Philip Brewer's Writing Progress


Thursday, 18 November 2004

In job interviews, people often ask you what your worst weakness is.

It's not really a good question. After the first time you run into it, which is usually in a workshop on how to interview for a job, you come up with an answer and just feed that to whoever is interviewing you.

It's not hard to come up with a good answer. It should be something that is, arguably, a weakness, but that won't really matter in the context of the job. You also should end with an expression of how you deal with your weakness--what you do to keep this weakness from being a significant problem.

I'm basically an honest guy, so when I get this question, I tend to go with an honest answer, to the extent that I do put my finger on a real weaknesses. I say something like: "While I'm usually pretty good at handling several tasks at once, when there are multiple high-priority tasks and not enough time to get them all done, I don't 'degrade gracefully.' I'm okay as long as there's either time to get everything done, or clear management direction on priorities. But when everything is top priority and it all has to be done right away, I'm prone to end up shifting from one to the next to the next and not getting anything done. I deal with it by seeking management guidance on priorities."

Dunno if that's a great answer or not, but I've got a pretty good rate of turning interviews into offers.

I mention this because I'm almost in this situation now. I've been working up against a whole series of deadlines, and mostly meeting them. I'm doing well enough that I'm having to pick up tasks from other people. These tasks tend to be the extra-urgent ones, and tend to look small (because they are if you've got everything set up to handle them), but can balloon up quite rapidly in size if you have to get special software builds and track down hardware and test equipment and come up to speed on the issue. That's what the past few days have been like.

Then, today, the cable modem guy was coming out. (We've been off the net since early Monday morning, due to what turns out to be a cable modem hardware failure.) The plan was that Jackie would stay home for the cable guy. Then, this morning, Jackie had a filling come out.

So, this morning I went into to work, got yet another extra task, gathered up some stuff that would let me run some tests, came home to wait for the cable guy so Jackie could to the dentist, spent three hours getting my home network into some semblance of order (it's still not right), went back into work, did a quarter of my testing, did this extra task, and . . . and then my brain began to melt.

Just like I tell potential employers, when there are too many urgent tasks, I don't degrade gracefully. My brain melts. I sit there thinking, "I need to do this, but first I need to do that, but before that I need to make notes about all these things that I'll forget if I don't write them down right now, but before that I need to send email about the results of that urgent task, because people need that, but first I should take the test equipment back because I'm done with it, and maybe I should start by making a list of all the things I need to do, except it's silly to do that before I make a list of all the things I'll forget, because I can feel my brain forgetting them as I sit here!"

So, I returned the test equipment, wrote the email, and came home.

One more day of this, and then I'm on vacation for a week. I'll need all vacation just to recover, I'm afraid.

Poor Jackie is a great help to me. When I get too frazzled over something like this, my first response is to drop anything non-work-related on the floor. Jackie's been picking it all up and making sure everything gets down. But adding a cable modem failure and a dental emergency to the mix just pushed us over the edge.

I don't have a plan for my vacation. I have a definite intention to write, but I haven't thought about what to write. I'll just wing it.

I read Susan Palwick's story "The Fate of Mice" in the current Asimov's. The author is a friend of Barbara's and someone who had been to Clarion not too long before me. It's a great story, and I sent her some email to let say so. It's a decision story, and a rather bittersweet one. It makes me feel like I ought to write stuff like it.


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