Sunday, 21 August 2011

Lions and Tigers and Bears

Out of college with my degree, I had everything going for me except for a job.

I didn't know what kind of job I wanted, but I did know the kind I didn't.

Before I had graduated I'd gone to a career information session at one of the big banks. I listened to about an hour of corporate doubletalk before they trotted out a pretty young white girl who'd been in the previous year's graduate program. She told us about her exciting job maintaining legacy software written in an obsolete languages running on on ancient mainframes. She was bright and perky and enthusiastic and I walked out of there ready to slit my wrists.

I had zero experience, so there wasn't much to look at on my resume besides my education and the time I'd spent stacking boxes in a warehouse. With three majors, two of which were not computer science or engineering related, the most common reaction I got was one of confusion. "Just what do you want to do with all this stuff?" "Uh, the job I applied for is in software development," was never a good enough answer. One place looked at my university career and said "Well, you're obviously not much of a programmer, so we're not even going to let you do the test."

The most rigorous interview I did was for a position as a tech writer. Half a day on site, four interviews, and a writing sample. It was forty degrees, the air conditioner was broken, and I was stuffed into a suit while the rest of the staff wore shorts and t-shirts.

I went to an interview in a building that was still under construction, where I had to push through plastic sheeting and climb up scaffolding, when upon arrival they looked at my resume and said "Oh, so, as a graduate, you don't actually have any experience?"

I was interviewed for a graduate role by a man who put both fists on the table and demanded "What makes you think that you're ready for this job?" He followed this question up with "Do you have a girlfriend?"

I did a couple of interviews with a company that was on its way to becoming one of the country's biggest contracting firms, Lion Consulting. The second of these included an hour of formal testing. The first two sections I was fine with: computing and mathematics. The third section was management-related, and I had no idea what to write. The four section was supposed to assess language skills: in addition to answering the questions,  I corrected spelling and grammar errors I had noticed in the questions themselves.

I applied for a job where they wanted someone with good tech and language skills and required a portfolio showing graphics work. At the interview they asked me chemistry questions. They didn't know exactly what they wanted from the person they were hiring. I lost out to a candidate with a degree in graphic design degree and a portfolio. 

Lion called me and told me that I was on the shortlist, and they'd be doing a third round of interviews in December. I was going to be overseas in December, so I asked if they could schedule the interview for another time. When they told me they would pencil me in for their next graduate intake, the following December, I decided that I didn't want to work at Lion Consulting after all.

I did an interview with a medium-sized tech company, Bear Technologies. I didn't really understand what it was that they did at Bear, but it sounded high tech and interesting. There were three guys in the room: two suits who talked and asked questions, and a bearded guy who sat off to one side listening. The beardy guy would occasionally interrupt, ask me a question, and then nod. I didn't impressed to suits much, but I felt like I had some kind of unspoken rapport with the grumpy old beardy guy.

I wascontacted by a Dragon-sized overseas corporation who had somehow discovered my combination of different majors and were keen to hire me to work in the new Usability lab that they had just built, and which they had no idea what to do with. The interview went well, and they said "We'll call you. Soon."

The Dragon didn't, but the Bear did. They were considering me and one other guy and they will be in touch about a second interview... one day.

I did another interview with a small software company called Tigerland. Three guys interviewed me: a manager and two engineers who introduced themselves as Amos and Meggs. Meggs wore a beard and reminded me a lot of the guy at Bear Technologies. The interview went well, until Meggs produced the test.

The first part of the test was easy. They showed some simple procedural C code to me and I had to work through it, explaining what it was doing. The second showed some object-oriented C++. I worked it through as best I could, but I did not know the answers to Meggs' questions about  inheritance, composition, and the stack. I figured I was out of the running, but perhaps I could learn something from the interview, so I relaxed and settled in. It was nice to be talking about programming instead of how confusing my resume was. "I don't know," I said, when faced with a question I couldn't answer. "How does it work?"

I think that attitude is what got me the offer. Amos called me within a few days and said, "Are you interested in this job? It's a hardcore C++ job; it's not for pussies. If you are interested, it's yours." I told them I would think about it. Amos told me to call him back the next day.

I called up Bear Technologies, who still had me shortlisted. They told me that they couldn't make a decision for another month. There might not be a job going there, after all. I told them I had another offer on the table, and they advised me to take it. So I called Tigerland back and accepted their offer. I would start work in two weeks' time.

The following week, the Dragon called me. Things were moving ahead. They liked me, they wanted me to work there. They would be in touch with me again really soon... but they had no paperwork and no actual offer yet. I'd already signed with Tigerland.

The following Monday was my first day at work. My first day full-time employed, in any capacity.

I was now a real person.

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