September 24th, 2019

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There’s a youtube personality who goes under the nickname TechLead, from his biographical record of being a tech lead of some team at Google. He posts videos that are borderline technical, but mostly drivel. He has a large number of followers. I am not sure what demographic he appeals to; but most likely to young would-be developers, who are impressed by his having worked at Google and, recently, Facebook.

What intrigues me about him is his English, which, while very well developed, is likely non-native. He mispronounces occasional words. He makes occasional grammatical mistakes. His intonation is not quite English. But in his Linkedin profile he lists English as a language of native or bilingual proficiency, and Chinese and Japanese as languages of "limited working proficiency". If I had to guess, I would think that his native is Chinese.

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I’ve started listening to Snowden’s recent memoirs, Permanent Record, and, as always when Snowden is concerned, am very impressed by it. He is actually a pretty decent writer — not stellar perhaps, but surely somewhere in the same league as Cory Doctorow. His recollections of his internet-filled childhood are all too relatable, because it is the old, good internet of 1990s, still exclusive, still having a certain barrier of entry in respect to person’s technical skills, still unburdened by social media, still a wild, free and unruly world manifestly divorced from reality.

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Google has suggested an article from the Guardian, which I glanced at, and now I am appalled. At the author.

The title of the article is I thought I’d made it when I got to Cambridge University. How wrong I was.

Around me, students effortlessly parted with well over £100 for that one night out. I could only struggle to do the same, so I applied to work for half of the ball in order to enjoy the other half for free. It soon dawned on me that, for a working-class student, a Cambridge education did not give me equal status.

I mean, yeah. It stands to reason. Expensive entertainment is for those who can pay for it. It’s OK if you can’t. It’s not compulsory, I believe?

I had hoped to pursue journalism. But in the work is often inconsistent and poorly paid

Again, duh! The humanities are poorly paid, in general. Either you are okay with that or, if it’s upwards social mobility you are seeking, then why not study something more practical?

I worry, too, that I do not display the “polish” that many recruiters seek. At one of the first talks I attended at university, the speaker made several references to 17th-century French politicians and compared them with contemporary British MPs. Each of the examples were greeted with bursts of laughter. Did I keep missing the punchline? How was I expected to know the biography of Louis XIV?

How are you expected to know the biography of Louis XIV? Through education. Or curiosity and self-education. Or, you know, don’t. Some people know about Louis XIV, some don’t; some people have broader education; some narrower. It’s OK.

As I navigate Cambridge, I often feel alienated as student colleagues confidently charm their way through conversations – referencing their favourite poetry by the likes of Keats, Browning and Hardy. I could not name a single title.

As above: it’s good to realize where blank spots in your education are and how you feel about them. If you have enough curiosity and motivation, go explore those poets. If you don’t — then don’t. It’s OK not to know poetry, I guess (I don’t). Just don’t go on about feeling alienated.

At Eton they learn the art of “oiling”: how to charm your way to success. Maybe that’s how Boris Johnson got into Downing Street: not by merit or hard work but because of his lessons in charm and persuasion.

I mean, really! If Boris has learnt his lessons in charm and persuasion so well, then why is it not through his "merit" or "hard work" that he has perfected them so?