[Note: I came to this realization before today - I just didn't have time to finish the article until now.]
Well, folks, I think it's time to waive the white flag regarding the job for which I interviewed a couple of weeks ago.
With no call back and no response to my inquiry about whether a selection for the position had been made, I think it's safe to say that the company isn't exactly beating down my door to claim me as their newest employee. I personally find the lack of information annoying. Nonetheless, according to most job search sites, it is not uncommon for most companies to just hope you go away if they don't have any further interest in your candidacy for a position. (But he said he'd call!)
The good news is that I'm pretty sure I wasn't dinged because of the J.D. Obviously, it's impossible to be certain, but multiple people from the company reviewed my resume (containing my law degree) and they still invited me in for an interview. Also, nobody really made it a big deal during the interview. I think if I was a closer fit for what they were looking, they would not have discriminated against me in hiring for the position based about my degree disability.
That said, I am disappointed. Based upon the job description, the position looked like a natural transition for me based upon my prior job experience (though not prior education). Essentially, I would be analyzing internet data through both basic statistical methods and by using tools such as SQL and some light scripting/programming.
In my prior position, I handled quite a bit of data and used SQL and some scripting in analyzing it - though not as extensively as the new position would have required. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to use my prior work experience and also enhance my knowledge of SQL and PHP to allow me to eventually move into more advanced analyst or development positions.
Unfortunately, I felt a little blind sided at the interview. My conversation with the interviewer on the business side went pretty well. It seemed like we were really on the same page about everything; the interview with the tech guy, however, didn't go quite as well.
I didn't think it was a disaster, so when I updated you last time, I still thought I had a decent chance. In hindsight, I probably should have been a little less optimistic. The interviewer kept pushing me on my knowledge of PHP and programming in general even though they weren't mentioned as part of the job description. In fact, both the job description (and my resume) emphasized having a proficiency with data analysis and using SQL.
He also didn't seem particularly impressed with my SQL background even though I was very familiar with it and even used it in my last job. Moreover, he asked about my familiarity with other operating systems and wanted to know if I had any personal programming projects.
One thing I didn't share with you last time is that there was actually supposed to be a third interviewer: a more senior tech guy I believe. At the end of the interview, I was informed by the first interviewer that he couldn't find the third guy. At the time, I didn't think much of it since he said the other tech guy would just fill him in.
Now, however, it does seem pretty odd that the guy neither was around during a scheduled interview nor could be contacted (particularly in the era of cell phones, etc.). My assumption is that the first tech interviewer just told him not to bother with the interview because my programming skills were inadequate.
The biggest disappointment is that this seems to reinforce just how bad the economy is. It's possible that they interviewed a flawless candidate or one of the executive's nephews needed a job and they had no need to further review anyone else's credentials. Aside from those scenarios, however, I think I would have at least had a chance for a second interview in a better economy.
It isn't unthinkable that they interviewed some out of work web programmer or DBA (who was willing to be "underemployed") with decent statistical skills who could handle any necessary SQL or PHP programming with ease.
I don't think I would have had much trouble filling the role - albeit maybe with a period of adjustment. Most of the statistical analysis was pretty similar to what I had already done. I was familiar with SQL, and even its more advanced concepts are pretty easy to pick up. I was familiar with programming and PHP is a pretty straightforward language. Also, the type of things I'd have to do (use PHP to query a database) isn't all that difficult to learn and there are plenty of examples available on the web.
Sadly, in these tough times, companies aren't going to take any risks. There are a glut of well qualified and overqualified candidates for most positions, and those without flawless backgrounds for these positions are going to be at a severe disadvantage.
For those of you looking to get into the world of computers and IT, please know that experience and specific training are critical (particularly during the downturn) to getting into this field.
I'm going to spend the rest of this post discussing some strategies for improving your chances of getting employed in this field. I will link to a few external sites. Please note, I do not make any money off this blog, and I only recommend these sites as potentially useful tools.
Figuring Out What You Want to Do
IT is a large field. It can include anything from networking infrastructure, to web development, to programming. Popular areas include being a network administrator, working with or administering databases, designing and managing websites, and using of a variety of scripting and programming language. Because each area is different and getting up to speed in a specific area can take some time and dedication, it's best to select just one area at first and then pursue the appropriate skills and qualifications.
For the most part, I recommend for the average college educated job seeker (particularly those with a business/research background) to become as familiar as possible with SQL and scripting/programming (particularly web based scripting/programming). This sort of background will open up a number of doors in the business world for analyst and other positions where such knowledge is prized. Unlike most development positions, the amount of training and experience you will need will be less extensive.
Where Can You Learn These Skills?
Acquiring different skills will require different approaches. Because my focus is on SQL and light programming, I'll direct my advice towards these skills.
There are a ton of books, videos (usually web based), and tutorials available. Resources from the first two categories usually cost money (though a trip to the local library could help alleviate the cost). I also don't have any great recommendations. I purchased a couple books on PHP and web design, but they weren't particularly notable.
For the most part, I recommend sticking to free resources on the web to at least learn the basics. There a number of site with tutorials and free videos on Youtube.
The best site for learning the basics of areas like SQL and PHP is W3Schools. This site presents pretty straightforward step by step training and quizzes on how to learn various languages. If you can master each step and perform well on the quizzes, you should be able to develop a good background in a number of useful areas.
While this is a great site for learning the basics, even the mastery of all of the information it contains probably will only give you the knowledge base to work in positions where SQL, PHP, etc. are components of the job and not the job itself.
How Can I Demonstrate These Skills
One question that came up during the interview was whether I had a portfolio I could show to demonstrate my knowledge of PHP, etc. I had actually heard before that this can be a critical step in landing a development role. Because I wasn't under the impression that programming would play such a critical role in the position, I was unprepared to provide any samples.
If you're looking to enhance your resume, setting up some simple "e-commerce" applications on a web server can be a good way to do so and get some actual hands on experience in scripting.
If you don't want to start from scratch. Here are a couple good web tutorials about creating some simple applications: http://www.freewebmasterhelp.com/tutorials/phpmysql/1; http://www.phpwebcommerce.com/
Operating System Diversity
This is also something that blindsided me during the interview process. Many web servers use Linux and many more nerds (i.e. the guys who are helping to make the hiring decisions) love Linux.
I was asked if I knew Linux during the interview. I'm really not sure how this was relevant, but aside from using a GUI interface once or twice, I really wasn't too familiar with using the OS.
This is probably tangential to more important skills, but installing Ubuntu (or another popular version) of Linux on another computer or by partitioning your hard drive may be a good idea. At the very least, you could honestly say you've worked with the OS, and if you can pick up some understanding of the commands and working with internet applications, you'll probably have passable knowledge.
Becoming a Real IT Professional
Unfortunately, most of these steps can only help you land positions that are tangentially related to IT. Unless, you're particularly disciplined and motivated, it can be quite difficult to really acquire the knowledge necessary to transition into the field - particularly its programming/software engineering wing.
Virtually all advertisements for software engineering/programmer jobs want people with knowledge of C++, Java, JScript, Ruby on Rails, SQL and about hundred other languages or applications. How on earth is an average person supposed to acquire that knowledge especially when one needs to find a job in a reasonable amount of time?
I seriously wish that I could have spent the time and money I wasted picking up my worthless J.D. to learn programming and working with databases instead. Of course, this lends itself to another problem, where does one acquire this knowledge?
I don't know of any great answer to that question. One answer is to try to pick up a second B.S. degree in computer science or information systems, but this is an expensive and time consuming undertaking - particularly if you're going at night while working during the day. Most of the on-line schools are also pretty expensive and virtually all of them are also geared to be four year programs as well.
There are some certification and training programs, but the quality and price of many of these are suspect.
The only one I found to be somewhat reasonable - and I know this sounds like some thinly veiled marketing ploy - is called Hands on Technology Transfer (HOTT) - hey, I didn't come up with the name.
I'm just providing the link for those who are interested. If you think I'm trying to snag a couple of bucks from you, feel free to just Google the company yourself. (If I was going to scam people, I'd start "Attorney Dreams" anyway.)
In any event, the reason I'm referring you to their site is because, it's the only company I can find that has regularly scheduled training in a variety of areas that can help you get into IT. I specifically linked to the PHP training.
The price does seem a little steep, but then again, I wasted twice as much on my worthless BAR/BRI course. It does seem that a course that lasts a whole week (of full day classes I believe) would be enough to provide rigorous training and help you build a portfolio of work samples. I don't, however, know if it's a reasonable substitute for a semester long college course.
Aside from going back in time and choosing a better major, I don't know what other advice to give.
If anybody out there who is "in the know" wants to offer additional advice, feel free to leave a comment or e-mail me at esqnever at hotmail dot com if you're interested in writing a guest post.
If I can ever land a document review job and make some money, I'd probably enroll in one or two of HOTT's courses to help me transition into the computer industry.
I will, of course, keep you apprised of any updates with my job search.