Saturday, June 22, 2002

Job Hunting
I've been doing some major job hunting this week looking for a new full time gig. So if anyone has a spot for a blogging project manager let me know.

I've always been interested in job ads that have incredibly unrealistic, pie in the sky requirements. The infamous one from Silicon Valley is the "10 years of Java experience" back when Java as a language was about 5 years old. Best I can figure the job descriptions are whipped up by the HR departments, people that have little concept of what they are asking for. It is not their fault- they are experts in labor law, payroll, and other arcane matters that most Java programers don't understand. But it makes for some interesting reading.

Take this ad:

"Familiarity with a wide variety of PC programs
including but not limited to:
Macromedia Flash
Macromedia Fireworks
Macromedia Director
Macromedia Dreamweaver
Adobe Acrobat
Adobe Illustrator
Adobe PhotoShop
Quark Xpress
Microsoft FrontPage
Microsoft PowerPoint
Microsoft Word
HTML programming
JAVA Scripting
SQL database development
ASP database development
CGI database development
Oracel database development"

So to get this job you need to know every major web program (including competing programs from Adobe and Macromedia). And remember, it says "including by not limited too" so you have better know some more (Note- Video games and Windows Solitarie probably don't count). If you do, you've earned the right to make $35-$37 an hour (less than $80K a year). Oh, and you have to have 5 years of Project Manager background too. I guess you learned all the software and programming in your spare time. And that is indeed their choice of spelling for Oracle- either than or Larry Ellison has some cheap knock-off competition. Sort of like the "smells like" perfume knock-offs. The kind you can get sprayed on you by a vending machine in a truck stop bathroom.

Here's another laugher:

"Required skills:
3-5 years of web application development utilizing Microsoft .NET application development and framework"

Since .NET was announced in 2000 and rolled out in 2001 (someone will correct me if my dates are off...) I'd say that unless you worked and Microsoft and developed .NET you don't have 3 years, let alone 5 years of experience in it!

On the flip side are jobs that demand extreme levels of performance and then want to pay peanuts. Example:

"Challenging career position for Office Coordinator in growing, stable legal employment services company. You will answer phones, register applicants and process payroll. Enjoy a supportive team atmosphere, growth potential and interaction with professionals. Prefer individual who demonstrates initiative, good customer service skills, is friendly, articulate and responsible. Great compensation."

So we have a job that sounds like your typical light office work. But it is described as challenging- which to me translates to "we are busy so you'll be run ragged". And what is their idea of "Great compensation" for a "career position"? $9-$11 per hour- under $23,000 a year for a 40 hour work week. If this job is in a major metropolitan area then you will be hard pressed to make a living let alone get ahead in the world.

I'll post some more as I find them- it makes reading job ads more fun.
Amtrak Shutdown
We are approaching Amtrak President David Gunn's deadline to either Amtrak $200 million or have it shut down (details below) No money so far and now the threat is spreading. Pardon me if I take a region approach on this, but I know more about rail on the west coast than on the east. The LA Times has an article that says commuter rail service in the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, and San Diego is threatened because they rely on Amtrak personnel:

What's more, Amtrak managers, dispatchers and operators staff three of the state's commuter systems--the Bay Area's Caltrain, San Diego County's Coaster, and Metrolink, which provides about 34,000 rides each weekday on a five-county rail network that feeds into Los Angeles.

All of these trains could sit idle if Gunn follows through on his threat.

The LA Metrolink folks predict they would be out of action for 1-2 months if Amtrak shuts down.

At Metrolink's downtown headquarters, Chief Executive David Solow spent Friday planning how his agency will respond if Amtrak pulls the plug. Solow said that at worst Metrolink will come to a complete halt for "a month or two."

I'd assume similar results for Caltrain and the Coaster. I don't know what Metrolink or Coaster traffic is like, but Caltrain carries a lot of people up to San Francisco every day and there are no good transit alternatives. In some cases it is impossible to drive to your San Francisco destination because you can't park once you arrive.

There is no easy solution here. Propping up Amtrak with $200 million only postpones the eventual crisis. The state of California is facing its own budget crisis right now, and even if they could spend the money they are hamstrung by Federal laws covering Amtrak:

Morales [Jeff Morales, director of the California Department of Transportation] said that if Amtrak fails, California may be forced to consider breaking away and running its own service, contracting out with private companies that would run the trains. Such a move would be made difficult by laws protecting Amtrak workers and would be contingent on federal legislation to allow companies other than Amtrak to run trains on the nation's rail system.

"We're just hoping this gets sorted out before anything drastic has to be considered," said Morales. "Right now we are at the mercy of Washington."

Basically Amtrak is like the Post Office- they have a government supported monopoly. Just that the Post Office has an easier time raising rates.

All of this shows why the vast majority of Californians prefer to own their own cars and drive in heavy traffic rather than rely on public transportation. Public transport runs on its schedule, not yours. Public transportation can go on strike or even go bankrupt and cut service. When budgets are short rates go up- something no public company can do. As one commentator on local talk radio said about the Bay Area's BART systems proposed fare increase due to lack or ridership: "Why don't they cut fares to bring people back? If your product isn't selling, you don't charge more, you cut prices."

Those dependent on Caltrain, Metrolink, and Coaster have my sympathy- the next few months don't look too pretty.