Friday, November 20, 2015

The Interviews

  Last week the company I work for hired me out to work for a company in Ames Iowa for the foreseeable future. Being farmed out is nothing new for me – I program for my employer’s clients who pay my employer, who then pays me. Normally I work out of my office but in 2013 I had to occasionally work 90 miles east in North Liberty Iowa and in 2014 I spent six months working in a bank in West Des Moines which was 55 miles southwest but only five miles further than the 50 mile commute to my downtown office. My new workplace is 37 miles west which is less than the 60 mile commute to my employer’s current office and more than the 20 feet I walked from my living room to my computer on the three days a week I’ve been working from home.

  Before I could work in Ames I had to go on an interview which must have went well enough since I was accepted for the assignment. During the 13 years I spent writing shoe store software I went on exactly one interview until 2007 when the owner of the company I worked for sold his company to people from Indianapolis who had their own programmers at which point I went on a number of interviews.

  I wasn’t very successful at interviewing in 2007 and I think it was because I badly wanted a new job and it showed which made me less than an attractive candidate in the way that the seemingly unattainable girls in high school were the most sought after at least that’s the way I remember it. Wanting a new job too badly made me not exactly myself in interviews. I came off trying to sound too professional and less funny than I am and I probably just seemed like a phony.

  Eventually one of my interviews panned out and I got my new job which was a two year contract so after two years I was out interviewing again in 2009. For this go round I was determined to be myself and even though I needed a new job instead of wanting one like two years prior I had a great time interviewing. I was at one place where I was told that the programmers were in charge of making the time estimates. I’d barely ever made estimates, preferring instead to say the project would take until it was finished and worked as hard as I could to get my projects done as soon as possible which almost always pleased my employers in terms of the time the project took and the quality of the completed project. I asked the interviewer how it would go over if I was able to complete a project earlier than scheduled. When the interviewer asked how that could be possible I explained that I had the occasional epiphany (meaning a burst of production or an amazing time saving idea) which enabled me to complete some projects well ahead of schedule. The interviewer sniffed “We do not have epiphanies at this company”. We made some more chit-chat but I knew there wasn’t going to be a job offer and the interviewer knew it wasn’t going to be accepted.

  I did much better on my next interview. The interviewer asked me if it was better to have a job done on time or done correctly. I said if the job wasn’t done correctly how could it be done on time? Since that got a laugh I told the story about how I took a job at a company and had to take over half of an overdue project from an overworked programmer who I shared the office with. The next week the overworked programmer was talking to our supervisor in our office at lunch not realizing that I was sitting at my desk reading. The supervisor mentioned that I did a good job on my half of the project and the programmer said that while I 'managed' to complete the project his design was “much more elegant” than mine. I got up from my desk and said that if the program didn’t have to work and didn’t have to be done on time I could be just as elegant. My interviewer roared at my story but I wasn’t offered the job because the company put on a hiring freeze. The happy ending was that a month later a position opened up at the company and I was offered the job without another interview.

  I interviewed twice for my current job. The first time I went to the downtown office with my current supervisor and his boss. I tried to be funny and got a second interview to meet one of the programmers over lunch. I didn’t want to drive around so I suggested the snack bar at a nearby Target superstore within walking distance. I got the job and my supervisor told me that he never had an interview at a Target snack bar before. I don’t remember much from the interview except the subject of my age came up and I said that while I was a dinosaur one thing to remember was that dinosaurs have big teeth and are more than capable.

  I didn’t have an interview for three years until the company put out notice that they were moving to the west side of West Des Moines. This would make an interminable 52 mile commute an unbearable 62 mile commute through 10 miles of the worst Iowa traffic so I was out .interviewing again. Most interviews are done through recruiters that have a job opening and if you fit in the salary slot they will pitch you to their customer as if you are the programming world’s answer to Elvis and Michael Jackson but if you don’t you will never hear from the recruiter until months or years later when they have another opening they think you will fit into.

  I had one interview at a huge insurance company that was in a huge 5 story building even further west in West Des Mones than where my company would be moving to. I parked in the full shopping mall sized parking lot and went in. My first meeting was with the department director and a programmer. They were the most exhausted people I’ve ever seen with huge puffy bags under their bloodshot eyes and the stooped over seated posture of someone who was about to fall asleep which I think they did. Their first question was whether I was willing to work overtime. I said I was on occasion if I was paid for it or given time off as compensation. I was told there was no extra pay or compensation and that everyone regularly worked between 55 and 60 hours because they were all “team players”. I mentioned that if these kind of hours were expected the team needed a new manager which was not met by laughter or even a smile. Then I interviewed with two other programmers and I asked them how many hours they worked. They told me they worked between 50 and 60 hours every week and didn't like it but did it because they were “team players”. After that I met with the finance vice president that was in charge of the programming. She told me that she liked to meet all the interviewees but didn’t have any questions and asked if I had any questions. I asked how long it took her to get out of the parking lot. She said it took no time to get out of the parking lot because everyone else was working late because they were all “team players”. My next question was if there were any finance vice president positions available and there weren’t. I wasn’t offered a job which was just as well since I was certainly not their kind of “team player”.

  My next interview was with a medical insurance clearinghouse company that was taking their programming needs in house and severing ties with the company that had developed their programs for the past five years. I interviewed with the president of the small company who was a lawyer armed with a list of 20 questions that I assume came from Linked In or some other website that she read off. Here are some of the questions, the preferred answers in bold, and my answers in italics.

  Where do you see yourself five years from now? I see myself advancing in this company because I’ll be helping it grow so much. I’m almost 55 years old and I hope to see myself in the mirror and not the cemetery.

  What is your biggest and weakness? My biggest weakness is that I care about my work and company so much I work tirelessly to accomplish my goals and have no personal life because I give my all to my company. I don’t have weaknesses or strengths. I have qualities and it is up to my employer to not make them weaknesses. One of my qualities is that I get my work done fast. It sounds like a strength but if I work for someone that thinks out loud about what they want me to do I will get a lot of useless work done because the person I work for wasn’t wanting me to do anything - they were just thinking out loud. If that guy is making the decisions don’t hire me – hire the person that waits until the last minute to do anything which seems like a weakness but will be a strength at your company.

  How do feel about supervising employees? I take pride in mentoring and building relationships. Can I fire them? I can’t supervise someone I can’t fire.

  As you might imagine I didn’t get offered that job either and I didn’t mind a bit. It is politically incorrect in this age of team building to talk about wanting to fire people but I’ve been saddled with having someone work for me who would only do the very minimum of what I asked and there was nothing I could do about it because we both knew I couldn't fire them. I think for me to supervise people effectively I need to have a nuclear weapon. If I NEEDED the job my answers would have been a lot different but since I didn't NEED the job it made sense to me to be myself so there would be no illusions about who I was.

  I had a short interview for my new assignment. I was asked very few questions of mostly a technical nature that gave me no chance to be my normally funny or insulting self. I was quickly accepted for the assignment which had less to do with my interview and more to do with the fact that as a contractor I can be gone at the snap of a finger. That’s OK with me. I have a lot of confidence in my ability to pick things up and quickly contribute and if I cant we’ll all be better off if I’m somewhere else.

  If my basketball picks keep up their current pace I expect to be giving interviews with gambling magazines and web sites. As I wrote on Monday I went 4-0 on last Friday’s picks to boost my record to 9-2 and my mythical winnings to $680. My prediction program went 3-2 on Monday’s pick (that I didn’t bet on). I’m concerned about the bias the program is showing towards road teams but the program is 25-12 including last night’s Warriors-Clippers game in which my program picked the Warriors to give 6.5 points to the Clippers in Los Angeles. So operating on the assumption that 'if it ain't broke don't fix it' I will be placing my mythical bets from my prediction program using the lines as listed on the Yahoo Sports page and as usual for entertainment purposes only with no real money being wagered. It is early on Friday morning as I write this and my program has determined only one of the 11 games on the schedule is worthy of a prediction with the lines for the Pelicans-Spurs,Thunder-Knicks, and TrailBlazers-Clippers yet to be determined. If me program decides to place a bet on those three games I'll put it in the comments by 7pm tonight and here is my program's one pick for tonight.

Philadelphia 76ers at Charlotte Hornets
The 76ers are once again angling for the worst record in the league and are off to a fine start with 12 straight losses to open the season, including Wednesday's embarrassing 23 point loss to the Pacers at home. Tonight Philly travels to Charlotte to face the Hornets who are on the second game of a seven game home stand. My program likes the Hornets to win by 16 and the spread is 11 points, just at the 5 point predictive cut off line. The 76ers have been marginally less awful on the road but the Hornets have shown the ability to score points in bunches with the additions of Nicolas Batum and Jeremy Lin so I'll go with my program and bet $110 on the Hornets to cover the 11 points and win $100.