How to fail. The long blog.

Posted by Ferret on Sept. 29, 2020, 3:55 a.m.

First of all, you have got to be honest with yourself. The "with yourself" part is really important.

Something I realized I used to do, when I was asked questions that might make me look bad: is to think of an answer with as much damage control as possible.

So now, if I ask my friends something like, "Do you feel like you did everything you could?" I add "You don't have to answer me. The only person you need to answer is yourself."

When I first joined this website, I was in high school. Back then, I was in special education. I didn't tell a soul. I lied to friends about which classes I took, and my schedule never made sense to them. I never would've wanted my friends to know, and I for god damn sure wouldn't have ever told anyone here. Because of this I developed a fixation on how people precieved me, because I didn't want people to think I was stupid.

I didn't want me to think I was stupid.

But, there I was, in special ed. Kind of a done deal right? A pretty damning piece of evidence if I do say so myself. However, like a stubborn child refusing to eat, the ego says no.

Now, at that point my ego was fragile as hell. Ego knows the evidence is stacked against it, and any attempt to prove otherwise would likely result in even more evidence.

So I coasted.

Didn't even try to go to a four year college. Didn't even take the SAT. Went straight to community college, because why bother risking heartbreak? I did the bare minimum to avoid failure, and I got the bare minimum grades. I was a solid 2.0 GPA, and I always had excuses.

You know what is funny about not trying? Everything gained feels unearned. It's probably why I was so depressed, I used to be a pretty happy and energetic kid! But now I was afraid of my future, bitter about the present, and jealous of my high school friends. I was jealous of some of you guys. So jealous, I applied for an easy four year college, and I got in.

When I got to that college I felt like shit. I didn't do shit and there I was, at a university. Everyone I knew, knew I was going to a real college. I even told you guys I was! But even though I had gained the perception of a college student on his way to a successful life, I had not changed. That college felt meaningless to me.

(Btw, I can explain all this stuff now with the power of hindsight, but none of this was obvious at all to me. So keep that in mind, for both my story and your own.)

So one night I was really drunk, and I was doing something really stupid and dangerous, by myself, and I had a thought.

"You haven't even tried."

Yeah?

"What if you did? Like, what would happen? What if you died right now, and then got to watch and see how far you could go if you hadn't died. Watch and see what would happen if you tried, and if you fail, you can always come back here."

Sorry for the dramatics, but that's what it was. I decided to be curious about what would happen if I did try. Just for curiosity sake.

So I left that 4 year college, and went back to community college. I left because it made me feel like shit, that feeling of being unearned. I told my parents, and they were worried. I told my friends, and the silence was really awkward. Pretty much was an ego suicide, but hey, I was dead; this is all just an observation.

Community college again, but this time I'm taking all the hardest classes I had been avoiding. I focused and tried really hard. When it was time, I applied for a much tougher university, and guess what?

I got in!

That's right, hard work and perseverance– WHOOPS! I got a C in differential equations, my GPA dropped below 2.75, my acceptance was rescinded. "You failed, BYE BYE."

Now, I could have stopped there, right? I tried my best, and had a shot, and I wasted it. I even drove down the university to ask them to reconsider, but they wouldn't talk to me. What more could I do? I never felt so defeated, curled up into a ball behind the administration building, crying.

Well.

What if I tried my best at an easier university?

Off to Flagstaff Arizona I go! It wasn't the best college, but it was what I earned, and oddly that felt good. Tried my best, and graduated 2 years later on the dean's list.

Time to become the software engineer I dreamed of, right? Apply to Google, Amazon, a bunch of video game companies, everything and anything cool! Yeah, nah. All rejections, and looking back I was not ready for them.

But what I was ready for was General Motors, because I could explain a 'for loop' :^)

Oh god, oh shit, this isn't a software engineering position, this is IT! I've been tricked! A ruse cruise!

Well, may as well keep trying. I told my manager I wanted to move to software engineering, and to give me any side projects that involve making, idk, software. Few months later, he asked me to make him a web application, a simple data entry site. Hell yeah, spent extra time, some all nighters, teaching myself Java Spring Boot and putting this together.

(Funny story, during all of this one of my teammates said he was originally approached to do this project, and that he turned it down. When I asked him why he wouldn't take an obvious opportunity to advance his career, he didn't really have an answer. Hmm…)

The project is a success. So much so that my manager's director asks me to do something similar for him. A bit more complex and in a much shorter amount of time, but with a lot of paid overtime. Again, it works out for the best, and my director is very happy.

That was all well and good, but then General Motors had a restructuring, and me and all my teammates were moved to software engineering positions. All the people I did favors for were now in totally different organizations. Nu-th-ing I did ma-tters. Chaos is king! But hey, I was now in software engineering, even if it had nothing to do with my effort.

Oh god, oh shit, this isn't software engineering, this is testing! I've been kinda tricked!

This team didn't need more engineers, so they put me on testing.

Fuck this shit, software engineer is my title, put that on LinkedIn, time to GTFO.

Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V "Time to become the software engineer I dreamed of, right? Apply to Google, Amazon, a bunch of video game companies, everything and anything cool! Yeah, nah. All rejections, and looking back I was not ready for them."

But what I was ready for was a contracted position, because I could write a CRUD api with Java Spring Boot :^)

Seriously, if I hadn't done those projects, I probably wouldn't have been able to leave.

Now, I wouldn't recommend a company where they contract you out to other companies, you could work for something really shitty. Luckily for me, I was contracted to Capital One, and they had the most modern Java/AWS tech stack. I learned a ton there, and even was asked to join Capital One full time, but couldn't because of a stupid anti-poaching contract. I don't like missing opportunities, so I leave my contracting company and begin to wait out the 6 month period before I'm allowed to get hired by CapOne.

In the meantime I worked a really shitty job that really isn't worth mentioning. Just avoid contracting with the government, trust me.

And then I was hired by Facebook.

Okay it wasn't that sudden, a recruiter reached out to me and I held it off as long as I could, studying harder than ever to get it right.

And guess what?

I bet you guessed wrong.

I

did

not

pass

the technical interview.

I did pretty good, Definitely 100% one question, but didn't finish another. And the system design question was out of my wheelhouse and was probably my weakest.

So how did I get hired?

The recruiter said "you got the top score on the behavioural question, that doesn't happen very often." She then told me I didn't get the position I applied for, but I did get a rotational position, where I would be rotating to different teams, learning the tech, and spending the year catching up to the engineering level I originally applied for.

Well shit, I would pay money for something like that!

So, here's the thing:

Me trying my best in community college was hard work, but not perseverance. Me trying my best in college was hard work, but not perseverance. General Motors, hard work, not perseverance. Capital One, not perseverance.

Each ended with what felt like failure, failure to achieve my goal. What I didn't see was that each one was a step, and the sum of them was perseverance.

Not to be all overly confident, but that perseverance probably got me hired.

But trying is hard. No sarcasm.

Especially if it's been a while since you've last tried. When I first started to try my best, I was bad at trying. Because apparently, like every other skill, trying is something you learn to do. You get better at trying the more you do it.

Trying isn't magic, it won't solve everything. You will fail, several times. But you can't let that discourage you.

I understand that everyone has unique troubles, some that no amount of trying can fix. Ignore what you have zero control over. Focus on what you can control. Ask yourself, did you do as much as you could?

Each time I ask myself, I know I haven't.

And you don't have to answer me. The only person you need to answer is yourself.

(Also ego-death, that helps tremendously.)

Comments

Ferret 2 weeks, 3 days ago

Thanks! Haha I'm probably never going to go back to Capital One :P

flashback 2 weeks, 2 days ago

Quote:
I did pretty good, Definitely 100% one question, but didn't finish another. And the system design question was out of my wheelhouse and was probably my weakest.
This is in all likelihood an intentional part of the interview. The big tech questions aren't about 100%ing them, they're about showing how and where you triage and prioritize when presented with a scenario that's too big for the time allotted. They should have told you that up front, but some interviewers choose not to for reasons that remain a mystery to me.

ludamad 1 week, 5 days ago

Good thoughts, glad to hear it worked out in the end. I don't think your blog is any less valid if you didn't get a job at Facebook, it bears mentioning. It would then take an (additional) immense amount of mental gymnastics to put that failure in perspective, but the perseverance is admirable in itself.

Other than obvious real issues with money, we generally cling to external validation. Sustainable perseverance has to necessarily look within. I say this, because really you accomplished a role that tends to bring a lot of external validation - honestly, it's sexy that you landed the role in Facebook that way and I'll happily tell you that.

However, don't stop relying on your own internal motivation! I know I have to say this to myself, as I've become a tad a chaser of 'classical success' metrics lately, and need to remind myself which parts are just for me.

Ferret 1 week, 2 days ago

Those are some wise words Luda, thank you. I gave up on external validation a long time ago, but now that you mention it I can see how I could slip back to relying on it if I'm not careful.