[Courses] [Careers] From 'I must have a job' to 'I must have a wonderful job'

Karine Proot kproot at nerim.net
Sun Jan 23 07:23:16 EST 2005

    I am 26 years old, and since I finished my studies, I went through 4 
jobs in 2 years. Here is why and how.
(Note : this may only apply to french work system - but some decisions I 
made can be understood anyway :) also, please excuse my bad english 
wherever it slips in).
(Note written once I finished the mail : it turns out I love writing and 
I made it way too long. My career begins on the third block of 
paragraphs for those who have less time - even though that won't shorten 
it that much!)

    My father purchased a Macintosh when I was very young, so, as far as 
I can remember, there has always been a computer at home. There were no 
colors, and only 20Mo disk space, but I had a lot of fun playing with 
it. There was also a program named HyperCard which a first saw as a way 
to do slide shows (you had 'cards' that took all the screen space, you 
could draw on them, and you could link them with buttons) and then as a 
way to port my loved gamebooks to the screen.
    At that time I was very curious and trying a lot of things in every 
app menu ("What can this do? oh, it brings up a dialog with a lot of 
options to tweak, let's try them all!"). So HyperCard was treated the 
same way and I found an option that said I was using the designer mode, 
but there was a more advanced 'programmer' mode. What could that be?
    Well, clicking that option changed my life ;)

    So, to make long things short, I wrote some small apps (mainly 
games) and went on with QBasic when we got a PC. I took maths option in 
high school, and filled application forms for both biology and maths 
'preparatory classes', which are a 2 year formation where you suffer 
like hell to be accepted in a engineer school which keeps you 3 more 
years. The only thing I loved in biology was genetics, so I went to the 
maths classes and suffered like hell 3 years long (yeah, you are allowed 
to fail the last year once, and as I discovered IRC during my first 
attempt I had to try again...) and got into a computer-science engineer 
school. My father warned me many times that computers are just tools and 
should not be the main focus of my studies, but he was unable to change 
my mind. That school helped me structure my programming knowledge and 
since once you are in there is almost no way to fail, I spent even more 
time on IRC, signed up for games beta-tests, played mmorpgs, and at the 
end the only course where I was still attending was Japanese. So these 
were 3 paradise years at that time, though I regret I did not attend all 
the classes and wasted some time and parents' money...
    Like almost any uni, they only had Unix stations and I discovered 
that world at that time. My parents had offered me a computer for my 
studies, so my fellow students offered to help me install Linux on it as 
dual-boot so I could work at home. I did not boot Linux very often (I 
had no connection and was going back to school on evenings to chat, so 
basically the main Unix knowledge I got at that time was ircii). Anyway, 
I continued programming small games when I was feeling like it so every 
year I was using Linux a bit more, about 50/50 at the end.
    I also did a Master during my third year as this was an opportunity 
offered by the school, and I went much more to these very interesting 
classes. I met my beloved one on that year also, on IRC (he was far from 
the first one I met that way!). He had done the same studies in another 
school and had finished one year earlier (same year of birth but he did 
not waste one preparatory year with IRC ;))

    When I finished mine, he resigned from his job in the east of France 
and we began searching for two in the south (where sun shines!). Turned 
out it was a Very Bad Idea, and we wandered like lost souls one year 
long, failing all job interviews because we had no professional 
experience (well sure, but how can I get one then), being kicked out of 
parents' home and going to the other's in cycle. It was not a good 
hiring period at that time so we just waited (and coded and coded), but 
it was becoming very frustrating after all those studies (we were both 
24). I had a small 6 weeks contract with the help of the national job 
agency, where I was shamefully underpaid. I was to develop ASP scripts, 
but one co-worker was all excited about that new .NET thing so I ended 
learning ASP.NET. Still having no job in sight at the end, I signed for 
another six weeks. We decided that sun was cool but job was better, so 
we started to search where jobs where : Paris. It turned out we should 
have done it before, as we both found something in one week. My boss 
wanted me to sign again with him, and I was very happy to tell him what 
I thought about my underpayment. I still told him I got my new job 
thanks to that new in fashion tech I had learned there.

    We both entered service companies, which means they rent us to other 
companies for short times. There are a lot of these in Paris, and while 
it's very secure for us (when nobody needs our skills, we are still paid 
by the service company, so unless we show we are really useless we have 
no more worries) and well paid, we can change workplaces often and we 
are not seen as well as people working directly for these companies. We 
were both very happy anyway, and thought we would do that about 5 years 
and then go back to south of France with a good professional resume.
    So I did one year of ASP.NET websites, mainly for an online printer. 
I had some good and some bad time there, the good being what I learned 
technically, the bad being my boss in the service society didn't care 
wether I was working or not, as long as the ones he rents me to pay him. 
I hated this situation because a lot of my co-workers had understood 
there was no need to work well or hard as long as it wasn't too obvious, 
the result being the same. I'm not someone that like spending 10 hours a 
day at work, but I like doing what I do the best I can, and above all, 
that it will be acknowledged.
    In the meantime, I was using Linux more and more at home and started 
to participate in open-source projects (Meredydd's erverybuddy-lite). I 
learned about other ways of thinking and teaming, and it was far more 
rewarding in acknowledgements.
    So I searched for other service companies, had a lot of interviews, 
and found a job where the project leader seemed to fit well with my 
aspiration (when you want to enter a service company, even more if you 
are junior, they want to have someone to rent you to immediatly, so you 
have interviews with people of both the service company and the client 
company). My current boss offered a raise, but I had far enough money to 
live very well and it wasn't the problem at all.

    The client I was rented to wanted to test me before hiring me 
directly (this is also a common practice in service companies). I was 
happy with that and we had 3 monthes to test each other. It was a small 
logistics company, but very welcoming. So I did three monthes of ASP.NET 
again, I learned more technical things, and everybody was telling me my 
work was great. All was perfect, and at home I was very happy about the 
open-source projects I was helping with (I started working on the Gimp 
also at that time). And the long-awaited removal of Windows happened, 
because I discovered Transgaming and was able to continue playing my 
games without it. I was talking to my co-workers about all I did at home 
and they seemed quite impressed, the project leader even offered me to 
get our project from Visual SourceSafe (the worst in the world) to CVS 
or Subversion, which was great for me.
    That's where I started to think that maybe I could try to bring 
together what I did at home and what I was paid for. It turned out we 
didn't have time to abandon VSS because we had a lot of work yet to be 
done until the next release, which disappointed me a bit as I am not 
used in open-source to have deadlines that make the product worse than 
what it could have been. Anyway, I knew it was usual and I can 
understand the company has to make money after all. So I went on but 
continued telling my co-workers about the benefits I saw in some 
open-source way of working.
    Two weeks before I was to resign with the service company and sign a 
contract with the client, something happened. A very little thing. I was 
the only one in the team to use Firefox and I wasn't always getting the 
same things when we were testing the web application, most of the time 
in favor of Firefox who knew how to properly display HTML, but once in 
favor of Internet Explorer. It turned out that Microsoft web server, 
IIS, was serving different HTML to Internet Explorer and to Firefox. It 
was even advertised on their website, "Mozilla-based browser are buggy 
and we serve them HTML they can handle" (it was replacing a div with a 
table, which was completely unacceptable to me as I couldn't control 
what the HTML output of my scripts would be).
    The day after I had a meeting with two of my bosses at the service 
company, to see if eveything was ok and I was going to leave them as 
settled. I thought hard one night long, and I wondered how anyone would 
react if I changed my mind. Anyway, I told them everything at the 
meeting and told them I wanted to introduce open-source in my 
professional life, like using open-source technologies as much as I 
could or even working for one of those very rare companies that 
open-source their development. They listened at me, confessed the did 
not know a lot about open-source but saw where my motivation was going 
to, so if I could point some examples of such technologies... I told 
them anything involving C, C++, or PHP/MySql if I was to continue in web 
development, was perfect, as I had a lot of personal experience with 
those, even though no professional experience. They said that there 
would be no problem then, as they had a lot of PHP/MySql demands. They 
asked me to rewrite my resume to lessen the .NET part and focus on 
developing websites for the professional achievements, and to add a long 
part about my personal projects and put up something online where I 
could show what I have done (so far, no company ever wanted to have a 
look at my personal work as they immediatly thought about it as 'not 
done in a professional environement). That sounded great!
    I did all that, and in the two weeks left I had two interviews with 
new clients. For the first one, the commercial contact in the service 
company had not understood my will at all and was presenting me to a 
project leader job at Daimler-Chrysler, to manage a .NET team. She 
thought it was a wonderful opportunity for my career and couldn't 
understand my lack of motivation. Different views of life I guess. I 
went to the interview anyway, and it didn't work although I tried my 
best to appear thrilled by that wonderful raise in responsibilities and 
    The second commercial contact understood very well and presented me 
to a PHP/MySql job in a smaller company. He still told me I shouldn't 
have said him that money was not the point, as he would be in part 
responsible of my raises ;) Anyway, he was very happy about the 
presentation as he has never felt someone as motivated as I was! It 
seems the client felt it also as they said ok the next day.
    I told my current project leader about that, and he was very very 
angry. He really thought they would keep me, and it's true that I 
changed my mind almost at the end and they had no way to predict that. 
He couldn't believe I could pay such attention to what HTML IIS was 
serving, and he was sure I was making a mistake. He told me I would have 
no power in a big company, and I could get a lot here. Well, he was also 
sad as he thought I could make their product really better. His boss was 
even more angry even though he never told me about it, but he yelled a 
lot at my service company about all that money he had lost because of me 
and them. I felt very bad at that time but wouldn't stay anyway, as my 
decision was taken very deep within. And people since told me that I had 
nothing to do with that and testing someone during three monthes also 
means that the someone can leave without warning, so it was a risk they 
had taken. Anyway, I had some very long talks with my project leader who 
tried to understand why I was really leaving as he wanted more 'deep' 
reasons, and it helped me a lot sorting things in my head, even though 
it didn't make me change my decision : I don't want to keep getting 
ASP.NET references on my resume, because I will never do anything else 
if that's all I have to tell about. So I still like him very much, it's 
just too bad they chose Microsoft as their only development platform :)

    So, since December 2004, I'm working at my new job place. It's just 
wonderful. First I repaired a web app a trainee had developed, and I 
made it work again and even better than before so I had a lot of thanks 
in the very first month I was there. Then they gave me a whole new 
project I am currently designing. I asked for a Linux box so I could 
develop in the same environment as what the server would be, and they 
gave me another PC and told me I had to take care of it because the 
sysadmins didn't know Linux. I still have to keep my Windows box because 
they think it can be useful, but I don't really use it. They also wanted 
to get a document management system and they asked me to show them all 
the open-source solutions that were usable, so I set up a server with 
what I had found and they tried it extensively (beloved penguin of mine 
told me this was rare and bosses never try demos he sets up at his 
    Above all, I have a wonderful boss that will listen to anything I 
have to say and that will follow my advice if I have good arguments. He 
is very curious about what open-source have taught me and what he can 
apply in this team, so he never fears to sound unskilled and asks me 
about a lot of things. He also tells me when he thinks I don't have 
enough arguments to do things the way I want :) He also offered to buy 
the O'Reilly books I read online for the job. I had another meeting with 
him and my service company boss and I was offered a security formation 
so we don't have to call security experts each time I develop a web app.
    Of course, there was a big part of luck, the biggest part being 
having such a great boss where I work. But I also know that nothing 
would have happened if I hadn't told about my desire to leave the 
Microsoft world and if my company service hadn't helped me do it. I 
achieved my short-term goal, which was to work with open-source 
technologies as much as I could, and my mid-term goal, which was to get 
some open-source technologies on my resume (which is done as soon as the 
short-term one is) - and I should stay at least 6 monthes where I am 
now, and probably much more. I'm still not completely sure about 
long-term, but I know I'm going in the right direction whatever that 
goal will be.

    So, in short : listen to your motivation. It makes you work better, 
it makes you get jobs, it makes your life great. Listen to it even when 
it seems a risky move to make - take your time if you want, get more 
covers if you can have some, but never throw it away as an impossible 
dream. A boss is always happy to have someone who is really motivated by 
the work and that thinks life is wonderful because of it.

who never thought she would write such a long mail one day.

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