WTF #9: Master of My Domain

WTF #9: Master of My Domain

For readers who are old enough to remember Seinfeld, one of the most brilliant episodes was The Contest where the phrase “master of my domain” entered popular culture. And the only similarity between that Seinfeld episode and this episode of What The Flux is that catchphrase.

Master of my domain — that’s what it has been for the past decade and a half as a working engineer. I like to think that I know my domain pretty well — analog integrated circuit design. I also like to think that I’ve been a fairly decent engineer, that I’ve progressed and matured, and that I’ve mastered the challenges presented to me over the years. Still, in the last little while, things started to get routine, a bit boring. I felt restless, and that restlessness caused me to consider other career trajectories, perhaps even a jump over to *gasp* management. Eventually, I did get that management opportunity, even if I was pushed a little. OK, pushed a lot, all the way to China.

Officially, I started my new role as manager this week and I’ll be traveling to China soon enough to meet my new team. One of my first tasks is to hire a few interns. HR presented to me this week three spreadsheets full of candidates, about 60 in all, of which I’m suppose to whittle down to a manageable list to interview. Apparently, other managers in China had already filtered out their list of interviewees, so I have to play catch-up. But as I looked through the list, a twinge of uneasiness came over me. First, the list was in Chinese, which is somewhat of a challenge. Second, the list contained not much more than name, city of residence, GPA, major, and percentile on test scores. Worst still was that since the candidates attended various Chinese universities, all of which I am totally unfamiliar with, the GPA figure was useless since the spreadsheet doesn’t indicate what the highest attainable score is. So one guy has a GPA of 3.5 while another gal has 89. Umm…

I started by choosing those with high percentiles on their test scores. Then I filtered further by city of residence, so those that lived too far away were excluded. Then I filtered out those majoring in related but not directly applicable fields (e.g. semiconductor material scientists got cut — sorry Miss MSE). At the end, I was still left with more than 10 candidates — too many.

So I did what any good manager would do. I made it up as I went along. There was one female left on the list, so I picked her. For the rest of the selections, I went through a 4-step scientific process — eeny, meeny, miney, moe.

It’s obvious the twinge of uneasiness I felt is the fact that I now find myself in a new domain called lalaland management. And if hiring interns is making me feel uneasy, imagine the stress when I start to really settle into the job. I do have a reprieve of sorts, however, since at my means of disposal is a certain specific way to release that stress, now that I’m no longer the master of my domain.

What The Flux is a semi-regular weekendish feature on that follows the follies and jollies of an engineer in industry, yours truly.


I know it’s silly, but I often shun the highest GPA people. I’ve written before about how I read resumes from the bottom up, but even without looking at the resume, I often shun the top academic performers. It’s all anecdotal, mind you, but it seems to have worked out for me in the past. Working with the top students often doesn’t jive with my personality and the way I work; plus the personalities that accompany perfect grades (perfectionism) can be detrimental in a fast paced engineering environment. This is, of course, in hiring interns. If there was one trait I’d like to hire on it’d be eagerness and interest in the field. Really it’s just enthusiasm. Good luck trying to find that on a spreadsheet!

And yes, I also have a bit of nostalgia and self interest in mind: If my former bosses had only gone by GPA, I never would have gotten a co-op, which would have meant I would have had a hard time getting my first job. Somehow I snuck by the filtering system (well, I had above a 3.0, which was required) and must have wowed them with my wide eyed wonder and my impressive past work (newspaper delivery, ice cream scooper, tennis instructor).

Though I can’t blame you for choosing the way you did, Fluxor, I’ll be interested to hear more about these students you’re hiring. When I find myself increasingly critical of management (everywhere) for assuming that engineers are interchangeable, it’s interesting to see that the system is set up so that managers are presented with a list of assumed interchangeable worker bees. Can’t wait for the next WTF!

I’ve actually wondered if my 4.0 is sometimes a detriment. Maybe I need to intentionally get an A- in something to bring it down to a 3.98 🙂 I’m really enthusiastic, personable and a great communicator, I promise!! That’s why I always link to my blog on my resume. I think it communicates a personality if those in charge of hiring happen to check it out.

I am new to this blog, but have found it to be very well written and insightful. When you mentioned that, “the spreadsheet doesn’t indicate what the highest attainable score is. So one guy has a GPA of 3.5 while another gal has 89. Umm…”, I thought, why not just assume that a 3.5/4.0 is a 87.5 and compare everyone equally that way. I think thats better than eeny meeny miney mo-ing it, even though I doubt you did that.

If your method of comparison is to be valid, the two assumptions you’ve made implicitly must hold true. One, GPAs, when divided by the maximum score, can be directly compared against percentages. Second, the maximum GPA score is 4.0. Both are incorrect.

That percentage to 4.0 scale converter is specific to one faculty member. Since both the percentage and the 4.0 scale are completely arbitrary, there cannot be a universal converter between them, much less a “correct” one. I know several faculty who write their tests to maximize information gain, which results in a mean score of around 50% and standard deviation of around 20%. On such a test, the scale you cited would be ludicrous.

The site assumes that all schools in a given country use the same scale, which is also a dubious assumption.

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