Wednesday, March 29, 2006

They only want me for the money

Finally, after a week and a half, I get some time to blog.
Well, notice was handed in last monday (20th) and I went into full time job seeking mode. Which meant agencies phoning me constantly for tuesday and wednesday.
I've grown to hate employment agencies; for the most part they seem to be liars and cheats. One particular agency have the habit of slagging off any company who they don't represent, reventing any communications between the candidate and the client (except for interviews), and generally telling lies to all an sundry. Certainly, from my experience of them, they advertise jobs they don't have, they apply unnecessary pressure to both parties, and generally mess everyone around.
Anyway, from the mess, managed to find a job in Leeds. The salary's not the best, but i'll be contracting for three months, at a slightly hire rate than the salary, so that should ease the pain. The company seems like a really top place to work though, and they're right in central leeds, where I want to be, basically.
Ordered Mr Beast LP from norman records. Those guys rule (both mogwai + the norman records guys). Norman Records have sold stuff for me, and they nearly always put treats in with the orders. Just the personal touch that makes it special.
Apart from that, everything's ok. Spoke to my mum for the first time in three months on sunday (mother's day), and caught up with the happenings they. They've got a really sound friend who's trying to persuade my mum to come off the millions of drugs she's on, or at least to cut down on them, which seems like a plan to me. Some of them she's been on for thirty years or more, which can't be good for her.
I've done fuck all else, as the job seeking literally has taken all of my time. Now I'm just trying to relax a bit before starting work.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006


originally uploaded by b3ardman.
The weather's been a lot better these last few days, and all the flowers are coming out in the garden.
It means I need to sort the patio out, as we sat on the back step to eat our breakfast on Sunday morning.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

And I'm left wondering why the world is full of fuckwits and evil-doers.

"Hi David, it's Mr. X from The Agency.", and so starts another day full of dread. It wouldn't have been so bad had I not spoken to him everyday this week, and everyday brought another blow to my mental well-being.

First it was "be honest with me David", which was Monday morning. Tried to blag my way out of the situation, but realistically, I couldn't have said anything else other than the truth. I suppose I've got my mum to thank for that. That, and the fucking integrity that got me into this mess in the first place. So, I explain that I'm looking for another job, and that I'd appreciate it if this didn't get as far as my current employers. At least he was decent enough to forward my CV onto a couple of places.

Then, after that it was "they want to talk with you". Tuesday bought its own terrors. Why the hell 'they' (my current boss and the prj mgr) couldn't just speak to me direct, I've no idea, but anyway, that was the case. Arranged a meet for Thursday afternoon, 1530hrs, which ruined my plans to go to the beer festival, as that was the only time A + me could have gone. Apparently, the role is only ever going to be a code slave role, and they're looking for someone who's a dedicated (certifiable!) code-slave. Not where I'm at. So what does that mean? They're going to fire me? Well, technically they can't, as I've not done anything wrong. But that option is the one that I focus on, and it fills me with fucking dread. How am I going to pay the mortgage without a wage? I really don't want to loose the house, and it would put a lot of unneeded stress on the relationship between A + I. FUCK. FUCK. FUCK.

Wednesday: had a reasonably nice day in Manchester, a pleasant talk to a "Creative Group" company, and, of course, the earth cafe for lunch. I love that place. "It went well enough" was my comment to him. Still fucking shaking with fear.
A books us tickets to see Scuffer on Thursday evening, wasn't that enthusiastic about it, but it does mean an opportunity to go to Little Tokyo for tea!

Thursday: I'm fucking shaking even thinking about it. Was possibly one of the most fearful days in my whole life.
Fortunately, A dragged me out for a walk in the snow, which at least took my mind off of the possibilities that lay ahead of me. Was really nice watching the wall of snow drift up the valley towards us, and BUGGER, hit us, leave us cold and wet, then quickly pass on towards Manchester. Crazy weather this week. Absolutely crazy.
Anyway, the main event. The fucking show-stopping event of the bastard year. How did it fucking deteriorate into this?
So, I put on my best suit, sneak in the back door. Surprise my fellow work mates, but avoid the "What are you doing here" questions. Summoned into a room with Mr. X (agency), my boss and the prj mgr.
Bat around the issue with my boss for a while, him making statements rather than asking questions. Bastard raised questions about the quality of my code, which I think I at least managed to score one run off. He backs off when I asked for details about the issues he has. Eventually, it just gets to the point where he's makes a statement of fact, and I just sit there as tell him I don't really know what he expects me to say. Implied in that was "Do you want me to argue a point of fact that I agreed with, and make myself look like a wanker? Are you trying to trip me up and therefore give yourselves a way to fire me?". I thought I handled that part of the session reasonably well, coming away with a no-score draw.
So, round two starts with the prj mgr going all "Good cop" on me. "What I really need to know is are you going to stick around for the duration" (or words to that effect). Something inside me responds to this line of questioning. It's direct, and honest, and I answer it in the same way. To be fair, if I think I hadn't, I might have lost it at some point during the meeting and told them exactly what I thought of the bloody pair of them. Very uncool in front of Mr X (agency), who's in the position to help me find alternative employment.
So, after the "I'm looking for another job" reply, I'm told that my boss needs to talk to HR, and that I'll have a response by tomorrow morning. I'm then escorted off the premises. I was so full of rage, full of fear, full of dread. I walk up to the bus station in a real state, and manage to get the bus back. Txt A, rather than phone her, as I didn't want to start crying on the bus.
Get back in time to leave again. At least the play keeps my mind off of the whole affair, left quite happy by the time we get back home (the pint on the way home might have helped :)

"He's not in the office today, he's off skiing. Can I take a message?". Bollocks. Friday doesn't start well, especially as we discovered the boiler is fucked, so we're left without heating or hot water until someone can come out and sort it (which was meant to be in the morning, but turned into late afternoon). I'm constantly glad A sorted out the cover for the boiler and central heating, especially as this is the third time we've had to call them out.
A leaves early for her parents in the south. Should have fucking checked the situation, as there's a train strike, and what with one of her connections breaking down, it takes her over 8 hours for the planned 4.5hr journey.
Eventually get a call from Mr X, who's in Geneva, and he lays out the situation. "One week's pay, and an end to the whole affair, or else they'll get nasty." Nasty means disciplinary action, and eventually being sacked. Shakingly, I phone A, and she's not a lot of help, really, apart from saying that her folks have offered to help if we're in a financial whole (at times like this, I'm so glad she's upper middle-class). So I phone my little bro, who's the trade union representative at his work, and also an outside ear. Suggests I take the money and walk away. Also suggests that I could always ask my former employer if they've got any temp work I could do; they've three places vacant at the moment. Thank fuck I've got people like my bro I can speak to. It sets me straight, and I phone a few agencies to see what work there is. One puts it like this: I'm a reasonably cheap option (£29k cheap? fuck!), with extremely marketable skills and experience. Gives me the confidence I need. Phone my boss, who's off, eventually get to speak to the HR woman. She's quite unresponsive to my trying to wangle any other money out of them. Arrange a 9am meeting with her for Monday morning - which means going into work to hand in my notice. At least I can walk away intact, if a little bruised.

Apart from that whole debacle, there's at least three more job interviews lined up, with two more on the cards, so workwise I guess I should be able to sort something out. Heating's fucked until they come and fix it on Tuesday(?): cold and alone (woe is me ;) Life's sweet though, especially as I'm looking at having next week off two (well, looking for work, but you know).

I'm so glad that whole week's over.

Should probably blog this kind of thing is smaller bits, as its taken me about two hours to get all this down.

Friday, March 10, 2006

What a week

Well, yeah. As well as having a reasonably intense email conversation with Gary over whether we should be optimistic or pessimistic about the "end of oil" (not long now), work has been a peculiar beast.

So: Monday
Talking to one of the developers, who informed me that he foresaw the project being a massive failure, more than one head rolling, and a lot of work fixing it all up. At the moment it's March; the main programming of the project is meant to end in august (although the schedule is already slipping behind), and then there's going to be testing, user acceptance, and then deployment in January 2007. Two months in to the programming and already one man of the 6 man squad is feeling less than hopeful. Not good. (I say six, but it actually works out around 4, due to other commitments.)

Tuesday, heads down, coding most of the day. Ask technical leader about a bit of the spec I'm not sure about; I was told that we'd need to record a URL or something. Turns out, the spec is actually for three diagrams (front, left side and right side), with the ability to click on certain parts and record details for that area. Not only this, but the areas are different in different scenarios, and different records needed different images. Great. So I play with some GDI+ stuff, and get a very simple (box based) example working by the end of the day.

Wednesday, turns out I don't actually need to do the whole "image map" stuff. That's actually on (yet another) document, and I only need to decide whether to show the button to display the image.
I do, however, need to call a business rule, which will, depending on various parameters, decide something else that I need to pass back to the container. (This really did call for MVC, but all of the code for this, apart from my little bit, is in one massive form, which is almost incomprehensible, takes 15 seconds to load in VS.Net 2005, and is very temperamental).
So, I take a look at getting the business rules set up, and the wrapper (a facade) for the business rules engine working on my machine.
No go, the business rules engines requires the schema to be in a certain directory on a D: drive, and the only D: drive my machine has is a DVD-ROM drive. Nice. Of course, the business rules engine (BRE) wouldn't tell me this directly, only throw format error exception.
So, in the end, I have to work remotely on the team's dev server. And it all works fine.

During the day, got a call from an agency I'd been in touch with before I took this job, and spoke to the nice lady there. Said I wasn't happy, and she said she might be able to arrange an interview for Friday morning.

Thursday morning, come in, rename my DVD drive to E:, push in my USB drive, and suddenly I have a writable D: drive (HURRAY!). Put schema on there, and it all works like a dream.
Decide to try and make the facade for the BRE use the BRE on a remote machine. No go. The API expects the component to be run on the same machine. This would require every user in the company to have an instance of the (expensive) BRE installed on the machine. However, the API does have a 'Test' function that allows you to execute rules on a remote server, so I use that. Doesn't seem to work. Pull hair, bash head, and eventually discover that the curious error I'm getting means that Service Packed and non-SPed versions of the BRE API are not compatible. Sort this out, and it works like a dream.
However, point this whole thing out to project lead, and I get landed the job of re-writing the whole BRE facade as a server component and a client component. ARGH. Surely this sort of thing should have been investigated before.
Struggle with using some Infragistics controls, which I really can't see the benefit of, but get some work done none-the-less.

Agency lady said the Friday interview wasn't going to happen, but I sent my CV to 'Agency B', who said they'd forward it on for me.

Today, well, that's been fun.
Coding aside, which hasn't been too challenging apart from a repeatable "Out Of Memory" error on a machine that clearly had at least 2GB of RAM available, phoned nice agency lady, who said she'd been chasing up some leads, but none of them sounded that great.
Email Agency B, but no progress had been made there. They phoned me later to say that their client wants to have a chat with me (well, I think they used the term 'interview', but that word is scary).
Spoke to my manager about not really being happy about the job, and that I felt I'd been a bit mislead about what the job was. He tried to deny it, totally misunderstood what I said I didn't like (he thought I wanted to do business analysis!?!), but it felt better to be honest with him rather than keep on avoiding the issue. He also seemed to say that he didn't want to use the skills and knowledge of the team, and that he didn't trust one of his 'senior' programmers to do some of the bigger parts of the project. Great.
This lead to having a, rather long, chat with the agency bloke (let's call him pete) who sorted out this job. I explained my feelings about this being a code monkey job, and feeling that was a step backwards. I also said about some of my reservations with the project (although didn't mention the peculiar management style). Pete, understandable, wanted me to say what I was going to do about the situation. Didn't mention job interview at this stage, as it's not certain, and the job is in a different arena from what I'm used to. Said I'd get back to him on Monday.

So, really, the new job isn't working out. There's so many things - mainly little things that probably seem petty, but they all add up. I don't want to be in the situation where I was 2 years ago where I was basically just surfing the internet all day and work, bored off of my brain box, and feeling really annoyed when anyone asked me to do any work. Conversely, I don't want to be in a situation, like at my previous job, where I didn't get support from higher up the food chain.

I'm a bit stuck to know what to do. In a way, I'm a bit narked. I didn't take the other job I'd been offered because I thought it might be what this job has turned out to be. However, at least with the other job, I would have had exposure to a forward looking team, rather than a whole company who reward long service rather than performance, and have a very much 'one size fits all' approach to working terms + conditions. If the company can't realise that the programmers have no need to be treated the same way as call center staff, then I don't really feel that encouraged that they'll meet my needs.

I realise this is a long, rambling post, but I needed to get some of this off my chest. I'll probably try and revise it tomorrow, but I should at least be able to get some sleep now.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

One Week In

Now that I've had one week in the new job, I must say I am a bit disheartened. There are a number of things that I'm dubious about, and other things that I'm downright outraged about.
The way the project is working is traditional waterfall model (oh no!), and the closest they've heard of agile methodologies is RUP (which, I didn't think, was an agile methodology).
What this means is that there's a business analyst (ba), who's creating use cases, which are then passed onto a project manager (pm), who then creates a project plan. Each use case has a time period associated with it (usually 5 day), which has been decided in association with the programmers.
When a use case is scheduled to start, there's ONE person who's creating the basis for it (more on this later). Then the programmer comes along and does the rest. In the programmer's schedule (well, included in the programmer's allotted days) is consultation with the users about the prototype. Any issues that arise that can't be fitted into the timeframe are written down and go back to the pm.
So far, so good?
Well, no. What this means in practice is that the ba creates a very vague description of what the system needs to do. The programmers have a pie-in-the-sky guess at how long this is going to take, and this gets written into the schedule. Then, once the programmer comes to start work on the specific functionality, they still have analysis to do, and this, inevitably, comes up with more work, that can't be fitted into the schedule, as the schedule is due to finish in Q3 2006. The programmer does their best to facilitate and changes in their allotted time schedule, which inevitably means they run over, which means the schedule is now behind.
At the moment, on the schedule, there's about 4 weeks for 'integration testing' and bug-fix, along the way. (I think this should be a continuous thing, but oh well). What this means, exactly, is anyone's guess, but they're now talking about using this time to work on the functionality that they've not got time on anywhere else. (ARGH).
On top of this, because of the dependencies in the project, when one use case runs over, it means that some others start late. In reality, this means overtime (which, frankly, I'm not prepared to do. Most of the programmers already work 20 minutes extra a day, which adds up over a week).
As well as this, there's only 1 programmer working on the old systems, which seem to need someone on them full time. He's got work scheduled in for the project, and because he's the junior programmer, and knows little, if anything, about the old systems, needs a lot of support, which uses up other programmers' time too. (I can see this being a real problem, especially as he's meant to be working with me on my items).

On top of the project side of things, they've asked me to take out my earring, because it's in an usual place, whilst other people (both men + women) are allowed to have more traditional lobe piercings.
Working hours is another issue. The contract they sent me states 37.5hrs a week, to be worked between 0800-1800 Monday to Friday. I, foolishly, took this to mean flexi-time. No fucking chance. The team manager (who's not the pm, so I can already see a conflict in interest coming on), stipulates that all the programmers work the same hours, which are 0900-1730, with an hour for lunch (which, frankly, I struggle to fill). This is extra annoying for me, as the trains mean I usually arrive at work at 0840, and leave work about 1745. That's an extra 35 minutes of work a day. I can't take the car at the moment, as it's busted, but I'm loathed to drive into work anyway (most of the other programmers drive 60 miles a day for work). I suppose I could cycle, but, at the moment, there's snow on the ground, (my least favourite cycling condition).
Oh well, at least, given my last job-search experience, it shouldn't be to hard to find something else if I decide this really isn't for me. (I shouldn't be saying that after only one week).