Why engineers scare me: A true story

Last week I made a bet with an engineer that works for Close. Unfortunately, I lost. And I still have no idea how. I figured I would reach out to the Internet for some help and to share my story.

The background story

Elastic/Close is based in Palo Alto, but last week our Senior Team took a trip to Austin to strategize, work, and have a bit of fun. One Saturday night while out with the team, I met someone. We ended up hanging out for a while and I got separated from my coworkers. The next day, once everyone recovered from the previous night, some of my colleagues harassed me for information about the person I met and where I went.

But I wouldn’t give them anything. Why give them the satisfaction? I figured I would never talk to the girl again.

Well, much to my surprise, the person and I texted for the next few days like teenagers talking to their first crush. After dozens of texts, we decided to hang out again in Austin on a Wednesday.

After we went out the second time, my co-workers again harassed me trying to gather information about the mysterious new friend. Because they wanted to know, and I got a kick out of them not knowing, I refused to give them any details.

On Thursday night, after exchanging texts all day, around 8:00pm local time my friend sent me a picture of her in order to convince me to meet her at an event she was going to.

The bet

One of Close’s engineers came over to me and asked what I was doing. I told him that I was looking at a picture of my friend. At this point he could not see my screen (he was standing directly in front of me), but offered me a simple bet: He said if I sent him the picture, he could find out her name.

For me, it was an easy decision. While I am a sales guy, I knew a couple of things that I thought would make this impossible for an engineer.

  • Her Facebook wasn’t easily accessible.
  • Her dress, which was very unique, had never been worn by her because she bought it the day before.
  • I knew she wouldn’t show up on a Google image search with the picture I had.

I also personally love arguing and proving our engineer wrong. We have very different personalities and different skill sets and often butt heads.

So, after I checked with my friend to see if she would be fine with the bet, I agreed.

What happened next

After we made the bet, I did a few things:

  1. I changed her name in my phone
  2. I made sure the picture had no trace of her phone number or name (on the back end).
  3. I saved the picture to my phone, and then emailed it to our engineer.

Our engineer, with the help of two other Close engineers, started working on finding the girl around 10:00pm, and by 5:05 the next day, he had her name and address. And I have no idea how.

Here is what I think I know (from watching at a distance):

  • They were running software on a computer for hours.
  • The first couple of tries didn’t work.
  • They knew what high school she went to prior to searching.
  • They were very impressed with themselves.

Here is what they assured me is true:

  • They did not physically touch my phone or my laptop (although we were on the same wireless network).
  • It wasn’t a gimmicky trick (i.e. they tricked me into giving it to one of them, or they really knew the whole time).

My ask

Can anyone help explain to me how they did this? They won’t tell me unless someone guesses right because I can’t figure it out.

And, can other people do this? I took a picture of a girl that didn’t exist on the Internet and gave it to an engineer. It took him less than 24 hours to find out her name and address. I was shocked. Is the Close team that good, or is this a common engineering skillset?

NOTE for the concerned: The girl knew about the bet and thought it was funny herself. She didn’t have any problem with it.

—Justin Gold