The beginning of an end (but I don’t know of what)

I took the Wolfe Battery Programming Aptitude Assessment yesterday. It’s a grueling, obnoxious test, simulating data structures like linked lists without saying the words and without giving any hint about what they’re useful for. (Good thing I already know that, courtesy of Computer Science 203.) It’s a five-problem test that most people, according to the testing company, complete within four hours. It took me between four and a half and five, but I had nearly an hour’s worth of breaks and interruptions.
It’s been my experience that tests tell you something (but not everything) about some people (but definitely not all people) some of the time (but definitely not all of the time). After administering a standardized test, you may or may not know anything more than you knew before the test, and you have no way of knowing whether you know any more, but if you believe in the things, at least you feel better.

My sister’s never done well on standardized tests. From looking at her test scores, you’d never guess she graduated high school in three and a half years and got her bachelor’s degree in another three and a half. I do well on standardized tests about half the time. Two IQ tests rated me average intelligence; a third rated me a genius. My SAT score was uninspiring; my ACT score got me automatic admission to the University of Missouri, plus a very nice scholarship. The first time I took Wolfe’s programming test, the results stated that I’m incapable of deep, detailed analysis. As far as I know, that’s the only time that’s ever been said of me.

I’ve had coworkers with outstanding test scores who were capable of superhuman feats with a computer. I’ve had coworkers with outstanding test scores who, when trying to fix something, would break it worse than I’d be able to break it if I’d been trying. I’ve had coworkers with test scores worse than mine who were more capable than me.

Personally, I’m a whole lot less interested in someone’s raw ability than I am in what that person does with it. If someone’s got 91 points of ability and isn’t using half of it, and I’m standing over here with 50 points and using almost all of it, which of us is more valuable? Now, supposedly there are tests that try to measure that too. I have no idea how those could work.

I don’t know how I did on the test. The last two questions are a series of simple problems, with each answer dependent on the previous, before you finally get a final answer. Each one took me about 20 minutes to finish. Then I went back and double-checked the problems, and found I made a mistake early in the sequence in each of them. So I ran through the problems a second and a third time, getting the same results the last two times, and they differed from the first. But I’m still not entirely confident I got them right.

My career pretty much hinges on those two problems. If I got them right, I’m promotable where I am. If I didn’t get them right, my chances of ever being promoted appear to approach zero.

Either way, a change is going to have to happen, and soon. I’m tired and beat up. I haven’t felt like writing. I got my hair cut earlier this week, and there was more grey hair on my apron than brown. I wasn’t that grey a year ago. I’m working the kind of hours that sent my dad to the grave at 51. I’ve been extraordinarily irate, to the point that I wonder if anyone likes being around me, because I sure don’t like being around me when I’m that way.

I’ve been here before. First time, I dealt with it by losing myself in a girl. That wasn’t fair to her; the fling lasted about two months, and it scarred us both. What she did in the end wasn’t fair to me, so I guess we’re even. Second time, I dealt with it by losing myself in writing. Now that all’s pretty much said and done with those books (one will be obsolete in a couple of weeks, while the half never made it into print), I made about $4 an hour writing one and a half books, then I acquired a repetitive stress injury. That wasn’t fair to me–I’d have made twice as much flipping burgers on the evening shift at White Castle, and I’d have had nearly as much prestige.

I know I sound like a broken record; every twentysomething I know is asking what he or she should do with life. And I don’t have an answer either.

And when I look at history, it tells me it doesn’t really matter. Even when whole generations set out to do something, what they do rarely makes a difference. That ought to be liberating–I can do what I want because it doesn’t make any difference in the long run.

But somehow it’s not.

4 thoughts on “The beginning of an end (but I don’t know of what)

  • October 5, 2001 at 2:14 pm
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    Tests. Supposedly used to verify knowledge. Believe me, I never knew what my ACT score was, don’t think I took SAT, and the ASVAB (or whatever the Armed Forces test is called) qualified me to join and be trained as a Nuclear Physicist. That’s probably what you call anyone working on a submarine nowadays. 🙂

    I’ve always tested very well, at least in school, but am not too confident at this age, even though I usually get a perfect score on First Aid and CPR. After all that knowledge is very important.

    Dave, I hope you did well enough for the promotion. I do agree with you about optimizing the resources we do have versus those that do not. However I have seen quite a few old school chums that averaged a "C", yet are making much more money than I am. Oh well, at least I’m happy.

  • October 5, 2001 at 2:44 pm
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    There are worse things than wondering what you’ll do with your life in your 20s. Like a lot of people I’m well beyond 20 something but doing the same thing, and currently studying for a certification exam. I recommend taking any necessary steps now in order to be able to do what you think you will really enjoy, rather than having to face wrenching changes in your life later.

    There are lots of companies, and not all require you to give up having a life in order to progress. It may take some time in the current economy, but you may just need a change of employers.

    BTW, I’m not sure what a programming test with things like data structures has to do with support/net admin type work, which seems to be what you’re doing from reading here. If your job was doing a lot of programming in C++ or something it would be a different matter. Blind reliance on such a test sounds like a symptom of a fairly clueless management.

  • October 5, 2001 at 3:21 pm
    Permalink

    There are worse things than wondering what you’ll do with your life in your 20s. Like a lot of people I’m well beyond 20 something but doing the same thing, and currently studying for a certification exam. I recommend taking any necessary steps now in order to be able to do what you think you will really enjoy, rather than having to face wrenching changes in your life later.

    There are lots of companies, and not all require you to give up having a life in order to progress. It may take some time in the current economy, but you may just need a change of employers.

    BTW, I’m not sure what a programming test with things like data structures has to do with support/net admin type work, which seems to be what you’re doing from reading here. If your job was doing a lot of programming in C++ or something it would be a different matter. Blind reliance on such a test sounds like a symptom of a fairly clueless management.

  • October 8, 2001 at 6:25 pm
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    History does show how generations of people rarely make a difference, which could lead you to the deceptively liberating assumption that people can do whatever they want because it doesn’t make any difference in the long run.

    But, the truth is that History has shown and will show that when people truly rely on God generations often make a real difference in the long run.

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