Purple Squirrels and Paranoia: the first SourceCon challenge of 2008 and how I won it.
What a trip, I won the SourceCon challenge. The reasons I did are a mix of luck, timing, help from friends, inspiration, well placed breaks, spying on what the other contestants were doing, some slight misdirection, and some skill. I think with the right mix of those components anyone of the other people participating could've won. The differences between us all were slight.
I must give kudos to the SourceCon brainwizards for putting this together. Well done. Kudos also to Julia Stone who I think was just hours behind me in finding the NYC guy. Good on you to Amie Ernst, Rushit Shah, and Shoheb Shaikh, who were right there as well, and also to a host of sourcers from India who were also pushing the pace. Thanks to Suzy Tonini and Jeremy Langhans for their help and support as well.
I wanted to put this story together in a way that would clearly show my approach, where I got lost, where I got found again, purple squirrels and a bit of mild paranoia.
Keys to finding site: Harry Smith, Guru, "sales/telemarketing front/end work"
Confirmers (how I knew I was at the right place): "live in fairbanks" , ID = 898617
Clues for later: SCIP, SSS, recruitingblogs, Sourcers Unleashed, ERE forums
Purple Squirrels: mONEY
At the time of the search, I didn't formally organize the information this way, but looking back its how it fell into place in my head. The information could be used differently than how I used it.
With this information a teammate of mine, Rob Hoefer, and I started searching a bit. He found the 'Guru' site first, kudos Rob. It was as simple as finding guru.com, then searching there with Harry Smith, his 'location', his area of expertise, or ID number. Throughout the challenge I had that spelling and peculiar capitalization of 'mONEY' in the room in my mind where I kept all those bits of information of which I endlessly questioned the importance. Nothing is on accident right? No, but sometimes its misdirection.
Second Clue Site
Keys to finding next site: "I can be found talking between 1:00-1:30pm everyday", "Love web2.0 technology for keeping in touch with my friends"
Secondary keys: the timezone in alaska (AKDT) + 1-1:30 timeframe
Confirmers: that Moose icon, the date 14 DEC 2007.
Purple Squirrels: that Harry actually lived in Fairbanks. Exacerbated later when Harry revealted an address on Peger Rd in Fairbanks, Alaska, curse you Harry!
This one took a bit to figure out. I went down many wrong paths on this one, which I'm kicking myself for now, because it looks so obvious in hindsight. I was looking for radio shows, podcasts etc related to lead generation or anything like what Harry had in his profile. I posted a few questions on a few recruiting sites to no avail. Its almost embarrassing now to admit, but its part of the gymnastics your mind does to figure out the important bits from the unimportant. I even emailed Maureen Sharib because I knew she did a bit on the Recruiting Animal's show on Wednesdays and of course her expertise is lead generation. She was very nice and helpful, albeit not sure what the heck I was talking about. This was not the first time I would send out a bizarre email.
I also harrassed 'Slouch' or Jason Davis for info to no avail. I finally figured this one out via a bit of inspiration and following a fellow competitor. I noticed that Jim Stroud had a recent posting about not seeing many recruiters on Twitter. Ding! Twitter you twit! So I searched around Twitter until I found harrysmith. Except that did me no good, he had no updates, no followers, and was not following anyone. So I searched instead for my competitors. I searched for 'Tonini' and found Suzy Tonini's twitter, and looked at who she was following. Hello Harry! There was Smithharry74 with that ersatz Moose icon, and the same date as the guru profile. From there I set my gtalk to follow smithharry74, and also set up an RSS feed in my netvibes to follow his updates as well so I could look at them later. I also figured that Harry was in the eastern time zone because he was giving clues at 5 o'clock EST, the end of someone's real world work day.
Third Clue Site: https://twitter.com/smithharry74
keys to next site: DOD challenge guy's sister (DavidClarke from challenge 2 last year), "where headhunters hang out", cache.valleywag.com/images/thumbs/757f5a7cffea7d0c878a1550c72daed4.jpg , 'Mary' or MC, Mcclatchy
secondary keys and confirmers: lives in LA or SF, was recently in the desert, hippie, smh.com.au/ffximage/2007/03/30/brazil13_wideweb__470x252,0.jpg , Cardinals, Ducks, Hawks and Blue Jays, ariba.com/img/ss.gif
purple squirrels: Don, "the party", Harry Douglas Smith, "did you ask your boss", did you check recruitingblogs yet?, and many more...
This is the point in the challenge where my brains slowly started to scramble. At this point I began placing significance on the wrong things, every email, every update to RSS feeds that could be connected to the challenge through the most tenuous of connections was suspect. There were two stages to this one for me. The first was figuring out who the DOD challenge guy was. At first I thought this was a separate challenge that had happened outside of the sourcecon thing. I looked for DOD challenges, and there are some! But I quickly decided this wasn't right. Then I went looking for clues in the explanations given by last years winners. I figured out the DOD guy was DavidClarke ClarkeDavid from last year. I still wasn't sure which was his real first name or last name and emailed Suzy Tonini for suggestions. She was helpful but I still couldn't find 'Mary'.
I was looking for 'headhunting' groups all over the place. I was also fixated on the 'desert' clue here. Suzy suggested maybe the burning man festival. Turns out she was right. I also thought it could be the 'Las Vegas Recruiting Roadshow' that had just happened. So I emailed John Sumser to see if there was anyone on the attendee list there with the initials MC. He answered, but no MC. I was suspecting he was involved in the challenge in some way. The list of busy people that I bugged for information was growing and didn't stop here. The second piece that did it for me was the valleywag photo URL that Harry gave as a clue + the McClatchy bit. First, the photo. I tried using some photo search sites, and tried to find a search engine that would search using images as the operators. Tried searching valleywag, but that was proving tedious as well. Then in another bit of inspiration I used the page freshness bookmarklet to figure out when the photo was last modified. August 28, of 2006. Now we're cooking with gas. I went into Valleywag's archives to find the posts for that date and voila, there was the exact photo of Mark Pincus and his dog Zinga. Quick image search in Google found the 'other tshirt photo' Harry had mentioned, where Mark had a Tribe shirt on. Headhunting, Tribe, riiight. McClatchy was significant because they now owned Tribe. A quick trip to Tribe.net, a quick search and I had found Mary.
Fourth Clue site: http://people.tribe.net/maryclarke90210
keys to next site: friend in NYC, 1 degree from 83494544
secondary clues and confirmers: hangs out in maureen, sourcers, and passive groups, "favorite numbers 70 or 07 or maybe devide them by 2, or maybe not 100% not sure".
purple squirrels: for me the sentence, favorite numbers 70 or 07 or maybe devide them by 2, or maybe not 100% not sure, was a big purple squirrel.
From here I actually found the profile attached to 83494544 very quickly. I thought ERE immediately because of the clue Maureen. She has a group there called ASK Maureen. So I went to ERE and noticed that within the URL of an individuals profile is 'ID=' then a number. So I replaced the number with the one from the clue and got Russ Moon. http://www.ere.net/erenetwork/person.asp?userid=83494544
I figured Russ wasn't the guy because he didn't fit any of the confirmers, wasn't a member of the right groups etc. So I emailed him with a cryptic as hell email about favorite numbers etc and did he know anyone. He responded with, "I'm too busy with real world searches" but did agree to connect. Classic. I figured that 'one degree' in Mary's clues meant our target person was in the network of Russ. Problem was, Russ has a network of 1591, this was going to be tedious. I was also trying to figure out how in the world that first series of numbers that Mary gave was significant. I tried every iteration I could think of to no avail. I also tried to understand how the spelling 'devide' might be important. Device ID? DevID? Developer ID? I still don't know how I should've used those numbers. In fact when I decided to forget about those numbers and focus on Russ's connections, that's when I got to the end. Mary's clue to me when I first found her, that the NYC guy was shy, suggested a person with few connections. Harry's clue that someone had gotten close, and that NYC had two connections, one being to another person in NYC was the kicker. I just went to Russ's network, messed with the URL to get to the lower end of his network quickly and manually searched through the people with 2 connections. Took 10 minutes and I had the guy, Jason Taylor. He had Mary Clarke in his profile, then I fired an email and waited. Harry/Mary/SourceCon took the weekend off. So I tried to forget about it. I noticed a message Julia Stone had sent someone about finding NYC. We exchanged messages about what time she had found him, and figured out that I had found him earlier by not much time. Monday, got the confirmation that I won.
Looking forward to meeting you all at SourceCon, and competing against big Mike and the other challengers!