Qualification

Certain things aren’t talked about — or at least are avoided because they are uncomfortable to talk about — in polite society; that is, beyond our immediate circle of intimates: politics, religion, race, gender, sex, salary, feelings, whether or not I’m happy at work and seeking other employment. The strange personalized anonymity of the Internet changed this a bit. We put on masks and play roles with more ease, swapping one identity for another as circumstances dictate, or in a search for ourselves.

Sam Altman of YCombinator asked for applicants for a research fellowship at YC Research to study the effects of a basic income. I applied.

I applied, even though I have no work experience in the field, because I want to do this work, and because of this statement in the posting: as always we’re more interested in someone’s potential than his or her past.

That friendly statement was important. One of my foibles is that I remove myself from consideration for a lot of work that I would like to do because I don’t meet, or think I don’t meet, the specified requirements for the position. And even if I do apply, I find it difficult to sell myself, even though I feel confident that I could do any work required, because there’s that learning curve that experience and training do help overcome. More importantly, perhaps, why should someone have faith that I can do the work if I haven’t done the work before? What intangible assets are they willing to buy when they expressed a preference for certain tangible assets, such as a college degree or certification in the field? Why should I be considered for CIO, for example, if I do not have an MBA and have not supervised a large number of people in addition to a large number of computers?

The last position that I applied for before this was also one for which I was nominally unqualified. While a position in IT it involved Microsoft products, which I have studiously avoided for well over ten years. I applied at the behest of a friend, who thought I would be a great fit for his team because I had the soft skills he wanted: specifically, he wanted someone who could step in for him as Director of IT Operations if he were hit by a bus. His boss, the VP of Technology, however, wanted certification and experience with the products the company used. Or, as he put it, he wanted someone who could hit the ground running. I applied despite this, because I agreed with my friend, and because the salary would have been three times what I’m currently making, and one does need to pay for one’s children somehow. As expected, the VP followed his preferences, and did not accept our argument that general practical experience combined with the ability to learn quickly and solve problems were more important than specific experience with a given product. Basically, the two of them were hiring for different positions. I wonder how they’re doing these days.

I’ve found, in my professional experience, that certifications are relatively meaningless. Rare has it been that the nominally qualified candidate has met my performance expectations. Usually it has been the opposite. But if certifications are worthless, how then does someone know whether you are good, if you can do the work they want you to do? The evidence of the work done, or, loosely, experience. Which is the difficulty if one is entering a field for the first time, whether as a recent graduate or someone seeking a mid-life career change; we are all neophytes.

In the past I’ve leaned on learning things quickly, or at least more quickly than others, to make up for a lack of direct experience. But I don’t know how to sell that. Doesn’t everyone claim that they can communicate well, that they learn quickly, that they can solve problems, even if not as well as AlphaGo? Does one simply assert that something is true, and let the buyer learn from their disappointment or delight?

And so we have spec work and trials — or, online portfolios and blogs.

Sorry. Procedures.

I’m reading an excellent book right now that’s discussing how we surrender our judgment to detailed rules and procedures: The Death of Common Sense: How Law is Suffocating America, by Philip K. Howard.

These problems plague any large organization, not just government.

An example from today: One of the applications I support needs to increase storage by 26 GB (spread across 8 filesystems on 3 hosts). (IBM doubled the size of some software.)

The Company funds increases of up to 10% of the existing filesystem from the operations budget, but requires a special project and dedicated budget line for anything over that. The needed increase is greater than 10% of the size of the existing filesystems.

So, I could increase the 3 TB filesystem by 307 GB, but not the 3 GB filesystem by 3 GB?

Kinda funny what happens when people don’t understand percentages, isn’t it?

Newlines

What do the text utilities on AIX have against following the manual and manipulating newlines properly? Is it just that AIX is from IBM, and IBM software is half-assed?

$ uname -a
AIX myhost 3 5 00C2D2804C00
$ echo " 1 2 3 4   5 2 1" | tr -s [:space:] '\n'
 1 2 3 4   5 2 1
$ echo " 1 2 3 4   5 2 1" | tr -s [:space:] '\012'
 1 2 3 4   5 2 1

$ echo " 1 2 3 4   5 2 1" | sed 's/ /\n/g'
n1n2n3n4nnn5n2n1

By properly, I of course mean “How GNU does it.”

$ uname -a
Linux myhost 2.6.9-55.ELsmp #1 SMP Fri Apr 20 17:03:35 EDT 2007 i686 i686 i386 GNU/Linux
$ echo " 1 2 3 4   5 2 1" | tr -s [:space:] '\n                                                                             '

1
2
3
4
5
2
1

$ echo " 1 2 3 4   5 2 1" | tr -s [:space:] '\012'

1
2
3
4
5
2
1
$ echo " 1 2 3 4   5 2 1" | sed 's/ /\n/g'

1
2
3
4


5
2
1

Turns out that tr(5) was not matching the class [:space:] or the class [:blank:], but would match and transform the single character ' ' (space). Still not sure WTF is up with sed(5). The simple solution to this problem, of course, is to avoid AIX.

($/yr)÷(hours-worked/yr)

Zimran, thanks for linking to Michael Lewis’s piece on Sarkozy’s attempt to make the French more productive. It is funny, but given my circumstances at the moment, I would pull out this quote.

Nicolas Sarkozy, the new French president, has decided that the French need to become more productive. He eliminated the law forbidding work weeks longer than 35 hours, and he’s making noises about changing the rule that allows unemployed Frenchmen to turn down job offers that they feel are beneath them and remain on the dole instead.

No French person is likely to be required to work more than 35 hours a week — that appears to be too much to ask for just yet — but any French person who wishes to earn more money may, shockingly, work for it.

“Work more to earn more” is Sarkozy’s dully hopeful slogan.

The thing is, the French don’t want to work more.

Shockingly, I agree with the French. I don’t want to work more either. But then, my problem is not that the law says I may work more than 35 hours per week, but that the company I work for sets rather inflexible deadlines — either because of an inefficiency bred of monopolistic isolation, or sheer stupidity. It’s hard to tell sometimes. After several months of 12 – 16 hour days, it starts to wear on you, and your brain pretty much stops working. Good thing I was a super-genius before this started, otherwise I’d be a blithering idiot now.

M. Sarkozy may be right to eliminate the law restricting the work week to 35 hours, and right to kick the indolent off the dole when they could work. But, working more does not necessarily earn you more. That’s a problem, and one I’m not sure how to solve without the leverage of the State.

Tired

One of Rick Klau’s shared items in Google Reader suggested that journalists today will need to know Photoshop, HTML, and a bunch of other crap to get a job. That may be so, but remember that computers are just a tool, and any time the tool gets in the way of the Real Work, discard it.

I used to find working with computers and learning their ins-and-outs to be interesting. Now it’s just dull, boring, and a drain on my life.

Maybe if I worked reasonable hours, got enough sleep, and saw my family for more than a few minutes each day, I’d feel differently, but right now I just want to take my time machine back and murder the sons-of-bitches who invented the things.

So, no, I don’t want a job “working with computers.” I want something rewarding, preferably with Oz hours:

Get up at noon, and then to work at one / take an hour for lunch, and then at two we’re done.

Beautiful Day

It’s a beautiful day out today. The wind chases fluffy white clouds across the sky. Leaves whisper in the breeze, counterpoint to the bullfrog’s basso. I can hear the sounds of baseball from the park.

The girls are out playing somewhere, the boys are napping upstairs, while I sit on the deck, tired, grumpy, and working.

This has gone on too long, and has to stop. I want my life back.

Superluser

I’ve been running without root access to systems for nigh on two years now, and I must say that it is very annoying, even with sudo in order to start some web servers and such. The basic UNIX security model is really, truly, FUBAR. What I’m finding is that every now and again you run into a relatively painless operation which, because of design assumptions way back in the Dark Ages, is restricted to the superuser — and that working around wasting the time of the BOFH opens many more holes than would be present if the code-monkeys had been just a little more thoughtful.

And the question I have to ask is, “What are you protecting?”

Snow Days at Google

Avinash Kaushik posted a list of ten things to envy about working at Google, which are, oddly enough, similar to the reasons Joel Spolsky says I would love being a sysadmin at Fog Creek. Both companies place a lot of emphasis on working together, that is, in the same place. One works at, not for, Google.

It’s a wet, slushy day out today. I can understand that such weather might be unfamiliar at Google headquarters, though Google London might have some experience of it. I’m working at home today. What I’d like to know is what Google does in situations where the people can’t come to the Googleplex to work. I have no doubt that they have no software limitations on where they work, but it seems that locality is essential to the nature of Google.

Do y’all take a snow day?

Ready for Vacation?

Ever have one of those days where you feel like your job is making you dumber by the minute? I am.

I have this recurrent daydream where I’m independently wealthy and volunteer my time to work on the transportation systems at DisneyWorld. And not just driving the monorail either, but drawing lines on the swamp.

Oh well.

Sensitivity Training

The HTTP specification defines the method of a request in section 5.1.1. This definition dates to 1992.

The Method token indicates the method to be performed on the resource identified by the Request-URI. The method is case-sensitive.

Various cookbooks for constructing a request refer to POST as POST, and nothing but POST.

And, yet, we get requests like this. Addresses and URIs have been obscured to protect the victim.

10.0.0.1 – – [21/Aug/2007:08:32:44 -0700] “Post /myEndpoint HTTP/1.1″ 200 254 “-” “libwww-perl/5.76”

HTTP 1.0 was published as informational RFC 1945 in 1996. That’s more than enough time for HTTP user agent developers to read the short sentence requiring case-sensitivity. Even if you come from the copy-and-paste school of programming, there’s no excuse. What are you going to say? Oops, Microsoft Word automatically proper-cased that for me?

Actually, yes, it did. In the requirements for the application interface.

Real Work, in the Real World

Back in May I was elected to the board of directors of the Dalton Farm Homeowners Association, and became co-chair of the grounds committee. What that means is that I’m responsible for ensuring that the grounds are maintained — that the lawn is cut, the weeds pulled, the trees trimmed, the light-bulbs changed — and improved. And then there was the family of skunks. Most of the work is administrative in nature, such as planning, seeking bids, handling contracts, and addressing complaints.

But it’s a wonderful feeling to reach out and touch something you did. Because the results are physical, the work seems so much more real than what I do for a living. I can see the results of my efforts.