This post is also on Substack. Please give me love and drop comments there.

Name brand matters

Here's the sad reality about tech recruiting: name brand matters. I grew up digesting the world of online entrepreneurship where some people tout that school doesn't really matter and that you can make it with or without college. It's adjacent to a common saying we give kids: with pure hard work, you can make it happen. I realize now that hard work isn't enough: life can present factors that can make hard work seem like a minor variable in the equation for financial success.

Practically speaking, while you can get a decent and great job without college or without a name brand school, it's oftentimes extremely difficult. I can speak most confidently about the tech world, but I've heard this applies to numerous other fields like finance. There are some jobs that you cannot even dream of getting if you do not go to specific schools. Your application will go straight into the trash. You will likely never have a chance at even interviewing at these companies. For the up-and-coming new computer science majors, the trading firms and "fintech" companies are a great representation of this. From my own experience, I know that many of these "top" firms only hire from specific schools, and if you don't go to one of these schools, you are tough out of luck. At certain startups, they have rankings on what colleges to hire from. It's a harsh reality to hear, especially if you go to a non-prestigious school, but it's one that I think needs to be said.

So what?

There are different arguments for why this type of setup is harmful or unjust, but here's one argument. Getting into a specific college requires a lot of resources, luck, and (potentially) hard work. (I say potentially because there are schools and situations where you can pad your resume or where hard work is not enough compared to another person's situation.) If getting into a prestigious college requires a lot of factors outside of your control, then you ultimately do not get a chance at some companies due to factors outside your control. If some of these companies are your goal, then you have effectively failed with or without you playing the game. This sucks for people who work their asses off and still "lose." You feel as if your destiny isn't in your control, yet you still feel blame as if you failed to work hard enough. A point comes when you realize that when people told you hard work is all that it takes, they were either lying, just viewing the world with rose-tinted glasses, affected with survivor bias, or, more likely, they never stopped to consider these words that were passed down.

This recruiting decision also hurts economic mobility. For people with fewer resources and opportunities, their college outlook (and what they view their future to look like) is extremely different. People grow up in different situations, classes, and cultures, and this becomes extremely apparent once you go to a diverse college. What situation you grew up in affects what colleges you are able to get into, and what job you are able to land out of college sets the trajectory for your entire life. It determines where you will live, what connections you will make, and what opportunities you will have access to in the future. It's a serious decision. When high-paying companies limit their scope for recruiting, it lessens the probability that people who grew up not financially well-off will be able to score a high-paying job that will set them up for new generational wealth down the line.

And, to put it simply, this sort of recruiting decision just feels somewhat unjust. While companies can say they "just want to hire the best" and that "the best comes from these schools," the best don't necessarily come from these schools. Put two people together, one with a worse resume who attends a prestigious school and one with a much better resume that attends a non-prestigious school. I'd argue that the one with the prestigious school is still chosen the majority of the time at these companies (unless your resume is extremely compelling). Is that fair? Is that really "choosing the best?" Of course, the companies themselves can choose what the best means for them, but most can agree that there seems to be an element of unfairness here (if you believe in settling these merit). Worse even, some of these companies don't even know these smaller schools exist (yes, this happens), and it's just heartbreaking to see someone from a top school who, frankly, doesn't work as hard as the person from the non-top school, not struggling to get a call back while the other person just has to pray.


To be fair, I don't think hard work is meaningless (nor have I made any effort to talk about the meaning of all of this). Practically, I think hard work can still get you a long way. I still believe that someone who puts in the effort more likely than not will be more successful career-wise than someone who doesn't put in the effort. But, I realize now that there are large elements in life that are completely out of your control, and that some dreams are likely not attainable for some people. It's a sad thing to say for someone who used to believe that anyone can do anything. Unfortunately, once life starts to unfold, some of the probabilities that you will achieve certain things, practically, during your lifetime start to diminish. Does that mean that you shouldn't try? No, if there's a chance, then you never know. But, I think it's helpful to state that sometimes the odds are against you because if you believe that no luck is ever involved, then you will end up beating yourself up for outcomes that have never been in your control. It's a hard thing to say because it often comes across as an excuse, but I think it's a statement that is largely true. It's a difficult subject because it's hard to splice where the hard work stops and where luck starts, and the subject borders the question of whether someone "deserves" something or not. Ultimately, part of what I'm trying to say is that, in life, working hard is not a guarantee of "success."

Do I believe that the tech industry is totally bleak? Of course not. But, I do think that if you are aiming at specific companies, you should not be saddened by failure because you are playing a rigged game that is designed for many to fail. (And I haven't even touched upon the actual interview process.) Despite this, there are still opportunities where you can succeed and make a great living: another question is whether the rapidly growing number of computer science majors can all succeed.

  1. [Adjacent thought] Seth Godin: Avoiding False Proxies