R U Avail?

An SMS that I have received twice today:

Hello. R U Avail & Looking 4 work? I have a 3 mnth contract at the BBC – £310 P/Day 4 a good Perl Dev? If yes pls call ASAP at [removed] – Rgrds Kathe @ PCR

Even if I was available and looking “4” work, I’d almost certainly be hoping to work with an agent who gives off an air of professionalism. Not one who thinks it’s appropriate to use “txtspk” when talking to potential clients.

Or am I being too old-fashioned?


Admitting Your Mistakes

When did it become unfashionable to admit to mistakes. We all make mistakes. Why not just own up to them?

Yesterday I got an email from an agent asking if I was available for work. I replied pointing her to the page on my company web site where that information is always available.

Just now I got the same email again from the same agent. Well, the content was identical, but the subject line had changed. Yesterday it was “New Year New Project?”, today it had become “New Projects?”.

I replied to the second email saying that my situation hadn’t changed in twenty-four hours. Her reply to this was:

So sorry for some reason it looks like my outlook has duplicated my emails

Not, “oops, I looks like I sent stff to the same people twice” or “sorry, I should have checked that list of names more closely”. Just “my outlook has duplicated my emails”. It wasn’t her fault – her technology had let her down. Everyone knows that Outlook often sends the same email twice, twenty-four hours apart and changes the subject line as it does it.

Except it doesn’t, does it. I know that Outlook is one of the most broken email clients ever to have been released (only beaten, in my experience, by Lotus Notes) but last time I used it, it wasn’t in the habit of changing subject lines and resending mail. Maybe that’s a new feature.

I pointed out the subject line discrepancy and she replied that she was not “great with Technology!” Which, I suppose, is as close as I’m going to get to an explanation.

Perhaps blaming mistakes on a “computer error” still fools most of the population. But if you’re dealing with IT people, you must realise that most of them will know more about the subject than you. And that must make blaming the technology an extremely risky approach.

It’s certainly one that has moved this recruiter along way down my list of people I want to do business with.



I have spent over a week waiting for an agent to get back to me with an offer of a contract. I saw this company last Tuesday and the manager is apparently very keen to get me working there. The sticking point seems to be the money.

When the agent first spoke to me about the contract, they wanted to pay about £30 a day less than the minimum amount I currently feel comfortable working for. She agreed to try to get me my minimum amount. A couple of days later she called me to arrange an interview. She told me at that point that they had taken a couple of days to get back to us as they had been confirming that the extra money was available.

I went to the interview last Tuesday. I thought it went very well. So, I’m told, did the people who interviewed me.

But the money was still a problem. They asked if I’d work for their initial suggested rate. I said no. They said that at the rate I was asking for, the initial contract would only be for two months rather than the six months discussed in the interview. I said that would be fine (see – that’s me compromising).

On Friday of last week they told my agent that the money had been found but that (for reasons which were somewhat unclear) they still couldn’t make a firm offer that day. The offer would follow on Monday.

On Monday I had a call from my agent. There was still no firm offer, but the client had asked her to “keep Dave warm”. She tried to speak to the manager again on Tuesday, but he was out of the office for a day. On Wednesday I had no contact with them. On Thursday she called me to tell me that she still couldn’t reach the manager because he was off sick. And his team seemed to think that he wouldn’t be back the next day either.

At this point I was expecting them to tell me that they had the offer, but the dog ate it. Or perhaps that a big boy stole it and ran away. It seemed clear to me that there was some kind of stalling tactic going on somewhere in the organisation. But as my agent pointed out during Thursday’s conversation, this kind of prevarication doesn’t really endear you to someone who you are trying to do business with.

Fortunately, whilst this had all been going on, another opportunity had come along. On Thursday lunchtime I had an interview with another company. A company who, if I’m being honest, I would feel far happier about working for. And this morning they made me a firm offer. For more money and for a longer period of time. I, of course, accepted.

I felt somewhat sorry for the original agent as I told her that I wouldn’t be accepting an offer from her client (should one ever appear). But I hope she enjoys explaining to them exactly where they’ve gone wrong in this process.

The contract market isn’t great at the moment. But it’s still not bad enough that I need to sit around for a week waiting for an offer from a company that’s quibbling over £30 a day.



It’s been a week of anniversaries. Wednesday was the tenth anniversary of the first meeting. And last night we had our tenth anniversary meeting. But for me personally, today is an even bigger anniversary. It was twenty years ago today that I started my first “real” job. I hope you won’t be too bored if I spend a few paragraphs reflecting on my career so far.

My degree from South Bank Poly (remember polys?) was in computer studies. This was very much aimed at people who were going to work in large data processing departments. We studied COBOL and CODASYL databases. SQL and C were seen as the cutting edge technologies. Interestingly I spent my sandwich year working on PC product releases for IBM. The documentation for these was in an obscure format called SGML – the weirdest things turn out to be useful in the future.

So I left South Bank with my degree in computer studies and got a job working for a company called Learmonth and Burchett Management Systems (LBMS). LBMS were big on structured development methodologies. They apparently had a big hand in the design of SSADM. They did consultancy and training, but they also had a CASE tool. That was where I came in. I was part of a team who was reimplementing their CASE tool. It was to be a Windows application (which in 1988 was a rather brave step to take). Over the next four years I became pretty proficient at Windows programming in C (Visual C++ wasn’t around in those days). I also, probably more usefully, learnt a lot about data modelling and databases as that was the part of the tool which I worked on. LBMS no longer exists. They went out of business soon after structured methodologies and CASE tools went out of fashion.

I left them before that though. In 1992 I decided to move to pastures new. I got a job working for a company called Comtext. They specialised in communications tools like telex. I was there to give their tools a nice Windows front-end. I was only there for six months. By then I had a CompuServe account and I could tell that email was going to kill off their business. I don’t know what happened to them. There’s no evidence of them on the internet now.

Early in 1993 I got a job working with Walt Disney. Actually it was with Buena Vista Home Video – their home video group. We were building a system to report on European video sales. I got the job on the basis of my Windows and SQL experience, but whilst I was there I moved to working exclusively on Unix. We implemented our system in a number of European offices and as part of the project I spent a few months working in Madrid.

Unfortunately for Disney, the technologies they were using (Sybase, C, Unix) were exactly the set of skills that were becoming popular in the City of London. And the City was crying out for contractors with that skillset. So in April 1995 I set up Magnum Solutions and went off to start contracting in the City.

For four years I worked for various banks in the City doing Bank-type stuff. I was during this time that I picked up my knowledge of Perl. In fact, by 1999 I was getting work purely on the basis of my Perl expertise. I was getting a little bored by banking though so I decided to try working for dotcoms for a while. Actually, it took a while for the change to take place and I spent eighteen months alternating companies like QXL and Sportal with financial work.

2002 started badly. I spent all of 2001 working for a single client but the contract finished at the start of 2002 and the jobs market had collapsed. I spent five months out of work before taking a permanent job with Bibliotech (now known as Spider Networks). That didn’t last long though. In November they went through a bit of a cash crisis and made a lot of staff redundant. Including me. Luckily the market seemed to have picked up a bit and I found a new contract within a week or so.

Following that contract, at the end of 2003 I made one of best connections that I’ve ever made when I spend a few months working on the Guardian web site. I’ve been able to return there a couple of times since.

2004 was another bad year. I was unable to find a contract to follow the Guardian so I ended up designing and building a new web site for Karma Download – a site for musicians to sell MP3s of their music. They didn’t make any money and closed down a couple of years later. In May of that year I took another permanent job, working for Outcome Technologies. I lasted until the end of the year before the call of freelancing became too strong and I left them.

Since then, things have been going pretty well. I’ve bounced between three different clients. Two of them are media organisations and the other is a bank. So I’m getting plenty of variety in my work.

It’s been an interesting twenty years. It hasn’t gone in the way I planned it at all. I was a Windows programmer. And now I’m a reasonably well-known expert in a language that I hadn’t even heard of when I started out.

I wonder what the next twenty years will bring. Retirement, with any luck.


Temporary Employment Setback

I’ve just heard that my current contract won’t be extended when it finishes at the end of this month.

So if you are looking (or know someone who is looking) for a half-decent Perl, Unix, database contractor then please let me know.


Leaving the BBC

Seems like we’re approaching another of those periods when it’s fashionable to leave the BBC. This morning my RSS reader brought me “I’m off soon” posts from Tom Loosemore and Alice Taylor.

Oh, and there’s me. I’m leaving (again) on Friday. Back in the City from Monday.


Perl Programmers in London

Judging by the number of calls and emails that I’m getting recently, the demand for Perl programmers in London is going through one of its periodic increases. Hopefully recruitment agents who are desperately googling for “perl programmer london” will find this entry and save themselves a little time.

The Perl community likes to do what it can to help people to get the most out of Perl. And that includes finding Perl people for Perl jobs (and Perl jobs for Perl people). There are a couple of specific initiatives that help people looking for Perl programmers in London.

Firstly, there’s the Perl jobs site. This is an international site which allows employers (and recruitment agents) to post job adverts for free. Perl programmers who are looking for work either get new jobs sent to them by email or can subscribe to an RSS feed of jobs on the site. It’s a very effective way to get your Perl job requirements in front of a lot of Perl programmers quickly.

Secondly, the London Perl Mongers run a jobs mailing list. People who are looking for Perl jobs in London can subscribe to this list. And people who are looking for Perl programmers can post jobs to the list (send mail to jobs[at] Whilst this is a London-only list, other Perl Monger groups may well have something similar.

Of course, both of these initiatives only works as long as they have a good supply of both jobs and job-seekers. So as well as encouraging employers and agents to post their jobs, I’d also like to encourage Perl programmers to subscribe to use resources when they are looking for a job.

Oh, and it seems to me that currently in London the pool of Perl programmers is smaller than the pool of Perl jobs. So perhaps more companies should consider cross-training programmers. Did I mention that I run training courses in Perl?


Technical Interviews

Nik talks a lot of sense about technical interviews. As a purely anecdotal aside, I’m pretty sure that the interviews where I’ve been asked the kinds of questions that he’s talking about have lead to some of the jobs that I have least enjoyed.

And, as Nik mentions, this is all in the context of Guardian Unlimited looking for a lot of new employees (I can’t help wondering how permanent that URL is). Having worked at GU a couple of times, I’d recommend working there to anyone. It’s certainly one of the best places I’ve ever worked.


Contract Nonsense

This is really pissing me off.

My current contract ended yesterday. The clients want to extend me for another six months. I’m happy to stay there for another six months.

However, since I started there in April, the clients have outsourced the running of their temporary workers HR department to a third party. And that third party want to impose new standard contracts on everyone they deal with. And this new contract imposes terms that any contractor who knows anything about IR35 would run a mile from.

I’m sitting at home trying to work this out as appearing in the office could be seen as accepting the new contract.

Don’t you just hate middle men.

Update: I’m back in the office today. I heard yesterday that we’ve got an extension on the old contract until the end of the week in order to try and sort out the contract. And this morning I’ve heard that the extension might well be… er… extended to one month.


Interviewing the Interviewer

This article contains some good advice about getting the most out of an interview. In particular it has some interesting sample questions for the “do you have any questions you’d like to ask me” section of the interview.

  • How long does it take from the time someone identifies a need for a new piece of hardware (server, etc) to the time it is connected to the network and available?
  • Tell me about the people and processes involved in acquiring a new piece of hardware.
  • What’s the most frustrating thing you’ve had to do this week?
  • What do you and your co-workers do at work for fun?
  • In the middle of a project, a developer identifies a key technical improvement that will have significant benefit but also involves additional cost and risk. What is the process for deciding whether or not to make the change? Who makes the final decision and who else is involved?

If all goes to plan, I’ll be having some technical interviews in the next few weeks[1]. I’ll be trying some of them out.

[1] Got work for a Unix/Perl/Database contractor? Give me a shout.