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It Happened to Me Work

My online job interview style is unstoppable!

Photo: Joey deVilla at his home office among a couple of laptop computers, a podcasting microphone, and many screens.
Tap to see at full size.

I’ve been doing interviews with a number of companies in the quest for my next gig, and since we’re still in a pandemic, they’ve all been online. I’ve done enough of them to get to the point where I’ve figured a system and setup that works well for me. The photo above shows me, just after this afternoon’s interview, complete with handy annotations.

Here’s a quick run-down of the setup:

  • Primary laptop: The “Star Trek” screen, a.k.a. the one that the video chat lives on. It’s hooked up to two other monitors, where:
    • One is open to a Google doc containing questions that I want to ask.
    • The other is open to a Google doc of the research notes I wrote about the company interviewing me, their tech, their developer site, and their API. I actually found some typos in the docs and a bug in their sample code, and let them know about it.
  • Secondary laptop: This one displays notes about my experience, and the particular story that I want to tell to this prospective employer. In case you’re wondering, my current answer to “Tell me about yourself” is something along the lines of “I’m equal parts Tony Stark, Alton Brown, and Weird Al.
  • Backup laptop: In case some technical issue with the videochat arises on the primary laptop, I switch to the backup laptop. I could switch to the secondary laptop for the video chat, but using that means that I lose a key screen of notes, and I don’t want to throw off my carefully orchestrated set of information that I can get at a glance.
  • Jupyter Notebook loaded on all laptops: If I have to demonstrate working code, Jupyter Notebooks let me do it easily, and with Markdown annotations, too!
  • Funky shirt and “Zoom mullet”: Gotta look good.
  • Podcasting microphone: And sound good, too. I have a “radio voice” — might as well let ’em hear it.
  • Not in the photo, but within arm’s reach:

    • A whiteboard (and dry-erase markers in many colors), because sometimes it helps to draw a picture, and
    • the accordion. I have a rep to maintain.

I’ll let you know what happened as soon as I find out.

Categories
Life Work

Plagiarism, Inc.

Photo: Jordan Kavoosi and two-coworkers, shirtless with the words "EWC - No homework" painted on their chests. "Whould you buy an essay from these guys?"

“Sure, it’s unethical, but it’s just a business,” says Jordan Kavoosi, who runs Essay Writing Company, one of those places where students who don’t want to write essays or term papers can have someone else do it form them. "I mean, what about strip clubs or porn shops? Those are unethical, and city-approved."

Plagiarism, Inc. is an article about Kavoosi and his company located in the Apple Valley suburb of Minneapolis/St. Paul. It’s an amusing read, what with Kavoosi’s somewhat sleazy line of work, the even more sleazy way he treats his employees and the generally sleazy way in which comes across in the article.

Screenshot: Essay Writing Company's site's home page

Here are the answers to the question “Why use an essay writing company?”, which appears on Essay Writing Company’s site:

  • Essay writing can be very time consuming. The research that goes into it can be a bit overwhelming. The complexity of your assigned research paper may even discourage you from completing it. This is where Essaywritingcompany.com can help.. We can save you a lot of time and effort by taking on the task of creating a professionally written custom essay for you.
  • No matter how complex the writing assignment or a close due date, our teams of academic writing specialists are highly qualified and capable of providing you with a research paper that will make the grade.
  • Notice the difference between a normal essay and a professionally written essay.
  • Let our academic specialists provide you with a custom essay that will get you the grade you need. This will allow you the chance to continue with your life and spend more time with your friends..
  • Our professional essay writing company will do all the research that is needed for your assignment.

The real answer is much simpler and needs only one bullet point: “Because you’re unethical and lazy.”

Found via Jeff “Coding Horror” Atwood.

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Geek It Happened to Me Toronto (a.k.a. Accordion City) Work

It’s One of the Perks of the Job

View from the bar at Cafe Novo, looking out onto the patio and High Park

The best antidote for a day full of meetings in boardrooms in a suburban office park is to finish it in different surroundings. So when my last meeting on Friday ended with a couple of hours of business day to spare, I made a beeline for one of my favourite “field offices” – Cafe Novo, located across the street from High Park, and a very short walk from home.

The photo above was the view from my “workstation” at 4 p.m. on Friday: the bar facing the roll-up front wall which in turn faces the park. Pictured are the tools of my trade – my trusty Dell Latitude XT2 tablet with the memory maxed out at 5 GB and the so-last-century mechanical hard drive replaced with a solid state one, my favourite portable mouse and an iced mocha.

Working in settings like this is one of the perks of the job.

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.

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Geek It Happened to Me Work

Getting Paid to Work for Ballmer is Pretty Nice

Joey deVilla and Steve BallmerMe and Ballmer at the Microsoft Town Hall in Toronto, October 2009.

David “DHH” Heinemeier Hansson recently wrote in the excellent blog Signal to Noise (add it to your reading list if it isn’t there already) that he’d never work for Ballmer.

Since he’s DHH, he doesn’t have to – he’s a principal at the development firm 37signals, whose web apps I like to cite as examples to follow, and the creator of the web framework Ruby on Rails. Unfortunately, most of us aren’t DHH: we can’t all be brilliant game-changing programmers who are also photogenic enough to have the option of becoming a male model when this computer fad blows over. When a Sith Lord from Microsoft comes a-calling with a job offer, we don’t automatically turn it down; we have to mull it over.

Darth Vader makes his offer: "Join me...we have a good dental plan!"

I’ve been working for Ballmer (quite indirectly: I’m a fair number of degrees of separation below him on the org chart) for the past twenty months. I can say with complete certainty that out of all the jobs I’ve held – from the job right out of school building multimedia CD-ROMs in Director to working with Cory Doctorow in his dot-com’s evangelism office in San Francisco at the height of The Bubble to various coding jobs from my own consulting shop to Toronto’s worst-run startup to that very brief stint as a go-go dancer at a nightclubmy current gig as Developer Evangelist for The Empire has been my all-time favourite of the bunch. I get to do two things I absolutely love – working with technology and schmoozing with people – and with a fair bit of autonomy: in the setting of my choice, with a set of priorities that I negotiate. I also get to work with some of the brightest and most passionate people I’ve ever met, both inside and outside the company, and it doesn’t hurt that the pay’s quite nice (although, as Dan ink will tell you, money isn’t the primary motivator in this line of work).

Joey deVilla playing accordion in front of the RailsConf logoPlaying accordion onstage at RailsConf 2007.

Until 2008, I’d worked mostly for small companies, many of whom you could fit into a minivan. I might not have considered working for Microsoft, or any large corporation for that matter, had it not been for a little moment that I internally refer to as “The Abercrombie Epiphany”. And oddly enough, it happened at RailsConf 2007, a conference devoted to DHH’s creation Ruby on Rails, where I played an ode to DHH onstage with Chad Fowler at the start of the evening keynote (that’s what’s pictured above, and there’s even a video of the song).

The second day’s opening keynote was about Ruby, Rails and the enterprise, and the crowd was not impressed. A good chunk of the IRC backchannel chatter was devoted to saying “enough with the enterprise already…who cares?” I distinctly remember someone referring to one of the presenters as “trying to be the Rachael Ray of enterprise computing”. The guy leaning against the wall behind me (I’d arrived late, having taken part in the previous night’s bacchanalia) in an Abercrombie & Fitch T-shirt started putting on a hoodie with the letters “A & F” on it and packing up his laptop. “Who uses this stuff, anyway?” he said to me as he picked up his Starbucks cup and walked towards the door. “I’m going back to the Marriott.”

It was probably the fact that he was wearing all that Abercrombie & Fitch – the company vaguely annoys me – that got me thinking about his question, “who uses this stuff anyway?” It turns out he did: he’d flown to Portland, stayed at a chain hotel, used a laptop and conference wifi, drank coffee from the shop with a branch in every mall and seemingly on every corner and bought clothes from a century-old retailer – and the cycles that enabled all that didn’t run two-week-marathon-written code living on 10-dollar hosting, but invisibly and everywhere on systems he didn’t think anyone used.

I wouldn’t give the incident any thought until just over a year later.

An office chair, a computer and some boxes lined up against an interior brick wallPacking up my stuff after getting laid off from b5media, September 2008.

What got me thinking about that little Abercrombie & Fitch experience was my getting laid off from b5media during the econopocalypse of summer 2008. I’d been interviewing with a number of companies, all of them small, and blogging the experience as a means of amplifying my job search efforts.

While working on a blog entry, I got an IM from Adam Carter, a tech evangelist at Microsoft. It went exactly like this:

Ever thought about working for The Empire?

(Yes, he referred to Microsoft as “The Empire”.)

Every culture has certain tendencies, and the “I build on Mac OS and deploy to Linux” culture of which I was part led me to instinctively dismiss the idea at first blush. Ridiculous, I thought, and besides, why would they hire me? I haven’t coded any .NET since those trivia games for MAXIM in 2002.

(Yes, I really did that, in an office across the street from the downtown Toronto Hooters. It was like working inside a beer commercial.)

But when my friends John Bristowe (who I’d have voted “most likely to work for Microsoft”) and David Crow (who I’d have voted “most likely to take a dump on Microsoft’s front door”) were making suggestions within the company that they hire me, I had to give Adam’s out-of-the-blue IM a little more thought. And in that thinking, I was reminded of the Abercrombie incident.

Archimedes moving the world with his lever

Many people would (and did) see working at Microsoft as “the safe move”, but to a guy from the culture of DHH, who’s always worked in all small companies and one medium-sized one and hadn’t used their development tools in over six years, it’s the scary one. When word got around that I was interviewing at Microsoft, I heard a small chorus of voices – one of them that nagging voice of doubt – saying the same thing: “You couldn’t pay me to work for Ballmer”.

But I took the job, anyway. It offered the most challenges, the greatest learning opportunities, a journey to places well outside my comfort zone, and I hadn’t done anything like it before. It was a window into a world I’d only seen from the outside, toward which I’d only made snarky comments from the peanut gallery. It offered me the lever that Archimedes talked about – one big enough to move the world – and a chance to see this computing the Abercrombie guy thought no one used.

(It even gave me the perfect excuse to pull out the Jean Cocteau quote at parties, when explaining my change in career direction: “Since it’s now fashionable to laugh at the conservative French Academy, I have remained a rebel by joining it.")

HacklabTO work table with my laptop plugged into a monitor, mouse, "Coding4Fun" book and can of Diet CokeYesterday’s work enviroment – my setup at HacklabTO.

What is working for Ballmer like? I can’t speak for all of Microsoft’s 90,000 employees, but this Developer Evangelist job is pretty sweet. I’m classified as a mobile worker, which means no cubicle – I’m either working out of the home office, a select bunch of work-friendly cafes, or quite often at HacklabTO, the “hackerspace” in Toronto’s colourful Kensington Market where I’m a member with 24/7 access. Every day’s work environment is different (the picture above shows yesterday’s, at the Hacklab), and this constant flux keeps me going.

I get to noodle with all sorts of interesting tech, from dev tools to cloud computing to game consoles to phones, and I have a hardware guy stocking me with the latest gear. I get to shape the content of a cross-Canada conference that thousands of professional developers across Canada, whose work makes your money move, your electricity flow and your favourite retail stores stay stocked. I get to participate in all sorts of fun stuff, from holding a pre-conference in a train car to having a little fun with Richard Stallman. I get to inspire students as they start their search for jobs in a shaky economy. I get to concentrate in the web, mobile, and open source — fields where the company’s traditional strengths aren’t.

Simply put, I get my shot at changing the world. That’s what DHH is also trying to do – he’s just working it from a different angle. If you want to do that as well, I’m sure you’ll find your own angle, whether it’s homesteading in your own indie software company working out of a cafe to doing it as a part of a Fortune 500 company. DHH is DHH, and you are you, and while he could never work for Ballmer, you might like it like I do, and that’s okay. After all, that’s why the saying goes “Do not follow in the footsteps of the masters; seek what they sought instead.”

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.

Categories
Life Work

Dan Pink on What Motivates Us

I posted this article to the technical blogs I write – my own Global Nerdy and Microsoft’s Canadian Developer Connection – but the topic of what motivates people would be just as interesting to people outside the field of software. There’s no tech jargon here; if you do work that involves even a modicum of cognitive skill, this is for you!

Here’s a great movie which takes the audio from a presentation by Dan Pink based on the research for his latest book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us and augments it with video of a whiteboard cartoonist illustrating what Pink is talking about. I have no idea how long it took to film the illustration sequences, but I love the end result – I think it makes for better internet viewing of a presentation than simply watching a video of the presenter on the podium, even when accompanied by slides.

The movie covers the part of Pink’s presentation that talks about an experiment to determine whether higher pay led to better performance. The results:

  • For turnkey, mechanical, just-follow-the-instructions tasks, larger rewards do lead to better performance.
  • For tasks that call for cognitive skills, conceptual and creative thinking — even at a rudimentary level — larger rewards did the opposite: they led to poorer performance.

The sort of work we do calls for cognitive crunching certainly falls into the latter category – as Andy “Pragmatic Programmer” Hunt says, making software is one of the hardest thing humans do.

Money is a motivator, but when it comes to people who do the sort of work we do, it requires more than just money to motivation. Pink’s recommendation is to pay people enough so that they’re not thinking about money, but thinking about their work instead. Once you’ve done that, there are three factors that lead to better satisfaction and performance:

  1. Autonomy: The desire to be self-directed, to direct our own lives
  2. Mastery: The urge to get better at stuff
  3. Purpose: The reason we do something

In the end, what Pink suggests is that if we treat people not like “smaller, better-smelling horses” with carrot-and-stick incentives but like people and set up the appropriate motivations, we’ll make our work and the world a little bit better.

If you enjoyed this portion of Pink’s presentation and want to see the whole 40-ish minutes, I present it below. Enjoy!

If Pink’s name rings a bell, it’s probably because you’ve heard of his other books, A Whole New Mind and the manga career guide Johnny Bunko.

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Geek It Happened to Me Work

I’m in Montreal This Week

Montreal: photo of poutine

I’m headed to Montreal this week, where Microsoft Canada’s Developer and Platform Evangelism team (of which I am a member) will be getting together for our annual team meeting as well as to help run the Make Web Not War conference on Thursday. There’ll be a lot of crazy stuff going on, and whatever isn’t blackmail material will end up here on the Accordion Guy blog, so watch this space!

The first part of the trip is about getting there, and we’re not doing it in the usual way. We’ve hired out a VIA Rail car to take us and a lot of Make Web Not War attendees to Montreal in style. The car’s rigged with power, wifi, Xboxes, Rock Band, monitors and other goodies to make the five-ish-hour trip even more nerd-a-riffic. I’ll post photos from the train.

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Geek It Happened to Me Work

Toronto-Montreal NerdTrain (Departs Tuesday, May 25th, Returns Friday, May 28th)

via nerd car

A quick reminder: if you’re looking for cheap transport to Montreal for MonDev, Montreal’s Open Source Week (which concludes with the Make Web Not War conference), we’ve booked an entire VIA Rail car from Montreal to Toronto! The train car (pictured above) has wifi, power outlets and will be equipped with video monitors, an Xbox or two, a big-ass HP TouchSmart computer and other technological goodies to make the time pass by.

Best of all, if you want to book a trip on this car, we’re subsidizing it. Round-trip tickets are a mere $50 and cover the cost of the ride, a sandwich lunch and drink voucher! The train departs for Montreal on the morning of Tuesday, May 25th and departs back for Toronto on the morning of Friday, May 28th.

For more details, email cdnsol@microsoft.com.

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.