Monday 23 February 2009

It's unique, just like all the others

So, I've been going to a few job interviews lately and I can honestly say that no two have been quite the same.

For the first few weeks after arriving in London, I was applying for contracting roles. It didn't take me long to realise that Spring and Hibernate are a big deal in the local job market, so I started to do a bit of upskilling - Winning 4 days worth of training in the latest Spring technologies was a good start, but the timing of the course - December - was awkward as I had to second guess how that might be treated by a prospective employer - Good: training; - Bad - 4 days off before he's even started really working.

Reading the books and having a course coming up was never going to be enough to get me up to the standard expected when a company is paying top £s for a specialist, so I eventually agreed to look at permanent roles.

The first interview was in Devon and involved a long train journey - which half convinced me that it was not going to be suitable, given that at least some of the reason for my moving to the UK was to be close to Ireland and Europe for quick weekend getaways. After I had proven my technical prowess in a coding exercise and a general "problem solving around the whiteboard" discussion, I had the panel interview with 2 techos and an HR person. I decided not to proceed with the team lead role they were looking to fill as they were also looking to change their entire development methodology - and I could see that being painful.

The next interview was for a role as a consultant and was run in a cafeteria with a couple of techos, that would have involved me working at client sites and from home - which doesn't really fit with my preference to stick with developing as part of an agile team.

The third interview was unusual in that the company involved approached me directly after finding my CV online - as opposed to the agencies that I usually hear from. Their offices seemed nice, and the discussion went well - but I wasn't really expecting to hear back from them, given the timing and the industry sector they are in.

The fourth interview involved another out of town train ride, but ended promisingly with the guy saying HR should be in touch with me with an offer - hopefully before Christmas. So, leading up to Christmas I felt that my quest was at an end, but the holy grail of a steady income with that company ran away in corporate re-structuring and an unrelated subsequent recruitment freeze.

January proved to be quite a quiet month on the recruitment front, so I applied directly with a few companies and followed up on some companies that I had been in touch with pre-Christmas.

In two interviews I foolishly attempted to bluff my way through describing the design of a system that I had been responsible for developing. I kept tripping over how to describe a particular sub-system which a colleague had designed, but which was critical to the description of the product.

The feedback was mixed:
- one company said I was technically great, but recommended that I read a particular couple of books (one of which I had already read, the other I am in the process of reading right now);
- the other company told the agent that I gave the impression that I wasn't interested in working there

Given that I had just spoken to the agent to let them know that I would lower my salary expectations by 10%, as I felt that the company had a great approach and were really innovative in applying agile methodologies to their development, getting that kind of feedback came as a bit of a shock to me.

So, in the next interview I made a point of giving well thought out responses to the touchy feely HR questions as well as the technical ones. I thought that I was on a roll when the interviewer said that a lot of candidates hadn't known some of the aspects that I had covered... The interviewer deliberately skipped his questions about Hibernate, as I had stated on my applciation that I did not have commercial experience with it. So, I think that I was justified in feeling frustrated upon hearing their excuse for not proceeding further with me: the other candidates they spoke to had more experience with Hibernate.

So, now I've finished reading Java Persistence With Hibernate and have started posting solutions to problems other people are reporting on the Hibernate forum site. I like to learn from other people's mistakes, and get a feel for what areas are proving to be challenging. It's been re-assuring to find that the issues encountered are much the same as I found with JPA - but saying that "I don't have experience with Hibernate, but I've got a year of JPA and 3 years of JDO" doesn't mean much to the recruiters.

Now that I have some casual part time work I should be able to fill a few of those silly gaps in the CV and be set to hit the ground running - maybe I could give contracting another look?

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