No.10 seeks computer scientists, software developers and 'super-talented weirdos'

Written by Beckie Smith on 3 January 2020 in News
News

Dominic Cummings seeks "true wild cards" with expertise, not "confident public school bluffers"

Credit: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire/PA Images

“Unusual” computer scientists, data scientists and software developers are among those being sought to work in No.10 alongside “weirdos and misfits” in a recruitment drive led by Boris Johnson’s top adviser, Dominic Cummings.

In a job advert posted on his personal blog, Cummings said he wanted “unusual mathematicians, physicists, computer scientists, data scientists”, among others, to fill gaps in expertise as part of his plans to overhaul how government works.

Successful applicants will be expected to have “exceptional academic qualifications from one of the world’s best universities or have done something that demonstrates equivalent (or greater) talents and skills”, he said.

As well as a PhD or MSc in maths or physics, candidates should have “outstanding” mathematical skills; experience using programming languages such Python, SQL or R; and be familiar with data tools and technologies such as Postgres, Neo4j and Scikit Learn.

“We will be using machine learning and associated tools so it is important you can program. You do not need software development levels of programming but it would be an advantage,” the job ad said.

Applicants are also expected to “study” Dynamicland, a computational research group and communal computer. They must also follow one of its researchers, Bret Victor, a computer scientists and electrical engineer known for talks including "Inventing on Principle" and "The Future of Programming".

“If this excites you, then apply; if not, then don’t. I and others interviewing will discuss this with anybody who comes for an interview,” Cummings wrote.

The ex-Vote Leave chief is also seeking software developers “who would love to work on these ideas, build tools and work with some great people”.

“You should also look at some of Victor’s technical talks on programming languages and the history of computing,” he said.

Cummings is also seeking applications from policy experts, project managers, communication experts, junior researchers – one of whom will act as his personal assistant – and “weirdos and misfits with odd skills”. The recruits would work as special advisers "and perhaps some as officials", he said.

He invited “true wild cards” to email him directly if they believed they were qualified.

In an apparent rejection of the working culture he has previously said pervades Whitehall, Cummings said: “I don’t want confident public school bluffers. I want people who are much brighter than me who can work in an extreme environment. If you play office politics, you will be discovered and immediately binned.”

Cummings has repeatedly criticised the civil service, which he has said treats “failure as normal” and suffers from a surplus of generalists.

“At the moment I have to make decisions well outside what [American investor] Charlie Munger calls my ‘circle of competence’ and we do not have the sort of expertise supporting the PM and ministers that is needed,” he wrote in the job post.

“Super-talented weirdos”

The seventh and final category of candidates would comprise people that that “by definition” do not fit a specific mould, Cummings said.

“We need some true wild cards, artists, people who never went to university and fought their way out of an appalling hell hole, weirdos from William Gibson novels like that girl hired by Bigend as a brand ‘diviner’ who feels sick at the sight of Tommy Hilfiger or that Chinese-Cuban free runner from a crime family hired by the KGB.”

Such people would bring diversity of thought to Whitehall that is needed to address complex policy and political challenges, he said. “If you want to figure out what characters around Putin might do, or how international criminal gangs might exploit holes in our border security, you don’t want more Oxbridge English graduates who chat about Lacan at dinner parties with TV producers and spread fake news about fake news."

“People in SW1 talk a lot about ‘diversity’ but they rarely mean ‘true cognitive diversity’. They are usually babbling about ‘gender identity diversity blah blah’. What SW1 needs is not more drivel about ‘identity’ and ‘diversity’ from Oxbridge humanities graduates but more genuine cognitive diversity,” he added.

"We need to figure out how to use such people better without asking them to conform to the horrors of ‘human resources’ (which also obviously need a bonfire)."

About the author

Beckie Smith is a reporter for PublicTechnology's sister site Civil Service World. She tweets @Beckie__Smith.

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