Hiring the Unhireable: Winn Can’t Get a Job

Part 2 of 16


Back in the day (1969-70), I desperately wanted to get a tremendous education.

I lived in Manhattan and I wanted to go to work at the best company there was at the time and become a researcher. Because my parents were both engineers, circuit design and troubleshooting systems were pretty much second nature. I wanted to work for a company that would pay for an awesome education and let me explore the depths and fringes of engineering.

What was the absolute best company to get me what I wanted? No brainer. Bell Labs. AT&T. The Phone Company. (Yes, THE phone company, pre-Judge Greene 1983.)

So, I headed down to 56th Street and Madison Avenue and met the HR people. I got through the math test and the English test. Easy-peasy. Then the advanced stuff. Pretty basic for a kid who grew up in an engineering ‘take it apart and put it back together’ family.

They smiled. I was the perfect candidate. They asked me, “What do you want out of life?” I replied, “I want to work at Bell Labs and I want you to pay for my college and I want you to pay for my food and housing and let me research all sorts of cool stuff.” And, they respond with, “You bet. We want you, too.”


But, there was one final test.


The kinder-than-kind HR lady pulled out one of old 2048-wire-pair telephone cables they used back then. 4 inches in diameter, this one 2-foot hunk weighed like 20 pounds … and all those damned wires!


She picked out one of the pair and asked in the most unassuming way, while confidently holding a pencil over the checkbox on my application. “What colors are these wires?” She smiled broadly.

Hmmm. I looked carefully. I peeked and poked. I shifted my eyeglasses hither and yon. I declared emphatically that the 2700K temperature output in the interior lighting was tilted heavily in favor of greens, so therefore, obviously, I could not possibly answer. Quizzically, she offered for us to ascend to the bright natural sunlight on Madison Ave. Again the cable was foisted in front of my eyes. “What color are these?”

Uh… ah… hmmm… ah…

“Well, there are so many colored stripes on each wire,” I said askance and squinted intently.

Cut to the chase. I’m color blind.

“Sorry, can’t hire you.” She and I wept for a few minutes and my research career at Bell Labs had tanked. <Le Sigh>.

Now, I call this a Binary Discriminator. I grew up analogue, and my book and talks on Analogue Network Securityaddress this issue, led by my banner mantra, “Digital is Not Binary: WTF, Analogue?” In this case the binary discriminator was, no matter how well suited and talented I was (hehehe… you know what I mean; hell I was 18), that I am color blind. “AT&T will not hire color blind people … no matter what …”. (On the downside, however, the U.S. Air Force wanted me to sit in the ass end of a B52 over Vietnam because I am color blind; I was the best technology of the day to see through camouflage. I declined the offer to become cannon fodder. )


In today’s politically correct parlance, I was capriciously discriminated against because of a very minor medical/genetic condition. This would not be tolerated today, would it? Back then it was perfectly legal.

After a brief period of emotional recovery (beer was legal for 18 year olds back then), I decided I was going to go to work for the second best company in the whole world. IBM.

I went across the street (literally across Madison Avenue) and filled out an application, took their math and English tests – and passed. I told them I wanted to go to work for IBM and play with computers, and I wanted to do research up in Yorktown Heights, NY and I wanted IBM to pay for my college. (None of which was unreasonable for bright young men in those days. It’s called a career at one company. Maybe you’ve read about it in the history books…<Snark>)

The male recruiter said, “Son, yes, no problem. We want you, too. Just one more thing. You’ve gotta dress like him.” He pointed at a picture of Ross Perot, the world’s best IBM salesman, wearing a starchy white shirt that made his neck fat explode, a 5mm wide black tie and sporting a stylish brush cut. I choked, saying I would not compromise my personal values (long ponytail and jeans) for anyone.


I was discriminated against because I wouldn’t dress and look like Ross Perot, which was the culture of the ‘suits’ of the day. Long hair, color blindness, whatever, I was discriminated against.

I chose to go back to the family business: rock and roll, building recording studies, recording live concerts, TV-shows, and all of the associated mania.

But today, the rules are completely different, and we are screwing ourselves stupid by behaving as though this was still the era of the Mad Men. The real Mad Men are those who have boxed us in to our current dilemma, with politics that are not only self-destructive, but clearly counter to the real world needs for protecting networks and nation.


Part 1: It’s time we get over ourselves


Winn Schwartau is the CEO of The Security Awareness Company, the author of Information Warfare, Pearl Harbor Dot Com (Die Hard IV), and the upcoming Analogue Network Security.

3 thoughts on “Hiring the Unhireable: Winn Can’t Get a Job

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  1. Kyle Loos|

    I just finished your book Cybershock. Despite being written 16 years ago it is by far one of the best books on the subject of cyber security / hacking I have ever read. Why have you not written another updated book in the same vein since then?
    Do you ever get sick and tired of being telling people “I told you so” as the evolution of cyber warfare and hacking has evolved just as predicted?

    Thanks for the excellent read.

    1. Very kind of you. From my view, CyberShock was out of date when it was printed! And there were so many other writing on the same subject. Please do check out my other books, many now free… and the new ones. Finally. 🙂 Thanks!

  2. Today’s IT and IT-security, as it affects national, corporate and personal security and privacy is an imperative. And as such, if we truly want to do our best, we must hire the unhireable.

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