The Twelve-Year Mistake Part 5: Job’s Done!

By Shamus Posted Monday Jun 10, 2013

Filed under: Personal 159 comments

The year is 2009, and I am stuck. We don’t make enough to live in this house. The house is underwater, so we can’t sell. I'm actually relieved when I figure this out. I’ve been thinking that I'm “bad with money” in the sense of being an irresponsible spendthrift. Now I see we're not really. Well, aside from stupidly buying Too Much House. Other than that one bad move, we’re generally careful and sensible. We shop for food at Aldi. We buy second-hand clothes. We drive an old car. We don't eat out. We don't shower our kids in hundreds of dollars in gifts at Christmas.

But things are bad. We’re basically watching a systemic failure in progress. We could start stacking debt on credit cards to delay the inevitable, but that’s like driving your car off a cliff to keep it from getting repossessed.

Writing

My workspace in 2010. It’s basically the same now except the consoles are gone. The PS3 returned to its owner, the Xbox 360 died, the Wii died, and the PS2 became our DVD player in the living room.
My workspace in 2010. It’s basically the same now except the consoles are gone. The PS3 returned to its owner, the Xbox 360 died, the Wii died, and the PS2 became our DVD player in the living room.

On the upside, I’m getting better at money. It used to be that when we wound up a couple hundred short, we’d pay all the big bills and let the others slide. (Because the big ones are the most important, right?) This would stack up lots of little late fees and such. It took me a few months, but I finally realized that this is the stupid way around. If I have to miss one bill, it should be the mortgage. One late fee is better than a half dozen, especially when the late fee just ends up stacked onto the balance of a loan that’s already too big for us. Keeps all our failures in one place.

The other trick – and again, this is really obvious to most people but somehow eluded me for years – is to keep a base cushion of money in the bank. Pretend that “$300” is “zero” and never go below that number, even if it means leaving bills unpaid. The $300 is insurance against the financially devastating cascading failures caused by overdrafts, and is more important than any single late fee. This way, making a simple spending error won’t lead to ruination. I should have done this years ago.

Again: If this was a strategy game I would have figured out these two simple tricks in a couple of minutes, but because the action was spread out over many months or years I failed to see patterns and make corrections.

Still, we can’t solve this problem with frugality, because the money just isn’t there. Prices are up and my pay isn’t. I really need to figure out a sustainable solution.

The Axe

shamus_2010_lulzy.jpg

On a brighter note, this writing business is opening new doors for me. I'm getting paid to write things, and that's stopping us from leaking money. I’ve been a bit bolder about ad placement on the blog and now they're actually making a difference.

The problem is that I'm working full time at the day job and then putting in a bunch more hours on the blog and then I’m somehow sinking even more hours into writing a massive Let’s Play for Lord of the Rings Online. This workload is pretty heavy and I know I can't keep it up forever. Since this is is all creativity-driven, getting burned out would be a disaster. But until that point I can boost our income enough to keep up with the bills. I suppose it helps that this writing stuff is a lot of fun.

This plan works until it doesn’t. My boss calls me and says they're laying me off. I’ve known this was coming for a long time, and I think they probably waited a lot longer than they needed to. It's been weeks since there was anything more than cursory maintenance and writing help files for me to do, which are my fallback jobs when things get slow. They’ve been good to me, and I certainly don't blame them for cutting my job. There really isn’t enough work to keep me busy.

Will Code For Food

Here, have a happy picture of the kids at the park to help lighten the mood.
Here, have a happy picture of the kids at the park to help lighten the mood.

I suppose I could consider getting another job. I could give up the blog, the writing, the comics, and the videogame stuff and take some standard job in Pittsburgh. On the other hand, this place isn’t exactly the tech center of the country. They need programmers, sure, but they need stuff like database and report coders. It’s early 2010, and the dot-com bubble is long burst. Half the tech workers in Silicon Valley have joined a vast herd of migrating hobos. We’re in the middle of a recession, a depression, or whatever the people writing headlines think sounds most dire and click-worthy.

If you just need someone to write you a bit of C code, you don't need to hire me. Just ask the guy cleaning your windshield. He's probably younger, better educated, and has his certifications in order. Most jobs naturally expect you to relocate, which we can't do. Still, I noodle around with the job listings a bit to see if anything jumps out at me.

Let’s talk about looking for technology jobs for a minute. You can tell a lot about a company by their job listings.

Here is one:

  1. Proficient in C/C++, VC++, C#, VB, COM, ActiveX, .NET, Python, and Java.
  2. Good communication skills.
  3. 10 years+ experience developing software and applications for Internal and external clients.
  4. Bachelor's degree in Computer Engineering or Software Engineering or Related.

My comments to each requirement above:

  1. Hang on… you need both flavors of C, C-sharp, Visual Basic, Python AND Java? What kind of loony Rube Goldberg contraption is your development pipeline? Either this place is an anarchic madhouse where everyone randomly picks languages to use and they’re looking for someone to clean up the resulting mess, or (more likely) this is just a random kitchen-sink listing created by an HR ninny who has no idea what they’re talking about or asking for.

    I’m not saying that coders with the full list of languages don’t exist, but they’re going to be a bit rare. Aren’t any of these languages more important that others? Is it really required that someone know all of these to do their job?

  2. How often do you see jobs where they DON’T want “good communication skills”? This one is so common it’s meaningless. It’s like saying you want people with good hygiene. More importantly, everyone thinks they have good communication skills. People who are obtuse, vague, overly verbose, cryptic, and disorganized in their communication still think they’re good at it because they send out lots of memos where everything is spelled right. And when people don’t understand the memos? Pffft. All of them must have bad communication skills, not me.

    Note also the additional irony: Given how muddled this listing is, the person posting it is probably not wielding top-notch communication skills themselves. Good communication begins with knowing or anticipating what information the other person will need.

  3. 10+ years experience “developing software”. Sigh. HR departments still don’t “get” software development. Imagine if a company posted a listing for a “driving job” with 10+ years of experience “driving”. You figure with your years of driving taxi this job is right up your alley, but then when you get to the interview you find out they’re looking for someone to drive 18-wheelers, or forklifts.

    “Developing Software”? What kind of software is involved? Is it physics-based? Financial? Simulation? Mechanical? Graphical? Audio? Networking? Security? Anyone with 10+ years of experience has probably begun to specialize a bit. That area of specialization is WAY more important than the fact that the software is going to be used internally or externally.

    If you’re hiring someone to maintain your inventory system, then – all other things being equal – someone with only 4 years experience in inventory management is probably going to be more valuable than the person with 10+ years of experience writing data recovery tools. The most important aspect of this position is not given in the listing.

  4. Oh right. A degree. Because obviously the person with 10+ years of experience is USELESS if they didn’t study FORTRAN in college back in the mid 90’s. Maybe I’m biased because I don’t have a degree, but once we’re talking about 10 years of experience the degree is of very small importance. I mean, they held down a job for 10 years.

    And I’ve never bought the excuse that a degree proves that you will “stick with things” or whatever. There are people without degrees who can and do accomplish amazing things, and people with degrees who are ignorant, lazy, and unimaginative. There are people with college degrees who absolutely cannot write software. It happens. Rejecting job applicants sight unseen based on degree is like rejecting football players based on height without bothering to see them play. A degree is nice, but it should never, ever be such a binary indicator.

    This “must have a degree” excuse is basically HR saying they don’t know how to tell good applicants from bad ones, which is the entire point of their job. Asking for a degree makes sense for entry-level positions, but insisting on a degree for a “10+ years of experience” position is just single-minded and lazy.

When I see a listing like this one I get a picture of a company that has gotten big enough that the left hand can’t tell what the right hand is doing. HR departments seem to devise these listings as if ASKING for more skills will attract more skilled applicants. Instead, this probably leads to the very thing they want to avoid most: Resume spam and lying. Applicants see this unlikely list of qualifications and think, “They can’t really need ALL of that. I meet about half the requirements, so I’ll just send in my not-qualified resume and see what happens.” If they get to the interview they think, “The only people that meet all those requirements are liars. I’d better exaggerate my abilities if I want a shot at the job.”

For contrast, here is a good listing:

  1. Strong Java skills, including Swing and JSP.
  2. Good HTML skills. HTML5 exposure, jQuery/javascript programming a plus.
  3. Good SQL skills.
  4. Experience with Linux and Windows operating systems and command line tools (bash/bat).
  5. Mobile programming experience (IPhone, IPad, Android) not required, but a plus.
  6. Data conversion experience not required, but a plus.

Boom! Now that’s a job listing. I’m totally unqualified for it, but I have a very clear picture of what this company is after and what they would expect from me. Their list of required languages makes sense and isn’t just and alphabet soup listing of languages from the last 20 years. Note how they didn’t waste a bullet point on communication skills.

People make a big deal about how important it is to make a good impression in your cover letter / resume / interview. I would point out that this works both ways. Your job listing says a lot about how your company operates. Is your outfit organized? Does it value attention to detail? Is it run well? If your job listing shows a scatterbrained development pipeline, arbitrary job requirements, a boilerplate approach to listings, and casual attitude towards making unreasonable demands, then I’m going to notice this. I’m also going to assume that things are probably a lot worse under the surface.

ANYWAY. Back to our story.

The job search ends about soon as it begins. There just aren’t any jobs around here in my area of expertise, or even much to do with my ancillary skills. Sure, I could take a job that didn’t have any particular expertise requirement, but then we’re talking a fresh-out-of-college type job. There’s no way that would make financial sense. We’d have to maintain a second car and pay the gas for an hour commute. That would devour a fortune, would require me to give up the writing jobs and maybe even kill off the blog, all so I could make less money than the job I just lost, which already didn’t pay enough. That makes no sense.

I can't find a job locally, and finding another work-from-home deal with a salary high enough to support us properly is… unlikely.

This is kind of a relief. I don’t want to work in a big firm or an office.

I suppose now is the time to be bold and experiment. Let's see if I can finish this book I’ve been noodling with and see how my career as a writer works out. It’s a stupid, ridiculous longshot. Ask any author, and they’ll tell you that you should not go into writing books for the money. However, we’re trapped here. Since we’re sort of stuck no matter what we do, there doesn’t seem to be any harm in trying.

 


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159 thoughts on “The Twelve-Year Mistake Part 5: Job’s Done!

  1. Phantos says:

    Geez, if I had known it was this bad, I would have clicked on more ads. Or at least, turned off ad-block sooner.

    I feel like kind of a jerk now.

    1. Scampi says:

      Same here-and I’m really glad Shamus has not that kind of obnoxious (and counterproductive) ads as some other sites:
      If I visit a site where I like to watch videos and some noisy repeating ad at the side drowns out the video audio I, of course, reactivate the blocker for the site…don’t know what they are thinking.

      1. Hitchmeister says:

        That’s why I don’t install adblocker. I know sites like this are run by guys like Shamus who need the ad revenue. He knows that too and makes sure his ads don’t drive viewers away while making as much money as he can under that restriction.

        Big corporate sites that no particular individual is dependent upon for their livelihood run the huge, noisy, obnoxious pop-ups that block the content you’re there to see. I don’t run adblocker for those sites, either. I just don’t visit them. If heir ads mean more to them than my visit, they can have the ads.

        1. Scampi says:

          Actually, the problem with some is, that the ads are context/country sensitive, so I get other ads than someone else who visits a site. And: there are also sites that I go to, where the host of a webshow will make their livelihood by ads, which they obviously have no means of picking by themselves. I have, by now, developed a method of use by which to (hopefully) guarantee them some ad income while being mostly free from the ad harrassment myself, if I find out some of their ads run totally counter to the reason of my visit. Haven’t encountered such ads here yet.

          Btw: I wonder if Shamus can pick which ads are shown on his site. Really-can you, Shamus?
          Since my current ads are country sensitive (a tourism company and a moisturizer, both German ads) I really doubt it.

          1. Hitchmeister says:

            Shamus can blacklist some ads. He doesn’t overdo that because it can get in the way of the adbot finding ads to run on his site. A few years ago after an article or series of articles about World of Warcraft, the adbot was placing a bunch of ads for shady third party gold sellers. Shamus vetoed those.

            1. Scampi says:

              K, that answers part of the question, I guess.
              Still seems an awful lot of effort, just to blacklist a few shady ads. To clarify: wouldn’t it require hours, if not days, just to watch ads (and possibly spots), just to find out particularly annoying ones?

              1. Hitchmeister says:

                He doesn’t search for them. He reacts to readers saying, “What the hell is up with these ads?”

    2. Erik says:

      I had the same thought, ran over to AdBlockPro… and discovered that I’d disabled it on this site a long time ago. *whew*

      I’m on enough niche sites that I’m leery of allowing scripting & ads in general… but I do try to enable ads on sites where I know the ads make a big difference.

  2. KMJX says:

    So is there going to be a sequel? Will it be any good?

    As long as you have any sort of degree, you’re set.
    Nevermind that you have 20 years of experience doing stuff, if you don’t have a piece of paper saying that you officially learned how to do stuff, then good luck getting your application actually reviewed.

    This is exactly how Human Resources departments end up having people who have no idea how to put up job listings that make actual sense. They have a degree for it, but no idea how to actually do it.

    Frost post. -Edit:- Aww, to much time spent typing :P

    1. krellen says:

      A very large portion of listings asking for a degree don’t actually require a degree and will substitute experience for schooling (usually on a 1:1 basis). Major exceptions include universities and other educational institutions (who have a vested interest in encouraging education).

      1. A Gould says:

        I was going to say the same thing – in my experience the university requirement seems to fade out once you’ve got 4-5 years work experience under your belt. (But that’s just my personal anecdote – heck, I’ve found most places were happy I *attended* even though I never graduated)

        1. Hitchmeister says:

          There’s a tendency in job listings to overstate the requirements, partially just as a measure to cut down on the number of applicants. In some cases it’s even done with the idea that they have someone in mind, but policy requires a public listing of all jobs before they hire someone. So they just tell the desired person to apply anyway and they’ll “work around” some of the listed requirements. Unless they do get Bill Gates applying to work for an entry-level assistant coder’s salary.

      2. Alan says:

        Which gets back to the belief that a lot of “requirements” in job listings are nothing of the sort. Maybe it’s better in other fields, but as a programmer, take job requirements with a grain of salt and definitely apply for jobs that you don’t quite meet the requirements for.

      3. Cap'n Hector says:

        I’ve been working in degree required positions for more than half my career with a high school diploma and a massive quantity of luck.

        I still think degrees are a good idea, as not everyone has the luck to have contacts to get jobs like mine and I’m sure I’d be in better shape with a degree.

    2. Deoxy says:

      Nevermind that you have 20 years of experience doing stuff, if you don't have a piece of paper saying that you officially learned how to do stuff, then good luck getting your application actually reviewed.

      Actually, a lot of the ridiculous degree requirements are an attempt at outsourcing competence testing, since almost every attempt at testing for competence in any way opens you up to discrimination lawsuits.

      It used to be that having a degree did mean something – some level of stick-to-it-iveness, or what have you, at least for the group as a whole (exceptions, of course).

      Now, with the government enabling higher and higher loan amounts (and colleges happily increasing their prices to increase the salaries and numbers of bureaucrats), even that proxy for competence is mostly gone.

      And the result is that those who haven’t worked in the last few months are assumed to have some kind of problem and not hired… that’s about the only proxy left, and it’s not very good.

      The only other option is, essentially, roll the dice and see what you get… and the continuing ridiculously high unemployment (look at the total number of jobs or the workforce participation rate – the U3 number that the news reports is grossly distorted) shows how much businesses hate that option (especially with a healthcare roll of the dice coming up, too).

  3. Scampi says:

    I just don’t get how so many people in positions that require them to organize and communicate a lot are so bad at the exact thing.
    Just a week ago I heard that a local film festival needed more support since they ran short of help this year (they run on lots of volunteers), so I decided to help them a bit, since I like the festival and attended it for years now.
    I mailed them and told them at which times and in which departments I might be helping. They apparently got my mail, saw the header and answered without reading, since the answer told me they needed help for ALL the time but didn’t in one word acknowledge my offer. I later saw the schedule and realized nobody had bothered enlisting me at all.
    The problem is: I don’t get why this happens to me so often (I keep watching myself). I talk to somebody, word a sentence in a way to convey as precisely as possible what I meant to say but somehow a part of it gets lost on the way to the listener’s brain.
    I phone someone, ask them where they are and the answer is an explanation where some unrelated buildings are or where I can get myself a drink.
    I tell somebody I need to sleep at night cause I have to get up and work early and am angry about their absurdly noisy partying far beyond midnight and they answer me I should come to them and tell them if it happens again. The point being: if I come to tell them they ARE CURRENTLY noisy it’s already too late, since they WERE too loud and woke me up.
    There was a time when I tried this on a (semi-legal) pub in my neighborhood and they told me the best way not to be disturbed by their noise would be to join them…wtf?
    I wonder: do my communication skills suck this badly? Or is it really just that people don’t get the point?
    My observations support the idea of people who are intentionally misunderstanding what I say at times (or being permanently overwhelmed by a serious case of ADHD).

    On an unrelated note: I share the opinion that degrees themselves say not too much about the quality of the person holding them. I lived with a computer scientist with an amazing degree (I think he was in the A+ category for all computer related concerns, but not too good in most of the mandatory remainder of his classes) for a few years and sometimes he’d call me to judge a piece of software he wrote and most of it was functional as software, but disfunctional with regard to the intended purpose.
    Once, he wrote a lift simulation that sometimes pondered between building levels aimlessly and often for (simulated) hours without picking up a single passenger due to amazingly strange assumptions about human behaviour…

    1. Trix2000 says:

      Some of those later situations you mention sound like the people you spoke with were not very considerate to me. Or at the very least they weren’t bothering to understand your problem/concerns. I imagine it depends on the specifics, but it doesn’t sound like the problem was on your end to me.

      I’m currently on the other end of the degree/experience spectrum – I have a degree, but for all the load of good it’s been doing me to get interviews (even with a couple years work experience). I do still run into the issue where almost EVERY position asks for everything including the kitchen sink, and I just don’t see how they’ll find anyone to fill them.

      Makes me wish there were some kind of better standard for job posting, but I have a feeling that wouldn’t improve things much.

    2. Scampi says:

      Argh…got distracted there myself…pondered aimlessly…what was I thinking? I think “wandered aimlessly” would be more accurate, but somehow I’m apparently a bit absent-minded atm:-/

      1. anaphysik says:

        He actually wrote an amazing piece of code that gave AI-sapience to a simulation of an elevator. Thank goodness you managed to quash this piece of advanced technology before it went viral and the lifts decide to…
        (▪▁▪)
        (▪▁▪)>┌■-■
        (┌■_■)
        rise up.
        YEEEEEEEEEAAAAHHHHHHHH!

    3. Tom says:

      I know how you feel – I have a gift/curse when it comes to saying stuff that sounds perfectly unambiguous to me, but other people misinterpret entirely; and equally for getting completely the wrong meaning of stuff people say to me. Both cases frequently end up causing offence to others, and I hate to do that.

      The pub noise thing is sort of a miscommunication, but not perhaps the kind you think it is. Sounds more like they consider you an outsider to their local social group and thus feel no inclination to be the slightest bit accommodating. Moreover, events like that have a kind of momentum; if everybody knows in advance that you’re bothered by noise, there’s a significantly higher chance they’ll keep it down than going along and asking them to tone it down once they’ve got going and are having fun – you need a lot of insider clout to do that. Yes, the rules of society at large say they’re being jerks, that their noise is encroaching into your private space and you’re entitled to a bit of peace and quiet; however, the rules and established behaviours of smaller, local social cliques tend to override global ones for a lot of people, especially when they’re enjoying themselves. There are people like me and, I suspect, you as well who reckon it should be the other way around, and the law certainly says so, but the law only really deals well with big stuff like murder, and social cliques that think like that don’t give a damn about lesser stuff (and they’ll lose a lot of respect for you for invoking it over something small).

      So, yeah, it’s not exactly that you’re communicating badly, it’s that right now they aren’t particularly interested in what you have to say. Maybe try joining in a bit, get a bit more social standing with them by playing along, then they might be more inclined to consider your feelings. People like me generally have a certain amount of respect for anyone until they squander it, and consider our mutal needs and demands on an equal footing by default (it seems to be a more prevalent mindset in those with an intellectual background; I guess we tend to identify and empathise better with just anyone and anything that thinks; moreover, logic and reason are inherently egalitarian); sadly, there are plenty of others where you only get equal treatment after you join the tribe.

      I suspect from what you’ve written that you’re a lot like me, and one of the hardest lessons I learned in life was that a lot of the time when people “misunderstood” me, they were actually trying to obliquely tell me something in a more polite way than flat-out saying it, which is often socially unacceptable (but, as I still occasionally remind those who know me well enough not to be uncomfortable doing it, perfectly acceptable and even preferable for me personally). They weren’t offering you a direct solution to your problem when they said “join in and you won’t hear it,” though they couched it in those terms to seem less confrontational, they were offering you a deal, and testing to see if you were an outsider. The deal is, integrate with the group to some extent, or at least make a token effort, and you might get enough social standing to make requests like that in the future (or you might not, if they really are just a bunch of jerks). Yes, the annoyance for you may be intense, and turning it down just a bit would only inconvenience them slightly, but there are lots of them and only one of you, and from the sound of it, they don’t know you, which tips the scale even further.

      I don’t like having to submit to that kind of thing, I don’t like social cliques whose internal rules flout those of society at large, and I certainly don’t like having to deal with things like statements in the form of questions or ultimata in the form of impartial solutions, but I’m afraid it’s that or social exclusion and a pair of ear plugs. Or sic the law on them, if it’s actually an illegal operation or breaking noise pollution laws and you’re willing to risk the social backlash, which can be intense.

      The good news, especially if you’re an introvert like me, is that token/symbolic efforts are often sufficient. For example, it doesn’t matter how long you actually stay at the pub, as long as it’s enough for people to notice that you joined in – you can leave hours before everyone else after that. It doesn’t matter if you strike up a horrifically boring conversation, to the point that the other person actually just wanders off, even, just so long as you engaged at some level. Crucially, once you’ve joined in once or twice, you get enough standing for people to actually believe you when you say you don’t like it, and then they’ll accept it when you stop coming. Prior to group acceptance, the honest statement that you don’t like that kind of event, or that you’ve got work to do in the morning, tends to get interpreted as a refusal to join the group, and reinforces your status as an outsider who doesn’t warrant concern; they only take statements like that at face value after you’re one of them.

      1. Scampi says:

        Well…thanks for the feedback on this-since I, back then, DID join them for an extended time, spent time at the pub, sometimes even helping out when somebody got sick and couldn’t work or the deliveries came in and additional manpower was needed etc. and STILL nobody cared about my troubles, I decided to move into another apartment. Sad to find that I have the same problem as before (now with neighbors instead of the pub) and the local authorities don’t really care about it…

        1. Tom says:

          Urgh, they’re just jerks then. You have my sympathy. Sorry I misread your post a bit; I somehow got the notion that the pub thing was recent/as-yet-unresolved. And that wasn’t you mis-communicating; that was me not paying enough attention.

          1. Syal says:

            The best part about this was it all started with “why do people keep misinterpreting me?” :)

            Back to Scampi: A good way to avoid misreading other people is to paraphrase them right after they say it and give them a chance to tell you how you’ve got it wrong. I’m pretty sure the only way to stop people misinterpreting you is to talk to smarter/more attentive people.

            (A possible solution to constantly loud neighbors is renting a horror movie with lots of screaming, turning it up full blast and sleeping in your car.)

            1. jarppi says:

              Or just put this sound playing loud on stereos at random during nights.

    4. Well, on the noise thing . . . some people don’t like saying “no”. But they’re not actually considerate, right? They just don’t want to actually tell you “I don’t care if you get woken up, making this noise is more important to me than you are,” because that would be rude.
      So they tell you something else which doesn’t represent a direct answer rather than either lie or directly blow you off.

      1. Scampi says:

        And that’s the exact reason I decided to toss my cat’s litter box’ content into their window the next time they turn up the volume to “inhuman”. I wonder if they are able to make the connection…
        It’s not that I’m inconsiderate-I just don’t care about them anymore and being rid of the litter is more important to me than being at peace with people who wage war on me anyways.

  4. DGM says:

    You’ve finished multiple books. Given your love of both coding and writing, I’m surprised you seem to have no interest in actually finishing a computer game of your own. Is it just a “doesn’t pay the bills” thing, or is there another reason?

    1. Dave B. says:

      In almost every case, creating a computer game is a collaborative project. Writing and coding will get you a functional system, but most people won’t be interested unless you’ve also put some effort into art and sound. Judging from Project Frontier, Shamus can do the art fairly well, but that takes time away from coding.

      My guess is, it’s a combination of “doesn’t pay the bills” and “the opportunity hasn’t presented itself.” (To be on a team where someone else handles the stuff Shamus doesn’t want to.)

  5. DGM says:

    The “good communication skills” is amusing in that they don’t specify what aspect of communicating that they need you to be good at. This opens the door to potentially hilarious misunderstandings.

    Take me, for example. If by “good communication skills” they mean “can you clearly convey information,” then yes. But if you mean “can you talk to people without making them want to launch you through a closed third-story window,” well… Let’s just say there’s a reason that “diplomat” does not appear on my resume. :P

    1. Scampi says:

      I think some people mean “can you interpret our faces in a way that allows you to give us the information we desire to hear while sparing us everything uncomfortable so we can blame you if there is some problem, since you clearly withheld crucial information from us to hide your incompetence?” They will still want to throw you out of the window later, I guess;)

      I guess it’s a bit like the “Tell me the bad news in a good way to soften the blow.”-scene from “Men in tights.”

    2. Caffiene says:

      Or for retail job ads, what they frequently mean by “good communication skills” is actually “ability to talk for extended periods of time without conveying any information, such that eventually the customer gets confused and buys something”.

      1. bloodsquirrel says:

        I think that’s a qualification for sports casters too. You’ve got to be able to say something- anything- to fill the air, which is why you get so many Maddenisms.

    3. Astor says:

      hah, as long as it’s not a job that requires addressing customers or stuff like that, I always take the generic “good communication skills” as “We don’t want jerks or aliens here. Thanks for your understanding.”

    4. Hitchmeister says:

      It’s important to remember that communication is a two way street. On e person talks and the other listens. Sometimes the “good communication skills” they’re looking for is a candidate with the ability to accept whatever nonsense bullshit they’re spouting without objection or contradiction.

    5. Paul Spooner says:

      Yeah, knowing when to say what you think, and when to say what you think the other person wants to hear, and when to just keep quiet, is a difficult challenge.
      But hey, if you can’t fix it, feature it! New line on your Resume:
      “Defenestration ready communication skills”

      1. DGM says:

        >> “Defenestration ready communication skills”

        On a completely unrelated note, has anyone else been playing Gunpoint? :P

  6. Tom says:

    There is a reason for “kitchen sink” skill lists – unfortunately, it’s nothing whatsoever to do with the job itself. It’s to get the applicant numbers down. When the economy goes bad, HR could get hundreds, thousands or even tens of thousands of well qualified applications *PER POSITION*. They balk at dealing with that, so they just keep adding crap to the list of requirements until the number of applicants drops to a level they like; after all, it doesn’t matter if the applicants have extra skills they’ll never use, so long as they have the required ones. Same deal with degree classes – in a job where anyone with even a class III or ordinary degree could actually get on just fine, they’ll keep on pushing the required grade up until the numbers drop. Yes, it’s a lazy solution to the problem, yes, it gives an unfair advantage to certain people who are actually no better suited for the job than others, but who have managed to acquire a broader skill set.

    It’s also shooting themselves in the foot financially, because the sort of people who will have all those extra skills and a first class degree will expect higher pay than a third-class graduate who knows one workhorse language and who’ll churn out software just as good.

    It can even get to the point, especially in large organisations with poor departmental communication, that the requirements will get pushed so high, before the applicant numbers seem acceptable (because there will still be loads of reasonable people who will try their luck knowing they have most but not all of the boxes ticked), that *nobody* who makes it through the CV checkbox screening as far as an interview will seem to make the grade, and may even get rejected for the position for not having a skill that they don’t even need, because the person interviewing might not be aware that that particular skill was just a list-bulking agent – then you wind up with companies desperate to fill a position and confused that nobody out of the gazillions of applicants they get can seem to do it.

    The whole thing’s a kludgy fix for what is actually a non-problem: if you get a bazillion applicants, all you need to do is just start at the beginning with sensible requirements and step through them until you come to the first one that fits the bill, then drop the rest. Sort them randomly first if you think that first-come-first-served is somehow unfair. But there’s something in some peoples’ brains that rejects this idea; maybe it’s the nagging thought that if they just went a bit further, they’d find someone even better (basically an inability to grasp that, when you’re actually focused on getting practical results and not some abstract mathematical problem, “perfect” is literally no better than “good enough,” and is harder to get – I’m sure programmers will have a name for it), or maybe they feel like if they get a bazillion applications, they’re not doing their job if they don’t check ’em all, which is impossible, or maybe that picking a random sample of a much larger set of applicants to interview is somehow being unfair, but sneaky tricks to lower the number they have to process are just fine, even though it still amounts to excessively elitist rejection but in a less visible way. To me, it seems much less fair to only consider the highly overqualified rather than randomly sample everyone sufficiently qualified, for the same result, but I can see how it might feel like the reverse.

    Basically, to borrow a computing metaphor, an awful lot of HR people seem to be stuck in a strict-evaluation mindset, and resorting to terrible hacks to keep the processing time down; someone should really introduce them to the joys of lazy evaluation.

    Another motive for this behaviour might be so that they always feel like they have an acceptable reason to give an applicant for rejecting them. Personally, I’d be much less irritated (and *FAR* less likely to spiral into depression and low self-esteem) just to be told that they picked randomly from an equally qualified pool and I was unlucky, than to be told I didn’t measure up as well as somebody else to a trumped-up list of extra stuff I know damn well isn’t actually required to do the job.

    1. Trix2000 says:

      It could also be the whole ‘equal opportunity employment’ thing, but then I think whatever methods many companies use to electronically filter resumes would defeat the purpose there anyways.

    2. Abnaxis says:

      This. This right here, except I think it leaves out a lot of the financial drivers for the problem.

      First, few companies do their own hiring anymore. That outsource it out to specialist companies that have specialized tools for filtering applicants, because it costs less to pay an external company occasionally to do your hiring than it does to maintain a department for it, even if those same companies have absolutely zero knowledge of your company’s field.

      They get bonus point for when the HR company is obligated to not reveal who they’re hiring for, so you can’t pick out what the really important skills like are from the list.

      Second, it is much cheaper to have a computer do your job for you. The hiring companies have to go through a lot of applicants, and consequently they have commissioned software that will take electronically submitted applications and basically just do a keyword search on them. God knows what keywords they are actually looking for, but rest assured if you have a skill that is on their laundry list, you better put it on your resume in the EXACT same wording as was in the description, otherwise the bot likely won’t recognize it.

      Finally, when the system works this way, a small random sampling is never going to happen, but not out of any feeling of social justice or integrity, but rather for the benefit of the original companies that are doing the outsourcing. When they are paying an external company to fill on of their positions, do you think they are going to give their business to the staffing company that goes through every application individually or the one that narrows it down to 1,000 and samples randomly from there? Which one sounds better from an investment standpoint?

    3. Scampi says:

      As someone who already happened to get (openly) rejected for being “over-qualified”, “male” or “not aggressive (!) enough” I say: there is no such thing as a “non-acceptable reason” to HR deps.

      1. Mephane says:

        I’ve heard that people can get rejected for having too many skills (but still: WTF is wrong with humans?), but is it even legal in your country to reject someone because of their gender (here in Germany, it is)? And “not aggressive enough” is just plain weird.

        1. Scampi says:

          Well…it IS Germany…I know it’s not legal, but still…what do you do when dealing with something like that? Would you really want to sue your way into a job like this? For me it’s more like: if they are like that about something insignificant like that, I wouldn’t like to work for those people anyways. Legalities don’t mean too much in some contexts.
          Btw: Our university even finds it totally normal to announce giving “preferential treatment for female applicants” in their public employment ads. Go figure.

    4. Piflik says:

      Finding the ‘best’ candidate for a position is a known problem calles Secretary Problem in Game Theory.

      1. Tom says:

        That description of algorithm seems to exemplify the problem. It demands “The applicants, if seen altogether, can be ranked from best to worst unambiguously,” which is way not true and anyone trying to implement such a system is naturally going to be tempted to try and fix it by adding more, unnecessary and irrelevant judgement criteria. More basically, the very statement of the problem is flawed simply by requesting the “best” applicant, without consideration that a “satisfactory” applicant achieved in less time than the best one might still be preferable.

        1. Sabredance (MatthewH) says:

          The game is just intended to model the problem simply so it can be thought about without all the extra problems. Actual hiring practices have been studied to.

          This one from a couple of years ago “Ivies, Extracurriculars, and Exclusions says that elite hiring partners are not looking for skills or training, they are looking for a specific type of person (themselves). So they are mainly looking for the type of signals they would personally send. They use college admissions as an IQ test, completing college as a measure of your ability to stick to something, and extracurricular activity as a measure of sociability.

          Bryan Caplan is a good first introduction, but the field is huge, even before you start reading up on the human capital literature or the return on education.

          Generally, employers don’t have any interest in your skills -they expect to need to train you. What they are looking for is a.) can you learn quickly; b.) once trained, will you do the work; and c.) and will you not fly to another company once we invest all this time in you. Hence, the value of education is that it demonstrates all 3 at once (unless you flit from school to school, but then you likely don’t graduate). Experience can make up for that a bit.

          1. Felblood says:

            –But HR teams thinking about the problem simply without considering all the extra problems is exactly the problem we are trying to solve!

            If you cannot compare a given applicant to the previously interviewed parties, in a meaningful way, this algorithm is useless.

            Likewise, it assumes that an applicant who is best, or near best, out of the application pool is also good enough. In a poor economy, where you get plenty of qualified applicants for a given position, that’s fine, but what if all your interviewees are under-qualified.

  7. RodeoClown says:

    Hi Shamus,
    I work for a company called You Need A Budget, and I write software to help people like yourself (and me – I was a user of our product before I got a job here) take control of their money, prevent overdrafts, build up savings, and get out of debt.

    It’s all based on a method of four rules:
    1 – Give every dollar a job
    2 – Save for a rainy day
    3 – Roll with the punches
    4 – (Learn to) live on last month’s income

    We offer free online classes to help people implement these rules, have tons of support articles/tutorials/forums to explain them, and I write software that makes it easy to follow them. It’s a super-conservative method, based purely around the money you have in your possession – no guessing how much you will have in several months time, and then spending based on those guesses. The whole point of our method is to help get you to a point where you aren’t having to ever miss payments, and was originally designed with variable income in mind, so for someone doing a lot of freelancing it’s ideal.

    If you (or anyone else here) is interested in checking the software, you can grab a 34 day trial from the website linked above or on Steam. If you’ve got any questions, you can email me at ian AT youneedabudget.com and I’ll do what I can to help you out.

    [I actually emailed you with a link to a free copy about this a while back after reading one of Heather’s blog posts.

    I feel a little like I’m just writing a big ad for my job, but it seriously is a great method, and is made to help deal with some of the exact (financial) problems you are talking about in this series.]

    Cheers!

    1. Scampi says:

      I’m curious: why is the trial 34 days? Seems like a strange number to me.

      1. 4th Dimension says:

        One less day than 5 weeks?!? Maybe so you could use it to help you with finances for 4 weeks but to be just one day short of the fifth payday.

      2. krellen says:

        This was exactly the comment I was going to leave.

        1. Scampi says:

          Thx-didn’t think of weekly paydays, since I, for my entire life, always got paid per month or, alternately, per job done.

      3. RodeoClown says:

        Sorry for the delay in getting back to you – timezones mean I went to bed right after posting :)

        Our trial period used to be 7 days, which resulted in more sales for us, but meant a lot of people weren’t able to test the software fully.

        I pushed (and got) a trial of 34 days because it means you are guaranteed to see at least one month roll over to the next, no matter which day you start on. Plus it adds a couple of days of grace so you don’t HAVE to test it on the last day of the trial. Plus it makes everyone say “34 days???”, which helps it stick in people’s minds :)

        We will extend any trial if someone doesn’t have enough time to make up their mind about the program too, but we super-strongly encourage people to check out one of our free classes, whether or not they get the program or not. The method is the important part, the software just makes it easier to implement.

        Cheers!

    2. Galad says:

      And I’m curious about something else:

      4 ““ (Learn to) live on last month's income

      ^ – What’s that supposed to mean, learn to live 1.5-2 months with a month’s income?

      1. krellen says:

        I think it means to live on the money you have, not the money you’re going to get.

      2. RodeoClown says:

        Well, you could check out the linked page directly above that line in my post to see ;)

        Living on last month’s income is (put simply), aiming to set aside your entire pay for each month, and allocate (budget) it in the following month. So if I get paid $1000 in June, I set that aside and budget that money for spending in July, while I spend in June what I earned in May.
        It allows you to start the month knowing exactly what you have available, while also giving you a bit of extra padding for emergencies (this isn’t the aim, but a nice side effect).

        It’s definitely an aspirational rule, as lots of people start with no ability to do this, because they are living paycheck to paycheck, so for them the aim is to slowly set aside some of their income each month to budget in in the following month, eventually reaching a point where the entire month’s pay is budgeted in the following month.

        A lot of people discount this step in our method, but it really helps a LOT for peace of mind and keeping on top of your money.

        1. Actually, it’s really similar to how I manage my own safety valve–except, you know, completely opposite.

          What you’re basically talking about is a year-ahead payment plan (where you work for next month’s payments on this months checks), while mine is a month-in-rear method–basically, I pay off last month’s expenses with this months checks.

          What I do only works if you have a good credit score, available credit, and strong willpower. In college, I happened across a credit card off that does not apply any interest or fees if the card is paid in full (and has a point system, but this is really for my own financial well-being. Points are just a plus). Now, I use that to pay everything that will accept a card–groceries, repairs, necessities, etc–basically treating it like a debit card, with a registry and everything.

          Every month, I pay the full balance accrued from last month (thus avoiding any interest), unless I have made any grave errors in calculation, at which point I drain my account to pay as much as I can (card has payment date timed after all other expenses, and since I’m using the card to pay for everything the checking account can have a zero balance without breaking anything right away). So if I screw up, all I need to worry about it interest on a (hopefully) small amount, and I can cut back, eating soup and ramen to make up for it next month.

          It has worked very well for me, even as I make more money now that I don’t need the security. I am not a lavish spender, but a the same time I am nowhere near a meticulous bookkeeper, and this method has saved me countless surprise overdrafts. It’s just, like I said, you have to have willpower not to burn the card just because it has balance.

  8. Conlaen says:

    You make your children wear crocs? You monster! I’m not sure if it’s worse that you make you’r children endure it, or put the picture on here for us to endure it!

    ANYWAY…
    As for the “pretend 300 is zero”, that’s definitely the way to go. I tend to keep at least €1000 on my account, just in case stuff breaks down. And then even when the washer breaks down, and you suddenly need to spend like €500, I still have another 500 still in the bank for another emergency.

    1. Scampi says:

      I happen to work on a similar basis (but with a higher limit line), but also be blessed with bad luck…whenever I have a good surplus income, something expensive breaks and needs repair or replacement, holding me pretty much at the same level all the time. It’s a method that works, but only if the income is high enough to compensate for sudden unexpected events. I know a lot of people who have way more income than I do but who lack the discipline to reduce their individual spending (and still feel the need to complain about their low income…). Somehow many people seem to think they are obliged to buy the most expensive tech every month and talk about it a lot, therefore permanently being on the brink of bankruptcy. Since it’s meant to convey their supposedly high status, they have to keep doing it or accept to possibly be shunned by their community of tech-fanatics.

      1. Conlaen says:

        We had someone like that among our friends as well. A well paid lawyer, who made about double of what any of us were making, and yet she managed to have spent it all by the end of the month regardless.

        Though she spent it mostly on clothes. Funny thing was that she was so reckless in buying those that once every year or so she’d have her friends come over and they could go through all the clothes that she didn’t fit. Three women of all *completely* different body types than her (and each other) would all come out with a stash of new clothes that had never really been worn.

        Luckily she’s learned to spend her money a bit more wisely!

    2. Mephane says:

      This is my method, too and I also use 1000 as the magic number that means “broke”. I’ve been using system that for years, although I started with a magic number of a mere 100 because the very thought of consistently having four digits on the account appeared ludicrous back then.

  9. Shamus, I’m not sure why, but since the re-theme I can’t see any images on the site. The only thing visible is the title banners, but everything else – the photos here, the DM of the Rings comics – is gone.

    1. Shamus says:

      As far as I can tell, this is a problem unique to IE9. I’ll see if I can figure it out.

      1. Shamus says:

        Hm. Should be fixed now. Tested with IE9 and it looks correct now.

        For the curious:

        I have this homebrew plugin for embedding images. Instead of cluttering up my posts with HTML, I have a little BBcode kinda thing that will turn this:

        [image|shamus_2010_desk.jpg|center|My workspace in 2010. It’s basically the same now except the consoles are gone. The PS3 returned to its owner, the Xbox 360 died, the Wii died, and the PS2 became our DVD player in the living room.]

        Into a nice table with an image, mouseover text, a nice caption, etc.It keeps posts from getting too cluttered.

        In situations where I didn’t provide the width, it wasn’t omitting the width specification as it should. Instead, it was:

        <img src=”image URL” width=” “/>

        Specifying width s a single blank space. IE9 takes this to mean “width zero” while all other browsers (including both newer AND older IE!) seem to ignore this blank entry.

        Fixed the bug. It should work now.

        My image-showing plugin had a bug in it. In situations where I didn’t explicitly set the width, it was setting the width

        1. shiroax says:

          Why mouseover text AND caption? Seems redundant.

          1. Shamus says:

            It’s an either / or thing. Some captions are long and important. Sometimes I just want to add a footnote and don’t want to waste screen space on it.

        2. swenson says:

          Fixed for me on IE8 as well! Thanks. It didn’t seem to be a problem in the past, but in the past few months I’ve been noticing it.

        3. Yes, it’s fixed, thanks!

        4. Slothful says:

          Being able to make your own tools for whatever you happen to be doing at the moment is one of the most fun sounding things about programming.

      2. Thom says:

        I’m using IE8 at work, and the images were not showing until you tweaked the code. It looks fine, now.

    2. Torsten says:

      That could be a problem with your browser. I am using an old Explorer at work and it does not show any images, but at home with Firefox everything works fine.

  10. HiEv says:

    I’m currently looking for a new programming job, so the section on job listings spoke to my heart. And it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

    Long ago I had an interview once where I told the interviewer that I had experience with Visual Basic version 3 and also the 16- and 32-bit versions of VB4. She responded that she was more looking for someone who had experience with VB5. I asked her what the difference was and she couldn’t even tell me. I later got to use VB5 with another company who eventually hired me, and the differences were insignificant.

    I also once saw a job listing that required more years experience in the development environment than that development environment had existed. Basically, the only people who could claim to meet their job requirements were liars, since it was literally impossible to have the years of experience that they required. Things like this drive me crazy.

    Also, the recruiters often don’t even bother reading resumes. They just do a keyword search and then send submissions off to anyone with resumes containing the right keywords. I’ve gotten recruiters contacting me for jobs requiring strong COBOL or PowerBuilder experience several times, despite my having hardly any experience in them and no interested in working in them, simply because they were mentioned on my resume.

    Not to mention the whole system is riddled with catch-22s:
    – You have to have a job to get a job. Unemployed people are considered damaged goods, and heaven forbid there should be a gap of time in your resume.
    – You have to have experience to get experience. There are almost no job postings that don’t require that you already have experience before you can apply for them, and so it’s nearly impossible to get on the job experience in things unless you already have some experience in them.
    – You can be simultaneously too experienced AND too inexperienced to get hired. Having too much experience in one area, can make it hard for you to get a low level position in another area, since they will automatically assume you want too much money. This makes it very hard for people with a lot of experience in only a small niche to break out of that niche.

    That last one goes back to your point about what happens if all kinds of “driving” are treated the same. For hiring purposes they usually treat all programming as one single thing in terms of expected salary requirements, but they treat it separately in terms of requirements, thus blocking out niche programmers from expanding their skill set. If you ask for less money, then that makes them suspicious as well. Either way you’re screwed.

    It’s all very frustrating.

    1. Tom says:

      Urgh, there are emergent catch-22s within those catch-22s! One would think one could simply not disclose any over-qualifications, except you then get an employment history gap for the time you spent acquiring them!

    2. Joshua says:

      I work in Accounting, and a co-worker once told me he saw a position requiring “at least” five years experience in SOX Compliance. In 2006. When SOX was only 4 years old.

      What kills me is when I see ads in my field where they require a minimum amount of experience with a particular GL software. Aside from Excel or maybe Access, knowing a particular flavor of software(unless you’re programming), should almost never be a requirement for most Accounting jobs because they’re usually just a matter of days to learn,and you’ll likely pick most of that up by being trained how to do your specific job functions anyway.

      Fortunately, I’m starting a new job next week where my resume background does *not* fulfill their list of “checkpoints”, but because I’ve previously worked with two of their employees who vouched for my ability to learn and pick up new things.

      1. rayen says:

        those two people will get you the job. i heard a about a study not long ago that within the last 2 years 75% jobs have been filled by people who knew someone already at the company. this recession has been the epitome of “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”

    3. Cuthalion says:

      The “Need Experience to Get Experience” is the most frustrating for me. As a recent college grad, I’m not sure there are any jobs I’m qualified for on paper. I have a degree, but don’t have the 3-5 years experience entry-level (ha!) jobs require. I just have to hope that they’ll treat the degree like exp, or that they weren’t expecting to check all the boxes anyway.

      So, I’m a janitor.

      1. Prof_Goldfish says:

        For my chosen profession, forestry, there is a ton of this experience to get experience to get into an entry level position. There is really only one type of entry level position, GS-02, where you can make use of general experience. The other thing is that you have to make them pay attention to things like your volunteer work in my case.

        In conclusion the whole process is Byzantine and complete bs at times.

    4. Paul Spooner says:

      Yeah, I’ve run into the issue of “experience with this exact version of software” thing before. It’s especially aggravating in CAD and software development situations, where differences in software are irrelevant once your comfortable with the environment. What employers should be looking for is ability to think critically, and have an organized approach to problems… which clearly hasn’t been applied to most companies hiring process.
      Sometimes it’s a wonder that anything ever gets done.

      As far as the gap in employment goes, just pull together some of your hobbies, make up something plausible, and plug all those gaps with “I decided to be self-employed for a while, see if I could make it being a freelance X.” It really helps if you can show something that you accomplished during that time, like writing a book and running a blog, for instance. Then you’re on the offensive instead of the defense. Doesn’t solve the problem, but it helps.

      But yeah, most HR people are incompetent. My Dad likes to say “Those guys wouldn’t even give Einstein an interview.”

  11. Dragomok says:

    Section titles “Writing” and “The Axe” seem to be swapped. “Writing” talks about cutting bill, while “The Axe” is about writing for Escapist.

  12. rofltehcat says:

    Argh! Cliff hanger!
    I hope the next post is: “My book made me enough money!”
    and not: “My mistake was prioritising/not dropping my writing and blogging”
    The first one would be awesome and the second one would be horrible :((

    1. Mephane says:

      Don’t worry. The previous post already confirmed that the house was the mistake that gave the series its title. We are now already in repair and recovery mode.

  13. Daemian Lucifer says:

    “We drive an old car.”

    People often think that this is the best way to save money,yet its often not the case.Sure,it may be cheaper to buy one,but the maintenance and fuel efficiency will often bridge that gap,and sometimes even go way overboard.

    A few years back my folks decided to get a loan in order to buy a new car,while they gave me the old one.The interest they kept paying for the new car,combined with the bigger cost of registration(because it was a bigger model),ended up being maybe $200/year more expensive than all the additional maintenance of the old model.And the previous owner of that old car,my father,was really careful about maintaining it,which most people arent.

    Furthermore,there is insurance.When I had a big crash,the insurance paid only for a fraction of the actual damage,while they wouldve covered the whole thing for the new car*.

    *This insurance thing can also be heavily abused,if you want to skirt the law,so there are illegal ways to make the new car even more profitable,if you wanted to.

    1. Shamus says:

      Well, buying NEW is probably not optimal. And buying very old is hazardous. The sweet spot is somewhere in between. Ideally you want to buy a car when it’s suffered the worst of its depreciation but still has lots of useful lifespan left. If I had to guess, I suppose I’d say the sweet spot is somewhere between 5 and 10 years old.

      But this varies by car. The Gallant was a money pit, and I think it was a 97-ish. Our current car is ’93, and it runs really well.

      For the truly frugal, I imagine the best cars are probably the ones that run well but have bluebook-demolishing flaws. Broken air conditioner. Stained interior. Missing knob here or there. Harmless bits of dash lighting burned out. Small dents. All those together can knock a great deal off the list privce of a car without hindering its usefulness as a thing to go from A to B.

      1. Anorak says:

        Buying used cars is a difficult game. Unless you have a complete history of the car, and better yet, you know the garage that’s been looking after it, then anything could happen. It’s like gambling.

        I drive an extremely beaten up 1994 Vauxhall Astra. It’s uncomfortable and handles badly, but I bought it for £400, and I’ve spent another £300 in repairs over the last three years. But I knew the mechanic I bought it from, and he’d been looking after it for years anyway.
        Before that, I had a similar age Corsa, which cosmetically was in much better shape, bought at auction for £500. Had it for six months and the head gasket blew.

        So – gambling. Buying very old, “rubbish” cars has worked out ok for me so far, but I really wouldn’t recommend it.

        1. Trix2000 says:

          Getting a Carfax/vehicle history helps a lot. I know I’ve had a couple prospective purchases of mine turn bad when we checked the report and found evidence of accidents.

          Regardless, used car shopping is not fun.

      2. Jeremiah says:

        Certified Used can be a nice option, too. It’s somewhere between buying brand new and 5 or so years old. Usually it’s only a year or two old and you can still get them with a warranty for some amount of time.

        A tricky decision either way depending on your exact circumstances.

      3. Cybron says:

        “Broken air conditioner.”

        Sir, you seem to be mistaken. That is not a bluebook flaw, that is a flaw that turns a machine from a viable means of transportation into a unbearable death trap.

        (I know what you mean, but living in Texas, I would never want to do a car without AC.)

        1. Mrs. Peel says:

          Precisely what I was going to say :-)

          Personally, I think buying new is best. I don’t think the truism that every car is worth 20% less as soon as you drive it off the lot is actually, um, true. As a matter of fact, the first car I bought actually appreciated. I bought a 2005 Honda Civic new, and a year later, 2005 Civics with more miles than mine had were selling for a couple grand over their sticker price brand new. (This was because gas prices had doubled and everyone was desperate for high-mileage commuters, but still.)

        2. 4th Dimension says:

          What do you think those windows are for. They are backup AC. And you weren’t in a hurry to get anywhere since you’ll be driving less than 70 kph

          1. tzeneth says:

            The problem with windows are that if it’s hot enough outside, you’re just blowing hot air at you which doesn’t cool you down. I live in the Central Valley of California and when it gets really hot, windows are not a substitute.

            1. MichaelG says:

              109 Saturday. Go ahead and open your window…

      4. swenson says:

        My father’s current car is a mid-90s, beat-up, rusting out Mercury that he bought for… $300, and it barely even ran. He calculates he’s put maybe $400 in it total, not counting insurance/gas (which would be about the same in any car), and it gets over 30 miles to the gallon. When he bought it, it was supposed to give him a few months to find a better car.

        He’s been driving it for three years.

        The good ol’ Mercury may be making its way to the dump soon–he no longer trusts that the brakes would work in an emergency, and that includes the emergency brake–but it’s quite honestly the best car we’ve ever owned, and all for less than a thousand dollars.

        You just can’t plan that kind of thing!

      5. rayen says:

        the best cars to buy right now are the very first hybrid electric cars. it falls into that sweet spot you were talking about. the ones from 2004-2006 are really cheap and don’t gt much less mileage than the ones today.

        1. HeroOfHyla says:

          Wouldn’t the battery in one of those be nearing the end of its lifespan?

          1. Erik says:

            They thought that would be true, but actual battery life is turning out to be better than originally expected for most of the hybrids.

      6. topazwolf says:

        When it comes right down to it the only way your are going to save any real money on an older car is if you know how to inspect and repair its inevitable flaws. For instance, I recently got a 92 Chevy suburban. Great body, low mileage, everything looked practically perfect. Until I got it home and started driving and discovered that the rear wheel was leaking oil. Then I discovered when I went to remove the axle to fix it that the bolt holding the rear differential was snapped in half. Long story short in about 3 days and 60 bucks, I got it fixed. If I had to have it repaired the repair cost would likely have cost at least half of what I paid, if not more that the value of the vehicle.

        TLDR: To save money, repair your vehicle yourself.

        1. Kdansky says:

          Repairing cars yourself eats a ton of time, especially if you have to teach yourself about it first. That time could be spent working and earning money instead. Most people who claim that fixing stuff yourself saves a lot of money have not understood how opportunity cost works. Sure, I could probably build something significant if I spent 500 hours on it. But then, I could also put in 500 hours of overtime and earn a few ten thousand bucks and buy a new car instead.

          One of my work colleagues only works 4 days a week, and he spends the last day improving his cheaply bought home. He enjoys the work, and he knows that he essentially saved money on the building that he is now paying back by means of lower income, because he needs the extra time to make the place worth living in.

          This deal only gets really good if you are paid badly, but very good at fixing stuff yourself. Then you should probably try to get a better-paying job in whatever it is you’re so good at.

          1. topazwolf says:

            The costs for car repairs especially are greatly inflated. The work on did on the above saved at the lowest estimate of over $600 over a time frame of about 6 hours. Very few people get paid $100 an hour. If you do, you will probably not be driving an older vehicle to save money.

            The real issue you are ignoring is that most vehicular repairs are fairly simple to preform, but will be extremely expensive to get done. You have to pay to get the vehicle to the shop (normally it will have to be towed, and even if it doesn’t you will have to pay for gas), you have to pay for the initial repair, during the repair your vehicle will be in shop and you will have to either rent a vehicle or pay for a taxi, at some point during the repair the mechanics will discover a problem (in my case it was a broken specialty bolt), you will have to pay for this repair, likely the mechanics will claim they had to change oil (or whatever) and you will get charged with it. Some total, the total cost will probably be twice the initial quote. If it was a new vehicle you will likely get at least a year or two until this point is reached. An older vehicle will encounter this issue practically immediately. Thus, if you lack the skill to fix it, buying an older vehicle is likely not cost effective.

            Besides, I fixed it in my free time (which most people tend to have at least a little of since a normal work week is 5 days and a week is 7 days).

          2. topazwolf says:

            Hmmm, my comment got deleted. Am unsure why, though if it returns (it has happened) I shall apologize for double posting in advance.

            In any matter the crux of my reply is that the repair I performed took about 6 hours of work time. I did the repair in my free time so the opportunity cost was hardly a factor seeing as how I would not have spent said time working for gain. This repair was quoted to be at least $600, but since the repair process would have involved transportation (if it was my only vehicle) and the lost time in the shop as well as the additional repair work (removing the broken specialty bolt which was admittedly difficult) and any “bonus” work like changing oil or rotating the tires that was “necessary” to the repair work (this is likely rolled up in the additional repair charges), the total cost would likely have been twice the quote. I doubt many people get paid $100-$200 an hour. If you do you probably don’t drive older vehicles.

            Net effect, a newer vehicle means that these costs will be put off for a substantial amount of time while an older vehicle will likely cause this expense nearly immediately. Thus, if you lack the skill to repair such damages older vehicles will likely not be cost effective.

            1. kdansky says:

              > did the repair in my free time so the opportunity cost was hardly a factor seeing as how I would not have spent said time working for gain.

              That’s not how opportunity cost works! You effectively lost 6 hours of free time. If you value your free time, then that wasn’t free. I’m not saying it was a bad idea to fix it yourself, I’m saying you need to learn about opportunity cost!

              1. Topazwolf says:

                I am aware of opportunity costs as a rudimentary theory in Microeconomics. The basis of opportunity costs relies on a viable alternative that must be forgone in order to pursue your chosen action. This issue you are still ignoring is that if you are like me, you have enough obligations to where you have some free time, but not enough to sustain another form of gainful employment. You end up with a few hours of free time in an otherwise busy schedule. There is no possible (legal) opportunity for economic gain in this small a period. You are therefore free to chose between pleasure or self work. Most people will argue that since they get paid x amount of money an hour, there pleasure time is worth x amount of dollars per hour. This is nonsense since the act of working on personal needs will have immediate real economic gain while pleasure has a nonexistent theoretical gain. Thus, there is no physical missed opportunity.

                1. Rosseloh says:

                  The problem for me would be that I don’t know anything about fixing my car, except the really simple stuff. I’d have to waste time learning, all the while risking that if I screw it up, there goes my transportation. I think a lot of others are in the same boat.

                  I’d rather give a trusted mechanic a few bucks to take care of me than risk a higher bill in the long run.

                  Also, I DO place a value on my free time, I understand this isn’t really your point but figured I’d mention it. Time not spent doing something work-ish (which can include my actual job, and things like car repairs or lawn mowing or washing the dishes, which don’t give me, personally, a “benefit”), makes me relax and do better when it comes time to actually GO to work.

      7. Brett says:

        Our habit is to buy 2-3 year old cars from car rental companies. They turn over their stock fairly quickly, so if you want a standard model, it’ll generally be available. The rapid turnover means that they’re just replacing cars because they wanted a newer one, so they’re not just dumping lemons like a lot of the used car market. And they usually take care of their cars pretty well. You won’t find a car that’s been driven for 20k miles without an oil change. There may be fender benders and such in its history, but generally they’re pretty reliable, and by skipping the first couple of years, you don’t have to pay for the massive depreciation.

        1. Chris Robertson says:

          Just never look up rental car videos on YouTube.

          Ignorance is bliss.

      8. Guvnorium says:

        You people with your cars from states that don’t believe a reasonable strategy for ice reduction is to saturate the roads with salt. It’s hard to find a 20 year old car around here (that is, New York State) that was run in the winter that hasn’t been completely eaten by rust. PA uses a sand mixture or something, I’ve heard, but I’ve never really looked into it.

        And my car, an 2003 Grand Am, had just one such value demolishing flaw- completely busted air conditioner. Knocked a good bit off the price. The driver’s seat is also pretty badly destroyed- there’s a metal bar that digs into your back if you lean back into it. Got it for $3100 in 2010 though, and it has maybe seven hundred dollars in repairs in it, counting inspections and oil changes.

    2. Zak McKracken says:

      For my last two cars, I actually went and made a spreadsheet: How much will I spend on the car over its lifetime, depending on annual mileage and the car’s technical data? Do I go for the more expensive “eco” model or not? Diesel or Petrol?

      I’m driving quite a long way to work, so in my case the cheapest thing would have been to buy a mildly used one (a year or so, 10k to 20k kilometers driven), that has the lowest consumption available on the market.
      I still bought new (because of availability and having more time without worrying over repairs), and it worked out well. If I write my first car’s purchasing price off over the first 150k kilometers, it has cost a little less per year or km to purchase than to repair it over the latter 40k kilometers. That said, buying the same thing at an age of 1 or 2 years would probably have worked out cheaper, except there were no cars with the same efficiency on the market 2 years earlier.
      I still have to do the final accounting where I add up all insurance, repair etc. costs to see if all my choices were right… and what it actually cost me per km to drive a car, as opposed to using trains and buses.

      But! I think this outcome depends heavily on your usage of the car, and what climate it will have to live in. Also insurance and whether you know a good and trustworthy car mechanic probably has a lot to do with it. A former colleague of mine had a very old (10y+) and rather large car, aquired very cheaply from his friend the car mechanic, who also kept it in shape well. He drove much less than 10k kilometers per year and had it in the garage for the most time, and for that it was pretty much the best choice.

  14. Hal says:

    Well, as someone currently searching for a job . . . I mean, just browsing the job listings for amusement (*cough*), I completely agree with your assessment of announcements.

    It’s particularly frustrating in the biotech field, because the specialization starts practically when you’re still in school. It’s strongly encouraged, if not mandatory in many programs, to participate in academic research or take up an internship while still an undergrad. Since there’s a glut of workers, most companies don’t think much of asking for at least two years of experience, even for entry-level jobs.

    What’s frustrating in that regard is that biotech can be embarrassingly easy once you understand the principles of the things you’re doing. Laboratory positions are equivalent to baking, just with complicated ingredients. Most jobs won’t even care, ultimately, if you understand what you’re doing; they just want you to follow the directions from the SOP and write down the results. This means that the years of experience doing that one thing they’re asking for isn’t particularly relevant. Yes, someone who knows the various nuances will hit the ground running, but a week or two of training will have any reasonably intelligent scientist doing the job suitably.

    Of course, my wife tries to help with this by looking for jobs and sending me postings. Which is sweet, but not as helpful as she hopes. It all looks like “biology” to her, while I see job announcements and think, “Well, I’ve done that assay once or twice, but they want someone who has three years of experience. I know all of the techniques for that other job, but it’s for a plant biologist and I’m an immunologist. This third one is for a med tech job, and I don’t have any of the certifications to do that job.”

    1. Primogenitor says:

      Biotech (and science in general) seems to have a really steep “career pyramid” – lots of people fresh out of college at the bottom, a few high flyers at the top – and a squeezed middle where loads of skilled people leave the sector because they can’t find a job that matches the location / pay they need. Add in the “two body problem” – spouses that also work in the sector – and it is far from ideal. Not helped by governments around the world thinking that the solution is to cram more people into the sector rather than employing the people they’ve already spend years training!

      1. Hal says:

        Thank you. Someone who gets it.

        I was arguing over proposed immmigration bills something tangentially political unrelated to the topic but that would potentially increase the competition for jobs in biotech. The guy I was arguing with claimed that science, being an inherently creative field, benefits from high levels of competition and from having all of the best people competing for those jobs.

        Yeah, that’s great and all, but when you have 5 jobs, having 15 or 50 great scientists competing for the job doesn’t make a huge difference to the company; it does make a difference to the scientists who are in ridiculous competition. As you pointed out, people leave the field over that sort of squeeze. Our host provides a similar example.

        Frankly, I don’t know what I’d do if I wasn’t a scientist. You think anyone would pay for a professional Game Master?

        1. MichaelG says:

          I’ve never understood how the numbers are supposed to work in Ph.D programs. There is one tenured professor for many students, and a new batch of students every year. How are they all supposed to get jobs as tenured professors? It’s like out of control reproduction.

          Of course, some will go into industry, and each student has multiple classes, but the M.I.T. web site says student-faculty ratio is 8-1. And that’s only for the current class. If you talked about multiple years of students vs. the slowly-changing faculty, the numbers would be horrible.

          So I think that guarantees vicious competition for that one faculty spot.

          1. Pickly says:

            depends on the fields, but from my impressions:

            1. Only a small amount of universities have PhD programs, so a lot of people end up working at non-PhD programs

            2. industrial work/government work/other non-university work

            3. Lots of time spent doing temporary jobs (adjunct teaching, postdocs, for example), or people leaving the field, to reduce the issue that you in fact see in these jobs.

      2. Zak McKracken says:

        As someone who is currently somewhere in that pyramid:
        I think the idea is that most of the people do not become tenured professors but go outside the academic world. They also earn more money there. But then many people who are in that pyramid are there because they are geeky enough to value academic research over well-paid industry jobs. Problem.
        If you wanted to give all (or most) of these people tenure eventually, the number of professors would start to grow exponentially. Not possible.
        If you limit the number of PhD students taken on, this means refusing academic education to people who would be well capable of becoming PhDs. Also not nice.
        What happens is that the job of a tenured professor becomes more and more desired, fought over, and at the same time less well-paid and stressful, because the field is so competitive. Hmm… not a good thing either.

        So … there’s the pyramid problem, and there isn’t really a good way to solve it. I’m not happy about this. I think one thing that would help is if fewer companies’ HR departments would view job applicants from academia as people who failed to become professors. And if there were more places for geeks in the industry. I.e. more research that will not be required to affect the next quarterly revenue report.

        1. Hal says:

          It’s a very complicated situation that’s been growing like a tumor for the last several decades, alongside the other problems in academia. Here it is in a very simplified form:

          There has been a push from all sectors for more scientists/engineers/etc. since the Cold War. Whether it was done with the intention of competing with other countries or trying to grow our technical fields, this push has happened. In recent years, it’s been more about getting women and minorities into these fields, but the general push has always been for more people.

          As more people came into the field, research professors now had graduate students doing the work that lab techs previously held, and for much cheaper as well. More graduate students ended up meaning more competition for jobs when they graduated. The position of “post-doc” eventually appeared, a sort of “trial run” for holding a real professorship. Now professors had both grad students and post-docs doing work on the cheap. Not a bad problem to be had, right?

          Well, it’s a bad problem if you’re the post-doc or the grad student. Politicians who couldn’t understand the situation beyond “More scientists = Better science” poured money into education programs, inducing more students into the science field and inducing universities to recruit more graduate students without any thinking about the job market. Post-docs lingered in their “trial run” positions for years and years. As many find academic or industry jobs also end up leaving the field, and why not? You go to college at 18, then grad school at 22; most finish ~26-28. Ready for that real job? Nope, post-doc is barely paid more than a grad student, and you’ll work 80 hours a week for it. Most will spend 6 years as a post-doc before getting off the treadmill, others as much as 12. The average age of those receiving R1 grants (the “here’s money from the NIH/NSF/etc. for starting your lab and getting your research off the ground” grant) is now ~40.

          You have trained your entire life only to end up in cutthroat competition for few jobs, and you are finally, finally able to get a “real” job at the age of 40. Is it any wonder that people drop out of the industry?

          There’s always talk of reform, but nobody likes the solutions. Grad students and post-docs are cheap; lab techs and professors are not. Reducing the number of grad students will help further down the line, but doesn’t help much in the current market, and will slow down the research done by the professors because now they have fewer hands in the lab. More science funding from the government would be welcome, but politically it’s difficult to achieve, especially in the current economy, and without long-term commitment to the funding out just exacerbate the problem. Additionally, it’s a question of funding academia or funding industry; one is politically more popular but the other tends to be much better at bringing new products and therapies to the market.

          This isn’t even accounting for non-research institutions, which have taken advantage of the glut of PhDs to hire “adjunct faculty” to teach undergrad courses dirt cheap. Even there the competition is fierce, so there is a lot of exploitation happening.

          And that’s the short version. As always, more reading can help:

          http://100rsns.blogspot.com/2011/04/55-there-are-too-many-phds.html
          http://www.npr.org/2013/03/10/173953052/are-there-too-many-phds-and-not-enough-jobs

          1. Zak McKracken says:

            Are you in Biology and in the US?

            A friend was Postdoc in a US Biology lab and actually liked it a lot, what with being able to actually do research as opposed to doing paperwork (which is what they are doing in Germany).

            That said: on the engineering side, it looks a lot better. There are still not enough engineers on the job market, and while some have to reschedule a bit and adjust for shifts in preferred specialisation, most do get jobs. Also, at least where I was, the pay is in fact relatively good.

            I guess biology, medicine (research, not application) and humanities have a much harder life these days than for example physics and engineering sciences. I’m ashamed of each of my colleagues who realizes that and makes snarky remarks about the relevance of one field or another, and I wouldn’t mind if governments (or whomever, I don’t mind!) put some more money towards improving their career opportunities. That said: It is useful to think about job opportunities before deciding on a topic to study, as much (not more) as about what you really want to do. And don’t think a PhD title reserves you a place in academia. Those days are over.

  15. alecw says:

    Beautifully written article.

    As for the computer jobs thing – as a guy who spent 6 years towards his computer engineering degree, I can tell you how irrelevant it is for any employment in the industry.

    Comp Eng taught us circuit and system design, high speed signals, control, etc – yet 90% of the graduates I know ended up doing software, management, IT, etc.

    I ended up starting my own business and the degree was totally irrelevant.
    There is nothing more overrated than tertiary education, even for a technical course that actually taught skills, rather than a bullshit humanities degree that teaches you nothing useful at all.

    1. Well, speaking as a guy with a bullshit humanities degree I can tell you one thing: The skills I learned are not out of date.

      When I look at all the chatter in various not-here places on the internet, I find myself wishing heartily that a lot of other people had taken bullshit humanities degrees so they would have some vague notion how to organize thoughts and express them coherently.

      1. Sabredance (MatthewH) says:

        Can I quote you on that? I am forever trying to convince my students that -while not job training -their general education courses are still valuable.

        1. Primogenitor says:

          “Someone said it on the internet, so it must be true”

          I hope that you’re not using that argument with your students. If that argument works, its missing the point. If that argument doesn’t work, then they students already know it.

          Sorry if that sounds overly harsh, but you blew my mind. I’ll admit I’m a scientist so evidence is king, but is this really the sort of thing the humanities encourages? Maybe the rational is that any student who believes it, really needs those courses…..

          1. Syal says:

            This brings up a question; do Humanities merely allow one to present their thoughts clearly, or do they also allow them to express them politely?

          2. Sabredance (MatthewH) says:

            Well if you’d prefer I could just rip the argument off wholesale without attribution.

            The traditional gen ed argument (learning multiple approaches to phenomenon so as to gain an rounded and complete understanding) and the traditional liberal arts argument (free men must be generalists so as to be capable of conducting themselves without relying on orders from above) don’t usually persuade.

            I have usually avoided the “think of this as neat trivia to bring up at your next cocktail party” as frivolous.

            Literature, Philosophy, Mathematics, Art, Music, and Science all provide ways to think, lead to being more conversant -and therefore make you a hit at parties (I’m paraphrasing the argument) might be more effective than appeals to their own merit. These kids today, and all that.

            And anyway, we’re having fun. Lower your dudgeon.

          3. Come now, get off the man’s case. He was simply in awe of my concise yet expressive prose. Nothing wrong with that, it happens to lots of people. ;)

      2. tzeneth says:

        Eh, I enjoyed my Philosophy degree. I still have no idea what I would have done with it (going to Law School) but the training in logic and thinking were well worth it. Also, learning to read and write on complicated texts does make for better conversation and recognizing when someone is pulling something out of nowhere :)

        1. Zak McKracken says:

          If you look at it the right way, all thinking, and therefore all science is applied philosophy.
          My own work would not have been half as organized had I not stumbled across a book on philosophy that made me reconsider a few things I always just assumed but never thought too hard about… From humanities to medicine and particle physics, there are a few (often overlooked) common themes in all of science (and engineering, for that matter!). That is what philosophy is about.

      3. MichaelG says:

        “some vague notion how to organize thoughts and express them coherently” should really be the minimum training you get out of all schooling. High school graduates should be able to do this, or what is the point of 12 years of sitting in a classroom? Fifth graders should be able to do this!

        1. Guvnorium says:

          Keyword there is ‘should.’ When you have kids getting to high school with fifth grade reading levels, and similar writing skills, it all becomes a race just to get them passing grades.

        2. Zak McKracken says:

          Let’s just say that studying (at least some) “humanities” topics will give you a few levels in just that on top of whatever you got at school.

          Most of the time anyone does anything, they are interacting with people. Why do so many natural scientists and engineers think dealing with people is hard, but at the same time think that studying the dealings of people was trivial?

          (In a similar vein, why do so many humanities majors think technology was either trivial or magic? Or just irrelevant?)

      4. Guvnorium says:

        So far I have yet to find a use for my history degree (completed, though not conferred) in doing stuff in my computer science classes. Still, it was quite interesting, and I don’t regret spending two years on it… most of the time.

        And I heartily concur that more people should do humanities training- it might not be helping me in my other degree, or even help me in my future job, but if everyone made arguments based on rational evidence or logic based claims, I would like internet debate a hell of a lot more.

  16. Alan says:

    “Bachelor's degree in Computer Engineering or Software Engineering or Related.”

    I can, weakly, defend this requirement. I’ve worked with people, mostly scientists who turned into programmers, who lacked the basic programming analytical skills that most CS programs are pretty good at conveying. They lacked the ability to reason about the efficiency of an algorithm (Big O) and thus overlooked simple improvements that could radically improve responsiveness for UI code. They lacked the ability to think about program organization and thus wrote spaghetti code. They lacked the ability to generalize problems, so when a solution they had created was asked to expand to cover a new problem, it would be a rewrite. And these were people who had been professionally working for a decade or more.

    So, filtering by CS BS isn’t insane; it is a crude filter to identify people able to think analytically about programming.

    Now to argue against myself, it’s a crude filter. I’ve known great programmers who lacked a degree. I’ve know a pile of programmers with degrees from respected CS programs who couldn’t code their way out of a paper bag.

    Ultimately, it’s a filter uesd by an overloaded and/or underskilled HR department. If work is scarce, this is the sort of clumsy filter you put up just to keep from drowning in resumes. But if good employees are scarce or you really want the best you can possibly get, this is a pretty awful filter.

    1. Scampi says:

      Not to totally derail your explanation, but already mentioned computer scientist from the story a bit up in the comments also got a degree at the university, but his type of programming was not the type you’d ascribe to someone with a proper degree in cs. When we were creating WC3-Maps (per editor, of course, since I know jack about coding and admit it…) I was able to take several good looks into his triggering and found him to be lacking in exactly the areas you described. He decided not to leave loose ends for content to be changed later, he’d put in complicated measures that were way less efficient than alternatives I suggested, since they appeared to be easier to accomplish to him and generally never thought of anything as “something I might need to be able to work over later”.
      For some maps there were dead ends when he’d write some coded triggers which were at the very heart of the concept but wouldn’t leave them open to the slightest change, so when we came to a point when I suggested some new content he realized it wasn’t possible introducing it into the map except for some major overhaul, which he wasn’t willing to do and I could at the time not fix, since he had already created a coding nightmare forest where it was impossible to look through without spending many days or weeks only to understand the connections already existing.

      Edit: I see you already argued against yourself…I’ll just let my story stand here, but it doesn’t have a too good point anymore;-)

    2. Zak McKracken says:

      I agree, and this comes from someone who has written his share in spaghetti code in his time.

      At the same time, an scientist/engineer usually never encounters proper programming courses in their career, and so they just do what works. I’m lucky to know a few proper CS people, but that only helps me to know I’m not doing it right, not how to do it better.
      … does anyone know a good resource for people who can write very good spaghetti code in several languages to learn how to do it properly?

      1. Blake says:

        Software Carpentry! It’s basically designed to do that sort of thing. (The name is a pun, see, cause it’s like Software Engineering, but for building sheds instead of bridges… Yeah, it might be a little too clever. ;)

        My next suggestion would probably be something like “Introduction to Systematic Program Design” from Coursera. (I haven’t taken it, it just looks decent. Ooh! And I just found these two courses, taught by people I know from the University of Toronto! I bet those would be pretty good, based on what I know of the teachers… :)

  17. Mike C says:

    I’ve always seen the “Good Communication Skills” requirement as a safety net for the company, in that they can use that requirement to disqualify any applicant who otherwise meets all the requirements, but has an accent so thick that nobody can understand them.

    1. Joshua says:

      Ok, but where is it required that you explain why you’re not hiring a person? I’ve done a few different job interviews, and in my experience, they don’t even contact you back to let you know you didn’t get the position, much less detail why you didn’t. For those that do contact you, they usually give some polite rejection like “we elected to go with a better candidate.”

      As much as we’d like feedback about why we didn’t get a particular position, there’s absolutely no incentive for the hiring company to do so, and a lot of incentives not to.

      So, for a person who had a thick accent, you could just not review their resume, or never call them back after the interview.

  18. SlothfulCobra says:

    The thing about college degrees, is that while they may often be immediately irrelevant to the job at hand, they are a convenient, cheap, and easy way to narrow down any applicant pool. It is essentially there as a requirement to keep the riff-raff out.

    Of course, one of the big problems with the job market these days is how everyone gets degrees as a matter-of-fact without thinking of their future or trying to build a career without one. Many people go into debt to acquire a degree that doesn’t do much more than get them past one small hurdle.

    But then they have to get a degree, because everybody’s getting degrees, and the people who are over-educated naturally have an advantage over people without degrees, so they push out anybody who’s trying to to establish a career without a degree, and you have a horrible lose-lose situation. Freakanomics has a podcast about it. http://www.freakonomics.com/2013/05/01/its-crowded-at-the-top-a-new-marketplace-podcast/

  19. It occurs to me that when you come down to it, HR departments may be a bigger cost than benefit at this point. They use up a lot of money and they don’t understand who to hire. The point is more about exerting control than about efficient hiring.
    Probably it would be better just to say to a group of workers, “OK, it’s been decided we need someone to help you folks with such-and-such work. The pay will be this much. Hire someone, would you?”
    Then they put their heads together and see if they know someone. For those times when they don’t, there’d be company software for putting out job listings; they can put one out asking for the qualifications they actually want and interview a few people until they find one they like. Sure, it takes up a bit of their time, but they get someone relevant that they can live with, and nobody’s paying a stack of HR people so you can afford more line workers to make up for it.

  20. Mogatrat says:

    A very insightful and interesting article as usual, Shamus, but I have to say: the first thing I thought of when I started reading was that damn sound file from Warcraft 3.

  21. lurkey says:

    That listing reminded me of the good ol’ joke –

    What if drivers were hired like software developers?

    Job title: car driver

    Job requirements: professional skills in driving normal- and heavy-freight cars, buses and trucks, trolley buses, trams, subways, tractors, shovel diggers, contemporary light and heavy tanks currently in use by NATO countries.

    Skills in rally and extreme driving are obligatory!
    Formula-1 driving experience is a plus.

    Knowledge and experience in repairing of piston and rotor/Wankel engines, automatic and manual transmissions, ignition systems, board computer, ABS, ABD, GPS and car-audio systems by world-known manufacturers – obligatory!

    Experience with car-painting and tinsmith tasks is a plus.

    The applicants must have certificates by BMW, General Motors and Bosch, but not older than two years.

    Compensation: $15-$20/hour, depends on the interview result.

    Education requirements: Bachelor’s Degree of Engineering.

    1. Pretty sure this was a dilbert cartoon.

      If not..it should be.

      CATBERT HISSES AT YOU! YOU ARE FROZEN IN FEAR. CATBERT misses. more>
      CATBERT misses. CATBERT HITS! YOU MUST WORK SATURDAY!

  22. JPH says:

    Hey, I think we may have caught up to the point where I found out about you!

  23. Kdansky says:

    As someone who has a MSc and works mostly with PhD people: There is a very solid use case for these degrees. That is, when your company makes highly specialized software with lots of hard Math in it. Work experience will trump any degree in the “get shit done” department. But when the problem you need to solve in software requires you to read seven published papers from this century, and then write down some proofs and formulas, then your work experience in software engineering is worth jack shit.

    But that’s far from the general case. Asking for a PhD when you need a guy to write checkout-webpages is the wrong thing.

    So is asking for programming languages. Someone with 10 years of experience in Java and SQL will have zero problems switching to C#, C++, Python, Perl, Pascal or XQuery and XSLT. They will be much more useless if they have to write OpenGL in Java, despite knowing Java, because OpenGL is a completely different beast from Databases. A programming language is not an area of expertise. That’s like looking for a painter who specializes in “brown”. Domain knowledge trumps language knowledge by an order of magnitude.

    Programming languages are orthogonal to actual languages. A French-Russian translator can translate any topic (but doesn’t understand Chinese), while a software engineer can write code in any language, as long as it is in his domain of expertise.

    [One exception: If you need people to write things like compilers or libraries, you might need language specialists.]

    As for job ads: Cold calling works better if you are already specialized. Every company that is doing well is always looking for useful people.

    1. Trix2000 says:

      I’m not that much of a programmer myself, but I’ve always looked at things as if there is a ‘programming mindset’ that you have to learn, and the languages are simply how you write that on paper. The biggest hurdle I see to programming is learning to program period, since the rest is mostly syntax and specific details.

      Take this engineer’s words with a grain of salt though.

  24. burningdragoon says:

    Shamus,

    You could have always tried to use a staffing company to hel- bahahahaha, sorry I can’t even finish that thought without laughing.

  25. Primogenitor says:

    On the topic of CVs and job requirements, what are peoples opinions of Aptitude Tests as part of the interview process? The “here is a piece of code, what does it do?” sort of thing.

    1. Naota says:

      I wish more employers used aptitude tests rather than arbitrary and/or artificially steep resume requirements.

      I’m confident that I could do a good job of representing myself by giving an example of my work. I’m absolutely not confident that I won’t be passed over by an overworked HR department employee because of some trivial detail in my please-hire-me paperwork, which they most certainly will not write back to inform me of so that I can avoid doing it in the future.

  26. silver Harloe says:

    I assume the title is intentionally the orc peon from WC2?

    1. Jeff says:

      I’m so glad I’m not the only one who heard the orc in their head.

      1. krellen says:

        At the risk of being “that guy”, I’m pretty sure “Job’s Done” is the Human Peasant; Orc Peons go “Work Complete”.

        1. Asimech says:

          Listening to the voices as they sound in my head, with “work work” being the baseline, I think it’s the opposite. I keep hearing “job’s done” as a sort of “soft bass” which was the peon’s “work work” and “work complete” as sort of gravelly, which was usually the humans’ voice.

  27. Namfoodle says:

    Shamus, you are my brother from another mother. I have dealt with many of the same problems you have faced. My wife and I bought a house that turned out to be a bit too big/expensive for our needs. Part of the problem is that we let emotions influence our decisions too much. Then after 5 years of home-ownership both of us were laid off by our employers within 15 months of each other.

    Initiate Financial Death Spiral…:(

  28. MichaelG says:

    So whatever happened to the contract programming market? Back in the 90s, you could just take a six month job somewhere, make some contacts, and then keep writing code for them as an independent. Back then, it was great money, and there was no hassling about degrees or even working on site.

    I know contracting rates came down after the crash, but I thought the jobs were still out there. The way Shamus writes, $40/hr would have been a nice salary for him, and I think they are still offering that.

    1. I think those jobs still exist, but aren’t most of them in India now?

  29. Zak McKracken says:

    It just occurred to me that what Shamus describes as a “too long-term feedback loop” would be characterized by others as “you’ve had plenty of time to think it through, now bear the consequences”.

    And interestingly enough, depending on the subject matter, I myself can fall in either department. I’ll obsess over some things even when it’s completely speculative if there’ll ever be a benefit, and let others slide although I know there will be a problem much further down the road, but right now no-one’s complaining, so why do anything about it? What is an uncomfortably tight feedback loop in some matters will feel like a vacuum in others. I bet that’s somehow to do with which matters someone thinks they are good at or not, independent of whether they have the ability.
    Maybe “I can’t” really means “I don’t want to” much more often?

  30. RCN says:

    Good Gods, the US financial system is draconian to the core. And I thought the ridiculous loan rates here in Brazil were bad, but at least our banks don’t charge us for every little mistake and then the cause for these mistakes charge for the bills the bank refused to pay.

    I mean, it actually makes more sense to keep extra money in a savings fund than keeping it in your balance to avoid a financial spiral of death. I keep a close look at my finances but sometimes I dip bellow negative… but I don’t think much of it because I keep a lot in a fund. If I had to pay like this I’d be paranoid to the point I’d never make a purchase before checking my balance and never keep anything in savings.

    On the other hand my mother has the financial skills of a… person with poor financial skills because I can’t call my mother that. She takes loans to pay loans, then she has to pay 50% or more in interests in ever growing loans from different stores and banks and she keeps saying she can only pay the loan interest with more loans…

    Plus, she is adamant to pay minimum wage for whoever gets to do some work for us even when their work consist of less than four hours of work per MONTH. She doesn’t even realize she’s paying these people by the hour less than she makes herself no matter how many times I explain it to her (…”no silly, I make way more than minimum wage, don’t be ridiculous”…)

    EDIT: I believe it is good to clarify that here “minimum wage” refers to a value paid by month, not by hour or year. Though this value by month is worked out on a common basis of assuming of 40 hours of work hough, people just don’t even try to make the simple calculation.

  31. Stephanie says:

    Yeah, I’m in the ‘keep a buffer’ camp as well. The day after my pay comes in, a bunch of APs slice off what’s needed for the mortgage, a split to my partner’s and my joint current account (for groceries and utilities and that), and some personal stuff. What’s left between that and Buffer Number is my spending money for the fortnight. If I go over, I’ve got an immediate flag to spend less for the next pay cycle, and if I go under, I’ll usually siphon it into savings.

    There are some other tricks as well, depending on how you think/behave with money. I’ve got this friend who has a decent income but is always on the point of broke (seriously, I have no idea what he spends it on!), and the only way he can manage long term saving is a fund that pulls cash out of his pay and is legally locked until he’s 65, or buying a house, or in ‘dire financial hardship’. I suppose another thing he could try is set up a savings account in a different bank from his regular account, with significant barriers to getting at it – like he’d have to physically go into a branch and get them to write him a bank cheque if he needed the money.

    For me, that’s not an issue, but it means a lot to me to be able to parcel out my money into separate accounts which all have their own purposes (so joint account for stuff with my partner, private spending account, savings, one for some legacy money that I figure one day I’ll want to spend on something special, and a separate charity account so that when I make donations it doesn’t feel like it’s coming out of my regular spending money and I don’t feel like I’m giving up anything I would otherwise be spending on me). (Our mortgage is set up so that it’s irrelevant how many accounts we have, the total gets counted as an offset to our mortgage balance for the purposes of calculating interest.) I know other people do the revolving credit line thing, where they’re always looking at a somewhat fluctuating Big Negative Number, which would drive me crazy, but I guess works for them. And other people who do that thing where they pay all their bills on their credit card and pay it off in full one day before the interest kicks in at the end of the month, so they can wring every last scrap of interest off their money – but the amount of micromanaging that would go into doing that would be too high a time cost to me.

    So lots of different ways to work it. Although the one thing I think is really important is to build in some regular treats into whatever budget you’ve got. Maybe something monetary, like you get to take yourself out for a nice coffee once a week; or participating in an activity that takes in a lot of time but has good creative or social rewards; or volunteering for something and getting warm fuzzies from that… whatever makes sense to that particular person. But if a budget is so tight that there’s no room to move or enjoy anything, it’s destined to fail, or at least need to be a really short term thing with a big payoff at the end. Another trick I do, is when things get a little better, like some windfall cash, or a payrise, or a debt clears (yes, people who’ve been commenting about the bad times they’re going through, they will get better, I promise! I’ve been there, and done that), I make a deal with myself that some of it will go into my savings, but I always get something out of the windfall as a nice treat for myself. So it’s irregular, but a nice little extra to regular life that keeps me interested.

    Anyway, my two cents.

  32. Stephanie says:

    Yeah, I’m in the ‘keep a buffer’ camp as well. The day after my pay comes in, a bunch of APs slice off what’s needed for the mortgage, a split to my partner’s and my joint current account (for groceries and utilities and that), and some personal stuff. What’s left between that and Buffer Number is my spending money for the fortnight. If I go over, I’ve got an immediate flag to spend less for the next pay cycle, and if I go under, I’ll usually siphon it into savings.

    There are some other tricks as well, depending on how you think/behave with money. I’ve got this friend who has a decent income but is always on the point of broke (seriously, I have no idea what he spends it on!), and the only way he can manage long term saving is a fund that pulls cash out of his pay and is legally locked until he’s 65, or buying a house, or in ‘dire financial hardship’. I suppose another thing he could try is set up a savings account in a different bank from his regular account, with significant barriers to getting at it – like he’d have to physically go into a branch and get them to write him a bank cheque if he needed the money.

    For me, that’s not an issue, but it means a lot to me to be able to parcel out my money into separate accounts which all have their own purposes (so joint account for stuff with my partner, private spending account, savings, one for some legacy money that I figure one day I’ll want to spend on something special, and a separate charity account so that when I make donations it doesn’t feel like it’s coming out of my regular spending money and I don’t feel like I’m giving up anything I would otherwise be spending on me). (Our mortgage is set up so that it’s irrelevant how many accounts we have, the total gets counted as an offset to our mortgage balance for the purposes of calculating interest.) I know other people do the revolving credit line thing, where they’re always looking at a somewhat fluctuating Big Negative Number, which would drive me crazy, but I guess works for them. And other people who do that thing where they pay all their bills on their credit card and pay it off in full one day before the interest kicks in at the end of the month, so they can wring every last scrap of interest off their money – but the amount of micromanaging that would go into doing that would be too high a time cost to me.

    So lots of different ways to work it. Although the one thing I think is really important is to build in some regular treats into whatever budget you’ve got. Maybe something monetary, like you get to take yourself out for a nice coffee once a week; or participating in an activity that takes in a lot of time but has good creative or social rewards; or volunteering for something and getting warm fuzzies from that… whatever makes sense to that particular person. But if a budget is so tight that there’s no room to move or enjoy anything, it’s destined to fail, or at least need to be a really short term thing with a big payoff at the end. Another trick I do, is when things get a little better, like some windfall cash, or a payrise, or a debt clears (yes, people who’ve been commenting about the bad times they’re going through, they will get better, I promise! I’ve been there, and done that), I make a deal with myself that some of it will go into my savings, but I always get something out of the windfall as a nice treat for myself. So it’s irregular, but a nice little extra to regular life that keeps me interested.

    Anyway, my two cents.

  33. Steve says:

    Just removed the Adblock Service for this site. Will Donate as well.

  34. I can’t believe the you left out the part in 2007 where you supplemented your income by selling your body to transients behind the bus station for nickels.

  35. krellen says:

    Re-reading this now and, with my current situation, that bit about the job listings really rings true.

    1. Son of Valhalla says:

      I’m reading this now. I’ll be honest, job listings are horrifying and awful, and they’re just like this. Some of them require twenty page long tests, long, mundane job tasks, and other awful information about their jobs. I swear they’re written by robots. Oh wait…

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