career


This is the follow up article describing our tribulations trying to find tech workers in small town Beaufort, SC. As I mentioned earlier, we were looking for experienced embedded engineers and a tester, which we were willing to train. How did we go about it?

Company Web Site
I hesitate to put this here, as it should really be the first thing you do when you have a position. Put it on your company web site. It’s easy, it doesn’t cost anything, and unless you’re a large company, it probably won’t produce results. But when the applicant is doing research, an out of date website without job listings does not inspire a whole lot of confidence.

Electronic Job Boards
In theory, electronic job boards are supposed to be a good idea. They give the employer a longer reach, make it easier for people to find you. However, most job boards have devolved in a all but useless shout fest of “here I am, here I am” or “have I got a job for you!”
We stayed away from Monster.com for the simple reason that the noise-to-signal ratio is so poor. If you’re looking for gainful employment, stay away from the 7-headed hydra that is Monster.com. Once your resume is in their clutch, you’ll get endless calls from recruiters interested in getting their commission and not furthering your career. I know, I’ve been there.
We did use Dice.com, which has a slightly higher technical content, but your mileage may vary. The nice thing about Dice.com is that you could actually search their database for resumes that matched your criteria. Of course, you run into the problem that a) lots of those resumes are consultants or b) those resumes are out of date and the person is not looking for a job at the moment. We struck out with Dice.com
We also used Yahoo’s hot jobs, which for us, had better geographical focus. Two events resulted form using HotJobs. We received the worst resume ever. It was so bad that it was funny. Clearly this person did not read the job description, but must have been a serial resume submitter. If you’re going to do that, make sure that you don’t write “Attended Classes Regularly” as your only achievement. We also ended up hiring our first tester form a HotJob submission.
We also posted on the South Carolina employment commission job board, and while we had a few submissions, I don’t think this was the best venue.
But by far, the best experience I have had with an Online job board was Joel Spolsky’s jobs.joelonsoftware.com. I simply admire the man and if I had a brain big enough, the right experience, and lived in NY, I’d love to work with him. Joel’s job board is entirely focused on high tech jobs. You’re not going to get a doofus resume. In fact, if you are in a small town, you might not get a resume at all. But that’s OK because Joel will give you your money back if you don’t get acceptable applicants. No questions asked! Try to get that from Monster…

Newpapers
Yes, it’s old fashion, but the funny thing about Beaufort is that it’s a retirement destination. People here have all sorts of interesting background. Sometimes you come across a surprising candidate. We also have a few larger population centers within a couple of hours drive. We did manage to hire our best field technician via a newspaper ad.

Local College
The local college ought to be a source of potential workers. However, for some strange cosmic reason, our local college’s placement office never seems to have time returning our phone calls. Definitely not a success story.

There you have it, my former employer’s three pronged approach to finding tech workers. We got employee via the internet, but 3 via the good old newspaper. There is something to be said for locality.

For a while at my previous employer, I was in charge of finding technical people we could hire. We had two types of positions to fill: programmers/engineers and testers. We were looking for experienced employees, but were willing to hire relatively junior employees (e.g. 1 to 2 years experience) with good potential.
Since we’re dealing with embedded systems that involve many bits of hardware and the occasional soldering iron and previous less than successful experiences, we felt that remote employee were not an option. If we were doing internet development, or even host based development that didn’t require bits of hardware, remote would have been an option. Bet as it was, we wanted our new employees to be local. Unfortunately, “Beaufort by the sea” is not a major metropolitan center.

Now, depending on your view point, Beaufort is really great, or really crummy…

  • Cost of living is much less than a major metropolitan area, but more than most of the areas in the state
  • Salary would be slightly less than what you would get as a post-bubble employee in some centers, much less than pre-bubble salary (I hear there are some people out there with those…) but typically much more than the median salary in South Carolina.
  • Beaufort is a smallish town, with not a lot of cultural diversity but not too far (1-2 hours) from bigger centers
  • Winters are warm (we had 80 deg. today), but summers are sweltering.
  • We are by the Atlantic Ocean, and you can actually swim for about 8 months, year round if you’re hearty but we have a risk of hurricane.

I was tasked with finding the potential employees, the boss was tasked with luring selling enticing extolling the virtues of both the company and the region.

It became a marketing exercise…

We were eventually successful in filling some positions, but the results were interesting. I’ll share them in my next post.

I have been in this industry for a long time. Not quite punch card long, but long enough to have experienced the Personal Computer revolution hands on. I have fond memories of typing programs out of magazines in a TRS-80 Model I in a small room at the High School. Larry O’Brien mentioned that he sold his first program at age 16. I must admit to feeling somewhat green with envy. However, on a recent family visit, I was reminded that I was also 15 when I did my first consulting gig. However, the best part is that my program is still in daily use! The original code is over 20 years old! of course, it has morphed and has been extended, but how many people can say that their code is still in use after 20 years? I definitely got a kick out of that.
What is this mysterious application? A veterinary practice manager. Keeps track of patients, immunization reminders, electronic record keeping & billings. All originally done in dBase III. It’s been by far my most successful project. All done in the span of 1 week, at the vet’s kitchen table, using what now is called agile methods. Hmm…I see now that it’s been downhill ever since! :-)
What is you oldest living program?

While perusing the TIOBE report, I noticed REXX made an appearance. This brought back memories of being a co-op student in the early ’90s. My employer, Bell Northern Research (aka BNR), was the research arm of Northern Telecom. They were eventually fated to be absorbed and re-branded at Nortel. This was a similar setup to Bell Labs & Lucent. I was in one of the many groups working on their central office switch, the DMS-100. The code base was over 10 million lines of code, which back in the day was gargantuan. Builds would occur on mainframes, as those were the only computers fast enough to compile the code in a reasonable amount of time. A full build would take around 19 hours. Woe be upon the unsuspecting soul whose checkin broke the build. You could expect a call at 3AM telling you to get your behind at the office and fix the problem. As a result, everyone was paranoid about making changes.

One of the last thing I did in my co-op term, my crowning & lasting achievement so to speak, was to remove an unused local variable from a function. Removing 2 statements, a declaration and an assignment, was all I had to do. It took the better part of a week. First, we had to run a cross-reference on the entire code base, to make sure the local variable was not used anywhere else. Once this was done, I excised the offending offals from the code, a 5-minute procedure. Someone (not the lowly co-op student) performed a delta build on the module itself to insure it compiled. Finally, after much heming & hawing, the manager gave the go ahead for the checkin, another 5 minute operation.

That night, around 3AM, while the mainframe’s hard drives were spinning, transforming the chunks of code info a Motorola 68K binary executable, the unthinkable happened: nothing.

My mighty change didn’t cause the end of the world build to fail and everyone slept through the night. We later learned that this particular change had no effect on the actual executable. The compiler was optimizing the unused variable away.

This experience thought me a few valuable lessons: I was not going to work on the DMS-100 when I graduated. I was not going to work on mainframe computers. PROTEL (the in-house programming language) was not what I wanted to program in. BNR had tons of other development programs, some of which dealt with those cool Sun workstations… no nightmares of late night build failures there!

Anyone else ever experience build dread?

Jeff Atwood at Coding Horror recently talked about two types of programmers (triggered by Ben Collins-Sussman’s source control comments). The top 20% which are interested in professional development, and the remaining 80% which are more like 9-5 clock workers, and are not doing the magazines/blogs/conferences thing. As Jeff clarified, here’s not dissing the 80%, just pointing out that they are unreachable by conventional means.

By Jeff’s definition, I’m one of the Alpha 20% programmer by virtue of the fact that I’m a compulsive book buyer and avid blog reader. Maybe I’m just feeling insecure today, but I don’t feel like a top 20% guy. Let’s look at the competition who else would be in here:

      All the deep thinkers out there who write about methodologies while bringing home the bacon (Kent Beck, Mike Cohn, etc…)
      All the technical authors who end up being paid a pittance for books with a limited audience.

You will notice that all of the above, by virtue of their writing, could be classified as “communicators”. Clearly the exception when it comes to the programming & engineering world. But what about the “silent majority”, who are not so talkative:

Dang! They all seem to have blogs…maybe that’s the new 20%, you have to have a blog?
With all those Alpha programmers out there, I can’t help but feel intimidated. Maybe I’m just at the shallow end of the deep pool.

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