Wow… sometimes memories sprout up out of nowhere, and tonight while painting the kitchen I was reminded of my first programming job interview waaaay back in 2003. See I had picked up a few pamphlets at the university career fair and landed a job interview with one of the few (or was it only?) firms offering a computer science related job there. So I dressed up with a tie, made sure I made three copies of my resume on expensive ass paper, put them in a fancy leather folder and headed off to the interview with my fingers crossed.
As I sat through the interview, I went through the usual motions of answering their questions about my background, listened to their marketing talk about how great their company is, and I chatted a bit about my hobbyist programming I did in my free time. Then came the bad news…. the interviewer smiled as he mulled over my resume, and he said he noticed that I didn’t have any COBOL experience. He asked me if I had ever taken any COBOL classes at the college, and I told him no… as far as I know they don’t even have it in the curriculum anymore.
“Really?” he replied, with a slight look of shock on his face. “Well, all of our systems are written in COBOL here, so that’s what you’d be developing in. We really need someone with COBOL experience.”
“Well, I pick up languages pretty quick… I just learned python last week and was able to do all kinds of things with it… I probably wouldn’t have any problems learning COBOL and actually using it.” I replied.
He smiled. “Well, that’s great James. I’ll tell you what, I’ll talk with the rest of my staff and I’ll try and get back with you by the end of the week to let you know if you made it in.”
And I never ever heard from them again. Another guy at my university, who had made straight As in CompSci and double majored in Mathematics got hired out there the following week, so I guessed maybe I just didn’t have a high enough GPA to meet their standards. I remember wondering what was so special about the language… I looked around online and the examples I found were pretty ugly and I remember wondering if it was some kind of joke? But I did hear from the guy who got the job out there that yes… all they programmed in was COBOL.
Looking back, I’m damn happy I never got the job. A large part of my growth was working for a small start up firm and getting the chance to work with all kinds of languages as well as do a lot of reading online to self-teach myself (I didn’t have any senior developers to work with… just me at first) that led me to read books like Design Patterns, Patterns of Enterprise Application Architecture, Refactoring, and even Extreme Programming Explained as I searched for a methodology to manage our projects. With no one to turn to, I often sought help in online forums, mailing lists, and usergroups in St.Louis. I think all of that played a large part in growing as a developer and evolving my thinking.
If I had gotten that job, I probably would have done my best to excel at it… and perhaps by now I would have been promoted to the position Programmer Analyst II.