Friday, July 21, 2006


Positioning Myself in the Market

After an eerily simultaneous set of surprising events at work, I have decided that I need to find a new job. I still have my current job, and I don't expect to lose it involuntarily, but I know that upcoming changes will be bad for me, and it is time for me to try something new.

Unfortunately, I don't know exactly what kind of job I'm looking for. Of course, I want a technically challenging job in an interesting industry with pay appropriate for my experience where I get to work with smart people. But recruiters and interviewers don't want to hear that. They want to hear acronyms, names of operating systems and programming languages, desired salary or hourly rate, and answers to the "Where do you see yourself five years from now?"-type questions.

So, I need to come up with a sound-bite-ish subset of the things that interest me. My resumé will contain the depth of my experience and skills, but I need to have a short list of bullet points that will make people exclaim "This is exactly the guy we want!"

First, I'll look at operating systems and programming languages. I am thoroughly sick of writing C++ code for the Win32 API. I've been doing it a long time, and I take pleasure in being good at it, but I'd really like to do something else. Anything else. Ideally, I'd like job using a variety of programming languages and operating systems, but adaptable generalists aren't valued. So, if I have to pick a poison, I'd like a cross-platform Python job, but I'll settle for a .NET C# job. Maybe I can position myself to take advantage of all the new development that will happen when Vista hits the market.

Second, what kind of position do I want? I like being a mentor to junior developers. I like meeting with customers and other stakeholders. I like reading and writing specifications and documentation. I don't like project-management responsibilities. I don't like trying to guess what technologies will be popular five years from now. I'm not the guy with "vision." Maybe the best description of my ideal role is "leader of a small cross-functional software development team." Another good role for me would be "consultant" or "coach," but that doesn't sound important enough

Third, what kind of company do I want to work for? Definitely a small company. I don't like the feelings of powerlessness and the lack of information I've had working a big company. I like having lunch with the company president once in a while. I like it when the salespeople ask me questions in the hallways. I like knowing the names of all the people I see every day. In a big company, I'm just another resource, but in a small company, I feel like a valued, trusted, productive member of a team.

Where do I want to be in five years? I'm still working on the answer to that one.

(And yes, Sean, I will look at those government jobs.)

You ever consider becoming an entrepreneur? In the internet age, software has a a fairly low barrier to entry.
Well, given your preferences, I'd suggest you don't look at government jobs.

Working for a government contractor is a whole other ball of wax. There's a lot of varied programming tasks -- rewriting/maintaining legacy programs, developing web applications for government intranets, etc -- that is ripe pickings for 'small businesses' of the kind you describe.

I couple of months back I took a class on federal government contracting, and there are significant set-asides for woman- and minority-owned businesses. "Breaking the code" of how to find out about and qualify for these contracts is the tricky park.
"They want to hear acronyms, names of operating systems and programming languages"

Personally, I wish recruiters would get to the point with MORE acronyms and less "this company is bursting into a really dynamic paradigm" kinda crap. I hate listening to an agressive headhunter talk up how great some company I've never heard of is only to drop the "we're looking for a VB.NET developer" bombshell on me at the end.

"Where do you see yourself five years from now?"-type questions

I have alright answers to that - alright as in truthful. I'm never sure at an interview what they're hoping to learn out of that question. When I tell them I see myself programming still but living in India or China, do they think "Here's a guy who might bail on us any day"? Would they rather I say "I see myself here, working real hard, interviewing new applicants, just like you are."?

Anyways, I dislike more the meaningless "Tell me about a time recently when you demonstrated a commitment to excellence" stuff.

"Anything else. Ideally, I'd like job using a variety of programming languages and operating systems"

Good luck - I've been wishing for a job where I could have a lot of different projects and get to work in a bunch of different languages - quirky languages like Lua and such - since I left school. I thought that sounded great. I found out from recruiters that "I only have eyes for Java" sells better.
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