Archive for 31 March 2013

The Apple Store Job Fair eBook

The Apple Store Job Fair Essay eBookA preview of my newest essay ebook, “The Apple Store Job Fair: Don’t Drink The Water, Don’t Use The Restroom,” that is now available.

AFTER BEING OUT OF WORK for a year-and-a-half since losing my help desk support job on Friday the 13th in February 2009, an Apple recruiter offered me a one-on-one job interview at the Apple Store job fair being held at the main campus in Cupertino, CA, later that week. Having worked at a number of high-profile Fortune 500 companies—Fujitsu, Sony, Intuit, Google and eBay—over the years, I desperately wanted to add Apple to my resume as it has surpassed Google as being THE PLACE to work at in Silicon Valley.

Except for one small problem: I had no retail experience.

The recruiter reassured me over the phone that a lack of retail experience wasn’t a problem. Many people got hired from a wide variety of backgrounds to become Creatives, Geniuses and Specialists to work at the Apple Store throughout the world. Someone with no traditional retail experience was preferable to someone who had to unlearn everything they know about retailing. Every new employee receives extensive training before being allowed to work at an Apple Store. Extensive training. The magic words I wanted to hear from any recruiter.

As the Great Recession begun in 2008, many employers lay off workers and hoarded cash as consumer demand dwindled away. The first thing to go—if the business hasn’t jettisoned it years before at the behest of Wall Street—was the training budget. If your job skills aren’t current and don’t fit the job description precisely (i.e., five years in a new technology that came out six months ago), don’t expect to get the job. If you need any training whatsoever to get up to speed on your first day (i.e., asking directions to the restroom), don’t expect to get the job. If you’re out of work for longer than a month, don’t expect to get the job.

Although I owned a first-generation black MacBook from 2006 at home, I had no troubleshooting experience with the Mac in general. The Mac OS X operating system worked so perfectly with the MacBook hardware that I stopped using my Windows Vista PC for everything except high-end video games. Using a Mac meant I didn’t have to become a Mac technician to learn how to use it well, unlike Windows where I did become a PC technician. The Mac worked and worked quite well for what I needed it to do. The idea of troubleshooting the Mac was almost incomprehensible to me.

The corporate environment was a different story. A co-worker would informally train me on the Mac computer, which often meant deleting a corrupted System Preferences file that prevented iTunes from working. (Most companies prohibited users from storing gigabytes of personal music and videos on their work computers, but PC technicians will often look the other way if a hard drive backup wasn’t needed.) Two weeks later I would get laid off from that job, as if I broke an unspoken rule that prevents an experienced PC technician from moving into the light.

A smattering of Mac experience on my resume amounted to nothing useful over the years. No matter how carefully I worded my resume and pitched my Mac experience to recruiters, many hiring managers in the follow-up interviews were often disappointed that I didn’t have the guru-level Mac experience that they were looking for. Never mind that neither the recruiter nor the job description mentioned anything about having guru-level Mac experience, especially for the less than guru-level pay rate being offered. If you’re applying for technical jobs directly at Apple, guru-level Mac experience is a requirement whether or not it’s in the job description.

Recruiters often make unwarranted assumptions about my resume, hoping that I’m a better candidate than what my resume actually suggests. Since I used to work at Japanese companies like Fujitsu and Sony, most recruiters assumed that I spoke fluent Japanese. One recruiter went so far as to arrange a phone interview with someone in Tokyo to test my ability to speak Japanese. Although I don’t speak in either conversational or anime Japanese, I’m well verse in navigating the cultural differences between East and West.

A newly appointed vice president from Japan took over the testing group of the WorldsAway virtual world division at Fujitsu. A Westernized Japanese who spoke fluent English and comfortable with talking to Americans, he took us out to lunch at the Jade Cathay Chinese restaurant on North 1st Street in San Jose, ordering the same hot-and-spicy dish for everyone. I ate everything on my plate as not to offend my host who sat right next to me, although I had no clue as to what I was eating. (My taste for Chinese food these days is steam rice and orange chicken at Panda Express.) The lunch weighed heavily in our stomachs after we came back to the office, like a bad omen of things to come.

He expressed disappointment that none of us were mainframe programmers, the division he previously led that needed more mainframe programmers than virtual world testers, and recounted his glory days of battling IBM for mainframe superiority. This struck the testing group as anachronistic thinking in the rising era of the Internet in the late 1990’s, when Netscape and Microsoft were still fighting for web browser supremacy that was far from over. But Fujitsu was a big company with so many divisions still fighting the last technology war while surrendering the future.

After the vice president declined to renew the contract for my six-month internship, my coworkers gave me a farewell party at the same restaurant. A bittersweet moment when someone wondered out aloud if farewell parties were the future of the division. The answer came a month later. Two-thirds of the division was laid off without warning and security guards escorted everyone out of the building. No farewell parties for them—or for those who stayed.

As for the WorldsAway virtual world, it became the Dreamscape virtual world at Vzones [http://www.vzones.com]. After looking through the website, the underlying technology haven’t changed in the last 15 years.

Recruiters stopped calling me about the Japanese-speaking positions after Fujitsu and Sony fell off my resume as I acquired new work experience at other Fortune 500 companies. I sometimes wonder if I should remove all my less than guru-level Mac experience from resume to avoid doing the dog-and-pony interviews for Mac jobs that I wouldn’t get anyway.

The Apple recruiter reassured me again that my technical background—five years as a help desk support technician and six years as a video game tester, including three years as a lead video game tester with responsibility for ten titles—made me a perfect fit at the Apple Store. What he didn’t tell me was not to drink the water or use the restroom.

Some Things Never Change At The Local Post Office

Post Office Mail BoxAt the height of my snail mail submission days, I would go to the post office every six weeks to drop off 18+ envelopes containing my short story manuscripts. (I often had 50+ manuscripts circulating in the slush piles.) With email submissions, I seldom go to the post office anymore. That changed recently when I decided to pursue the Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) certification for my non-writing tech career.

Although it’s possible to pass the CCNA without any Cisco hardware by using a software network simulator, I chose to build out my testing rack by acquiring three routers and two switches from Cables & Kits. That’s $400 USD in hardware for a $400 USD certification that could double my yearly non-writing income from $50,000 USD to $100,000 USD. If you have limited hands on experience with Cisco equipment, building out your own testing rack is the way to go.

For smaller stuff like interface cards, memory modules, network cables and tools, I turned to eBay to find cheaper deals. I discovered that I could buy these items for a few dollars above wholesale prices without paying the 50% markup at Cables & Kits or Fry’s Electronics. Everything I bought from eBay got shipped through the post office.

I noticed two things about mail delivery at my apartment complex. If the package was small enough to shove into the mailbox or a package lockbox is available, I’ll find either my package or the lockbox key in my mailbox. If the package was too big, I’ll find a yellow pickup slip to pick up my package from the Willow Glen post office. The postal person never bothers to see if anyone is at home to take the package. As a friend who worked at the post office once told me, the postal person has two hours to deliver mail to 300+ mailboxes and delivering packages to the door wasn’t part of that.

This pickup arrangement with the post office works fine for me. I cringed whenever I see an Amazon box being left out in the hallway, knowing how easy someone can walk by to steal the box. A San Francisco woman got so frustrated with her Amazon boxes disappearing that she chased the thief with a wooden sword and bear spray.

This week I went down to the post office to pick up several packages before going into work. One person stood at the package counter, three people stood at the retail counter. A wall separated the two counters. I stepped in line at the package window. The voice of a woman having a very intimate cellphone call drifted through the wall of mailboxes to my left. I don’t think the postal employees realizes that people can hear them talk from the other side, or they just simply don’t care.

The elderly man in front of me said that no one was around to help him. With the cellphone conversation still going on, I took several steps back to look at the other line and went to the retail counter. The postal clerk berated me for being in the wrong line, but, since there were no other customers in line behind me, she would get my packages anyway. We got into a spirited argument about whether being in the right line was more important than my limited time before going into work.

When she brought my packages to the counter, she said that the woman in back was helping another customer. I noticed the elderly man leaving the building empty-handed, and pointed him out to her that he had waited 15 minutes without being helped. She muttered that he should have used the bell to summon someone. When I mentioned that there was no bell at the package counter, she muttered that I was still in the wrong line.

Some things never change at the local post office.

The Return of The Mobile Office

The Mobile OfficeThe manager at my non-writing tech job in 2008 did me a favor when he told me to walk away from my desk during my lunch hour. So I ate my lunch and listened to the radio in my car. One day I brought a clipboard and some pens to edit a short story manuscript. A year later I finished writing two-thirds of my first novel behind the steering wheel of my car, a 700-page manuscript that I haven’t figure out how to edit.

Those were the glory days of the mobile office.

After I got laid off on Friday the 13th in February 2009 (a memorable date the manager let me pick), I was out of work for two years, underemployed for six months (i.e., working 20 hours a month) and filed for a Chapter Seven bankruptcy. If I wasn’t interviewing for jobs, browsing the job board websites or answering arcane copyright questions from my bankruptcy attorney, I wrote and edit manuscripts from my home office.

Since then I held tech jobs that made the mobile office impractical, either the lunch breaks were too short or the parking lot was too far. I went back to taking lunch at my desk, using my work computer to write blog posts over the Internet. With my last job at the hospital, where my office was down the hall from the morgue in the basement and the scent of vanilla in the air meant a dead stiff wheeling by, daily blogging was a welcome distraction.

The mobile office returned this New Year after I started a new job with a long lunch break and a short walk to the car. I eat my lunch and listen to the radio for 15 minutes, and turn my attention to whatever I put on my clipboard that morning for the next 45 minutes. If I finish the manuscript early, I can start something new on the writing pad. This is the highlight of my workday.

Only once did someone thought it suspicious that I was writing on a clipboard in my car during the lunch hour.

An inexperienced rent-a-cop jerked open my unlocked car door and demanded to know what I was doing. I got out to confront him and he reached for his mace spray. Flashing my employee badge and explaining that I was on my lunch break didn’t satisfy him. What I wrote on my clipboard inside my car wasn’t any of his damn business, which is why I don’t bring my manuscripts into work. The rent-a-cop backed down after I threatened to call 911 to bring in a real police officer to resolve the situation.

What I found out from writing my first novel is that doing something small every day adds up to something big over time. (Or something so big that you don’t know what to do with it, but that’s a different problem.) Forty-five minutes per day can turn into 180 hours in a year. Some of my best writing got done in the mobile office.

Visiting The New Neighborhood Library On Bascom Avenue

Bascom Community Center & LibraryThree years after being built on the lot of the old Quement Electronics store, a Silicon Valley institution that served generations of ham radio enthusiasts and electronic engineers from the Great Depression into the late 1990’s, the Bascom Library finally opened its doors to the general public last month. This excited and disappointed me at the same time.

The money to build the new library branch came from a voter-approved bond initiative in 2000. After construction completed in 2010, the fences never came down. The City of San Jose cut the library budget every year during the Great Recession that there wasn’t enough money to keep the current libraries open for more than four days out of the week.

A budget surplus made opening of the community center possible last year. The fences came down and cars filled the empty parking lot, but the library was still closed. After the New Year, moving trucks showed up in the parking and workers pushed carts of books into the library. An opening date got announced for late February.

My roommate and I checked out the new library on a recent Saturday.

As I feared and expected, the 99-space parking lot was full. A quarter of the spaces went to the disabled, school buses and electric vehicles. Spaces for the disabled and school buses I can understand, but the Prius worship in Silicon Valley goes too far. The empty parking spots behind the adjacent funeral home had a sign announcing no library parking allowed. No parking on the neighborhood side was available. We parked on the Bascom Avenue side. A busy street that makes getting out of the driver side an adventure in timing.

My initial impression walking into the library that it’s very small. This was not the library I have envisioned as I drove by the chain-linked fences for three years. The new library that opened at San Jose City College in 2003 was larger than this. With the recent closing of Barnes & Noble down the street at The Pruneyard, I was hoping that the new library would replace it as a hangout spot. I doubt I’ll be allowed to browse the stacks with mocha in hand.

The sad reality is that the libraries never make money for the city. A councilman suggested replacing retiring librarians with volunteers to save money. Someone always call for shutting down the libraries because most citizens don’t use them. A community center has rooms for rent and a gym with membership fees that go into the city’s coffers, which would explain why the library takes up so little space in the 20,000-square-feet building.

We walked through the entire library in five minutes. The layout made every corner viewable from the reference desk. With a high school down the street, perhaps the layout discourages teenagers from finding a copy of “The Joy of Sex” by Alex Comfort and having illicit sex in the stacks. Not that the three-row deep stacks can conceal anything from the librarian’s eyes.

I found no writer-friendly cubbyholes. If I came here to write, I would have to sit at a table with everyone else and write like a performance artist. This library is a place to borrow and return books, not a writing haven to get away from everything else.

Read An eBook Week 2013

Read An eBook Week 2013Smashwords has a special promotion every year during the Read An eBook Week (March 3-9, 2013) for authors to offer their ebooks for FREE or at a discounted price. My entire ebook catalog is available for FREE (no coupon code), FREE (coupon code RW100) or 50% off (coupon code REW50).

If you download and read one of my ebooks, please leave a review at the Smashwords website. Or send an email to chris at cdreimer dot com.

FREE eBooks

FREE eBooks (Coupon Code RW100)

Discounted eBooks (Coupon Code REW50)

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