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Craig Nicol (he/him)
Craig Nicol (he/him)

Posted on • Originally published at on

Not being qualified as a graduate

I’ve seen some chat recently that cis white men tend to be overconfident in their abilities, whereas everyone else is under-confident, so those men get higher salaries, faster promotions and apply for jobs that others wouldn’t. I agree, but I also wonder how much of the impact is down to a nepotism that favours “culture fit” (such a horrible term), and how much is due to megalomaniac outliers (think any famous Silicon Valley founder) that have so much confidence they pull others into their wake.

I don’t doubt that I’ve benefited from privilege on either count, but as both ideas are equally alien to me, I am still contemplating which foundation needs crumble to correct the imbalance.

I’ve interviewed some of the overconfident. I didn’t hire them because they couldn’t demonstrate ability to match their ego, and couldn’t fit in any team. I’ve interviewed the under-confident too, and their abilities outshone their ego. I was happy to champion them when others were unsure and my decision was validated by results.

I’ve interviewed enough people to know this is an issue, but as someone who had imposter syndrome well into my first 2 jobs, I thought it might help others to hear about my start, although I accept I will have had far fewer negative encounters as I was learning the trade by virtue of how I look and sound.

The most important person in this story is now my wife. I’d definitely recommend have a champion on your side. Someone who will push you when you have doubts. Whether it’s a friend, a family member, a mentor or a recruitment agent you can trust. Someone who will encourage you to apply for that job when you only meet 30% of the criteria, who will challenge you to be your best, and point out your flaws so you can work on them.


Looking for jobs after university was a depressing experience. The y2k surge had passed, the .com boom was bust. I sent off CVs to what seemed like every company hiring tech staff in Scotland (I spoke to IBM and Microsoft but they only had sales jobs). I had a few interviews but every company I interviewed for announced redundancies within 6 months. One guy in my class was offered a job, and flown to the US for training, and the job was taken away whilst he was in the air, before his contract officially started.

It was a rubbish time for jobs, unless I wanted to follow my classmates to London : jobs in banks with a 70-hour week, paying far less per hour than Scotland, and with higher living costs.

I was demoralized, and starting to wonder if I’d chosen the right career. It didn’t help that the “job board” on the AI lab only had one “poster”, for a burger flipper at McDonald’s.

Another option

My wife was studying for a PhD, and found an opportunity for me at Glasgow Uni. It was something I had thought about, but I hadn’t realized there was money available to study for one. It was in audio interfaces, which allowed me to combine my love of programming with a love of music, and I picked up a lot of new skills along the way : MFC; Win32; Matlab; C++; parsing to write my own DSL; data science – feature detection, non-relational temporal data.

A PhD is hard work, so major respect to anyone else who’s achieved one. It’s not for everyone but I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. It was definitely not was I was looking for when I was job hunting, but having someone throwing left field ideas at me helped me both to understand what I wanted, and to widen my horizon of opportunities to apply for.

Don’t be fooled into thinking “a tech job” is a software developer at a multi-national tech company. Be a tester, and architect, work in operations, or security, or User Experience, work in academia or government.

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