The Situation, Day 55

03 May 2013

Original Blogger tags: The Situation 2013

Wow, the days are piling up. I continue to apply for jobs every week.

Yesterday I had the first face-to-face interview I’ve been able to get (I’ve had a couple of phone interviews and quite a few phone conversations with recruiters). I applied for the job in question on March 14th, and it took until May 1st to have an interview. I guess that’s not unusual; I’ve been in the position of doing the recruiting and interviewing and hiring, and I know it takes months. But from the other side it is painfully slow.

I thought the interview went reasonably well. I wore a blazer and tie and felt a bit over-dressed in the presence of my potential teammates. Apparently some automotive suppliers now allow jeans as part of “business casual.” Automotive engineering is extremely process-heavy, with heavy emphasis on documentation and specifications and formal methods and code reviews. It’s not that my recent work didn’t have any of this going on — we did — but my group was not really heavy on collaboration between developers. I got the feeling they guys interviewing me might not have believed that I wrote the programs I was describing, as pretty much the sole developer. It sounded like they break down programs into much smaller pieces when dividing up work. So that might be a little culture clash. They want someone with CAN experience, and I don’t really have that, although I learned a fair amount about MOST a number of years ago; I’m not sure whether that satisfied them or not. It was over two hours of talking with different people and groups. One of the developers that was supposed to be there, a guy I had an initial phone interview with, was not there, and that threw me a little. By the end, I think I was losing my focus. On an open ended “describe your dream job” question I rambled perhaps a little too honestly and perhaps too long about architecture and design and systems, things that are probably more high-level than the job at hand calls for. I also just find it hard, as an essentially introverted, at least slightly modest person, to spend a lot of time talking about myself and all my qualifications and qualities, without starting to feel like a blithering idiot.

I also asked a few questions that had embarrassing answers, such as “does your team have access to any windows or natural light?” (The answer was no — they all work in interior cubes, under fluorescent lights), and “is this one of those cases where the company pays you a big salary, but then the only computer you can get your hands on to do your work is a Dell that cost $299 ten years ago?” (The answer was “Oh, did someone give you a tour of our work area?”) But at least it got a laugh. I had some good code samples to show and, I thought, some good answers, and I can’t imagine the Saginaw area is overflowing with more-qualified programmers, but I honestly have no clear idea of whether I should expect an offer. These are basic quality-of-work-environment issues that younger developers may not care much about, but when you have damaged, middle-aged eyes, being able to glance out a window now and then to relax your eye muscles becomes pretty important. Maybe this is when the alleged age discrimination in the software development field really starts to bite hard — not that it is discrimination in hiring per se, but just that certain basics change priority, and I do the discriminating. I don’t know. And of course it could take a month or more before I hear anything. But it is what it is and I have to stay positive while at the same time continuing to look for other positions.

Grace has been trying to figure out how we can make use of WIC food items. We all got sick from trying to use cow’s milk, even a minimal amount like buttermilk in baked goods. Our two-year-old developed a painful ear infection and kept us up all night. So we’re going to have to skip the cow’s milk altogether. They cover some soy milk, but several doctors have warned us against giving soy milk to the kids, so that won’t really work. They simply will not cover the almond milk or coconut milk that we usually get. Grace’s attempts to get any of the local grocery stores to order low-fat goat’s milk have met with complete failure. So that’s pretty much a bust. The processed cereals also resulted in immediate, dramatic behavioral problems with our kids. Basically, after feeding them things like brown rice and steel-cut oats, feeding them processed cereals like Cheerios instantly gave them the equivalent of ADD and hyperactivity. We couldn’t believe how crazy the kids were acting, how much poor impulse control, how much screaming and crying was going on, compared to their normal behavior. It was absolutely surreal. So, no more Cheerios. We can’t have peanut butter in the house, because of Veronica’s allergies, and WIC won’t cover any other nut butters. So we’re going to just have to use WIC for the certain things what we can use — brown rice, canned beans, some produce items, and canned tomato juice (we’ve been making a tomato soup with ground bison and black beans, and it’s pretty good!)

We took Joshua down to Ann Arbor to see a Pediatric Endocrinologist. If you’ve been following me for a long time you might remember this podcast episode in which we speculate that Joshua might have some form of dwarfism. Well, although he’s been growing since then, he’s now four and his two-year-old brother has almost caught up to him, so we’ve brought this concern to his pediatrician, and he recently had a blood test showing abnormally high growth hormone levels — we talk about that briefly in this podcast — so we got him this appointment. They took more blood, to run some further, more sensitive tests for growth hormone and thyroid function, tested him for calcium and vitamin D, took some measurements, and x-rayed his hand to see what his bones were doing. The doctor we saw did not seem terribly concerned, and did not think he showed signs of Russell-Silver Syndrome or Hypochondroplasia, but we will see if the blood tests reveal anything. We’re supposed to talk to a nutritionist about whether we can find some foods to get him to eat more. I’m not quite sure what to hope for. If they identify something that can be treated, it would seem more satisfying than “oh well, he’s just short.” We might know more when this new doctor gets his complete records and can see his growth over time. Even if they find nothing, we’ll have a follow-up in the fall to see if he is making any progress — or not. I am pretty sure that without any kind of treatment his then-to-be two-and-a-half year old brother will be taller, and maybe even heavier, than Joshua will be at five. I guess that’s not unheard of, but it seems weird.

Oh, and we’re still waiting on lead testing. Grace follows up with them every once in a while. Apparently we just have to wait. We’re also supposed to have some sort of general home safety inspection next week. What would really help is if they would repair some windows, plumbing, and insulation, but I’m not sure that’s part of the deal.

There is some good news. I continue to hear from recruiters that the job market in Michigan is improving, and developers have more leverage in requesting decent salaries, or options like telecommuting and compressed work weeks.

In addition, we finally got our “food stamps” (really, a debit card), about eight weeks after we first applied for food assistance. The debit card is a much bigger benefit, cash-value-wise, than WIC, and it actually came through retroactively — the card had funds on it for covering part of March and all of April. This is great, because it means although I have had to spend our diminishing savings on food, when we got the card we could make a big grocery run, using the March and April money to re-stock the non-perishables in our basement storage room and pantry, as well as re-filling our refrigerator with fresh food. Our generally frugal approach to buying mostly-unprocessed foods means that our typical monthly grocery expenses are higher, but not dramatically higher, than what the card will cover for a family of seven. Compared to WIC, using the debit card is effortless — it just covered every food item that we bought. Every single one. When WIC renews for May, in a few days, we will stock up again on some of the things WIC covers — for example, more canned beans and brown rice. Between those two benefits, we should be able to spend very little cash on food in the immediate future. So together these benefits will be a big help.

That’s about all the news, and I’m tired! Good night, all.

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