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Went for an interview and from what I could gather from the interviewer:

  • Development is done to a 'wire-frame' specification where users get constant feedback and can change their mind at will
  • I could be expected to 'set up new computers' and 'configure servers'
  • Occasionally I will have to do unpaid overtime - particularly towards the end of a project
  • They use visual source safe
  • The company has chopped and changed quite a bit recently (name, management)
  • I will be doing an extra hours work per day as compared to my current position and taking 1 less days holiday
  • They want me to complete a test which is some development for their in house system (perhaps they want free work done?)

Now I understand all these points by themselves might not mean much, and I would be happy to do a few of them as part of my job. But all together its making me wonder. I've yet to get salary details but I'm thinking it would have to be quite a bit higher for me to consider jumping ship.

How does this position sound to you? Depending on the answers I'm tempted to link to company here - so I'm giving them a fair chance and they can defend themselves. Its possible that there are some misunderstandings due to short-ish hour-long interview.

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26  
Sounds like a Dilbert strip to me. One the one hand, they offer bad hours, no extra money paid for overtime, less holiday time. Yet on the plus side, at least they're honest. Seems almost the punchline to a joke. If they don't pay you exceptionally well, I would avoid it like the plague. –  Neil Jan 25 '11 at 9:51
2  
Sounds to me like you've already made your mind up. Listen to your doubts on this one and unless you're at risk of being out of a job then why risk it? –  ChrisAnnODell Jan 25 '11 at 10:00
4  
@m.edmondson if your test code will go into production, it's a bad sign for this company. Given they don't have the time for their full time employee don't have time to work on that feature / They don't have any other staff can code like you? Aside from pride for your code, I see no reason a decent company will consider that. Run away, as quickly as you can... –  Zekta Chan Jan 25 '11 at 13:44
11  
@Uri: VSS is a smell. Companies that rely on MS technology and IDEs have a better option (TFS) if they're doing it right. What this says is that they rely on bad MS tech rather than getting good MS tech or good tech from elsewhere. –  David Thornley Jan 25 '11 at 16:41
3  
@Uri: the last time anyone should have use VSS was probably sometime around 2000. –  Carson63000 Jun 19 '11 at 0:03

9 Answers 9

up vote 32 down vote accepted

To me it sounds fishy indeed. Not all the points, but the ones about extra hours and unpaid overtime definitely. (being a family man, I may be oversensitive to this though, thus biased.) If they require that up front, it is a strong signal that they have noone who has the experience and/or logic to follow a simple chain of conclusions like extra work hours -> tired brains -> making mistakes -> more problems and more extra hours down the line -> worse quality, higher turnover -> LOSS FOR THE COMPANY.

Development is done to a 'wire-frame' specification where users get constant feedback and can change their mind at will

This may be (a foundation for) a good agile development process - or may be a sign of complete chaos.

I could be expected to 'set up new computers' and 'configure servers'

We do configure servers every now and then and it's fine with me as long as it happens once in a month or so :-) Of course, if you would be expected to do such tasks half of your work time, that is an entirely different matter (and an entirely different job in fact).

They use visual source safe

That can be changed, provided there is willingness for it.

They want me to complete a test which is some development for their in house system (perhaps they want free work done?)

That doesn't sound very thrilling either. If they were a top name in the industry, maybe it would be considered worth paying such a price, but overall this does indeed sound like they think too high of themselves and/or want to get free work.

In the end, I think it all boils down to whether you see any signs of willingness to improve things, or they seem to be satisfied in their belief that all is well as it is. Changing the technical environment like an SCM server is a trivial task compared to changing people's way of thinking.

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Let me tell you this - as a guy that's been fleeced into working countless hours of overtime before, you're walking right into it if you take this job.

When the company totes the line of "Working overtime towards the end of a project" it means that they are underbidding. They are underbidding to get the contract and figure they can just have the developers work for free. First it's just at the end of the project; then it's every development cycle (phase/build/whatever); the next thing you know you're working 60 hour weeks and the occasional weekend.

Never work for free - it waters down the salaries of developers everywhere. As much as I hate unions, developers need one of some sort. No where else do people that create something get treated so bad....

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11  
Agreed. The only "free" overtime I would ever do again is fixing my own stupid mistakes. Anything else I expect to be compensated for. I have no idea where the whole "free overtime" thing even started with knowledge workers. Imagine it in a blue collar industry - there would be a revolution. –  Bobby Tables Jan 25 '11 at 14:33
8  
Exactly, imagine telling some labor group that they had to work for free hanging drywall because the lead guy said they'd have the house built done early –  PSU_Kardi Jan 25 '11 at 14:43

I personally treat ANY kind of explicit expectation of overtime as a job smell...

The way I figure it is: it's a universal norm that salaried work may require "emergency" overtime. So if someone goes out of their way to point out to me that their role requires it, it sounds like something is wrong - like much more is required than the usual acceptable emergency level.

Just on that I would prod further and see what they expect exactly. And why.

Remember, it's not just the fact that you might have to work extra time for free. The environment is also likely high pressure and disorganized in that kind of company culture.

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Never work for free. No one will give any value to your work if you don't and by accepting to work for free or ridiculously low fees you undermine the work of all programmers.

So, yes, this job stinks.

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You need to be clearer about what you mean by "never work for free" in the context of the question... do you mean the test or the notion of overtime. –  Murph Jan 25 '11 at 14:46
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@Murph - The unpaid overtime. Any company that want free programmers can't be taken seriously. –  Raphael Jan 25 '11 at 17:35
    
But they ain't free - they are, or at least should be, paid a rate appropriate to their skills and the demands placed upon them. Its a judgement call as to whether a degree of flexibility in hours is reflected in their salary, as it is for a great many white collar jobs. There are also considerable cultural issues - which some countries (mine, the UK, being one) probably don't have right (in terms of what is acceptable). FWIW, I've never had the option of overtime but I did, in my first job, work flexitime - so had fixed hours. –  Murph Jan 25 '11 at 19:56
    
@Murph - I agree with all you said but the question is specific about unpaid overtime and I have some experience with this because here in Brazil there are several companies who think they have the right to ask it's programmers to do unpaid overtime. Some companies will even ask you to work for free on sundays. I really don't know how any programmer could agree with this but there are several who agree, specially the younger ones as they feel they have to prove something to their employers. –  Raphael Jan 25 '11 at 21:30
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@Murph - Ok, now I understand what you're saying but again I must say that I would never agree on something like this. Agreeing to this for me seems just like signing a blank check. –  Raphael Jan 26 '11 at 22:07

Most of that might be considered reasonable, or at least not unusual - but collectively it would make me uncomfortable.

In particular, if they're a Microsoft based organisation they should have MSDN for their developers and if so they should - I believe now - be able to at least use TFS instead of VSS.

At the very least I would want to ask what their plans are for migration to a better version control system - in terms of an answer you're not so bothered with what (though that might colour your response) just that they have plans...

The question is really whether everything else you've seen and been offered makes you happy because it reads to me like you've already decided against and are trying to back up that decision.

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Except the overtime thing, nothing looks like a smell to me.

Development is done to a 'wire-frame' specification where users get constant feedback and can change their mind at will

Users changing their mind is a fact of life. You should encourage them to do so, so your software will matches their real needs rather that what they tought 1 year ago and wrote in a formal document.

I could be expected to 'set up new computers' and 'configure servers'

Being in contact with the machine you will develop software for doesn't look like a problem to me. If it's a real problem to you, mention to the interviewer you don't want to do that.

Occasionally I will have to do unpaid overtime - particularly towards the end of a project

Overtime should be paid always. You can clarify that by telling the interviewer you are willing to do them occasionally, in the only condition you are paid for them, or you can convert them in vacation time.

They use visual source safe

Good for you, it's an opportunity to you to introduce a better one like SubVersion or Git.

The company has chopped and changed quite a bit recently (name, management)

You don't know what is going on, you are not qualified to understand every details, so if I was you, I wouldn't worry too much about that. It happens all the time.

I will be doing an extra hours work per day as compared to my current position and taking 1 less days holiday

Again, if you don't agree with that, you can either tell the interviewer or don't take the job. Every company is different and that problem may be compensated by other advantage you are not aware of yet.

They want me to complete a test which is some development for their in house system (perhaps they want free work done?)

Maybe, maybe not. Testing candidates is actually a very good practice. This is definitely not a job smell.

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3  
Set up computers and configure servers we do all the time for projects etc., but here this sounds like the OP could end up as the company IT helpdesk, which he did not apply for (I assume). –  Simon Jan 25 '11 at 9:44
2  
like SubVersion or Git - Linus would rip your head off :D –  back2dos Jan 25 '11 at 9:56
    
@Simon - I don't think it's a smell, it's just something they are saying (honestly and upfront) is part of the job. It's up the questioner to decide whether they're happy with the role or not but it's not intrinsically bad. –  Jon Hopkins Jan 25 '11 at 9:59
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@back2dos: linus can try, I doubt he will be able to even touch me ;) –  user2567 Jan 25 '11 at 10:30

"Occasionally I will have to do unpaid overtime - particularly towards the end of a project"

This is a huge red flag. They are admitting that their process is completely ineffective. They work on infeasible timelines, and finish every project with a flurry of feverish and probably low-quality work. They probably think this is normal for the software industry. It's not. I wouldn't go to a shop like that if they offered me a 50% increase. It will be nothing but stress and frustration.

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Development is done to a 'wire-frame' specification where users get constant feedback and can change their mind at will

I like this method, so long as changes are incorporated into timescales.

I could be expected to 'set up new computers' and 'configure servers'

Not my thing as a programmer, but in smaller companies being a jack of all trades is either a good or bad thing!! I suppose configuring servers is less of a worry than actual user PC's.

Occasionally I will have to do unpaid overtime - particularly towards the end of a project

Sniff sniff..... hmmm....if it really is occasional then this wouldn't bother me. However, this kind of thing alwaya make me worry about unrealistic deadlines and bad planning!

They use visual source safe

Everyone always moans about VSS, but really, it's not the end of the world, and you can always pioneer moving to something new and treat it as a challenge!

The company has chopped and changed quite a bit recently (name, management)

Could be an issue, depends on the exact nature/reason.

I will be doing an extra hours work per day as compared to my current position and taking 1 less days holiday

For an awesome job this wouldn't worry me in the slightest! It's difficult to judge until you're in there.

They want me to complete a test which is some development for their in house system (perhaps they want free work done?)

At least it's not dressed up as how would you do XYZ (eg. free consultancy). How long do they say they expect it to take?

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Occasionally I will have to do unpaid overtime ... They use visual source safe

You'll be doing unpaid overtime every time VSS goes haywire, that's for sure.

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