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Do I really want a job?

I was having a conversation with one of the Starlite dance teachers after my Monday night lesson. She used to work for a SFBA tech company as an ad buyer, so she knows a few things about Internet advertising. What started out as some general inquiries into how the company determined how effective the ads were changed direction when I brought up the subject of Google, asking if she understood how they make money. (You probably know where I was going with this, but more on that later.)

After she gave a response, she pointed out a couple on the dance floor who work for Google. I didn't know them, so I asked her if she thought they enjoyed their jobs. I also added that I didn't think Google was a good place to work any more. Her response surprised me, because she said that if I really wanted a job, I could get one pretty easily. (The remark was not completely out of context, as I'd told her some time ago about having worked for AltaVista, and been laid off.) I reminded her of this (she hadn't forgotten), and began to explain the situation with my job interviews, etc. But she still maintained that I could still get a job if I really wanted one. She said she thinks that I am just taking time off to do other things, like dance, sing, travel, etc. We talked about it some more, but we both had to leave, so we decided to continue the discussion later.

This isn't the first time someone has told me this; my choral director said words to that effect while we were in Cassis. In fact, I think a lot of people from chorus are puzzled about my situation, and wonder if I just don't want to work. However, I also think most of these people don't have much detailed knowledge of the computer industry; most don't work in it (and don't follow tech news), and those who do have little if any f2f contact with IT staff (especially software people). So they are more inclined to believe the more general news stories that are published about how there is a shortage of qualified people, that companies are forced to bring people in on visas, and so forth.

I do want a job. However, I want it to be career-enhancing; not extremely stressful; something where I get peer recognition and respect; basically, what I've been writing about all along. If I really didn't want a job, I wouldn't apply for any jobs. Going through the job application circus is incredibly frustrating and wasteful of time. Practically anything else is a more productive use of my time.

Anyway, the dance teacher said she thought I could get a consulting job pretty easily. I don't think I can get one yet, at least not in computer networking, because I still have a lot to catch up on. My (would-be) peers – the people on the mailing lists I've been writing about, have up-to-date skills, and thus are in higher demand. In order to do consulting, I have to be as good as they are. But interviewing for jobs I have no prayer of getting competes with the time I need to bring myself up to their level.


( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 12th, 2007 05:16 am (UTC)
In order to do consulting, I have to be as good as they are.

No, you don't. You just have to charge less.

I'm wondering if your dance teacher isn't on to something there: man, that sounds like self-sabotage. As does:

Going through the job application circus is incredibly frustrating and wasteful of time.

It's not a waste of time. It's an investment in an inherently risky venture. It takes what it takes.

You can't win if you don't play.

However, I also think most of these people don't have much detailed knowledge of the computer industry; most don't work in it (and don't follow tech news), and those who do have little if any f2f contact with IT staff (especially software people).

Well, I don't have that problem, do I? I wouldn't know for news stories -- I don't follow news. All I know is that my technical job-hunting friends have been landing work. Including the entry-level programmer with a still-wet Comp Sci degree and zero prior relevant work experience.

Practically anything else is a more productive use of my time.

Really? Something other than applying for jobs is more likely to produce a job for you? Is it something you're doing?

Honestly? You sound depressed and self-defeating. If you want to take a break from working, and can handle it economically, by all means, do so. If you really think you want a job, maybe you need to look into the possibility you're depressed and do something about.
Oct. 12th, 2007 07:24 am (UTC)
Some context: it has been eight years since I've done anything that could be reasonably considered computer networking s/w development, so I'm behind all the other people who've been doing it for at least that long. At present, I can't compete with these people, because I don't have recent, up-to-date experience. The more time I spend focusing on the computer networking stuff I've written about, the more familiar I get with what's been done and what needs to be done. However, I'm still a ways away from being a competitive contributor. I think I will know that I'm ready to do consulting in that area (if that's what I decide to do) if I can handle the questions that people ask as easily as I handle questions about click fraud.

I probably should have been more specific about the job application circus; it's a reference to the games companies like Google play. I'm happy to interview at companies that treat candidates and employees with respect; that are willing to consider them on their own merits. I don't expect to get or keep every job; I do expect an equal amount of professionalism on the part of the company as I am bringing to the table. In this case, it's more productive for me to spend my time getting up to speed on computer networking (or playing the piano, dancing, etc.) than going on interviews at companies that disrespect their current and potential staff.

Does this make more sense?
Oct. 12th, 2007 07:34 am (UTC)
Correction: in between the time I worked on a firewall at Digital (project ended in the summer of 1996) and did QA for Nominum (a five month temp job in the fall of 2005), I haven't done anything that could reasonably be considered computer networking s/w development.
Oct. 12th, 2007 01:36 pm (UTC)
Including the entry-level programmer with a still-wet Comp Sci degree and zero prior relevant work experience.

In many ways, and I say this as an entry-level software engineer with a still-wet degree that wasn't even in CS, it's easier at that level. Or at least, that's the impression I get when I compare notes with friends who have more experience and are looking for new jobs. The expectations are different for new college hires, the computer/software industry seems to look more favorably on younger people, and you don't usually have to pay an entry-level person as much. Also, I feel that entry-level people are more willing, on the whole, to take crap jobs and jobs that aren't a good fit, because they can use them as a springboard for something better in a year or too, whereas for more experienced people it seems easier to then get stuck in a bad fit/harder to get out of it.

That said, I do agree that gregbo has started to sound self-defeating.
Oct. 12th, 2007 08:42 pm (UTC)
I think the Brian Reid thing hit a little too close to home, perhaps. I knew him personally. I worked with him on a couple of occasions. In general, I know about his accomplishments and contributions. In particular, I know about his impact on the Internet search industry, and was witness to a number of things that happened in its infancy. (You can read about some of it here, if you want; note that even back then, there was a lot of turmoil.) At any rate, yeah, maybe I sound self-defeating. I don't mean to be. This has been very difficult.

I'll respond to your other questions later.
Oct. 12th, 2007 06:11 am (UTC)
You may be interested to find that we still haven't filled the "tools developer" position that I previously thought you might fit. I think at the time you said something like "Not sure if that would be a fit but thanks". The feedback from the phone interviewer was that she couldn't quite tell if you would be a good fit, but it was pretty clear to her that you didn't *think* it was a good fit. Hopefully that was not a surprising outcome...

I don't see anything really wrong with holding out for a good job, especially if you're in a financial position to have a choice about whether you have to work (and aren't in danger of starving/losing shelter). On the flip side of this, however, what you said about competing with others is true as well... the longer the gap between jobs, the more risk you have of not being up on the latest technology (or worse, having people *assume* you're not competitive and look for things in your conversation to support that notion).

If you can imagine your dream job in great detail, (which may or may not be the case but let's run with it) can you also imagine another job that you might have between now and then (6-12 mo, maybe) that isn't your perfect job, but will improve your chances of getting the perfect job 1-2 years from now?

Oct. 12th, 2007 08:37 am (UTC)
I'd actually seen the job description a few weeks before you submitted my name. It didn't seem like a good match. However, since you referred me, I figured I'd give it a chance, just to see if there was at least some overlap with my career goals. I didn't get the impression she thought I was a good match, in any case.

I actually can imagine quite a few dream jobs in detail; problem is, I don't really qualify for any of them right now, because I don't have the recent, relevant experience. If the criteria for acceptance was different – if the companies I'm applying to could come to the conclusion that because I was able to do the work that I'd done between 1996-2004, I could come up to speed on the networking stuff, I would have less of a problem. (Certainly, I don't expect to get every job.) But that's not the criteria they are using, so basically if I want these jobs, I have to impress the people who interview me as much as the people who are already doing these things (because they set the standard).

The flip side you mentioned does concern me; certainly, economics will eventually force me to take whatever work I can get. But there is also the other side of that coin, which is companies that question your desire to do work that you're applying for, because they see other types of work on your résumé. If no one would hold it against me that I took work that wasn't on my ideal career path, I'd be more likely to do so. But even then, I'd be worried about not being able to spend enough time on computer networking s/w dev; I have always been concerned about this whenever I haven't been doing that type of work, even if I had another job, because I always felt like I was falling behind the people who were able to continue to do that work. But earlier in my life, I didn't have enough money to stay out of the job market and hone my skills until they were at the level of the people who constantly got the jobs I was seeking.

Finally, if I say I want to be the peer of the people I write about, but don't do the work they do, that's not really saying very much about my aspirations. The Noel Chiappas and Lixia Zhangs of the Internet protocol/architecture world don't depart from that world to count the number of unique cookies (especially if this is used to determine the number of unique users), or anything like most of what I did at AV. I have to face this (and am prepared to do so). It's just that it's very difficult to explain to people who don't work in the industry. People outside the industry don't understand the degree of specialization; the different types of roles; the need to stay focused and up-to-date with current trends in one's area. They sort of think the industry is rather monolithic; that everyone is interchangeable; that a company would jump at the chance to hire someone just because of some presumably valuable credential. It's just not that way now, especially in the economic climate we're in.
Oct. 12th, 2007 01:34 pm (UTC)
Are you on any alum.mit.edu careers mailing lists? I'm on bostoncareers@alum.mit.edu, which is medium-traffic (a few messages a week, usually), and gets info about job postings in the Boston area, the majority of which are EECS-related. If not, you can get on such lists as long as you have an alum.mit.edu account (and if you don't, you should be able to get one easily just by going to the site).

I think course 6 also has a high-traffic list called jobslist, which is about what you'd expect given course 6 and the list name. I assume it's open to alums, and I think you get on by emailing anneh and asking to be put on.

Companies might hold it against you that you worked in a job that wasn't on your idea path, but they will also hold it against you that you spent a long time jobless.

There are places that offer graduate certificates, usually 3-5 classes, in various fields, including networking. Could you get one of those and use it to be more competitive for the jobs that you want?

Finally, now that my company has its new Sensor Processing & Networking division, it seems likely that we will get more networking research contracts in the future, and will probably eventually hire more people who want to do networking, depending on future contracts received (proposals are roughly every three months, I think). I don't think we got any new networking contracts from the last round of proposals, but the division is brand-new after all. And I can assure you that based on my colleagues, my company is not anti-anyone-out-of-their-20s.
Oct. 13th, 2007 04:45 am (UTC)
I'm on some alum.mit.edu lists, but not the bostoncareers list. I think these emails come from the job listings page, which I check from time to time. I'm on lots of other lists, mostly featuring jobs in the SFBA but some from other locations.

In general, it's not that I can't find anything to apply for; it's that I don't do well enough (or don't fulfill expectations somehow) on interviews to be hired. The time spent jobless concerns me, but like I wrote in my response to gconnor, time spent in jobs that aren't on my primary career path has been held against me. I actually apply for lots of positions, but the primary focus has been on computer network stuff.

In terms of things that are already being done at companies, there's no need for me to take classes. Everything I need is online. I spend a lot of time reviewing network protocols, algorithms, etc. I can't perfectly predict what people are going to ask me, so the best I can do is just keep going over things and hope that somehow I'm able to answer the questions that are put to me at the next interview.

In terms of things that haven't quite come to market yet, such as the IPv6 stuff I've been posting about, there aren't any classes. I do the same thing; review things, and try to answer questions that come up. While I haven't made a definite commitment to anything in IPv6 yet, the idea here is that because the market is not very strong yet, getting ahead of it and learning about it might put me in a position to get work somewhere down the line when real demand emerges. However, this is somewhat of a gamble, because it's not clear which of the different IPv6 migration paths will emerge.

I have a friend who also has had a hard time finding work in the networking field. She might be interested in the sensor network research. She did some work in the past on sensor networks, but I'm not sure what her status is now.
Oct. 12th, 2007 03:20 pm (UTC)
It sounds to me as if you do want a job, but are reluctant to spend time being ground down to a nub by the employment process trying to get a job you don't want.

The combination of being a particular personality type with a certain number of years of experience makes it hard to deal with the "dazzle us with how wonderful you are" kind of job interview. At least that's been my experience.

Acknowledging that all I know about your situation is what you've posted here on LJ, I would agree with your dance teacher that you might want to to explore the consultancy angle more.
Oct. 13th, 2007 05:25 am (UTC)
I think the most unfortunate aspect of my situation is that there's very little I can leverage from the years at AltaVista (1996-2004) for becoming a computer networking consultant. I would have needed to leave Digital after the firewall project ended in 1996, and somehow focus on networking. A guy I worked with on the firewall quit, rather than join AltaVista. He is now at Boeing, doing IPv6 work. He also participates in the discussions on the mailing lists I've mentioned. But he bounced around a lot, and spent a fair amount of time out of work before finally landing the Boeing job. (As an aside, it's in Seattle, not the SFBA.) And there's no way of knowing what would have happened if I'd left Digital and tried to do something else; I might very well have been laid off by someone else, and had less money saved up than I do now. If nothing else, I made good money at AV, especially during 2001-2004 when lots of people were out of work. Hopefully, the money will buy me enough time to put something together on my own or find a good job.
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )