How many more Scott Thompsons are out there?

Plenty, because Silicon Valley attracts fakes, hustlers and power abusers

There are many other Scott Thompsons out there. By that I mean successful people, both in and out of the tech world, who have lied about their backgrounds to one extent or another, all for the sole purpose of advancing their careers. It's the "fake it til you make it" ethos on steroids (which, in the sporting world, are another form of lie). The fundamental truth is that many people are so desperate for success/money/acclaim/praise/attention/titles/whatever, that they'll make up stuff about themselves to get it. All of those things cited above (with the exception of "whatever") actually are forms of power. And power attracts the power-hungry, which means it attracts a disproportionate percentage of people who are eager to use (and abuse) power. Sociopaths, in other words. Politics, Wall Street, law enforcement, major corporations, coaching and other institutions and endeavors in which power can be grabbed and wielded are overrun with power abusers, narcissists and sociopaths. The expected largest initial public offering in Internet history this week from Facebook is a timely reminder that Silicon Valley, with its ability to create thousands of millionaires almost instantly, is a major magnet and breeding ground for hustlers, phonies and fakes -- people who lie about their academic credentials, their professional accomplishments, their connections and just about anything else that can lead them to the Big Score. In the larger picture, Scott Thompson is a minor-leaguer as far as professional liars go. He made up a non-existent degree and added it to his resume. Compared to just about every boast that comes out of, say, Donald Trump's mouth, this is small potatoes. Thompson was dumb because his lie was verifiable. Granted, the odds of him getting caught were remote. But the best and most effective lies are never written down by the liars; that introduces uncontrollable risk and makes deniability difficult (as Thompson found out when he tried to blame the inclusion on his CV of a non-existent degree in computer science on a head-hunting company back in 2000). So now he's gone. But the liars who haven't been caught yet aren't. Some of them are taking credit for your ideas and blaming you for their screw-ups. Some of them are your boss and are doing your job evaluations, which sucks because liars are usually extremely harsh and judgmental about the performances of others, which rarely rise to the imagined level of excellence set by the liars. Every day in Silicon Valley and the larger tech world, a liar and phony is making decisions about many of you -- the skilled, hard-working, non-lying tech pro -- that could affect your careers. That's what just happened with 2,000 Yahoo workers who were laid off under the direction of Scott Thompson, CEO and liar. Do you think that wasn't on the minds of other Yahoo executives when Thompson was offering up vague and contradictory excuses for his resume fraud? I just hope that at least one of the Yahoo executives being served up Thompson's BS last week looked him in the eye and said, "You're so full of sh*t." Perhaps the best indicator of how deep the problem goes is the "so what?" reaction of many bloggers and commenters on the Internet. You can do a Google search on "Scott Thompson" and "so what?" to see what I mean, but here are some samples:

"His ouster for something so petty, when many CEOs do so much worse, is simply outrageous."

"Who cares? Thompson has a degree in accounting, not computer science, but frankly at this point in his career does it really matter what he studied as an undergraduate?"

"So what, he misstated what he had a degree in from back in 1979. Computer Science from Stonehill College? What? Where? It’s not like he lied about having graduate degrees in computer engineering from a real school that someone’s actually heard of, like MIT, RPI, Cal Tech, Stanford. Who f’ing cares?"

All of those arguments are pathetic rationalizations that miss the larger reality. Thompson's lying on his resume matters because the fake CS degree at some point may have helped him get where he is today. Weird as this sounds, some technology companies like their executives to have some kind of computer science background. Lack of such a background would get you filtered out for many job opportunities. Further, those statements and the thousands of others like it betray a cynicism that is both breath-taking and troubling. Troubling, at least, to those of us who aren't liars, those of us who want to believe in a workplace meritocracy -- or at least (don't worry, I'm not delusional) aspire to that ideal. But for the liars, that kind of cynicism does more than provide a useful distraction. It offers a fertile breeding ground. And we all know what the best fertilizer is.

Chris Nerney writes ITworld's Tech Business Today blog. Follow Chris on Twitter at @ChrisNerney. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.

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