the drift: “Well, Dag. I see a farmer in Russia, and he’s driving a tractor in a wheat field, but the sunlight’s gone bad on him – like the fadedness of a black-and-white picture in an old Life magazine. And another strange phenomenon has happened, too: rather than sunbeams, the sun has begun to project the odor of old Life magazines instead, and the odor is killing his crops. The wheat is thinning as we speak. He’s slumped over the wheel of his tractor and he’s crying. His wheat is dying of history poisoning.”

I can’t hardly resist adding disclaimers about what the book is not. In my opinion it is not or not primarily: a sociological analysis – not even a disguised one, clever pop-culture references loosely strung together, or some new age late hippie inspired story of young people trying to “find themselves”. It is not just a critique of consumerism and related unnerving jobs in marketing.

Probably the whole book is about things that are not. Not what they seem. Not what they have been intended to be. It is about Gen X’s denial or envy of their boomer parents’ values and social security, and their denial of their considerably younger siblings who are cooler and more career-oriented. Using today’s clichés they dislike Gordon-Gekko-style yuppies as well as over-motivated Gen Y who overtake them.

I believe it is about a generation stuck in a cultural void – quite literally and somewhat voluntarily. The three protagonists move to a community that is pictured as barren and eerie – an artificial setup, like Seahaven in The Truman Show, but more gloomy – that hosts mainly retired baby boomers whom the three of them serve in their McJobs. I apologize to the residents of Palm Springs – but this is literature, not journalism.

Trinity atmospheric nuclear test - July 1945 - Flickr - The Official CTBTO Photostream

The location allows Dag for taking a trip to the Nevada desert and returning with a jar of Trinitite as a present fo Claire – who freaks out, considers it Plutonium, and has her apartment sanitized in the most paranoid way after the jar breaks accidentally and little green beads of Trinite are scattered across the floor. I remember the cold war just vaguely. I was maybe like the protagonists – stuck in my petty but yet existential problems, not appreciating world politics. Probably because of that I feel that Trinite hilarious episode covers the feeling of a generation about nuclear war better than political analysis.

Coupland has often attributed great talent in capturing the zeitgeist. Ironically, chapters called I do not want to become a target market, did probably allow for even better dissection of Gen X by marketing experts.

He captures the zeitgeist by tracking it down to the most mundane commodities. To bumper stickers, ads, and to all kinds of junk that nonetheless triggers that grand feeling of an era. We are the generation tuned in to one or two TV stations only – our brains had been synchronized by washing powder ads featuring chirpy housewives or by crude animated cartoons sans Pixar-style 3D and texture. I remember clipping bumper stickers denoting the car-free day in the aftermath of the oil price shock.

Or it is just me and my treasure trove of precious memories of dreadful 1970s architecture: Green linoleum floors, orange 1970s wall coverings, and not exactly energy-efficient buildings. I had grown-up in a 1960s apartment building, went to a badly insulated 1960s school (we protested when the curtains moved in spite of closed windows, at 15°C room temperature), and I from graduated from a university built in the 1960s. We did not protest as the generation before us nor did we indulge in the cap-and-gown pseudo-tradition-as-an-event that Gen Y has rediscovered.

(I suppose this does not make a lot of sense to non-middle-European readers. For German speaking readers I’d like to recommend the German variant(s) of Generation X – Generation Golf – named after the car).

G70Woman 1960s

Douglas’ pseudo-scientific definitions are legend. He did not coin Generation X, but for example McJobs – and many other terms that entered the urban dictionary, such as:

Historical Slumming: the act of visiting locations such as diners, smokestack industrial sites, rural villages — locations where time appears to have been frozen many years back — so as to experience relief when one returns back to “the present”.

Clique Maintenance: the need of one generation to see the generation following it as deficient so as to bolster its own collective ego: “Kids today do nothing. They’re so apathetic. We used to go out and protest. All they do is shop and complain.”

Overboarding: overcompensating for fears about the future by plunging headlong into a job or life-style seemingly unrelated to one’s previous life interests; i.e., Amway sales, aerobics, the Republican party, a career in law, cults, McJobs,…

Now Denial: to tell oneself that the only time worth living in is the past and that the only time that may ever be interesting again is the future.

Mental Ground Zero: the location where one visualizes oneself during the dropping of the atomic bomb; frequently, a shopping mall.

101-ism: The tendency to pick apart, often in minute detail, all aspects of life using half-understood pop psychology as a tool.

Occupational Slumming: Taking a job that is beneath a person’s education or skill level as a means of retreat from adult responsibilities and/or avoiding possible failure in one’s true occupation.

Option Paralysis: The tendency, when given unlimited choices, to make none.

Obscurism: The practice of peppering daily life with obscure references (forgotten films, dead TV stars, unpopular books, defunct countries, etc.) as a subliminal means of showcasing both one’s education and one’s wish to disassociate from the world of mass culture”

Having typed all these, I found that there is a Wikipedia article on all Gen X neologisms already.

Doesn’t these lend themselves to be turned into status messages and memes on social networks? This is probably self-irony at a new level as Coupland’s characters, detached and intellectual as they may seem, just long for turning their lives into more than a series of unconnected cool events. That’s the whole point of their exercise in story-telling.

Intercontinental Discourse on Cheery 1960s Commercials

After two walls of text I owe you some light entertainment.

I have learned from the comments on this post that the song has been ingrained in the minds of American children in the 1960s and 1970s. True, I hear it in my dreams now, too. It’s Slinky, It’s Slinky! For fun it’s the best of the toys …

This is a service to my non-US and non-CA readers. Go indulge in this very retro black and white version:

Mind the delayed motions of the animals’ hindquarters (and their funny voices). I believe they give prove of the slinky’s secret as discussed in these comments: The bottom of the falling slinky needs some time to notice that the top had been released. In a similar way, the rear parts need time to notice that the animal has been pushed.

When walking down a stair, the segment of slinky that touches the next step of the staircase first needs to wait quite a while until it starts moving up again – in contrast to jumping compression spring or a rubber ball.

But the most important question to me was:

Which 1970s ad has influenced us over here in middle Europe?

The first one that came to my mind was hard to find although many people seem to search the internet  – posting heartbreaking requests: Does somebody have this video? I would pay any price!

So this is it: In German, very short, probably recorded by filming the TV version on a phone. It is an ad for detergents – I believe you get the message, the language barrier notwithstanding. It is about people being very happy with their clean and soft laundry, but – and this was maybe revolutionary – little cartoon characters inhabiting your laundry have mainly replaced The Happy Housewife in this commercial:

These creatures have a legendary name – a literal translation would be: The Fabric Charmers. This name and this jingle has been ingrained to the brains of German speaking children. I have found websites featuring the large version fluffy plush version of those – and owners still proud of them.

Though these are talking creatures, just as the slinky animals, their voices are more cartoon-y. The average frequency (pitch) have been increased – most likely by using a higher play back rate than recording rate, not by letting the singers inhale helium.

Today little creatures cannot be found in the microstructure of the laundry anymore. Instead, we see ads of tiny monsters living in toilets on TV, especially under the brim. These monsters seem to have been created from material found in Pixar Studios’ dustbin.

Similar creatures do live in Australian toilets:

What can we learn from this intergalactical and intertemporal comparison?

Did the economic crisis kill the cute, fluffy pre-oil-crisis Fabric Charmers and replace them by Mutant Toilet Germs?

Professional Online Persona or: What Are Your Skills?

My previous post has triggered intriguing discussions – about writing, identity and what I called an ‘online persona’. As far as I remember I borrowed this term from David Weinberger’s book Small Pieces Loosely Joined – sublime reflections on the way the web has impacted culture and communication.

I have asked myself sometimes: How should I describe and portray myself on so-called professional social networks given the fact I have tried to re-invent myself but / and / or fo not want to raise any false expectations or come across as Dr. Know It All Jack of All Trades Master of None Interested in Too Many Irrelevant Things.

Websites and profiles are not so much my home on the internet, but tools that supports the ongoing experiment of uncovering my unique voice. Yet professional social networks as LinkedIn are rather intended to provide an online CV or a skill matrix.

This article is a comprehensive review of the  Linkedin skills feature. In particular I like this quote: I too have been receiving endorsements from people I’m out of touch with, who are endorsing me for skills I didn’t even know I had’, like “food writing” and “celebrity” (whatever that means).

The list of my skills on my LinkedIn profile and its evolution is a great experiment in social dynamics (…plus game theory, plus artificial intelligence software testing…) although the skills not correctly attributed to myself were not as intriguing. I have experienced the following effects:

LinkedIn tries to extract – generic – skills from your profile that neither you or your contacts have yet added to your profile and asks your connections to confirm them. So the set of skills is impacted by LinkedIn’s bias.

I developed tools related to managing digital certificates – these are cryptography-based digital counterparts of national IDs – and the related management systems, Public Key Infrastructures. My main role in a project was PKI Consultant, and I never tried to sell myself as a developer. So the exact term should rather be Programming for PKI. But nobody uses that specific terms in his/her profiles so I did not object to add programming. Yet such generic terms can raise false expectations (which was actually the trigger to write this blog post).

Endorsements could make it harder or easier to change your focus and specialty due to the amplification fostered by LinkedIn.

You add skills to your profile or LinkedIn guesses at your skills and suggests them to others. Thus some connections will endorse you, and other members of the same community will notice as per the LinkedIn activity stream and endorse you as well. This might put emphasis on certain skills that you do not leverage that much on a daily basis or you do not want to use in the long run. On the other hand your network might endorse you for a very ‘old’ or ‘new’ skill and the self-enforcement of endorsements could help with changing fields of expertise.

But I strongly believe your most important skills cannot be represented in a ‘profile’ anyway. I dare say I did make some projects a success by using skills that have never been part of any skill matrix. These skills are attributed to you in private 1:1 feedback only.

Today’s hiring processes are often based on pre-screening applications for key words and three-letter acronyms. In discussion group I recently read: I hope the selection is not done by machines. Unfortunately, it nearly is. You might replace machine by HR people following some checklist.

Based on my experience I think there is a hierarchy of skills. I am aware of the vagueness in terminology I am going to introduce here.

  • Technical skills are a must. Replace ‘technical’ with whatever specific skills your education or experience has provided you with.
  • Top technical ‘guru’ skills – ideally communicated by an endorser, not by yourself – are the reasons customers might favor you over other applicants.
  • But social skills are the reasons they remember you. Probably these should be called general skills, including e.g.: perseverance to meet deadlines, writing flawless and precise e-mails, acting as an abritrator between people hostile to each other.
    Also Verbal / quant skills – as depicted in diagram in my recent reblog of Dan Mullin’s post Philosophy Degrees Are Undervalued all belong to the general skills category in my point of view.

Employers or clients will admire you for general skills after they have worked with you, but I am sceptical if such skills can be communicated in a way that helps in passing the barrier set up by the HR bots.

HR experts do not want to know that you have a proven track record on working with very different techniques in measuring physical properties of advanced materials and related data analysis – although you rightly believe that your most valuable skill is your ability to learn about new technologies quickly – based on your experience with related technologies. (Insert clichéd but true statement about the fast pace of evolving technologies.)

They rather want to see that you are capable of working with the Improbable Hyperspace Microscope analyzing samples of the recently detected rare earth metal Zaphodium, and analysing data using Most Buggy Scientific Software Tool, Version 42.42. You need to have more than 4.2 years of experience – it might not be sufficient to have worked with version 42.41 even if you have 4.3 experience with that one.

I am not making this stuff up, expect for the product names. You might be asked for 4.2 years of experience with a product that has been available on the market for 2.4 years only.

I had been lucky so far in circumventing such selection processes because I knew the person or department who was really looking for resources. In Austria, we have a strong tradition in bypassing processes in an informal – probably non-compliant – way. (But international corporations gradually  manage to add our distinctiveness to the collective.)

As this should not be your typical nerds ranting about clueless managers post, I try to distill some advice from my experience:

Some communities or industry sectors are more open to reasonable assessments of skills. For example, I learned from the IT security ‘hacker’ community to value skills demonstrated right in front of me. Hackers detest bragging with certificates or degrees.

Squeeze your ‘technical’ skills into very few key words, even if that hurts the generalist in you. I believe you need to be super specific:  PKI worked better than IT Security, Heat Pumps works better than Renewable Energy. It is like picking a tag line for a blog.

Don’t follow any advice, including guidelines about well-crafted social media profiles. My alter ego, the Subversive Element started writing the bloggy weird website subversiv.at at night when I was a serious IT consultant by day. I did not promote the site at all. Yet in a kick-off meeting in a new project a new colleague greeted me enthusiastically like that in front of all the other suits:

You are the Subversive Element, aren’t you? 🙂

Weird – or generally: unusual, outstanding – features in your profile constitute a filter – you filter potential clients by sense of humor for better or for worse.

Don’t speak about yourself in your professional profile in third person – in ‘speaker bio style’, such as: Elkement is a seasoned expert in hunting aliens, well-versed in intergalactic diplomacy with a proven track-record of efficiently destroyed foreign planets. 

Don’t panic.

Adam Pope Zaphod Beeblebrox

Zaphod Beeblebrox in an Amateur Production of The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy (Wikimedia) – in case you are looking for a weird avatar. Don’t be too original – allow for some cliché to strike a chord with others.

Don’t write walls of text.