Tuesday, December 4, 2012

HelenOS and getting a job

It has become an increasingly common pattern that a recruiter from a global software company keeps track of people who had previously worked on and contributed to some HelenOS project, and tries to hire them. I think we can even go as far as saying that some recruiters have a special weakness for the HelenOS team. I have figured this out only recently from the various anecdotes people tell during the project meetings and, frankly, I am glad that work on HelenOS can be at the beginning of the process of getting a new job for somebody.

It doesn't take a recruiter who is already familiar with HelenOS and your work on it to get a job in our industry. You can use your HelenOS experience and track record from your own initiative. The purpose of this blog post is to encourage you - our contemporary and former contributors - to use your HelenOS achievements as a leverage during your interviews.

I have obviously done the same thing in the past during my own interviews. My overall impression then was that perhaps I had not been stressing the value of my HelenOS experience strongly enough or that the interviewer had tendencies to dismiss it as some sort of a school project. In a hindsight, I wish I had been advocating with greater confidence. Anyway, I have good reasons to believe that HelenOS has already helped me to get two nice jobs (yeah, the interviewers who didn't get it were from some of the companies for which I did not end up working, naturally).

Here are some things to consider when being in the position of the interviewee (and, as it reportedly already happened, also the interviewer):

  • HelenOS has long since outgrown the status of a school project; Ohloh estimates that it would take roughly 131 person-years to recreate HelenOS. Despite some slight duplicities in this figure resulting from the repository switch in the middle of 2009, and given that the vast majority of its code was written from scratch directly by us, this is a heck of an achievement. Do not hesitate to claim your part.
  • HelenOS is evolving rapidly as more and more developers continue to improve it. The HelenOS of yesterday is not the HelenOS of today and certainly not of tomorrow. Do not shoot yourself in the foot by dismissing your or someone else's contribution to it, or, even the project as a whole.
  • As a base operating system, HelenOS has the inherent problem with the visibility of its qualities. If a system, no matter how sophisticated and complex it may internally be, does not produce lots of noise and visual effects, it may be difficult to explain to someone that there is something interesting going on under the hood. This effect is reinforced by the fact that we are not composing the system from existing parts, but basically redesigning it from scratch. Be prepared to present your contribution to HelenOS and HelenOS itself in an appropriate way.
  • When your interviewer appears to be a dismissive one, try to use some of the argumentation from above. Also remember that interviewers are mere human beings with limited professional experience. It may happen that your interviewer will be Linus Torvalds or Jeff Bonwick himself, but chances for this are rather low. Even if, despite the odds, that turns out to be the case, you should still boldly go on with your HelenOS story. Which is more probable, your interviewer will have some experience with a couple of software components of some greater whole and thus will have a comparable set of experience as you (depending on the number of HelenOS projects standing behind you). There will also be cases when your interviewer will not be a match  for you and your HelenOS experience. The bottom line of this is not to let the interviewer dismiss your experience only because his company makes or contributes to some high profile software project, has some customers and earns lot of money.
  • Have you made your HelenOS contributions when you were a student? So what, this fact should not disqualify neither you nor your experience. To the contrary, participation in the development of HelenOS should have taught you to work in a loosely knit team of other developers and obey certain rules. Let's make this an advantage.
In closing, let me say that standing firmly behind your HelenOS achievements during an interview can have a positive effect on your employment and also on the general awareness about HelenOS. Why not use the leverage as efficiently as possible when it is available?

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