Thursday, January 25, 2007

Know Thy OSI Model

Earlier this week I drove out to Mount Vernon Ohio. To get to Mount Vernon from Columbus, you drive out into "the boonies" passing through several small "Colonial" towns. The views are rustic, and the traffic is of course very light once you leave city limits. I was on a mission. My mission? Come home with a new job, a higher income, and the news that we would soon be relocating to this tiny little town.

When I arrived to the hospital I could see that I was a little more than an hour ahead of schedule. The building is relatively small, and probably didn't have too many places for me to wait around in. Scrambling around the car I came across a pretty good book that I had forgotten about, "Live in a Better Way", by the Dalai Lama. It's not his best work, but it's a pretty good collection of small speeches he has given (namely to Universities). I read a few small passages, and tried some breathing meditations to relax myself.

With a half hour to go before my interview I headed inside. There were a couple of large signs pointing visitors in opposite directions, and an equal number of elderly volunteers eagerly hoping to assist. I first poked my head into the cafeteria. It was fairly small, and packed with hospital staff (it was lunch time). Next I wandered the halls a bit. Everyone smiled at me, and said hello as I passed. At first I figured that it was because I was wearing a suit. They must think I'm someone in charge! But then I noticed that patients were getting the same friendly smiles, nods, and "hello's". Perhaps the whole town is like this. It was pleasant.

I always think it's a good idea to arrive to an Interview early, even if you end up waiting on your interviewer so I headed up to the HR department with 20 minutes until my scheduled interview time. When I got there, I was greeted and put in a chair at the HR directors desk. His office was small, but tidy, and he was nothing but smiles. He asked about how my trip went and I talked a bit about how I used to drive out that way all the time, to teach up the road. We exchanged some stories. It was very comfortable. He seemed a bit concerned about how far away I live from the hospital, but I assured him that I would be moving if I was offered the position, and that was the end of it. We spent the next 40 minutes or so going over all of the many benefits that are offered. I was pretty happy to sit through the whole process, if for no other reason, because it seems that I was being "sold on the job".

Next I was taken to what I was expecting to be a grueling session with the current staff of four network administrators. Their duties ranged from "young help desk intern guy" to "highly paid application server specialist". All of them struck me as guys that *did* their jobs (opposed to slackers who idle at their desks all day long). Thankfully they had all been handed sheets of paper by the HR director with some pre-written interview questions. They were your typical array of "tell us about a time that you couldn't get a job done ..." or "tell us about a conflict you had with someone at work, and how you dealt with that". That was a tough one on me. "I like to think that I don't create or engage in conflicts ... and I can't remember the last time that I had a problem with someone in the office". Other than that, my answers were clear, concise, sometimes humorous, etc. It went very, very, well. It seemed that this was more a test to see how I might get along with "the guys" than any technical tests.

Once that was over, I was taken to go see the "IT Director". I was now about 2/3rd's through the Interview process, but I could see that this was "the real test". I was walked into the IT department, and plopped in front of the desk. The IT director was a small woman of Asian decent. Her accent was very thick. While she almost looked Vietnamese, the accent didn't fit, and I was afraid to make any assumptions. For that matter, she's probably sick of being asked "so where ya' from?". Before beginning the interview, she excused herself to the door and yelled to what looked like a young intern in the IT department. She wanted a Polaroid photo to be scanned, saved, and mailed to her. Next she slammed her door shut, rolled her eyes, and went on to tell me that she was not having a great day.

Into the questions she went. She started with "why would you want to move here, and work here". So I went on to tell her that I loved the town (I do) and that I am looking to pick up some new skills and raise my salary a bit. Then she started shooting some tougher questions.

"What is the number one problem you see with IT workers today?"

This was an easy one for me. I have thought a lot about this. "Arrogance! There's nothing wrong with not knowing to do something ... but there seems to be a high number of folks out there that have no idea what they are doing, but would sooner die than admit it". Thankfully, my interviewer whole heartedly agreed. I expected she would. The HR guy had told me earlier in a phone interview that the "old crew" had been fired a while back because they were all arrogant jerks who didn't have the slightest idea what they were doing. She went on to tell me about some of the folks she has had to deal with whose arrogance got in the way. Now she sat back and paused a moment before continuing.

"I'm going to ask you a couple of technical questions ... so just try to relax and answer them, okay?". I leaned forward. She had my fullest attention.

"In Windows NT 4.0 ...". Suddenly my head began to spin. Why would she ask about Windows NT 4.0? I used to be an expert. But it's been at least a year or more since I last touched it. Her head spun back and she stared at the ceiling as if she was searching for just the right question.

"... In Windows NT ... where would the hosts file be stored?". Oh! I know this answer! Without hesitation I spouted off, "c:\winnt\system32\drivers\etc\hosts". I then added, "without an extension of course, that's important ...". She nodded quickly, "That's right ... Okay!". And without a moments rest she was onto question number two.

"What are some of the improvements with Windows 2003 Server?". This was tough. I haven't taught Windows 2003 for a while, but this used to be something I had to convince students of all the time. Windows 2003 Server is better *because* ... I drew a blank. "Well", I paused, "it's not that much better than 2000 Server honestly ... most of the changes are subtle and unimpressive". She wanted more and so I continued, "you can rename your domain ... there are now distribution groups and security groups ... Exchange 2003 is tightly integrated to the directory and works really well ... you can organize your enterprise into one domain using different sites which is beneficial because -". "That's good!", she interrupted. Now she leaned in, and I could see that this would be my final question.

"Tell me about ... the ... OSI Model". I almost giggled. This ugly, cryptic, 7 layer model of Networking was once again going to win me a job. Some history for you. Long, long, ago I was drafted to start teaching Network+ courses. One of the key objectives in that course was to learn the OSI model. I made it my personal goal to learn that model inside and out until I could recite it forward and backward. I could take everyday tasks like shopping at the grocery store, and relate to this model. I knew dozens of specific examples for every single layer, and sub layers. This was my chance to show what I had.

"There are seven layers to the model and-"

"Yes, and what are those seven layers?"

"Application, Presentation, Session, Transport-"

"Okay, you are doing them backwards"

"Yes, that's right. I always start at the seventh layer, since that is where the conversation starts".

She smiled, and nodded. But she wanted to take it further. "Go through each layer if you can, and give me a description of what each one does". I went to give one of my finest performances as an Instructor. I impressed the shit out of her. So much that when I was done, I was told "I have to tell you, we have had this job open since July and I have passed on quite a few people. I figured if I held out long enough we would find the perfect person for this job. You seem to be very smart, personable, ...". I have never been complimented like that at a job interview. It was great!

"We should let you know about the job very soon". I won! I did it! I had the job! She walked me out and I ran back to my car to call my wife and tell her about the whole experience. It was, hands down, the best that an interview could possibly go. Now it was just a waiting game.

The Waiting Game

Day two: I check my e-mail. Constantly. All day long I am constantly clicking the little refresh button. Every piece of junk mail that arrives pisses me off just a little more than the last.

Day three: They said they would let me know soon. But soon to them may be a week or more. I'm just being impatient. I have the job. Stop worrying about it.

Day four: I'm getting worried. Shouldn't they have called? Maybe they did call. Maybe they actually mailed me a letter. No, that's stupid. I send an email to the HR guy thanking him for the Interview and asking if he needed anything else from me. No response.

Day five: I keep checking my email, and voicemail, and snail mail. Nothing but letters from the mortgage company telling me to get the fuck out of their house. There are friendly letters too, from various people who want to help me save my house from foreclosure. I guess the foreclosure notice is public record. So much for keeping a secret.

Finally, it got the best of me. If I wasn't going to get this job, I really need to know. The HR guy shouldn't be mad if I call. He should understand that I need to know. If I didn't get the job, I guess I can take it. But I will never know why, and that would drive me insane. Did they call my references and nobody picked up? Did they run my credit history and assume that I am a big fucking jerk who never pays his bills on time? Did one of my interviewers convince the boss not to hire me because I was an instructor for many years? I don't think that guy liked me much.

3:45PM, I call the HR guy. I get his voicemail. I leave a message, but I know he will only be there another 30 minutes or so. 4:15PM I call again and he answers. I get a lump in my throat. "Hello, I was just seeing if I could get an update on that position I was applying for". "Yes ... how have you been?". We chit chat as he types and slides some papers around. "Sorry I haven't contacted you. I just didn't want to call until I had an answer for you, and right now I don't". I guess I'm not hired yet. That's okay. "We extended an offer to someone else", he added. My heart sank. But I remained optimistic. "Oh, okay". He continued, "but we won't have an answer on that until Monday ... so you are still in the running".

What the fuck.

Who is this other guy, and why is he about to take my job? I'm the guy! I gave the best damned interview ever! What does this guy have? A college degree? Probably. Did he ask for less money? Probably. Have I all ready lost out on this job? Almost certainly.

Last week I watched Tom Brady throw a pass into the arms of a Colts receiver in the last moments of the game. It was a bad pass, that ended their season. One long throw, landing in the hands of the other team. One moment in time took away all hope of victory. The camera panned in on Brady. It's like his spirit shot out of him, and all that was left was a human shell in a football uniform. He turned white, his arms slumped, and he couldn't even muster up a good curse word.

This was my low. I wished the HR rep well, and asked him to be sure to "keep me in the loop". I closed up my cell phone and took a deep breath.

I remember what Tyler Durden said, "It's only after we've lost everything that we're free to do anything". There's always Monday, I guess.

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