Pragmatic Jobs

In response to Keeping Your Job: Assignments Nobody Else Wants I wrote the following. I think that it says a lot more about me, and what is currently worrying me, than it helps Joe.

Joe,

You have no idea how similar your situation feels to mine.

— joe.fair@cexp.com wrote:

> team, where they use a _lot_ more java and struts

> (very marketable) than my

> last team. However, since I know perl, ksh, and the

> software from my old

> team, I’m finding myself in the same boat. I’m

> getting the projects that

> aren’t really the focus of the team, but they are

> still the things that needs to be done.

I have lost my job twice to redundancy here in New Zealand since I came here in September 2000. In the first job I was the software integrator for a UNIX VoIP telco project (a big switch from my embedded development background in RTOS and Unix). In my next job I managed to return to my embedded roots with a great job doing embedded linux work for a software consultancy here in Christchurch. Unfortunately, we were only breaking even on those projects and not making a profit so the company refocussed on doing its own hardware platform and I lost out.

So, after two months of searching I find another job. Sounds ideal to me: unique scientific instrument, a chance to expand my skills with Java. When I actually get into it this is not a very embedded piece of work. The majority of the work is in Java – ok by me; but what really sucks is that the instrument’s controller runs Windows CE, not an RTOS, not an embedded Linux.

The other developers have worked in an exclusive Windows background. None of them have a systems development background. They are basically apps programmers.

Now, this instrument works well but I am the only developer to have developed a driver for embedded hardware before. The assumption is that drivers aren’t all that different from other kinds of apps. We are using a Windows CE BSP supplied by the CPU vendor so we don’t have platform manager; etc., etc., etc.

In the end, I have developed a user-state device driver. It works well enough but it could work better with better tools.

These guys know a lot about driving MS developer apps. However, their knowledge of other OSes is zero, as is their interest. I spent my first few months here keeping my head down, feeling like a dinosaur. I felt like sh*t some days; especially on those days when I’d ask a simple question and get the dumbfounded “geez you must be crap if you don’t know how to do that” look from one or two of my colleagues. I’m not stupid, I’ve just had a different experience. I have to admit it’s quite funny to have a 25 year old give you that “you’re stupid” look when they only have 3 years experience and have only ever worked with one OS and development tool.

So, Joe, where am I going with all this?

I feel for where you are.

You are carving out a niche for yourself. It may not be stunning but there is a helluva lot of java+struts developers out there compared to systems integration people. I have to say that in my experience I have found the java developers I have worked with (here and elsewhere) to be bright intelligent people. However, they rarely look to solutions that do not have a java tag associated with them. So, bash, perl and the like do not enter their heads when they encounter a problem. You, I suspect do.

I’m not anti-java. I like the language and what it can do. I really like working with Eclipse. However, having a big API available does tend to narrow you range. I’d keep at what you are doing and start chipping away at taking up some of those old java projects they’d like to forget. You are a great deal less replaceable than your colleagues!

What am I doing?

Improving my java, honing my skills and keeping my embedded/RTOS/Linux skills polished outside of work so that I can make a move into a ‘proper’ (for me) position when the market improves and opens up again. Some of my colleagues might think me mad. Our product is great. The company will make a killing once we get into general production (very soon). But … this isn’t my ideal environment. I’ve seen better ones; worked in better ones; I know the difference.

Oh, in case any of you out there are thinking I must be mad to give up the equity of a sure thing, I’d like to point out that I work in New Zealand and the last thing a startup investor here gives a thought about is encouraging the staff with equity. Hell, the investors put up the money; the employees should be glad to have jobs! No one here has any equity of any kind whatsoever; not even the COO (we don’t have a CEO)!

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