While there are plenty of hackers that hack just for the love of it, it’s no secret that many of us are looking to hit it big someday. Tales of the businesses like HP and Apple that started in someone’s garage inevitably lead to musings like, “Hey, I’ve got a garage!” and grand plans to turn that special idea into the Next Big Thing™. Many will try, most will fail for one reason or another, but hope springs eternal, and each new widget seems to start the entrepreneurial cycle again.

But for as much pressure as we may feel to be the next Packard, Wozniak, or Musk, not everyone is cut out to be the boss. Some of us have no interest in or aptitude for business — we don’t want to hire or fire people, we don’t want to wheel and deal, and we certainly don’t want to worry about salesmanship. Some of us just want to abstract all that complexity away and just find a job, preferably one that leverages the things we love to do.

How You Look on Paper: Does it Determine Who You Are?

The trouble is, sometimes the things we love to do don’t line up very well with what we’re qualified to do, at least on paper. Take me for instance. I was trained as a biologist, got my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, and set about looking for a job. I found work in a biotech startup doing exactly what I was trained to do — run experiments, record results, interpret findings, lather, rinse, repeat. Luckily the company was getting into high-throughput screening using laboratory robotics, and my lifelong passion for electronics and computers made me a natural choice to work with the robots, and I’ve been doing that in one form or another for almost 25 years.

But if I decided to find a new job, I’d have a pretty hard time convincing anyone I’m worth hiring. On paper I look like a biologist, but I haven’t worked on bench-level science in twenty years. My resume, such as it is, goes on and on about my robotics experience, and waxes eloquent on the programming various languages I know. But if someone asked me where I studied robotics, or  — gasp! — asked me to do a little whiteboard programming during an interview, I’d be out of luck. My paper trail doesn’t align very well with how I’ve spent my career, and I suspect it basically makes me unemployable at this point.

Latent Skillsets

On paper, would you hire this guy?

I think a lot of hackers are in the same boat. Many of us have “day jobs” that bear little or no resemblance to our hobby life. Lots of us are self-taught in one or more fields, having taken a learn-by-doing approach to develop the skills needed to move a project forward. Some perhaps have a huge body of hacks under their belt, but were never very good at making their work public. For these reasons and more, the skills we’ve cultivated as hackers are often stranded so that we can’t use them effectively while trying to get a job.

My question for Hackaday is: does this sound like you? If it does, what are you doing about it? Conventional wisdom says that it’s not what you know, but who you know. Have you found that to be the case? Or when it comes down to it, do you suspect your resumes are going right to the circular file because your experience is all extracurricular? And most importantly, how do hackers network effectively? Sound off in the comments below — who knows, maybe you’ll help someone land a job.

Thanks to [Ryan Sayre] for the idea for this article.

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