The O-Level Guy

Back in 2004, shortly before I started my freelance journey, I was at the lowest point of my life (and I bet it was!) I had to throw in the white towel for what I was doing at that moment, and decided to “get a job”.

I saw the hiring ad in the classified, a 2-month contract position for a webmaster, To me, it was already a gazillion times better than working in 7-11 (I’ll tell you this other story in another seating.) So I sent in my resume.

A lady contacted me not long after, invited me for a chat. So I attended. From the interview, I got to know the position was coming from an MNC, it was to relieve the existing webmaster who would soon go for her maternity leave.

Prior to this, I already had 3 years of experience in web design and project management, so the interview wasn’t of any challenge for me; until towards the end, when the lady told me that although she would submit in the recommendation, she had the feeling that the chances would be slim, mainly because I had only O-Level. Think of that as a girl telling you that you are such a nice guy and you are so funny, but you are just not her type. It was how I felt at that moment. With that I guessed I had to keep my 7-11 job for a while more.

Three weeks later, the same lady called to inform me that the recommendation went through, but before I should start to celebrate, I had to go through some tests in order to prove to them that I could handle the job. Included in the tests was to carry out some Photoshop tasks, such as to colorize some black and white passport photos and to add frames around them. Also, the webmaster whom I was going to relieve, had called me over the phone and gave me five technical questions. In which I answered only four. For the last question, I told her that it was hard for me to explain it over the phone, and it would be better if I could show her how to get the answer. To think of it, all five questions were rather trivia, the way I answered the last question was to simply throw in a drama. But I guess she was impressed.

So, I got the job. Now, the more interesting part of the story follows…

By taking over the role, I was able to go through emails in webmaster’s inbox, including past discussions on other candidates who have tried to apply for the same position. All of them were at least degree holders, couple of them were PhD. And apparently, they were put through the same Photoshop test as I was (not sure about the phone interview though). It was rather obvious that none of them knew how to use Photoshop. Especially the one who had literally added rainbow spectrum to the photos.

Then I read the email discussions between the webmaster who was already in labor, and the agent who was working on the recruitment.

Agent: … so how? Do you want to consider the “O-level guy”?

Webmaster: … I don’t know leh, he seems to know a lot of stuff based on the (technical) questions I asked him, but this is MNC, is he able to deal with corporate people?

It was that moment onwards I had completely lost my respect for the webmaster.

First week on the job, I solved a small problem that had been dragged on for six months as no one had a clue on what was wrong, also mainly because none had bothered to dwell further, including the IT Director in Detroit. A javascript snippet used for pulling stock price from US website was referring to the wrong directory. I removed the dot-dot-forward-slash and the regional website was able to display latest company stock price again.

Two months later, the webmaster was facing some post-birth complications, so the company asked me to stay for another two months. I continued to solve more problems for them.

Another two months later, the company asked if I could just stay on as they wished to have me replacing the former webmaster. So I signed on for another six-month contract. Then another, then another… then they offered to transfer me over to their new regional HQ in Shanghai, which I had declined as I had decided to build my own company.

From a two-month contract, I ended up serving the MNC for over two years. Oh by the way, the MNC I’m writing about here, is General Motors, the one who makes Chevrolet, Buick, Hummer and several more.