Many moons ago, when I was very young and you were even younger...
London was in full bloom of tech-startups. I was running my own consultancy. Dashing from business to business, trying to pick up work as an expert in this new-fangled "Mobile Internet" thing. Some of the companies I worked with were great. Some of them went bust. And some were... just... ew!
Digging through a box of files the other day, I discovered an old NDA that I'd signed. The company has long since dissolved, and the NDA expired a few years ago - so I reckon I'm in the clear to talk about this.
A company - let's call them "Fronk" - asked me to come in for a consultation about a Developer Advocacy programme they were starting. You must remember, these were the early days of such initiatives. DevRel (as it now seems to be called) used to consist of product managers speaking to other managers at conferences. There was very little targetting of individual developers, outside of the occasional pizza-powered hackathon.
This was their pitch - I promise I am not exaggerating. I present it to you in Socratic dialogue.
"We want to hire people like you to go and interview at other companies."
You want to pay me actual money to go and take job interviews? Why?
"During the interview, you'll evangelise our clients' products."
"Suppose that AWS wants to sell more InfiniDash licences. They pay us to get the word out to big companies and start-ups."
"Let's say in the interview you're asked for a time when you handled a difficult situation. We want you to talk about how using InfiniDash made life easier for your team."
"Or if they ask for an example of convincing senior leadership of something - say that you pitched InfiniDash, how easy it was to work with, how all the executives loved it. That sort of thing."
Right. But I'm not experienced with InfiniDash. Isn't that going to be a problem?
"We're only going to get you interviews in companies which don't already use our clients' products. So they're not going to test you. We'll also pay for you to get certified on the products."
How are you going to get me these interviews?
"Oh, we work with loads of recruitment consultants. They get paid for every decent candidate who gets interviewed, so they give us a cut of their commission. And we get paid by our tech clients. It's win-win!"
Ummm... What if they offer me the job?
"On no account are you to accept. Just tell them that you've taken another role elsewhere."
Is this... what's the word... ethical?
"Our investors think so! You're not going to lie on your CV. You're not going to take a job you're not qualified for. You're not going to get paid a commission. We'll pay you a flat fee per interview. You can even fit it around your other contracts if you like?"
I did not take the job. I had serious concerns about the ethics and legality of their business model. I also didn't think that it would work. Evidently, neither did their investors. Fronk bumbled along for a few months - and I'd occasionally meet them at conferences - but then they seemed to disappear.
And it makes me wonder if Fronk is still out there...?