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5/22/2006
10:23 PM
John Soat
John Soat
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IT Confidential: Government Surveillance Is A Job Opportunity

One person's government surveillance is another person's job opportunity. If you've got the right skills, it's a seller's market.

SCENE: A windowless, nondescript office. An older man is seated at a gray, nondescript desk, making notes on a notepad. A young man stumbles into the room, confused, blinking his eyes as if adjusting to the light.

YOUNG MAN: Where am I?

SEATED MAN: I'll ask the questions. Are you Scott Smith, graduating senior from Ohio State University?

YOUNG MAN: Yes, I am. I thought I was on my way to a job interview, but then I was blindfolded and pushed into the back of a car. It was a long ride. Who are you?

SEATED MAN: We'll discuss that later. You're graduating with a combined degree in mathematics and computer science, is that correct?

YOUNG MAN: Yes, it is. But I really need to know what this is all about.

SEATED MAN: You're in a government facility. This is a job interview. You're graduating at the top of your class in both disciplines, with a special emphasis on data mining, is that correct?

YOUNG MAN: Yes, it is. Hey, wait a minute. ... Is this the CIA?

SEATED MAN: No, it's not the CIA. Your internships included programming and data management projects at the university, several state agencies, and AT&T, is that correct?

YOUNG MAN: Yes, that's correct. Is this the FBI? Or the Secret Service?

SEATED MAN: You're proficient in Oracle, SAS, and SPSS software, is that right?

YOUNG MAN: Yes, but I prefer to write my own data-mining algorithms. Hold on--this isn't the NSA, is it?

SEATED MAN: I can't answer that question.

YOUNG MAN: Oh, no. Forget it. I'm not working on that telephone-records project.

SEATED MAN: I have no idea what you're talking about.

YOUNG MAN: What happened to the guys who were working on it before? I heard some pretty ugly rumors--anxiety, depression, eating disorders.

SEATED MAN: We've had turnover in our IT department ... I mean, there are several interesting and exciting IT positions for which we're interviewing qualified candidates such as yourself.

YOUNG MAN: Can you imagine a project like that? Talk about needles and haystacks! Like one huge Sudoku game. I'd rather run traffic patterns any day. Hey, can I get a Red Bull?

SEATED MAN: Maybe later.

YOUNG MAN: And dealing with the phone companies? Forget it. Sloppy data practices, lousy support, and endless hard-copy forms. Positively Kafkaesque.

SEATED MAN: Just a couple more questions. First, would a project involving telephone records--if such a project existed, which it doesn't--present any ethical problems for you?

YOUNG MAN: Me? No. Data's data, right? The challenge is in making sense of seemingly arbitrary and unrelated data sets. Contingent on salary, of course.

SEATED MAN: Second, would you be willing to sign a loyalty oath?

YOUNG MAN: I guess so. My last interview was with Microsoft. They asked me the same thing.

You can keep your phone records, but send your industry tips to jsoat@cmp.com or phone 516-562-5326.

"The News Show" aspires to be Kafkaesque. Watch it and you be the judge, at noon EDT every weekday at TheNewsShow.tv.


To discuss this column with other readers, please visit John Soat's forum.

To find out more about John Soat, please visit his page.

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