Rockford Lhotka

VP, Open Source Creator, Author, Speaker

How I Got Into Computers Final Job Search Edition

05 May 2021

This is another in a series about how I got into computers and how my career has unfolded.

In this post I’ll discuss my (probably) final job search. After this job search I’ve never searched for a job, all subsequent jobs have come via networking or acquisition, and I find it hard to imagine I’ll do a blind job search again at this point in my career.

I would like to think this is true for a lot of people: after a certain point in your career, you’ve built enough relationships with people across the industry that if you need a new job it is a matter of talking to friends and colleagues to find a new workplace where you can contribute and be welcome. I know that’s not true for a great many people, but it feels like it should be!

Back in 1995, after spending over 6 years working at the same bio-chemical manufacturing company, I was ready to move on. I think this was due to several things, including:

  • We’d been acquired by an Italian parent company that didn’t value the use of computers or automation, and thus didn’t value me, my team, or any of us in IT really
  • As much as I tried, at its core, the company was a “Type C” org that tended to upgrade only when forced by vendors who wouldn’t support the ancient versions of our software
  • I was convinced that this “Internet” thing was going places, but I was unable to generate interest in it within my employer (which I guess makes sense, since the Lynx text-based browser was state of the art at the time)
  • My family lore is that we “have wanderlust” - though I honestly think that’s more fiction than reality given that my father and both grandfathers enjoyed long careers with single employers after they were in their 30’s - so maybe it is reality when in our 20’s?

In any case, I started looking for other work. Searching the newspapers (this is still pre-Internet as we know it), sending out resumes, and that sort of thing.

I was still quite young and naive really, having worked for an ISV and in IT, but never in consulting or big corporate environments or government.

I interviewed with a small manufacturing company about an hour west of the Twin Cities. That was somewhat appealing to me, because it was in a rural area with some good fishing lakes, and I thought maybe I was ready to return to rural life. I also interviewed at a couple different consulting companies.

One was a style of consulting often called a “body shop”, where they found you work and you were paid for the hours worked, with them taking a (sizable) cut off the top of your billing rate. No work, no income. With a young son, I wasn’t too keen on the instability of such an arrangement, and the person interviewing me came across rather like a slimy used car salesman.

Another was a consulting company that hired employees as full-time W2. They paid a salary whether you worked or not, and provided standard benefits and so forth. The company felt stiff and formal and not fun.

None of these three offered me a position. Looking back, I’m very glad!

It is hard to imagine how my life would have unfolded had I joined another small manufacturing firm, but I suspect I wouldn’t have lasted long. I was bored and frustrated with my current small manufacturing employer, and doubt I would have been engaged for very long in a new small manufacturing company. Though perhaps I’d have become a “dark matter” developer, and focused more on fishing and other outdoors activities and less on building my developer expertise.

Today, with many more years of experience and (I hope) wisdom, I know for a fact that I wouldn’t have enjoyed working for the body shop. That company, like most of its kind, allows their sales people to manage consultants, and sales people are never motivated by the best interests of consultants - consultants are purely a way for the sales people to make money, and a consultant who wants flexibility, has external interests, or who costs too much is highly problematic. It turns out I meet all three of those criteria.

The W2 consulting firm didn’t last long. I don’t know why, but they got bought out not long after, and most of their employees moved on. While I don’t know the details, I do think I avoided some pain by not joining that company.

Where I did end up was an up-start consulting company called BORN, named after its founder: Rick Born. Although BORN liked to have folks wear suits and ties, it was a fun place to work. Employees were full-time W2 with good benefits, and the people who interviewed me seemed authentic and not like used car sales people.

That’ll be my next post - my numerous roles at BORN.

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