"Smart, and gets things done." — Joel Spolsky
Spolsky's famous insight from a blog post on hiring — and cleverly the title of his book on the same — has stuck with me ever since I first read the article, waiting for the train in the sweat-stained Boston summer, waiting for the train back from the fireworks downtown on the Fourth of July.
By the time I read the piece, I was on my third internship in tech, but still feeling a deep sense of dread that before I knew it, I would be back to stocking shelves. This piece helped me understand why I had landed the opportunities that I had, and how to replicate that success; it turned lucky inclination into skillful process.
My first job in tech was as a data science intern at an insurance company based in Madison, Wisconsin. It was an awesome gig to land as a sophomore: fully remote, 12 hours a week, and paying an astonishing 22 dollars per hour. I got the job without a resume or referral. After reading Spolsky's piece, I finally understood why.
You see, I won that job at a hackathon. A buddy and I went to the University of Iowa to spend a weekend prioritizing software over showers, and I convinced him to abandon ideas of building something fun to put together a production-ready but utterly boring CRUD app in pursuit of a sponsor prize, something about the best app for credit unions. We built a decision tree chat bot with the Twilio API: good tech for my second semester of computer science, but no groundbreaking achievement.
But in presenting the app to the judges, I emphasized its production-ready status (hot tip: it was not actually very production ready) and invited them to use it from their phone. And one of the judges, from the aforementioned sponsor prize, liked the demo and awarded us the prize. But more importantly, he passed me his business card, said he was hiring interns for his team, and a few weeks later a laptop showed up at my dorm and I started work.
I wasn't hired because I was a great programmer or experienced developer. I wasn't hired for having a flashy resume. I was hired because I was smart enough to glue an API to a bootstrap CSS template and had the inclination to finish projects necessary to get it done in a weekend. Smart, and gets things done. That's all it takes.
In November 2022, industry giants are executing mass layoffs, but startups and small companies are still raising and hiring. And startups only care about impact per employee. So for my fellow students and new grads, don't worry about your school's US News rank or how many of your friends are landing GAMMA internships. Lean into being smart (I promise you are) and getting stuff done (I promise you can) and you'll find a great place to work.