Credentials are the way we acquire money, jobs and status in our world. But the sordid tales of now Congressman George Santos and Bernie Madoff show how falsified credentials can be used to bilk people .

These credential frauds reminds me of a simpler time and an actual wonderfully harmless credential fraud promulgated by a good friend of mine back as we grew up in Chicago in the 1970s.

Ray was a true electronic genius. Suffering from what was then called juvenile diabetes, Ray was frail and often bedridden in his parents home. His father, an inventor of some note, had given over the basement of their suburban track home to Ray, who filled it with electronics. Ray could fix televisions, radios and anything electric. His basement workshop was a wreck. Parts and tools were scattered everywhere. I would joke with him about how he kept track of where things were and he would simply say, “Name a tool”. I would do so and he would instantly go get it under a pile of parts. Ray bought the first Mazda RX-3, with the revolutionary Wankel Rotary engine. It was extremely fast. He loved that he had a new technology that he could drive.

Ray began programming at an early age. I remember his excitement in 1974 when Altair introduced the 8800, trumpeted in Popular Mechanics as the first true hobbyist computer. It wasn’t much to look at for those not interested in computers. No monitor. No keyboard. Just a box with switches and little lights on the front. But to Ray, (and others obviously!) it was the future.

He dropped out of high school in his senior year. It was too hard to take, physically, and he was doing too much with electronics. He was making some money and assumed he would find jobs soldering parts or something to get by. He was also beginning to design circuit boards, another possible road to riches. Ray knew that with his skills he would find work, and while looking for jobs, he discovered that a nearby community college was looking to hire teachers for the large number of students wanting to get into the new world of computing. Ray, with his wispy shoulder length hair, along with his illness, looked far older than his age. He could easily pass for a 30 year old. He figured he knew as much about electronics as anyone and could teach it so he applied. He apparently impressed the Dean and HR people enough that they hired him without actually checking his background. And so, he began teaching at Community College, about 30 miles away from home.

He got through teaching the first semester with no problem, receiving rave reviews from the students. However, the next semester, a student who had gone to high school with him was in his class and went to the administration and turned him in. It was too bad, as Ray was doing as good a job teaching as any accredited teacher. Today we consider these “adult learning” or “night certificate” courses taught by working professionals who may have gotten their “creds” from real world experience rather than a university degree. I myself have taught such a course at the University of Washington. I never graduated with a degree in my field, which ended up being computing, after a circuitous route through photography and early video production.

Ray and I would often sit and discuss his future fortune, which he was quite certain of achieving. He dreamed of creating an organic farm running on wind and solar power and using all sorts of computing devices, somewhere in the midwest. We schemed about making money from these computers, but I drifted away to college. Ray, was getting sicker and weaker. He was having problems maintaining a rigorous work load. I saw less and less of him as the year progressed. He died not long after. Perhaps, with better drugs for his illness, he may have had the strength to carve out a niche in the field exploding right in front of his eyes. As it was, we mourned the loss of such a great mind.

There are those who create their creds to enrich themselves or, like George Santos, get elected. Ray was able to capitalize on simply not stating what he didn’t have, and his intelligence allowed him to get through the interviews. Dropouts like him, around the same time, created Microsoft and Apple. I have no doubt Ray would have talked himself into those or something of his own creation with no problem, and ended up with his organic farm. All he needed was time.



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