Blog: March 2018

Most of these posts were originally posted somewhere else and link to the originals. While this blog is not set up for comments, the original locations generally are, and I welcome comments there. Sorry for the inconvenience.

What have I done?

[This was a locked post at the time, and it has comments so from people who saw it was locked, so I'm not opening the original.]

A former colleague contacted me a few weeks ago to make a pitch: we worked really well together, my team needs what you do, wanna talk? After a lunch conversation it sounded interesting enough to proceed, so I sent him a resume.

I'm a technical writer, a very good one in my opinion, and very senior. Part of what I do, what this person specifically values, is that I contribute usefully to software development. I bring the user perspective and I also bring decent software-engineering clues. He told me he's particularly interested in the latter because their team doesn't have a lot of senior people. When (before we started talking about this) he asked me what I was currently doing and I mentioned that I was particularly happy to be able to mentor our junior team members, his eyes lit up.

What I don't do well, or attempt to do any more at all, is write production code. I used to be a programmer. I'm not now. I have a decent reading knowledge, and enough core knowledge to be able to ask good prying questions about behavior, performance, and so on.

So I'm a "tech-writer++", one who fits well in the right kind of software organization, but not a programmer. I'm overqualified for most tech-writing jobs and underqualified for most software-development jobs. My colleague wants to create the right opening in his group. I gave him some calibration on level expectations.

Their in-house recruiter contacted me last week to schedule some time to talk, and referenced a very generic, not-senior tech-writing job posting. When we talked this morning I asked about that and compared it to what I understood from my colleague, and she said others had told her that job posting wasn't going to cut it either. It sounds like we're just going to ignore that posting and she just needed something to attach my resume to.

She said the next step would be a phone screen with one of their technical folks. I suggested some dates and times. A couple hours later I got email scheduling that call (fast work). What I wasn't expecting was that during that interview we'd use a collaboration tool for me to write code in real time (and don't forget test cases, it said), and I should sign up with Top Coder and browse some of their problems to get an idea of what to expect.

Eep? Am I really getting the software-developer interview process, or is this email -- like the job description -- a generic template that we're not really going to follow? Can I write correct, compilable code in real time while being watched, where every stupid typo or goof stands out? (Oh right, for arrays it's .length, not .length() like you expect! Oh right, I can't cast a string that contains only digits to an int directly; how do I do that again? Can I consult Stack Overflow? Etc.)

Well, one way or the other, it won't stress me for too long. I've got until Monday -- and Pesach is between now and then -- to scrape off the rust, do some practice problems, and see what happens. My goal is to not embarrass myself. Because even if it turns out they're looking for someone who'll write production code -- in which case I am not their person -- I still don't want to look like an idiot to the interviewer. Which is stupid because it's not "idiot", it's "mismatch", but try telling my subconscious that.

Beyond that, the worst that happens is that this particular job that came looking for me, not the other way around, isn't a fit. There are still lots of ways it could turn out not to be a fit that aren't related to this phone screen, after all. I've asked very few of my questions so far.

Another misguided recruiter

Like many others, I get lots of unsolicited email from recruiters who claim to have read my LinkedIn profile and have a great opportunity for me. They're almost always wrong about both. But I usually skim the tech-writing ones when they arrive, to (maybe) learn a little about the state of the field.

The latest one, about a "fast-paced innovative team", started off generic, as most of them do. (Hint to recruiters: if you want me to respond, give me a reason to. I'm not actively looking; you have to show me something interesting.) But the list of responsibilities included "work with architecture and UX teams to understand how best to organize and present the documentation" -- hey, they have a UX team! That's unusual (in a positive way). I kept reading.

Then I got to the requirements, which included:

  • Experience with Cobol
  • Strong working knowledge of Microsoft Office

Ha ha, no.

Also, it's in New Jersey and the ad doesn't say anything about remote employees. Bzzt.

Not the usual accident

The intersection in front of our house is not an all-way stop and people sometimes misjudge it, so it's not unusual to hear a thump followed by angry voices from time to time. I usually look out the window and, if people are standing outside the cars, assume they've got things under control. Yesterday afternoon we were visiting with a guest, so we didn't look immediately when we heard the thump.

When we heard sirens a minute or two later we got up to look. Usually these accidents are fender-benders, so sirens are unusual. There was a fire truck in the street right in front of our house. Police cars were starting to block the street.

There was a car across the street, doors open and unoccupied, and some other cars parked haphazardly nearby. (Other involved parties? Witnesses?) The firemen were unrolling their hose, so I looked more closely and clearly saw flames under the front of the car, coming through the space behind the front wheel. Our visitor, a nurse, wondered if he should offer assistance, but concluded that there was nothing useful he could do. (We didn't yet see an ambulance but also didn't see anybody in distress or surrounded by other people.)

Cars were trying to come down the street facing our house, toward the blocked intersection, when a huge smoke cloud appeared. I don't know if that was just from the car (wonder what happened if so) or if this was the fire hose's first contact or what. It did, however, cause approaching drivers to turn around.

I think they spent about ten minutes trying to put the fire out. At one point it looked like they had it, but then somebody started banging on the hood of the car with what we assumed was an axe. Eventually they put it out, a tow truck showed up, and everybody dispersed.

I couldn't find any local news about it online, so I have no idea what happened. I didn't know that a car could burn for many minutes without engulfing the car; all the action seemed to be in the engine and environs. Still, that car's gotta be totalled.