Adventures in Back Channel Job Hunting
I still remember my wife crying on the way home from the airport after she picked me up. It wasn’t a singular event. She was pregnant. And we already had 2 children under the age of 5.
Working at Oracle was the best of times and the worst of times. I loved travelling - Nashville, Orlando, and the bay area itself was my home away from home. But the hours were long. For several months I worked a full day, starting at 5 or 6am for customer meetings on the east coast, followed by a second shift from 8pm to midnight coordinating with the dev team in Bangalore.
The harder it was at home the more I enjoyed going away. And our marriage was suffering.
Something had to give. When the baby was born I went on parental leave paid at 500 / week (a benefit of the federal government, not Oracle). It was not culturally appropriate to do this, at least not on my team. I didn’t care; I wasn’t going back.
A Brief Consulting Period
After some months at home (birth complications for weeks, and then I landscaped our new yard). I’d been talking to a few people about consulting.
I picked up a couple of small contracts with bigger customers. But I faced payment hurdles and delays. This went on for a year. And I ran out of savings to live off of.
Lesson learned. I had enterprise type experience, and I got enterprise consulting work. It’s hard to land and keep big fish by yourself. There’s a reason why only deloitte and large firms survive in this space.
So over a year after the baby arrived I sent an email to a government organization where I had previously worked. I still had a few connections there and was able to set up a meeting with a senior level manager in the IT department. Nothing happened. A month later I sent a follow up email and we had an informal offer negotiated within 24 hours.
My experience in the government hiring process just wasn’t what you’d expect. There may have been a posting up for a day …, I submitted my application, and they took it down the next day. It was all pre-orchestrated. The job was already mine.
I was there for a year. There was some redundancy to my work and I didn’t have much to do other than attend endless meetings. My life was getting sucked up in a long commute. It was time for me to move on.
Back to Building Software
Knowing that my time was coming to an end at the government I had been watching job postings though never applied for anything. This one company kept popping up - which I normally consider a red flag. However, I realized a good friend of mine worked there. He had been working there for a few years. So I asked him if he liked it and he gave it a thumbs up. He offered to set up lunch with the senior engineer (who I also knew loosely from university). We had lunch and I went back to the office and had interviews with the other 2 most senior engineers. We negotiated a deal over the next couple of days and I gave my notice at the government. Best decision ever.
Funny enough, a couple of months later I got a call from HR in California. “We have no resume on file for you. Maybe we lost it. Will you send us something?” There never was a resume. I had to make one up to give them.
Hunt Where You Know the Territory
I have a minor policy that I only pursue a job where I know someone that already works there and gives it a good reference. That’s great for knowing that it’s a healthy environment. But it’s also key to understanding the the process. For the above 2 jobs I new the salary range before I even started negotiating.
Be a Known Commodity
I have a non-existent reputation online. I’m a nobody. But I have a great reputation among those who’ve worked with me. I always rise to the top. I’m not the best but I take ownership and never give up. People want me on their team.
Practice excellence in everything. Be honest and transparent. Keep your word. Work hard every day.
Lift Up Others
Some will argue that this type of hiring blocks diversity. I’m not going to argue that. We gravitate to those like ourselves. So be aware of your team makeup.
It takes a conscious effort to lift up others. There’s strength in a diverse team.
A few years ago I was a mentor for the google summer of code program for an open source project. During the application period I would watch for students to join our weekly developer call. This rarely happened but when it did I quickly checked the applications and selected that person as my student. I think that’s how I got paired up with Suranga.
We had a phenomenal experience coaching Suranga. I swear the kid never slept. He is brilliant. He hustled. And we loved him.
He lived in the Sri Lanka. And we’d talk. Not just about software, about life. He confided in me one day that his dream was to move to the US for graduate school but knew it was impossible. I said “that’s not impossible.” He asked how he could pay for it. I said he’d get a part time job. We’d get him a part time job and maybe he could get a scholarship. Then he asked how he could possibly get selected. Well, our project was sponsored by a university and we knew a couple of profesors that were open to a promising graduate student. Not long after there was a position with funding waiting for his application. The paperwork and references were almost a formality.
There are people out there waiting for you to come along and show potential. Suranga did all the work. We explained how things happen and helped open the doors when he approached. That’s all.
This is only a glimpse into a period of my life. I want you to see how I’ve been able to move from one position to the next. How these things really work behind the scenes. I have several more examples from my own life.
I know some people struggle, submitting dozens of applications and facing rejection while others waltz in without a care. Certain things have come naturally to me and other things are probably timing. I know I’m blessed (you might say privileged).
I don’t know how to network during a pandemic. I don’t know how to make myself look like a superstar online. I’m really introverted and shy. If you met me in a crowd you might be suprised how little I say.
The one piece of advice I’ll say is don’t compete with the masses. Some postings these days are getting 500 applicants. It’s like rolling a dice that your application will even get reviewed. Try and find a way to separate yourself out. Not in the applicaiton process but in some other aspect of your work - be it your online sharing or open source contributions. Find something that you know better than others and make it known. I started out as an HL7 v3 specialist with experience in Clinical Document Architecture and terminologies. I don’t do that anymore but those keywords on my linkedin profile got my first contact from the Oracle recruiter. Find something like that to make yourself unique.