Sunday, April 03, 2005

Adventures in Interviewing (Part 2)

My counselor has likened the job search to dating, and I have to agree. You enter into the search with certain expectations, and the employer enters with with their expectations, and if there's a match you have a job opportunity. If it doesn't work out, it's probably not because one or the other of you is bad or somehow flawed; there's just an incompatibility and you're not meant for each other.

Chemistry is also a factor in the job search. As in dating, there has to be a psychological or emotional match before a job offer can be extended. My counselor told me of cases where he was completely qualified for a job and did not get it, and other cases where he did not entirely fit the job description but was offered a job almost immediately.

I think that my opportunity to interview was based more upon my reputation than my skill set, because I do not have some of the most important skills for this job. In particular, the job description called for a person with expertise in C++ and object-oriented programming, and experience in large-scale software projects. I know some C++ and object-oriented programming, but I would never call myself an expert. Furthermore, I've never worked on a very large-scale software project. I freely admitted these shortcomings, but it did not seem to perturb my host or any of my interviewers. I pointed out that I was trainable, and that I would be interested in developing those skills, which I feel are my weakest point as a computer scientist.

I have mixed emotions about taking a job at Sandia. The biggest problem is that 90% of the funding in the department I would be working in comes from the nuclear weapons program. I would be working on a computational framework to solve large-scale multiphysics problems, and while there are many different large-scale multiphysics problems out there, the one sponsoring this project is the nuclear weapons problems. I feel uncomfortable with the idea of being indirectly responsible for improving the design of nuclear weapons in some ways. On the one hand, I don't think it's right to encourage further nuclear weapon development. On the other hand, if we're going to have nuclear weapons (which we inevitably are), it seems like a good idea to remake them in a safer fashion and make sure that the ones we already have are not in danger of exploding when we don't want them to.

The computational framework could and would be used for other multiphysics problems, too. The department I'd be working for has a big contract with Goodyear to design safer tires. They also performed the analysis to figure out what happened to the space shuttle Columbia a couple of years ago, and modeled the effects of planes crashing into crucial infrastructure. A big question is whether the non-nuclear applications of the software make up for the nuclear applications in any way.

The good news about working for that department is that the nuclear weapons budget is being cut by 5% this year, and this has made them realize that they should begin to diversify their sponsorship. I am a creative thinker, and I could picture myself helping make connections in other areas as this transformation takes place. Would it be worth taking nuclear money at the beginning if it meant I could help transform them into a "peacemongering" organization? This is a question that only I can answer for myself.

One interviewer did ask me point blank whether I was okay with working on nuclear weapons. I gave him the answer my friendly neighborhood ethicist helped me to formulate (thanks, Laura!): I was already aware of the prevalence of nuclear weapons research at the lab. I come from a long line of Quakers (a direct descendent of Roger Williams, founder of Rhode Island), and while I am not a Quaker myself, I have certainly been influenced by them to consider the morality and ethical impact of my behavior. Another important value in Quakerism is integrity, however, so they can trust me to make a decision for myself as to whether I can accept their job offer.

I've discussed the negatives, so now it's time for the positives of the job. It would sharpen my computer skills, which need to be improved if I'm going to claim that I'm a computer scientist. It would be an intellectually stimulating environment, full of friendly people. There would be a lot of interdisciplinary work, and freedom to work in many areas and change departments if I'd like to. The women who interviewed me gave glowing reports of Sandia's commitment to retaining women and helping them to thrive. I interviewed for a staff position, not a postdoc, so there would be the stability of not needing to uproot in a couple of years. I would get paid a lot of money, and the cost of living in Albuquerque is very low.

I was also very impressed with my host, who would be my manager if I were to take the job. The unusual events of Wednesday gave me a chance to see how he reacts to stressful situations, and I was really impressed with how he advocated for the three of us who were in the accident. I greatly appreciated his sensitivity to both my physical and emotional condition for the rest of my visit, and I was impressed with how quickly he found out the liability information for the man who was driving us to lunch. (If he was on Sandia business while in his personal vehicle, and got into an accident, whose insurance pays? Answer: his own, but Sandia will reimburse him up to $500 of expenses not covered by his insurance.)

So there are many pros and cons to working there, which I will need to weigh if I get an offer. My friends seemed to think that based on my description of how things went, I should get an offer. I hope they're right.

Right now I feel like Sandia would be a really good place to work, and if I got an offer, I would probably accept. But I turn once again to the dating analogy. Do I just feel flattered by their interest in me, which makes me turn a blind eye to the activities of which I disapprove? How much am I trying to fit myself into their mold so that they will make me an offer? Is it a crush, or is it true love?

1 comment:

Laura said...

Congratulations on such a good interview, Becca! Sounds like you did a really good job of taking care of yourself and related well to everybody you talked to. Yay! That's my awesome sister! Congrats, dearie!