30 December 2015

Maybe a writer is what I'm supposed to be, after all.


My novel, Journeyman, is out and starting to sell respectably well, considering it's the work of an unknown. I'm quite happy about that, and looking forward to what the next year (and next books in the series) will bring.

And it's the penultimate day of 2015. During this year, I've been looking harder than ever for some sort of employment, and every time I think I'm getting somewhere, I get knocked right back to square one.

I know what a lot of people are probably thinking, whether or not they are reading what I have to say: 'oh, but you've got a degree, why are you being so picky and claiming that you're entitled?' Well, I'm not. I've been applying for everything I think I can do, from cleaning in the early mornings, to telesales, to trainee software developer roles. Nobody will take me on, usually because either:
  1. I'm not experienced enough.
  2. My degree isn't good enough.
  3. I have a degree.


And I'm not joking. I've been volunteering at a charity shop near to where I live for something like sixteen months now, and so I've gained experience working behind a till, in the warehouse, doing deliveries, accepting donations... pretty much everything except answering phonecalls. OK, I'll grant that this isn't the most beautiful list of working experience, but it's all I've got at the moment. But will shops take me on? Will they buggery. 

As far as experience as a programmer goes, I have no professional experience because nodoby has actually let me gain any. Simple as that. As a hobbyist programmer, I've written libraries to control VT100 terminals on Unix/Linux, and once even designed an instruction set and implemented it as a crude simulator (including writing a simple assembler) over a weekend. But because they were only the experiments of a hobbyist, they don't count even slightly as being experience.


I have training as a software developer, and know about five languages fluently and could pick up others as needed very quickly. Much of what I've done, however, has been as a hobbyist, which means that software houses aren't interested. Or so it seems. And, since my honours degree is only third-class (due to mental health during my honours year and a very awkward dissertation supervisor), graduate schemes won't take me on. Conversely, apprenticeships won't take me on because I have a degree. Which means I'm between a rock and a hard place, pretty much literally.

Types of Work

What I know counts for bugger all, seriously. These are the types of work I've applied for:
  • Kitchen Assistant at a care home.
  • Telesales
  • Programmer
  • IT Technician
  • IT Helpdesk
  • Admin/data entry
  • Cleaner
I've even had interviews for most of these, but never had a job out of it. Let's take a look at why.

Kitchen Assistant: alright, this job went to a friend of mine who needed it a hell of a lot more than me at the time, so I'm not going to cut my throat about it. But what riled me about it was that I didn't get the job because I chalked all their fancy-named standards up to common sense. Wash hands before handling food. Wash plates/cutlery properly, with scalding water and plenty of detergent. Wash hands after handling raw meat. Make sure meat is completely cooked. Blah. I knew all that, but because I didn't know all the special acronyms and TLAs which applied to them.

Telesales, while something I abhor, is a valid means to earn a wage. I have a good telephone manner and am very interested in pleasing the customer (short of going and fucking myself, which I am aware that many customers may request), and bloody need the money, which I am aware that many telesales companies rely on in their staff. Any joy? Pft, they didn't even get back to me.

Of course I've gone for lots of jobs as a programmer, as I've said above. Lots of web development stuff, some in-house POS type stuff. Some security-related stuff. Never got any further than an initial interview for any of them. Why? Because no experience, even when I've demonstrably had more knowledge than even the nerds who were interviewing me. Ich sheiss du nicht; I asked one prospective employer about what secure coding practices they had in place - asked the main programmer, mark you - and he said 'um, we've got a firewall.' In that specific case, I'm glad I didn't get that job, because I'm not sure I want to work for someone so profoundly stupid. But there have been lots of really good chances that I've had and not succeeded in, invariably because I've not got any prior professional experience as a programmer. I mean... what? And then there was a time I applied for an apprenticeship quite recently, and they just simply sent me an email back saying 'no.' Aaaaaalrighty then.

Working as an IT technician is something I can do as well as anything else, and probably at least as well as anyone else. I've been around hardware all my life, having been constantly building, repairing, and rebuilding my own boxes since I was about eleven. I know all standards of components that have been in use since the mid-eighties (I started on old hardware that wouldn't be missed if I broke it), right up to today. But nope. Either not hiring or not interested.

Same has gone with helpdesk work. I know a lot about operating systems, networks, common software, blah, and never even got an interview. Why? No idea; they never even get back to me.

Cleaning work... mostly they don't bother getting back to me, so there's no point in really mentioning it.

But the admin stuff, there's a corker for you. Had two interviews for admin jobs recently; one at ****** *********** and one at ******, both fairly near to where I live. Well, I say "interviews," the one at ****** *********** was an interview, and the other was something else, which I'll go into more detail about in a moment.

****** *********** went really well, and both the people interviewing seemed pretty impressed with me as a person, and with my abilities. I came out feeling like I'd done a pretty good job, but later that day I got a call saying I hadn't got it; one of the others had pretty much the same abilities as me but more experience. Cool, whatever - you need the guy who can prove he'll be good for you rather than the wildcard.

****** was a different story, though. I'd got a phonecall from them a couple of weeks ago, saying effectively that I'd got a job. All I needed to do was confirm a few things and print some forms, fill them out, and take them into the office yesterday. Awesome, amazing - someone's giving me a chance! I knew someone would give me a job by the end of the year.

So, yesterday comes and I go to the office, armed with my forms, my pen, and an ID photo I'd had taken, and was presented with a contract of employment to sign. Here's where it gets a bit silly: ****, who met me there, told me to sign it and didn't give me any time to read it. I signed it and handed it back, without thinking to ask for a copy myself, for my own reference and archiving purposes. And that was it: I was told they'd do a background check on me and once that was done (about two weeks) I'd be able to start. No what-ifs, maybes, buts, caveats, or anything like that.

Off home I toddled, and later that afternoon I got a phonecall saying my application with ****** wasn't being progressed any further. Wait, WTF? How does that make sense? **** told me on the phone that it had been her decision, and that they would email me with full feedback. Which, so far, I haven't yet received.

Right. So it was her decision. Which, given that she hadn't been around me long enough to pass judgment, gives rise to the following questions:
  1. If I wasn't suitable, why was I invited to meet with this person and led to believe I had a job?
  2. This person had only been in the same room as me for about ten minutes but subsequently decided not to "pursue the application any further:" what grounds were there?
Of course only one of these questions needs answering, because whichever one is relevant would rule out the other, and whichever one is relevant would (of course) be answered by the feedback I asked for by email. What's more, the answers to these questions would be simple, meaning that there shouldn't be any delay in dreaming up responses to them.


OK, I get it. You think I'm being pissy and "entitled" and just generally being a whingy little bitch. Maybe I am, but I don't think getting any of it out of my system will do any harm to anyone. To be completely honest, I'm not even that angry. All I am is perplexed. It makes no sense.

Being a Writer

Which brings me back to my original point: maybe I'm just supposed to write. Because, as I see it, every time I go for a job I get knocked back, but Journeyman is starting to do fairly well. Or, at least, well enough to satisfy me for the time being. I find the idea a little difficult to swallow, but at the same time exciting. It does feel like I've found myself through writing, more so than ever I did as a programmer or anything else.

So, of course, I'm going to carry on looking for a "real job." Actually looking, not pretending, because - as much as I love writing - I need the wage that a job pays, not the instability of my pay being subject to my popularity at any given time.

But now, I honestly think that a writer is what I am "meant" to be, and I think I have reason to.

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