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Sep. 3rd, 2005

I had lunch with a friend of mine yesterday to talk about job searching, startups, etc. One thing she suggested is that I might be applying for the wrong types of jobs. She suggested that I apply for project management jobs, even though I've never had a project management title. I actually have applied for some jobs like that, but haven't gotten any interviews or even phone screens. I get more responses for software engineering jobs.

I think it will be somewhat of a stretch to make myself look like a strong candidate for a project management job. It's been a long time since I've had anything remotely resembling project management responsibility. I had some at SRI, a bit more at TIS (but I declined taking on the role formally because I didn't feel I could handle the politics and my technical responsibilities), and some at AV. (I might have been promoted and had people reporting to me who actually did the development of the log processing code, but the management that was interested in promoting me was replaced when Compaq took over. Shortly after, I was moved out of (what was) site ops into (what became) business ops, which is about the time I sensed that my career was starting to decline.)

My friend also suggested that I take some project management classes at Stanford. In general, I don't think this sort of thing is relevant to today's tech company. Maybe for very large (bureaucratic) companies, but not the fast-moving types of companies that are prominent today. She actually started getting agitated when I said that I would prefer to go to my chorus' first rehearsal instead of attending one of the fast track talks. Honestly, I don't think I would learn anything at the talks that I can't learn from reading about it in books or on the web. Furthermore, the first rehearsal is important because music is passed out that night, music dues are paid for, some Board-related business may be discussed, etc. It sets the tone for the quarter. And frankly, I just get a lot of satisfaction from participating in my chorus. I feel like my efforts are noticed and appreciated. I can see my efforts reflected in how many people turn out for the concerts; how appreciative our French guests are; how the chorus is improving, etc. So I feel justified in wanting to attend the rehearsal. Anyway, I was taken aback by how agitated she got; it wasn't as if I was demanding that she give me advice or solutions; in fact, I was just sort of looking for ideas. As it turns out, she has some issues with being out of work, feeling passed over, etc.

Maybe I have just hit the glass ceiling in my software engineering career. It's possible my friend has hit the glass ceiling as well, as a lot of what she says reminds me of women I have known who've expressed similar frustrations trying to take their careers beyond a certain point.


( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 3rd, 2005 11:19 pm (UTC)
there are project management courses for IT, though.
Sep. 4th, 2005 01:22 am (UTC)
True, but I'm looking for software engineering positions (management or otherwise). For all intents and purposes, IT is a different field.
Sep. 4th, 2005 02:17 am (UTC)
what about teaching it? (If you are having trouble finding something)
Sep. 4th, 2005 02:37 am (UTC)
To teach software engineering (in a university), one must have a PhD, and compete with lots of other PhDs for very few jobs. I looked (non-seriously) into teaching extension classes some time back. There were few openings. I just checked UCSC extension; no openings. I'm not qualified to teach the types of things taught at places like Heald or DeVry (computer tech schools) because that's not my background (that is more IT related).

Sep. 4th, 2005 01:53 am (UTC)
As far as project management, I suggest looking up Manny Ventura from our AV days (now at Y I think) -- and asking him some key questions about project management and what skills and experience people look for in that area. Or phone up David B. and ask the same questions.

I've been on both sides of interviews. When I am being interviewed, I'm being alert to the technical details, but I'm also using it as a tool to "sell myself" on a subjective level. I love talking about myself, and I am very good at reading people and I can shift gears if I sense that the person I'm talking to is not having a good time.

Usually when I am interviewing someone else, I don't usually bring technical questions, because technical prowess is not the most important thing to me. When I am considering 5 or so candidates that have "similar" experience and skills, I'm not going to be looking for someone who has the very best experience and skills -- usually they all meet the minimal and recommended requirements before getting to the interview stage. What I'm really going to look for are signs that the candidate is somewhat passionate about the subject area, and has some pride in his work. So, I usually ask something a bit vague like "Give me an example of when you had a conflict with someone over work and how you handled it" or something that gets them to talk about a specific experience.

Interviewing is a really subjective thing, and people tend to do it way differently, so I don't think any one piece of advice is really the best -- if I had to choose only one piece of advice, it's "keep going to them" because doing lots of interviews is a good way to get better at them. If you don't feel very comfortable talking about yourself, practice, practice, practice.
Sep. 4th, 2005 03:02 am (UTC)
I pretty much understand what David B. and Manny do, based on attending ops-swat meetings, etc. I actually had an interview at Y! sometime last year for a position similar to Manny's. I didn't get the job. That sort of thing really isn't my area of expertise anyway, so it doesn't really surprise me that I would be turned down for such a job.

If I've been giving the impression that I'm having trouble talking about myself, that wasn't my intent. I don't think that's the problem. I'd say based on what's happened so far, on the interviews, I rank as strong (but not one of the strongest candidates) based on questions that are asked that I have to recall from memory. If it was a work situation, I would rank as excellent because it wouldn't be necessary for me to memorize everything. If I needed to consult a man page or book, no one would care (and possibly not even know). There is also the possibility that I am just not a good fit for the positions I interviewed for, regardless of skills (demonstrated or otherwise).

What I'd really like to know is how I differ from the people who actually got the positions I was turned down for.

Sep. 4th, 2005 06:32 am (UTC)
If I've been giving the impression that I'm having trouble talking about myself, that wasn't my intent.

No, that wasn't a reference to you specifically, just that talking about myself is something that I happen to do well. I think based on the times I have talked to you, you are comfortable talking about yourself. You are sort of shy, but not to the point of hampering your ability to communicate.

If you are going to interviews where you get a LOT of technical questions, my observations probably won't help much, because you're probably in a different league altogether. Most interviews that I can remember have had one or two technical questions and the rest were in the "talking about myself" category. For the types of interviews I usually do, my goal walking into it is to broadcast confidence, excitement about the job, and pride in my previous accomplishments, but in a highly-technical interview you probably have a slightly different agenda.

Good luck!
Sep. 4th, 2005 05:43 pm (UTC)
Hmmm ... I would've thought you'd had more technical questions. You interviewed at several places I interviewed at (e.g. G, Y!) for similar types of jobs (e.g. people on Y!'s Abuse team interact with sysadmins regularly, and several people in that group were sysadmins in previous jobs). Even space_parasite had a fair amount of technical questions, especially at G.
Sep. 4th, 2005 05:47 pm (UTC)
having a life is not the silicon valley way, Grasshopper
She actually started getting agitated when I said that I would prefer to go to my chorus' first rehearsal instead of attending one of the fast track talks.

You're breaking the basic Silicon Valley paradigm here. You're not supposed to have a life outside of the pursuit of the Almighty Dollar. To even consider such a thing is blasphemy.
Sep. 4th, 2005 06:10 pm (UTC)
Re: having a life is not the silicon valley way, Grasshopper
This is something I've thought about off and on, but haven't gotten around to writing about yet. Thanks for reminding me. As for my friend, I'd say she has even more of a personal life than I do. She swims, hikes, travels, and plays clarinet in two bands. She actually gets paid to play in one of them. If I were getting paid to sing with my chorus, it would be a no-brainer that I'd go to the rehearsal instead of the talk.

As another example, I'd say gconnor has a life, based on having worked with him and knowing some of what he likes to do outside of work.
Sep. 7th, 2005 07:55 pm (UTC)
I can't guess why your friend got so agitated, and I think you should always go to the meetings you want to go to.

That said, the primary purpose of going to a fast-track talk, or any other kind of gathering where technical people are present, is to meet technical people. (I think it goes without saying that these are the people who can best help you find the kind of work you're looking for.)

When you get laid off, you usually lose a good chunk of your network. These kinds of technical gatherings might be a great opportunity for you--they absolutely were for me.

Susan RoAne has written several books I found helpful in learning how to use these opportunities, including "How to Work a Room", "What Do I Say Next", and "The Secrets of Savvy Networking". (My fear was that I would appear desperate after having been laid off, and needed some pointers in presenting myself well to strangers.) You may find her books to be too touchy-feely for your taste, and there is some repetition, but there are valuable gems of wisdom there, nonetheless.

Wishing you the best in your job search.
Sep. 8th, 2005 05:05 am (UTC)
My friend is hurting pretty badly from feeling denied opportunities. I have heard this sentiment expressed from many women (the glass ceiling). We've discussed the issue before, but I think the last time we met, I became aware of how much pain she really is in.

I don't feel as if my trouble is meeting technical people. I have many friends and acquaintances who are (or were) in the computer industry. If I can't get together with them in person, I can always call, email, chat, etc. I think the problem is as I said before; either I don't remember enough about things I've done in the past to be the strongest candidate for a position, or I'm not the best match for some other reason (age, personality). In some cases, I don't have enough knowledge of a newer technology to answer questions about it, but that's because it was not a focus of a past job. Because there are so many new technologies, any time spent on any one eliminates time spent on the others. So I must specialize somehow, and hope that the choices I make lead to a good position, or start my own business (thereby setting my own standards for work, subject to customers' needs), or leave the computer field entirely.

I haven't made a decision on the Stanford project management courses, but I tend to think the UCSC extension courses are better for me. They cover topics such as outsourcing, mergers and acquisitions (M&A), strategic alliances, etc., which are more pertinent to modern software companies, especially successful ones such as Google.

Thanks for your input.

Sep. 8th, 2005 05:09 pm (UTC)
Hmmm... the last thing I would want to do is push you, when you're most likely already feeling quite pushed around, and especially with your final-sounding last line there.

But I think I didn't make my point clear (enough): I had lots of friends in the computer industry, too--and still do!-- but they were not the ones who were able to help me get back on my feet after being laid off. (In that department they were, sadly, less than useless.)

It was the new people I met, through a combination of classes (exactly one!) and event networking, that became the clientele I have today.

(That's not to say I didn't use my existing network--those people were very helpful in providing recommendations that verified my skills and qualifications for propspective clients.)

I know from experience how hard recovering from a layoff can be, and I wish you success in moving forward. You're absolutely right, it takes time.

P.S. In case it isn't obvious, I'm a woman, who once believed she was experiencing the "glass ceiling". In my case, the solution was to construct my own building, and I assure you, it has no ceiling whatsoever!
Sep. 8th, 2005 10:20 pm (UTC)
At present, I'm just looking to my friends for some ideas. Some of them are quite well connected in the industry. One in particular worked for a former CTO of Cisco. (I worked for him also, but not at Cisco.) I think they're in as good a position to help me as anyone else I might meet at a fast-track talk or management class. If my friends don't pan out, I'm not worried; there are other sources I can draw upon. Another consideration is where my time's most productively spent. I'm not yet convinced that doing a lot of event networking and such is better than increasing my technical competence.

( 14 comments — Leave a comment )