28 April 2009

Karma points

Thanks to posts from Philipp Feigl and Stickman, I put together script to detect the insertion point in a <textarea> or simple text box (so that, for instance, another script could automatically insert markup tags). Internet Explorer has a different object model for accomplishing this than the other browsers (using the TextRange object), and our solution isn't bulletproof, but it will make some editors happy.

18 April 2009

Job search post mortem: 1

On my last job campaign, I scrupulously updated my resume on a number of job boards, including Monster.com and WashingtonPost.com, and changed the privacy settings to public so that recruiters could find me. But next time around, I don't think I'll bother to make the resume public.

Oh, I got plenty of e-mail interest in my credentials, but nearly all of the correspondence was for positions either where the technology requirements really didn't fit my background; or with companies that I wouldn't want to work for (defense contractors, law firms); or for jobs outside of the metro area; or for short-term contracts—or all four! That is to say, when I could figure out anything about the position at all: nearly all of the contacts were from third-party recruiters rather than the actual hiring firms, and often all they would write would be "several challenging positions that are a good fit with your background." After my go-around in 2006, I specifically included a statement in my career objective section that I was looking only for full-time work and that I was not available for relocation. The steady stream of messages seeking contractors for six months in Hartford, or Waltham, or Texas, or Kalamazoo, or wherever tells me that the automated tools that recruiters use to make initial contacts are making them lazy: they're not really reading the resumes that they respond to.

I got a lot of mail driven by specific matches on technology keywords from years ago in my career. I cite technologies like Documentum and OpenText in my resume because (at least I believe that) it shows flexibility and willingness to learn. But when someone asks me to respond to a position that requires several years of current experience with one of these tools, again, I have to conclude that they're not troubling themselves to read what I wrote.

For this job search, I did work together with two recruiting agencies to the extent of coming in for a meet and greet. Out of that, I got one (1) phone screen for an interesting company that was a mismatch on job responsibilities (they wanted pre- and post-sales support people) and one (1) invitation (that I declined) to phone interview with a slimy astroturfing lobbying group.

As I look back into my e-mail archives, I see that the briefest query was this: under the subject line of "Please contact in reference to your resume on Career Builder [sic]," the entire message body was
Please call me at your earliest convenience.
followed by a signature block and disclaimer. I got queries looking for test engineers, and embedded software programmers, and O.R. guys (well, I do have a degree in it), and config management specialists, even someone looking for COBOL people (I haven't listed that skill on my resume in years). But my favorite "what were you thinking?" message sought a "Systemutvikling på Java- og .Net-plattform" to work in Oslo with a reply-to address in the .no domain. Since Google Translates "Systemutvikling" to just "system," I still don't know who or what they were looking for. I also got a (thankfully) smaller number of solicitations that were more spam than genuine contacts: the worst of these I reported back to the job boards.

I scrounged up all my other interviews from replying to job board postings and solicitations on the hiring company's web site. I got some interview traction with one consultancy because I was acquainted with one of the managers there. The job that I ultimately accepted (with Siteworx) I found with some networking help: a former colleague from a previous job forwarded an e-mail posting to me. And this is the first job since 1987 that I've taken without knowing someone on the inside.

I'm accustomed to today's practice that, even after a phone screen or in-person interview, employers don't call or write you back with a "no, thank you." But one recruiter did something that perplexed me: I had sent a resume in response to a posting, and about two months later he e-mailed back asking for a time slot when we could discuss the position by phone. I replied by e-mail the next day, and by phone a couple of days later, but he never followed up.

To be sure, once I got in the door for an interview, I was always treated fairly, professionally, competently, and courteously by recruitment staff and hiring managers (well, there was one guy who was in over his head). I'm just not convinced that it makes any sense to publish a resume on the big boards.

12 April 2009

Where the wheel meets the steel

Take a quick anonymous survey to help Tony Gorschek of the Blekinge Institute of Technology and Ewan Tempero of Auckland University to understand the adoption of object-oriented design principles in real-world software development projects.

10 April 2009

Sign me up

Behrooz Parhami of the University of California, Santa Barbara has designed a freshman seminar for computer science majors built on ten classic families of puzzles—everything from Collatz's conjecture to sorting cars in a rail yard to that pencil and paper diversion they gave me as a kid to keep me quiet for a while—you know, connecting the three houses to the three utility lines.

04 April 2009

Are you open?

Something that's really interesting, just unfolding: the release by traditional media companies of no-fee API access to their content. The term "API" means different things to different people, but in this context it generally means, "throw me an HTTP GET, and you'll get a sliver of my content" in machine readable format, usually XML or JSON. Generally the HTTP query must include a key, easily obtainable from the API provider, so that usage can be monitored. As a software developer, you can take that sliver of content and present it more or less anyway you like: plot New York Times restaurant reviews on a map, or show top technology stories from NPR in a blog sidebar, or do an information visualization of stories from the Guardian. Think of an API as exposing content with a web service without all that mucking around with something like SOAP. As a consumer, you can take advantage of some nifty apps that other hackers have put together.

Frederic Lardinois and other columnists at ReadWriteWeb have been tracking these developments closely. Of the current API offerings, that of the Times appears to be the most full-featured and sophisticated, especially the controlled ontology that the Times calls facets. The Guardian is just getting started, but it has an interesting list of partners in its Application Gallery. On my current project, I've had the privilege of an insider's view of the API from National Public Radio. I especially like the Query Generator, which step by step takes you through the assembly of a query and understanding the results.