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Why you shouldn't believe anything you read. Including this.

A few weeks ago I was chat­ting with my fa­ther in law and (s­ince I work with com­put­ers and must there­fore know ev­ery­thing com­put­er re­lat­ed) he asked me if I had heard of the 9 year old kid that worked for Mi­cro­soft as an en­gi­neer.

I said that prob­a­bly, hir­ing 9 year olds to work as en­gi­neers was il­le­gal, and that in most places to be­come an "engi­neer" you need to go to col­lege, but any way it stayed in my head, like a pea in a mara­ca but any­way, I de­cid­ed to check it out a bit.

First: no, there is no 9 year old work­ing for Mi­crosoft, as far as I know.

And then, a cu­ri­ous pat­tern ap­peared: there is not one sto­ry about that, there are sev­er­al. And about dif­fer­ent kid­s. And most­ly in span­ish-s­peak­ing me­di­a.

Let's check Mah­mud Wael first.

Here's what In­foBAE says about him:

Mah­mud Wael, un egip­cio de 11 años y as­pec­to frágil, es el nue­vo téc­ni­co de Mi­cro­soft gra­cias a su ca­paci­dad para re­solver com­ple­jos cál­cu­los en cuestión de se­gun­dos y mo­verse sin prob­le­mas por las re­des in­for­máti­cas


Mah­mud Wael, a frag­ile look­ing 11 year old egyp­tian, is the lat­est Mi­cro­soft tech­ni­cian thanks to his abil­i­ty to solve com­plex cal­cu­la­tions in sec­onds and to move ef­fort­less­ly through in­for­ma­tion net­work­s.

If one ac­tu­al­ly both­ers read­ing the sto­ry there's more: ap­par­ent­ly Mah­mud joined the Amer­i­can Uni­ver­si­ty in Cairo at age 9, and is now at­tend­ing Cairo Uni­ver­si­ty for a de­gree in some com­put­er-re­lat­ed area.

Now, I don't want to pick on In­foBAE be­cause the same thing is re­port­ed in many oth­er places (the pre­vi­ous links are just the first few that google gave me).

In fac­t, a bunch of those sto­ries even say "With 11 years, he al­ready works at Mi­crosoft­", which is some­how not in the In­foBAE sto­ry which is tak­en from the EFE agen­cy.

Now... does he work at Mi­crosoft? I bet he does­n't (or EFE would have men­tioned it). It's just that when some­one writes "Mi­crosoft Tech­ni­cian" or "Mi­crosoft En­gi­neer" in en­glish, well, that makes no sense in span­ish, so the span­ish me­dia and read­ers are lead astray.

A Mi­cro­soft Cer­ti­fied En­gi­neer is some­one who has tak­en some Mi­cro­soft train­ing cour­ses and ex­am­s.

On the oth­er hand, in most of the span­ish speak­ing world, you can't call your­self an en­gi­neer un­less you get an en­gi­neer­ing de­gree from a uni­ver­si­ty. In fact in Ar­genti­na call­ing your­self an en­gi­neer if you don't have one is il­le­gal.

So, "Mi­crosoft En­gi­neer" is tak­en as "an en­gi­neer that works at Mi­crosoft­", be­cause the al­ter­na­tive sim­ply makes no sense.

What is the re­al sto­ry about Mah­mud Wael? Well, let's check some egyp­tian sources, which is what all those news­pa­pers should have done in the first place.

Here's Egypt To­day's take on it from when he was 9.

Did he at­tend the Amer­i­can Uni­ver­si­ty?

Well, he had a schol­ar­ship from them to at­tend the Green­land In­ter­na­tion­al Lan­guage School, and at­tend­ed one eng­lish course.

What about the "Mi­crosoft En­gi­neer" thing? He was plan­ning to take the MCSD ex­am­s. Did he suc­ceed? Well, Reuters says he got a MCTS.

An MCTS is not an MCS­D, or an MCSE. In fac­t, just by say­ing some­one has an MCTS (very im­pres­sive for an 11 year old!) you have no idea of what he knows, be­cause a MCTS is about a spe­cif­ic pro­duc­t, and there are MCTSs for al­most all of MS prod­uct­s.

So, in short: Mah­mud is a very im­pres­sive and in­tel­li­gent kid, but he is not an en­gi­neer, have a col­lege de­gree or work at Mi­cro­soft.

And now the sec­ond case, Marko Calasan from Mace­do­nia, which is the one ac­tu­al­ly men­tioned to me.

And it's ex­act­ly the same sto­ry, ex­cept that he got a much bet­ter cert from MS than Mah­mud, and he got it ear­li­er.

Again the "works at Mi­crosoft" thing seems to be ex­clu­sive to the span­ish speak­ing me­di­a, and prob­a­bly for the same rea­son.

Now, let's think about what this says of jour­nal­is­m. These sto­ries were not hard to check. All you need is pass­able eng­lish skills and google. And if your eng­lish suck­s, google can help you with that too.

But dozens of news­pa­pers and sites just run with it be­cause the "Mi­crosoft hires (s­mall age) kid!" is just too nice and peo­ple would ac­cept it be­cause hey, it's in the news­pa­per­s.

And you know what? I sus­pect that it's the same thing with a large part of what you read in the pa­per­s. If check­ing a tiny piece just be­cause I have some pe­riph­er­al knowl­edge about it says there are dozens of ar­ti­cles that are just wrong, what hap­pens in all the ar­eas where I am clue­less?

Be­cause we are all clue­less in al­most ev­ery­thing, and jour­nal­ists are prob­a­bly clue­less about 90% of what they write about. It's not even a con­spir­a­cy, it's just ig­no­rance am­pli­fied by their job de­scrip­tion.

martincerdeira / 2010-11-09 17:48:

Estaba por hacer un post parecido en mi blog, je.

Eugenia Bahit / 2010-11-10 03:42:

Excelente artículo! Me encantó lo de "No es ni siquiera una conspiración, es apenas ignorancia amplificada por su trabajo". EXCELENTE!

Roberto Alsina / 2010-11-10 14:16:

Es una variante de la navaja de Hanlon: Nunca atribuyas a malicia lo que puede ser explicado por la estupidez. (

Tru / 2010-11-12 22:30:

Muy bueno! tb me encantó el final...
estudio comunicación y me ha pasado mucho eso, de estar y conocer bastante sobre algún episodio X, y observando medios puedo ver lo MAL que se (des)informa, digo... changos! qué onda todas las otras noticias que veo/leo/escucho y no puedo corroborar.....????

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