The Tech Nerd vs The BA Grad

Story time.

This goes back to last year, way before I started working for BCIT and was just another bored soul picking up and dropping off my kids to school. From my connections to Hong Kong and China, I met some great talented people, 2 of which ended up working for me in Hong Kong.

One day a recruiter friend of mine contacted me, asking if I knew anybody who would fit a Senior management role at a large Fintech company, overseeing their IT department and reporting to the VP.  Right away, there was only one guy that shot into mind. Lets call him “Alex”. I met him in China, during their Internet Conference- which is huge by the way. He’s talented, smart and the kind of guy you want leading your team.

Of course I called him, and he was back in Canada and was looking for a job! The stars were lining up! I told him about the job, got him in touch with my recruiter friend, and pretty much foresaw that he’d get the job. The job was made for him, it suited him perfectly and he would do great at it.

Then I got a call back a week later from Alex. He was disappointed that he didn’t get the job. Right away I thought, that perhaps someone even better than him got the position. He thanked me for the connection and said that my recruiter friend would try to line him up with something else.

I thought something was a miss here. Alex was incredibly experienced, his talents were beyond his age, he could out perform even me, he was just that good.

I called my recruiter friend and found out that Alex didn’t get the job because he “didn’t have a BA”…I had to pause for a second, and I think ‘wtf’ slipped out of my mouth.  I was angered that this large Fintech company, that was playing around with new tech, was hiring a person who spent 4 years of their life learning from a book, instead of the Alex, who could build blockchains. I was flabbergasted.

“That’s what they were looking for man, sorry” My recruiter friend understood I was upset, and I felt bad to make him feel this way. I apologized and say it’s alright. In the meantime, the only ‘jobs’ Alex was ‘qualified’ for was entry level work because, yes he only had his ITIL and solid IT experience, but he didn’t have a BA. I felt for Alex, because I too don’t have a BA. There are BA students in my class at BCIT who didn’t learn a thing at their University, couldn’t perform well at the job, so they came to BCIT to actually learn how to do what they learned from a text book before. They spent 4 years of their life, all that money, only to get hired and realize they don’t know how to actually do this.

And that’s what happened here. A month later, Alex eventually did find a good job, a 3 month contract position with a software company, the pay wasn’t great but it was enough for his rent and living expenses. He thought about going back to China where there was more opportunity – yeah you read that right.

But suddenly he got a call from my recruiter friend, saying the very company who rejected him would like to bring him in for an interview. He didn’t tell him the details, but I found out that the BA left after 2 weeks, he screwed up servers, nothing was working right, and rather than get fired, he secured another job and left this Fintech company just like that- no loyalty or care at all.

Alex thought about it. His ego was telling him  “screw that, they don’t deserve me”, but being the kind of man he is, he decided to calm himself down and at least try at the interview. He needs to be able to say he did his best.

So he went, and yeah, that Fintech company was apologetic and amazed by him. Right at the interview after learning of some issues, Alex bellowed out how to fix some of the issues and the hiring manager was so impressed, he offered him an extra $2k on top of the original pay to start right away. But Alex still had 2 months left of his contract, and politely let them know he can’t just leave. The Fintech company for once did the right thing, and waited for his contract to end.

Alex was all smiles. But the company got more than just a good experienced worker, they got Alex- loyal, energetic and skilled.

He fixed their issues in a month, and he got them off of Microsoft 365 which he warned could lock them out- and as we know this year, that’s still happening. With his help, they were able to fix problems that were outside of the scope of his work. Yeah, he’s a team leader, but he’s also a team player. Alex is still working for them and is happy and that Fintech company learned a lesson, ‘don’t judge IT professionals’. Just because you have a BA doesn’t mean you know what you’re doing and just because a company shoots you down doesn’t mean you’re not worth them.

The moral of the story is simple. A paper proves you passed, it doesn’t prove you know what you’re doing. I can run circles around BA’s, because instead of spending those 4 years locked into a university that teaches from outdated books, I practiced, honed my skills and experienced IT. In the 2000’s Degree’s didn’t matter because companies understood the skill, experience mattered most. But now, there’s severe competition, there’s a huge boom of foreign workers and immigrants who have flooded the IT sector in North America and the West in general. Now companies want that BA because they think, it’s how they can judge if a person knows their stuff. It’s not just a BA or Masters either, they want multiple certifications on top of that. They want you in incredible student debt in order to get a job to pay for that debt.

I made a software in my early 20’s that recovers Microsoft passwords that’s still being recommended to this day by Microsoft, and it’s still selling. I created an AWS killer with my company Techrich, that would save people money over using Amazon’s AWS, and I don’t have that giant spyware the CIA watching you. Did my BA get me any of that?

I’ve had a similar experience. When I decided last year I should go out there to the work force, use my skills and talent and learn new ones, develop and grow more; I was shot down many times, by companies saying that I don’t have a BA so I don’t qualify. I was recently told that because I don’t have a BA or related certifications I will get less pay, and the inner me was about to say ‘well go hire a BA and call me back in a month when everything’s on fire’. But I too am like Alex, I don’t let my ego get to me. The pay isn’t an issue for me, I don’t really need to work, but I want to. Yet, so many talented Tech nerds are getting shafted for not having BA’s and certifications for the things they have been doing and gaining experience and talent on, for years. Which is why I felt compelled to make a blog piece.

You’ll get a rise of defensive people saying “Bachelors and Masters are important!” and “we worked hard too and we know our stuff”. And it’s true you worked hard. But you were out of the game for 4 years to 8 years. IT changes so fast that you don’t know what will happen the following year. Most text books and programs do not get printed or updated that fast, so you learned off of old material. Meanwhile that Tech nerd was out there, getting his hands dirty, learning from the job, fixing issues that Github can’t fix, grinding at home and at work to earn that experience, why should his/her hardwork be shoved off the table because a guy/gal knows how to read, memorize and pass exams?

We have become a zombie society where a zombie school teaching you is valued more over a person who broke out of that and developed real skills and talent. We praise the ‘millionaire who didn’t go to college and made cool tech’, but wouldn’t hire that very same guy if he showed up for an interview with just his experience and skills. We’re hypocrites, companies are hypocrites.

A couple of years back a man held up a homeless and hungry for 4 success sign, handing out resumes to get a job in Silicon Valley. Every article I’ve read so far completely ignored the very reality of the story. He was undesirable as an employee before the tweet. He was looking for a job, applying everywhere and no one was calling him back. And yet, when it went viral and popular, that’s when over 100 companies called him, including Facebook and Google- the places he had already applied to and wasn’t even called back from.

You need hands on experience, you need to see things break for random reasons and then work around it. Google can’t save you, Github’s answers are shit, and now what? Do you have the tech savvy to understand the in’s and outs of it?

At Techrich, there is a young kid I hired, straight out of high school, who is extremely talented but didn’t have the money for a higher education. He applied for a tech support job with nothing but “I can do the job, just test me” on his experience. Anyone else would probably have tossed that aside and it probably wouldn’t have even picked up on most online job systems because its prejudiced. I called him in, and decided to do just that: test him. This kid was incredible. He had talent, raw talent. He was eager to learn, eager to help, eager to work. I didn’t make him beg, I gave him the job, and I started to get him into certifications because I knew, he could do more than this.

I thought after 2 years of working for me, and after getting 6 different certifications, he would leave Techrich for a larger company, but he’s still with me. Mind you he’s not just tech support anymore, but he chose to stay and be loyal to me, the guy who gave him his first break. I’m honored to be that for him.

There has been a real shift from the 2000-2012 in Tech. It used to be that a degree meant nothing, because companies saw back then, that it didn’t mean you knew anything. But now there’s a shift to making sure you have that degree or even masters. Why? Because there is a rush of young people in IT, there’s also so much Tech going around now so temporary foreign workers who are in IT, can replace you. Competition is fierce for a tech job, but the pay hasn’t kept up. These pictures show the true depressing side of how little tech is paid in Silicon Valley despite some of the largest billion dollar companies being there.  On top of this, companies that have HR teams who aren’t in IT, are hiring for IT…you see the problems here.

Companies need to stop identifying people as numbers and stop putting their resumes through a system that does the work for them in a prejudiced manner. When did we start accepting this method as normal and good. Why are people’s resume being filtered through a system that isn’t taken into account their abilities or talent or even their personality. It’s just listing off key words and putting them into a pile.

This is why you get data breaches, because you have a team of BA’s and certifications and not hardcore IT nerds, who live and breath IT. You need those guys, those are the guys who won’t forget a password on a server, who won’t misconfigure their stuff, nor would they leave an obvious hole to be exploited. They would never tell you AWS is a good thing, and they won’t ever say ‘lets store our stuff with Vaeem and Microsoft 365’.

But companies are doing it because they think their 10 person IT team can be reduced to 3. 1 who is $90k a year AWS certified, 1 BA with substantial student debt and will leave if they find something that pays better, and the last guy who is super certified and arrogant about it. And all of them are going to forget to configure something and then you’ll wonder how your company got exploited.

We need to take data privacy and security with more seriousness, this is no joke. Hire the right people to take care of it. Hire the BA grad who’s super certified, but also the IT nut like Alex, who just lives IT all day. That’s your guy/gal, they’ll do the work and smile when things are on fire, roll up their sleeves and dive in to fix it. Your BA isn’t going to really do that, because they’re too busy looking up the answers on Google , OpenStack or Github- where the other BA’s are on trying to fix the fire burning in the background.

What do you think? Should companies be hiring IT pro’s who aren’t BA grads in their team too?




Areeb Soo Yasir

Business and technology have always gone hand in hand for me, and now I've built nearly 20 years of expertise. A few notable achievements: -> Tier III-Designed & deployed multiple mission critical datacenter environments in Canada, US, Hong Kong, Singapore & China. -> Software Engineering: Created a Linux OS from scratch, including a custom kernel to maintain millions of dollars in client infrastructure, deploy and report as needed. Created the “Windows Geeks” and “Password Pros” Windows Password Reset software recommended by Microsoft. -> Business Negotiations: Conducted intensive negotiations with branches of the Peoples Republic of China and the various state-run Telecom operations including China Telecom and China Unicom for access to their trillion dollar backbone infrastructure. We were the first western company to have such network access where other IT companies such as Vodafone and Google failed. -> Cloud Infrastructure Creation: Created the first proprietary “Clustered Cloud Architecture” that rivals competing Google, IBM, Microsoft & Alibaba alternatives. I'd love to chat #IT or #Linux or even #Business, so don't hesitate to connect. Cheers!

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