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The Dystopia of Merit

I have long thought about the thesis of and cultured indignation against the rapidly evolving phenomena detailed in this article. I read/skim ~70 articles per day, so it is rare for me to read an entire article, but I recommend you to read this one as I have done. Normally I only have to read a few sentences or sometimes even the title and a few sentences before I can gauge the argument, tone, evidence, and novelty contained in an article, know how I will assent as much against my own worldview bias, or don't care. I have been reading the news for so long and have formed a comprehensive library of opinions and perspectives and can already reduce most articles to a few data transactions against the representative opinions. This is, however, the subject of another post.

What I have been thinking much about recently is a small portion of the meritocratic mania to reformat both economy and society into the image of a science fiction dystopia. My thoughts concentrate on two comparatively diminutive points within the scope of this dystopian realm.

The first is what I call the resume curse. Your previous work history tends to dictate the kinds of jobs prospective employers are willing to consider you for. Employers are most of the time unwilling to take or incapable of taking what they think is a risky gamble on someone without what they think is auditable experience. Stay in any one application stack or subfield too long, and you'll be asymptotically stuck to that stack or field, regardless of your as yet professionally unsubstantiated aptitudes in other areas. And should your unwittingly imposed expertise become factored out of existence, or worse, popularity by the industry, it's game over. Another hazard the resume curse creates is something like an inverted situation, wherein rather than converging you into a pigeon hole, your resume appears to present sufficiently much eclecticicity that your prospective employer characterizes your disparate tastes, or life happenstances as unfocused, undisciplined, and undependable.

The conventional wisdom here is that successful people create rather than take jobs. The probability of your next job being good or not depends on your ability to convince people that you can excel at the things you want to do. As trite as it may seem, most of the time this is achieved with some people sense and plenty of hard work.

The second scenario is complementary to the first and is called the goldilocks syndrome. Prospective employers are only willing to hire you if your experience in a handful of areas meets or exceeds their arbitrary, usually unrealistic, rubric. For example, 100+ years of C++, 25+ years of git, 15+ years of COBOL, 7+ years of go, srsly. (Also, Google has the resources to construct custom tools, libraries, even custom languages to exact more performance out of their custom technology stacks and then drop the gauntlet upon the world as open source projects. Why is it that everyone is compelled to appropriate their stuff with an inverted sense of attention to applicability?) I'm sure the comedic list of job requirements attached to most public job listings are the evidence of pandemic insecurity or ineptitude of HR departments desperate to regulate the job acquisition process in the wrong way.

The conventional wisdom is that good managers hire the best people they can find and then create a role for them rather than describe superman's exact history and sequence of errantry and then expect him to apply. (Withdrawing from the hyperbole for a moment, I imagine that what usually happens is that lazy HR grunts duplicate the toolsets and project history of the departing dev/admin at the company as the absolute verity for the job, and nothing less). The level of detail exacted often descends way down into bland detail, with strictures on shoe tying methods. Truly only superman ties his shoes correctly.