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Home » Archives » September 2010 » Obnoxious College Students (and other entitled jerks) [Previous entry: "Make Stuff"] [Next entry: "It's a Sad Time"] 09/21/2010: "Obnoxious College Students (and other entitled jerks)" listening to: Good Morning America
feeling: Fine.

There's a bit of hubbub about Steve Jobs supposedly engaging in a flame war with a college kid over her repeated attempts to contact Apple's Media Relations division seeking material for a college paper. You can check it out here @ Valleywag.

You'll be surprised to learn that I think Steve is totally in the right to ask her to leave him, and the rest of Apple, alone. Although I do think it was foolish of him to respond in the first place, it's a flaw I can certainly be guilty of pretty frequently, so I can't really get too down on him about it.

Here's how I see this:
1. If you are a person doing even marginally interesting work in any field, you are going to get random people, students or otherwise, inquiring about it, apropos of nothing. I get a couple a month. I can only imagine what Apple gets. I can only imagine what Mr. Jobs gets. They're looking for work, they're looking for advice, they're looking for your time and attention. To anyone doing anything interesting and valuable with their time, that is the most valuable thing you have to offer.

2. People contacting you for frivolous crap do not have an accurate sense of the value of your time and attention. The people who contact me looking for me to do work for them, but have budgets that are missing at least one zero on the end are the ones who want to argue with me about how I charge too much, call me names, and become deeply personally offended when I tell them I'm not interested in giving them any more time and attention. It's not enough to not pay me enough for the time they want me to spend on their work, but they want to further lower my rate by wasting time arguing over it.

3. People are whiny, entitled, crybabies. When I read this story I was struck by the similarity of an experience I had recently with a college student.

A couple of months ago I was contacted by a college student looking for some info about good schools in the area. I politely, but concisely, answered her question. Of course, I know she didn't do too much research on who she was contacting, because if she had read my website she'd know that I didn't go to school around here. Secondly, she e-mailed through the sales e-mail address. She also submitted the online contact form...and then followed the link to my personal site and used that e-mail address and contact form too. So, in total I got 4 e-mails asking the same thing...and so did my Accounts person, Liz, who also collects the sales address.

Anyway, like a said, I politely answered her questions and told her to have a nice day.

Something like a week later I got a voicemail, after hours, on my office phone. It was the same girl. She was asking the same question. I ignored it.
Soon after that (maybe as little as 24 hours) I got another batch of e-mails, all four addresses, all asking the same question, EXACTLY, as though it had been copied and pasted, and then a second e-mail asking me to send responses to a different e-mail address.
I ignored those too.

Last week I got another volley of e-mails from this same girl.

This time I answered her, not unlike Mr. Jobs did, although a bit more gentle. Essentially I said, "My answer hasn't changed since the first time I answered your e-mail, on [Date]. I assume your goal is to eventually work in this field, so I would suggest you stop making a nuisance out of yourself by repeatedly emailing business owners."

This is only the most recent example of a college student being an obnoxious pest. Some others have included:
1. Trying to hire me to do homework/projects, then getting all indignant when I said, "No," and told them they were wasting my time by posing as a business when they contacted me
2. Same, but getting all indignant when I told them that even if I was inclined to do it, they needed to add two zeros to their budget
3. Sending 50+MB "portfolio" files work through e-mail that bog down my mail server
4. Contacting me the day before an assignment is due looking for info, samples, or an interview
5. Contacting me at 4:45pm the day before an assignment is due

Really, all of these things would be fine if the students didn't add to expectations by throwing in the old chestnut, "please please please, this is so important, my GRADE HANGS IN THE BALANCE." They all act like somehow it's our duty to help them get a decent grade on whatever the hell it is they're working on. Also, if you say, "No," they all act like we're tremendous jerks who are dooming them to a lifetime of flipping burgers or something. Really, if they do end up flipping burgers or something, it's not because I, or Steve Jobs, or anybody else didn't help them out. It's likely because they procrastinate, depend on others to make things happen for them, and blame others for their failures.

I can't find where it originates, and I might be getting it wrong, but I seem to remember a quote that goes something like, "Any plan that relies on the actions of men if is a plan that is destined to fail." That's my message to you, people out there looking for favors. If your plan hinges around a person whose time and attention is even remotely valuable giving you a little piece of it when you want it, instead of when they have it, you've already failed.

This student didn't NEED Apple to get back to her. There are other channels to get this information. It was selfish and immature for her to assume that anyone from Apple would ever get back to her, and it was positively idiotic to put herself in a position where she was depending on people to do something other than their job in responding to her. Everybody everywhere who is working with or for people who are doing anything interesting are working extremely hard. You luck out if you happen to get an answer. You aren't entitled to one.

The media relations department of any company is there to deal with the media. She's a journalism student, not a journalist, and her work was a class assignment, not a piece for any publication. Let's not kid ourselves, media relations is a MARKETING task. They are there to interact with the media, because people read that stuff, and they need to manage their brand in the press. No one is ever going to read your journalism homework, and therefore it is outside of the job description of anyone in the media relations department at any company to help you with your homework.

All that being said, I also had a really nice interaction with a college student last week. He called my office phone at around 10 am, asked me if I had time to talk, asked me a couple of questions, and asked me to look at his portfolio. Of course I was happy to help. He was very nice and polite and genuinely appreciative of the insight. I'm looking forward to seeing his book. I hope it's awesome.