Monday, August 27, 2007

Supplemental Reading

In a prior post, I wrote:
Making the interviewer squrim and stutter and finally say, "I don't know," when asked how much their quantitative research group lost last week and the week before: priceless

It occurred to me from a reader comment that the significance of this question might not have been clear from the context. Last week, the Washington Post ran a good article talking about the massive losses encountered by funds that rely on computer algorithms for trading. Just for the record, I interviewed with one of the organizations mentioned in the article.

Another article that ran originally in the Wall Street Journal, includes a key issue that I've often wondered about:
The risks to quantitative investing may be rising. Even if they don't share the same statistical models, quant funds share similar approaches to the market. They are schooled in the same statistical methods, pore over the same academic papers and use the same historical data. As a result, they can easily come to similar conclusions about how best to invest.

In essence, these massive funds become something of an intellectual and algorithmic monoculture. Such a strategy might give the funds a short term edge, but it also means that the market can be shaken easily when the weaknesses of the strategies are exposed. There's no notion of resilience or immunity in that ecosystem.

I haven't thought deeply about this, but I've speculated that there exists one or more adaptive investment strategies that, when tuned to the weaknesses of the quant monoculture, could cause a massive transfer of wealth away from the inbreds. (assume faux evil genius facial expression) Maybe I should hunt down some texts on computational finance and start plotting?

The Tale of the Teeth

I had my six-month dental checkup today, and I was not looking forward to it.

Over the past few weeks, I've noticed some sensitivity on my right central incisor. I couldn't quite place the cause of the pain because it was so infrequent, but it seemed to be coming from the inner side.

More recently, I had been experiencing the pain in my sleep, sharp enough to wake me up at times. But most of the time, I was so groggy and incoherent, I wasn't totally convinced it was my imagination. Indeed, one of the times coincided with a dream where that tooth was becoming loose, as if it was a baby tooth.

As the dental hygenist began her exam with the routine, "Have you been experiencing any problems?" I mentioned the pain. She took a look at it with the mirror and said that it looked like gum line had receded a very small amount. When I said that I experienced the pain usually in my sleep, she thought it might have to do with clenching or grinding of my teeth in my sleep.

During the post cleaning checkup, the dentist looked at the gum, and agreed with what the hygenist said she saw. He wrote me a prescription for a rinse.

It was the first real visible sign that the stresses of my life are extracting a visible physical toll.

I discussed this with my therapist today during our weekly appointment, and she noted that I looked tired and sounded depressed. After I discussed all what was going on in my life, she recounted seven different sources of stress. She suggested I start taking some time out for myself because I was becoming a good candidate for depression.

Last week was a bit rough on me. I was rushing to get the standards paperwork done for today. I did two hours of in-person interviews with So You Think You Can Search on Monday. I had a traveling interview out in the Steel City on Tuesday. I did an hour's worth of phone interviews with PrizonFone on Wednesday, and then I finished my Friday with the phone interview with Gong Show Panelist Investment Bank.

With the exception of PrizonFone, all of the interviews either went badly, or had a spot that was questionable. I didn't receive feedback from the interviews early in the week, and Do-No-Evil hadn't given me an update on my phone interview the week before. I sensed a loss of momentum, as if my quality as an applicant was starting to deteriorate. I was losing hope.

I had a lot of daddy duty last week, too. My wife had several nights where she had to be at the preschool co-op, which meant I had to leave work early and look after the kids. Over the weekend, she took a two-day trip with her longtime best friend to a riverboat casino. Her friend's mom had some comp money that allowed them to have an affordable weekend of free room and cheap booze.

I didn't begrudge her these things because I know that the preschool can be really high maintenance this time of the year, and I don't want to be disagreeable on the verge of a big life change. She'll have plenty of hard times ahead. I don't want to add to them.

I'm trying to keep things light for this week because I really want to prepare for the big two traveling interviews on Tuesday and Friday of next week. The recruiters aren't wanting to give me any breaks, though. I racked up five voice mails today, including one from the obsessive girlfriend saying that her company was still interviewing candidates and wanted to know if I was still interested. So maybe that interview didn't go so badly after all.

One other interesting turn on the job search... I was looking at new postings over the weekend, and I noticed that Large Indigo is advertising that high performance computer programming position again. I wonder if their original candidate fell through. In any event, I sent an e-mail to my internal contact for that role to let her know that I'm still interested.

I Know Somewhere I'll Find the Key

Or at least an appropriate SKU ;-).

In the previous post, I wrote:
While searching for the Bruce song, I found a clip of the Williams College Ephlats, a a capella group, performing the song. The camera angle and not-so-great acoustics are a big minus, but my guess is seeing this done live would be nothing short of awesome.

I found the Ephlats website, and it looks like one can purchase a CD with a recording of "Trapped" (Songs in the Key of Purple). Some of the other tracks look good, too, so methinks I'm going to have to get this.

Note to FADKOG... Duran Duran's "Notorious" is part of their current performing repertoire. I'd love to see what they'd do to the intro of the Nile Rodgers remix of "The Reflex".

Some music samples can be found here.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Late Night Listening: Installment V

Tonight, you get two versions for the price of one song, "Trapped" by Jimmy Cliff.

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band contributed a live recording of their cover for the otherwise forgettable USA for Africa album We are the World back in 1985. I remember it getting some airplay on the Circle City top 40 station. The refrain has a wonderful synth buildup, and you find yourself bulldozed by the bass, if not drowned in the soulful wailings of its vocals. Clarence's sax solo brings tears to my eyes.

There is a clip of Bruce et al. doing the song live in Paris in 1985, but it isn't quite as rich as the version on the USA for Africa album.

Doesn't he look so young in that video?

I identify with this song these days because of the protagonist's sense of limbo, that space between awareness of an unjust situation and the capacity to escape it. I want so badly to move on, but so much needs to be resolved before I can.

While searching for the Bruce song, I found a clip of the Williams College Ephlats, a a capella group, performing the song. The camera angle and not-so-great acoustics are a big minus, but my guess is seeing this done live would be nothing short of awesome.

Call me crazy, but I love the voice on the woman who is doing the backup vocals (Patty Scialfa's part).

I think one of the things that impressed me was that given the era of the performance (around 2003), most of the group's members would have been toddlers at the time of the release of the Springsteen recording.

Something that Neither Money nor Master Card Can Buy

Updated on 8/26/2007 at 9:41 a.m. to include clarification on the context of the interview.

Being chided for not listing polymorphism as one of the things I liked most about object oriented programming: 2 minutes

Being derided for not listing binary compatibility as a disadvantage of function inlining: 3 minutes

Criticism for not viewing template instantiation as a form of inlining: 1 minute

Being grilled and chided for not knowing how to write the signature for a C++ method that accepts both standard library string objects and C style strings: 5 minutes

Being grilled over how order of insertion is handled with the STL multimap template class: 5 minutes

Being patronized for not being able to list all of the reasons that reference counting is of importance for memory pools: 5 minutes

Being told that no one uses select() for I/O multiplexing: 2 minutes

Being treated as incompetent for not using a thread pool to handle high volume data throughputs the same way that the interviewer would: 5 minutes

Listening to interviewer talk about the sheer amount of talent held by the computer science and mathematics people in their quantitative research: 3 minutes

Making the interviewer squrim and stutter and finally say, "I don't know," when asked how much their quantitative research group lost last week and the week before: priceless

Yeah, that's how I spent my late Friday afternoon... Interviewing for a position at the Gong Show Panelist Investment Bank with the software developer equivalent of Kahn Souphanousinphone with somewhat better English.

After this many months of interviewing, I don't suffer the assholes lightly. I don't lose my cool during the interviewing, but I sure know how to turn the tables when it's my turn to ask the questions.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

That's Why I'm Staying Here (NOT!)

Heard yesterday at 8:50 p.m. EDT on a shuttle bus from Circle City Airport to a parking lot...
Boy, it's great to be back in Indiana, where I can get a Mountain Dew wherever I want.

The guy who said this was proudly holding his recently purchased bottle of the yellow-green sugar and caffeine concoction. He then proceeded to tell his fellow travelers that during his time away, he had to walk two miles to a convenience store to find a bottle of it.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Field is Almost Set

Week five of the current job search proved to be busy, with lots of interviews and examinations. Rather than go chronologically, I'll recap them by lead, grouped by their quality.

Crappy Contracts

Everybody Wants You: In this affordable city of mine, there is a beleaguered manufacturer of big ticket auto parts that recently got purchased by a couple of private equity organizations. Apparently, IT operations are outsourced to a well known services organization.

The company has its own custom software for doing engineering calculations, and they need someone to work on it. Rather than looking for someone themselves, the outsourcer has apparently enlisted the aid of staffing agencies far and wide to fill this role. It's easy to sniff this out, because the in-house application is mentioned by name, so you can search the job boards using that name as a keyword.

On, I count eight different postings for the same job. Monster has one posting, and that one is by a yet another agency. I have received seven e-mails and a couple of phone calls from yet even more agencies pimping the same role.

It's pretty clear where the codename for this lead comes from.

Last Friday, I went ahead and let one of the agencies put my name in. I received a followup call from someone at that agency on Wednesday verifying that I was a local candidate and eligible to work in the U.S. I haven't heard anything since then.

Incredible Shrinking Electronics Company: Just north of this city, there is a big ugly building that once housed the U.S. headquarters for a major consumer electronics manufacturer. You probably have seen their TV ads in years past because they had the doggie and his puppy in them.

Over the last few years, they have come to the realization that they can't compete in the commoditized markets, like MP3 players, DVD players, and HDTVs. They've sold off those divisions and downsized a lot... so much so that the big ugly building has been vacated and taken over by one of the big hospitals in town (remember: eat, shop, and die).

The ragtag, fugitive fleet of engineers that remain are focused on trying to make inroads into higher value added markets, which include set top boxes for cable companies and TV over IP. This development is being performed by contingency labor, hired on in 6-month contract cycles through a staffing agency. Although they really want embedded system developers, my prior experience with the PenguinOS and multithreaded software made me a possible convert.

On Monday, I did interviews with the set top and IPTV groups. One interview was in the early afternoon, and the other was in the mid-evening, after the kids had gone to bed. The early afternoon interview was supposed to involve two guys -- one a manager and another a staff engineer. After waiting a few minutes, the manager started the interview and kept on noting how his staff engineer was supposed to be there. The interview went for about 40 minutes, and the guy never showed. Later on, I would find out that the missing engineer was busy calling my home phone and acting puzzled when my wife told him that I wasn't there. The evening interview was a reschedule of the Friday no-show, and it went pretty well.

I would later get e-mails from the staff engineer asking me to set up a time for him and me to talk. I also got an e-mail from the recruiter saying that they wanted me to come in and interview on site for another four hours. I called the recruiter and told him that the noshow on Friday and the mixup with the other engineer didn't do much to inspire confidence in their organizational skills. He assured me that the disorganization was temporary because they were so busy with hiring new people. I did wind up having the additional interview with the engineer on Tuesday.

They wanted me to do the interview either over the course of a half day or over two days. Given that my time is at a premium, I decided to bug the recruiter on the details of the contract. I wanted to know some specifics, like benefits, time off, duration of contract, chances of going to permanent, etc. The time off was minimal, 6 days of paid leave for the first year. Chances are, it would be a long term contract unless my performance was inadequate. He had to put me in touch with a third party administrator for the cost of health insurance. The cost for family coverage was $210.69/weekly pay period, or just south of $11,000/year. With that information and the project contract rate, the job looked pretty sucky, so I let him know that I was no longer interested in pursuing the lead.

Shitboat: The agency representing the Incredible Shrinking Consumer Electronics Company must have been running a buy one, get one free sale, because they set me up with an interview for a consumer electronics company that had engineering offices in the Music City. I had agreed to the interview, provided that relocation assistance was possible. He didn't reply with any specifics, but went ahead and set me up to talk with them.

I interviewed with them on Tuesday. This interview involved a manager and two engineers. The first 20 minutes were squandered on technical difficulties. The manager wasn't able to call in on the speaker phone the two engineers were using. They blamed it on a VOIP phone system crash the night before. They then had me dial into a third party conference call system. That worked for a few minutes, but then the person deemed as the "host" of the meeting pushed a button an exited the call, causing the conference call to be terminated.

They eventually called me back, offering me the opportunity to give up there. I was gracious and said that I would continue on. The manager didn't get to listen in after all. They told me that they are responsible for developing the software that drives their employer's TV sets, from the tuner to the screen. After going through my resume, they started a set of questions at the pace of the lightning round of a quiz show.

Later on in the day, I received word that they would be making me an offer and they'd need a fast response because they were on a busy schedule. I brought up the question of relocation with the recruiter. He said they would probably cover up to $500 to get my stuff moved down there, a plane ticket to get me there, and a week in a hotel to find a place to live. I said, "No thanks."

In case you're curious about the origins of the code name for this company. It is an anagram (OK, OK, I cheated and added a second "t") of the company's name, discovered via some doodling while waiting for the guys to get a working conference call.

Hedge Clipping

Waking Up with the House On Fire: It's now been two weeks since I did the initial phone interview with these guys, and I haven't heard anything from the recruiter regarding feedback. I'm presuming either I didn't meet the expectations of Mr. GCC know-it-all. This past week, I saw some news about how the bloodbath on Wall St. had not spared that fund. By Aug. 10, one of their funds was down almost 9 % for the year.

GlobalCrunch: I did a second phone interview with this hedge fund on Wednesday. It was a mixture of standard C++, POSIX threads, and algorithms questions. The gentleman who interviewed me was Chinese, and usually I have a tough time reading the vocal tones, which leaves me feeling nervous that the interview is not going well.

Toward the end, we were talking about some of the hardware they use. Since it is the PenguinOS, I asked him what distribution they ran. He misunderstood the question, and started talking about how many of their 100 or so servers performed certain kinds of functions. Then he mentioned that a large number of the machines were used to do simulations of models, and wondered aloud why they used so much CPU power. And then for a moment, he stepped outside that stoic character and started laughing. He then said, in his heavily accented voice, "We lost a lot of money last week."

Later that day, I received word that they would not be moving forward in the next step, which would have been the completion of a two hour online examination. My recruiter said they didn't say what had influenced their decision. Both interviews had gone well, so I suspect they might have decided to cut back on their hiring plans due to stock market craziness.

SOHO Successful: This hedge fund would have been neat to work at, I think. Indeed some of their recruiting materials sounded like they were influenced by the writings of Csikszentmihalyi. To get considered by them, one had to pass a two hour timed programming test. I scheduled that for Tuesday night.

I got a call that evening from a representative from the fund. She gave me the introductory spiel and asked me some basic interview questions. Then I got an e-mail from her that contained two problems that I needed to write programs to solve in two hour's time. I was to mail in the solutions, and they would be scored as failures if I didn't get them back by the agreed time.

It was sort of like a software development version of Iron Chef. One problem involved identifying which characters of the alphabet didn't appear in a string. The other was an exercise in parsing and simulation involving a one dimensional system of particles.

I managed to come up with solutions to both problems, coding what I thought was a working example to the first and getting most of the way through the second. I turned in my work with a little under two minutes left to go. I didn't think I had done that bad.

A couple days later, I got the word from the recruiter saying that they couldn't get my first solution to run without crashing, and they claimed that my second solution didn't allocate memory, despite at least two calls to malloc() therein. I suspect that the recruiter was relaying something that was told to him through the telephone and that something got lost in the translation. In any event, with that result, the lead officially was dead.

Local Love

So You Think You Can Search?: There is a local search engine startup up in the north suburbs with the vision of one day overtaking Do-No-Evil. I had an on-site interview on Monday night at their new offices up in the same shopping mall that houses the other startup with whom I interviewed in May.

The interview was to involve four people and last a total of two hours. I spoke with one of the Java guys, a guy who is working on their products for mobile phones, a guy who works on the C++ code, and the new systems guy with whom I had done a phone interview on the prior Thursday.

The first three interviews went pretty well. It was reassuring to know that the C++ guy shared the same extreme loathing for multiple inheritance that I did. I also learned that their CTO, who was responsible for most of the original search engine C++, used multiple inheritance in several places. It sorta confirmed a suspicion that I had held last fall... that the CTO was proud of his knowledge of the minutiae of the language, but didn't know jack about how to use it effectively.

The interview with the systems guy had some lousy moments. He decided he wanted to grill me just how much I knew about Java sometime after two and a half hours into the interview. He started to ask me questions about the Java class hierarchies, things that I tend to rely on ready access to the Javadocs rather than committing to memory. He then had me code something involving the manipulation of strings. With my mind in a crispy state, I did something hackishly C++-ish. I was then informed that my knowledge of Java was nowhere near that of a senior level engineer's. From there, he was asking me whether I had it in me to learn the material on their breakneck pace. He was starting to show an attitude and it was really grating on my nerves.

As we were wrapping up the interview, I told him that my timetable included interviewing for some additional locations, not mentioning them by name, but volunteering the locations, one of which was the Windy City. He quipped something about me buying his old residence up there, which is now for sale. I was half tempted to tell him who the lead was (Do-No-Evil), but I didn't. If I do wind up getting a job with Do-No-Evil, I might just give him a call to break the news to him.

A couple days later, I got a call from their recruiter, whose voice will be portrayed by Rick Moranis if my life's story is ever turned into a movie. He said they wanted me to come in for another two hours of interviews with their C++ team. I'm doing that this coming Monday evening.

PrizonFone: I'm almost too embarrassed to admit that I'm actually following this lead. The company, based in the deep south, has been around since the late 80s, but has been on a bit of a growing binge the past two or three years since they got acquired by a private equity fund. They have been acquiring the correctional phone divisions of several major phone companies, including that Mother of All Blueberry Swirl Snowballs, which maintained an engineering office here in the Circle City.

As far as I know, they're looking for someone with both C++ and .NET Framework experience as well as knowledge of hardware used in telephony. My understanding is that they wish to migrate their phone systems to .NET. From the patchwork of other "would be a plus" skills, which included Borland Delphi (think of me saying "Delphi?" using Gene Hackman's portrayal of Lex Luthor saying, "Otisburg?" as a rhetorical template), my guess is that their source code has all the evolutionary grace of a duckbill platypus.

They sent me a trio of programming tests to take: C++, the .NET framework, and data communications fundamentals. The .NET framework test was a new one for me, and it isn't so hard if you have the Microsoft official documents handy. Fortunately I can find my way around those things with the greatest of ease. The data communications fundamentals basically tested you on how well you had memorized the OSI protocol stack diagram and the different kinds of leased lines (T1, T3, etc.).

I did well enough on the tests to get an invitation to interview over the phone. I got e-mail and a cell phone call from the recruiter asking me to do the interview on Monday if possible. I don't know if that's going to happen with a joint therapy session midday and that followup interview with So You Think You Can Search. I think the first day I'll be able to talk to them is Wednesday.

Just for the record, the name of the guy with whom I am supposed to interview is named Shashank. Whether I'm able to redeem myself in the phone interview remains yet to be seen. (cue rimshot)

Long Distance Relationships

Steel City Java Trading Software: I'm taking Tuesday off to spend a morning and afternoon over in the Steel City to see if I'm fit to work for a supplier of software to the finance industry, given that the finance industry hasn't been too impressed with me thus far.

The worst part is that despite all the direct flights between here and there (one of the airlines that serves our airport has a hub there), they couldn't manage to find me a direct flight, so they have me taking a route that has me pass through the southwestern corner of the Buckeye State. The interview itself isn't supposed to take that long, so I suspect I'll have a nice long afternoon of reading at the airport ahead of me.

Broadshoulder Advertising: I'll be off to the Puget Sound for an interview with this company. I fly out the night of Labor Day and interview at 8:30 a.m. on Sep. 4. I get back on Tuesday night, just before midnight.

Pack-the-Pipe: This interview takes me to the Bay area, leaving the afternoon of Sep. 6, interviewing at 10:30 a.m. the next day, and flying out on the redeye that night. No, the name has nothing to do with the city it's located in. It has to do with the function of their network acceleration appliances, which make heavy use of compression.


Do-No-Evil: I had the much awaited interview with Do-No-Evil at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, and it went pretty well. Just in case you doubt me, here's a photo of the caller ID on our phone.

Although the position is for the Windy City, my interviewer works at the mother ship in the Silicon Valley. He admitted he wasn't sure what they did at the other office, but he added that he worked in the Internal Applications division, which was the same division for which I was interviewing.

He started off asking me about my resume. I got to explain the saga of my evolution from chemical engineer into software engineer. He then asked me my thoughts on Java versus C++.

He then asked me about a project at my current employer, which led to questions about network protocols. He noticed that I said that I designed my own network protocol at this current job, so he asked me to comment on the issues I had to deal with in doing that job. So I expounded extensively on the goals I set for the design, including some things that I found important based on troubles I had run into with writing parsers for other vendors' protocols. He said that he had worked on similar design tasks in his past and that not only did I mention most of the things he had run up against, but I brought up some things that had never occurred to him. I suspect that was a good score.

About 20 minutes or so into the interview, I got the brain teaser. I was to come up with a way for computing the median of a very large set of integers, so big that it couldn't fit in computer memory. I had never run into this problem before, but I didn't freeze. I started thinking about things that were cheap to compute, like the largest and smallest values of the set. I knew that the median had to be between those values, so from there I could set upper and lower bounds.

I could then use the midpoint between those values as a test value and run through the whole data set, comparing against that value. If the count for "less than" was larger than "greater than", I knew that the median had to be less than the current value, and vice versa. So I could adjust the bounds accordingly, do another midpoint estimate, and rerun the calculation. It was a divide and conquer sort of approach. He then asked me to think of a data structure that works in that way. I suggested a binary tree, and from there we were able to come up with a more formalized solution.

Then it came to question time. Since he didn't have any information on the position I was hiring for, I asked him to tell me how he found his way to this company. He told me a tale of how he had moved to the Valley around 2002, after his job in New England had been eliminated. Prior to that, he said that he had worked for VAXes 'R Us. He weathered two failed startups in the Valley prior to hiring on, and he said that he was really happy with his current job.

The things he told me clued me in on his age, putting him at least a decade older than me. It was good to speak with him, because it really put a dagger into that perception that Do-No-Evil only likes 'em young.

At one point during the interview, I said that I was concerned that my lack of formal training in computer science would work against me because there are still some theoretical areas where I find myself lacking. He said that they look for people who are adaptable and are willing to pick up new things. That also gave me reason to hope, because my resume tells a very long story of adaptation.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Late Night Listening: Installment IV

Tonight, we celebrate the song "Alone Again Or", first recorded by Love in 1967 and covered by many artists since then. Think of it as "Demolition Man" for the Flamenco set.

Next to Etta James' "At Last", this has to be one of the songs I can't get enough covers of. If you're going to step up and do a cover of this, you better have two things going for you... passionate delivery and a damned good coronet.

I gave props to the Matthew Sweet/Susannah Hoffs rendition on a meme list earlier this spring, so we won't revisit that work of art tonight.

If you search the net, you'll find a clip of a live version done by a reconstituted Love recorded a few years back. While the strings in the backup are breathtaking, the vocals just don't quite do it justice.

The newest cover, to the best of my knowledge, is the one by Calexico. There is a live performance clip. I like the dual horn accompaniment, but I find their stage presence to be a little too laid back for a song that conveys such lovely crescendos.

No, tonight, I'm going to be an 80s chauvinist and cast my vote for the version recorded by The Damned. I heard the Damned's version on XM's Fred channel while driving home from work a couple weeks ago, and I just had to crank it up.

If you listen closely, it definitely has that 80s alternative production quality, but it preserves the Latin flair oh so beautifully. As for the video... what's up with that Zorro getup, anyway? Give me more closeups of the dancer!

The thing that always puzzled me about this song is why there is this leveling off in the vocal part toward the end of the verses. You've got this buildup going on toward the middle, so it would make more sense to me if the singer would just let it out as if his heart was being torn out. But that's just me.

Yeah, said it's all right
I won't forget
All the times I've waited patiently for you
And you'll do just what you choose to do
And I will be alone again tonight my dear

And now, I'll retire to the couch to sleep... alone again.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Anything New On Home Front?

I've gotten one blog comment and a private e-mail asking me about what things are like at home.

Not much has changed, but things are functioning for the most part.

I've been sleeping on the couch for about three weeks now. I am pretty durable, so that's not much of a big deal.

My wife has been aflutter with preschool co-op duties. She had her first monthly board meeting for the regular year last Monday, and she and some of the other board members went out for drinks.

There doesn't seem to be as much of an icy tension between us. Maybe that's because neither of us is watching the other for some sign of disclosure.

On Sunday of last week, we had to make a trip to The Small Town for a cookout given by my dad and stepmom for stepmom's younger son, who was in town from the Pacific Northwest. It was a bit awkward going down there as a family, but once the kids were in the pool, things were okay. None of our family members know of the plans to separate.

At our joint session on Monday last week, we were asked where each of us thought things stood. I said 65/35 in favor of divorce. She said 50/50. We will have another joint session two weeks after this past one, and on that agenda is how we start making plans to go our separate ways.

We did manage to take the kids to the Island of the Buckeyeffel Tower on Tuesday. I took off half a day from work and we headed over there to take advantage of the reduced admission prices after 5 p.m. That left us with five good hours, which is about as much fun as a four-year-old and two-year-old can handle in one setting. Tuesday meant low crowds. The later hours meant that the heat wasn't as oppressive. We stayed mostly in the kiddie part, which has changed quite a bit from when I was a young'un. The kids loved it.

I suspect that things will become more tense once the job issue is resolved because that will start the process of me moving out.

Late Night Listening: Installment III

Tonight's selection is Joe Jackson's "You Can't Get What You Want (Till You Know What You Want)" (Sorry, no embedded clip on this one; the YouTube entry says that Universal Music Group requested that embedding not be allowed.)

I've always found Jackson to be an interesting character. His vocals are fairly distinctive, but not really exceptional. He certainly didn't have camera appeal, but his small pool of hits have weathered the test of time. For a musician who enjoyed the spotlight in the early 80s, his work is anything but cheezy. He managed to be an individual without being obnoxious. Putting out a jazzy song link this in an era of synthesizers and distorted guitar riffs was quite an act of differentiation.

Repeated frequently in the refrain, the song's title is seemingly a statement of the obvious. Paradoxically, it winds up being a big issue in many a person's therapeutic travels. We go through life unhappily without first pondering what we truly want out of it, and what we're willing to give up in return to get it.

In Passionate Marriage, Schnarch notes that this awareness arises from differentiation.
Many clients became wonderfully creative, but not in hope of feeling more worthwhile. They produced as an expression of who they already were. I'm amazed to realize how many people only work hard when they are driven by feeling inadequate (desire out of emptiness). When you dare yourself to enjoy your talents, rather than believing you are a failure who's fooled everyone again, you make the leap of faith to level-2 spirituality.

I've also observed clients shift from giving up as little as possible (a "least lost" life strategy) to going after what they want. They give something up in the process, but that's the point: two-choice dilemmas become an acceptable fact of life. They go beyond realizing that you can't have it all. They grasp that happiness lies in not needing it all. Loss is inherent in getting what you want—unless you want everything, which guarantees you'll be unhappy.

Knowing this keeps me centered these days, especially when it might look like everything is unraveling around me.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Hot Blooded, Check it and See... I've Got a Lead Count of 100 and 3

Just in case you were wondering why I haven't posted much this week, here is the job update.

On Thursday night, after updating my handy dandy job lead tracking spreadsheet, I had a total of 103 entries. Each entry represents either a position I applied for or a position I was contacted about. Most of them are of the latter variety.

Here is where things currently stand...

I goofed on the job update from last week. My interview with Do-No-Evil is this coming Wednesday. Sorry, for all of you who have been waiting to find out how that one went.

On Friday morning of last week, I did an interview with Highly Profitable Wide Awake Hedge Fund. The interviewer seemed like a nice guy, but he seemed to be very proud of the fact that he could cite all the arguments of qsort() from memory and that he knew how GCC 4 handled the undefined behavior of doing delete arrayPointer; when arrayPointer was a pointer to an array. I haven't heard any follow up, so I suspect I wasn't up to his level of pedantry.

On the evening of the same day, I had an in-person interview with the guy who was a no-show on my interview on Tuesday. It was a close call timewise because I had been dispatched about an hour and a half before to head downtown to do some emergency repair work on my employer's remote network hardware.

The interview proved to be a waste of time. He started off by warning me about some of the more noxious aspects of working in the consultancy business. Our conversation was interrupted three times by phone calls. Two were from his 18-year-old daughter who was "having a crisis" and one from the daughter's mother (not sure if they were still married because there was no wedding band on his left hand).

He said that he wasn't sure why I was looking for work in the consultancy business, given my background. I said I was keeping an open mind and that the recruiter with whom I had spoken had said there were some things that might interest me. He dismissed her remarks, saying all she was trained to do was match keywords on resumes. He said that I seemed like I was a well grounded guy, and he thought there might be a ghost of a chance that I might be useful on a project with a potential client, so he was going to set up a technical screen. I haven't heard from the consulting agency since then.

On Tuesday, I had a phone interview for a contract position with the Antitrust Enforcement Entity. Given my past experience with analyzing, reverse engineering, and designing network protocols, I thought this might be a nice position.

My initial contact with the recruiter was a little over two weeks ago. When I gave the recruiter my authorization to submit my resume two weeks ago Friday, she said that I might need to be ready to do a phone interview after the weekend. A week passed with only a brief, "I'm working on it," message from the recruiter. Then I got a call saying I needed to give them a time to do a phone interview. So Tuesday was the date.

My interviewer was one of those self satisfied academic types who seemed to be more interested in whether I understood all the minutiae TCP and UDP and why one must be oh so careful about using UDP for all the right reasons. He seemed disappointed in some of the things that I wasn't able to recite for him, so he said he's ask me a few more rudimentary questions on programming, which I handled pretty well. He was looking to see whether I knew the fundamentals of object oriented programming.

Then we got on the subject of my graduate research, and he got all excited when I started talking about the math behind it. By the end of the conversation, he said he was going to recommend that they fly me in for an in-person interview, and that he looked forward to speaking with me further about wavelet analysis. It made me wonder if I was being brought in for the wrong reasons.

That afternoon and evening the recruiter went into obsessive girlfriend mode. I got three or four calls and voicemails. She said that they wanted me to come in on Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday of next week, and that they needed an answer from me ASAP because "a lot had to be done between now and then." I've got enough things going on that I don't need to put up with being bossed around by some recruiter for a temp position.

The next morning, I got a nasty gram from her saying this was my last chance to get on board and give them a date. I called her and told her about this Business Week blog posting about careers that I read a couple years back. I said that I didn't like being treated that way and that I wasn't interested in the job anymore. She tried to make nice and say, "Well, we'll just tell them that it doesn't work for you." I said that I still wasn't interested. Moreover, I said that many of the low level networking questions I was asked during the interview helped me to realize that I wasn't an appropriate fit, so I still wasn't interested. That was the end of that.

I found out Thursday morning that the local high performance computing position Large Indigo Company had been filled. A few days before, I noticed that the posting had been taken down from a job board and the company's own website, so I e-mailed the person to whom I had sent my resume last week. She gave me the bad news. It's disappointing, especially since I didn't get a chance to come in to make my case. Nonetheless, I am grateful to the anonymous reader who gave me some contact information to help get my resume into the right hands.

I did a phone interview on Thursday mid-day with Local Search Engine Start Up. I had been approached by a recruiter of theirs a couple weeks ago and decided I would take a chance to see just whether they were still as much of a train wreck as they were last year when I took their programming test. I had planned to call them from a pay phone at a gas station near my office, but the pay phone was dead, so I had to use my cell phone, which is already painfully overaged.

The interview went well, and I will be doing an in-person interview on Monday after work. They said that they were having trouble finding someone who could write code in both C++ and Java to bridge the gap in their code base. The scary part? The guy who interviewed me just hired on two weeks ago. The company recently got some attention from a Silicon Valley blog over its arrangement with a nearby university. Apparently there are some questions about whether there was a conflict of interest.

I had two phone interviews scheduled on Friday. One was with Local Consumer Electronics Company, and the other was with Yet Another Hedge Fund.

The Local Consumer Electronics Company interview was supposed to be in the morning. I waited for about half an hour from the scheduled time, and I finally got a call. It was the guy with whom I was supposed to speak, but he said that he wasn't able to do the interview now because of a hard break coming up on the hour. We rescheduled for Monday evening at 9:30 p.m.

My interview with Yet Another Hedge Fund was in the early afternoon. I spoke with one of their developers. It was a mix of questions on C++, algorithms, data structures, network programming, and thread management. Some of the questions I had seen before, actually. The interview lasted about an hour, and it went mostly well. I refused to let problems that were perplexing back me into a corner, and I worked my way through the problems. I don't know if it will lead to an in-person interview since these guys tend to set the bar pretty high, but he did ask for my e-mail address.

Now that I've been doing this job hunt thing for a while, it's kind of amusing to see some of the leads that pop up. You will see posts for the same position being hawked by four to six different placement agencies, and you'll wonder just what's driving the desperation. I saw that with the Medical Device Software Development role in April, and I saw it again with the CNC Software Development role just a couple weeks ago.

Now it is happening with a contract role that calls for someone with both Java and C++ experience. The maximum rate and the duration varies, but I was able to deduce a couple things. One is that the contract is with Super Huge Outsourcer. Second, it appears to be for an application used only by Local Transmission Manufacturer Spinoff that just got taken over by private equity.

I had six different agencies buzzing me about this, some multiple times. Just for grins, I called one of them to see what was going on. The recruiter didn't know a lot of the specifics, but got my consent to submit my resume.

The highlight of the conversation was when I had to give her my birth date, which happens to be Valentines Day. She then told me about how she and her fiance have birthdays on the same day of the month but different months (the 29), and when they were having their first child they were trying to make sure she was born on the 29th, but nature didn't cooperate. It was on the 27th.

By Tuesday of last week, I had five requests for interviews out of town. One in northern California, one in southern California, two in the Pacific Northwest, and one in the Western Pennsylvania. An appointment had been set up for the northern California one, but the others were still to be determined.

Earlier in the week, the situation had been put in an even bigger bind by my current job. During that "please don't leave, it'll get better" conversation with the CTO from a couple weeks ago, he listed three things that he wanted me to work on.

One of the items was a vague reference to me taking over some things for this standards project that he was supposed to be chairing. This would be the second time that this commitment of his was going to spill over into my realm. If you recall back in March, he had me doing something back then, too.

Over the next few days, I got a barrage of forwarded e-mails which were supposed to be some form of guidance on what I was supposed to do. It wasn't until the beginning of this past week that I started to see the full extent of what he was throwing at me.

He was supposed to be overseeing the early stages of the creating a standard for the technology we are working on. It works in several stages. First, there is a canvassing of companies who would have an interest in the standard. That produces one document with which I helped in March.

The next round is the preparation of a document that solicits proposals for a standard, and that document was targeted for completion by the next standards organization meeting, which is late September. There is a rule that requires the document be submitted to the organization's headquarters no less than three weeks before the meeting.

So at about the same time the CTO was giving me the "please don't leave us", he had gotten an e-mail from one of the guys who is overseeing his efforts to prepare this document. He noted that not much progress had been made since the meeting in March and said that perhaps they should shelve the effort because of a lack of resources. My boss countered that we didn't need to give up just yet, and that he had just the right person do do the job -- me.

So I am now committed to making sure that document gets prepared, using as much input from those who are interested. I am overseeing a mailing list, holding a weekly teleconference, and maintaining a wiki.

The teleconferences are late mornings on Thursdays, and that presented a problem because I wouldn't be able to do the wrap up work after the teleconference and get to the airport for my flight to northern California. Since I don't have a laptop, I wouldn't be able to get any of the work done while I am on the road. Nothing good could have come from this.

So I wound up e-mailing the company in northern California, telling them that I had a commitment at work that would make it very difficult for me to not only keep the appointment but also schedule an another time for the next few weeks. I then wrote that because of the pace of the hiring schedule they were on, I thought it would be prudent for me to withdraw from consideration for the current position, but that I'd like to be kept in consideration for future roles that I might be a good match for.

I got a reply from the HR guy pretty quickly...
I would encourage you to come in for an interview, you were looking for a reason, and we are hiring non-stop, now and in the future, so it would be prudent to keep the interview and get all the info you can so you can make an informed decision, we sent (sic) money on the flight, and the manager went out of his way to speak to you, I think you should come out. Let’s reschedule the trip for end for Aug or Sep. you do not want to miss out on a golden opportunity with a great company.

A plan crystalized. Since the proposal would have to be in before Labor Day, no ifs, ands, or buts, I should be able to take some time off the week of Labor Day as "recovery" from the big crunch. I am booking my two big traveling interviews to the West Coast (northern California and Pacific Northwest) during that week and taking them off as vacation days.

That left an interview in the Steel City that needed to be booked. Since that trip can be done in one day, I'm taking a sick day the week after next.

I culled the southern California interview with Play in Our World. As cool as that lead would have been, the project was pure C, so it wouldn't have done much to foster growth in my skill set.

So this is how things are lining up... There are different tiers of job leads that I have going on.

At the top is the lottery ticket: Do-No-Evil in Windy City. It's the dream job, but the world doesn't end if I don't land it.

At the next tier are the jobs that really advance my career in a positive direction, but sort of lock me into a definite path. The Pacific Northwest Internet Ad Company will put me in the Microsoft .NET camp, and it will immerse me deep into the Agile/Extreme Programming lifestyle. The Steel City Branch Office of the Financial Trading Software Company puts me in the pure Java ranks and gets my foot into the door of the world of Wall St. (given the markets these days, it's open to question whether that is a Good Thing). The Bay Area Network Acceleration Company puts me in the Linux camp and sets me onto the path of the high end of network programming.

At the next level are the investment bank and hedge fund leads. These guys are really picky and only want the rock stars. One hedge fund in the Windy City nixed me on a standardized C++ programming test.

I took the same brand of test (different questions) a week ago for another recruiter and managed to get the results from him. I scored in the 82nd percentile globally and in the 74th percentile against the recruiter's own applicant pool. He said that he needed to get back with me, so I suspect that wasn't high enough for his clients.

At the bottom tier are the local leads. Right now that includes a position developing software for a company that makes prison telephone systems, the local search engine startup, the set top box programming job, and the contract job for the transmission manufacturer.

Early this week will be busy. I have the in-person interview with the local search startup Monday evening. Later, after the kids are in bed, I have the make-up phone interview with the set top box maker. On Tuesday night, I take a two-hour programming challenge with a Hedge Fund Number Three. On Wednesday night, I have the phone interview with Do-No-Evil. Thursday and Friday are now clear since the interview in northern California has been rebooked.

As if things couldn't get more intriguing, I got another direct recruit contact from the Silicon Valley on Friday evening. It's the World Famous Computer-in-a-Computer Software company. I've received one e-mail and two phone calls. I might have to check that one out, too.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Late Night Listening: Installment II

I am finding my way around indecision, but I am no longer forever helpless.

This blog is my whisper. My life is the scream.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Who Says I Don't Do 'Giddy' Well?

More news from the job search...

Didn't get to talk to Obsessive Girlfriend Recruiter on Wednesday morning. She was out of the office and responded to my voice mail. She said that I could call her manager, so I did.

I got some clarification from the manager about why they had considered putting me through a fourth interview. She said that it was because up until this point, they had hired only regional candidates. This was their first fly-in, and they wanted to make sure that they had a thorough screening.

I also talked about the intensity of the OGR both in e-mail and phone messages. The manager apologized and assured me that her conduct was not representative of the company. That was the personality of the recruiter because she does the same thing with the manager.

I also got a nice backgrounder on the company itself. It sounds like they've got a pretty neat product, and they have big names for customers, which speaks volumes for them.

I explained that I was in the process of completing several phone interviews, many of which might lead to travel for face-to-face interviews. Because I wanted to be fair to everyone, I wanted to hold off for a few more days until I had a more complete picture of which leads I wanted to pursue. She was understanding of this, and she said I could work directly with her instead of OGR, if I wanted.

I had a kiss-and-make-up discussion with the no-show consultancy. The recruiter blamed it on the interviewer, saying that he had crashed his laptop on Monday and didn't get the confirmation e-mail for the appointment. She said this particular guy had damaged a computer this way something like two or three times this year. He has worse hardware mojo than the CTO of my current company. I agreed to meet with him on Friday afternoon after work.

On Wednesday evening, I had an interview with the team that develops the core of network game play server software for the Play in Our World Gaming Console Company. It was a mixture of HR-ish questions like, "How do you handle disagreements with a coworker," or "Can you give an example of leadership that you showed on the job," and technical questions to see if I knew some things about UNIX system programming. They had somewhat nerdy vocal patterns, but I think I got along with them OK. It would be straight C programming, but it sounds like they'll be working on the way cool task of scaling the server play so that in runs on newer CPU architectures.

Tomorrow morning, I have an interview with a Very Profitable Alternative Investment Organization, which is located on a Big Island across from Big Apple. This one might be a bit intimidating, but I've wondered what this world is like.

The Pacific Northwest Internet Advertising Company wants me to come out for a visit.

I got a reply late last night from the HR person at Large Indigo Computing Company acknowledging the receipt of my resume and promising to distribute it to the appropriate parties.

And now for the big news...

Last weekend, I saw on one of the job boards that Do-No-Evil is looking for a developer at it's Windy City office. So I put in my resume again. I got a reply yesterday, asking me for times to do a phone interview. I replied promptly, after the initial shock wore off. We've got a time set up, which is early evening this coming Wednesday. I don't know if it will get me to the full blown torture session interview that has made the company so famous, but I have to give it a try. To do anything less would be a betrayal of myself.

And now, please excuse me while I dance around like a d@mned fool!