The wheels are turning

We left off that I received an offer from Northeast Utilities. I was ecstatic. This was my first “real” job. A job that requires specific skills, not just a grocery store or some other menial job. So I get to the office on orientation day. This is the day where they get all couple hundred interns into the same room and tell you what the company really stands for and how to succeed in my internship. Eventually I am taken with 3 or 4 other interns by the gentlemen that had interviewed me. They dropped off each intern at distributed departments to further learn what real world coding is like. I was so excited — until they dropped me off at the help desk. “With your A+ certification, this would be the best fit.”, was their rationale. I protested and they said next semester, they would get me somewhere more that I wanted. There was nothing else I could do, this wasn’t my ideal job but it was my first foray into corporate America.

I was on a team of about 9 other help desk employees. Our job was to support all technical issues for the entire company. Nationwide, this equated to roughly 8000 employees. So from the hours of 7am to 12pm and 1pm to 5pm, the phones would be ringing non stop. I excelled. I was the youngest person on the team, had lots of energy, had the drive to accomplish my goals, and handled more daily calls than any other person there. A co-worker/friend and I used to compete to get the most calls handled. They loved us there and would frequently get asked to take calls out of queue because we were requested by name. This same co-worker, we’ll call him John, who was a contractor, would routinely ask me to act like his manager for employer references. He was a great employee and highly liked, so I never fully understood why he didn’t just use me as a co-worker reference, but according to him, I had to be a manager to make the reference more legitimate. For him, it was more of the control aspect I think. He wanted full control over the outcome of his interviews and didn’t want any surprises.

I worked my internship all summer until it was time for the internship was over. I heard talk of some interns extending the internship through the school year, so I of course discussed the possibility of staying on the team with my co-workers and manager. John had given me the idea to negotiate a contract gig for Northeast Utilities through the head hunting firm that he was using. I immediately emailed his point of contact and suggested the idea to him. They went for it.

I began working as a contractor for a few more bucks an hour but basically was still in the same role. I continued to work this job while utilizing my free time to interview for roles focusing more specifically on development. In hopes of creating business connections, I would frequent the company directory and message developers and development managers asking for the opportunity to shadow them and see what this job is really about. I met with someone who I had a family connection with and worked side by side with him for a couple of hours. I was asking him questions about workflow, technologies used, system overviews, etc. This is where I first realized that this job is only difficult, if you make it difficult. There’s something that he said to me that always reverberates inside my mind whenever I’m starting a new project, “Always build your application for the web, only use desktop applications when the web cannot do what you need the application to do.”

I took these experiences with a heavy heart and channeled that fire building inside me to seek other employment that would allow me to create applications. I found that employment with the Housing Authority Insurance company as a software analyst/programmer intern. The wheels are finally turning.

Lessons learned:

  • Manager references are more legitimate. Use these before any peer references.
  • Never limit yourself into thinking xyz is impossible. It is improbable that most things are impossible.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask someone to shadow them to learn about various roles. In all likelihood, they will be incredibly flattered and will help you.
  • Modern careers are dynamic, don’t worry if your resume shows you jumping around a lot. Every possible flaw an interviewer can find, can be properly spun in your favor.

What lies behind you and what lies in front of you, pales in comparison to what lies inside of you. –Ralph Waldo Emerson

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The Journey Begins

I remember being 7/8 years old browsing the internet on my family computer. Running super fast with my spectacularly agile 56k modem routed through AOL’s internet service. I was always researching something but the particular topic I was researching this day was college computer science programs at schools like MIT and Harvard. I was completely infatuated with the idea of understanding these coded languages that few knew at the time. I didn’t have any clue what to try to build in code, but the eagerness to learn still sparks my desire to this day. So I would read, in detail the entire curriculum for the entire degree, writing  different what-if analysis’ spreadsheet (before I knew what that even was), trying to figure out what the best route would be to get such a prestigious degree. Then I looked at the tuition pages of these schools and decided I was more than likely going to be attending a state school when the time has come. Eventually, my interest in programming faded only to be re-ignited more than 10 years later.

I had just gotten out of the Marine Corps in 2010 and was lost when it came to finding a career. I had no idea what I was really interested in and nor did I understand what I excel in. I liked to work out, so at the time, I wanted to be a personal trainer. After weeks of studying for my personal trainer certification, I failed. I took it again, I failed. I kept studying and thinking over where I was going wrong. Soon enough, I realize I was setting myself up to be working incredibly hard for menial pay. Now I was always the go to electronic fix it guy for my family (and that role unfortunately still follows me to this day). With that role, it is only to be expected that my girlfriend at the time’s father, had me always fixing his computer. One day he asks me, “Why don’t you do this stuff for a living? You’re good at it.” I responded dumbfoundedly, “I don’t know. That’s a good idea.”

Within a couple of months after that conversation, I started attending the local community college to see if I would like working with computers. I first envisioned myself being a network administrator; Setting up switches in huge data closets, covered in cat 5 wire. So I did the only logical thing, I took a networking class. And guess what? I hated it. I thought, “maybe it’s the professor?” So I tried the next networking course in the series. I learned a lot of good information, a lot of which I still use today in my job. But networking was not my thing and that was very disheartening for me at the time.

A requirement for a degree in computer information systems at that school was to take a VB.Net course. Professor Cipriano. I can honestly say he was my favorite computer professor. Not only was he an accomplished developer, nice, witty, and friendly but it was through his teaching that I acquired my passion for programming. I was awed by his career progression, his stories of complex algorithm development for hospitals, and his keen eye for spotting code improvement. I ended up taking 4 other courses with Cipriano and received a glowing letter of recommendation that assisted my acceptance to a master program at Sacred Heart.

During this time, I had a new born daughter to support so I was working at a grocery store as well as taking 5 classes a semester. I convinced myself that no real company would hire me if I didn’t have my degree, why should I even try to get out of this store? But something inside me told myself, the worst thing that will happen is I’ll be still working at the grocery store, what’s there to lose? I applied everywhere. Places that were hiring, that weren’t hiring, I had 6 variations of my resume. One for different job functions like programmer or help desk or desktop support and the list goes on. I knew that I had to break into the tech field somehow and with no programming experience, it probably won’t be from a development gig. Eventually, I find myself thinking of how I can show an employer I am competent enough to touch his computers. Great idea! Get your A+ certification and all the companies will want you. To my dismay, I failed the second test. Studying for weeks and I pass that damned test.

One of the companies I applied to directly, Northeast Utilities (now Eversource), called me for an interview for a technology internship. They liked me and invited me to come in for an in person interview. Most of the questions that they gave were not very technical but I expressed my desire to be a developer to them extensively. We part ways and I give a 24 hour waiting period before I send a thank you email. Some people prefer to immediately after the interview but sending a delayed email creates a frame of power in your interactions that discourages neediness and assuming your interview was memorable, they will spend 2 days thinking about you. The first day during your interview and the next day after you so keenly remembered all the details of the conversation and would be honored to bestow your magical technical abilities onto their company in a way that will benefit the company as well as yourself. Just like when interacting with someone of the opposite sex, don’t be needy.

Within 1 hour of sending the thank you email, I received an offer letter.

Lessons learned so far:

  • Do not think you have to work an internship through your school, applying directly to postings make you stand out.
  • Utilizing common computer skills every millenial has, you can break into the industry though tech support.
  • Don’t assume you will like a certain area of study until you try it.
  • Always write a thank you email after an interview.

Thanks for reading! This is the first part of my entrance into the tech industry. More to follow.

Don’t watch the clock; do what it does. Keep going. — Sam Levenson