August 30, 2004

Deciding on a job

Based on a sample of me I'd say the job market is looking quite good. In the last two weeks I had four interviews and am now mulling over three job offers -- and the fourth said they'd have a more advanced position in a few weeks and would strongly consider me for that. (But who knows if that would have actually come to pass?)

I'll talk more about the interviewing process later. For now I just want to put this insomnia to good use and talk about the jobs and my thought process for which one I'm likely to pick, leaving out the names of the actual players so I don't get anyone in trouble. All three of these are Java positions -- I didn't find any Perl positions in Pittsburgh until pair posted a Software Developer position on Friday afternoon. Unfortunately this doesn't meet my timeline as I'd already promised the folks who had given me offers to have a decision by Monday (today).

(I started writing this as a Dating Game transcript but it didn't quite gel. Hooray for the internal editor.)

The jobs

So here they are in an arbitrary order (largest company to smallest):

Job #1 is on the North Side (a few blocks from PNC Park) and I'd be working with someone I already know and respect (technically and personally). In the long term we'd be creating a new team to develop internal software to tie lots of disparate systems together, but for the first three months we'd probably be working on stabilizing an existing system to ensure that the monthly products are correct and to make daily use and long-running processes faster. We'd likely have some free rein over development process and tools. But it's a large company and some attitudes (like requiring a DBA for doing anything to development databases) are still ingrained. They've recently instituted some form of process in terms of project scheduling and prioritization but have no QA department and no dedicated testers.

Salary is ok (2% raise over current) and benefits are fantastic. They also offered a substantial retention bonus. It would be difficult to get any more stable than this company unless you work for the federal government. Location is good for me because I can ride the trolley downtown and hoof it across the Roberto Clemente bridge. That might not be so great in the winter but IMO it's better than driving. I know some people who have worked as contractors at this company and what I know is not good. The atmosphere has been described as 'toxic' by multiple people and the shoals they've needed to navigate to get anything done have been legion. But the person who interviewed me is a new director whom I liked quite a bit and seems to be changing how things work with a good deal of success.

I found out about this position through personal/company contacts.

Job #2 is with another fairly large company (~900 people) and just a block or two from Job #1. This would be working on an existing team with ~40 people on a mature enterprise media product, and in particular my job would be to work on multiple teams and help develop common components and possibly frameworks for use across them. I'd learn a lot about deploying and configuring large systems on commercial application servers as well as working with large Oracle databases -- very valuable experience. I immediately took a liking to one of the guys who interviewed me and with whom I'd probably work fairly closely -- he has more experience than me and I think I'd be able to learn a lot from him without being a leech.

Salary is the highest of the three (7% raise) and benefits are ok. The company has been around 20+ years and is very stable. Location is good for me (as mentioned earlier) but there's the possibility within a year or three that the company could move to a new office out in the North Hills sticks. (Yuck.) The atmosphere seems professional and busy (lots of work to do, lots of cubes to fill) but the office was a little "Office Space"-y, although that might have just been me. They have a mature development process with documentation at every step and testers on every functional team. They also let developers use whatever editor/IDE they wish and don't have a standard, although they're looking into Eclipse as a possible one.

I found out about this position by one of the HR people finding my resume on There was an annoying delay after I sent my resume and other information but once I told them that I already had two job offers they got me in for interviews two days later and offered me the job on the following day.

Job #3 is in Penn Hills which almost prevented me from sending a resume. I'm glad I sent it. This company makes small voice-activated devices geared toward managing inventory. They assemble and repair the devices onsite which was quite surprising. The software I'd be working with is a management console to control these devices. Here's the different part: I'd be working in QA as part of the testing team for this application. This means not as much coding as I'm used to. They have a development process not quite mature but well beyond brand new.

Salary is between #1 and #2 (5% raise), although they've indicated they're willing to add a signing bonus to the deal. Benefits are excellent. The company has been around 15+ years and while they've been growing quite a bit recently have seemed to manage it quite well -- the founder stepped down to CTO a few years ago and a professional CEO took over, which says to me they've already cleared the small company humps.

Atmosphere is fantastic if a little bit physically crowded in the development area. (Expected to get better by building out another floor.) By all accounts this seems to be a company that actually respects its employees and expects the same in return -- unfortunately this seems to be quite rare. Dress is very casual from the top down and they have a small fitness center onsite.

I found out about this position from the Pittsburgh Technology Council, a necessity if you're looking for a job around here and don't have lots of personal contacts. I sent my resume and a short letter to the 'jobs@' email address and got an immediate "We got it" response followed up by an interview a couple weeks later.


After lots of thinking and talking with Barb and other folks I took Job #1 out of the picture. It had a lot going for it and in the best case could have been great. But the worst case would have really sucked, and life's too short to work in difficult places. Plus, I'm not so young that I can absorb a bad job experience like I used to.

So it was between #2 and #3. While I did create a spreadsheet comparing the two positions I didn't try to quantify every aspect of the two positions and rely on the data to make my decision. My main, mostly subjective, criteria were:

  1. work: what would I actually be doing?
  2. team: who would I be working with and how closely?
  3. location: can I ride the trolley to get there?
  4. career: how will this help me get future jobs?
  5. company: will this company give me the shaft? </ol>

    Job #2 was better for 1, 3 and 4, Job #3 better for 2 and 5. Item 1 was clearly better in Job #1 because I'd be coding and desiging all the time. Item 2 was very close but still went to Job #3. Item 3 was a no-brainer for Job #2 (to get to Job #3 we'd have to buy another car, which unlike Mark I'm loathe to do). Item 4 was close because you could argue that getting into testing (Job #3) and more work in the development process would be invaluable with future work. But large-scale Oracle and Weblogic experience (Job #2) is probably a license to print money. Item 5 wasn't too close: while Job #2 seems to have an okay company, Job #3 really stands out.

    But the thing I kept coming back to is that you don't find companies in Job #3 every day. When you find one, isn't it a good idea to hitch your wagon to its horse and see where it takes you? Of course, management and culture can change, but it struck me that of all the people I talked to almost everyone mentioned the mission/vision statement, the last line of which reads, "We commit to balancing our personal and professional lives." That's unusual and said to me that people take this balance seriously. Granted, people doing interviews might be asked to mention such things but it really didn't feel that way.

    I've made a decision but I'm going to see if I can get a couple more hours of sleep now and see if my thinking is still the same when I wake up. And then it's one fun phone call and two awkward ones...

Next: Got a new job!
Previous: Looking for a job