Rent-A-White-Man Super Bowl

I found the 2015 Super Bowl commercials somewhat lacking in the humor department. Nothing made me barked out aloud in laughter. (Although the Kia Sorento car commercial with Pierce Brosnan, who imagines himself being pitched for a James Bond-style car ride with snipers, missile launchers and explosions that became rather uninteresting, made me smile.) A Satire Bowl commercial that most of America and the world haven’t seen was “Rent-A-White-Man”, where black people can rent a white man to act on their behalf in post-racial American society without getting shot by the police.

Unless you’re living in a cave and watching Fox News TV, this is really funny. If you understand the irony of white privilege that is, which most white people can’t comprehend because they’re never judged by the color of their skin, have to think twice while walking down the street, or followed because someone think they’re up to no good. Being a native Californian with redneck parents from Idaho and living my entire life in the multicultural San Francisco Bay Area, I can appreciate—and laugh at—both sides of the racial divide.

And rent a white man is also a fantastic idea.

As a white man in my mid-forties with graying hair at the temples, I’m deeply concerned about being aged out of the tech industry that favors younger foreign workers over older American workers. That was obvious at a job from several years ago where Indians made up the majority of the workers and only vegan pizza got served at company events. I’m transitioning my career from general information technology (I.T.) into information security (InfoSec) that requires 10+ years of general I.T. experience to get into, a difficult hurdle for anyone from India or fresh of college to overcome. If I do get aged out of my current career, I can always rent myself out as a white man.

Rent a white man isn’t all satire. Chinese companies routinely rent white men in business suits to present their operations with American faces from a non-existent U.S. company and project an international aura over the local competition. Who knew that white privilege was a marketable skill?

Recycling That Mainframe Computer

The leasing office occasionally sends out a missive that gets taped to the front door of each apartment in the complex. Sometimes this makes for interesting reading. One such missive a few years ago about what can or cannot be flushed down the toilets implied that recreational sex (condoms), having babies (diaper wipes) and being a woman (tampons) will no longer be permissible behavior. (I wrote a 500-word flash story, “Circling The Drain,” around that particular premise.) A recent missive had a list of recyclable items to turn into the leasing office for an e-waste recycling drive. One item popped out on the list: Mainframe computers.

When I worked as a quality assurance software testing intern at Fujitsu in the 1990’s, our virtual world division got a new vice president from Japan who previously worked for the mainframe division. He took our group out to Jade Cathay restaurant on First Street in San Jose to get to know us. When the hostess handed him the menu, he ordered the same stir fry with tofu dish for everyone. Somehow I ended up sitting next to him. Not wanting to offend my host, I ate everything on my plate even though I never had Chinese before. We all suffered a severe case of massive heart burn later on, as that dish was very spicy.

He asked me if I was a mainframe programmer, and became disappointed when I told him that I wasn’t. (I didn’t volunteer that I was only an intern.) He asked around the table if anyone else was a mainframe programmer. No one else was. He informed us that Fujitsu was always looking for mainframe programmers. That statement puzzled everyone, as our group had nothing to do with mainframes. A month later he returned to Japan to lead the mainframe group again and got replaced by a more Westernized vice president who wasn’t looking for mainframe programmers.

Despite the popular misconception that mainframe computers are obsolete and long gone, they’re still around for processing massive amounts of data that can’t fit into the cloud. One of the hottest I.T. job market is for mainframe programmers who know COBOL (Common Business-Oriented Language). With the previous generation retiring, and many colleges stopped teaching mainframe computers years ago, there’s an acute shortage of skilled workers.

Unlike other areas of I.T., you can’t simply download a mainframe computer to your desktop and grab a book to learn how to program it. You need the actual room-sized hardware to get any practical experience. Most large companies that depend on mainframe computers are training programmers in-house. There’s no practical way to learn mainframe programming on your own.

Needless to say, no one turned in a mainframe computer at the leasing office.

Code Monkey Re-visited

While browsing Slashdot (a techie-oriented news discussion website), someone posted a link for the animated music video of the song, “Code Monkey,” that came out in 2006. I haven’t heard that song in years. This catchy tune gave me hope of becoming a code monkey during my final grueling year of earning my associate degree in computer programming at San Jose City College, where I took special study classes because all my required courses got cancelled for the year. I graduated in 2007 by making the president’s list for maintaining a 4.0 G.P.A. in my major.

Ironically, I never became a professional code monkey.

After landing a help desk support specialist job at a financial Fortune 500 company in 2005, I made that my professional career and became a code monkey for my personal websites. My plan to go from black box testing with no programming to white box testing with programming went awry. Seven years later, and being unemployed on-and-off for three years, I’m in the middle of another job transition to information security. Maybe I’ll become a code monkey by writing security scripts. Or maybe not. There’s always hope that I can do something with my programming degree.

Reviving The Windows Gaming PC

The Apple Store revived my vintage Black MacBook (2006) several years ago after the CPU fan started screaming like a banshee, replacing the CPU fan, battery and keyboard. I hoped to get another six years of usage before getting a replacement system. Alas, the CPU fan started acting up several months ago. The system would shut down in 15 minutes after starting up. I could no longer use it to look for a new job, or, after being unemployed for nearly eight months, get it repaired or replaced. I had to switch over to my Windows gaming PC, which spontaneously reboots whenever I needed to do something.

Like most users who switched from Windows to Mac, I only turned on my PC to play video games. The last rebuild was in 2007 to upgrade the motherboard, CPU and memory for Windows Vista. That system was quite stable. A few years ago I replaced the dual-core processor with a quad-core processor and the video card from an ATI Radeon 3870 to an ATI Radeon 6790. That system wasn’t quite as stable. Upgrading to Windows 7 and Windows 8 over the years didn’t help much.

Was the quad-core CPU that came out years after the motherboard got manufactured and enabled with a BIOS update incompatible? Was the video card defective? Was the power supply failing in a mysterious way? Or was it all of the above?

Troubleshooting the PC was never urgent as I rarely played video games after getting serious about writing and suffering bouts of unemployment from my non-writing tech job. With the MacBook out of commission, I needed another computer system to continue my job search. The easiest solution was switching over to an old Dell system. However, I never take the easiest path if a harder—more educational—path is available.

After opening the PC and the Dell to lay side-by-side, I started switching out the video cards. With an old Nvidia Quadro video card in the PC and the 6970 video card in the Dell, both systems ran without problems. I then started checking the power requirements for the video cards and looked up the specs on the power supplies in each system.

The PC still had the power supply from 2007 with 20A on the 12V rail, but the Dell had a newer power supply with 40A on the 12V rail. Most new video cards required at least 25A on the 12V rail. The 6970 needed the extra juice for graphic-intensive applications. The solution became obvious. I switched the power supplies and put the 6970 back into the PC. (I didn’t bother putting the Quadro back into the Dell since the motherboard had a built-in AMD 4200 video chipset.) After wiping the hard drive and re-installing Windows 8.1, the PC was no longer spontaneously rebooting.

It didn’t take long to get the PC up and running with email to resume my job search. A few days later, I landed a new job. The only Mac-specific applications that I’m missing from the PC are Photoshop CS3 and Bento for ebook publishing. I can boot up the MacBook to complete any tasks within 15 minutes before it shuts down. Despite transferring operations over to my PC, I’m going to save up to get a replacement Mac later this year. Like most users who switched from Windows to Mac, the Mac is the better computing device.

Hiring Managers Are Wasting My Time

Free To WorkAs a favor to a recruiter, I went to a job interview at a startup company in North San Jose to gather more information on the position in question. The HR department wanted someone with desktop experience in rolling 300+ systems, setting up cubicles and doing occasional phone support. A perfect match to my resume. The last candidate who interviewed ran out when the hiring manager presented a different job description. According to a recent Monster article, this was the number one job search lie when a company can’t agree on the same job description.

When I sat down for my job interview, the first thing that the hiring manager told me was that he hated my four-page resume. That didn’t surprise me. Recruiters and databases love my four-page resume, chronicling my 15+ years of misadventures in Silicon Valley. Hiring managers, not so much. I do have a two-page resume with the last three years on the front page and a summary of past positions, education and certifications on the back page. I haven’t found a right balance for this particular problem.

Although I offered him a copy of the two-page resume, the hiring manager didn’t what to see it. What he really wanted to see was a one-page resume because he didn’t like to read. That’s an interesting attitude. Most tech professionals, especially those going after certifications, have to read volumes of technical data to become proficient in their field. I’m always fascinated when I run into people who are tech-savvy but don’t like to read. That seems like an oxymoron to me.

Who in Silicon Valley looks for a job with a one-page resume?

High school and college graduates. The 18- to 25-year-old demographic was probably what the hiring manager wanted to hire. Get them young and cheap by dangling the pre-IPO carrot in their face. Being the young and the restless in this economy, they have no clue of what they are getting into and will run the treadmill for an elusive carrot.

A pre-IPO as a recruitment inducement doesn’t mean squat to me. The last pre-IPO I went though started off at $20 USD per share in 1999 and dwindled down to $0.20 USD per share in 2001 during the Dot Com Bust. With 15+ years of technical experience, I did have enough experience to go after the hiring manager’s job and get in line for a bigger slice of the pre-IPO pie. Another reason not to hire old farts like myself.

After I spent ten minutes explaining what I did for the last three years, the hiring manager told me that he wanted a person to do phone support exclusively, provide encyclopedic answers to technical questions, and hit the ground running without any training. Like the previous candidate before me, this was where we parted ways.

This wasn’t the first time that a hiring manager pulled a bait-and-switch on the job description—and usually for less pay. One company lured me into an interview for a $25 USD per position and interviewed me for a $15 USD per hour position. I walked out. It didn’t help matters that the hiring manager assistant accidentally emailed me the salary spreadsheet that showed everyone making an average $10 USD per hour.

The recruiter wasn’t pleased to hear that hiring manager wasted our time. This feedback will go back to the HR department at the startup company, where the hiring manager will get upbraided for wasting everyone’s time. Maybe, maybe not. Startup companies tend to breed peculiar people who are unlikely to change, especially when a pre-IPO carrot in front of them.

How NOT To Get A Job At Google

googleThomas L. Friedman recently wrote a fluff piece in The New York Times called, “How To Get A Job At Google,” paraphrasing an interview from last year with Laszlo Bock, Goggle’s senior vice president on human operations. The takeaway point is that your G.P.A. doesn’t matter (never mind that Google recruiters still ask for it), it’s what you know and how you use it. In short, a college degree alone won’t get you far as a knowledge worker in the tech industry. Despite the article title, he doesn’t actually explain HOW to get a job at Google.

Google, like most Fortune 500 corporations, hires only engineers and managers as direct employees. Any position that doesn’t involve sensitive business operations gets outsourced to other companies—also known as vendors—to provide support services (i.e., custodians, desktop, help desk, inventory, landscaping, package delivery, technicians, etc.). These services get written off as routine business expenses, permitting the corporation to reduce the number of direct employees who are eligible for bonuses, stock options and other compensation.

If you ever wanted to work your way up from the mailroom to CEO like the poor schmuck did in “How to Succeed in Business Without Trying,” forget about it. You would have to work through three or four vendors before reaching the corporate ladder. The days of corporations employing everyone from top to bottom and cradle to grave are long gone.

If you’re looking for a job as an engineer or manager, you need to submit your resume directly to Google and go through the process of proving your worth. Things can get crazy if you get past the initial phone interview. I’ve read somewhere that the average direct hire goes through 24 interviews over the course of a year before the final decision gets made. If you don’t have infinite amount of patience and persistence, you won’t get hired.

If you really want to get a job at Google without going through the rubber chicken circuit, get hired through a vendor. The job search websites have numerous listings for positions in Mountain View. Most are for Google, but some are for LinkedIn and a few other companies that are surrounded by Google buildings. Some listings will explicitly state that the position is for Google, others will mention “world leading search engine” or something similar.

The hiring process is much simpler, usually a phone screening and/or face-to-face interview. After you get hired, you report to the security office at Building 43 to get your badge and go to whatever building the vendor is working at. You may or may not need to go through the orientation process. I did that when I worked for help desk, but not when I worked at one of the data centers. But be careful about the free food at cafeterias, as the average Googler will gain 26 pounds.

Working for a vendor is really no different from working for any other company. The only complication may come from dealing with recruiters who are not familiar with the vendor system, especially if you worked for a vendor to the vendor. My resume has several jobs like that (i.e., hired by secondary vendor to work for primary vendor at a Fortune 500 corporation). Explaining this to some recruiters requires an infinite amount of patience and persistence.

No Funemployment For Spongebob Squarepants

Spongebob Squarepants Gets FiredSpongebob Squarepants gets fired because his boss figured out that he could make an extra nickel without him. Although his friend explains to him the benefits of “glorious unemployment,” Spongebob wants a new job and not a “funemployment” vacation (i.e., living off of unemployment benefits before looking for a new job). A self-sufficient view that transforms the environmental/gay/liberal-friendly sponge into a new conservative darling. With the economy still in the crapper, getting a new job sooner is more important for a different set of reasons.

Before the Great Recession in 2008, I would apply for unemployment benefits, post my resume on the job search websites, have three job interviews, and get a new job within six weeks. That happened three times over a five-year period. I never got stressed out from being laid off. My monthly expenses were modest and collapsible enough to live off of my unemployment benefits for a short while.

Despite following my previous unemployment routine after being laid off on Friday the 13th in February 2009, I didn’t get a new job within six weeks. The Great Recession was different. I was out of work for two years, underemployed for six months (i.e., working 20 hours a month), and filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. After going through all that, I didn’t qualify for food stamps because I still made more money than someone working at Wal-Mart.

I had three jobs in the last three years since then. After my contract ended the first two times, I got a new job within three weeks and drew only one week of unemployment benefits. I’m hoping for a third time in a row. I don’t know if my unemployment benefit will be on my old claim ($293 per week) or a new claim ($456 per week). If I get a new claim, I can probably relax a bit and take my time in finding a new job during the holidays. If it’s my old claim, I’m screwed. I still haven’t financially recovered from the Great Recession.

After my last job officially declared a layoff of “permanent” employees, my coworkers bombard me with questions about being a contractor as they been with the company for five or more years. They all thought they could take a six-month vacation, look for a new job before exhausting their unemployment benefits, and get hired immediately. I warned them against doing that. I had several roommates who did that during a normal economy (i.e., between the Dot Com Bust in 2001 and the Great Recession in 2008), couldn’t find another tech job because their programming skills were obsolete, got cashier jobs at a drug store, and are still toiling at minimum wage jobs. My coworkers didn’t get laid off this time, but my contract came up for renewal and that was that for that job.

A Lousy Month To Look For A New Job

WTF KeyboardI knew October would become a lousy month at the end of September when my car died from a blown head gasket. The timing was bad. Since my last two non-writing tech jobs ended after nine months or so, and the company I worked for had announced layoffs for its full-time workers, I expected to lose my job. And, not surprisingly, I got my layoff notice the following Monday morning. If being without a car and out of the job wasn’t bad enough, the Republicans shut down the government.

The last two times I looked for work last year, I got a job within three weeks and collected one week of unemployment. Under “normal” circumstances (and nothing has been normal since the Great Recession started five years ago), I could have expected the same success with my current job search this time. But with the Republican shutdown casting a pall over the economy, I wasn’t certain that I could get a job that soon before I ran out of money. If the Republicans were successful in destroying the global economy by defaulting on the good faith and credit of the United States, it didn’t matter anyway.

With two weeks left on the job, I updated and posted my resume to the job search websites, sat back and waited for my cellphone to ring. It didn’t. During the Republican shutdown, no one was calling me back. I scanned the websites, submitted my resumes to interesting positions and continued to wait. Only after the Republicans backed off from the economic cliff, and President Barack Obama signed the continuing resolution into law, did my cellphone started ringing off the hook.

I immediately had two meet-and-greet interviews with local recruiters. They claim to have numerous jobs available, but they never do and were more interested in my interactions with other recruiters. I went to these meetings to dust off the cobwebs and figure out what I need to change from being out of the job market for nine months.

One recruiter suggested that I changed my chronological resume to a functional resume. Since I had so many contract jobs over the last few years, I could highlight the various job skills that I have accumulated over the years (i.e., quality assurance testing, PC refresh technician, network support, help desk/desktop support and data center technician). I spent a day rewriting my resume at work since all my responsibilities got transferred to someone else, uploaded the resume to the job search websites and more phone calls came in.

It’s difficult to look for work while still working. Now that I’m not working, I’m playing the waiting game with recruiters who have submitted my resumes to hiring managers. The clock is ticking down. If I don’t have a paycheck by the end of November, I won’t have rent for December and things will fall apart from there. After surviving two years of unemployment, six months of underemployment (i.e., working 20 hours per month), and filing Chapter Seven bankruptcy, I’m not sure if I can put up with surviving on the edge again.