Interviewing – Consulting Style

Periodically I’ll put myself through the interview process.  Every once in a while I find a job that really gets my attention and warrants the time.  It’s safe to say that when I interview I really want the job (I don’t let it get to that point if I’m not interested, ask the 20-30 recruiters who contact me every week, my usual response is “sorry – no bid.”  But one of the added bonuses of interviewing is that you get to brush up on your interviewing skills.

I went on a job interview a couple of weeks ago for a major university in the Washington area.  (Limited number of options for who this is, I just won’t use the name out of a sense of professionalism)

I came out of the interview feeling like I Aced the interview, my resume had them all talking, just about everything they’re planning on doing in the near-to-distant future I’ve done at least once in my past.  I answered almost every technical question they could through at me.

So why didn’t I get the job?  A large part of it is that I’m mostly trial-by-fire taught.  (a friend calls it Death-by-PDF) The long and the short of it, no degree.  I should have guessed that not having a degree would handicap me greatly going into the academic world.

Now don’t get me wrong – I’m not heart-broken that I didn’t get the job.  I do very well right now and this job was probably going to mean a 20-30 percent reduction in salary.  (Though other benefits kind of made up for the loss)

My first hint of trouble was going into the interview with someone who held the title of Deputy CIO.  Seems the CIO is retiring in a few years and this guy is slated to replace him.  He only recently got his degree, having first gone through the air-force and through a number of jobs in-between, then pursuing his degree.

So I ask this open question.  What degree would one recomend for a storage professional?  a Management/Information Systems degree seems a bit vague, and might qualify, anyone going into Business Administration wouldn’t be well suited for hands-on design, planning, implementation,  – (though most of the MBA’s I know can’t even manage a business to save their lives)

I spent my coming-of-age building IBM PC-XT clones.  Running online bulletin-boards written (by me) in BASIC (when my connection speed was a screaming 2400baud) and generally trying to find out as much as I could about as much as I could, where my contemporaries were studying philosophy and religion I was digging through code manuals and trying to find new and better ways to write code.

For the last ten years I’ve been, as I call it, “Storage-Centric.”  From my first disk-to-disk data-migration in 1998 I was completely hooked.  And it’s all gotten better since.

So the certain University has chosen, I presume, to hire someone degreed over someone qualified.  Who knows.  Maybe I’ll end up working for them as a consultant in the future.

Not likely though. 😉  I’m too mouthy.


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    • on July 4, 2008 at 7:55 am
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    I work for a .EDU as a storage admin (emc clariion/cisco etc).

    I have no degree.

    I got here largely through knowing the “right” people, and a lot of hard work and self-learning… For whatever reason, they seem to value the “death-by-pdf” background instead of the “degree, certifications etc etc”, as to us (them?) it means/proves you have the “kahones” to actually do the job, especially in a large environment where very small changes can affect large amounts of people quite easily..

    Anyhow, you are right, the pay difference between .EDU and .COM is really quite sad. (to be honest, If i were to tell you all that I do, and what I get paid, you would for certain think I am a fool, but OTOH, there are not a lot of places around this area (very rural!!) that have large expensive systems like this to “be the san god” at… According to much of what I have read, and others I have talked with, much of the northeast is like this in the .edu sector, so I don’t feel too alone, or “bitter” or anything about it either, although I have to admit, it’s sometimes very hard to not reply to those 120k offers/opportunites from NYC or boston! 🙂

    The degree part is tough – It’s always touchy – people just assume I graduated from there (like so many other IT people?) , and I just tell them, nope, I skipped college for the real work). I would go back for my degree, but honestly… i’m old.. i’ve done this a long time as well. why bother? I spend too much time as it is at work, or working on the side… :\

    So… despite my pretty low pay for “what I do”, I don’t mind. I love where I live, and I love my systems and the people I work with… I could never go back to consulting, as I’m not good with selling myself. I interview at .COM’s now and again, but I can never find any place with as nice of a setup, systems-wise… ($1.5m of HP/EMC/VMWare stuff is hard to pass up, right?? ) >.. We are also finding that It’s very hard to find storage people here in the upper-northeast, even just a few hundred miles north of Boston MA… 🙁

    anyhow, great post, thanks for your great site… i’ve linked to it from my own, I hope that’s ok! 🙂


  1. Yeah – the main thing that was a part of the offer, the biggest reason I was taking this one seriously was the tuition benefit. After 5 years they were going to pay up to 75% for Spouse and Family. I have three kids, one of which is close (within 6 years) to college age.

    College costs are definitely on my mind right now. 😉

    I’m not that broken-up about it. Truthfully it’s their loss. I’m a storage-generalist. So many people are extremely good at a narrow field, I’ve taken great pride (and great effort) to know as much as I can about storage fundamentals and to learn the interactions across the board.

    People who are extremely degree-conscious shouldn’t be doing IT hiring. Most IT people share our “problem” We’re obsessive-compulsive, we interact better with machines than with people (tend to be a bit uncomfortable in crowds) and most of us just don’t think the same as others.

    So if you’re a hiring manager who is looking for a good storage person (or any IT / Systems engineer type for that matter) or if you’re a recruiter searching take my advice:

    Don’t handicap yourself by hiring someone with a degree. Degreed IT people make great project managers, and maybe even great people managers. (though as an IT person I have much more respect for managers who have technical experience than for those who came out of business school)

    • on July 10, 2008 at 9:13 pm
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    OK so I guess I have the flip side to this equation. I not only have a degree I have an M.A. Problem being is that it is not in anything computer science related. Just recently I was interviewed for a new position with my favorite company and they asked (Paraphrasing):

    “How did you get here with a Masters in Political Science”

    My response (of which I am very proud) revolved around the importance of Nuclear weapons. Not really on topic but the point is that everyone I have met with the MIS degree or thirty certifications has been a Paper Tiger.

    If you want someone who performs look at their record and see what they have done and ask them what the want to be doing next. If someone can’t tell you where they want to go… Maybe you don’t want to be offering them a chance to sit idle on your team.

    I will disagree on one point though – If I wanted someone on my team who was better with machines than people I would just hire someone overseas and validate their work. When you want to join any of the teams I have been part of (or the one I hope to manage shortly) the reality is that you need to be technically savvy and at lest competent in social situations.

    As always – great set of posts. One of these days when you are up in Boston you should let me know and you can show me how to really fix my CX3’s – Getting the CX4’s any day now and I am excited to see what changes they have made.

  2. So let me pose a question –

    Would you rather have someone who is one with the technology but has to work at social situations, or who is a smooth talker but has difficulty grasping the technical concepts? As the ones who do both well are a rare breed.

    I’ve had experience with the smooth talkers. They are the ones I usually end-up cleaning-up after.

    • on August 2, 2008 at 12:45 am
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    I had to comment on this. I think I am in the same boat as you…no degree. I noticed that most jobs requiring degrees, required them because the person setting the requirements thought one should have a degree…since they probably had one too.

    I must say that I am naturally one to do everything I can to buck the system (libertarian) but in my workplace of the highest technical people, the best has an associates degree. In other words, degrees don’t mean squat. Better yet, who cares how well rounded an indevidual is. My father is a java programmer. He’s one of the smartest people I know…especially compared to my companys programmers…a healthcare organization just over the border in PA. He has his MBA and masters of divinity. What makes him qualified on his resume…his work. I like to think the same for me.

    Anyone who doesn’t hire someone based on their lack of college is a total moron an is just playing into the game of “hey, I needed to pay for 4 extra years of schooling too!” club.

    …but I still include a hobbies section on my resume to prove I’m well rounded 🙂

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