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Pachydermic Prediction of Professions

Are you good at guessing a person's work just by his or her appearance or manner? Some of you might be old enough to remember the old TV show What's My Line? [1] where a panel of four people asked yes and no questions to try to determine the line (occupation) of contestants. My young mind always wondered what "the line" was of several of the panelists, namely Arlene Francis and Dorothy Kilgallen. All I knew about them was their participation on that game show.

picture of irrelephant

In real life, it's an interesting challenge to try to figure out the line of work of people we see. Clothing is sometimes helpful, but not always. Remember when people wore surgical scrubs, not because of their work, but because scrubs were the rage in casual fashion? Our dentist dresses in a T-shirt and jeans in the office, and has done so for years. Frequently dress and other externals are totally irrelevant.

With hunting season just around the corner in some parts of the country, I'm posting a humor classic on determining a person's profession by how he or she hunts an elephant.

How to Tell a Person's Profession by the Method Used to Hunt an Elephant

Mathematicians hunt elephants by going to Africa, throwing out everything that is not an elephant and catching one of whatever is left. Experienced mathematicians will attempt to prove the existence of at least one unique elephant before proceeding to step one as a subordinate exercise.

Professors of mathematics will prove the existence of at least one unique elephant and then leave the detection and capture of an actual elephant as an exercise for their graduate students.

Theoretical mathematicians catch elephants in a cage by building a cage, going inside, closing the door and — defining the outside as inside.

Physicists would not begin the actual hunt for elephants immediately. The experimentalists would first consult the theorists who would then apply for government grants to support the development of a theory of how to actually detect elephants. In the ensuing 25 years multiple theories would be promulgated. Unfortunately, no elephants will be found as they will all be extinct by this time.

picture of elephant crossing

Computer scientists hunt elephants by exercising Algorithm A:
1. Go to Africa.
2. Start at the Cape of Good Hope.
3. Work northwards in an orderly manner, traversing the continent alternately east and west.
4. During each traverse pass,
a. Catch each animal seen.
b. Compare each animal caught to a known elephant.
c. Stop when a match is detected.

Experienced computer programmers modify Algorithm A by placing a known elephant in Cairo to ensure that the algorithm will terminate. Assembly language programmers prefer to execute the algorithm on their hand and knees.

Database administrators do not need to go out and capture elephants when they can retrieve them simply with an ad hoc query:


Microsoft developers define a new standard elephant, mostly backwards compatible with previous elephants. They then build a genetic engineering laboratory in darkest Africa, and after several years of secret development, release several of these new elephants in a fenced enclosure so they can successfully hunt them.

Mac developers never actually succeed in hunting elephants. They will, however, put on lavish hunt launching parties, at which they distribute T-shirts displaying a pre-hunted elephant.

Civil engineers apply to the governments of all countries in Africa for contracts to design huge concrete-lined pits for elephants to fall into. When faced with how to ensure catching nothing but elephants, they defer to the architect.

Mechanical engineers hunt elephants by going to Africa, catching grey animals at random, and stopping when any one of them weighs within plus or minus 15% of any previously observed elephant.

Economists don't hunt elephants, but they believe that if elephants are paid enough they will hunt themselves.

Statisticians hunt the first animal they see "n" times and call it an elephant.

Consultants don't hunt elephants, and many have never hunted anything at all, but they can be hired by the hour to advise those people who do.

Senior managers set broad elephant-hunting policy based on the assumption that elephants are just like big field mice, but with deeper voices.

Quality assurance inspectors ignore the elephants and look for mistakes the other hunters made when they were packing the jeep.

Salespeople don't hunt elephants but spend their time selling the elephants they haven't caught, for delivery two days before the season opens. Software salespeople ship the first thing they catch and send an invoice for an elephant. Hardware salespeople catch rabbits, paint them grey, and sell them as desktop elephants.

Tech support people start out by getting the name and phone number of the elephant. They require the serial number of an elephant before they'll tell you which Knowledge Base article to read ... but you have to be on their database first.

Attorneys have the court issue subpoenas on all elephants. The problem of finding them then becomes the process server's. However lawyers do follow the herds around arguing about who owns the droppings.


That gives a whole new meaning to "job hunting." How would people in your profession characteristically hunt elephants?


"When we are in Christ, how we work and why we work changes." - Drew Conley

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Hunt for the good points in other people. Remember, they have to do the same in your case.