Thursday, November 15, 2007

California Hustling

As regular readers of my blog know, I'm very interested in entertainment, as well as programming. I've definitely met some skepticism from people who tell me you can't serve two masters, but I think having only one career is as foolish as having only one girlfriend: it misses the whole point.

Anyway - the funny thing about the entertainment industry is that anybody who writes a book on the business or talks to a camera about it will tell you that the creative people and the business people differ immensely, especially when it comes to integrity. This much appears to be true. But they go on to tell you that this makes entertainment different from any other business, and that, sadly, is patently false. If you're sniffing around the fringes of the entertainment industry, and you have your home in technology, the dynamic of creative "superstars" brokered to large corporations by sleazy, unprofessional hustlers is unbelievably familiar. It feels just like home.

I do a lot of contracts. They give me the flexibility to take time off between projects and write novels, or screenplays, or whatever. This puts me in contact with a lot of technical recruiters. You would never believe some of the bullshit technical recruiters will pull. Indian guys with fake "American" names are normal, and nowhere near an extreme example. As a tangent, I have to say, if you're an Indian dude wondering if you should do that, DON'T. For two reasons. One, I correct Americans on the pronunciation of my name several times a day, every day. I don't want you giving them any excuses. Two, and I wish this was obvious, it's a lot easier to respect somebody when that person tells you their real name.

One time I got a call from a guy with an incredibly strong Indian accent, so much so I could barely understand a word he said. After several attempts I realized he was trying to tell me his name was Sheldon. This was hard to believe, but the two of us had expended so much effort to get that sentence from him to me in an understandable form that I decided to go with it anyway. I said, "How are you, Sheldon?" I even said it with a straight face. The conversation continued, he decided I looked like a good fit for whatever requirement he was trying to fill, and pretty soon he put me on the line with this other dude who had an equally strong, equally incomprehensible Brooklyn accent, who referred to the Indian fake-namer as "my man Sheldon," which you really had to hear to believe.

Here's an attempt at recreating the sound of it. If anything, he was more cartoonish in real life.

These guys ultimately failed to set me up with a gig, and given how shady they were, I have to say I'm glad.

The funny thing is, all this actually really reinforces the idea that programming is an art, and programmers are working artists. It's circumstantial evidence, but it's very interesting circumstantial evidence. With Hollywood hustlers and tech recruiter hustlers, we basically have a case of parallel evolution. The term comes from biology, of course; the dolphin and the shark look similar not because they're related, but because they've adapted in similar ways to the same environment.

For both a technical recruiter and a Hollywood producer, the only real professional requirement is that you know somebody who has talent and skill. Meeting people is a job skill with a very low barrier to entry, which is why Hollywood hustlers are legendary and the tech industry overflows with similar characters every time there's a boom. It's pretty easy to do, especially since, in practical terms, all you really have to do is know somebody who seems to have talent and skill.

I should end all this by pointing out that every indication I have of the "unprofessional" nature of Hollywood comes from Hollywood itself, which means at the very least that you should take it with a grain of salt. Certainly there are people in Hollywood who say the most important things are integrity and good manners. I'm not trying to propagate stereotypes. (And for the record I've met tech recruiters who were totally cool people also.) I just think the parallel evolution thing is very interesting.