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random programming guy: job title?

hi,
i have a job at the moment where i'm designing some wildly overscoped and impossible J2EE system....by myself. I have a very broad background, and I work in a lab with a bunch of researchers.

Often times some researchers that work near me will have small programming tasks they need done, like "i need a way to go to this web site, submit a search query, then suck down all 158 results into a text file. but only need the first three columns."  Or, "i need a quick hack to display this data from my database in a scatter plot with a web form to change the variables, for a presentation."    As a break from my "real" project, I'll often take an hour, to a day, to help these other guys out.

I've been working for a few years, and have found that I actually prefer doing these quick one-off hacks, than I do actually architecting out huge systems. If I could just be the jack-of-all trades, on call to help people out with small problems, I'd be very happy. My question is, do companies actively hire people like this? What would the job title be? What is an industry, other than academic research, where people like this would be needed? 

Thanks!

grandelatte
Wednesday, January 29, 2003

> My question is, do companies actively hire people like this?

Pehaps those jobs that say:  C++, VB, Java, Perl, Sybase, Unix, shell scripts, SQL, etc, etc  fit into that "jack of all trades" position

Bella
Wednesday, January 29, 2003

I have been that guy, and no they don't hire for that but if you work in a large enough department long enough that becomes your role, and if youre manager is a human being, he will reduce your primary role accordingly.

The key is you have to make your manager aware of what you are doing/being asked to do, so the impossible J2EE project is not unexpectadly late because of the hacks (or at least let the manager decide).

Daniel Shchyokin
Wednesday, January 29, 2003

Ditto what Bella said.  Also look for jobs advertised as system administrator/programmer.

not my regular made up name
Wednesday, January 29, 2003

There are 2 cases I see: 
a) You have been working for a place a while, and suppport several live systems you have built.  At that point, you become this jack of all trades, which in a way is a maintenance prograammmer.
b) that maintenance prograammmer quits, and an opening comes up. 

I don't think firms hire jack of all trades for new dev, however.  Usually, new dev is targeted for a specific dev platform.  unless of course, they want someone doing new dev AND production support maint.

Bella
Thursday, January 30, 2003

As people have pointed out, this kind of thing is more common in a *n*x type world. That's probably because there are just so many tools which are readily available (many have also been ported to Windows) each of which can do "simple" jobs and which can be glued together with a bit of script to produce the desired result.


Thursday, January 30, 2003

I worked (briefly) at a contract research institution where all of their software development was handled this way. If you are looking for a new job, maybe this kind of enviroment would work for you.

I pondered a long time why this environment was like this (personally, it drove me nuts, and I left). I think it has to do with:

1) Contract research wants solutions cheap and fast for the current contract only. No time to build a "system" because you probably will never use it again. It's a one-time solution for a particular contract.

2) People who bid contracts truly have no idea how to develop software. They pull numbers (time/cost) out of the air. And then when they win the contract, you have to deliver according to those bid numbers, or else the company does not make money.

3) Clients don't want to pay for software. They don't see it as relevant to the research they want. For example, if they're purchasing an epidemiology study with statistical analysis, they don't want to pay for data collection software to be developed! This is another reason why the bidding tends to be low.

Of course, they magically want their data delivered in all kinds of formats and permutations, run through quality control, etc. etc.

4) In my experience, researchers (e.g. PhD's and MD's) at these institutions are event driven individuals. It is not uncommon for a lead researcher to call the systems folks and say "I need a database to load this data that someone sent me in 3 different format, and I need 15 statistical reports. Can you have it for me tomorrow? I have a deadline for a paper submission."

...and the researcher has been sitting on the data for the last 3 weeks.

Some software people thrive in this environment - lots of fire fighting and being the hero when it works out. If you can put together cheap solutions fast with relatively good quality, you will do really well in such an environment. Lots of thinking on your feet.

Lauren B.
Thursday, January 30, 2003

Thanks Lauren. Even though that job might have seemed distasteful, it seems closer to what I like doing than actual "big project" style development does. I've determined that I myself am event driven, and like to do very short projects where results are immediately seen. The only thing that sounds bad is "contract research" in my mind is equivalent with "low pay." I'll look into it.

grandlatte
Thursday, January 30, 2003

I like this style of work myself.  One thing I've learned as an adaptation mechanism is that I can subdivide a big project into small pieces, ideally lasting no more than a few days.  This boosts my sense of satisfaction -- I can look at it as a completed item instead of just one more step in a huge effort; keeps me from feeling overwhelmed by the size of a project; helps me flesh out what needs to be done; and helps me manage my time better.

-Thomas

Thomas
Thursday, January 30, 2003

It wasn't my intent to sound biased against that job. It just wasn't a good fit for me.... :-)

In reality, the PhD/MD issue isn't always as bad as I portrayed it (as I reread my post). It largely depends on who is leading your project.

Contract research doesn't necessarily mean low pay. The one I worked for was a non-profit, but the salaries were only slightly below the going rate.  It depends on the company, who their customers are, what services they offer.

Good luck!

Lauren B.
Thursday, January 30, 2003

All shops have at least one of these guys/girls, but no one ever hires one. It is something you grow in to (as you are now).

Just me (Sir to you)
Friday, January 31, 2003

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