People always remember their firsts: first day in school, first day in college, first day in university, first job, first love, first kiss etc. For me it is my first job which is very memorable.
But before that some history about myself.
I came to USA for doing Ph.D in physics which I completed in 1993. After that I
worked as a post-doctoral research associate for two years in Norman, OK. But when
the funding ran out and it turned out I am not quite the Einstein I thought to be,
I was left with no choice but to find a job outside of academia.
Some people said with my background in physics and with Ph.D from a well known
university and also an MSc from one of I.I.T’s in India, I can easily get a job
in industry in companies like Microsoft, Hewlett Packard, Applied Materials etc.
However, my job search did not turn up any results in two months. Even though I
got some job in India, I was not willing to go back and wanted to explore further what uncle Sam might have in store for me.
But no job, no job. Then someone suggested I could look for job in the software
industry which was beginning to boom. I had done lot computing as part of my
research. So I thought it is not a bad idea. So I started applying to software
companies in the internet. But most companies kept rejecting by saying I don’t
have any relevant experience. Some will talk to me for a few days and then eventually it will not go anywhere after that.
While I was doing that, I started learning about C programming language. Before
then I have done programming in Fortran language only. So I started learning about pointers, memory
allocation, etc. I also started learning about C++ which was gaining popularity at that
time. I kept on learning. Encapsulation, inheritance, polymorphism. I
liked the idea of inheritance and polymorphism very much. While the university
had no funds to pay me anymore, I could still use their computing and other resources, e.g. phone, fax, internet etc. This turned
out to be a great service for me.
But I was still not having any luck in finding a job. Everybody said they need industry
experience which I lacked. Almost a whole month went by, and still no luck.
In fact, a time came when I gave the hope of getting a job and almost about to head back home. But before leaving I gave a call to one of companies I was dealing with. I had talked with them before. This time, the president of the company
himself took the call. When he learned about my story, he decided to give me a
chance. He offered me to come there and stay in their guest house and learn more
programming and they will look for projects for me. At that time, it sounded like a gift from heaven to me.
So I packed all my stuff, vacated my apartment, bid final good bye to the academic world and headed for New Jersey.
It was a small infotec company in New Jersey. They had a two bedroom apartment
which they used as their guest house.
They also urged me to learn visual C++ and I started learning it. However,
they had only one computer for use and sometime there will be competition over who will get to it first.
The company had probably 50-60 employees and most of them were at their client
site working on various assignments. There were only four people in the office.
They had rented a two bedroom apartment which they called the guest house. This
was going to my address for a while.
Life in the Guest House
At a times, their guest house really got crowded. People were coming from India.
Some got placed pretty much immediately but some had to wait a while.
Sometime the mood got very festive. People talking, joking, playing. One day,
someone was cooking while some other people having a hearty adda (chit chat). So
he also joined in the party. But he forgot to switch off the cooking burner.
He was having so much fun, he didn’t realize the oil had gotten over heated
and started burning. It caught our attention only there were smoke all over the
living room. Immediately we ran to the kitchen and switched off the gas. But the
oil was still burning and so much smoke came out that it triggered the smoke
alarm. We quickly opened the windows and tried to fan the smoke out with some newspapers. At one point we were worried if police or fire brigade
will come and what they will think when they find so many foreigners in a single
apartment. So someone suggested most of us could hide in the bathroom. Then
someone pointed out the closet which was a walk-in close and could fit 5-6 people easily. But no police or fire brigade ever came and the smoke cleared in an hour.
In another day, someone put a hot cooking pot containing lentil right onto the carpet. No one seemed to notice what happened until we finished eating. The pot
has burned the carpet it was sitting on, we discovered when the pot was lifted.
Everybody was very nervous. Weeks later, it will a subject of obscene joke : an black round spot exactly in the middle of the apartment.
Also people will forget one or another sometime : may be switching off
light or the air conditioning, one someone even forgot to turn off the cooking gas, it kept burning the whole day. It was very fortunate that the whole apartment was not burned down. But every time the company president knew about
it, he would start yelling, and the blame game will start.
Hopeless quest for job
As I was learning visual C++, they would try sending my resume
for review to some companies. In all cases, it will be completely ignored. Sometime the marketing person will talk to someone mentioning my impressive educational
background. But only response he would get from the other end was in the form of
a question : how much industry experience does he have? Answer was, of course, ZERO! It was getting more and more frustrating.
In one instance, he almost yelled at them saying : ‘he has written thousand lines of code’! To this day, the desparateness, frustration and poignance still
rings in my ear.
I was also getting sick of learning visual C++. I know I can write program that
can fetch data and display it on the screen, but what all is there to learn?
One can not memorize the whole windows api.
As I was learning visual C++ and sometime visual basic, I also had another task
to take care of. This was to drive people around. Even though most people
found jobs without too much effort, there were few who took some time. They
will have interviews here and there. Since they just came from India, they didn’t know driving and my ability to drive a car came very handy to them. So
I would drive them to places. In one incident, I drove one guy to some place
in North Jersey and I got lost. Cell phone were available at that time, but almost no one
had them. I stopped at a lonely gas station and made a call. It was so lonely
and time was around 11 pm, I got really scared. In another instance, I was
supposed to bring back a guy from some town in philadelphia who got rolled off
from the project just after a week. This time also I got lost and found myself
driving on a very narrow road. There was no way to turn back. Finally I stopped
on the shoulder which was grass. There was a car coming from behind, so I waited
until it passed. But to my surprise, the car stopped just by my car. I was very
scared. But when the windows rolled down, I saw an old lady instead of a someone
pointing gun at me who asked if I was alright and needed any help. I was so
touched by this gesture. So I smiled and said no. I turned back and eventually
found the guy and headed back to the guest house.
The fight with Lawyer
The first thing they had do was to get an H1B approval for me. But
the lawyer was very much against me. One day the president of the company got
in phone with him and an entertaining conversation followed.
Lawyer: How can you be sure he can do this job?
President: I know his background, he can easily learn this.
Lawyer: Okay, but his degree is in physics it will be very difficult to get H1B
approval for him.
President: He has done lot of programming as part of this research, it should not be any problem.
Lawyer: Okay, but this is still a very complicated case and lot of extra work needs to done, it would cost XXXX dollars.
President: Oh my god! Etna mat bolo. Hamara seva karo. (Don’t quote so much, serve me well).
Lawyer: No man, it can not be any lower than that.
President: Kar do bhaiya! Main to garib admi hun. (Please do it, we are too poor!)
Lawyer: I am giving you the lowest price! Others will charge you a whole lot. (Meaning he would suck the last drop of blood from you if he could.)
And the coversation continued for a while. It ended like this.
President: Okay, we will get all paperwork ready. Please start working on this
as soon as possible.
Lawyer: Don’t worry. As long as it is in my hand everything will go smoothly (meaning he didn’t have a clue what he was talking about).
Return to India
At some point, I decided to go home and stay there until get a project; the chance of
which was getting slimmer and slimmer each day. So I bought a one-way ticket to India and headed home. There was very good chance that I will not return back to USA. At home, my parent pestered me so much to get married.
So I decided to get married even though I did not have a job. This is partly
because I was not having much luck with girls. I did have chances though, but I
blew them all. But this is not relevant in the context of this story. May be later.
But right after getting married, guess what, phone started ringing from USA.
The infotec company has finally found someone who was interested in my resume
and an phone interview was scheduled quickly. The interview was not as great as
I thought! But one hour later, I got a call back saying I was selected for the
job. Take that! I got a job.
After that everything was arranged with lightening speed. The plane ticket was booked and
I headed back to US. But even this part was not without kinks. They booked a
ticket on Tower airlines! I was supposed to fly out of Mumbai. I was to collect
the ticket from the Tower office in Mumbai. When I tried to find their office
in the largest city of India, I had troubles. The taxi driver took me around the
city (probably twice) and when finally located the office, they said I simply
had to pick it up from their counter in the airport itself. Well the taxi raced
back to the airport and dropped me there. He demanded about thousand rupees (or
fifteen hundred, I don’t remember today).
But everything went smoothly after that! In the airport in New York, two people
from the office came to meet me! It was so touching.