How to Write an Intelligent-Sounding Stupid Job Ad

A while back, Jason pointed to an exemplar stupid job ad (complete with the “rockstar” red badge of dumb). While perusing the JoelOnSoftware job ads, I found one that at first blush looked competent, but suddenly came into focus–like an optometrist showing you the difference between your old and new prescriptions–as a Big Dumb Job Ad. Let’s peruse, shall we? (And yes, after seeing this ad, there’s no way in hell I’d work for the place so I’m not afraid to name names).

We are seeking an experienced Webmaster

Let’s stop right there. “Webmaster” doesn’t necessarily imply dumb, but it should get your bullshit detector twitching. A Webmaster is a legitimate position for a large organization that needs a semi-technical person with management skills to set standards, marshal content, guide new initiatives, and be a central point of contact for administration of the organization’s web sites and applications. In 1997, they might have run the webserver and programmed things, too (I did this as late as 1999), but that hasn’t been the case for many years.

to join our Web Technologies team as the lead architect and technical administrator of USP’s web servers.

Oh, so you don’t mean Webmaster, you mean a combined Systems Analyst/System Administrator. OK, they’re expensive, but such people exist.

In this challenging position, the incumbent will provide technical leadership of the team’s web application development.

Wait, what? Now they’re supposed to be a Lead Programmer/Software Architect as well? Good luck with that.

On a daily basis, the Webmaster manages daily site operations and monitors server and site security.

We’re back to System Administrator, a full-time job at most places.

The Webmaster is also tasked with establishing site maintenance procedures, collecting site metrics, and performing full life-cycle development of all USP Web-based applications and product.

Wow, in one sentence they spec out what a good sysadmin should do and then roundhouse them in the head with, “Oh, did we say Lead Programmer? Try only programmer. On top of the full-time system administration. Plus you’ll probably be explaining metrics to management, a CTO-type job.”

Each one of those sentences is devoid of obvious red flags or glaring unfamiliarity with how web development is done and how servers are maintained. But combined they add up to stupid. For fun, let’s see what the candidate’s background should be to combine three or four full-time jobs into one. We start with the minimum requirements:

College degree in a related field (BS in Computer Science preferred) and 3-5 years of relevant experience in the design, configuration, operation and maintenance of Web systems architecture, security

So a middling-to-experienced system administrator with some systems architecture experience. OK.

and Web development projects.

Right. This person has also developed sites. There are a few such people out there, but as I said, they are rare and expensive.

The person must possess a high level of technical competence in UNIX, Solaris and Apache web server environments

A really experienced Sun sysadmin. Not cheap and tends to be a full-time job.

and have expert skills in standards-compliant HTML, CSS, JavaScript, Perl, PHP and MySQL.

OK, now the lack of actual knowledge starts to appear. “Standards-compliant” can modify both “HTML” and “CSS” and maybe even “Javascript” (but then you’d call it ECMAScript) but not really “Perl, PHP, and MySQL.” But the odds of someone being both a skilled Solaris administrator and an expert in both front and back-end web development…well, I’m sure there are two of those guys around, but they’re kinda busy at Google or possibly Sun.

Ideally the candidate should have familiarity with HTTP, HTTPS, DNS, TCP-IP, SMTP, Sendmail and related Internet protocols.

Oh, yeah, you’re a Networking Engineer, too. Sure, no problem.

Experience with Web 2.0 applications design techniques using Web standards, Web APIs, web services, Ajax, RSS and wikis is preferred.

Right, so that experience thing goes as far as being up on all the latest buzzwords and really advanced techniques that require a lot of study and usually a couple of specialized programmers. Sure.

Whew. Those were the “minimum.” Let’s see what those two guys at Google and Sun will have to do to break out of the pack (consisting of two people):

USP is a unique and exciting place to work and along with the minimum requirements above, if you are the “right” candidate, you must possess a desire to implement new structures and systems and be part of an evolving organization and growing team.

“USP” stands for “US Pharmacopoeia,” the people who manage “standards” for both Viagra (real drug, Bob-Dole-approved), and Mega-Dik (see your spam folder for more on this). I can see how that’s exciting, but why would you need a “team”? You’re doing it all yourself! Teams are for mortal organizations, not ones with huge phalluses that can go all night, baby.

You must be meticulous about details and be willing to develop tracking documents and training manuals on the website’s architecture.

Oh, right. Those 40 hours a week you were planning on using for sleep after your 90-hour workweek? Don’t bother. You’re also a technical writer and process manager.

You should have knowledge of full life-cycle development of web based applications as well as knowledge of cross-browser compatibility issues and techniques.

Aside from the fact that if they knew what they were talking about, instead of pulling phrases out of CIO Magazine, they’d know that these requirements were covered back in their minimums, you’re back to being both a back- and front-end developer in addition to the other six jobs you have.

If you like to work in a team based environment and be an “out of the box” thinker who is responsible for introducing and implementing new tools and applications, this opportunity is for you.

The “team” must be the seven different bosses you report to who will come down on you when, in a sleep-deprivation haze, you deploy a feature without a Form 27-J/19A part B, Form For Approval By Cross-Functional Web Content Feature Addition Approval Team For New Feature Deployment.

The article doesn’t mention salary, so I can only assume they’re talking well into six figures. I’m surprised they missed “ability to talk with the dead” and “walk on water” as “definite pluses.”

What’s amazing is that they managed to make sure each individual sentence, when they didn’t obviously combine two or three full-time jobs, look like they could conceivably come from someone who was familiar with web development. Usually it’s painfully obvious the job ad writer had to keep wiping the drool off the keyboard as they were typing.

Then again, smart people can believe in UFOs or that conservatives believe in limited government. Someone has convinced themselves that a magical pony who craps rainbow sherbet is flitting around a meadow somewhere thinking to itself, “You know, I think I’d rather have a government web job.” Either that or they’ve been sampling some of the product that failed testing.

How Politicians Should Act More Like Experienced Programmers

In programming, when you’re trying to solve a problem, you hypothesize about the cause and then test your hypothesis by implementing a solution. Then you re-test. If the problem is fixed (and no other problems arise), you’re done.

But sometimes you were just guessing at a solution, and it turns out you were wrong. Your fix doesn’t make it go away. At this point, a novice programmer will simply try another fix, and try and try until the problem goes away.

This is a bad idea. You have just introduced a lot of unpredictable new additions to your program, some of which may cause bugs themselves.

The experienced programmer, as soon as a given fix doesn’t work, will undo the fix. This means the program is no worse than it was before, and anything he does after this will be the only thing that fixes the problem.

All very well, but how does this relate to politics?

Politicians pass laws based on a theory of whatever social ill they’re attempting to cure. What routinely fails to happen is either measurement to see if the problem has gotten better or undoing the fix when it’s found not to work. Like novice programmers, they keep trying and trying and trying until the law is a morass of conflicting and confusing directives, most of which accomplish nothing in solving the problem and create several other problems of their own.

Case in point, the regulation of pseudoephedrine. Now you have to sign your life away, and if you buy some for yourself and a sick child, you might go over the limit you can buy in one time period. Yes, the law assumes children all buy their own Sudafed.

They were attempting to curtail the methamphetamine “menace” (a minor drug problem turned into a major class warfare weapon by yellow journalism and a drug enforcement beast that feeds on new crises). The problem is that people using over the counter drugs as raw materials to make meth were a tiny part of the supply. It was and remains much cheaper and safer to buy from dealers who are supplied with pure ephedrine from overseas and make it in factories. The availability hasn’t gone down, and the price hasn’t gone up (which would indicate the supply was reduced).

So you have the government jailing parents for buying too much cold medicine for their kids and you have a completely unchanged meth economy. Shouldn’t this tell them it’s time to hit the undo button on that law and try something else?