Thursday, January 29, 2009

What I thought; What I said

I admit it: more often than not, I don't say exactly what I least not initially. My interview, two days ago, exemplifies that personality fault...feature...trait. Here's the highlights from that meeting (my thoughts in italics):

"Hello, Mark. Nice to meet you. How are you today?"

Why are there three of you and only one of me? That water looks good. I’m thirsty, but I need to pee, again. I hope at least one of these guys would be a good character in a book.
"I'm fine. Thanks for asking."

"First of all, let me tell you about our organization. Most of the IT you have any questions about that?"

It's really nice outside. If I lean to the right just a little, I can see 2 clouds in the sky. The one on the left sort of looks like a giraffe tearing off leaves from a tall tree (the cloud on the right). I like giraffes...and elephants...probably elephants better.
"No thank you. That was very helpful."

"Mark, let me ask you a technical question: if you had a SQL Server would you do that?"

In the big scheme of things, do you really think that your question has any relevance? Database, schmatabase. Wouldn't a better question be something like: why are we sitting around here doing this when we could be out changing the world for good or at least enjoying ourselves?
"That's an excellent question, Ted. I can think of at least 2 possible solutions to the question you posed. My first choice would be to create a stored procedure that mimics..."

"Good answer, Mark. Let's move onto something more complex. What if the application and database layers were merged by a programmer who was in a hurry and you needed to..."

M e r g e, merge...merge...that's a weird word...the more I think about it, the weirder it gets. Maybe a good name for a book where aliens intermarry with humans - THE MERGED. Nah, that's just stupid. Wait, if everyone lived under water, it could be called THE SUBMERGED…stupid on steroids. Stop smiling!
“Interesting problem. I would probably reverse engineer the processes back into their original…”

“Just one last question, Mark. With all your years of experience, why do you want to work on these projects with us?”

Question Mark…that’s funny. Honestly, I would rather be a best-selling author who makes his living writing and connecting with readers. I like people and I like you, but let’s face it: I’m just a mercenary who needs money to pay bills. I put up with software development and it puts up with me. If there was any way to not work here, I would definitely choose that. But since it seems to be the only feasible option available to me that meets my requirements (i.e., 40 hour week, technology I’m comfortable with, the probability that I can do this job and still have some time and energy to do other things), I think I should man-up and do what I need to do.
“I was hoping that you would ask that question. From what I can tell your technology platform and needs fit perfectly with my many years of experience and expertise. I think I would be a great addition to your staff… Also, I have a full life outside of work – I write fiction, I’m married, etc. – and the work here seems like something I could apply myself to during the day, be productive, and when 5:00 comes around still have some mind and energy left to engage the other important areas of my life.

“It was a pleasure to meet you, Mark. You are more than qualified for this position. Thank you for being so upfront and forthcoming with us. We have other interviews this week and will probably make a decision this Friday. You should hear from us no later than next Monday.”

I wish I would have been more forthcoming. “More than qualified” = overqualified. I really, really need to pee. Yay, we’re finished! They seem a bit tired. I wish they were happier…I wish everyone could be happy. All things being equal, I actually would like to work here…I like them…I feel for them. It was a pleasure meeting them.
“Thank you for your time. I know you have plenty of work to attend to and this cuts into your day. It was a pleasure meeting you. I hope to hear from you soon. Thanks again...oh, one more thing: can you tell me where the restroom is?”

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Local and Organic

Yesterday, my wife and I visited a local diner. In every sense of the word it fit the description of a diner - fake blue leather booths a bit too tight to squeeze into comfortably, service both prompt and friendly, more food choices than they could possibly execute effectively including four or five specials, and an unusual smell which I've yet to identify. I enjoyed the entire experience.

As I studied the computer printed signs hanging in several locations inviting patrons to bring their laptops and enjoy the free Wi-Fi, the server handed each of us a menu. The moist aftereffects from the quick wipe down on both the seats and the menu brought a small smile to my face. Expecting to see the usual diner fare, a small graphic caught my attention - Local and Organic. Immediately I thought "that's my favorite" not yet knowing what it was that was both Local and Organic.

Now I could go on and on about the significance of a local and organic economy and worldview…everything from helping the environment to stronger communities and healthier people, not to mention the evils of the alternative – good all around. And someday I’m sure I’ll do just that, but last night I had a dream or a scenario about an up-and-coming job interview that just must be told. In order to frame this properly I should mention that I’m in a job hunting process and state of mind. Having fallen short of convincing the collective bill-collecting populous that I am indeed a pre-NY Bestselling author whose lottery-like fortune sits just around the corner, I’ve resorted to pursuing (that may be too strong a word) a position in a fine organization who could benefit from my substantial expertise, experience, and wit…or something to that effect.

Along those lines, last week I interviewed at a company that was rather fond of itself. Don’t get me wrong, everyone I met seemed intelligent, articulate, and highly credentialed. They did have a right to be proud, it just seemed like their good self-impressions may have exceeded the reality they exposed me to. They set me up on a full day of interviews with various people in their organization. I started at 8:30 in the morning and went non-stop until dinner finished up a little after 7PM, meeting with no less than 15 people during the day! Is it just me or does that seem over the top? Putting someone through a process of 11 grueling hours with only 2 brief respites to the restroom, impressed little and exhausted much…although the bathrooms were very shiny.

My next foray into the job-hunting market begins next Tuesday at 3:00PM. A nearby City government needs a software guy/girl to do something or other. Instead of 11 hours of the gauntlet they require a mere hour and a half of my time to determine whether or not I meet their standards and fit best in their group. Which brings me to my dream/scenario thing. In the half-awake, half-asleep moments of my morning today I rehearsed my interview process with the City and it went something (embellished to make more interesting) like this:

A panel of 3 people sat around a table that looked like it was stolen from a middle school cafeteria and dragged top down over Highway 101 for a few hundred miles. Introductions all around and I tried to remember each of their names so I could address them personally during the interview, and especially when I would say goodbye at the end. I took my seat in the middle – an elderly grandmotherly type on my left, a young, energetic buck across from me, and a person on my right who might have been either male or female sporting a nice smile for someone missing most of their teeth.

Like a tennis match, the young buck served a complex technical question with both velocity and precision placement, hoping to catch me off balance and score a point. I returned a quick, strong answer and I was up 15-Love. The guy/girl smiled at me as I heard Van Morrison singing Someone Like You in the background. The crowd roared, which turned out to be the elderly lady snoring. So far, so good.

Almost three sets later, we had each won a set and the tie-breaker would decide the outcome…everything in the entire universe depended on the next question and answer. The elderly lady sat up straight in her chair like an ancient and yet powerful queen on her throne. She turned to the young buck and began asking her question. He interrupted her and pointed her in my direction. She nodded, turned to face me, and tossed the question ball high into the air delivering what looked like the perfect ace:

“Gerald, why do you WANT to work for the City?”

My palms sprung leaks; my mind spun in circles – why did she call me Gerald? do I WANT to work for the City? what were their names? i think my left leg is asleep. The male/female stopped smiling and Eric Clapton stopped singing Hello, Old Friend. Ready to concede game, set, and match to my most worthy opponents, I closed my folio. I stood up, shook their hands, and thanked them for their time, forgetting their names. Heading to the door, a barely perceptible hum caught my attention. All three City employees joined in and their humming became a song. I turned just in time to see them join hands and begin a macabre dance of the zombies. As I opened the door to leave, the deafening scream/song We are the Champions rung in my ears.

In my struggle to stay the tears, I desperately searched for something good to think on…anything that might ease the pain of defeat. Working backwards from my interview, I reviewed my day and came up with nothing pleasant…nothing to stem the tide of depression. At my wit’s end, ready to bow to loss as the rightful king of my life, a picture floated through my mind. A bit fuzzy at first. I strained to see it, to remember it. Finally, my mind’s eye focused and the small phrase beamed brightly in the darkness.

Like a soldier on a critical mission, I about-faced and re-entered the interrogation/interview room. With a yell I smashed my return into the corner of the court, silencing the terrible din of dancing and singing:


Him/Her smiled as Silly Love Songs played through the loud speakers. Elderly Lady nodded off, mumbling something that sounded like, “Good for you, Gerald.” Young Buck nodded his head respectfully, stretched forth his racquet-shaped hand, and announced, “Good match. Welcome aboard. You’ll fit in just fine.”

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Rah Rah Rah Be True to Your School

I'll just come out and say it: I'm a fan of the University of Oklahoma (OU). There, I said it. If I remember correctly, I missed only 1 game this year that the OU Sooners football team played. In addition to the many locally televised games, I saw 2 live in Norman, Oklahoma and a couple at a sports bar an hour away because nobody around here thought it worthwhile to broadcast those games.

The Sooners fought hard to make it to the national championship game against the Florida Gators, only to lose in the last quarter (heartbreaking). A few weeks before that, Sam Bradford, OU's staring quarterback, received the Heisman Trophy for the best player in college football. Only a sophomore, Sam had proved his worth as the best at the collegiate level.

Projected as a top 10 draft pick, he had a big decision to make - return to OU as one of the many poverty-stricken students or make an estimated $75,000,000 in contract money with the pros. Think about that: 75 million dollars to play football! He would be set for life; his family would be set for life. Heck, he could help everyone in the town of Norman. And, he gets to play football!

All the experts knew that Sam couldn't and wouldn't resist the fame and fortune of the NFL. If I was in his position, I can't imagine saying 'no' to all that, could you? January 15 (yesterday) was the last day for undergraduate college players to declare eligibility for the draft. Sam, hair unkempt and wearing a red jacket, looking like he just rolled out of bed, made a short statement (paraphrased):

I love OU. I grew up dreaming about attending the University and playing football here. I like my teammates and I want to be with them again. I see no reason to cut this wonderful experience short. I'm coming back next year. (He smiled from ear-to-ear and the crowd applauded.)

What? He could be a multi, multi, multi-millionaire in a matter of a few in a fancy house with servants, drive a fancy car or have a limo, help out family and friends, have his people contact their people, etc...and he wants to stay at OU with his friends. The stunned reporter asked the obvious question: what do you like so much about being here?

His answer: Everything.

I've thought a great deal over the years about happiness, fulfillment, and success. I've spent countless hours and more energy than I could afford trying to change circumstances to fit into my this-would-make-me-happy no avail, really. And then I see this unassuming, humble, happy, content, young man choose that which makes him happy and content over and against the bright lights beckoning him to mega-stardom. In this day of shortcuts, I'm stunned...and proud of him for taking the road less traveled.

We all make choices, don't we? We all have a framework or a decision-tree for making those choices...sometimes healthy, sometimes not. Mine seems quite complicated at times, although over the last few years it has simplified and become healthier. It really helps me when I run into someone who knows who they are and has enough faith to believe that there is a time for everything under heaven. Not only having permission to enjoy the moment or the season, but also a sense of calling to do so.

According to everyone who knows him, Sam has great parents and he enjoyed a wonderful and love-filled childhood. Many others, including me...not so much. And I can tell it - his roots grow deep into rich, dark soil. He knows how to make choices that sprinkle good, clear water on that soil, eventually seeping down and bringing life to those roots in his spirit. They say the most important decision you can make in life is who you choose as your parents. Sam chose well. : )

When I heard him say "everything" my soul responded with a huge YES! What a place to be in life where someone asks you what do you like about your present situation and you answer, "everything." I imagine Slingin' Sam Bradford's life is not perfect, but there seems little doubt that he thoroughly enjoys it, and embraces it. And he has the good sense and the trust to bask in that good place while he can.

I want more of that.

Thanks Sam. Rah, rah, rah be true to your school...Boomer Sooner!