Thursday, January 31, 2013

I Am NOT a Sith Lord

A number of years ago, frustrated by my schedule and pay scale as a retail manager, convinced that my natural intelligence should allow me to do nearly any job that I had a mind to do, and motivated by no small amount of shame that one of the "smart" kids from high school dropped out of college and worked as a retail manager, I did something bad. With the help of a friend, I fabricated a job history, taught myself just enough Java to sound like a moron to people who actually know Java, and began applying for positions as a programmer. My friend had successfully pursued the same kind of strategy a few years before and was confident I could do it. He told me repeatedly that HR managers really don't know anything about the jobs they fill, and that confidence and even a degree of arrogance would enable me to walk into a mid-level job. After that, my small amount of knowledge, combined with easily-Googled boilerplate code and a decent mentor reachable on instant messenger would have me up to speed within months. I went for it.

Even then, I knew that I was doing something wrong, and I suck at doing bad things.

I can't even do bad things in a video game without feeling horrible about it. In Fallout 3, when you find the town of Megaton, the one with the unexploded nuclear bomb in the middle of it, you have a choice. You can embark upon a quest chain that leads to defusing the bomb, securing the town against that threat. Or you can complete the quest chain from a rich landowner living in a tower near the town. He thinks the town is an eyesore and wants it destroyed. Through his quest chain you can detonate the bomb and destroy Megaton. It's just a game, and the innocent people in the town don't exist. So in the interest of completing the game in every way possible, I destroyed the town on my second playthrough of the game. I felt bad for three days, then deleted the save file. I simply couldn't deal with the knowledge that I had killed non-existent innocents for no reason other than receiving a virtual trophy. There are Xbox Achievements in that game that I will never get.

I felt a great disturbance in the force, as if millions of voices had suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.

In Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, the player can choose to play a good or an evil character, a Jedi Master or a Sith Lord. The game keeps track of what dialogue choices a player makes, assigning light side or dark side points for speaking politely or rudely. The player's actions lead to the accumulation of dark and light side points, as well. In one event, some thieves are shaking down a man for money. The player gets light side points for saving the man from the thieves and even more light side points for refusing his offer of a reward afterwards. Or you can kill all of them and take everybody's money. Or you can save him from the thieves and then bully him into giving you the money. In the game, I always speak respectfully, try to stay on everyone's good side, and save as many people as I can. There are other games where the player makes good vs. evil choices, but no matter how hard I try, I'm not happy being the bad guy in a game.

I think it's relevant here to bring up the choice between Jedi Master and Sith Lord in Knights of the Old Republic. According to the various additional materials available on the Star Wars Universe, the Sith don't necessarily see themselves as evil. I'll admit that some, like Darth Maul, seem like mindless killing machines (and are less interesting for it), but others see themselves as realists. The truly strong do not need such concepts as morality or right and wrong. They pursue their own self interest and think that others should do the same. The strong will prevail, and the weak will fall. My software interview was my attempt to become the Sith Lord of my own life. I should pursue whatever opportunities arose, through whatever means necessary.

After interviewing with an oblivious HR manager (my friend was right about their grasp of technology), I had a second interview with a company. I remember meeting my potential boss and making some polite small talk. It was a panel interview and started out well. What kind of work have you done? I had a great answer for that one. Every faked job history had a detailed backstory. Then I started getting the real questions, specific questions that only a true professional would be able to answer. What were the questions? I don't know. I don't think I understood the questions then, let alone now. I was in over my head, crashing and burning. I could see the interviewers glancing at one another. I was caught. Oddly, they never called my bluff. At some point, I begged off with an excuse about getting nervous in job interviews and being unused to not having my reference materials nearby. I even said that I think memorizing details of procedures was unnecessary with the sheer volume of reference at our fingertips online. Why store information both in my head and online? When you're bombing an interview, why not start spewing arrogant generalizations, too? They thanked me for coming in, and I thanked them for their time. We all knew what had just happened.

Just like on my Xbox, there are some real life achievements I will never get. I'm okay with that.

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