Careful Remarks about My (Microsoft-based) IT Job Market
I have paid dearly for the experience gained since the brutal winter of 2009. My resume is extremely attractive and I pay for it in the form of ridiculous mobile phone bills—my few hundred, business-hours minutes depleted easily with loose talk with recruiters (headhunters). I’m ready to try a new phone plan but would like to keep my number. I have talked to at least three dozen recruiters from all over the United States (and probably live from India). I have examined at least 50 job postings for the Southern California region (with a few in New York)—which, sadly, duplicate far fewer actual jobs. Since, I am about to start a new contract gig on Monday, this should be the right time to record the essence of my journey through the wastes.
Foremost, these background/historical observations are required for sanity checking:
- Southern California is known for its 1940s–1980s big-iron, “defense”-industry, mainframe computer culture. When you need to think of micro-computing or “personal” computing in Californian terms, think of Northern California.
- Microsoft made itself world famous by appealing to relatively small businesses as the bulk of their customer base. Think of single-digit millionaires running hardware stores. These meat-and-potatoes folk did not invest in Microsoft products for theoretical reasons that would produce, say, Martin Fowler. Most of these companies will hold on to old Microsoft technology simply because it works “good enough” and may overlook the total cost of owning and maintaining aging junk.
- Microsoft makes most of its money (still to this day) on its Office flagship. You may want to take on the challenge of finding a job pleading for Office VBA (or VSTO) developers (in Southern California). What may be an interesting exercise is to search, say, Dice.com for jobs in California with the keyword
VBAin… you may notice that few require this skill alone—it must come with experience with massive systems like PeopleSoft—or it is included with what I consider ‘contemporary’ .NET skills (ASP.NET, SQL Server, etc.) which is a red flag indicating the danger of getting mired in degenerate legacy code.
- The City of Los Angeles in particular and Southern California in general can be considered “hostile” to business development. This means that most meat-and-potatoes Microsoft shops with enough resources to actually hire professional developers are far north of Los Angeles (in the Simi Valley area) or far south (in Orange County). So when it appears that I am taking quite a bit of time to find a job, we must remind ourselves that I’m trying to stay close to, say, the Santa Monica area. So far, I have surrendered myself to Thousand Oaks—about 40 miles north of Santa Monica as the crow flies.### The Triple Threat: WPF/Silverlight/ASP.NET MVC
My self-motivated professional goal is to find a power position in what I call the triple threat: WPF/Silverlight/ASP.NET MVC. I am willing to relocate just about anywhere to work with WPF/Silverlight on a team that can teach me about multi-threading/concurrent programming on the client side. Don’t look for my suitcases yet: there are few companies that I am aware of that house these skills. These are elite outfits that should be high-class enough to never dare to use Dice.com, Monster.com, CyberCoders.com, etc.
I talked to a company directly (no headhunters) called lab49.com in New York about a Silverlight position. I was simply not qualified to work for them—for raw, explicit, technical reasons. Period. This fact did not make me sad. It was exhilarating… joyful… you don’t get a degree in physics being sad about not knowing something you know you should know—you see: there are things managers might want me to know (usually by rote) and there are things I know I should know. Lab49.com reminded me that I need to know about concurrent programming. I actually have to read books about this subject.
There is only one, huge WPF shop in Southern California that I’m aware of: a company called CCH, based in Torrance, CA. They are converting a huge tax software application over to WPF—it has about 90,000 forms. I was told that they are “working with Microsoft” to eventually eliminate the need for BAML because of the massive amount of forms involved.
Since I am so passionate about WPF they should hire me, right? Not so fast: during the phone screen I was openly wary of pushing the envelope far, far beyond what WPF can do out of the box. My non-positive attitude about this position was clearly not attractive to the hiring folks there. It frankly pisses me off to be in a situation where the new technology we are using is still not “good enough” to the people in charge. This effectively means that there is nothing a developer can do on their team that is “good enough.” We’re just supposed to quietly take our pay and be grateful to be tolerated by such revolutionary visionaries. I prefer to be frickin’ amazing in the workplace—I prefer to excel and exceed reasonable expectations. The vulgarity of the endless well of greed coming from many management teams is sickening to me—and my sickness is contagious (so bring on the quarantine and disposal).
Most .NET jobs in my market are ASP.NET jobs. The biggest ASP.NET shop in Southern California is probably MySpace.com. I spoke to some MySpace.com people in Beverly Hills about a week or two ago. The problem there was, by the end of the interview, I realized they were looking for a jQuery expert—a person that works with jQuery so much that they have memorized stuff that most of us can look up on the Internet. I presented myself as one who uses jQuery within my ‘triple threat’ scenario. They weren’t looking for this triple thing—they wanted one ‘threat’: a jQuery dude. Let me just say that MySpace.com has its own internal recruiting staff. These folks handled the deal. Somehow this focus on jQuery escaped me before I went into the interview… no prep’…
Most .NET jobs in my market are ASP.NET jobs—very few of these are ASP.NET MVC jobs. I think I have about 12 months to work with ASP.NET MVC (and jQuery) in Thousand Oaks.
Highlights about Headhunters
I’m experienced enough: so here some notes about headhunters:
- Headhunters are likely to ask, “How are you today?” after they introduce themselves on the phone. I find this question annoying.
- When you don’t want a headhunter to call you back, start talking about The Enlightenment ideal of man’s right to choose his own work, Black history or racism in the workplace.
- Do not have any patience for a headhunter who is concerned about your hourly rates or salary preferences (assuming you know you are line with market rates). Do not trust a headhunter who apologizes for questioning your rates (after apparently calling your bluff) and wants to continue doing business with you.
- Ask the headhunter about the feelings the client has about paying overtime; any response that does not dismiss your concerns immediately likely means you are dealing with trailer trash. Some trailer trash will gracefully send you home immediately after eight hours of work—others, inspired by the hicks at Wal-Mart, will try some micro-slavery on your ass. Take it from my experience: do not hang out in a trashy, low-class, budget-conscious workplace “off the clock.” You are not in a college campus library or study hall! You don’t have to go home but don’t stay up in there…!
- Multiple headhunter packs will compete with the same job offer; this can be dangerous because you can be submitted for the same job multiple times—and you are likely to be blamed for this breach of protocol.
- There are three types of thoughtful, professional headhunters in decreasing order of usefulness: (1) headhunters who are technical and know the hiring people personally, (2) headhunters who are not technical but they know who to test/screen you promptly and (3) headhunters who are not technical and are not screening you technically but still want to sit down, chat and get a “feel” for you.
- When you know you have an offer and a headhunter wants you to consider another opportunity in spite of the offer, talk to the people from the other opportunity. In my market, the population of my U.S.-born competitors is very, very small so it is an error for me to accept and encourage the cattle-call treatment.
- Headhunters will often make quite a fuss about my preference for “contract” or “permanent” offers. For me, I prefer contract deals with companies that are unfamiliar to me. And I have no preference for either when the company appears sound to me. My personal statistics inform me: most companies do IT poorly—so it’s easier to terminate a contract with a “bad” company without much stigma than to terminate, full “permanent” employment.
- A headhunter was kind enough to tell me that corp’-to-corp’ contracts can be regarded as “cheaper” because of payroll taxes associated with W2 labor. Headhunters, by the way, volunteer very little information of this quality and would rather have you talk about your experience—so they can get more leads.### Highlights about Managers
There are essentially two kinds of managers: a manager who can do what you do (making you an extra pair of hands) and a manager who can’t. I would rather work with managers who can do what I do from a position of obvious, repeatedly-verifiable, technical superiority—this is the most psychologically comfortable work situation to be in (especially in the sub-consciousness background radiation of racism, fascism and sexism). In this ideal situation, only I have to control my insecurities and my sense of gratitude is sincere and deeply appreciated.
With more experience gained, my work situations have been less than ideal. This is non-intuitive to most (young) people who would describe themselves as “logical”—but we must understand that management is largely a political activity. Middle managers have to deal with a great deal of bullshit from above—especially when it is clear that IT is considered an exotic cost center. Only a few courageous managers act as a firewall between the relative “purity” of tech and Enron-style executive culture. Remember, it takes sound mental health, courage and honesty to say that you are an obsequious, duplicitous, backbiting coward—most people weave complex systems of rationale to avoid such self realization.
So here are a few psychological stalemates between me and authority figures from my almost-20-years in the IT business:
- You as an authority figure will develop contempt for me because my passion about technology appears to be “blissfully” ignorant of the “real” political world of management. After a few housing bubbles and market crashes, defending the “real” world should not be that fashionable. Likely, a new generation of missionary-misinformed kids will come along and make a new fashion trend we all have to endure.
- You as an authority figure are likely to find me frustrating as I explain to anyone that will listen exactly what the problem is with the architectural design—a cesspool hole that took months or even years to excavate—but provide no quick fix to get “us” out of the problem. I dislike this reactionary attitude and look forward to eliminating this habit from my personality—totally. What I try to avoid is interacting with an adult person that is trying to get something for nothing. This reminds me of the ironically socialist attitude “conservative” corporate “elites” have for having their errors corrected by the masses of tax payers.
- Both personally and professionally, I am not an enabler of people in denial about what appears to me as glaring inefficiencies and non-competencies. For too many sorry-ass IT organizations, this effectively means that I am not a “team player.” Who owns the team? What game are they playing? What does a “win” mean?
- Too many (male) managers attempt to force me through their (well trained) personality and (remedial) sense of humor. I expect managers to manage the technical problem—to bring diverse individuals to rally around the business and the technical problem (not their “charming” personality). I am merely a resource present to solve the technical problem of the business. Effective managers will address their teammates in terms/context of the technical problem.
- The irony of many managers is that of strange dependencies on emotion—instead of objective metrics. These managers—almost all male—might even make a sexist comment about women and their emotions—but these are same pussies that depend on certain emotional reactions from their underlings to properly reinforce the existence of a “dramatic event”—which to me is often foreseen as an obvious systematic outcome. I literally had one manager years ago say directly to me, “I want to see you sweat.” These are the same dildos that probably watch sporting events faithfully but clearly fail to understand that professional athletes need to be balanced, tranquil and relaxed to be most effective. Being balanced, tranquil and relaxed is often misinterpreted as being unconcerned with the “goals of the team.”
- Have absolutely no sympathy whatsoever for a manager that was reluctant to “correct” your behavior. These reluctant heroes tend to paint themselves as generous, liberal, sufferers of fools. The only defense against this behavior is to generate as much data as possible that shows you trying to get feedback from your fearless leader. Email trails and copious prose in, say, Team Foundation Server, should “let the record show” that you were actively seeking interaction and feedback providing the “generous” manager plenty of opportunities to correct your savage ways. I can count two managers in my almost-20-year career that clearly avoided my attempts to get feedback. One manager even gave me “positive” performance reviews on paper—but one day out of the blue I find out they were enduring and inscrutable, holding back, barely “tolerating” my presence. I can see some self-described “Black executives” trying to file some kind of lawsuit over this bitch-craft but, for me, winning such a suit is fruitless. What IT professionals who dare to call themselves ‘Black’ should do is find ways to work in a better workplace through their own organizations instead of trying to win acceptance with strange people are obedient and paid—but not very bright—and not very environmentally sustainable over the large term…One way racism awareness works against people of color is in getting very upset when it is clear that an authority figure in the work place has absolutely no trust or confidence in a human resource of color—for absolutely no objective, measurable reason. For “weak-minded” people of color (usually young people still growing), this default, pre-installed lack of trust can cause prophecy fulfillment as these people fall under the psychological influence of these so-called authority figures.
The fundamental error of racism awareness is the (often non-conscious) assumption that racism is a perfectly isolated human flaw—and everything else in the racist’s life is going very, very well. Racism to me is an indicator of a larger lack of imagination, diminished creative talent and weak intellection. The same decision-making mechanism that concludes that, say, I am inferior in some way is the same facility used to run the whole business. So how is business going in the world today? How do the most profitable businesses in the world make their dough? How does, say, the Earth respond to these profit centers? Is the Earth itself inferior to these brilliant minds?
Prejudice has been more directly destructive in my life in personal relationships with Black women—not in the institutionally racist workplace strangely enough. When a person assumes (often subconsciously) that in spite of what you have done, the next thing you do will “probably fail”—this person is not your friend. They don’t have to be an “enemy”—just know when one is not your friend.