Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Jobs, Early Success, Early Failure

I have worked at the Joint Astronomy Centre for nearly 5 and a half years, more than a sixth of my life. Just thought of the sixth part... a bit scary to put into perspective. Anyway, there is a possibility of the JAC closing both telescopes in the next year and a bit. This is slightly depressing, okay, with people leaving in droves it is massively depressing.

We are losing funding from the UK and Canada, and the Netherlands has already pulled out. But someone could buy our telescopes. If you are interested check out the JAC at We do have some potential buyers for UKIRT, and hopefully that will go through before the end of September. The JCMT process is ramping up and we should have some idea if anybody wants to buy a sub-millimeter telescope soon-ish.

So how does this affect me? Well, if both telescopes close I am out of a job. If both are bought by one entity then maybe we could continue as "normal" and just have to fired and rehired to work for the new owner. If they are bought separately, who knows how things would move. And if UKIRT is bought and JCMT is allowed to close I am probably out of a job, or have to work for two companies until the end of JCMT. This is all confusing to say the least, and as I mentioned before, depressing.

A disclaimer: I enjoy my job, though I have many complaints that I won't delve into. Ecclesiastes comes to mind, paraphrasing, enjoy what you have because your existence is just a passing breath.

Over the past 4 years, most of the time I have been here, there have been cutbacks, threatened closing of telescopes by funding agencies, and the lot. So I have been perusing the job market, mostly looking, but also applying to a few here and there. No bites. Then with this news I really got worried. So I applied to a few jobs with Amazon.

I got a phone interview with part of the Kindle team for a Field Test Engineer position. I studied quite a bit of the listed qualifications, wireless, IP, cell networks, stuff that I didn't specifically know. I must have done something right because I got a second interview and then they flew me out for a face-to-face interview. Now let me list for you my measly number of face-to-face interviews before this one and how they turned out:

  • Auto-trol - Internship - Offered job, accepted.
  • JET - Teaching position in Japan - Offered job, declined.
  • JAC - Software Engineer - Offered job, here I am.
So let me tell you how I did with Amazon, I won't tell you questions or anything like that, NDA. First I was not properly qualified, I am sure because I haven't dealt much with network specific stuff. Second, I think I over-dressed. At most I should have worn a button up shirt with a tie, jeans, normal shoes, and maybe worn a jacket that I could lay over the chair back as I was interviewed. Slacks, shiny shoes, and a jacket that never came off wasn't my undoing, but it certainly didn't help in a more casual environment. Third, I mentioned my current job and needing to get things done... and nothing about how my job is going away one way or another in a little over a year. Did this make them think I really didn't want to get a new job? To sum it up:

  • Amazon - FTE - Rejected, dejected.
The worst part is that they have a company policy that won't allow them to tell you why you were passed over, so I only have my ruminations. And those aren't particularly helpful.

However, I have started to take a larger view of interviews, maybe why I wasn't prepared for this one as much as I should have been. Basically my lead up to the other interviews had plenty of presentations, and boards of review that led up to them. Not specifically for the job but rather plenty of practice communicating to a group of people. The only one I had in the last 5 years is the presentation last summer at the SPIE conference and that was terrible, ill-prepared and ill-executed, not my usual self. So I need practice presenting, and thinking under duress, in other words: presenting to people who are my superiors or equals, not a teaching environment as I am much more used to.

One last thing that really struck me, afterwards of course, was to ask questions about what would be my first assignment, priorities and the like. I felt pretty silly thinking back to my previous questions, an employer wants to see if you are interested. So number four, ask more specifics about the job and its projects.

Since then i have applied to some 50 or 60 jobs and pretty much had no bites, unless you count those blanket ones from career sites that tell you Firestone is hiring auto techs... great, thanks. My least favorite company now it seems would be SEAKR in Colorado. I applied for a test engineer position that I was actually well qualified for. The only thing I didn't have was a current security clearance. The job was re-posted 4 times and I applied for it 3 of those times. No response, just a re-posting of the job with slight changes where the security clearance started out as 'preferred,' though you needed to be able to qualify, then to 'required,' then to preferred-required. What does that even mean? Quite frustrating. I am sure that I would gladly work for them, as long as the recruiter, recruiter software was somehow updated to see and respond to well qualified candidates. A 'no' would have been nice.

One sadly surprising thing stands out for me in all of this was the responses I got from people I know in Hawaii. When I found out that I didn't get the job my coworkers were sympathetic, even though they stand to lose quite a bit, as we are already short in many areas. But for some reason the first thing out of my church friends was 'good.' That hit low, and just writing this these few months later still gets me terribly upset. I really need to forgive them and move on, free up some of that focus to do anything else.

What bothers me most, again comes from Ecclesiastes, 3 this time: "There is a time for everything." And being a young couple with our main income being threatened, moving away is part of that. Paraphrasing one part of the chapter, a time to embrace and a time to let go.

If you haven't read Ecclesiastes, it is actually quite introspective, I would encourage you to read it no matter what your beliefs are. It is my favorite book of the Bible by far.

To wrap things up: I will continue to apply for jobs, continue to work on telescope things that might be be completely irrelevant in a year and a bit, and hopefully start in on a master's in AI.

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