Interview Adventures of a Power Plant Electrician
Back in November 2015 I wrote a post about how in November 2000 I realized that I was probably going to have to leave the Power Plant because I was not able to apply for an IT job in my own company. You can read about it here: Crack in Power Plant Armor leads to Gaping Hole in Logic. A month later I wrote a post about how I was moving to Round Rock Texas to work for Dell: The Heart of a Power Plant. I thought it would be interesting to describe my experience interviewing with different companies. The difference between companies was very noticeable.
One of the first companies I interviewed with was ABF, a trucking company. ABF stands for “Arkansas Best Freight”. The headquarters was in Fort Smith, Arkansas. After my first interview they asked me to drive to Arkansas for a second interview, which I did on my day off (as we were working 4 – 10s at the time, we had some weekdays off). I took my wife Kelly and the kids with me and made a trip out of it. They fed us a lunch and paid for my driving expenses and they drove us around town. I think I was more interested in the nearby Nuclear Power Plant than I was ABF.
After it was all said and done, they decided not to hire me. They were looking for someone younger who wasn’t such a troublemaker. — I had explained how I wrote the program that wrote the script language for GLink so the foremen could take their work home and still do their mainframe work. You can read about that here: Power Plant Men Take the Corporate Mainframe Computer Home.
I think it was when I described the Birthday Phantom application to them, that they became a little wary. After all, it did end up sending emails to the user from themselves announcing that it was someone’s birthday that day. — 10 years before Facebook came around and now does the same thing. You can read about that story here: Power Plant Birthday Phantom.
When they sent me a polite rejection letter telling me they decided not to hire me, I wasn’t surprised. Kelly was relieved, because she wasn’t looking forward to a possible move to Arkansas. Even though I wasn’t surprised, Kelly was. She figured anyone would want to snatch me up if they had the chance. When she asked me “What’s the deal?” I just replied, “I don’t know. I think they want someone younger they wouldn’t have to pay so much.” We just breathed a sigh of relief and moved on.
Another company I wasn’t too excited about was DST Systems in Kansas City. They housed the Mutual Fund transactions for all but a couple of the Mutual fund companies in the US. I had grown up in Missouri and I had a lot of Italian relatives living in Kansas City. I had spent a lot of time there. The company flew me up there and put me in a nice hotel for the night.
Then the next morning they gave us a tour of their data center that is inside a cave on the south side of Kansas City, 5 miles from my Aunt Ginny’s house. They were real proud of the fact that their data center contained 70 Terabytes of data! That’s funny to think about today. Just a couple of years later, Dell’s data warehouse had over a Petabyte of data, or 1000 Terabytes.
After the tour of the data center in the cave, (where I was more impressed by their back up generators, since they looked like the ones we had at our power plant) they drove us downtown and interviewed. me. — When I say “Us”, I mean the other college students applying for the jobs.
I had heard that they liked to ask you technical Java questions, so I was prepared for their question, which was, “If you needed to do this, this and this, how would you write the code in Java?” My response was, “Do I need to know Java on the day I start the job?” They replied, “No, we will teach you the way we write Java”. — I already knew that was the case before the interview. That’s why I asked that.
Then I said, “I took Java a year and half ago in an accelerated summer course, and made an A in it. I haven’t used Java since, so I don’t remember the exact syntax, but there is how I would write the code….” — They offered me the job, but the pay was too low.
The one company all the IT students wanted to work for was Williams Communication in Tulsa. They held a reception in one of the new buildings on campus in the evening, which I attended. I talked to a couple of classmates from the last couple of years that had gone to work for them and were now helping to recruit new employees.
They told me that during the interview they were on the lookout for people who came to the interview very prepared. They didn’t want to hire them, because they figured that their answers weren’t necessarily “honest”. I found this rather confusing. I was going to be well prepared for the interview, and now they are telling me that they want me to act as if I wasn’t.
So, the next day during the interview when they came to the point where they asked, “Do you have any questions?” I responded by asking, “When someone attends a meeting at your company, do you expect them to be prepared to discuss the topic at hand when they show up, or do you prefer they just go to the meeting unprepared and make it up on the fly?”
When they replied that they expected the person to be prepared for the meeting (which I knew they would), I asked, “When I was preparing for this interview, I talked with some of the recruiters that I knew because they were in my classes in the past. They told me that during this interview you are looking for people that are prepared for this meeting. If they are, then you don’t want to hire them. How does that make sense if you expect them to show up for a meeting prepared but not an interview?”
The two young guys interviewing me looked a little embarrassed and just shrugged their shoulders. Needless to say, they didn’t offer me a job. The following week while I was in various classes, I heard others talking excitedly about being offered jobs with Williams Communication beginning when they graduate in May. This was the company a lot of students wanted to go to work. They evidently gave a lot of perks to their employees.
Many of the students going to work for Williams, had arranged to moved to Tulsa at the end of school. They had hired over 200 students. A couple of people had already moved and were commuting to class. Then the news hit the fan (so to speak). Williams Communication was in financial trouble and they were not only not hiring the students they said they were going to hire, but they were laying people off. I considered myself lucky to not have been offered the job 6 months earlier.
I had a similar “scare” during the first week of May when Dell, (who had been laying off a lot of employees all spring — This was the Millennium Internet bust) called to tell me that they were moving my start date from the beginning of June until August 20 as I discussed in the post linked above, “The Heart of a Power Plant”, so I knew what some of the students were going through. My problem was that I was in the middle of selling my house in Stillwater, Oklahoma and buying a house in Round Rock, Texas at the same time.
I had an interview with Wal-Mart and they offered me a job. The pay wasn’t that good. Before I even considered whether to accept it, I went to a “social” where they had a meeting to explain what working for Wal-Mart would be like as an IT employee. While they were talking, one of the people giving the presentation recognized someone in the room and asked her if she would like to stand up and tell how it was last summer when she worked there as an intern.
The young girl stood up and walked to the front of the room. She looked around at the Wal-Mart representatives and smiled. Then she looked at the audience of eager students waiting to hear about all the great things about working for Wal-Mart. Then she spoke. She hesitantly said, “Well (pause). I cried a lot.” The room burst into laughter.
The Wal-Mart recruiters were as surprised as everyone else. They asked her to explain. So she told us that one day she went to run a job on the mainframe and when she did, she shutdown all of Argentina for about 30 minutes. They informed her that they lost millions of dollars in that time. She said that no one told her that you weren’t supposed to run jobs like that during working hours.
I knew exactly how she felt. I had tried compiling a program on our mainframe at the Electric Company one day just for fun, and a little while later someone from the IT department called the Power Plant wanting to speak to Kevin Breazile. — Yeah. I had locked up the mainframe until the program finished compiling.
They asked me if they could kill the job. I told them “Sure!” This was after I had been scolded by Tom Gibson, our Electric Supervisor after the plant had been contacted by the President of the company because I had sent something to everyone’s printer and messed up all the billing, payroll and work order jobs. See the post Power Plant Customer Service Team Gone Wild.
Then came Boeing. I was interviewing for a job in Wichita. When they found out that I was both an IT person and an Electrician they offered to hire me right on the spot. They asked me to give my 2 week notice and they would move me to Wichita where I could start as soon as possible. They said that I could work on fighter planes, both wiring them and programming them. This was very tempting.
I told the recruiters that I would like to get my degree before I would leave the electric company. After all, they were paying for my classes. I only had 6 more hours after the current semester, and if they wanted to talk next semester, I would be willing to discuss it with them then. They said that if I went to work for Boeing I would receive a $3,000 bonus when I receive my degree, if there was some way to make that work. That was the last time I heard from them. My wife wasn’t too keen about moving to Wichita anyway, so, I took that as a good thing. Although….
I also interviewed with Koch Industry in Wichita and they did interview me on-site (twice). When they offered me a job I told them that the pay was not enough. Then they called me back a few weeks later and I went up to interview again. This time with their pipeline switching team. It turned out that they were using a system called “PI” that we used at our Power Plant. I mentioned this in the post: Power Plant Control Room Operator and the Life of Pi. By that time I had the offer from Dell and Koch said they couldn’t pay me what I was asking.
An interesting thing happened when I was on site for the interview. That morning they had found one of the Koch Industry employees brutally murdered in his home (I think I watched a Forensics Files many years later about this murder). This had unnerved the employees and they were sort of on “lock down”. They didn’t really want to advertise that, but when the recruiter was having lunch with me in their cafeteria, she mentioned it to me.
JD Edwards was a competitor with SAP at the time. I had an advantage when I interviewed with them, because I had been working on SAP for the past 3 years. They flew me to Denver and I stayed in a nice hotel just across the parking lot from their office. By this time, I was used to flying with a few other 4.0 students who had been offered jobs from the same companies I had. Some who ended up working at Dell when we were all said and done.
While I was in the interview and they found out that I knew the SAP Maintenance Module and worked for the company that had worked with SAP to develop it, the person interviewing me became excited and left to go find another person to come into help with the interview. JD Edwards wanted to develop their own Maintenance Module and since I knew both systems (as I had taken a computer course in school where we worked on JD Edwards’ One World application), They were eager to hire me.
They offered me more than any other company, but when I looked at the cost of living in the area around their office (which was not far from Columbine High School), I told them they would have to go higher. They went back and forth with me, but couldn’t come up to where I would accept their offer.
As a follow-up to this story…. In the year 2005, I went to Denver for some training with Kronos, our timekeeping system. I ended up staying in the same hotel where I stayed when I interviewed with JD Edwards. Their building was just across the parking lot. It was abandoned.
JD Edwards had been bought by Oracle a couple of years after I interviewed with them, and they just liquidated their IT department in Denver. So. I dodged a bullet with that one.
The same thing happened with Sprint. This was another company a lot of students were interested in. They had a nice campus in Overland Park Kansas, a suburb of Kansas City. I began the interview by joking around with the recruiters who were older people like me. I told them where they could find a nice place to eat dinner and other stuff like that.
They didn’t like my answer to the question, “Who is Sprint’s number one competitor?” I told them, “Technology”. They asked me to explain, and I told them that in one day a new technology can come out and make their company obsolete. They didn’t seem to like that answer. I know they were looking for the answer, “AT&T and T-Mobile.” Like I said, I wasn’t too eager to move to Kansas City.
Sprint didn’t offer me a job, but they did offer it to another older student who was eager to move to Overland Park in May. I suppose he eventually did. Then in 2003 when I was in another training class in Overland Park for Kronos, I met up with my best friend of all time Jesse Cheng. While we were driving around town we passed the Sprint campus where my friend from class would have worked. The campus was abandoned. Jesse said they closed it about a year before. — Whew. Glad they didn’t offer me a job there.
My favorite interview story is this: I interviewed on campus with Fleming Foods. A Supermarket chain in Oklahoma City. Many of the people on the board of directors of our electric company were also on the board of directors for Fleming Foods. After the first interview I received an email stating that my next interview was going to be in Oklahoma City on the Monday afternoon two weeks from then. I immediately responded and said that I had a prior commitment during that time and would not be able to attend the interview (I had a test in one of my classes during that time), and I asked if they could reschedule the interview.
I didn’t hear back from the recruiter to reschedule the interview. The next time I received an email was the Friday before the Monday when the interview was scheduled. It reminded me to show up for the interview and gave instructions as to where to go, etc. When I received the email, I immediately wrote and told them that as I had already indicated, I would not be able to attend the interview on Monday due to a prior commitment, and I had asked if the interview could be rescheduled.
The recruiter wrote back saying that it was very inconsiderate of me since a lot of trouble had been put into scheduling the people for the interviews and that valuable time would be wasted by important managers if I didn’t show up for the interview. — I thought….. “Wow. This is a great way to inspire students to come and work for Fleming Foods.” So I responded…..
I said this: “In my past experience I have found that the culture in the HR department generally reflects the overall culture of a company. I thank you for showing me the culture found at Fleming Foods. First of all, you totally ignored my response when I indicated two weeks ago that I would not be able to attend the interview by not responding and not attempting to reschedule it. You have shown me that Fleming Foods is not a company that I would want to work for. Please cancel the interview and do not try to reschedule it. Thanks again for the heads up.”
I went to work for Dell in the end. The Post “The Heart of the Power Plant” linked above tells the story about moving down to Round Rock to work for Dell. As Paul Harvey used to say, “Now you know the Rest of the Story”.