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Friday Philosophy – The Worst Thing About Contracting December 2, 2011

Posted by mwidlake in contracting, Friday Philosophy, humour, rant.
Tags: , , ,
15 comments

A while back I was asked by a friend to blog about being a contractor. In the pub last week my friend reminded me of this and that I had not obliged him. I will – think of this as instalment one Jason…

I’ve been a contractor on and off for 18 years. For anyone not familiar with the concept, it is where you are self-employed and you simply hire yourself out to a company for a period of time or to do a specific job. You generally have less job security than an employee and less rights and benefits – No holiday pay, no paid sick leave, no annual pay increase {OK, so that one is rare for employees too these days}, no training and generally the first out the door when the money gets tight. In return you get more money when working and a lot, lot less to do with office politics, HR, annual reviews and the like.

It is not for everyone but I like being a contractor. It gives me a broader degree of experience.

I like it apart from one main thing.

Recruitment Consultants. For every good one there are 3 bad ones. And for each bad one there are 5 absolutely terrible ones.

There are good recruitment consultants out there, some absolutely fantastic ones who do things like actually read CV’s, understand the business they are hiring into and can be bothered responding to emails and telephone calls. You might even find one who has a mental list of their clients and their requirements and will actively look to place a good candidate in front of those clients. Claire Green at GT-Consulting is one. There are others of course.

However, most do little more than scan the database of candidate CVs for keywords and send the first three found off to the client for them to do the actual work of seeing if they actually have the skills and experience required. It would seem most have no ability or interest in trying to work out who would be a good or bad candidate themselves, like it being the service they are supposed to supply. If you try and get in touch directly to discuss a role, to maybe ask some questions to save both you and the consultant’s client a wasted interview, many will not take your call {“Can I ask who’s calling?” Brief pause whilst they realise you are a candidate not a client company “Ahh, sorry they are out of the office today, they’ll call you back. Who were you again?”}. Only the good ones call you back. You will hardly ever be called back.

If you do speak to them, some will be your best mate – but can’t quite fake sincerity… Sadly, it is often obvious that they have no idea about the business. I had a chap a week or two back telling me I needed PL or SQL to do the role and when I queried if they meant PL/SQL they got tetchy with me. Another a while back was insisting I was not suitable as I did not have 10 years of Oracle 10. As I beta tested Oracle 10 for over a year and thus, with around 8 years’ experience at that time, was well ahead of the pack I suggested that maybe they needed to alter that requirement – or find someone who helped develop it at Oracle Corp…Again, some kindly advice was poorly received. OK, I was not kindly, I was tetchy too. He had stared off being my insincere best mate.

I could just be having a self-centred moan of course, in that the recruitment consultants don’t realise how great I am ( :-) ) and find me lucrative jobs – but I’ve also been the client and had to wade through dozens of utterly unsuitable CVs sent in from them. The last time was particularly awful as we were not able to offer a great wage (but we were happy to take people with experience of prior versions and train them up to the latest-greatest). Most CVs sent in had the words Oracle, database and administration on them but not together. Several lacked any Oracle at all. Every recruitment consultant I dealt with that time gave me the same spiel about having the best candidates on their books, how they vetted everyone and sent only the ones with the best match of skills. They must have been telling a miss-truth about at least one of those claims as there was little match with our requirements for an Oracle DBA.

So, I really like contracting but not the dealing-with-agents bit. Oddly enough, any discussion with other contractors or managers who hire nearly always shows that my feelings are widely shared…

I’ve been thinking about doing this post ever since I started blogging but I didn’t – because many jobs are only available via recruitment consultants. Insulting them is not going to help me get put forward for jobs. However, last time I was mouthing off about Satan’s little Imps in the pub and how I had never done a Friday Philosophy on the topic, due to the fear of the consequences, one of the guys pointed out I was an idiot. Most recruitment consultants can’t even be bothered reading your CV so they are not going to go check out someone’s technical blog! {and Neil has just beaten me to posting about it and how they always ask for mostly irrelevant industry experience}. Any who do are going to be firmly in that rare Good category. I’d go as far as to say that any recruitment consultant who is reading this is in the top 5% of their field. Nice to talk to you again, Claire…

Returning to the Day Job. October 18, 2011

Posted by mwidlake in Private Life.
Tags: ,
7 comments

Having the Summer off. It’s something that quite a few IT contractors and some consultants say they intend to do…one year. It’s incredibly appealing of course, to take time off from your usual work to do some other things. Asking around, though, it is not something many of us self-employed types who theoretically could do, actually have done. I think it is because, although the theory is nice, the reality is a period not earning a living – and the background worry of “if I take a break, will I be able to step straight back into gainful employment afterwards”?

Well, purely as a service to all those who wonder about it, I decided to sacrifice myself to the experiment and do it this year. I had the summer off. {I know, I picked what turned out to be a very average summer weather-wise, but you just never know in the UK}. I’d finished a job for a client that had turned from a small number of weeks to several months of full-on seven-days-a-week effort and I had a load of domestic things that desperately needed some attention and my potential next job evaporated. I also have to acknowledge that I am in a somewhat lucky position. We do not have kids so the financial worries and potential impact on the innocent does not exist and my wife has been remarkably tolerant. How did it go? In a word, “great!”. I am a lot healthier and a lot more fired up to get on with work as a result of a few months away from the coalface – but I’ll save the second half of this post for some of the boring details of what I got up to {which you may well want to skip}.

This week the break ends. As I write this I do not have a job – but today I start looking around and I start locking myself in my office for the day. I’ll be doing work, even if this consists of me simply catching up on technical reading and testing some ideas I have about Oracle internals and design. This should hopefully increase the technical content of my Blogs too. If anyone is working on a project that could do with some Oracle performance or system design work, I’d be happy to hear from you.

As you can see, the one thing I am terrible at as a self-employed person is the selling of my services. I’m sure I will not get much response from a simple “give me a job” line in a blog that, let’s face it, is being read mostly by technical-doing-people and not budget-holding-hiring-people. However, you might have noticed a green text box on the right of this page proclaiming “available for consultancy”. It’s a free thing for me to do and I intend to keep it there, swapping it for a red “unavailable” when I am busy. This might of course reveal how poorly I do in finding work – but that could be interesting of itself.

So, what have I done? I’ve kept my hand in on the Oracle front but what about non-IT things? Well, one thing was building a clay pizza oven. That took a day on a course and about 200 hours digging a hole in the garden for clay, cleaning up some old bricks, mixing up endless quantities of cobb with the clay, straw and sand, building it wrong several times and destroying a perfectly good Pizza in it.

The final product works though. We fired it up this last weekend and it got up to 300C and the pizzas we cooked in it were very good – allowing for the odd bit of ash and ember. Hint, do not use wood that spits, like pine and off-cuts from building work. If you are wondering about the big bits of wood in the entrance, that is some green oak offcuts which I popped in there after the last firing. The morning after using the oven, you can put in wood for the next firing and the residual heat helps dry it nicely.

A lot has been done around the garden, especially as I now own a chainsaw. Again, I got myself on a course to learn how to maintain the machine and keep the chain sharp. I had to modify some protective clothing to suit my diminutive frame and then about two dozen trees came down and had to be chopped up. {Monty Python’s lumberjack sketch obviously had a big impact on my development as a child}. I then took the chainsaw for an excursion to Wales and gave my brother’s garden the same treatment. I wonder if anyone local wants a load of trees cut down? :-)

A major task has been to organise and then oversee the start of some building work on the house. As anyone who has had such work done knows, it takes a lot of time to organise the work and then once it starts there are a lot of initial issues to sort out. Much like designing and building a new computer system, upfront design and project initiation can make the whole build run so much more smoothly. At least, I am hoping so!

The building work resulted in an odd little bit of computer work. One of the guys was complaining that his machine had started running slow and now it would start up only to shut down immediately. One of the other builders said “Well ask the governor, he does computers”. Of course, I utterly failed to explain that I do other types of computers and so this PC duly arrived. It was nice to do some IT that was not my normal area. It turns out this machine had a couple of nasty viruses which I had to sort out first and then protect the machine with some decent AV software. This was made difficult by the “Rapport” security software his bank had encouraged him to download, which was somehow blocking a windows update from working, as well as grinding the machine to a halt. The performance impact of the software was causing the windows update to take 10 minutes, it would fail and take 20 minutes to roll back and then force a reboot… and cycle through the update again. I temporarily fixed this by booting off a Windows CD and I could then remove the dodgy security software, despite it’s attempts to stay in place. But the machine was still terribly slow. Dixons had sold him the machine and seen fit to put in only 512MB of memory, for a Windows Vista machine. £10 got us an extra 1GB of memory and a machine that now worked. Payment for all of this effort was a couple of nice bottles of wine and a very happy builder.

The building work is still in progress and, of course, part of why my Summer off has come to an end is that the builders have used up the spare money I had from the last job. *sigh*. Mind you, the Summer off was supposed to end in September but as the weather suddenly improved I got permission for a time extension from the lone worker in the house. Has anyone noticed this blog posting is slowly becoming nothing but an excuse for me to stick up some pictures?

There have been a lot of far more mundane things to do on the domestic front but there has also been some IT stuff I have been up to – but I’ll save that for a another day and a more oracle-centric posting I think. Right, I better try and make the CV look more like I’m the best Oracle guy on the planet {OK, I’d have to change the name on the top}. It leans towards being understated honesty rather than overstretched impressive, and I know that is what potential employers like to see (I think it is better for the interview to indicate more skills than the CV, rather than the other way around) but agents seem to want you appear better than a bizzare child of Tom Kyte and Christian Antognini for them to put you in a pile other than “yet another bog-standard IT grunt”. If the agent won’t put you forward, you can’t make your case in the interview, can you?

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