Thursday, 25 March 2010

Entering with an Army, leaving with a smile

Yes, I've been a bit quiet on the blogging front for the past couple of days. And despite someone throwing a petrol bomb at the front of the flats I live in (hence the police cordon) I am still in one piece. All is quiet on the western front.

Or maybe I just haven't noticed, due to being completely absorbed with preparing for an interview.

I had a brief phone interview last week where I was given details of the job, which involves supporting SQL Based applications. Yeah, I can do that, I thought. I used to run queries all of the time, generating reports. Okay, so not actually in SQL, but on a relational database. Okay, so not actually building queries that join tables, but I understand the concept and the technical knowledge - oh, that just comes so naturally to me. If you looked at my DNA under a microscope, instead of ADGT, you would see little building blocks of TSQL.

"Excellent" said my potential interviewer "We'd love you to come in for an interview, and we'll also give you a SQL Syntax test to see what you know"
"Great", I replied "and who knows, I might even surprise myself on that one"

And so I was feeling fairly confident, verging on cocky. Until I started reading through the online training manuals, that is.

Crap - I don't remember any of this stuff.

So I studied. And I pored. And I took notes. And I invented queries to test myself. And every time I thought I had mastered a subject and returned to it to test my knowledge, I went blank. Not only that, but I was also trying to prepare for the interview itself.

I like interviews like a cat loves a hot bath. After practising a few standard responses (strengths, weakness (who, me?), why I want to work for them, etc) I looked at the competency based questions, (Tell me about a time where you had to solve a really difficult problem. What steps did you take and what was the outcome?) and turned pale because I had gone totally blank once again. I decided that ignorance was bliss and that I would have to trust that on the day everything would turn out for the best.

And today was the day. And it was a nice day. Until half an hour before I had to leave the house, when it starting raining cats and dogs - which was fine until I realised that I had left my umbrella elsewhere. I prayed for the rain to stop. It didn't. I left the house wearing a scarf over my hat and coat, and my nice leather 'business wallet' in a Sainsbury's carrier bag. Cute.

I arrived fifteen minutes early and rang my teacher, as arranged. Now, you may think that this is a strange thing to do when your mind should be set on the immediate task at hand, but I trust in the benefits. My teacher read a portion of the Zohar to me over the phone. "We want you to go in there with an Army." He said. Luckily for me, listening to the Aramaic is enough to receive a download. Suitably charged, I went in to battle.

I was introduced to one of my interviewers and taken in to a small room to sit the SQL Test.
"I have to say, we are still working on this and it's not quite right" he said. "I find some of the questions really hard and I'm a programmer. So just write like fury and do what you can."
Oh, fab.

There were 15 questions. I answered 3 of them partially, and one of them fully. Then I had a stab at writing a few notes on how I would answer question 6. Oddly enough, rather than turning pale and panicking, I laughed. Even the bits of syntax that I was sure that I knew I forgot - so, like, whatever. What I knew was that in the Real World, I would be able to pull all of this together without a hitch. In the Real World, there is something miraculous called 'Online Help', and I am rather good at knowing where to look.

The interview itself went well. The people are nice, the company is very authentic - I would enjoy working there. (Two people after the interview have asked me how many others they were seeing for the role. You know what? That's irrelevant - either I am the best person for the job, or I am not. Either I am meant to be there, or something else is coming).

I was asked multiple competency based questions and again, rather than panic at my total lack of preparation, I simply paused and waited for the words to come. And come they did. I had a lot of help on my side - a pretty good set of troops were at hand. I also had the opportunity to demonstrate my actual knowledge of SQL, by covering the questions on the test and explaining the parts that I couldn't complete. They seemed happy enough.

Anyhow, I will discover the outcome tomorrow. Have I convinced them? I don't know - but I am very happy with how it went. I left feeling light, and with a smile on my face.

In the subway entrance to the tube station, I saw a shabby man sitting cross-legged on the stairs, begging. My instant reaction was "oh I can't be done with this... With all of the build up and what I have done today, I just want to get the train home and eat. I'm not going to dig around in my purse and give him money"and I crossed to the other side of the rail and walked past him.

And as I walked past, I noticed that he was shivering deeply, and huddled over a sign which read "no home or job. Please help me if you can"
An argument started in my head - one voice telling me that I shouldn't be a muppet and give money to beggars, and that it was too late to turn back now - people would think I was mad, or stupid, or both. But the other voice was saying 'How can you just walk past this man? He is a human being, and however he got here, he has feelings too. You might be feeling like your life is on the up - but how can you forget how you were feeling a couple of weeks ago?'

So, halfway down the next set of steps, I stopped and turned back. I was homeless for a while, but I always had a roof over my head. I always knew where my next meal was coming from. Where is his next meal coming from?

I crouched in front of him, amidst the busy commuters, all dying to get home and make dinner, and asked him whether he wanted a coffee. He did. White with sugar. And I bought him a sandwich and a brownie to go with it. His gratitude was genuine and touching - reward enough to me in itself. It put my day in to perspective, my so-called hardships in the shade.

"You're an angel" he said, "an absolute angel."

No, I'm no angel. But I had my army with me.


  1. Good on you, KR, all the way round. I think he was genuine, which is sad, because where you and I live, both nations should do more to prevent people getting to his state...

    I hope you hear something wonderful soon...

    I'm off to sleep!

  2. Yes, good luck for the outcome, they would be daft to turn you down.