My Voice – The Daily Rant!

Reinventing myself – Getting employed in hard times

Being laid off in an economically depressed economy is a bummer! It’s especially a f@#&ing bummer when your expertise lies in a machine and its technology that is being slowly replaced and you’re old enough to remember when you were a single teen and saw the Beatles in live concert! (Ok the math may not be exact but you get the picture!) And when the windows of opportunity that were plentiful in all industries that used this particular technology are now are drying up! The only industries that can be found are mostly in the manufacturing, distribution, and waste management industries and in no great numbers!

Such was my dilemma when I left NATCO,  which was bought out by another downstream oil patch company,  on that cold, dark day in November of 2011.  (OK this is Houston so it wasn’t that cold!)

Temporarily bolstered by the generous severance package and a few or so promising job opportunities and future interviews, I assured myself that my future looked bright as an AS400 professional. Most AS400 professionals were also in my age bracket at least I know that there were very few less than say 45. My plans included the eventual migration into a job career less dependent on the AS400 but at the time I hadn’t figured out how to make that transition.

The promising jobs I anticipated and applied for, however, did not come to light. I interviewed with several positions prior to my departure from the downstream company that I worked for (formerly NATCO) but the positions were back-burnered because of the worsening economy before I could secure one of them.  And to add salt into my unemployed wounds, I sent out 10, ten, emails to the 10, ten, IT managers at the company that I was working for that bought out NATCO, explaining my seven, 7, years experience with the company and my need for employment. I expected SOME kind of reply! But, no! Nothing! Nada! Nun-ca! Nine! (I think that’s German for NO!) I did not get a reply from ANYONE of those 10 IT managers. I even sent it out again! Still NO REPLY!

Well apparently this company surely did NOT want me t continue imparting my knowledge and working for them! But they did pay for my $42, 000 + tuition for me to get my Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration with a 3.814 GPA thank you very much!

After four months of having my hopes for employment as a Senior Programmer/Analyst dashed upon the rocks after countless interviews that failed to produce any employment results, I was downtrodden. I knew now that in order to survive now and into the future I had to be very determined and reinvent myself.

A colleague of mine kept telling me that I was more that a programmer. That I should apply for “other” positions, and that I could perform many different positions that required an analyst, or planner, or working with people.

Finally, after toying with the idea of marketing myself differently, the thought struck me one boring, summer’s day to market myself as a Business Analyst. I rearranged my resume, expounded on my analytical  capabilities, experience, and education (with my 3.81 GPA and Bachelor’s in Business Administration); and mentioned my programming as an additional  experience with less emphasis. I knew I had to keep the programming experiences in my resume, because that was the original foundation of my IT career, but a programmer analyst performs the same analytical process’ and design documentation, user interviews, and training that a business analyst performs, except I did the programming as well. So it is very safe to downplay the programming  side, and emphasize the analyst side.  My personality was also that of a BA. I could work comfortably with anyone from warehouse worker to CEO.

With those changes, and a few key Business Analyst buzz words salted throughout my resume, alaka-zam alaka-boom a Business Analyst is born! And with this birth, my job opportunities went to 1,000 to 1 versus a senior programmer/analyst tied on an AS400!

Having now shed the AS400 millstone from my neck and assuming a Senior Business Analyst role, my world was an oyster!

I visited MODIS, a placement service, by invitation from one of the recruiters who saw my re-engineered resume on one of the job posting sites, and invited me to his office for a discussion into what I was looking for in my new career path.

After the formal introductions and establishing both of us as United States war veterans, him in the Iraq war theater and me in Viet Nam, we sat down and discussed in earnest my new employment status.

I told him of the metamorphous that I went through, from and ugly RPG programmer to a beautiful Business Analyst. He thoughtfully read through the fresh copy of my resume that I provided him, which was “tweaked” a little more from the one he copied off the web portal.

After a few pondering moments he looked up and exclaimed, “Barry, you are the “perfect storm” of a Business Analyst that companies are looking for!”

The quizzical look ran across my face launched him into a deeper explanation.

“You have been a developer for years, and companies like that experience and sometimes demand that their Business Analyst have at least some background in IT especially as a programmer or a developer. It gives the BA the savvy to be able to communicate with the IT developers and translate between business language and terms and IT developer language and terms.  As a programmer analyst you had it all covered!” said Ralf rather excitedly.

“Also you have a Bachelor’s in Business Administration with a concentration in Business Analyst (Ok that was a “tweak”!) and a 3.81 GPA. (That isn’t a “tweak”!). Budding Business analyst fresh from college with a GPA below a 3.5 usually find it difficult to secure an interview in today’s demanding business world. (That I didn’t know!). You have checks in all the boxes for being a top-notch business analyst!” he caught his breath and continued his absolutely wonderful assessment of my talents.

“You also have the personality for a Business Analyst, for I can see you have no problems at all in communicating with strangers.  I am sure that people have told you that you are comfortable to talk to and that you make people feel at ease.”  I nodded my acknowledgement to that truth.

“The ONLY reason you are not currently employed is because it’s between June 1st and September 1st; right dead in the middle of summer when most of the hiring managers are out on vacation.” he concluded with a broad smile.

All of this bolstered my ego and convinced me that I was “tweaking” my new career path correctly. Just a “tweak” to free me from the constraints of a technology that was so good to me for years but now was a encumbrance to my finding a viable, continuous, earning path. It had taken me six to eight months each time I had been laid off. Fortunately, each of those lay-offs offered enough severance that I was able to weather the unemployment. Except the one time in 2003 after my mother died, I had to use my inheritance for survival instead of using it for other things. But I suppose that God still allowed me to survive.

Each of those layoffs when I expected to get a new position soon, and was hoping be able to bank MOST of the severance or my inheritance never worked out. We always almost ran broke before I would secure another position. Not to mention that the cause for my severance with these companies was four out of five times,  the sale of the company or in one instance the moving the programming to Java from RPG.

IT has become such a varied and segmented industry, that is many positions that may have had multiple responsibilities in the past,  have split into multiple positions. Usually one position for each responsibility. And these new responsibilities have grown to full-time positions in today’s business world.  IT is no longer the dark little room with a few people running computers, but the area of the company, that without IT, the company could not survive.

IT managers became directors, and directors became CIOs.  The whole structure of IT is multilayered now where when I first entered into this career consisted of a programmer, operator and manager.

Where I would normally have been the programmer analyst at a company, that company now usually has a Business Analyst, a programmer, and sometimes multiple Business Analyst on for each business unit.

During this latest endeavor, however, I had a false start and a brain fart when my first position was offered to this budding Business Analyst. I was offered a six month contract position with possible renewals with NRG for a BA position documenting a solar cell manufacturer of home solar energy systems company produced and sold to the public. NRG purchased this company but had no idea of the process and my job would have been to document the process by Visio and other MS Office products. However I was simultaneously interviewing for a permanent managers position with Westbrook Manufacturing way out on the east end of town.

During this process, I wrongly concluded that a permanent position trumped a contract position.  Well in today’s business world, that I have been out of for seven years, most positions start as being a six month contract to hire position. Even then, if it does not culminate into a full time position, if the management likes a contract employee’s performance, then the possibility of another six month extension is possible.

My ex-boss from Grinnell validated that position when he told me that he was on his 10th renewal of a six month contract with Rolls Royce.  He further told me that the six months to perm was pretty much now a corporate standard used to assess new employees. Within this time frame they can release an employee and not be responsible for unemployment compensation.  It’s a little tedious for the employee but usually the contract rate gives the employee a chance to save some cash in case his contract does not mature to a permanent position with the company.

NRG offered me the contract position before Westbrook made their decision.  They were fussing about a misspelled word on a thank you email. However, once I announced to my handler of the Westbrook opportunity that I accepted the NRG position explaining a “bird in the hand…” he notified Westbrook and I was contacted by their CFO/SVP. Anyway, I reneged on the NRG contract and made the bad choice of taking the horrible position at the very unprofessional, rude, and horrifying Westbrook Manufacturing which lasted only two months and I was out again on the streets of the internet looking for a job.

I applied for every Business Analyst position that I thought I could handle, but to no avail. I was marooned in the doldrums of summer when hiring managers go on vacation, and hiring almost ceases until the fall, or when school starts again.

Then, when my hopes were all but dashed to the rocks, and I thought I would be homeless within months,  received an email out of the blue from a local placement service, and all that was on it was Business Analyst position available. Interested? Call me! The person’s name and number to call was at the bottom of the email.

Intrigued, I immediately called the number and spoke to Diane. She was the “handler” for the account and she had no job description, except for the title, business analyst. Intrigued, and a little desperate, I emailed her my newly reformatted resume that I had been skillfully crafting that emphasized and brought my BA talents to the forefront and generalized a little my programming experiences.

I got a phone interview and a signal from my handler (the recruiting agent) that a face to face interview was eminent!  In the meantime, however, I had a very good interview with David Weekley Homes (DWH) for a Senior Programmer/Analyst position on and AS400 running JD Edwards, heavily modified to fit their business.

I telephoned and then personally interviewed with Houston International Insurance Group (HIIG) with the CIO, and then with his PMO, which was PDQ and I was expecting an offer ASAP.  I was told by my handler of this account that they were very interested in me but they wanted me to interview with the CEO and their accounting lead.  So I waited for that appointment to be set.

However, DWH offered me the position of Senior Programmer/Analyst with a six month contract to perm position and a POSSIBILITY that if the AS400 development side wound down, then I could maybe, possibly, be moved into another area of the company.

Well I again applied the “bird in hand…” reasoning to my situation. I have an offer with DWH but am awaiting a final interview with HIIG for the position I REALLY wanted, a Business Analyst position. If I did not accept the DWH offer and for whatever reason, flunked the interview with HIIG, then I would again just be on the internet streets looking for a job with alarmingly dwindling resources.

Well again, on Monday the 30th of August, I accepted the DWH position after the constant urging from my Robert Half handlers preaching the “bird in hand…” oration to me.  And without a doubt, they wanted to please their client and grab that nice fat commission that I am sure is not as frequent in the economy as it is today.  I relented, and agreed to start with DWH the following Monday, August the 6th. My decision was with a heavy heart since it was not the career path I wanted to continue, but at that time it was necessary for me to have some way continue an income stream.

But once Ahmad, the CIO for HIIG heard of my acceptance for employment with DWC, he called me and expressed his disappointment that I was not going to take the final interview that was planned for 1:00 pm the following day, Tuesday, August 31. He assured me that they could do financially better once I was accepted and employed by HIIG.  He urged me to take the meeting saying I was the one he wanted for the BA position, and that the meeting with the CFO and the accountants was merely a formality and a courtesy to their position and rank with the company.

The interviews went swimmingly! Ahmad called me about an hour after I interviewed with the accounting group, and asked me how I felt about it. I told him I was excited and really wanted to work for him. He told me he would check around and get back to me.

About an hour after his call, the PMO, Patricia called me and offered me the job. I was elated, excited, and needless to say very pleased. I just had to call Robert Half and renege, on the DWH employment acceptance.   I swallowed my pride and had to listen to my “handler” there chastise me about accepting the position and then reneging, and how that makes THEM look bad. I retorted saying that it was MY career, MY life, and that I was going to do what offered the best for my family and I’s future!  But, I said this in a calm and rational manner, thanked the Robert Half “handler” for his help and ended the call. Ya know, I absolutely HATE it when some idiot is so concerned about losing his damn commission, and is not in tuned with the needs, wants, and aspirations of his client.

On a post note to this, I was called by my Robert Half handler wanting to know if I knew of any AS400 programmers with JD Edwards experience. I seems like he just filled a role like that and then received another request for another AS400 JDE programmer with the same talents.

And on a post, post, note, I got ANOTHER call from a head hunter looking for someone to fill the IT manager position at Westbrook Manufacturing the shit hole company that I left in June. Seems like, regardless of what Westbrook management says, I AM better than a Fifth Grader!

I am now happily employed at HIIG as a Business Analyst. Being a BA vs. an AS400 Programmer/Analyst means that I only have to do half of the job I did before and that there is a 1,000 to 1 ration of jobs as a BA as compared to a SPA on that down trodden machine. I enter into a new era of my career! Like was said over, and over on Galaxy Quest with Tim Allen, “Never give up, never surrender!”



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