At Least It’s Not a Fruit Cake: A Response to “Résumés – How the French Spell It”

I sometimes write novel-like comments on blogs that are self contained posts in their own right. I posted this comment as a response to flygirl0’s post on resumes and the process of interviewing. I thought it might be worth sharing it here.


You’re giving them too much credit if you assume people who are interviewing have any idea the hell they’re doing. I have a lot of very clear “WTF” interview memories, and I haven’t even interviewed in like five years. It’s such an artificial and horrible process, and admittedly, I’m terrible at it.

I get nervous. I feel like the only way I nail interviews is that I accidentally channel some deity/ancestor/alien for the length of it, or I’ve interviewed so much recently that I know what they’re going to ask before they ask it. Manhole cover? Answer that makes even the foremost manhole experts, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, take notes. Stapler? Caught and made into a stunning stapler entree to be judged by the Master Chef celebrities.

At the end of it all, you don’t even know if that was really the job that would have made you happy. Sure, you can assume or expect this or that, but usually jobs are full of that day job work thing. You have to go to meetings about meetings, work on working your work in a more workly way, and design review everything (yes, including the design review process). I’ve always suspected that I’m just not cut out for office life, but I’m doing an okay job pretending. I have an office plant that isn’t dead yet, two monitors, walls, and even a window. I’ve reached so many echelon ladders above cubicle farm monkey that I should be positively ecstatic.

The truth is, it’s okay. I’m not dying here, but I’m not fulfilled by this alone. It’s an office. It’s a job where people tell you what to do and you do it. I know there are people out there working for themselves, but I suspect a lot of them are just monkeys to their clients (still not doing what they really want).

I wish I could close this with some kind of epiphany or inspiration other than, “Yes, I agree,” but that’s all I got. My big consolation is that even if you dodged the stapler, there’s no proof that your life would suddenly be fulfilled, and it probably wouldn’t be. That’s such a horrible consolation. It’s more like a fruit basket for a funeral. At least it’s not a fruit cake, but I’m sorry all the same.


I’ve posted on this topic before a couple times (probably more than I remember or list here):
Interviewing Tip Toes
Interviewing: The Real Life RTS Game


Sometimes I wonder if something is wrong with me for how I feel about my job. I know I have a good job (better than any ‘regular’ job I’ve had) that is varied, I’m good at, and has many perks. I’d say it’s a million times better than the full time job I had before this one. The next one I land through working hard at this one will probably be even better. Still, I spend every day at it wishing I wasn’t here doing this.

Is it like this for all artists? Are we all doomed to feel like we’re not doing ‘real work’ when we’re doing something other than our art? I look at other people that are amazing and talented who have ‘regular jobs’ and consider their job their actual job and not just their day job. I can’t help but be a bit jealous. Also, I feel like their advice is always, “find a different job” as if the issue is this job I have, and working for another company or in a different position would make this feeling go away. I know at least some other artists ‘get it’, but I also feel like they’ve all either taken the leap into art full time or have found a better balance (or are closer to it).

I envy them, but I also don’t, because I know in most cases it comes at great sacrifice to some very basic things (money, healthcare, food, etc.). I try to think of all the people that have even less fulfilling jobs than me, or are having a hard time getting a job or one that pays enough to put towards their bills. I feel guilty for not being more satisfied with what I have, and I feel guilty for not doing ‘enough’ or ‘the right thing’ (whatever those are) to change things for the better with immediate results.

Every weekend I try my best to forget about this for two days, and every Monday, this feeling follows me out of bed and through every thing I do. I try to ignore the undertone of dissatisfaction, anxiety, and hopelessness enough to get through the work day, make it to my studio, and spend the small amount of time and energy left on what I feel is my real work.

I do it knowing it’s probably not enough to realize any of my goals. I try not to be sad. I hope that if I keep at it, all of the little bits of time I can spare will add up into great things and somehow get me out of this cycle.

Why is a Manhole Cover Round? Because Microsoft!

I’ve had some friends lately go through the interview process (and some who will be soon). What I always try to impress upon people (and myself when I have to do it) is that the interviewer is bumbling around about as much, if not more than you are. I think the interview at my current job was pretty good, but then I remember this gem:

“Why is a manhole cover round?”

At the time I didn’t know that this was an open-ended question. I thought it was a riddle or a logic puzzle. I’m surprisingly good at these. I say surprisingly, but maybe it isn’t all that surprising when I answered:

“Because the hole is round.”


“Well, is that right?”

“Uh. There wasn’t supposed to be a right answer. It was just an open-ended question.”

“What else would someone even say?”

At the time I thought it was a dumb question, but another way to look at it is that they found out a lot by the way I answered. I work in a job that requires logical reasoning and troubleshooting all day long every day. We quest for the best and most logical answers. I thought I did well.

Still, I don’t know what other people answer this question with, so I thought I’d Google it (about two years after I was asked). Apparently the real reason manhole covers are round is because Microsoft started asking why in their interviews.

I was not the only one who gave the practical, boring answer, but some other answers:

“A round manhole cover cannot fall through its circular opening, whereas a square manhole cover may fall in if it were inserted diagonally in the hole. (A Reuleaux triangle or other curve of constant width would also serve this purpose, but round covers are much easier to manufacture. The existence of a “lip” holding up the lid means that the underlying hole is smaller than the cover, so that other shapes might suffice.)”

Okay, you got me. I’m not an engineer.

“Round tubes are the strongest and most material-efficient shape against the compression of the earth around them, and so it is natural that the cover of a round tube assume a circular shape.”

I’m still not an engineer. This would explain why the internet is so strong, it also being constructed from a series of tubes.

“It’s easier to dig a circular hole and thus the cover is also circular.”

That’s a good point. I spent a lot of my youth in Cape Cod digging holes at the beach and I can’t say any of them were squares or triangles.

“The bearing surfaces of manhole frames and covers are machined to assure flatness and prevent them from becoming dislodged by traffic. Round castings are much easier to machine using a lathe.”

Yet again, these are things I didn’t realize. For all you machinists, score one for you.

“Human beings have a roughly circular cross-section.”

Here are the dumb answers I was looking for! Phew, all of these alternate answers were making me feel inadequate! This one I can totally feel superior to: “We’re kinda (but not really) circle, so they are too!”


…and I burst out into song, from Fiddler on the Roof. TRADITION! TRA-DI-TION! TRA-DI-TIOOOOON! To me, this answer is like saying: “Because that’s how God made it.” or just, “Because.” Even traditions have origins, people. I call FAIL on this answer.

Important to note, upon some investigation, not all manhole covers are actually round. Yes. The question itself makes an incorrect assumption. While round is most common, they also come in square and triangle. I think this easily ties into the message I was trying to send here. People who are interviewing currently, and will be soon as you graduate, don’t be too nervous as you interview. Know that the questions you will be asked and the people that ask them are flawed. They make incorrect assumptions, they steal things from Microsoft, and most have no right answer.

Just do the best to show your best, and you’ll do fine.

So, what do you answer if you get asked why is a manhole cover round?

Because Microsoft started asking people why.

The Tech Support Callers Everyone Loves

…and by loves, we mean we love that we have job security and can secretly feel superior. We remind ourselves this every day. It’s a mantra that keeps us going back to the phones no matter who we have to talk to.

Here is a short list of some of the regulars who call phone tech support. What a coincidence, these people call you too?

If you think you are one of these people, I assure you, the people who do these things know not what they do.

The Nommer
This guy waited until his lunch break to call you. How do you know? Because he’s nomming, slurping, and smacking in your ear. Just when you think it can’t get any worse, he pops a cough drop in his mouth and starts clicking it against his teeth in your ear.

“…click-clock-click …smnosh-smnosh… Yersh, Ihve jrest shent crunch… gulp… you an email with the error.”

The Ummer
This customer is characterized by uncontrollable verbal tics such as: “Uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh”. We also have, “um”, “er”, “ah”, “like”, and ending every sentence as if it were a question. A lot of people sound smarter than they are, but these people never do.

“Er. Um… Uuuhhh… I have… like…. Ah. Veesta Ultimate?”

“Ummmm… I’m running… like… the newest one, Snow Leopards..?”

The Entitled User
When people are way too good to know anything about their own computer (or try to check for you), check system requirements, or take responsibility for messing something up (or at least not blame it on you), there is a good chance they are an Entitled User. There’s nothing you can do, say, or fix that will change that fact.

“Why do you make this so complicated? It should just work. What do you mean this won’t run on my computer? You have to support Windows 2000. I’m going to put you on hold. I need to reboot my computer.”

I use Vista, Have UAC Still Turned On, and the VOLUME PUMPED
I don’t know what the call is about yet, but I know it will be painful more due to the fact I have to listen to:


every time I ask you to do anything.

Can You Hear Me Now?
This guy is jealous of your headset. He cannot type or use a mouse with one hand. He thinks that speaker phone works with his dog barking, children crying, and wife talking to him in the background.

Even better, he’s in traffic not even at his computer. How does he expect to troubleshoot the issue? I don’t know either.


Idiot Pirates (ur doin it rong)
“So… I downloaded this from a website and I can’t get it to work right. Yeah… I didn’t buy it. It’s the free version. I don’t know what pirating is and I don’t think I’m doing that, but my friend said there was this free version. So I went there and I downloaded it and now it doesn’t work. Can you help me?”

Conspiracy Theorist
This guy is super paranoid. You’re out to steal his identity, send him spam, break his computer, and take his money and still not get anything working. He is not going to give you the info you need to solve the problem. He wont even give email address so you can look up and see what he has or send him a fix. What he somehow doesn’t realize is that he’s already given you (the company you work for) all of his info. What he doesn’t know is that you’re trying to help him and his identity is not worth stealing (since apparently it’ll mean an ulcer).

If you get far enough, he might start letting you know what he thinks the issue *really* is and insist you should check into it. These will not be plausible theories, they will be somewhere in left field or even outer space.

“Why do you need my email address? No! I’m not giving that to you. As it is, your company’s website has already broken my computer.”

Yeah I Tried That. It Didn’t Work.
You’ll wrack your brain. You’ll troubleshoot until your brain bleeds. I, the customer, will then admit I didn’t actually do what you told me to about twenty minutes (or three emails) later. It’ll be fun. Whee.

“*Sigh* Ya… I did that already. Of course I did.”

When The Dinosaurs Were Old
“I remember when we didn’t even have computers. What start menu? What’s that? Slow down there… you’re going to have to repeat that. I’m not very computer savvy like you youngsters. You have to understand… *long unrelated story*. Wait, you don’t make this? I called the wrong number? Are you sure?”

“(horrified voice) I might need to upgrade!?”

Anger Management
I don’t know what’s wrong or how serious it is, but I’m angry and I need someone to blame. It’s not my fault, so guess who’s going to take the fall? I’m not interested in getting this working so much as ripping out your heart and eating it.

It’s not that the customer is always right, it’s that he or she HAS a right… that is the right to verbally abuse you.


Team IT: Characters: Craig Johnson

Now that you’ve seen some of these characters in action for a couple scenes, let’s get to know them a bit better. You can also find out about characters in the stories posted here by visiting the Characters tab on the top navigation bar. Click here to see all of the Team IT postings.

Craig Johnson
Age: 29
Astrological Sun Sign: Capricorn

Craig has worked for Computer World, your one stop IT service and computer sales shop, for a few years now. Somehow, Craig is still convinced that one day, some day, the work will be finished so that the team will have time to work on other projects. Every time he makes progress with this goal, customers, the big bosses, sales, or marketing throw him a curve ball and they go back to being back logged. Craig figures all they need to do is band together and get a “system in place”. Most of his efforts are thwarted by the bosses that own the company as they have ideas of their own about what those video game playing slackers can do. They love to load on more work, almost as much as sales and marketing likes to try and pass their work off on the IT Team.

Craig is the self-designated liaison between Team IT and the bosses, for more reasons besides no one else wants to do it. When he speaks, they give him some measure of respect. He threatens to quit about once a month and the bosses will usually back down just enough right as Craig is ready to ride off into the sunset. Craig would like to be left to just manage the team, though the Team has other ideas on the subject, especially Sarah who thinks of herself as the team’s muse. Regardless, there is too much work to be done to just be a supervisor to jump in on only tricky cases. He’s a hard worker, but avoids being on the phone as much as he can get away without his teammates getting angry.

Craig used to work “for the government” and that is “all he is allowed to say”. Most of the team suspect he is just embarrassed about his last job which was probably at some big box electronics store. Sometimes they wonder, though, as his knowledge is pretty extensive for someone not yet thirty, especially when it comes to slapping together spare computer parts “just to get the damn thing working already”.

Craig has a fondness for organization. He loves wikis and has a bunch of them set up for team usage. He also adores Excel spreadsheets that list and compare data.

Craig is single and has a hard time with dates though he’s quite good looking. He’s been accused of being boring, controlling, and uptight. He’s extremely logical-minded and likes things to be clear, cut, and dry. Craig worries about his lack of luck in love as thirty is right around the corner, though he’d never admit it to any one on the team.

Team IT: Hello Computer World

The following is a fictitious tale of techies in a basement building and repairing computers. They wish they could do just that, but instead they spend most of their day doing tech support on the phone and through the web for the customers of the store they work for called Computer World. Most of us know that IT is not like BOFH as much as we wish it were. These guys are like most of us who can’t avoid dealing with… PEOPLE! (duh-nuh-naaaah!) Between the sales people on the floor upstairs, who the IT people are convinced are out to get them, and the customers, equally out to get them, it’s a wonder anything ever gets fixed. Maybe you’re on an IT team yourself, work in customer service, have a job where you seem to be doing anything but what you took it for in the first place, or maybe you’re exactly the sort of customer to call up…

Team IT

In a Galaxy Not So Far Away

“Stupid, broken piece of crap Vista! I mean, it works great on my home machine,” Ben said to everyone, but most of all the tower he was working on, “I have no idea what the hell keeps making this machine turn off.”

“Yeah. It’s still not working. Whatever,” Tom decompressed the mute button and continued in frustrated, yet controlled tones, trying to guide another caller through the ins and outs of their own Mac.

“Dude, it’s not even rebooted yet. I didn’t say try it again yet,” Ben plugged it back in and hit the switch, “I’ll get it up. I said I’d get it up and I will.”

“That’s what he said,” Sarah casually threw out as she walked in, plopped down her coat, and flicked on her PC.

“Did he now?” asked Neil from over the cube wall.

“Probably still trying,” answered Sarah logging into the domain, “I didn’t wait to find out.”

“Wha- oh,” Neil finished his own though internally.

“I’ll take a look at it after I get off the phone,” Tom had the mute button compressed and Remote Desktop up on his screen waiting to try to connect to the Vista computer Ben was working on. Tom was working on that computer earlier that morning, but had been on the phone since, “Don’t worry about it.”

“Look, I’ll let you know when it’s up,” Ben growled.

“That’s what she said,” Craig added from the corner where their server rack was.

“Told you,” Sarah told Neil.

“Haaa. Word.” Tom had his hand over mute again.

“Okay. I think it’s fixed,” Ben insisted.

“For now,” answered Tom.

“I believe you,” said Sarah unconvincingly over Ben’s shoulder.

Ben’s phone rang, “That’s me. I wonder if I can get this call to last my entire shift… um, not that I’m trying to. Man, did I say that out loud?”

“Like Sarah, I believe you,” Tom now had a game of Tetris and a blog up on his screen, decompressed mute and continued talking on the phone.

“This lady has gone from knowing nothing about this to being a master. Boo-yeah,” Ben decompressed his mute button, “It only has taken like twelve calls to us. Problem is now she thinks I’m her friend or priest or something… go away. Leave me alone.”

“Nice work,” congratulated Tom, “Teaching n00bs to fish. Now if only you could get the custie’s Vista box up and running. I still can’t log in.”

“Yeah, it looks like it turned itself off again,” confirmed Ben.

The phones continued to ring, and everyone settled into their bluetooth headsets, mostly at some computer or another. A line of yet to be repaired computers snaked around the door, everyone with at least one ‘project’ laid out a neglected due to the afternoon rush of callers.

“I’ve got two questions,” called out Tom.

“And since we’re playing fun time with numbers, I just hit sixty minutes on this call,” called back Ben.

“How the heck do people end up using computers and yet not using them at the same time? Seriously, for all this person can do, he’s using it as an expensive paper weight!” Tom decompressed mute and went back to sweet-as-pie tone on the phone.

“Considering you talk mostly to Mac users, who think of their computers as status symbols or toy poodles, you shouldn’t be so surprised,” Sarah was fast to criticize the Mac versus PC commercials for stereotyping, but surely had stereotypes of her own when it came to that debate.

“I’ll be back on the phones in a moment, I’m trying to see how back logged we are,” Craig typed at a computer in the hall, “And maybe even see if I can make a schedule that will get some of this crap our of the dungeon and back on the floor.”

“And there are now four people in line and yes, I am still on the same call,” Ben updated everyone, “Just in case anyone cares.”

“Only up to nine minutes,” Craig checked, “They can wait on hold if we can wait on the phone with them.”

“No kidding,” agreed Ben, “but I really gotta brb something awful.”

Ben posted on their internal blog:

“People need to hold on holding on,” Sarah complained, “Why do they all call at the same time?”

“Keep your pants on,” sighed Craig, “I’m logging back in.”

“No need to worry, pants were in no danger of assuming an off position,” Sarah replied.

“Thanks, and that’s what she said,” called over Ben, “Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. Dude stop saying uh.”

“Braaaaaiiiins,” Sarah agreed. She loaded up a game of Brain Chef to play in the background.

“My personal line is ringing,” Ben sighed, “How do people get our numbers? It’s.. so annoying. And silly. Like we’re on the phone, so we’ll answer the other phone?”

“Amen, brother,” Neil agreed, “Preaching to the choir.”

“And what the hell is wrong with our sales people on the floor,” Ben continued the gripe, “What is so hard about following directions? I typed it in an email!”

“What? You mean you didn’t go up there and do it for them?” Tisked Al who was just coming down from the floor.

“Like anyone besides you ever steps foot outside of the dungeon?” Sarah asked pointedly.

“No way I’m going up there,” Neil said in seriousness, “They’ll nab us and make us talk to their customers face to face, and then complain we say the truth and lose their sale.”

They worked in the bottom floor, the basement, of a repair, reseller, and supporter of all computers called Computer World. The sales people didn’t often trudge down, and the support people didn’t often trudge upward. There was some kind of alliance between the two that would break down swiftly if lines were crossed.

“To get our numbers, all they need is to spell our names,” Tom added to Ben’s gripe.

“Beautiful, they’re not smart enough to RTFM, but they can look up our numbers?” Sarah pointed out, “From now on, my name is Neil.”

“As flattered as I am, no. At least your last name isn’t as easy as mine,” Neil answered.

“I want to be removed from that list,” Ben was still holding his need to go to the bathroom, “If people can have their house numbers unlisted, I want my work number unlisted.”

“Alleluia!” shouted Neil.

“I know that is not gonna happen,” conceded Ben, “Sales is getting sick satisfaction from picturing each of us on two calls at once. And wow, I’ve already talked with this guy. I know what his deal is, but this is gonna go like an hour more. Ah. Well. I will put you on hold and brb… while I check on some documentation in the loo.”

Craig laughed, “This guy is watching our instructional video’s while calling IT. Beautiful,” Sarah, with the help of Tom, maintained the company website which is laden with all the tools to help the customers not call in, but they still did.

“So why does he need us?” asked Sarah, always defensive of her brain-child.

“…he’s watching videos on what he’s not using,” Craig continued laughing.

“A for effort?” Tom suggested, happy someone was at least trying to find an answer on their own.

“Haaa.. No,” Neil shot down.

“Is anyone else coming in today?” Craig was eying the line of computers sighing. It never ended and no one knew why Craig seemed to think with a little more effort it would.

“Yeah, everyone else is on the late shift,” Ben announced with disdainful emphasis on the words ‘late shift’. It used to be the most coveted of positions because it meant you came in late, did a few hours on the phones, and then worked on computers and web requests the rest of the night. Then, sales and marketing got it in their heads that since we were there late and being paid to be there late, presumably doing nothing, we could also be taking calls. The big bosses got wind of this, and next thing, they were always back logged and on the phone until past dinner.

When the representatives of the basement complained, it was explained that it was too late to go back. Customers loved having the option and there would be backlash to take it away now. The bosses also would hear nothing of needing to hire additional qualified technicians, suggesting that a couple of guys from sales were ‘pretty good with computers’ and suggesting maybe they could help out downstairs.

“Over my fried motherboard,” said Craig ominously. Everyone on the IT team agreed and dropped the matter for the time being, except Craig who fought a good fight with control and passion. The bosses actually seemed to like him, but it didn’t mean that he liked them or was able to make them see reason.

So the work load remained unreasonable, but the team always found a way to vent, take pride, and survive and even succeed.

Always on the brink of disaster they toiled, “Okay, try the Vista box now,” Ben insisted hitting the power switch.

“Is someone making toast?” Tom sniffed the air and sounded unconvinced that there was food involved.

“Yeah, this box,” Ben sighed, “It’s now toast. Sparks, smoke, and we’re giving them a new PC.”

Craig walked over and pretended to say a little prayer over the PC before taking it and placing it in a very different line of computers that snaked around and out of sight. Unlike the first line, these computers were mostly partially apart and some covered in dust. He slapped a post-it note on there saying: ‘data recovery and scrap’.

“And another one bites the dust,” Tom commented with the customer on mute before resuming his call.