Bad Job Experiences, Number 5 in a Series

With no pay for the last couple of months because “Horrible” screwed me, I was desperate for work. I went back to GeoVision to use one of the documentation writer’s fancy Macintosh computers and fancy high res (600dpi) laser printers to update my resume.

While I was there, Orest H saw me there. Orest was one of the founders of the company, but had stayed a programmer the whole time. He’d been technical lead on the “Albany” project. He’d also paid me the supreme compliment of my career when he told one of the IBM guys that if he wanted to talk to somebody who really knew the details of the inner workings of the product, they should come to me because nobody knows the source code better. Orest was now in charge of the product, and he asked me if I wanted to come back to work for GeoVision. I jumped at the chance, and he said to come back on Monday to talk to him about it. I came back on Monday, thinking my job search problems were over, only to find the doors of the company padlocked and a notice that it had been closed by so-and-so, “Trustees in Bankruptcy”. Damn. I guess I hadn’t noticed that 8 months had gone by and it was the end of another quarter. Unlike everybody else milling around in the lobby that morning, at least I’d gotten some severance pay.

September 1993 was a pretty crappy time to be looking for a tech job just about anywhere, but in Ottawa it was the worst. I was young and stupid, and so I saw dozens of companies advertising positions requiring Oracle, C and PRO*C experience, and I applied to all of them. What slowly dawned on me was that all those were ads for different head hunters who were all trying to supply warm bodies to the same company. And many of those head hunters were lying scumbags who would either not tell you who they were submitting you to, or would submit you to the client even though you’d told them some other company had already submitted you for that job. Usually the consequence of that is the hiring company doesn’t want to get into a pissing match between the head hunters, so they just destroy all copies of your resume.

During this time I got an offer from one company. Although I was desperate, I wasn’t quite desperate enough to take this one – doing Clipper/dBase programming for $10 an hour. The company offering me the job told me that if I didn’t take this one they wouldn’t be able to give me any of the better ones that was sure to come along in a few months. Yeah, I wonder how many people they’d suckered with that line.

I didn’t discover this for years afterwards, but one of the things that was killing me in the job market was in job interviews, I’d tell people about how I’d been screwed by “Horrible”. Many of them had business relationships with the main Ottawa office of “Horrible”, and probably didn’t want to hire me if they thought I’d be getting into some sort of fight with “Horrible”.

During the same time, SHL bought the assets of GeoVision, and hired a bunch of the people. I applied for a job there, and the SHL guy who interviewed me was totally focused on that one bad performance review, and not the 6 years of excellent performance reviews before that. I tried to explain about this manager, Steve, and why he’d screwed me on that review, but it turned out later that he and Steve were old buddies. I also asked him to talk to Orest about me, but I don’t think he ever did. Oh well.

Although it took 4 or 5 weeks to come about, evidently the Oracle/PRO*C job came through – while many head hunters had submitted my resume to the primary, I’d evidently sent my resume to the primary as well, so they could claim a prior relationship with me. These guys were hiring anybody they could get, so I guess they were willing to look through their files to establish precedence and stand up to the head hunters.

The job was at DMR Consulting doing some value added stuff for Canada Post’s “Change of Address” system – I think basically Canada Post wanted to sell people extra stuff like pre-printed post cards, mail forwarding for an extended period of time, and automated notifications back to the senders when the mail was forwarded. The project was all managed through this extremely rigid system that they called “P5” – I think the last two Ps where “Productivity Plus”. This was a system which is something they sold to other companies as well – except we bypassed large chunks of it in order to get stuff done. Hmmmm.

Besides the stultifying boredom of doing this business type programming, it wasn’t all that bad. For one thing, I discovered that business type programming has a lot more cute women than in scientific/technical/engineering programming. One of the ones I worked with usually did Cobol programming, and C was a great bafflement to her. She wasn’t dumb, it’s just that Cobol is so different from real programming languages that it affects your world view.

Most of the time there I was partnered with this other guy. I found out at one point that while I was making $300 a day contracted direct to DMR, he was making $450 and he was coming through a head hunter (so no doubt they were taking a huge cut on top of that). Which made it even more annoying when the following happened.

We got a chunk of work. I split it roughly in half, and he was to do one half and I the other. I finished my chunk and he’d said he’d encountered some problems so had only done this small part of his half. So I divided the remaining work in half. I bet you’re way ahead of me by now – when I got my half done, he’d encountered some problems, so he’d only done a very small part of his “half”. Lather, rinse and repeat. Actually, by the third or fourth iteration, by which time I’d done more than 75% of the joint project, he suddenly left the company. He said he had another job to do. Unfortunately the version of his work that was in the PVCS source code repository didn’t even compile correctly. My boss pitched a fit, and she was all ready to stop his last paycheck, but I found some code in his home directory that almost worked. I moved that into the source code repository and got it working.

The contract was pretty short – I think it was 90 days, so of course I spent a lot of time trying to make sure I had something when it ended. Since I didn’t have a cell phone, that involved phoning my answering machine at least hourly to see if I had any messages, and also making followup calls to any lead I had. The guy opposite commented on how much I was on the phone, but I got my work done. Some of the other people in that room were in the same boat as me, but because they’d been in the hired gun business a lot longer, had cell phones or pagers. Only one problem – the room they had us in used to be PetroCanada’s board room, and because of that it was fully Tempest shielded. The window had two copper mesh screens over it offset by 10 centimeter or so, and supposedly all the walls were the same. Nobody could get a cell phone signal in there, so they had to leave them with the secretary and have her phone them when their phone rang or pager went off.

By the time the contract was up, I’d arranged a new permanent job. DMR offered me a new contract, and when I told them I was taking this other permanent job, they offered me a permanent job, but the new one was much more in my field, so I wasn’t even tempted.

After I left, I got a call from DMR asking me if I wanted to come in on weekends to help out. I said I might be available for that, so they said they’d couldn’t hire me directly so they’d get a head hunter to contact me. The head hunter did. He asked me what I wanted. I said I wanted at least $500 a day to give up my weekends. He said there was no way they’d pay that much. I told him that I knew for a fact that they paid at least one guy $450 a day to work during the week, so why did he expect me to give up my weekend for less than that. And he kept insisting that they’d never pay more than $250 a day. I have no doubt in my mind that he was just worried that he wouldn’t be getting a big enough cut if he paid me what I wanted. I also suspect that DMR would have paid that much, since they knew me, but the head hunter didn’t realize that. Anway, I told him not to call me back until he’d gotten me $500 a day, and he never did.

3 thoughts on “Bad Job Experiences, Number 5 in a Series”

  1. If you could do it without out-and-out slandering somebody, you should turn these absolutely fascinating workplace reminiscences into a book of some sort. It would certainly deglamorize the “computer revolution”.

  2. Hi Chris,

    Interesting article, especially the part about DMR’s methodology. Do you have any clue on courses given on P+ ? I’m an analyst trying to get a job at Hydro-Quebec, but they always ask for P+…



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