Wednesday, 28 November 2012

The Once and Future Programmer

I must have sent out twenty resumes before I landed in North America.

Starting in Ontario I traveled up and down the East Coast, traveling as far south as Florida visiting friends a looking for jobs. I probably sent out sixty or eighty more resumes while I was doing this. I sent one out to the then-struggling in Seattle but that was the only job I looked at on the West Coast. I did not receive a single reply.

(Ten years later, Amazon recruiters would actually contact me and ask if I was interested in moving back to the States. I assume that this was due to a more current resume of mine leaking into their channels.)

It wasn't easy. These were the days when pre-paid mobile phones did not have 'roaming' capabilities. I struggled to acquire a phone that would allow me to roam across the USA without having an address or a local credit card.

I sent resumes ahead of myself to companies at every major destination I was heading to and once I arrived in a city I spent a lot of time combing the local newspapers for ads, although even then most of the jobs I applied for were through online ads.

In Boston I went through the phone book, looking for tech companies to cold call. After getting blasted over the line by one such company ("How can you come here and ask me for a job when I just let twenty engineers go?!") I gave up on that approach. Some friends of mine in introduced me to some of their friends in the industry as 'the once and future programmer' but I left Boston with nothing.

In Florida I replied to a newspaper ad that explicitly welcomed applications from foreigners. Nothing.

I lit out for the Pacific Northwest. This was the end of my trip. Next I was going to head down to LA and them back to Australia. I told myself I was on holiday and I tried to enjoy it. I was in Vancouver when the Florida company called me up for a phone interview.

I did the interview but they didn't invite me to an in-person interview at the end of it, so I went on to Seattle, and then to LA, as planned. I was in the Getty Museum with about two days until my flight home when they called me and invited me to an interview.

I moved my flight home out and got on a plane back to Florida. I was running out of time and funds; it was probably my last and only chance to find employment in America.

The interview went well. There was a coding paper-test, but it was blindingly easy. "Write a stack class," it said. They did not tell me what kind of objects they wanted to stack. They gave me half an hour.

I wrote this:

class StackableObject;

std::stack< std::vector< StackableObject > > stackOfStackableObjects;

After contemplating my handiwork for about twenty seconds I decided that perhaps they would construe that as a smart-arse answer, so I sat down again and wrote out a template-based stack class based on a linked list. If I thought my efforts would impress anybody, I was mistaken.

"Oh," said the Abhiraj, the most senior engineer at the company. "You used a template."

I would later learn that his apathy was due to the fact that Abhiraj himself did not understand templates. But I passed the test, because another thing that I would later learn was that all he had wanted to see in my answer was that I provided a constructor and a destructor. To this day I believe that this was the extent of Abhiraj's knowledge of Object Oriented programming practices.

They offered me a job. The salary was nearly 20% less than the one offered to me by the job I had refused in Silicon Valley. I made a small attempt to negotiate, but they very well knew that I didn't have any other options. I took the job.

The process dragged on. They told me that they had expedited my work visa and that it would be two weeks, but soon four weeks had elapsed. I into a cheap motel where the AC didn't work near the office and lived off the groceries I could keep in the bar fridge.

Eventually the company called me up again. Somebody had stuffed something up and instead of flitting up to Mexico or Canada to get processed I would have to fly home to Australia to get my visa stamp--at my own expense.

So I went home. I duly took all of my paperwork to the American consulate and the visa was granted. I left them my passport they told me that I could collect it on September the 12th. The year was 2001.

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