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05 From 'I must have a job' to 'I must have a wonderful job'

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
salary...
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
workplace!)
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.


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