Saturday, April 26

The Albany Tech Market - Part I

Per Michael's (@catalyst? not sure which Michael) request, here's my take on the tech job scene in the Capital District.

Permit me some background. I grew up 45 minutes north of here, in a town called Queensbury, literally living on the edge of the Adirondack Park.

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I was a geek in a decidedly non-technical area. Around 7th or 8th grade, I started getting ideas about software consulting. Around the age of 15 or 16, in 1994/1995, I'd picked up enough JavaScript, HTML and Photoshop that I tried my hand at web freelancing. I did about a half dozen simple sites, encountered client payment issues, had business disputes with my partner -- my brother -- froze some accounts, abandoned the sole proprietorship, and moved to Rochester for college.

The next nine years I was in Rochester. By the end of my sophomore year I was no longer focused on RIT, but working in the field. I'd returned one summer to work a co-op position with Adirondack Technologies, Inc. -- one of the first large-ish web design and hosting firms in the area. By the end of that summer (1998? 1999?), I'd secured my first fulltime job offer, with Meridian Technology Group, back in Rochester as an ASP "web engineer".

From there, at the age of 19, with no degree, I hopped to a Xerox contract, to an IBM contract, to what turned into a year-long 1099 contract with a startup, subcontracted to Global Crossing. Got laid off a month after 9/11, brand new car to pay for, not-cheap apartment rent, etc. etc., and started freelancing again. After six months I took an underpaid, but fulltime w/ benefits, job with one of my clients, Northern Air Technologies.

Six months later I landed a job as "associate webmaster"/technical lead with the Democrat & Chronicle -- one of the earliest non-NYC/LA/DC newspapers with a website, and someplace I'd had my eye on for years. Now, I wasn't hunting at the time, having only been with Northern Air as a direct employee for six months, but a resume I had shotgunned out some time in the distant past had, in fact, been retained -- maybe those "we'll keep you on file, thanks for applying" rejection letters AREN'T all outright lies. After we fired the douchebag, scotched-up, smoked-up webmaster, all such duties fell to me.

I spent a little over three years at the D&C, doing small bits of freelance here and there along the way. Eventually I got fed up with the "the internet is a necessary evil" and "let's cut payroll and use corporate boilerplate rather than write our own code" attitudes that pervaded that institution. A new director came in, with no respect for, nor apparent desire to make use of, my skills. I ended up walking out, after losing my office, after losing the interesting work I used to do there -- I used to be the guy writing the kick-ass, avant garde, bleeding edge code that the rest of the corp used as boilerplate -- after losing any respect I had for the place or a good majority of the people in it. (ID, Jamie, Mike, Rich E, Julie, Nick, Stacia, Ian, Corinne, Karl, Anne, nothing but respect for YOU all, but the rest can die in a fire, especially the cold-fish, man-boy director who can't shut up about his allegedly brilliant daughter. Get over it! Sorry buddy, but those same irrelevant IQ tests I took too, and I scored higher. Too bad I never had the right moment to shatter your beliefs with that fact.) One thing the experience DID afford me was the opportunity to start converting some ASP code into ASP.NET/VB.NET.

I did my first .NET (C#) contract at that time, RnD'g and prototyping a cell-based, IP-centric, no-wires-required, web-viewable "security camera". A month or so into that consulting job, I took my second contract with Xerox. I LOVED it there -- I learned a ton about .NET, got exposed to Scrum, got exposure to all the latest and greatest tech, we had great hardware, all the stuff that comes of working in the software arm of Xerox Global Services. Unfortunately I'd totally goofed on negotiating my rate, and wasn't entirely happy with the situation.

Over the years, I'd occasionally looked for jobs in Albany, eager to return to someplace closer to family. My brother had recently taken a new job, and I felt motivated to start looking at Albany again myself. A day or two after I started looking, I got an inquiry for a job with a place that grows animals for testing purposes. EPIC FAIL -- and I told the recruiter exactly that.

Fortunately within 24 hours, he put something else in front of me -- an opportunity with Davis Vision, Inc. They were looking to migrate from .NET 1.1 to 2.0, they have an enterprise remoting services architecture, and, as I was to learn, they have some truly excellent, wonderful, friendly, caring people in their employ. The recruiter asked if I could do an interview later that week, and it just so happened I was going to be in the area for my mom's birthday and mom and dad's anniversary. How could I say no?

The interview went pretty awesomely. I'd say I interviewed them more than they interviewed me -- and I can't stress enough, if you're going to find a position that is truly right for you, YOU must interview the company as much as they interview you, if not more. Besides which, with you doing the "interviewing," I think it's a lot easier for your personality and skills to come through. It cuts through a lot of the rigmarole and bs.

Davis was kind enough to hold the position for me through September, when the first release of the project I was on at Xerox was due. I returned to the area in September 2006, almost exactly 9 years to the day that I'd left for Rochester.

/background. I appreciate your patience! To be continued ...


Unknown said...

A lot of good points in this post in particular the point that one needs to interview the company. It seems as if there is a lot of companies in the tech valley that hire for .NET. How might one go about a relocation? Some companies can shy away from a relocation candidate or from someone who has to commute far.

Andrew Badera said...

Relocation. Well, most companies, in my experience, are open to candidates who are looking to relocate, if 1) the company is not on the hook for reloc expenses and 2) the candidate is able to be in the area in time to meet whatever the project timeline is looking like.

That said, a lot of companies will make exceptions or stretch timelines if the candidate is qualified enough and/or just the right fit. Good candidates are hard to come by. Great candidates are few and far between.