Status quo: maintained

Ahh, what a year so far. I've lost hundreds in Vegas, been in a car accident, gotten a speeding ticket for driving 65 mph in a 55 mph zone, and also lost my job due to federal budget cuts. And today, I had a job interview with my parent company, for a different job than the one I currently work, in which I do contract work at a different company's building where I have an office, but still get paid by my parent company. (NOTE: This could only happen in Washington.)

The interview was set for 11 a.m. in lovely Reston, Virginia. ("Reston" being Cherokee for "Land of the Great Boxy Office Park.") During the night, I dreamt about snowboarding. When I woke up, I was surprised to see daylight coming through the window. Then I looked at my alarm clock: 11:40 a.m.! Holy shit! I had somehow overslept (even more than usual) right through the interview! Even if I called my interviewer and made up a lame excuse about car trouble or something, I would still have been 40 minutes late reporting. Disappointed, I threw up my hands in disgust and fumed about costing myself a valuable opportunity for employment.

Oh, wait: then I woke up for real. That whole oversleeping thing was part of my dream. It was actually 7 a.m. I was so mad at my stupid subconscious that I couldn't get back to sleep. (In fact, I'm still mad. FUCK YOU SUBCONSCIOUS! We're officially not on speaking terms. Not that I guess we ever were.) Back in real life, I managed to arrive at the interview site a good 40 minutes early, and sat around in the parking lot for half an hour. Then I chatted for a good five minutes with the receptionist about Tina Louise, a.k.a. Ginger on Gilligan's Island, and whether she really thought she had the star power to exceed Bob Denver and Jim Backus in celebrity.

Then, when the actual interview started, I realized I had forgotten something important about computer programming interviews: they always spring little pop quizzes on you to see how much you know.

This can be highly nerve-racking. There are few worse feelings in the world than standing dumb-faced in front of a whiteboard, trying to solve a problem and prove you're not an idiot fishing for a job out of his league, while an interviewer watches and waits and waits and tallies up your "stupid points". (I made up that part about the stupid points.) And it didn't help that the interviewers were giving me: math-related pop quizzes. (Dun DUN DUNNNNNN musical stinnnnnng!)

Oh, the horror. The. Horror.

I realize that, as a computer scientist, the word "scientist" in my job title might give the impression I know something about math. When, in fact, I really don't. Math is not something I've have to use on a regular basis; that's for my programs to figure out. I may look up and program an equation, but I certainly don't feel the need to remember it after the fact or learn how to calculate it myself. The last actual math class I took was a calculus course as a freshman 10 years ago. I got a C. I can write good, I can design, I can program. Notsomuch with the math.

So when they started asking me about differential equations, I started to panic a little. Usually I'm a good interview; I come in prepared with resumes and samples of my work, ready to talk myself up and appear to act interested in the work and the people I'm meeting. In this case, I had little to no idea going in what the job entailed; it was arranged by people in the company yesterday. When I get asked about things I can't remember, such as differential equations, it throws me off my game. I vaguely recalled x^2 (x-squared) magically becoming 2x, or something. I was not able to give an answer for x^2dx.

I was heartened a bit when the interviewer said he'd had math graduates straight out of Maryland unable to answer the same question. (Then I remembered: this was Maryland he was talking about, after all. They were likely too busy making up oh-so-clever derogatory signs regarding J. J. Reddick's penis to actually do any studying.)

I did only slightly better on the next math question: if a car is traveling northeast at a velocity of 30 mph, what is the north component of its velocity? I went up to the whiteboard and started trying to use the Pythagorean theorem on the problem, but after about an eternity I figured out that was not going to work. Then, after another eternity, I realized I was going to have to use either the cosine or sine of a 45-degree angle to solve this problem. But which was which? I couldn't remember. After much prompting from the interviewer, I finally figured it out, and felt stupid for not being able to come up with the answer until well after the universe had ended. (It was 30*cos45. Whee.)

Next they gave me a programming problem, which took me another eternity to figure out, but I did solve it after much more prompting. Then, this priceless conversation:

INTERVIEWER: Have you ever worked with semaphores?
ME: (Vaguely remembering programming with semaphores in a class in 1996) Yes.
INTERVIEWER: What's a semaphore?
ME: Um... (drawing a blank) I can't remember.
MY BRAIN: (Dammit! My kingdom for a Google search!)

So after that humiliating display of mathematic and scientific ineptitude, my morale had been reduced to negative and, who knows, perhaps imaginary numbers, if I could remember what those were. I didn't have a good feeling about the interview, and was pretty sure walking out that they would be able to find a less mathematically-challenged applicant.

Which is why I was surprised when they called to offer me the job three hours later. So surprised that I said I'd do it, although I know I sounded hesitant on the phone, for a number of reasons.

First of all, the job is a military-related project, which gives me some ethical heebie-jeebies. Yeah, call me a liberal pantywaist and tell me that the military is fighting for our freedom and blah blah blah, but I know I'm not going to be able to shake the feeling that I'm using my powers for evil rather than good.

Secondly, the job is in Reston. I already feel 20 years older than I really am by working out in McLean; Reston is twice as far out into the suburbs, so now I'm going to feel 40 years older. You can really only eat at T.G.I. Friday's so many times at age 28 before you start having a mid-life crisis. (Plus, this doubles my commute from Arlington.)

Thirdly, I have a feeling the work environment is a little more conservative. Probably less time to blog and surf, and I'm likely going to have to show up on a more regular schedule (instead of strolling in around 10:30 like I tend to do now). Looks like the dress is less casual as well, rather than the jeans I'm used to. So potentially less goofing-off, but that's a minor issue.

Most importantly, I've been pining lately for something more creative and interesting that will allow me to use the left side of my brain in a professional capacity. (Is the left side the creative side? Whatever.) And this is clearly not that job. It's full of math and equations and probably enough military jargon and acronyms to make my head a splode. I doubt it will turn out to be very fulfilling for me.

So. Maybe I should have taken a little more time to think about it; still, I think I made the right decision in taking the job. The key here is that, if I find that the work is just too boring and unbearable, I can look for another job while simeultaneously having a job. And obviously that's a lot nicer than looking for work while not having a job.

The moral of the story: including the phrase "J. J. Reddick's penis" should boost my search-engine hit count considerably. Good night everybody!

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