5 min read

Get off the sidelines

Good things do NOT come to those who wait....
Get off the sidelines
Are you ready to get off the bench?

If you want to get off the bench, put your helmet on.

Show Notes

Hey folks, welcome to The Imposters Club. It's the podcast for misfits in tech and I'm your host, Teddy Kim. Today, I'm going to break it down for you. I'm going to explain to you why good things do not happen to those who wait. Where to begin?

Well, I played football in high school a long time ago. I was too small for my position, nose guard. So I spent a lot of time on the sidelines. You learn a lot on the sidelines...as long as you're paying attention. I watched the other players of course, but I was really fascinated by the coaches and by one coach in particular. His name was Scott Brooks. He was the defensive coordinator. Coach Brooks never carried around a clipboard and he wore his headset around his neck. He didn't need it. One day, I got to wondering,.,how is this guy making substitutions? He doesn't have a roster or anything like that. Then I realized that he didn't need one. He had figured out something that they do not teach you in Business School.

There are three kinds of players that you see on the sidelines, most of the kids will be literally sitting on the bench. These kids are content to watch the game from a distance. They like to wear the jersey around the school on game days, they like to have their picture taken with the team. For these kids. It's enough just to be on the team. They don't need to be in the game.

There's another kind of kid you see on the sidelines. You might see a handful of these kids on their feet standing nearish to the coach, shadowing him as he storms up and down the sidelines. They want to be subbed into the game, so they try to keep in eyesight of the coach or the coordinator. Maybe if the coach notices him standing around, he'll get subbed in and get some minutes. This kid doesn't want to watch the game from a distance. He thinks he wants to be in the game, but he's not sure. You can tell he's not sure because he has his helmet in his hands. If he hears his name called well, then he'll get ready.

Now, among this group, there may be one or two kids who aren't carrying their helmet in their hands. Their helmet is on their head strapped on. This kid isn't waiting for his name to be called to get ready. This kid is ready. He may not be physically on the field, but he is already in the game mentally. This kid doesn't give a shit about wearing the jersey on game day, he needs to be in the game. So, coach Brooks, had this all figured out. Here's how he would make substitutions. He would look over his shoulder and scan the kids on the sidelines. He'd skip right past the kids on the bench, whiz past the kids standing around with their helmets in their hands. And at last his eyes would come to light on the one or two kids who had their helmets strapped on. The one standing closest to him: he would grab that kid by the grille and literally throw him onto the field.

One kid, I remember this distinctly because it was so crazy. This kid was a cornerback, he might have weighed 150 pounds with his pads on. And Coach Brooks subbed him in for a defensive end. That sounds crazy, right? But put yourself in the coach's position. It makes way more sense to put in the kid who already has his helmet on. This kid doesn't need to get ready. He is ready. It's the kid who doesn't have his head in the game who's going to get hurt. If you put in the kid who's standing around with his helmet in his hands, he doesn't stand a chance even if he is a superior athlete.

Now in case you're wondering, this little guy who got subbed in for the huge defensive end, well, he turned out to be a holy terror. He was like the honey badger. That game he absolutely wrecked everyone who crossed his path. A couple more games like that and guess what? That kid wasn't on the sidelines anymore. He became a starter. That's how it works. Am I being too reductive? No, that's how it works.

Think about that the next time you feel you've been passed over for promotion or opportunity. Is your helmet on? Are you willing to put it on the line and take the hits? Are you willing to be blamed and shamed if things go wrong? It's okay, if the answer is no. Sometimes life on the sidelines isn't so bad. To that point, I have to tell you a funny story. I tested my theory, the next game by strapping on my helmet and standing right next to coach Brooks, low and behold when he had to make a substitution, he grabbed me by the facemask and threw me into the game. And on the second play, I left with a concussion. Yes, social experiments and helmets sports do not mix. That's a dangerous game, and I'm an idiot. What can I say?

Anyway, as a manager, Coach Brooks is always in the back of my mind, I want to figure out which kid has his helmet on, particularly in hiring. One of the reasons I think fizz buzz interviews and whiteboard interviews are so stupid is because they can't help you identify the kid who has her helmet on. Tech hiring is a joke. We have a system that selects people who are good at solving puzzles. We don't have any way of identifying the people who have the drive to succeed and the grit to overcome. It makes no sense. There is a lot of talent on the sidelines that is going to waste. That kind of puts the appalling failure rate of tech projects in perspective...up to 50% of IoT projects fail? That's a lot of losing and a lot of losers.

Maybe puzzle-solving ability isn't what we should be looking for in tech hiring. Anyway, maybe the problem is that we don't have enough coach Brooks's in tech. A manager who can see inside of you can see past your deficiencies and give you the chance that you need to shine. Or maybe tech just doesn't have enough kids who have their helmets on. Nah. That couldn't be it.

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