Under Preparation for Job Interviews

“If they don’t like me for who I am, then I don’t want to work for them either,” said the job applicant. Seriously?

Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty.– Theodore Roosevelt

Bad resume is the first mistake. The list of jobs in the standard reverse chronological order adds little value. Not getting fired is a valuable skill, but not really marketable. Hiring managers are interested in your productive skills and expertise, preferably the proof of them, not just the claim. For example, just saying you are “a Database Engineer for 5 years” is bad. “Implemented data query” is better. “Designed new algorithm to improved query performance by 35%” is much better.

What were your proudest accomplishments in recent jobs and personal life? What were your direct contributions and the differences you made? Was is your judgment, unique skills, or some of your personality traits? Can you describe them in one minute and also in five? Rehearse both the 1- and 5-minute versions out loud, preferably in front of an audience. Tell the story with an opening and end with a punch line.

If you are a manager, have several “war stories” on people management, budgeting, cross-departmental negotiation, and upward management.

It is OK to bring notes. Interviewers appreciate well prepared candidates. Everyone wants the time spent to be productive, at least entertaining.

Ask who are to interview you: name, position, his/her place in the organization. Google them, search them in social media and news, make notes. What’s the role you are interviewing for? What’re the sales, competitors, and recent announcements? Who is at the top of that business? Are you generally knowledgeable? Much preferably, do you have some insights on this business?

This may be a seller’s market and a talent, such as yourself, merely need to choose among the best suiters. Wrong! The best job in the best company always attract the best candidates and, for that, it is always the buyer’s market. You are always competing with someone equally, or better, talented as yourself. If you don’t prepare, study, rehearse, or practice, there is really nothing better will come your way. No matter how good is the job market for the talents. Remember what Roosevelt said. Does Steph Curry practice shooting? Do you know any author who does not edit his works? Or any singer who does not rehearse?

Job hunting is a skill. All skills require practicing. It’s always good to acquire skills before you need them. Whether you are “not really looking” has nothing to do with acquiring a job hunting skill.

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Getting to know Carole King, again.

I have never heard of Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann. But I knew many songs they wrote, and I bet you too. This is the bane of pop composers, people only knew the songs or singers, but not the song writers. And I did not know that Carole King started her career as one. Carole who? We geezers knew her as the combined of Taylor Swift and Adele in the early 1970s.

Some Kind of Wonderful was a song for her daughter. You’ve Got a Friend was for Cynthia and Barry when she was moving to California. I knew these songs well, yet they touched me deeper when I heard them again in this musical. Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow was sung twice under very different moods. I honestly have never heard of Carole King’s husband, let alone he being her lyricist in the early days.

Mike said, in FB, that he and Linda were both big fans. I reflected that our “musical ages” are about the same — referencing pop music affiliation follow closely with ages. Anecdotally, the audience proved this theory that they seemed to be the same age group. And, like me, sang along or smiled when some songs stroke some long forgotten strings in our hearts.

Sigh, since when I go to a concert to remember my youthful days?

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I Belonged to You

Back in 2012, a Chinese conglomorate acquired the AMC theaters. Dalian Wanda (大連萬達)group became the world’s largest cinema chain. Most of us have been oblivious on this event and went our merry ways watching movies, or whatever. Then, one day, Wife suggested that we go see this one. “Sure,” I said, really more out of curiosity.

It was a touching movie set in the western city of ChongQing, a hilly city. Three couples struggled the daily grinds and tried to find love and meaning of lives. The tragedy heaet-felt, the acting very well, and the play well written. I liked the movie, even as a romantic chick flick.

It was in Chinese with English sub-title. The whole theater, a weekend matinee show, has total of 7 viewers. I needed to search in Chinese to find the poster picture.

The movie really explored the singular topic of “What do women really want?” And, of course, the flip side of the coin, “What can a man give to her?” I went out of the theater thinking of this for several days. For that, the movies worked. Of course, I really should have written this blog in Chinese, since I really don’t recommend it for my American friends.

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Sunshine is the Best Disinfestant

Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman. by Louis D. Brandeis

I used to help Mother airing the comforters, particularly during a sunny winter day. Back then, our comforters were universally cotton filled. I loved going to the comforter maker’s shop. There would be a large flat surface laid with cotton. The master carried a big bow that arched over to the other end of the surface, probably 10 feet over. With the tout string hovering right above the cotton bed, he would strike the string with a wooden hammer. Each strike produced a sound, like a poorly harmonized harp. The vibration loosened the cotton to become puffier. This went on until the cotton bed looked like nothing other than clouds on earth. The master then pressed it down, packed it with a thin cover, and finished a new comforter core.

The puffiness gradually faded and the comforter became damp, heavy, and moldy. Sunny day would finally come. Mom would call out and every kids held up their comforters like a body-sized stuffed toy. We would spread them for maximal exposure to the sun. We would have beat up the comforters with sticks, flipped them over, and repeated. At the end, they would have smelled like sun and felt warm and puffy all over again.

A friend’s face always displayed rashes like a pumpkin, particularly around the eyes and mouth. For decades, he searched for the causes and remedies which included a vast dietary regimes: to no avail. Several months ago, with excitement, he established strong link between his rash episodes with dust mites.

Then he found a device that rid dust mites — a multi-hundred dollar wand-shaped apparatus promised to kill dust mites instantaneously. Weekly, he religeously worked his pillows, linens, and blankets. The effects was miraculous. His face became normal.

It was a ultra-violet light wand. It turned out dust mites cannot survive the exposure to ultra-violet light for just a few seconds. My friend now travels with this device and does his routine for every new beds before he lies on it.

Hmm, guess Mom knew better. Those sun shone comforters were not only puffy, they were also clean. Sunshine was the best dis-infestant. Free too.

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Indentured Servitude

Why would anyone in modern high-tech society even consider to be the employment side of indentured servitude? For money, power, and greed, of course.

Over a dinner conversation, I learned, first-handedly, that a company just erected a policy that they would not enter the permanent residence process in less than a year after an employee has obtained his or her H1B visa.

Having the H1B visa is a critical step in obtaining permanent resicence in the US. USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, formerly INS) granted these visa by lottery. Statistically, about 30% of the applicants received this status. (233,000 applied for 65,000 quota. There are another 20,000 for people with advanced degrees.) So an aspiring high-tech worker needs to manage to stay in the US for possibly 3 years to get this visa.

From the immigrating worker’s point of view, this company’s policy essentially lock him in for 2 to 4 years: enter the country with another working visa, wait for the April H1B lottery, wait a year to start the process. If did not get the visa, wait another year to try again. During these years, he basically cannot change job. If he got fired, deportation came swiftly. Simply put, this policy is a form of indentured servitude. It incites only bitterness.

And it is completely not necessary. For the rest of the employees, majority of them, the employer must manage their growth, pay them fairly, and provide a productive working environment lest losing them to other companies. Employees generally change job only when mis-managed. Treating some of them as slaves is not good management.

My general practice is treating the sponsoring of immigration process like any large, one-time benefit expenditure, such as relocation expense reimbursement or tuition reimbursement. The employee, in exchange of the receiving the benefit, must agree to stay for a duration of time (typically a year), otherwise, he or she must pay it back.

The difference between slavery and a contractual agreement is in the fairness of those options that either side to exercise.

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The Mirepoix Experiment

Making mirepoix (meer-pwah) seems to be the fundamental skill for every self-respecting cooks. Alas and unashamed, I am not one. Then came the day, Wife far away, I thought to make myself a hearty soup. What was that flavor-base with a French sounding name? Google came through with both the right word and the general instructions. (This is a fine application of voice-based searching. “Alexa, how to make mye-roe-qua?” “To make mirepoix, you start with…”

I first chopped one onion, finely. Then I eyeballed carrots and celery to roughly half in volume. Turned on the stove and throw in onions and carrots and started to sweat them. When the onion became translucent, I threw in celery and garlic (just because) and simply stir them once in a while until the celery was soft. This completed the mirepoix, a flavor and aromatic base.

I needed a meal. So I poured water to cover, threw in tomato, potato, and tofu. Boiled them for about 10 minutes, threw in some pre-cooked beef, added chopped basil, and I had a stew. Hearty and delicious.

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Samaria Trilogy

Kid recommended #2 of this series. I have the general practice of always start the series from #1. So I ended up reading all three. Technically, Sharon Shinn has 5 books based on the Samaria settings. Unlike myself, readers should just read Jovah’s Angel, the #2 and the best one of this series.

Samaria was a continent of a planet far, far away. The people there were descendants of us earthlings millions of years from now. Somehow, in addition to races, they had a new species of angels. Yes, wings, flying, and gorgeous looking. Angels can interbreed with humans and, except for the wings, were pretty much the same as humans. They also had great voice and were very musically inclined. The God generally heeded angels’ prayers, typically delivered singing, for weather control.

For Samaria, God chose an Archangel to rule the world every 20 years or so. Like human rulers, these archangels varied in their charisma, political views, and general agenda for the world. There was no telling how God made his/her choices. Alleluia became the archangel under the most unusual circumstances.

Yes, Sharon Shinn seemed to like female protagonist. Maybe that’s why Kid liked it.

Spoiler Alert

It is not really a new concept for a computer to act as God for the world under-neath. It is interesting those “settlers” to genetically engineer angel and use their enhanced acoustic skills, and the ability to fly up to be closer to the orbiting computer, to act as the intermediary to God. Other than those abilities, these angels were as human as the rest of the population: corruptible, ambitious, and all other banes.

Alleluia, with the help of an engineer, found out the truth and had a decision to make. For those culturally less advanced than medieval, the concept of not having a god and an advanced computer were both controversial and difficult.

The protagonists of the series all being female was interesting. It appeared that Sharon Shinn could give them characters depth easier than those male parts. Other than this, the futuristic social themes were really simplistic: commerce, culture, slavery, and political power.

The description for the singing was interesting. Sharon Shinn depicted the sound almost as painting. I suspect she herself to be an accomplished singer, probably classical instead of pop.

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1,500-Mile Road Trip

We started from Northern California, and visited Lassen Volcanic National Park, Crater Lake, Columbia Gorge, Washington Pacific shore, Washington State Capitol, and arrived at Seattle in the end. It was a long drive. We were tired at the end and yet wished the trip was longer.

Day 1: Getting to Redding

It was the drive day. We left around noon and reached Redding around dinner time. The hotel front-desk recommended a local Mexican restaurant that was cozy, delicious, and satisfying.

Day 2: Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lassen is about an hour away from Redding. We entered from the North entrance, hiked around Manzanita Lake (pictured), stopped by few places to hike or just walk-about. After about 3 hours, we traversed the same route back to Redding. Had we stayed at Red Bluff, we could have entered from the south, exited from north, and passed through Redding for the next stop.
Manzanita Lake

In less than 30 minutes from Redding, we came to Shasta Lake (really a dam). We lingered around for about 45 minutes and continue to Mt. Shasta City and straight to the City Park where we were surprised with a local picnic concert. Dinner was at the picnic tables listening to a local rock band with beer in-hand. Probably a hundred or so reveled around us or just lazed in the lawn with their dogs. Carefree kids (and young adults) were running bare-foot, some with ice-cream in-hand. We did not really see the mountain at the park, but it was a good stop.

About 90 minutes later, we arrived at Klamath Falls, OR, to stay for the night.

Day 3: Crater Lake

Crater Lake

This was the main attraction of the trip. The goal was to circle the lake. I budgeted 4 hours for this 35-mile loop. We arrived at the south entrance at 9am, and went counter-clockwise. The first stop was Pinnacle Peak. It was a easy stroll for the scene that seemed alien to this world. We came back to Plaikni Falls for an easy 2-mile hike along the well-paved trail. Afterward, we pretty much just drove along the rim roads and stopped at whatever Kodak points seemed interesting. The Phantom Ship and Watchman’s Point were clearly the must-sees. The rest were simply different view points of this magnificent lake.

Were I able to stay at Crater Lake Lodge, I would have made this a full-day stay for a couple of longer hikes. Campers will find very good facilities with firewood already split and staked near-by.

Even at 1:30pm, the nice restaurant at the Lodge had a 1-hour wait. We went to the Rim Cafe for a quick bite and went on to Columbia Gorge.

We pulled into Columbia Gorge Hotel around 7:30pm hoping for a nice dinner with a view. But the sun has already set too much. The dinner was very enjoyable. We went back to The Dalles to stay the night.

A supposedly light day ended up activity-packed. This Gorge is really a historical and cultural area. Expect rich local culture and activities surrounded by the grand expanse of river and gorge views.

We lingered at the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center for a couple of hours, even strolled to the back side to have a look at the river. Next, we ventured on several stops along the Fruit Loop near Hood River. Mt. Hood Winery sold us several bottles of their own Pinot Noir (both red and white!). Apple Valley Country Store provided us with fruits and pies.

For lunch, we ate at the famous Full Sail Brewery. Good beers, good foods!

We then drove along the historical Route 30 and stopped by several waterfalls. The largest one is Multnomah Falls which offered a good hike up to the head. Those falls invited us to linger around. At the end, we stopped by the windy Vista House and enjoyed the panorama view of the gorge.
Astoria Bridge

At around 3:30pm, we headed to Astoria, skipping Portland. There was heavy traffic along the road, so we arrived at Cannery Pier Hotel around 7pm for a brief stop. Driving through the Astoria-Megler Bridge was a thrilling experience. There was this steep down-slope stretch that felt like you are diving into the water from mid-air.

Around 7:30pm, we reached our resting place in Long Beach, WA. Adrift Hotel has a nice restaurant on the 4th floor, Pickled Fish. We ate while watching the sun sinking below the ocean.

Day 5: WA State Capitol

Long Beach

The morning began with a nice stroll along the famed beach then we went for a very big breakfast at Laurie’s. After a quick fish-n-chip at Aberdeen, we went straight to Olympia where I peeked into the Senate’s chamber and found no session. The Capitol Garden had this sunken garden with Dahlia in full bloom and many more flowers.

The trip ended with a dinner at Ding Tai Fung, we were both hungry and tired and glad to be sleeping in our own beds, first time in 5 days.

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Managing Creativity

As I mature into management, I read less and less books about them. Most discuss a vigorous process which requires a transformation of the whole company. I don’t know any CEO who has such conviction; I am not one anyway.

Ed Catmull has been a giant in 3D graphics and my hero. I, of course, drew from Foley & van Dam and other classic books. But it was him and Pixar that inspired us at SIGGRAPH, the annual mecca for computer graphics practiioners. I was there when their short films debuted.

He wrote this book as his humble learning process to figure out how to succeed in a creative industry. He contrasted Pixar with Disney Animation, a creative power-house that lost its marbles. He then re-invigored Disney back to its glory that made Frozen.

Software development, what I do, is also a creative business. I, too, struggled to figured out how to made high-quality software, and to come on-budget, on-time, and on-spec at the same time. The secret, it also seemed, is to have a creativity vigor — latch onto a reasonable, not necessary great, idea, then work every mundane days to polish it into a great piece. Creativity is not about sitting idly to wait for the light-bulb moment; it is about taking candid inputs and working hard: struggling, pushing, and fighting hard to get the job done. Inspirations, or ideas, are easy and cheap. The skills to finish the piece are the key to innovation or creativity.

I enjoyed, equally, the history and the managerial wisdom from Creativity, Inc. and was sad to realize how many times myself, or someone I knew, fell into the traps he managed to escape or avoid. His tenet resonated with me that creativity, those high-quality ones, is fundamentally unpredictable. Allowing and even treasuring failures, not punishing them, is part of the deal.

I wanted to buy this book for all my managers.

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Let’s be like Swiss

A young man, long time acquaintance, talked about his recent 6-week Switzerland stay. He talked about the spotless cleanliness, the high-quality and near free public transportation, the harmonic social order, and the excellent welfare system. It is an exemplary government that others should learn from.

“It is a relatively small country,” I said. “What’s the secret that their citizens are so much more productive than other countries’?” My friend pondered, “It’s not their citizens are better. They are the bank of the world. So much money flows into Switzerland, so profitable.” “Oh, so it is like Alaskans getting money from the state,” I said. “The productivity is basically natural resources. For Switzerland, it is a WWII era strategy that is still paying off for the country. Handsomely!” He nodded. We both thought, “Can this be duplicated?”

Governments, big and small, wish to give citizens what they want: high-quality life-style and even better ones for their descendants. Other than Bhutan, GDP per capita seems strongly correlated to the “life-style” ask. Boosting GDP, therefore, becomes the goal. (It’s easier than distributing the wealth. Enter tickle-down theory.) History showed that productivity is fundamentally a function of natural resources, population, and geography. What can a country do? Most are stuck with these factors.

Government can also just print money and give citizens the illusion of better income. Many did just that. Printing money is government borrowing money from its own citizens. It is an illusion of wealth. That’s our own money from the future.

If you cannot afford it now, you won’t in the future. Boosting global competitiveness is the only way to improve general quality of life for the long-term. This is particularly true for smaller countries — Singapore, Korea, Taiwan, etc. — that rely more on global competitiveness to survive.

Learn from Greece.

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