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Old Joe here is cranking up his network. My current employer, once described as the next Netscape, is turning into the next Borland. My team is bailing out and I can't give them any good reasons to stay. Now it is my turn to pull the ripcord.

It happens a lot. Company didn't make the IPO window, the promotion to director never happened after your beta test crashed "Byte Magazine"'s entire network, whatever. Blame it on Karma, blame it on Bill Gates, but it is time to move on.

Got a call from two Java programmers I know. They are so different, I refer to them as Ying and Yang. Ying is always politically correct and unnaturally optimistic. Yang is a wild man, with so many body parts pierced, he can't go through a metal detector. Ying and Yang were working for me as summer interns a couple of years ago, and we stayed in touch since then. They wanted to meet.

A good neutral meeting place is Peet's Coffee in Menlo Park. Minimal number of skin heads and no soccer moms. We all had the same thing on our minds, time to get out of where we are.

"So Joe, give us some job search advice," Yang opened. "But I will take it with a grain of salt...if you were so smart, you would be rich!"

Fortunately for Yang, I had such a bad hangover, hitting him would hurt me too much.

Ying broke in, "Joe, where do we start? The first job was easy, I didn't know what I didn't know. Now I know what I want, but I need to be able to put together a resume and make it through the initial interview cycle. I can code and I can think."

"Yeah, right" said Yang. "I have read a dozen job search manuals, and they are all over the map. One says it is a numbers game, send out 1000 resumes on a certain kind of paper to head hunters; the other says you need to deliver fresh bagels to the hiring manager. This is worse than trying tomaintain a 20-year-old FORTRAN program!"

"I'll keep it simple," I said in my best layoff voice." Think like the guy who is going to hire you. He or she only cares about three things, which are also my three key criteria. Do you want to do the job? Can you prove you can do the job? Can we stand you while you are doing the job?"

"What about the fonts on the resume? What about references? What about sucking up to former classmates that you always hated?" they protested.

"Look, if you want to go to a hot company, they only want to hire the best. Simply convince them that you are the best person for that job at this time. Go back to my three criteria. Notice I didn't mention the college you went to, what your grades were, what frat you were in, who was best man at your wedding, how many Managing at HP' classes you took or in which font you wrote your resume. If those are the reasons a company cares about you, ask yourself if that company will be around next year. The surviving companies in the Valley can only hire people who meet my three criteria."

They both stared at me.

"At any given time, there are only so many hot companies. You guys are young and can work 70-hour weeks without a problem. Put yourself in the hiring manager's head. He is working 80-hour weeks and it won't get better until he fills some programmer slots. But, if he hires the wrong guy, who is all talk or over his head or can't work with anyone else, the hiring manager is now working 100 hours a week to fix the problems his new hire has created."

Ying chimed in. "So, what do we put on our resumes? How do we get started?"

"Crank up your network and figure out what companies interest you the most. Find out what the problems are at those companies. Are they growing too fast? Are they growing at all? Do the venture capital guys see them as a IPO, or are they being groomed as an acquisition. Read "Red Herring" magazine. Then write a simple resume aimed at each company. State what you want to do and why you are qualified to do it. In the interview, make it clear that they will be able to stand you while you are doing the job."

"Send your resume in through all the normal channels - Internet postings, mail, fax, respond to newspaper ads. The best way is through someone you know, especially if the company pays employees a bonus for every person that they recommend."

"Seems simple enough. Then there is the interview. How do I get inside the hiring manager's head? How do I know what he or she cares about?" asked Yang.

"Ask" I said. "Also ask what the ideal hire is for this job, and do it early in the interview. If you are both far apart, it will be apparent. That way, you won't be wasting each other's time. Honesty works, really."

"And one more thing. If you really want the job and you are turned down, send a follow-up letter to the hiring manager. After the thank you, make sure they know your ideas to help the company. Who knows, they may look at you differently and reconsider the rejection. I got my best gig that way."

We finished our coffee. Yang looked at me and smiled, "Well Joe, I guess you learned something with all those miles you logged on Highway 101 each morning."

I guess I did.

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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