The First Rule of Holes is: “if you’re in one, stop digging.”

If you’ve been reading, then you know that I’m unbelievably broke and attempting to find a decent full time job. I’ve set this goal for a number of reasons, such as:

That said, any job will do… any job where I can actually succeed, that is.

That leaves me checking the regular hangouts save LinkedIn (which I cannot stand because unlike most social media services, it penalizes casual users for being casual). Thence comes a pointed question: “if you’re so hot, how come you’re looking?”

As far as the eye can see (which isn’t very far)

Here’s what I see when I investigate demand:

I’m also seeing a lot of call for experimenters in HTML5 and CSS 3, which would be distressing if I didn’t recognize it as an attitude signal. I, meanwhile, am happy to experiment… but I care an awful lot more about stuff that can be deployed and work properly right now. Finally, the near-complete absence of any demand for Quality Assurance specialists (given the demand for other kinds of specialists) is both surprising and alarming.

Another trend I’m seeing is one of demand for operators who are vertically specialized in specific types of Web applications, in addition to being particularly strong in a single technical area… and in point of fact, this is a subtle way of saying, “don’t bother applying unless you already have a job.”

Per usual, people are desperate for multiple-skill rockstars. They want to one-stop-shop. Given the overhead required to hire any single individual, I’m not surprised — but I really wish such folks would stop wasting everybody’s time. Multiple-skill rockstars are damned hard to find, and chances are that if someone volunteers their multiple-skill rockstar status, they’re bullshitting you.

The proverbial firewall between technical chops and content chops remains sturdy as ever. As someone who’s both an excellent writer and an excellent stylist, I find myself horribly frustrated that there’s little chance anyone would care to hire me for both skillsets. Worse still, the fondness for so-called Agile processes means that lately product documentation is the red-headed stepchild of the industry.

Out of character, or being the tall blade of grass on purpose

Beyond the currently hot markets, there remains the matter of the job search itself. In the end, I figure that sight-unseen applicants automatically fall into a lower echelon than candidates identified through referrals or other search resources — a conclusion amply supported by my industry experience and borne out by logic.

Thanks to the way the Internet works, what might’ve been twenty applicants for fifteen jobs fifteen years ago has become 200 applicants for 150 jobs today. Human Resources specialists have a lot more crap to wade through than in years past, and in a lot of organizations they deliberately shift to hiring managers the responsiblility of critical evaluation. Keep in mind that those are the same hiring managers who are already shorthanded and thus pressed for time.

For me, standing out from the crowd is difficult, notwithstanding my status as a recent O’Reilly author. My challenge is down to one issue: confidence.

Staying grounded

As I stated above, I can claim without shame or reservation excellent skills as both a writer and a stylist — a claim supported at exhaustive length by search results. One significant aspect of these strengths illuminates a fact that’s extremely difficult to communicate in a cv or cover letter: being something of a rockstar myself, an awful lot of my team experience has come in company with other rockstars.

When on teams I also make a point of trying to be a significant impact player: the guy who asks the stupid and/or painful questions to ensure that everybody understands what’s going on, the guy who translates requirements across specialist vocabularies, the guy who makes damned sure stuff gets documented, even if he’s pulling allnighters on his own to see it done. How in the hell do I put that skill across on a cv, particularly given my complete lack of formal project management training?

My self esteem does not meet the resulting (natural) comparisons with sanguinity. It’s been twelve years since I first dug into JavaScript, and more than nine since I first started ploughing through PHP. In fifteen years, I have at one point or another been called upon to deliver high-quality product (or project-manage others’ high-quality product) in nearly every sitebuilding skill I can think of, save systems administration, XML-based application design, and database engineering.

…But I cannot talk myself up when I know the difference between my skills and the ones I know my interviewer really wants, particularly once one accounts for the fact that skills atrophy is a constant danger for me. That’s how it works when you’re always working with people who are better than you at $skill and there are tight deadlines to meet.

To say that my hands often feel tied… is putting it briefly.

Music

Perez Prado, “Mambo No. 8”
@amazon
@allmusic

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Competence, Confidence, and Reality

Competence, Confidence, and Reality —by Ben Henick, 28 June 2010

All journal entries

  1. Talking About the Weather
  2. To the Rafters?
  3. Coming of Age with Killer Apps
  4. Race to the Bottom
  5. Meditations on Decay
  6. Net Neutrality, or the Lack Thereof
  7. Three Problems
  8. Post Mortem of a Book Project
  9. The Egg and the Chicken
  10. Yellow Dog
  11. Digging Through the Clutter
  12. Lessons from Mom
  13. Being Careful What You Wish For
  14. Out on a Limb
  15. Beliefs, No. 1
  16. Like a Chimney
  17. Does Not Compute
  18. Past Trends, Future Results
  19. Beyond These Four Walls
  20. Competence, Confidence, and Reality
  21. Anesthesia
  22. King of the Mountain
  23. “A Deer in the Headlights”

Disclaimer: This is definitely self-indulgent. If you don’t like it, read somebody else.

This nook of the Internet is my antidote for Twitter. ©2010 Ben Henick, all rights reserved.

Job, or hell?

Yesterday I happened on two links. (Good grief, I love the Web.) The first is an e-mail alideshow of sorts aimed at the guts of some hypocrite named Spencer, the author’s (erstwhile imaginary) boss. The second is an article in Slate discussing the (un-) desirability of low- to mid-level service jobs.

…And then there’s the story of the flight attendant who on Monday found a spectacular way to say “take this job and shove it” after being verbally assaulted at length by a passenger.

All three pieces are a kick. Reading them in rapid succession, as I did yesterday afternoon, is a kick in the guts. The article about jobs-in-general particularly evoked from me a visceral response.

Rich get richer, poor get poorer

The sense of entitlement to profit that I raised a few days ago is evident in every talk about compensation I’ve heard about, or participated in, in the past several years. It seems to me like the vast majority want labor for the cheapest they can possibly obtain, while remaining content to throw handfuls of money at senior management and holders of equity — even ones who, as it turns out, contribute little or nothing.

It always seems like the same old story: hire somebody with the basic minimum of proven ability in order to get away with paying them as little as possible, train them up to the minimum needed by the organization, fire the ones who don’t take comfortably to that scheme at the instant they’re identified, and work the others to the bone until they burn out.

I believe that on some level, most people recognize that this is going on. However, I struggle to understand why. It seems axiomatic to me that people who feel valued will work harder, yet the trend moves toward every possible effort to remind people that they’re replaceable and ought to get the best out of things while they can.

Compassion vs. sociopathy

The only fact that adequately explains this prevailing state of affairs is broad, unwitting subscription to the system cobbled together from the amoral rants of a mildly nutty Russian emigré. On balance that would not be so bad, except that like that ethos’ nemeses — Communism and Christianity — “Objectivism” works a hell of a lot better in theory than in practice.

I see two deep flaws with this ethos, deepening my my confusion. First, we can’t all be Howard Roark; lots of us lack the temperament requisite to that outcome. As much to the point, if we all could have and act upon that power, civilization as we know it would rapidly descend into barbarism. One man’s clear thinker is another’s cold-hearted sonofabitch, and the latter type is awfully good at inducing conflict.

Second, human beings possess and act upon compassion compulsively; the ones who habitually refuse or fail to do so are (rightly) called sociopaths. We all recognize that the chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and communities tend to raise the minimum when given the chance. Cutting loose that weak link instead… goes a bit far.

Meritocracy

The happy finish of the labor market’s neo-Nietzchean race to the botom can be found in two virtues that are compatible with all of the belief systems in play: honesty and fidelity.

As it stands, the realities of social (im-) mobility leave some with first-class tickets, and consign the rest to steerage barring both outstanding luck and superlative effort. Furthermore, there are no guarantees that anyone who manages to climb their way out of steerage won’t be shoved back down by some vindictive asshole.

Rewarding honesty and fidelity in the workplace — and penalizing those who lie, cheat, and habitually cover their asses — would go a long way toward making the labor market a better place for everybody.

We have the technological capacity to discover and promote out of steerage quickly the ones who’ve earned it, as a matter of course. We can do the reverse for those who feel most inclined to rest on their laurels. Why don’t we?

Music

Hey Lewis & The News, “Workin’ for a Livin’”
@amazon
@allmusic