An Atypical Cover Letter

An idea came to me in the shower, and I had to write it down.

I’ll probably never be brave enough to actually send this cover letter to a tech company. For one thing, it would need a lot more editing. I felt like it needed to be written, though.

Aside from my pretended over-confidence, to the best of my knowledge everything in this letter is true.

~~~

Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Miranda, and I am a rising senior at Cornell University. I am a medievalist, and I am a software engineer. At the moment, you probably think you are only concerned with the latter role. You’re going to hire me, though, because of the former.

My primary research interest is in the varying allegorical uses of Faerie in Middle English poetry, with a particular focus on Chaucer and his contemporaries. (If you’re curious, I can send you any of several papers I have written on this topic. After I handed in the latest of these, my professor told me that he wasn’t sure he could have written a better paper on the subject himself.) So what does this tell you about me? Well, primarily it should tell you that I read too much fantasy growing up. It should also tell you that I am confident in my writing, research, and analytical skills. Those aren’t the reasons you’ll hire me, though.

Do you know what it means to be a medievalist? It means to be outdated. I study allegorical poetry from over six hundred years ago in a form of English that ceased to exist over four hundred years ago in order to comment on it in papers and journals that are only read by a select group of academics whose work must build upon the centuries of studies that have come before. Medievalism is itself outdated; all the cool kids (and all the funds) are moving to the technical fields. I am not asking you to be impressed by my stubbornness in clinging to a field that I know is dying out. I am asking you to take a moment to consider the fact that in such an outdated field, my professors still believe that I have new and innovative ideas.

It’s easy to be innovative in tech. Growth and change are constants; the industry is morphing so rapidly that it’s practically impossible to keep track of. Medieval studies excites none of the glamour and interest that surround software engineering. It’s not easy to be innovative in such a field. Being a medievalist requires you to throw yourself fully into a purely intellectual exercise. It requires you to acquaint yourself with the language, culture, lifestyle and even mindset of people who have been dead for centuries. It’s especially difficult to do so when there is no one around you who is willing to share in the excitement of discovery and innovation. Even my closest friends don’t understand why I care so much about Middle English poetry. They’re often unwilling to listen to me while I talk my way through an interesting concept or a new approach to analyzing a certain work. Lately, I’ve stopped even trying to explain my most exciting ideas to them. Instead, I turn straight to my professors.

I know for a fact that I am not the fastest or the most fearless programmer out there. I know a few programming languages fairly well, and I have read “Cracking the Coding Interview.” I have done reasonably well in my computer science coursework at Cornell University, and I am willing to step out of my comfort zone with regards to learning new technologies. None of that is important, though. That’s not why you will hire me.

You will hire me because I am willing to pursue my intellectual interests in the face of overwhelming obstacles. I am willing to be passionate about a field that the world at large has labeled as useless and boring. I am willing to follow my ideas through to their logical ends, as long as I trust in those ideas. I have confidence in my instincts, and that confidence has usually been rewarded with results. I am willing to look for new angles and new ideas in scenarios where it seems like every possibility for innovation has already been exhausted. Ask yourself: how much more effective will that willingness be in a field that is constantly evolving and changing?

So now, I would like you to consider the following. Would you prefer someone who knows every data structure in the book and can answer every interview question perfectly? Or perhaps you’d prefer someone who will throw herself fully into even the most obscure fields, and who will not rest until she has achieved mastery over those fields. Perhaps you’d prefer someone who does not need constant direction, but instead is confident in her own creativity. Perhaps you’d prefer someone who is not daunted by difficult or unfamiliar areas of study. Perhaps you’d prefer someone who trusts her intuition, but is also eager to share her ideas and allow others to inform their development.

In short, perhaps you’d prefer a medievalist.

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