You Too Can Go To Stanford

May 26, 2007, 2:28 PM UTC

Just a short link to brighten your Saturday morning as we kick off a long and hopefully uneventful weekend. In case you didn’t see it, a second individual has turned up who attended Stanford University — birthplace of the great geek movement that now runs our ecosystem — without actually, you know, being admitted to the institution. Spent quite a while just soaking things up, hanging around, and pretending to be a bona fide member of the Stanford graduate physics program.

Woody Allen once said 80% of success is showing up. In some places, that number can be raised by potentially another fifteen points and, in the case of certain positions in Research, New Media, and Academia, even more. A place like Stanford is so august, so rich with self-regard and superbity, that it confers authenticity on virtually anyone who meanders about within its aura dressed appropriately.

The same can be said of your average corporation. Put on a suit. Walk around with the appearance that you know what you’re doing, particularly with coffee. You can probably fool people into thinking you’re a vice president after a while, if you find the right empty office (which is not that difficult these days).

I occupied my first job at my company for a full nine months before they really hired me. I had done a short free-lance assignment. They gave me a small office in which to do it. After it was done, I simply kept coming in. After a while, everybody assumed I was part of the department. One day I informed my superior that I had never really been hired. She looked at me quizzically and, since I was knee deep in a bunch of stuff she would rather not have done, she put my papers through. I ran into a little trouble with HR for a while, but before long that was solved too. In other words, being an impostor is not an a priori barrier to entry in a large institution.

Obviously, it didn’t hurt that this young scamster found her way to the Physics department. “I thought she was just another grad student,” a legitimate Stanford physics student observed when told of the situation, “but then you talk to her and you realize that perhaps she doesn’t really know what’s going on.” As opposed to what? Other physicists?