Phillip B. Conrad

May 12, 2009

Living the Dream or “Fake it Until You Make it”

Filed under: Uncategorized — phillipbconrad @ 7:37 pm

One of the neat things about living in the Las Vegas area is that you are surrounded by interesting destinations.  Originally the intent was to have an entertainment destination that can easily be accessed by nearby cities, but it works even better in reverse.  Las Vegas is kind of a hub of the West, and you are literally only a few hours away from some pretty interesting places.

Last weekend we drove over to St. George which is apparently a shopping destination within Utah.  Of course the reason we went is because it’s very close to the Zion and Bryce National Parks.  Both are fantastic. Pictures can’t do them justice, so I’m not posting any of the 1100 I took.

The funny thing about national parks is that almost all the people you see in them are foreigners.  It doesn’t surprise people that people come from all over the world to see them.  It’s the opposite.  I’m amazed at proportionally how few Americans bother to see these wonders right at home.

We met a man originally from Singapore, but currently living in LA.  He had visitors in from China and was taking them to essentially every National Park in Utah.  When my wife told him that we had visited Singapore years ago, he was surprised.  It’s not exactly a tourist destination, and I can imagine he only rarely runs into people who have been there.  We had found a friend, or at least a kindred spirit.  My wife, always the glad hand, urged him to look us up when he got to Vegas, his last stop on the Western Tour before returning to LA.  He offered his card.  She urged me to give him one of mine.

Just a couple of weeks ago, Staples was giving out free business cards, created by their web-based software.  I never pass up a freebie, so I made a design to promote myself as a writer.  They are kind of silly, and I really butchered grammar in favor of clarity with the line “available freelance.”  Oddly, the only criticism I’ve heard on this was, “Who ever heard of a writer who wasn’t available?”  The man from Singapore took my card and said, “Ahh, Fiction Writer!”  He looked at me with something that oddly resembled respect, and didn’t even ask for any titles of books.

All this got me thinking about identity and my place in the world.  If you write fiction, you are a fiction writer.  The fact that you haven’t published anything is irrelevant.  I certainly identify more with writers than I do with computer jockeys.  When my mind wanders, it’s working out plots, scenes and characters, not trying to solve business challenges with technology.

I’ve burnt out on computers.  It’s not that I don’t understand them, It’s that I understand them too well.  Names change, but the problems stay the same.  The motivation behind developing new languages, standards and gadgets seems to have more to do with somebody getting their turn rather than actually providing improvements in the technology.  Everybody still believes technology is a one-way street, leading to them.  Nobody is willing to meet in the middle because they figure they all paid their dues one time back when they walked the whole length of the road themselves.  Staying productive isn’t that difficult, but staying positive about it is nearly impossible.

There’s a saying that everybody in computers knows, “fake it, until you make it.”  Quite simply, this refers to how easy it is to transfer skill from one technology to a similar one.  Programming languages all have to do the same things.  Databases can vary in look and feel, but data is data.  The hardware changes but the basic function does not.  If you know one programming language well, it’s fairly easy to get up to speed on another.  Just get the job, and then fake it until you’re an actual expert.

It’s very common in IT and has given rise to web sites full of technology specific quizzes that hiring managers can use to grill applicants.  I’ve seen job ads asking for five years of experience with technologies that are less than two years old.  Pretty much anybody who’s had any success with computer work can cross train in a month or two.  Most managers don’t understand this, but put themselves in a position to quietly believe the lie anyway.  It’s too expensive to hire an applicant that exactly matches your needs.

I guess my business card says that I’m carrying this concept over to writing.  Nobody has paid me a dime for anything I’ve written, and the only stuff I’ve had published at all was not fiction.  However, I sit down in front the computer and produce people that never existed doing things that never happened in places that don’t exist.  I am a fiction writer.  I’m just not paid for it yet.


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