Hi! I hope you’re doing well.
I’ve been chewing on writing something like this for over a month now. A small textual recording of what life has been like for me, living through the COVID-19 pandemic in rural New Brunswick while underemployed.
I posted my initial reaction to the COVID-19 outbreak back in March. At the time it felt like the run-up to the Y2K meltdown in late 1999 with people cleaning out aisles of toilet paper from the local grocery stores. Remember two months ago?
I was laid off from my job at a local software company just a day after I wrote that. It turns out, the airline industry as a whole doesn’t really operate with a whole lot of cash reserve on hand and when planes stop flying, the money dries up. It’s actually worse, because those grounded planes cost a lot of money to stay on the tarmac. Storage and maintenance fees are very expensive. Companies providing services to those airlines are suddenly left with a stack of operating expenses and no cashflow coming in. So they contract and consolidate.
At the time, it felt like my employers were doing me a favor. Taking a pay cut and having to work from home felt like a step backwards, but that wasn’t an option available to me anyway.
Two months later, getting laid off is starting to feel more profound. I’m doing all right and Deb’s employed and working her ass off. The Canadian Government has a pretty solid safety net in place for people affected by job loss during the pandemic and I’m able to take advantage of that while I look for work. But all those sweet remote development jobs are in high demand right now so there’s a lot of competition. And the postings are disappearing, presumably as companies are inundated with resumes to sift through.
Looking for a job as a software developer comes with its own sets of challenges. Being upbeat while in self-isolation is hard enough. Selling a prospective employer on my unusual resume is even harder on a bad cell connection or (horror) on video with my way past due disastrous hair situation. I’ve been trying to put myself out there and have had tremendous help from my previous employer, local connections and former colleagues.
In two months I’ve had a lot of email exchanges, online chats and various video and phone calls. I’ve had fifteen interviews with various companies both local and remote. Four of those turned into “coding challenges” of varying levels of sophistication. Much of this has been happening concurrently with meetings scheduled around coding challenges with lots of task switching from coding to speaking to dealing with the dog who has suddenly decided, Now is the time to do something and would you, for the love of god just pay attention to me now? No, Zeke. Maybe later.
The worst of these experiences was an interview with a recruiter followed by a request for a follow-up interview the next day. Great, but the recruiter threw in “just a quick coding challenge that shouldn’t take you too long” in a programming language I haven’t used in well over ten years. This was already the end of the day and I had less than 24 hours to complete it. Things were moving very quickly, she assured me, but they just wanted to see what I could do, technically.
OK! No big deal. It took me almost two hours to get the environment setup and I spent the rest of the day relearning the idioms of that particular language vis-a-vis text processing, date parsing, file formats and data structures. I had two other meetings that broke up the day that prevented me from getting the whole thing completed. I submitted what I had with fifteen minutes to go before the interview after routing around Microsoft’s email client balking at sending a simple zip file.
The job I was apparently interviewing for had nothing to do with the coding challenge. I was already flustered going into it, still thinking about how I wanted to present my code when I dialed into the noisy conference call. What followed was about 15 minutes of three people asking me if I thought I was suitable to rebuild and modernize an online billing system for Big Company X. How would I do it and what technologies would I use?
“Uh, what’s there now? What does their database look like? Am I doing this by myself?”
Had I been in the right mind frame, I would have been able to deal with that differently, but instead, it was just a really bad interview and I came across… not well, I’m sure.
So, what was really happening, was this professional services company, had someone they thought they could put on an RFP to win a bid to build this thing and bill Big Company X for my time there.
I didn’t get an offer. In fact, they never even sent an email to say they were passing.
I had another series of interviews for a company that was looking for one thing, thought about me for something else, and ended up talking to me about a management role in a whole separate thing. They interviewed me three or four times then decided I wasn’t right for the role. I’m on file in case something more in line with my skill set comes up.
I have had multiple opportunities to build things for people for free.
So it’s been hard. I’ve interviewed enough people to recognize when an interview isn’t going well, or I’m not the candidate they’re looking for. And that’s fine. I thank them for the opportunity and move on. But I still die a little bit every time it happens and it’s been happening more than I’d like in the past couple of months.
Increasingly, I’m beginning to think I’m going about this the wrong way. Applying for Software Developer / Engineer roles may not be setting myself up for success. I am older than most of the candidates, and have some different experiences that might be hard to see past for an employer looking for someone specific. While I can happily work on a single task or programming problem, a hiring manager might not see that in me. Invariably, they ask me about my management experience, and I will tell them about that and then the tone of the interview invariably shifts away from seeing me as a potential developer to a manager with developer experience.
But there aren’t a lot of software management positions out here and hiring externally for those is much much harder.
So, I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m still thinking about what I want to do about this. I’d like to build something.
In the mean time, to keep busy, I’ve been doing some Python programming to build some micro-services to fetch and process things from the web. I’m starting a Single Page Web App in React and Express to put a front end on these little snippets. I had done a bit of digging into PHP7 and am happy to report that it’s Much Better Now, but I probably won’t use it for much. These are all mostly excuses to build things on my Raspberry Pis and poke around in Linux under Windows.
That’s about it. Oh, I’ve been cooking a bunch, availing ourselves of some of the amazing local food options. Zeke seems to like having me around, mostly, but may be getting a little tired of my bullshit. I know I am.
Bonus! The Things I’m doing in my Spare Spare time
Writing: I’ve begun laying out the bones for Book 5 of my series. Scrivener 3 is finally in a release candidate stage for Windows so I can start using that again. It is looking very nice too — the software I mean, not my book which is just a spattering of notes strewn around a corkboard.
Video Games: Elite:Dangerous, stalking Low Temperature Diamonds in the ice rings of a particular gas giant for game-imbalancing, huge profits.
Board Games: Deb and I have been exploring the exciting world of two-player board games. So far, Morels, Terraforming Mars, Hive, One Deck Dungeon are great. We have Castles of Burgundy, Root and a couple of others lined up as well. Maybe I’ll bust out the Puerto Rico. Those have been fun and since it’s Friday…
Gardening: Planted two trees, a rose shrub, weeded a bunch. Cut up and hauled a huge fallen tree limb. Moved some dirt…
Golf: Played a round this week with my Dad and a friend I hadn’t seen in months. Now that the province has started to open some things up again, this is something we can do together. That was really nice. I shot a 95.
Have fun. Stay safe. Be well. ♥