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Got a call from Pam the other day. She is an eminently successful marketing person who has hit a couple of startups and has the Porsche Cabriolet to prove it. I don't know what Pam does, but she seems to be at every trade show and memorizes the hot buzz words before they are hot.

I guess she feels sorry for me because I hear from her about every six months, when a new software trend is emerging and when I am in the job market.

"Hey, Joe!" I heard on the other end of my phone line. My head was still reeling from a day of job interviews. "It's me, Pam."

Pam is much too happy to be in this business. "How's the job search?" she asked.

"Terrible. I am tired of interviewing with 25-year-old software engineering managers who don't wear shoes to work. Besides, I am competing with 22-year-old Java programmers who never heard of the Doors or Grand Funk Railroad." There I go again...

"Well, don't worry, be happy... Isn't that what your generation used to say?" she snapped back. "Hey, I didn't call to cheer you up; there are plenty of seminars available for that, like the one I used to sell before I found this Java marketing gig."

"But, enough about you... I need your help. My uncle is looking for a job. He was a mainframe programmer for the United Nations, working on a project deep in the Brazilian jungle for the last 25 years. He's sort of been out of touch with the industry. Can you help him?" She sounded almost human. "I really need to help him, so he won't forget me in his will. You understand... this industry can't continue to have people like me leeching off it forever." Well, maybe she is not completely human, but she certainly is Darwinian.

Next thing I know, I am having breakfast with Pam's uncle at a well-known Woodside café, surrounded by venture capitalists discussing Microsoft's latest moves and racing bikes.

"Given my background, what do you think I need to do to compete in today's job market?" he asked.

"Do you know Java? OOP? Windows NT? Can you tweak MPEG algorithms?" I asked.

"No, no, no and what is MPEG?" he said in a very confused voice.

"Well, you need to know it to avoid ending up working in a burger joint asking, Would you like fries with that?'" My job search stress was surfacing.

"Look," I continued. "What does the world need with a COBOL programmer? Most of you guys have either retired to Idaho or are living out of your vans in Oregon. You will have to get caught up with new technologies, especially Java. That will take some time. Let's see, what was the last thing you did before you left Brazil?"

"Well," he thought. "I hacked up some code to fix a minor problem we were having. Seems that the mainframe world wasn't prepared to handle dates after the turn of the new century. So, I fixed our IBM system to automatically update all the code." He had a fix for the infamous Year 2000 problem.

The room became very still. Suddenly, our tables were swamped with guys in Gucci loafers. "You did what? How? Here, sign this employment agreement. I saw him first. No, you didn't, I did!" I felt like I had the Jolt Cola franchise at Java One.

The next thing I knew, Pam's uncle was gone and I was staring at a cold omelet and a big breakfast tab.

A week later, I received a call from Pam. "Hey Joe, it's Pam. Thanks for helping my uncle. I really owe you one. He may call you again... I think he needs some help. The V.C. guys bought him a house in Los Altos Hills and he is having a hell of a time deciding which color BMW to put into the garage. My uncle wants a red one, but I think he should go for black. Black would look nice next to the white Ferrari. When he calls, tell him to go for the black one!" She caught herself. "Oh, how's the job search? Anything I can do for you?" she said in her best PR voice.

Before I could answer, she blurted, "Got to run, the other cell phone is ringing. Ciao, Joe!"

Later that day, I cashed my pay check and celebrated by going out to dinner. And I didn't order fries.

About The Author
Joe S. Valley is a scarred veteran of the Silicon Valley wars. It was either writing this column or heading back into therapy. His company can't afford mental health care coverage anymore, so writing is the only option. There are a million stories in the Valley and Joe knows lots of them. Got a good story? E-mail him at [email protected]


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