Milwaukee Jobcamp slides available online

July 11, 2009 Job hunting No comments

The slides from Thursday’s Milwaukee Jobcamp, “Effective Job Interviewing From Both Sides of the Desk,” are now available at Slideshare.

I’ll also be giving this session at OSCON next week out in San Jose.

What do I do when there are no jobs to be found?

June 25, 2009 Job hunting 1 comment

I found an article that claimed that US job hunters only spend forty minutes per day looking for a job. Maybe that’s forty minutes checking job boards, but that’s only 10% of an 8-hour work day on your job.

You may think “I don’t have a job!”, but you do. When you’re out of a job, your full-time job is to find your next job. Treat it like a 9-5 job. No matter what you do, don’t sit around and do nothing. Don’t allow the gift of time you’ve been
given to find a job be squandered by doing nothing.

There are three big reasons to treat your job hunt like a job:

  • You’ll increase your chance of success

  • You’ll fight off the depression of being jobless

  • You’re going to get asked about it in interviews

Let’s look at each in detail.

You will have more chances of success

You may think there are no jobs to be found, but there are. You just haven’t found them yet, probably because you’re looking in the wrong places. Checking job boards doesn’t count as job hunting especially since only 7.5% of jobs are filled through job boards. You have to get out and talk to people.

Talk to everyone you can. Even if you’ve exhausted every source you can think of, try for just one more. Look back through your hunt logs and find a target you haven’t checked in a few months. Wherever you pursue, look for a new option you haven’t explored yet. You can’t get a job from a contact that you don’t make.

One excellent source of information you may not have considered is your local Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber of Commerce is a group of businesses organized together to help each other. The website will probably have a directory of members and job listings. More important than these sources is the opportunity to talk to the Chamber staff themselves and find out what they may know about the needs of companies in the area.

Don’t just call or email the Chamber. Show up at their office, in person, and talk to someone. You’re far more likely to be remembered when you meet someone than you are just from email. Be sure to show up with a number of copies of your resume, and some of your personal business cards, so that you can leave some if it’s appropriate.

Just keep pushing. Keep making one more step, checking one more idea. I know it can be disheartening, but anything is better than doing nothing. Chance favors the prepared mind, and the more time you spend working, using the Internet, the more likely you are to stumble across the job you need, and maybe even one you will love.

You fight off the depression of not having a job

Sitting around on the couch watching bad TV is a great way to aggravate your worries about not having a job. Playing World of Warcraft or napping all day may feel like a little vacation, but they’re not going to get you that next paycheck. Don’t give in to the temptation.

Treat your days without a job as if you do have a job, and your job is to find a job, and improve your skills. Get to the office at 9:00, even if your office is just the kitchen table, take lunch like you normally would, and then keep working until 5:00.

What can you do besides look for jobs? Take advantage of the time off to start all those projects you’ve just never found the time for. You’ve been given the time, so use it!

  • Start a blog. Write about what you’re learning in your time off. This becomes a record of your progress, to help you remember that your time’s not been wasted. It’s also a record that a future employer will see when he Googles you after he’s seen your resume. Finally, it helps you practice writing, since you’re in a field where the written word is crucial to future success.
  • Teach yourself something new related to your job. Always wanted to learn a new programming language, but you told yourself you never had the time? Now you have the time. Want to learn a new Linux distribution? Clear out a spare partition on your home machine and get to it. Maybe you’re a project manager who wants to learn more about programming. Get going, and then blog about it.

  • Take a business or technical class, maybe at your local community college. Community colleges are a fantastic value for your dollar for introductory classes. My local community college charges only $77 per credit hour. Start with business classes before you worry about the technical. You can always learn technical skills on your own. Business knowledge is important to any employer. Take a class in accounting or marketing, or a good business overview if you’ve never taken one before.

  • Take an unrelated class in something fascinating if you haven’t found anything appropriate technical or in business. Maybe you’d like an introduction to automotive repair, or to get your feet wet in conversational Japanese. My local community college has programs in criminal justice and fire protection, both of which I’d love to find out more about. Whatever it is, learn something. Then blog about it.

  • Contribute to an open source project. Somewhere you’re likely using some open source software. Learn about it. Learn about the culture surrounding it. Find out what its needs are. Find out what kind of help they need. Then provide that help. You don’t have to be a programmer to contribute to open source. You can provide documentation, answer user questions, respond to bugs in the bug tracker, and so on. Blog about it.

  • Contribute to Wikipedia, or a wiki related to a project of interest. Wikipedia is an open source encyclopedia, and can always use improvement. There are tons on Wikia. Find a topic related to your job, not arguing about Jabba the Hutt’s family history. Then blog about it.

  • Frequent mailing lists and bulletin boards related to your area of expertise. See what you can learn, and who you can help. Blog about the most interesting ideas.

  • Go to your public library. Libraries are amazing storehouses of knowledge. The chances of finding something fascinating and enriching are high!

  • Read read read! Find something new to inspire you. Blog
    about it.

You’re going to be asked about it at interviews

Chances are that an interviewer who sees that you’ve been out of work for a while will ask about your job search. She may even specifically ask “What have you been doing in the four months since you got laid off?” How will you answer this question?

You could answer:

Well, I’ve gone on a few interviews, and reading Monster every day, of course, but, uh, that’s about it.

which is hardly inspiring, or you could answer:

I’ve gone on some interviews, but those weren’t very encouraging. I’ve been investigating companies in manufacturing, because I feel like that’s where my heart lies. In the downtime, I taught myself Python and I wrote a tool to analyze the RSS feed coming from Simply Hired using Python. The source code is in my portfolio of sample code that I brought today.

or maybe

In the downtime, I’ve been monitoring Stack Overflow for SQL Server questions, trying to help with the problems that novices post. It’s kind of fun because I know how to handle most of the problems, like optimizing indexes, but some of them are stumpers so I go dig and find the answer. The latest was a problem someone had with…

or how about

… and I’ve been hitting the topics that I’ve never had time for. The accounting class I had my eye on was full, so I’m in my fourth week of a class in metallurgy. Plus, I’ve been checking out cookbooks on German cooking from the library, and I practice a new dish every day for lunch.

Imagine how a hiring manager is going to be impressed with your drive and initiative! In all these examples, you’re showing how you’re making the most of your down time, improving yourself and maybe even helping others. That’s the kind of drive that you can’t train into someone.

Keep thinking like you’re working

Stick to the notion that you have a job. Keep a regular schedule. Work at your job of finding your next job. It can’t help but improve your chances and get you back on someone’s payroll.

For those who have been out of work, what do you do during the day to keep yourself active and working on the job of finding a job?

There is no shame in self-promotion

June 24, 2009 Career, Job hunting No comments

The phrase “shameless self-promotion” makes no sense when you’re
talking about your career.

“Shameless self-promotion” implies that there should be some sort of shame in
letting others know about what you’ve done, and nothing could be
further from the truth. Indeed, it’s the only way you can be sure
of getting the message out.

Have you ever had a garage sale? Did you put up a sign pointing
to your garage sale? Or did you hope your neighbor would put up a
sign for you, thinking “It’s a good garage sale, people will tell
their friends about it?” Of course not, because you knew that it
was important that people know about your garage sale. So too it
is with your achievements at work.

Techies seem to believe that if they do good work, they’ll be
rewarded. Unfortunately, “If you build it, they will
come,” only works in fantasy movies.

At work, your job and your career rely on the people above you in
the company knowing what you do. Part of your job as employee of
You, Inc. is to make sure that others know what you do, and how
awesome you are. Your awesomeness may not be self-evident, or may
not be understood by the people that matter. Say you’ve been using
a new editor plug-in that helps you navigate source better, and makes
your job easier. That’s a cool thing you’ve done, because there
are plenty of people out there who would write code in Notepad.
You need to let your boss know about it, and keep track of it for
yearly review time. It may well be worth putting on your resume,
too, for your future self-promotion when you go to get a new job.

Aside from your career, if you’re doing anything in open source and
you want people to use your project, promoting the project is as
important as writing solid code. Without users, your project is
pointless. If it’s a conference or meeting, that needs promotion
even more. See my post on Perlbuzz
“How to announce an event, or, awesome is not always self-evident”
for more on the open source and conference angle.

Finally, for more on keeping yourself employed and boosting your
career even in the middle of a recession, please join me and Chad
Fowler for our webcast “Radical Career Success in a Down Economy”
on July 1st. You’ll need to register in advance. Chad and I are
putting together as much as we can into our hour-long time slot.
Chad’s excellent new book, The Passionate Programmer,
is also where I stole the idea of “your awesomeness is not self-evident”,
for which I’m eternally grateful.

The best career advice my father ever gave

June 22, 2009 Career 1 comment

For Father’s Day 2009, I’d like to take you back to 1984 and how
I learned a valuable lesson in life and work from my father.

I still had shooting pain in my groin when my Dad walked in for

It was my third day working at the McDonald’s in Durango, Colorado
back in 1985. I was 17, going into college, and had just started
my first job in the real world. I’d been trained for about two
minutes total. “Here’s how you make hotcakes,” Vic showed me, and
I’d make hotcakes all morning. Then at 11:00 when lunch rush
started, I was moved to the lobby to mop and clean tables. I didn’t
even need training on that.

My most important training was the harshest kind, that mop wringers
can be dangerous. I’d put my mop in the wringer, leaned over the
bucket and pushed down hard on the handle. My wet hand slid off
the spring-loaded handle, leaving it to arc up and whack me right
where it counted.

I was not having a good day.

A few minutes later, my father walked in for lunch. After a while
my mopping duties took me past his table. “How’s it going?” he
asked me.

My frustration came out. All the barked orders, being treated like
a peon, my scratchy polyester uniform, and to top it off I just got
cracked in the family jewels because the wringer handle was wet!
It was just too much!

I looked at him, tears welling in my eyes, and as emphatically and
dramatically as I could, I sniffled “They don’t pay me enough to
take this shit!”

Dad chuckled. “Yes, they do,” he said, “they’re paying you minimum

It wasn’t I wanted to hear. He might have said something else more
concillatory and sympathetic. But later that day, as I slopped
away with that mop, I thought about what he’d said. He was right.
It was silly of me to think that I would have a life of luxury,
only doing fun tasks, on my third day of work at a fast food joint.

It’s like that in the technical fields, in our cushy white-collar
worlds. The first year I was a professional programmer, I spent
hours separating the carbon paper and tractor feeds from thousand-page
reports on 5-part fanfold paper. It wasn’t programming, but it was
part of the job. As I got better as a programmer, my value as a
programmer increased, and my boss assigned me report duty less and

I never thought that it was beneath me, either. I knew that different
jobs had to be done, and that’s part of working on a team. My
patience and learning paid off down the road.

Lessons for the working geek

  • Everybody has to start somewhere, but it’s never at the top.

  • No task at your job is beneath you. If you have to string cable, you string cable.

  • Wisdom can come from anywhere. Sometimes that might even be a parent or boss, surprising as that may sound.

  • Stand on the side of the bucket opposite the wringer.

What low points did you have at the start of your geek career? What
important work life lessons has your father taught you? Post them
in comments below.

“Radical Career Success in a Down Economy”: A free webcast on July 1st

June 21, 2009 Career No comments

On Wednesday, July 1st, at noon Central time, I’ll be giving a webcast presentation with Chad Fowler called “Radical Career Success in a Down Economy.” We’ll be discussing how to thrive at work and further your career, rather than worrying about losing your job.

From the webcast announcement:

We all know we’re in the middle of an economic downturn. The news is full of statistics on job loss and unemployment. Everyone is feeling the crunch. In times like this it’s natural to worry about your career.

But you don’t have to be afraid. With the right steps, it’s possible to not only succeed in this environment but to succeed radically, as well as be prepared if the axe should fall. This webcast is about how to set yourself up for now and the future.

Career experts and authors Andy Lester and Chad Fowler will walk you through strategies for preparing yourself to not only stay employed but to find the work you love.

A webcast is an online presentation, where slides are shown and Chad & I give the audio presentation. A chat window lets you ask us questions, as well as discuss topics with other webcast participants.
The webcast is free, but you must register in advance. Register now to make sure you don’t forget, and O’Reilly will email you a few hours in advance of the event.

Two important numbers for job seekers: 7.5% and 1:11

June 5, 2009 Job hunting 1 comment , ,

Geeks like numbers, right? Here are two numbers for the job hunting geek to remember.

7.5% and 1:11

Read on for why these numbers are so crucial to your job search.

Every year, CareerXroads publishes a survey of where large companies find their employees. Below are the top four sources of hires from their Sources of Hires report.

Source of hires Jobs filled
Internal promotions + transfers 38.8%
Referrals 16.7%
Company website 12.3%
Job boards 7.5%

Only 7.5% of jobs are filled because from job boards. But what does the average geek do when he wants to find a job? He hits the job boards, doing simple keyword searching on CareerBuilder or Monster or one of the niche sites. But the hard truth is that almost four times as many jobs (29.0%) are filled from personal networking or hard research finding a company that’s a fit. It just doesn’t make sense to turn to the job boards as your primary source of finding a job.

Of course, it’s easy to see why we as geeks would turn to these behemoth databases. They give us such nice database filter screens to fill out!

“Why, yes, I’d like a job as a (JAVA PROGRAMMER) or (LINUX ADMINISTRATOR) making (OVER $80,000) within (15 MILES) of (60050). If only I could specify that I’d rather not wear a tie.”

Then the machine soothingly pumps out screens of job openings for us to sift through. Too few? Too many? Tweak a few knobs, refine the search, and get better results. It’s a fantastically geek-friendly way to do it.

But then that 7.5% comes back to remind us that the easy path is not always the most effective.

One in eleven

Even more eye-opening for the job seeker who would just as soon surf his way to a better job is the ratio of 1:11. That’s the yield that CareerXroads found of hires per referral. They found that:

The efficiency of referrals is one of the single most important characteristics of US hiring practices…. More than 17,000 positions were filled from just fewer than 200,000 referrals or 1 hire for every 11.2 referrals!

No hiring manager can imagine hiring someone after reading only eleven résumés. It’s more like one in several hundred at the very least.

What this means for you is that a referral is far more likely to turn into an actual job than throwing a resume after an ad you found on the net.

If you’re serious about getting a job, leave the job boards behind, network with your personal connections, and do the hard research to find the companies that are a fit for you and your skills.

How does a contractor make his resume appealing to a hiring manager?

May 12, 2009 Ask Andy, Career, Job hunting, Resumes No comments ,

A reader of Land The Tech Job You Love wrote to ask:

I have been searching for this type of book for years now. One question, as I’m only on page 75: How does a contractor make his resume appealing to a hiring manager?
I do NOT want to contract, but in DC, it seems to be the only way to either get a job or get a foot-hold into a long-term opportunity. But I hear from so many hiring types that they hate “job hoppers”. But I’m not. I want and crave a long-term full-time position.
How do I address that?

Exactly how you just did it.

Put it in your cover letter. “I’ve been a contractor out of necessity for the last two years, but I want a long-term full-time position where I can set down some roots with the company. I think that WangoTech can benefit in the long-term from my skills as a …”

You can also try to turn this potential negative into a positive. “I’ve worked on a wide variety of database systems, including Oracle, PostgreSQL and DB2, for companies from a 10-person accounting firm to a Fortune 100 textile manufacturer.” You’ll show the breadth of knowledge you bring to the position.

If you’re concerned about the resume not being seen along with the cover letter, I’d suggest adding a final bullet point to the professional summary at the top of the resume, such as:

<blockquote* Experienced contractor looking to start a long-term full-time position in DC area

In some ways, it’s the dreaded Objective, which should never appear in your resume but I think that if you put it as the last bullet in the summary, you’ll put the reader’s mind at ease, before she gets to the work history that shows you’re a contractor.

I saw a comedian once explain that if there’s anything out of the ordinary with you (very tall or short, a speech impediment, etc), you call attention to it at the beginning of your routine. If you don’t, your audience will fixate on that aspect of you and not listen to what you’re saying. Just do half a minute to acknowledge the attention-grabber, and move on. That’s the approach I suggest you take in this case.

Sometimes when we write resumes, we’re so concerned with short sentences and bullets, we forget about the power of a cover letter. In this case, the cover letter shows that you’re interested in that specific company, because your cover letter discusses the very specific relationship with the company you’d like to have, and heads off a potential problem. That shows foresight and it shows that you’re thinking like the hiring manager.

On breadth vs. depth of technical knowledge

May 10, 2009 Career 4 comments

Friday’s posting about balancing the value of learning specific technologies and following technologies you enjoy got Jeffrey Thalhammer thinking about depth vs. breadth of knowledge.

Whenever my colleagues and I discuss our career plans and the job
market, someone always asks me whether to learn programming language
X, or operating system Y, or framework Z. But I like to point out
that time spent learning some new skill is also time not spent
honing the skills you already have. And in my opinion, it is both
more lucrative and more enjoyable to be a master of one craft, than
to be mediocre at several of them.

This is because I’ve noticed that those who are the best in their
chosen fields are always fully employed and highly compensated.
Especially during an economic downturn, employers become more
selective about who they hire. So when they go looking for a
candidate with a particular set of skills, they want to choose the
person who is strongest with those skills — not the person who has
the most different skills. And employers are usually willing to
pay a premium for top-notch talent, if they can find it.

I’ve been on the hiring side of the interview table enough times
to know this. When a job candidate shows me they have mastered one
technology, it also demonstrates to me that they have the potential
to master others. But having partial expertise in many technologies
may only prove that they own a lot of O’Reilly books.
Truly mastering any technology requires a great deal of patience
and dedication, and those traits are far more valuable to the team
than being able to write code in 16 different languages.

Having said all that, I do acknowledge there is a real tradeoff
between the depth and breadth of one’s technical skills. Not all
job candidates are created equal, and it just isn’t possible for
everyone to be the “best” in something. I’m sure there is a
sweet spot where you can optimize your employability, and this
doesn’t mean that you should completely ignore other technologies.
The industry is constantly evolving so you must stay up-to-date,
and learning a little bit about other technologies can give you a
fantastic new perspective on the those you already know well. And
of course, this all assumes that you actually enjoy the technologies
you’re working with. If you don’t enjoy them, then by all means,
go learn some new skills.

But if you do enjoy the technologies you work with, then I urge you
to consider mastering those technologies before going off to learn
some new bag-of-tricks. To be sure, the road to mastery is long
and difficult. It is fraught with frustration and can be boring
at times. But it is also challenging, exciting, and deeply rewarding.
In the end, I believe it will lead you to a much happier and more
prosperous career.

I’d rather be the first-pick candidate for just one position than
the second-pick for several.

Jeff Thalhammer has been specializing in Perl software
development for over 10 years. He is the senior engineer and chief
janitor at Imaginative Software Systems, a small software consultancy
based in San Francisco. Jeff is also the creator of Perl-Critic,
the leading static analysis tool for Perl.

Do I need to learn Microsoft technologies?

May 8, 2009 Ask Andy, Career, Programming 17 comments

In a thread on Stack Overflow, a reader named Andrew finishing his undergrad degree asked:

I notice that the vast majority of companies I’m looking at are strictly Microsoft users, from windows to visual studio. Am I going to be at a disadvantage as most of my experience is unix/linux
development based?

My response included:

Whether or not “most jobs” are using MS technologies, would you WANT to work with MS technologies? If you went and boned up on your .NET and Visual C++ and had to use Windows all day, would that be the kind of job you wanted? If not, then it doesn’t matter if that’s what “most jobs” call for, because those aren’t the jobs for you.

I was taken to task by a reader named Ben Collins (not Ben Collins-Sussman of Google) who said:

I think this is stupendously bad advice. Of course you should bone up on Microsoft technologies. The chances of you making it through a 40-year career in technology without having to work with MS stuff is slim to none.

Ben’s right, you’re likely to have to use Microsoft technologies, if that’s how you want your career to take you. What I think we’re seeing here is the difference in viewpoints between someone like Ben who seems to think primarily in terms of maximum salary and maximum employability, and someone who thinks about the importance of loving what it is that you do for a job.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be employable. Nobody who knows Visual Studio or Java is going to have too much of a hard time finding jobs that need those skills. Then again, I flipped burgers at McDonald’s for three years, and McDonald’s is always looking for people, so I’m pretty employable there, too.
To those of us who look at our jobs as more than just a way to make money, it makes little sense to ask about what “most companies” do. We’re more concerned with the joy of working in our chosen part of the tech industry. I’d learn Visual C++ and try to find some joy in working in Windows if it was the only way to support my family, but that’s not the case.
To the fresh college graduates out there, I ask you to not put yourself in the situation where you’re concerned with what is going to give you the maximum salary, or the maximum number of potential job openings. Instead, look at what you want to do, what sparks the excitement in your heart. Optimize for the maximum amount of love for your job, especially as you’re just starting out.
For those grizzled veterans out there who slog through the trenches, working on projects that don’t bring them joy, I ask you to reconsider your career choices. Imagine you’re fresh out of school. What would you love to be doing? Figure out what that is, and work toward it, if only in small steps.
You spend more waking hours on your job than with your spouse. Optimize your career to bring you as much happiness as possible. Life is too short to work in a job you don’t love.

Should I switch jobs to learn better development processes?

April 30, 2009 Ask Andy, Programming, Work life 2 comments

A reader who wishes to remain anonymous wrote to ask:

I’m a programmer from the Philippines. I’m kind of a latebloomer since I didn’t take up Computer Science or a similar course in college, but I learned programming on my own. I tried to save money so I can buy a couple of books (although I would love to read more), so I can continuously learn software design and development. For almost two years now, I’ve been landing jobs in companies that really don’t have good processes for developing quality software. I have recently started a job. I’m not an expert, but I know when legacy applications have been built by engineers that also aim to produce quality software. The applications uses an object-oriented programming language, but all of them looks procedural. I still want to continuously learn and be a good software craftsman someday. Should I leave and apply for another job in which I think there is more potential to learn great software development processes?

Thanks for writing. Let me preface my suggestions with the caveat that they’re from the perspective of a programmer in the United States. I don’t know how applicable they are to business life in the Philippines. You’ll have to look at them through the lens of your own culture and understanding.

First, that you are wanting to improve yourself, to improve your skills, to improve your job prospects, means that you have the drive that will make you a better employee and programmer. Being able to write good software is only half of what it takes. The other half is having the drive to apply those skills day in and day out. (The third half is being able to be part of a team.)

It’s good you have that drive, because it sounds like you’re going to have to do much of the learning you want on your own. I would not rely on an employer to teach those skills to you. If your only reason to leave your current job for another is to learn better software development techniques, think twice. Chances are, the company you go to will have the same problems, perhaps with a different flavor, as your current company.

Instead, keep reading constantly. Read books like The Pragmatic Programmer by Hunt and Thomas, and Code Complete, 2nd ed. by McConnell. Read websites like StackOverflow for comments and ideas on how to be a better programmer. There will be much to sift through, but that’s how it goes.

Apply those skills by working on projects outside of work, preferably open source projects. Working on open source lets you work with other programmers around the world who have the same drive you do. You’ll learn and practice, while creating code that you can bring to your next interview to show as an example of your programming skills.

You may also want to try to bring some of these ideas to work with you. As you learn how to write great documentation, apply it to your daily life at work, even if nobody else in the company does. When you learn about test-first development, use it as your software methodology, even when you’re the only one who does. You’ll have better code, better projects, and people will notice. You’ll be leading by example.

Finally, don’t let the bad code get you down. The world is filled with it, especially at work, and it’s just part of life as a programmer. Consider it a test bed for your refactoring skills.

If other TWL readers have suggestions, I’d love to hear them in the comments below. Good luck!