Friday, 10 September 2010

So You Want A Job In IT, Part 2

It had to happen sooner or later: I'm on the other end of the job seeker's equation. My company is in a retrenchment cycle -- aren't they all, these days? -- and they deigned declined to renew my contract. Highest tree, wind, et cetera... though in this case I'm really only the highest tree by dint of being the easiest toppled, what with being on a contract and all. It's not all bad; I had a great second interview with an awesome local telecoms-ish company and am awaiting word. More on that later.

I got a letter from a recruiter this morning. She saw my profile on Pnet and wanted to enter me into their database. So far, so nominal. The letter then reads:
Your details are not on our database – please complete the attached documents so that we can add your details and be able to contact you for positions.
Now, as you other job seekers out there probably know all too well, every job site out there has its own way of entering one's skills matrix. All of them are laborious, some attain RPITA-hood. (For the uninitiated, RPITA stands for Royal Pain In The Ass.) This means that my skills are available, online, ALL THE TIME. Why should I need to complete an in-house skills matrix (a simple but finicky and time-wasting copy / paste job from my CV) when recruiters actually get paid to navigate the red tape around getting me employed?

By all means, ask my written permission to copy & paste from my CV... just don't find my fully populated profile on a job site, then try to push me through your meat grinder of a process.

That's another thing about recruiters. This time I shall name and shame Express Employment Professionals -- not for being lazy, but for being a mindless meatgrinder of a recruitment company.

Imagine this: I pitch to apply for a position called "Linux system administrator", one I only later found was for an oil company. ("NO THANKS".) Anyway... before anyone from Express would actually see me, I had to complete a basic computer literacy test.No problem, or so I thought.

You see, this particular test was designed in Visual Basic. It pulls in Microsoft Word and Excel windows into a 640x480 frame on an ASP web page. The testing application apparently detects what you do and decides whether or not you've succeeded in the set task. Click anywhere but the exact path of clicks the test app expects, and it decides you've fucked up that question. You have the option of retrying, but seriously... When will I, a Linux sysadmin, EVER use Microsoft Office applications? I'll tell you: When Microsoft open sources Office and supports Real Standards instead of Microsoft Broken Standards Meant To Promote Vendor Lock-In, that's when. (Don't hold your breath.)

I'm tired of ranting. Life is filled with negativity. Here's a happy wallpaper for you ^_^

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Blue-sky bird (pic)

While attempting to photograph a random empty piece of azure sky, I happened to catch this bird in flight. This makes for a wonderful desktop background -- I like to use my desktop's Invert function, and this fits right in: when inverted, the blue bitflips to a weird-but-soothing-on-tired-eyes yellowish colour. Click the thumbnail to see full size. (1600x1200, taken with a Nokia 5230 phone.)

This photo is free for personal use and open source projects :)

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Pregnancy: The wait is over.

In the immortal words of Tank Girl: Listen up, 'cause I'm only gonna say this once.

For those of you who don't know, my wife Christél fell pregnant about 8 weeks ago. Excitement ensued. We weren't ready to have a child, but then is anybody ever truly ready? We would be ready when the time (and baby) came. We felt scared, brave, and closer to each other than ever before. We could do this.

The first scan, around 5 weeks, didn't reveal a foetal heartbeat. This was fine; acquaintances assured me that they only got heartbeat at eight weeks. The doctor at Groote Schuur Gynae Emergency assured us that it's too early to tell much for sure; he told us to come back in two weeks for another scan.

Two weeks went by. We spent most of our non-work time together; we read books to each other, did fun stuff, bided our time. Two weeks on, the scan revealed not much more than before. The doctor has a marvellous poker face, but I could see the news wasn't good. There wasn't much foetal development since the previous time; the doctor sounded less than hopeful, but Christél wasn't in pain or bleeding or anything so he told us to wait another two weeks.

The wait was over on Sunday past. External and internal sonar showed pretty much the same results... yolk sac, very little growth, no foetal pole. The difficult decision had been made for us; the pregnancy would have to be ended. What remained was the easy choice: how would we like to do it? The options: naturally, surgically or chemically. Sounds like a fucking checkout counter... "Paper or plastic?" We went with the medicinal option. The nurse gave Christél three octagonal white tablets and sent her home.

On Monday she and I stayed home together. She had started to bleed and cramp rather heavily, both effects of the medication. This morning (Tuesday) about 05:30, Christél passed the not-foetus. It was over.

Yes, I know that this happens in about 60% of pregnancies. Yes, many couples go through this every day. Maybe they find it easier than I do, maybe they don't. I don't know. All I know is that I am utterly unprepared for the pain, the anger, and the utterly devastating disappointment. I had no idea whether I could look after a child, but goddammit I was going to do my best.

I am raw inside... It feels like a part of me was torn out of the universe, and there's nothing I can do about it.

If you've been through something like this, please tell me how you handled it.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

So you want a job in IT?

Background: My company is looking for a software support engineer. I had cause to deal with some curriculums vitae before passing them along to my employers. Obviously I perused these little slices of life before actually forwarding them along.

What I saw therein made me die a little inside... I can understand that people write like this in everyday; they don't give a crap about their writing in everyday life because their teachers cared about it at school and they're being rebellious or something. In a CV though? Your employment, your very livelihood may depend on the person reading your CV. Do you really care so little about yourself that it doesn't matter how you're perceived?

On the one hand, I don't want to offend possibly prospective colleagues by criticising their CVs. On the other, a CV which fails to impress me will almost certainly fail to impress my bosses. I sent back lists of corrections and a suggestion to re-read their CVs very carefully. The corrected CVs still contained errors. Lots of errors.

Is it wrong of me to expect proper spelling, grammar, punctuation and formatting? I won't go into specifics here. Herewith, however, a few suggestions if you are updating your curriculum vitae with the purpose of actually landing a job:

1a. There is NO excuse for incorrect spelling. EVER.
1b. A word may be spelled correctly yet be the wrong word. Read your CV out loud.
1c. Get your spelling-and-grammar-Nazi friend to correct your CV. With a red pen.
2. The apostrophe indicates possession, not plurality.
3. A unified look: Your CV is not a collage, nor is it a ransom note. Jumping around between different fonts and font sizes makes your CV look like a tabloid "news" story.
4. Nobody cares what your first holiday job was unless you're applying for another holiday job.
5. Don't claim to have good attention to detail and yet miss more than half a dozen errors in your CV after being told to look for mistakes.
6. Smiley faces. Are you serious about getting a job? Then don't use a Unicode smiley face in the place of a period. A smiley face on a CV is what the interviewer draws if they like you very much.
7. Names and certain abbreviations are capitalised when appearing in the middle of a sentence; a regular  verb is not.
8a. No contractions under any circumstances. (don't, I'm, etc.)
8b. Never EVER use "etc." on a CV. If you do, however, then don't spell it "ect."
9. Call me picky, but a bullet list of statements about you tell me far less than a concise paragraph wherein you describe yourself.
10. We use the South African English dictionary in South Africa. US English is for when you're actually physically present on the North American continent. When in doubt, spell it like the British do. (Hint: We use far fewer Zs in our words and words like "colour" contain more letters.)
11. Underlining random lines in your CV is pointless and confusing. If it's that important, devote a page to it or turn it into a section heading or something.
12. Non-unified formatting bothers and confuses most people subconsciously. If you use a period at the end of list items in one section, use periods at the end of your list items in every section.
14. EDIT: Sentences start with capital letters.

If you want to suggest any more items, please do so in the comments below.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

...but now that dream is gone from me.

I wish this entry was unnecessary. This is like wishing that history wouldn't repeat itself, however, and for the same reasons.

Sixteen years ago, we stood on the threshold of something greater than just another regime change, something more than a mere colonial handover. South Africa opened the door to hope. The disenfranchised got to vote after being oppressed for as long as their living ancestors can remember. On 27 April 1994, newly-enfranchised South Africans elected the party that had fought long and hard for their freedom. The erstwhile oppressors feared for their lives, livelihoods and families.

Then a wonder happened. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission took to the past not rage and a broadsword, but a scalpel and a gentle but firm bedside manner. The abscesses of the past were excised, festering wounds reopened and cleaned. Justice, as and when needed, was not only firm but correctly firm. Everything was documented, everything public. South Africa might just have needed that catharsis more than the election itself. In the days after the TRC's final report, South Africans had hope.

As it always does, though, life happened. We assumed that the hope would never go away and went on with the ever-important yet wholly insignificant business of daily life. We raged against the small oppressions of Affirmative Action, as-yet-extant racism, and sports quotas. We looked at the past as though it was just that, the past. The old South Africa was taboo, verboten, not to be referenced in polite company. The lessons of the past were forgotten; some things which should not have been forgotten were lost.

The old regime enabled, at state level, some of the worst parts of the human condition. Nearly-legal torture, bombing of innocent civilians, the economic oppression of tens of millions. A state-engineered breakdown of the family structure leading to racial violence and pandemic levels of HIV. The long-term human suffering deliberately planned and executed by the state machine of the Old South Africa is as bad or worse than anything the Nazis did.

That's all in the past though, right? Right? Wrong. There is no reason why this will not happen again. What are the tools used by the old regime to keep the people in line? Main and legal force, to be sure. What else? Media manipulation. Censorship. Doublespeak, doublethink. Fear. Fear for yourself and your loved ones. Fear that your children or your parents won't come home one day. Fear of your children, of your neighbours.

At face value, the lesson Julius Malema and the African National Congress' Youth League takes home from the Old South Africa section of their history books seems to be something to the effect of "All white people are out to screw the black man over." This apparently justifies everything they do and fools the world into believing the ANCYL to be just another vocal and ultimately powerless political faction acting as a puppet for the ruling party. I don't believe them to be that simple and frankly neither should you.

The lesson I learn in our own history books is not a new one. It's not even a unique story. The lesson I take to heart is this: The oppressor comes in many shapes and forms, but the tools are always the same. The local monopoly on violence, control of the judiciary and legislative mechanisms, censorship of the media. Political officers in our midst. Fear, uncertainty and doubt.

Most worrying of all, Julius Malema has put out a (misspelled) call for "patriotic" citizens to supply information on these political agents provocateurs (ie. journalists doing their jobs; bloggers doing their own unpaid thing). Turning people against one another. Divide and conquer.

There was another dictator-to-be who used his own youth league to come to power. The ANCYL has the capacity to become Julius' own Hitler Youth, if indeed this is not already the case. Do we ever want children to turn in their parents for having an opinion? For being the wrong colour or creed?

Will it stop there?

You don't have to be white to be an oppressor. You don't have to subjugate people of another race to be an oppressor. You don't even have to wave swastika-equivalents and march in jackboots to be an oppressor. All you have to do is to fool most of the people most of the time into thinking that a small group of rich privileged people that are different from you are to be feared as the oppressors.

With that, you can do anything.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Overhearing African songs

I am sitting in my back garden at 1:30AM, writing my book. A light drizzle falls, but not on my laptop because I'm covered by an ecosystem-y sort of thatch formed by ivy, dead silver oak leaves, insects, spiders' webs, and the remains of whichever small vertebrates nature selected against recently in the form of Hobbes, Suzy and Pimento -- respectively ginger tom, piebald black and white female neuter and a black smoke queen.

Clarification: The thatch is on top of a covered frame. Not on top of me. That would be unsanitary.

A bunch of young black men just walked by outside. My first thought was "That's really loud. Someone is bound to call the cops." Then I listened again and thought "Man, that is beautiful." Imagine hearing this:

Six or eight young black men's voices at quite reasonable volume -- I could (literally) hear them coming from a block and a railway bridge away. Not every one of those voices was stellar on its own, but they *harmonised*. They sang their song in a language I do not understand, but I knew exactly what they were saying. Their voices spoke of togetherness, the pride of the group, the feeling of Africa's fel sun on your face. Of the sweet smell and soft skin of the girls they danced with tonight. Of brotherly love and their awareness of being together in the moment. The song was banter, good-natured teasing, friendship. Though they didn't literally laugh, their song had the feel of a shared laugh suppressed and then channeled into a song sung whilst walking home. Think about it. Ten or fifteen minutes of being this close, this in touch with your friends. To converse in song.

This put me in mind of something else I was lucky to witness a while ago. I was dumping garden refuse at the Wynberg recycling station and happened to be standing close to two fifty-somethings black men, close enough to overhear them conversing. Note that I didn't say "speaking". To this day I am convinced that they were having a conversation in song. The one would sing a snippet of a minute or two, about the length of a few sentences. The other would then fall in with a few lines of his own. Wash, rinse, repeat. I could hear the song's content, emotional and conversationally, change over time. What it sounded like most, frankly, was two old friends talking about their travels... one telling the other of a place they'd been to and what it was like, the second person in this case asking questions and making comments about the first person's statements.

I have not heard of day-to-day conversational singing before, but I know what I heard. Do you have a similar story to tell? Did you grow up in a culture where this is commonplace? Please tell me about it in a comment, I'm dying to find out more.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

The first rule of Book Club

I had a brilliant book club night. So scintillating was the conversation and so pleasant the well-connected company that I shall avoid all name-dropping charges by not mentioning any. I must add that I ended up having a conversation with @kevl about my novel-to-be. I came away with not a few good ideas, reawakened enthusiasm, and clarity über alles.

I'll also probably have a hangover and believe several brilliantly impossible things before I am sufficiently coordinated to type. Crappy though it may be, my phone's voice recorder will have to do. All phones should come with a dictaphone button on the side, damn it. It's cheap and improves the user experience.

Oh look, my ramble has all dried up. Must be dehydration. I will drink more water and sleep. Hope 4 hours is okay.

Night all!