Early 1993 I started to look for a job. My first application was for an IT traineeship at Cap Gemini. There were sixteen vacancies. Some 2,000 people applied and 200 of them were selected for a series of tests. At the tests other applicants were telling stories about assessments, tests and job interviews. The economy fared poorly so there weren’t a lot of jobs. Many graduates were already searching for a long time. It was discouraging to hear their stories so I expected to remain unemployed for quite a while.
That wasn’t meant to be. The tests went well and I was invited for an interview and some more psychological tests. In the train on my way to the interview I a guy who had lived with me in dormitory 389-second-floor came sitting on the seat in front of me . He asked me why I was wearing a suit. I told him about the interview. Then he started to laugh loudly. “Your tie is a mess,” he said. “Let me put in order for you.” He arranged the tie correctly for me.
If this event, which appeared mere chance at the time, hadn’t happened, I may not have been hired. The interview and the tests went well. The misfortune during my student years because of not fitting in groups had made me investigating culture and cultural differences. And so it wasn’t hard for me to translate the expectations of Cap Gemini with regard to its employees into test answers. The test results made it appear as if I fitted perfectly into the corporate culture of Cap Gemini. And so I was hired and sent to a junior programming class to prepare for my first assignment.
My self-confidence was low and I had manipulated the test results to make it appear that I fitted in. I was afraid to turn up and felt unfit for the job. But these feelings receded once the class had started. We learned about programming. I was often joking about a programme I was planning to write. It was named DoEverything as it was meant to do everything, which is a remarkable coincidence. Later I discovered that a programme like that may already exist and that we may live inside it.
My classmates were discussing what type of car they were going to drive once they were on the job. I was the only one planning to use public transport. I was not a model employee. One classmate named Ad, who was a cheerful guy coming from the Eindhoven area, expressed his amazement about me having passed all the tests.
The first assignment was a project at the Groningen office of Cap Gemini. For months we had nothing to do. I often went out late and did some additional training. Our project manager was ambitious. He organised project meetings and demanded progress reports tat he could present to senior management even though there was nothing to do. After a few months, the computers and the work came in, so the project manager was busy managing our work. He constantly demanded progress updates.
It soon became clear that we were going miss our deadline at the end of July. Before he went on a holiday, the project manager arranged a new deadline date at the end of August. Once he was gone, things suddenly went smoothly so we were able to meet the original deadline date in July with ease. When the project manager returned, all the programmes were installed. He was praised by his superiors for delivering a month ahead of schedule. Perhaps he was getting a bonus or a promotion too.
My next job was a database job at a telecommunications company. The company had difficulty tracking what their database administrator was doing. I was hired to reorganise one of their databases. This task was taken out of his hands and was given to me, a novice without experience. For that reason he didn’t like me from the start. To make matters worse, I wasn’t following his advice because he was a bungler. That was the reason I was hired in the first place.
There was a fuss because of my disturbed relationship with the database administrator. Cap Gemini sent me to a training called Professional Skills. I was not politically sensitive. It seemed better not to let political expedience stand in the way of doing what’s right or saying what needs to be said. But framing things positively can contribute to a better atmosphere. This is what political correctness is about. Cap Gemini also stressed that I was the master of my own destiny. It was one of their company slogans.
After moving to Sneek I stared to look for a job near home. There was a vacancy for a software designer at an insurer nearby in Leeuwarden. It later turned out that the job included being a project leader. The insurer had split up the IT department in smaller teams that worked on a group of systems for a specific business unit. Every few weeks or so we planned what we were going to do for the next few weeks. The business unit determined the priorities. It worked great because there were few political games like business units competing for resources. The people in the team knew what they had to do so I felt redundant. There is no point in managing something that goes well by itself.
The department was well organised, and unlike anything I had seen before. The atmosphere was friendly. Only I was accustomed to grim conditions so I felt awkward. Even though it may have taken some time I probably could get accustomed to a friendly atmosphere, but not to the job itself. All those documents, meetings, and priorities were boring. Designing and building information systems was much more fun. I had good qualifications for Oracle but the insurer didn’t use Oracle. And so I decided to try my luck as a freelance Oracle developer and database administrator. After all, I was the master of my own destiny. But an ominous incident suggested that I was not.
Featured image: Cap Gemini logo