Branding -> Accomplishment -> Ability

This blog post began as a comment on’s blog. You may want to read his post first for maximum impact.
The shift away from traditional credentials like degrees, honors, and past accomplishments has been gradual.

In the ancient days, people focused on brands on resumes–which school did you attend? Which companies did you work for?

When I was at D. E. Shaw in the 90s, we had a specific list of 25 CS departments we were allowed to recruit from. Resumes from other schools were automatically filtered out.

The shift to accomplishments was actually progress–rather than relying on brands, we actually cared what people had done. But this was still somewhat unreliable because of the major role luck plays in success.

YC’s accomplishment in hiring Aaron Iba and Garry Tan is to focus on ability, independent of resume brands or the magnitude of accomplishments. EtherPad was a great product (disclosure, I was an investor) even though Google shut it down after the acquisition. Posterous is a great product, even though its traffic and traction are overshadowed by Tumblr.

I also think that YC is very smart to focus on design and coding for its hires. As an accelerator/seed firm, YC deals with very early stage startups. I often tell founders that until they have a great product, outbound sales and marketing are a waste of time.

But I also want to be fair to the many traditional VCs who do a good job. As a company grows beyond the YC stage, considerations like sales, marketing, operations, and people management become increasingly important.

Many of these are issues that can only be dealt with based on experience, rather than on what one reads in Hacker News. As you grow, traditional VCs and other grey hairs can actually help (though they don’t always do so).

UPDATE: One thing I just realized is that this transition isn’t universal. When I meet people outside Silicon Valley, they still seem inordinately impressed by my degrees. It will be interesting to watch whether this ethos spreads to the wider world.

2 thoughts on “Branding -> Accomplishment -> Ability

  1. The reason why people outside of SV and the tech community are impressed by your degrees is because the institution where you graduated from confers a halo effect that is a signal to others of your accomplishments. A degree from a prestigious institution is a shortcut way to say to someone that you are among the best and brightest.

    Whereas in other settings that is not the case. Techies are similar to artists in that you can reasonably identify good work by examining their output. You can know a good painter from a bad one, a good writer from a bad one, a good singer from a bad one pretty much by looking at what they have produced and make your judgement then and there.

    Moreover, like artists techies are hired for a specific role and can be evaluated based on their work product. When you broaden it out the the general populace however, it is hard to screen out dissimilar resumes. Is a communications degree as valuable as a history degree when hiring for an entry level analyst or operations position? That is why employers look beyond the degree itself and incorporated what institution you went to. The more prestigious the better and more likely you'll be interviewed.

  2. brian,

    I think you're on to something with the ability to tell good techies from bad techies.

    The rise of things like GitHub make it easier to ignore degrees because we simply have more recent and relevant evidence on which to make judgments.

    I've often thought that we need something similar for other pursuits like marketing!

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