Questy.org

Tech musings and other things...

Recruiters

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Tecnical Recruiters rank just below lawyers in my book.

Never have I had to deal with a larger group of unconcerned, poor workmen as I have in the case of technical recruiters.

Some anecdotes:

I’ve looked for work on and off for the last five years or so. I’ve a really well-designed resume, and have been told as much by many resume designers. It stands out, has comments from former employers, lays out accomplishments and abilities very well, and presents me in the best possible light. Heck, look for yourself:

Resume

However, I continually get response from recruiters on a single keyword buried deep within my resume, referring to something I had done once, or a project I had been associated with on a site that happened to have that technology installed. Or, I installed a database solution to be used for user management utilizing mod_auth_ldap or mod_auth_mysql to authenticate visitors to a website. Nevermind, I had nothing to do with the frontend, but only user authenticaion. Also nevermind that’s usually clearly spelled out.

More and more, as I start looking for work again and again, I find people who know nothing about what they’re recruiting for, nothing about the technologies involved, nothing about the field. So much so is this a problem , that I have even had hiring managers at the destination company not even know what they are looking for.

How sad is that?

Better yet…

On occasion, I’ll get a call from a recruiter, and will wind up giving HIM or HER* technical support to make their own browser/email/whatever work so they can do their job.

Obviously, in the heat of interviewing you do these kinds of things just to get the recruiter to maybe send you over to an employer (and then have to go through the whole scenario again).

What I’m looking for:

I’m looking for a company to have a realistic subset of job requirements.

I’m finding more and more that managers have no clue what Systems people do. When they find that their current admin is moving on, they will say “Let me see your resume” and will build the job req. from that resume. Unfortunately for some of us out here, that person may have a Master’s or a PhD, and was happy to take that salary offered, so they just hung around there.

The job request may be for a solid UNIX guy with some windows to help users and a good knowledge of networking, email, web, and to support a small or medium sized office environment and have a nice personality to make the folks there feel good about their computing experience. How cool would that gig be?

Instead, since the bust, a job request like that has turned into a request for someone with 5 years of a specific UNIX platform, 4 years of Sendmail, 4 years of Apache, an MCSE, and a college degree in Computer Science.

Do you see the disparity there?

Too often, the folks looking for a replacement think that the work we UNIX admins do is magic. They think we’re making magic with bits and bytes, and carefully build job reqs and descriptions as if that’s the case.

In reality, just like any career, we learn as we go. Certainly, a certain level of proficiency is necessary to be useful to an emloyer, but to expect today’s Systems Administrator to have memorized the entirety of complex packages such as Sendmail, Apache, Snort, Portsentry, PHP, XML, and on and on ad-infinitum is laughable at best.

The best admin will be the one with an extreme adeptness at finding answers quickly.

I’m looking for a company that doesn’t find a college degree to be the end-all, be-all of skills measurement.

I was a music major t Louisiana State University. I have a 3.0 in Music Education and a few semesters left to complete. At the time in Louisiana, a first-year teacher in East Baton Rouge parish would make 18,000/yr at their first assignment. While at LSU, I worked at the computing services center in network design & engineering as a work/study assignment. I had a local web-hosting company contact me regarding a position with them at 25,000/yr.

Imagine the decision-making/thought process to follow.

I had a wife & two kids (my wife’s disability had not progressed at all at this point) to think about, and a promise of a very small salary, should I continue to impoverish my family for a minimum of two years and an entire semester of student teaching (during which I couldn’t hold a daytime job, since on assignment at a local school), only to have an 18k job.

Obviously, I took the gig. Since then, I’ve progressed through all the standard growth. I was a Windows admin, Exchange admin, basic networks. I found out really qickly that Windows administrators don’t sleep much (at least in those early versions of NT). I picked up on Linux (I had been fiddling with it for quite a few years) and installed it on an extra box at my office, and an old 286 at my house. After a couple years of working with it, I got into an AIX/SCO/Linux gig, and never looked back. The road since has taken me from small startups to 3Com corporation itself, and it has been a wild ride.

Fast-forward to today… I’m published in Linux.com, working on a book for Nostarch Press, and looking forward to a long, happy career. (I’ve already been doing this for 10 years).

From my perspective, I’d rather hire someone like myself, than a college graduate with a year or two. I can guarantee success from a track-record rather than a pile of promises and a piece of paper.

As a final aside from all this, I’m still looking for a new job. I’m being sent to third shift right now, and not looking forward to it at all. While it’s a great company with some good people to work with, 3rd shift is hell on earth. If you’re in the Atlanta area, and need a UNIX admin, let me come in and talk with you. I’d bet if we skip all the silliness preceding that conversation, that we’d have a deal that could be made.

Systems Administration, Part II

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So things are better…

I think.

It’s so hard to come off your favorite job ever and do something else.

So I continue…

We had a conversation on [ALE] today (http://www.ale.org) regarding sysadmins and their salaries. Some folks out there are swooning over $20/hr gigs, and I just don’t get it.

The professional demands of the sysadmin range from technologist to politician to therapist.

Sometimes I think yearly medals should be awarded.

Anyhow….

A recruiter contacted me regarding a position in Oregon @ $20/hr. I counted that an insult. I related that fact to the LUG, and found all sorts of ballyhooing about started. Now, don’t call me a prude or high-and-mighty, but I’ve been doing this stuff for 15 years as of this month. Everything from PC’s on DOS 3.3 to watching Windows come out and then NT3… you get the picture. Let’s just say I got wise and got out of the Windows market…It’s doomed anyway.

So, I started to get interesting comments such as:

C'mon $20.. You could live like a king...
Hey, I phone-interviewed with a place in NC that wanted to pay $45K for a do-everything IT manager. I politely informed the gentlemen that I was making over $60K when I was already doing many of the specific things they said they needed done (and that was Government!) and that I know a Windows admin in Norcross who's making ~48K without a degree. They wouldn't budge. Get used to it.
Seems like I mentioned something along these lines last week during the H1B debate. Artificially driving salaries up based on pure unbridled greed is exactly what leads to periods of unemployment and the flood of immigrant workers. Feel free to take your shots at these companies, but understand that one day they might swing back and send you and half your peers to the unemployment line. Then that 40k will look pretty good. I'm not speculating on any one person's worth. That obviously varies from person to person. But sometimes a position is only worth so much money to a given employer. You can either accept it, or move on to other things. Bashing the company in question and suggesting a pseudo mutiny witin the industry is not going to change things. If anything, it helps to perpetuate the growing feeling that "computer people" are over paid prima donnas. Next thing you know, you'll be calling for a damn union.

I think that’s enough. The last quoted suggests “psuedo-mutiny” and all that, and I think that is quite laughable. There’s piles of documentation out there regarding what a UNIX administrator is, what each level of experience is worth, and what the criteria are to measure an admin’s quality. (The Systems Administrator’s Guild maintains most of this information at http://www.sage.org) There’s even a certification track and everything. You’d think someone would use it.

Anyhow, the advocating of paying what someone is worth for (here’s the reference to the previous article) measurable, quantifiable work is a VERY old concept. I believe the original quote goes something like:

After all, the worker deserves to have his needs met.

Let’s look into the fact that there is a serious need for good talent. Not just book talent…not just kids with degrees, but folks with a serious dedication to their work for whatever motivation…whether just geekiness, or pride in one’s work, or a personal technical itch to be scratched. I find more people in my line of work that come from three camps:

I just got into this because there was money in it

This is pretty common right now, because we’re in the first generation of geeks that got trained right around the bust, and found themselves in a career in decline….or so they were told.

During the bust, I was working alongside folks that thought they could copy/paste perl scripts into a UNIX box, and voila! they were perl programmers. I also had a UNIX admin I worked with that thought he was God’s gift to systems folk when he could use that there “vi” editor. (pronounced it ‘veye’…some do, I’ve always found it quaint)

These will be disappointed to a degree, but will eventually get the experience and seasoning they need…in another 5 years or so. It all depends on their day of realization that this is going to be real work, and not copy/pasting other people’s work.

Can you believe I’m a sysadmin and I get PAID!!!

The perennial geek. Glad to be here, and glad to be working. Usually overworks themselves because they enjoy it. These folks progress and grow at a much faster rate than just about any other. These will be the ones taking my job considerably faster than it took me to replace the guy before me. They are in the tech for the love of it.

I got into this, and It’s a job I feel sorry for these sometimes. They don’t really have any serious joy in their gig, and are waiting for retirement. I hope it was worth it.

I just really think it’s important you have to dig what you do. I’m not sure I’ll be able to get there with this one. I’ll try , though. In the meantime, all offers in Atlanta welcome.

Systems Administration, Part I

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Ever get a new gig?

Get a new gig when you were really in need? (i.e. laid off) Only to find out the organization was hopelessly broken in more ways than you can count?

Welcome to my daily life right now. I can’t guarantee I won’t be somewere else in a few months (or weeks)

The company I work for right now (just started on 12/27) is a huge company. (read, Fortune 20) The workflow is somewhat broken. I don’t have a permanent desk, phone, or computer. The management seems smitten with me, but I haven’t done anything yet to deserve the sentiment. In fact, I can’t see where my personal work ethic is going to fit in here at all. Lemme explain.

I love to work. Actually, I like to work hard. I’m not happy unless I’m busting my ass, in fact. [1]

Herein lies the rub.

Statement that needs supporting arguments #1:Corporate America doesn’t lend itself well to highly-motivated individuals in the technical field.

Now, find me a marketing or high-power sales guy, and they are always moving, always pushing. They’re reading all the sucess and sales tomes from the local Border’s, and doing something new nearly daily to get better and eek out one more sale or another busniess relationship. They’re usually on some commission basis, so the more they push and shove, the more money they make. It requires a continual personal reinvention.

Warning: Strong personal opinion aheadf this reinvention, however, is not one of substance, yet of appearance.

Let me elaborate.

It’s been said that perception is 99% of the truth. In that vein, many marketing and management types are driven to present the appropriate visage to their customer base. In fact, you’ll find “7 habits”, “Fish”, and “How to Win Friends…” on many managers desks. Alongside these perennial tomes (did I really use “tome* twice today?) of corporate enlightenment, you’ll see reports about nothing, statistics that inaccurately reference false figures deemed important, and employee records filled with inaccuracies and untruths.

(Wow. Is that cynical or what? The ideas are coming so terribly fast that I can’t keep up. Bear with the schizo post for a minute, will ya?)

For instance, In a recent contract I went to a site that did printing. Large-scale printing. The site seemed very well laid out. Apples on the desktops, big computer room. Heavy internet presence, and a freakin' sweet Xserve implementation. (don’t kill me, John. I know it isn’t your fault, but your predecessor’s)

This computer room is in the most horrid shape one could imagine. The network area has been cleaned up a bit, but could still use about 192 hours of straight attention, re-racking, mapping, etc. And that’s just the physical side. One can only imagine the networking disarray. (If their admin is as good as he seems, the networking part is in much better shape, to be sure). (this doesn’t even begin to touch the computers…)

This machine room has a window into it, and a very nicely racked series of Dell servers and disk arrays are properly lined up right in front of the window. It really looks beautiful, but it obscures the evil disarray immediately behind it. Such is the corporate world.

My meaning here, to synthesze the opinion + anecdote, is not that you actually learn the precepts presented in these books and such, but to have enough familiarity to convnce your customer that you have it all together. (or your boss, or your friends, or your parents, etc.)

I firmly believe that there is enough of a disconnect that the country spends all its time doing its best to try and fool their target into not hassling them instead of actually putting in the man-hours and completing the job in the first place. Similarly, the managment of this country has found a way to think damned near everything is more important than actual productivity. (weekly three-hour productivity meeting to discuss why you’re not productive, anyone?)

Technical folks find themselves dragged into this world of deceit in varying degrees. The disconnect between actual, technical, measurable work and having to give the semblance of actual, tecnical, measurable work is humorous at best. In fact, I’ve found in my personal experience that management has been so sold their new set of ideals that when you enumerate your workload, their incredulity is almost comical…their numbers don’t reflect that you’re busy during that time.

I think that the key to the futre of corporate America (and the technical world in particular) will be to eliminate the ridiculous amounts of middle management, while increasing actual technical bodies. Next, those people need to be assured 80 hours of direct classroom training yearly. (there’s more of them now, remember? they can handle one guy being out for a week at a time) Finally, machine-produced statistics and reports should be acceptable to those managers that reman and they need to have the skill to read them, or they don’t need to be tecnical managers.

Statement that needs supporting arguments #2: The high number of bad techies in high-paying jobs is a crime

If the people I’ve come into contact with thus far are any indication, I have a bit of reason to be VERY upset.

I’ve spent a lot of years trying to learn to be better at what I do. I have spent THOUSANDS of my own money to have the latest books and documentation on topics that I have had to work on. I may never work on them again, but I keep the documents around just to have that resource for my company. I spend time going to Linux shows and join professional organizations just to be better. Just to be worthy of the title “Senior” in Sr. UNIX Systems Administrator.

Since I’ve been here, I’ve met people who couldn’t work their way out of a system down if their lives depended on it. In fact, in a company of thousands, I’ve met one guy that has demonstrated and level of qantifiable skill. He is a _great_UNIX admin. Consequently, all the work in the organization gets filtered (somehow, magically) to his work queue.

Now, in seeming opposition to my former statement, should I work somewhere where I will get quite a bit of transferred work from people who don’t want (or are unable to)to do the work themselves?

I think not

…more to come…

[1] always logged in, architecting, building a new solution, or installing new machines.

Bleah

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A lot of people (the Office Space guy in particular) say that if they were independently wealthy, they’d do “nothing”.

I don’t buy it.

I’ve been out of work for 21 days, and I’m about to lose my freaking mind!!

Nothing to do all day… I’ve cleaned the house too many times to mention, and can’t even begin to talk about all the modifications I’ve done with this very website right here.

I’m still working on my book for No Starch Press, but I’m not sure when my proposal manuscript will be done. They want pretty much the entire book in outline format before you would actually write the thing. (like writing the thing twice).

I’ve been told by my buddy Dustin that it is difficult, and I didn’t beleive him…oops.

Looking forward to working again, but not looking forward to third shift. Yikes. I hope I can get my schedule turned around in such a way that I can give enough time to my family. 4x10 schedule is nice, but not if you lose your family in the process.

Rough Week

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Here we go.

I’ve been out of work since 11/30. I was happily doing some Big Brother (http://www.bb4.org) updates for my company, and I was called into a room for layoffs. In fact, nearly half the acting company was laid of the same day.

I have a tendency to worry about that kind of event, since I’m the only breadwinner in my family. However, this time I had a sense of peace throughout the whole thing. By Friday I interviewed twice, then twice again on Monday, and finally received an offer on Tuesday which I accepted on Wednesday…more on that another day.

Hopefully I can stay at this one longer. I seem to attract unstable jobs, much to my chagrin.

Welcome…

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Welcome to my little corner of the web.

I have random thoughts that acually mean something from time to time, so I thought I’d put them here for absolutely everyone to see.

I’m sure various objects like my schedule at my new job, my involvement in Drum Corps, and church will fill these pages before long, so hang on… THe ride could get bumpy eventually.