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Never Assume (Trust but Verify)

The job description read, in part:

• 5+ years experience working with Windows, Mac and Linux systems, including systems administration for all three

I do know how to use Windows but I am much happier, and far more productive, when most of my general work can be done on Mac OS X. I can do "system administration" on Windows (or Linux) machines but prefer to make notes, handle email & calendar, and use web applications on a Mac desktop system.

I also knew that at least one project was heavily into Macs. The third interviewer and I spent much of our time discussing the application his team works with, that I would therefore be working with.

So, I thought I was making a simple administrative request when I asked the recruiter to pass on the information that I wanted to sure that the desktop system I was provided with would be a Macintosh. Imagine my surprise when the recruiter relayed the response he got back:

Sorry, no, we need to have her system as replicated by our business customers which is a PC. Also she will have access to a Linux system too.

From my viewpoint, I had just been making sure that the checkmark went in the right box before I arrived. I naively assumed (never assume :-( that the response would be "no problem."

But the response did cause a problem, as I tried to explain to the recruiter that "no" and "a pc" were unacceptable answers.

You see, my choice of desktop system is one of my most important criteria when choosing a job, just like distance (less than 40 miles), travel requirements (none), type of work, and rate. For a job that lasts more than a few weeks, Mac OS on the desktop is a non-negotiable item.

Naively, without thinking it through, I had never mentioned this at the beginning. I've been spoiled by working for many companies where the desktop system is a simple choice.

I'm not just blindly prejudiced against Windows. I have used Windows, several times. The first time was for a 12-week contract that was extended once. The second time was a 6-week contract. The third time was a 12-week contract where I had asked for a Mac and got Windows instead. We tried many times to change the system during that 12 weeks and, when they offered me conversion to "full-time permanent", my response was "only if I get a Mac".

I can use Windows. I am willing to provide support to people who have Windows. However, I am personally far more productive if I don't have to use Windows myself except in small, specific ways.

Because the company, and one of teams I would be working with, used Macs, I mistakenly thought the question of desktop system would be a simple matter of choice. While I made it very clear to the third interviewer that I preferred Macs, I never actually asked the question "Will there be any difficulty in having a Mac as my desktop system."

When the recruiter called me after the interview to say "they're interested" and confirm salary requirements, I didn't say "Please also tell them I need a Mac on my desk." We discussed the lowest rate I would be comfortable with, but I never mentioned that the computer platform was a make-or-break issue.

Because I never thought it would come to that. I made an assumption. I had, as they call it, A Learning Experience.

The recruiter really didn't want to ask the question, didn't want it to be a question, and especially didn't want the question to appear to be a deal breaker depending on the answer. I probably shouldn't be surprised by how difficult it was to explain to the recruiter that this issue was extremely important to me. How can you explain — to someone who works primarily by telephone — the importance of computer systems to someone like me?

I spend all of my time on the computer. I can live happily without a phone (and often do!), but the type of computer on my desk dictates how productive and happy I will be in my job.

My fingers don't work well on Windows. This matters.

June 3, 2012 in category Career Center | Permalink

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