Apr 30

Getting started

My first day as an IBM employee was April 30, 2001: two years ago today. It’s nice of IBM to commemorate the occasion by bringing me back as a contractor, even if they did miss the correct date slightly. Actually, April 30 was the first day of a two-day orientation class for new employees. My employment did commence on that day, but I did no work whatsoever until May 2. For that matter, I probably spent the rest of my first week obtaining the logins and passwords I would need, getting a phone and a computer installed, and attending various meetings. Which is what I’m doing now, too.
It’s amusing that IBM thought I needed two days of instruction on how to work there, since at that point I already had about four years of experience writing IBM manuals. I started doing that in 1987, when I was an employee of a documentation services vendor that had IBM as its major client. I wasn’t an IBM employee and I didn’t work at IBM, but 100% of my time was spent developing IBM manuals with IBM tools. (In fact, I would go into our computer lab, sit down at a terminal, and log on to one of IBM’s mainframes to do my work. I was “working remotely” before it was cool.) When I left that job in 1988, it was to accept an offer to go out to IBM’s main site in Research Triangle Park and work as a contractor — not employed by IBM, but sitting in an IBM office and using IBM tools to document IBM products. I did about three years of that, in 1988-89 and 1991-92.
So by the time I became an actual IBM employee in 2001, I had already “started work” as a developer of IBM manuals several times. And on none of these occasions did anyone spend two days explaining my job to me. They basically showed me where to sit, gave me some books to read, and left me to figure it out on my own. Which was just fine with me; I learn faster if I can move at my own pace, skip the stuff I already know, and don’t have to listen patiently while other newbies ask dumb questions. Now I’m back as a contractor once again, which means no orientation class. What a relief! If I ever do manage to return to IBM as a direct employee, I hope they won’t make me sit through two days of handholding again. Honestly, folks, I do remember how to do this job.
But Human Resources bureaucrats move in mysterious ways. Before I could start this latest contract job, IBM required my contract agency to hire a security firm to run a background check on me. Of course IBM ran a background check of its own before hiring me two years ago, but I guess they had to be sure I hadn’t committed any new felonies since they laid me off last June.
It seems appropriate that Building 002 — where I went yesterday to have my badge made — has a revolving door. If IBM didn’t have one of those, they would need to install it just for me.

Apr 29


June 21 of last year was my final day as an IBM employee. Before departing, I wrote these words on my office whiteboard:
I’LL BE BACK. — A. Schwarzenegger
It took me a while to fulfill that promise, but today I am back at IBM as a contractor. In fact, I’m posting this from my new office. Said office is not where I thought it would be — although my interview took place in Research Triangle Park, it turns out that I will be working at IBM’s site on Six Forks Road in northern Raleigh. I didn’t even know IBM had a site here. But if this is where Big Blue wants me, then so be it.
As is typical on the first day of a new job, not everything was ready for me when I arrived. For example, my phone has still not been turned on. (I have my mobile phone in my pocket, though, so I’m not exactly incommunicado.) However, my e-mail account was activated a couple of days ago. When I accessed my inbox for the first time, I found that I had a half dozen routine messages about things like passwords and voicemail access. I also had twenty-nine spam messages.
UPDATE: Number thirty arrived while I was posting this entry.

Apr 19

Income tax strategies

Matt has a point , but I think his analysis is somewhat simplistic.

Sure, simply being chronically unemployed will dramatically reduce your income taxes. But it also leaves you without any money! The trick is to become unemployed at just the right moment, so that you end up with a bunch of money when you can really use it. Here is the strategy I used:

  1. Be gainfully employed for the first half of the year, earning lots of money and paying taxes at a breathtaking rate (based on what the government thinks you’ll earn over the entire year).
  2. Lose your job in June and don’t work again for the rest of the year, slashing your annual income in half and placing yourself in a much lower tax bracket.
  3. The following April, file your tax return, collect a large refund from the government, and deposit it in your bank account.
  4. On your way home from the bank, stop off at your auto mechanic’s shop to ask him why the words SERVICE ENGINE SOON have appeared in glowing letters on your dashboard.
  5. After the mechanic finishes replacing your transmission, write him a check for all the money you got back from the government and drive home.

See what you can accomplish with a little planning and strategic forethought?

Apr 18


They didn’t keep me waiting. The recruiter who arranged yesterday’s interview called today and said, “Would you like a job?” Apparently the folks I met with at IBM yesterday really are eager to bring in a new technical writer. In fact, they want me to start on the 28th — that’s a week from Monday. I accepted, of course.
The recruiter relayed something the IBM folks told him. They said that I was “far and away the best candidate” they had interviewed for the job, not just in terms of experience and skills, but also in terms of personality fit. They think I’m highly compatible with their team and their style of doing things. As it happens, that’s exactly the way I see it. IBM is my favorite place to work. I’ve known since the first time I set foot on an IBM campus, fifteen years ago, that the company and I were made for each other. And while it’s hard to judge on the basis of half an hour of conversation, I liked the people I met yesterday and felt that I would enjoy working with them. Evidently it was mutual.
It may seem that I’m boasting here, but consider the context. Being told that I’m the best candidate comes at the end of ten months of the opposite: having prospective employers tell me that I’m not the best candidate, or (in most cases) that I’m not a candidate worth interviewing at all. After that experience, I think I’m entitled to savor my victory.
(Of course, while you’re considering the context, it may occur to you that if these IBMers are in such a hurry, they can’t have interviewed all that many candidates. Being “far and away the best” is not as big a deal if they only talked to a total of, say, three people. But if that’s what you’re thinking, I don’t want to hear it!)

Apr 17

Another visit to IBM

Today’s interview went quite well, I think. It turned out to be a sort of combined interview for Managers G and H. As I understand it, the contractor they plan to hire will be a shared resource, doing work for both groups. When I got to IBM, I met first with Manager H and two members of her team. After chatting with them for about half an hour, I was ushered into another office to talk with a member of Manager G’s team. (G himself was offsite today.) They seemed to like what I had to say, and indicated that they would be making a decision quickly. This is consistent with what I was told later by the recruiter who set up the interview — they are in a hurry to fill the opening and will probably make a decision in the next few days. So at least I won’t have to wait long for a response.
Not that I’ll be sitting by the phone, biting my nails. Friday is officially a holiday at Perigee, but those employees who would like to earn extra money are welcome to work on Friday and Saturday, so I plan to do so.

Apr 16

Alphabet soup

It’s not over yet. I got two calls from recruiters on Tuesday, both related to IBM contracts. One was a follow-up from the agency trying to fill Manager G’s opening; they’re submitting my resume. The other call, from a different agency, was to arrange an interview with Manager H, another one I’ve never heard of before. I’ll be meeting with him tomorrow.
UPDATE: Make that “meeting with her.” I was mixed up about exactly who Manager H was.

Apr 12


I did not get the contract job that I interviewed for at IBM; Manager D picked someone else for it. I am still in the running for the two positions that he hopes to hire new employees for, but we won’t know about those until after Easter weekend.
I also got a call from a recruiter yesterday about yet another possible IBM contract, for a manager I’ve never heard of (G, I suppose).

Apr 10

Make it stop!

The job inquiries continue to pour in at such a rate that I can’t keep track of them. Most of them relate to jobs I already know about, but not all. On Tuesday the 8th, I was notified of another new IBM job, for Manager E. I also got a call about another job for Manager B; she’s apparently trying to fill at least two of them now. And another call about a technical writing contract for a completely different company.
On Wednesday the 9th, I went to IBM for my interview with Manager D. It went extremely well. He’s actually trying to fill several jobs — a contract position and at least two IBM employee positions — but the paperwork hasn’t been completed for all of them. I’m pretty sure he intends to offer me one of them. He promised to let me know by Friday.
In the course of the interview, Manager D told me about IBM Manager F, who will be trying to fill two positions for technical writers in the near future. At this rate, I’ll run out of letters of the alphabet by the end of May.
Wednesday was Marie’s day off, so she was actually at home for part of the day. When I got home from work, she handed me a stack of six telephone message slips, all of which were calls from recruiters for contract agencies. And there are still messages on the answering machine that are left over from Tuesday. Aargghh! Why couldn’t all this happen back when I was unemployed and could spend all day on the phone if I needed to? It’s bad enough that my cell phone keeps ringing while I’m at work. If I also try to return all these calls during the day, I won’t get anything done!
I had intended to spend Wednesday evening trying to deal with some of this backlog, and also bringing this blog up to date. Instead, I let Ruth talk me into going to see a play at Raleigh Little Theatre. I stopped volunteering at RLT when I began work at Perigee, because I was working on the night shift and theatre activities take place mostly in the evening. When Perigee switched me to the day shift, I could theoretically have jumped back into RLT activities, but I realized that evenings and weekends were now the only times I could concentrate on my job search. So I resolved not to get involved at RLT again until I found a job (or until my Perigee job ended on May 31). But Marie and Ruth are still active; both of them are working on the current show, a comedy called I Hate Hamlet. In fact, Marie is the dressing crew chief.
Wednesday night’s show was a preview performance: a dress rehearsal essentially identical to a real performance, but with a non-paying audience. (Tickets are given to the cast and crew, who hand them out to family and friends.) Marie was working backstage, but Ruth (who is on the props crew) wasn’t scheduled to work at this performance, so she was planning to watch. I decided to go with her. It was a fun show, and we had a great time. But it also felt odd to just sit in the house and watch. I kept thinking that I should be up in the sound or light booth, pushing buttons. Ruth had the same reaction; she felt like she ought to be backstage. I guess we’ve been doing tech theatre for long enough that we’ve forgotten how to be audience members.
Ruth drove us to the theatre. She’s had her Limited Learner Permit for some time (the picture is already out of date, showing her with much longer hair than she currently has), but this is the first time she’s ever driven me anywhere. We both did well; she drove better than I could have at her age, and I remained calm the entire trip. I may as well get used to this experience. Ruth will be seventeen next month, and a high school senior two months after that. And Ben will be a freshman. It doesn’t seem possible, but this is what happens while you’re preoccupied with things like theatre and job searches: your children just keep right on growing up.

Apr 08

Lightning strikes twice

I don’t know what the heck is going on at IBM, but it certainly seems to be working in my favor. It must also be making my cellular phone service provider very happy.
Another contract position at IBM for a technical writer was announced today, and my cellphone started ringing again. Apparently the word didn’t get out until late in the day, because the calls only started after lunch. But I still heard from three recruiters about it. By now one of them has submitted my resume to Manager B, who will be making the hiring decision. Yes, it’s the same Manager B that I talked to on the phone a couple of months ago. I also met her in person last year, when I was a lame-duck IBM employee trying to find a new job within the company. So I know for a fact that she’s seen my resume at least twice before. Perhaps the third time is the charm.
Why all the activity at IBM in recent days? I can only speculate, but it has been clear to me over the past year (both from my own knowledge and from what IBM insiders, such as Bob, tell me) that the status quo was not sustainable. IBM trimmed expenses substantially by laying off people, but the result was to leave many projects critically understaffed. I have no doubt that IBM managers have been screaming at their bosses for months that it was impossible for them to meet their deadlines if they were not allowed to hire anyone. Eventually one of two things had to happen: either permission would be granted to begin staffing up again, or product releases would have to be officially delayed or canceled.
I think the former has finally occurred. Somewhere within the IBM hierarchy, the word has been giving to end the hiring freeze. And so it begins: contract agencies are notified of new openings, recruiters at those agencies scan their databases for resumes that match the required experience, my phone starts ringing off the hook, and Alltel smiles at the prospect of all the extra minutes I’m going to use this month.
Meanwhile, my temporary employer is inviting me and my fellow schedulers to put in as many extra hours as we feel motivated to. It sure is nice to be in demand.