I wrote in an article that I worked for 14 companies, but I didn’t mention them all because I don’t think they can be classified as jobs. I remember them, though, thinking that maybe they are readers interested in what someone plunging into the unknown goes through.
When I did that refresher course “update in computer science techniques” at College Maisonneuve in Montreal, I did “production practice” at 2 companies, where I helped them use applications that they bought but no longer had money to pay for maintenance at the manufacturer. The government was helping the companies stay afloat, and one of the methods was to get some help from college students. Students do “production practice” (unpaid) there; the students add it as practical experience in their RESUME, and the companies get some help.
Still in Montreal, another “almost” job was a small company that didn’t even have their computers out of the box. It was 1995; it would have been my first paying job. The owner told me he wants 2-3 days to test me to see if I can do what he needs. He had a secretary (I think his girlfriend) who was terribly afraid of spiders. When one appeared in a corner near the wall, she started screaming worse than in a horror movie. I wanted to show I was useful, so I picked up the spider without crushing it and threw it out the window. I was on the ground floor, so I think the bug landed without problems. I helped him take the computers out of the boxes. Then he gave me a Microsoft Office CD. I think he was afraid to install the app himself. I note that whatever buttons you press, Office installs anyway, but it’s best to choose nothing - the default settings are best. The next day, I showed the secretary how to use Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. The secretary conscientiously wrote down everything she did in a notebook. When I finished, the man said he would call me in the next few days. He did not call. I called him, but he said that the potential client hasn’t signed yet, and it could take weeks or months to decide. All he wanted was to take advantage of me for the little things I did for him.
I mention one more from Toronto. I was between jobs, and the following interview was the weirdest I’ve ever had. It was an area with many warehouses, each with one or more offices. Someone was waiting for me in the parking lot. I went through several doors, all with a code on them. It seemed overly cautious.
The interview room was large, with a long oval table in the middle and the two who were going to interview me sat at one end. COVID came much later, so I was wondering why so much caution. I only realized when the two of them started talking in a very low tone so I wouldn’t hear. All I understood was that they were speaking in Russian. They knew I was Romanian and probably thought I could understand. The one who was the “president” did not say a word in English, only the other one, I understood that he was the director and spoke perfect English.
As I have a rich imagination, I thought they had an illegal business, such as stealing cars, disassembling them in warehouses, then sending the parts to Russia (the president spoke only Russian). Maybe drugs. Or maybe a Russian baron was doing business legally but laundering dirty money.
As a side note, I will say that there were articles at the time suggesting that the government should investigate more into the origin of business money in Canada, not just look the other way, satisfied that business is growing.
I got scared, and I told them I will think about it. They were ready to sign a contract. When they saw that I hesitated, they offered me double the salary I requested. I said that I never sign until a night of thinking had passed, saying, “The night is a good counselor.” I tried to say this quote in English, but I think it didn’t come out well; they looked at each other in wonder. It was a lie anyway, but I wanted to leave as soon as possible.
Tip: never try to translate super-specific Romanian sayings into another language. In that course at the college, I remember how another Romanian tried to explain the quote to a teacher, “We parted ways like in a train.” In Romanian, this meant that two people who don’t know each other and talk on the train say when parting ways, “We’ll talk again”, but that will never happen. How do you explain this (with poor French) to someone who has no idea about Romanian thinking and traditions? I was so ashamed that I left when the teacher’s eyes widened, and the Romanian guy tried to explain himself, deepening more and more into the mud.
Back to my interview, I didn’t call. Instead, the Russians called a few times, and I found some excuse each time. They gave up after 2-3 weeks.
Where my journey with jobs in Canada started,
The best job in Canada for me was the last one, at Bell Media. I had the chance to use all the accumulated experience they needed at that time. I was well paid, and my superiors, from manager to director to vice president, properly appreciated my effort.
Not only did I keep the system running properly, but I stabilized it, imposed rules so disasters wouldn’t happen, lectured developers to write performant code, and offered to answer the phone if disasters happened after hours. In 3 and a half years, I was called at home 4 times (actually, they were all in the first year and a half until I stabilized the system).
My boss told me, “come when you want, leave when you want, just tell me when you’re away so I know, and I’ll sign whatever hours you put on the time sheet.”
The company worked for 7 and a half hours, and I agreed with my boss to work from Monday to Thursday, 8 hours, so I had 3 days off every week.
I had to learn PostgreSQL on Linux, but as usual, if you got stuck, there was always someone to help with the trouble until I learned it myself. So, I was at retirement age, and I still had to learn something. PostgreSQL only had databases that helped production, not production, but still important.
In 2020 I told my bosses at Bell that I wanted to retire. It worked out well for them because they wanted to switch my position from a contractor to a full-time, and they didn’t know how to tell me.
When they notified me in 2021, I told them I’ll until stay until we find a replacement and then a little more if they needed me to hand over the job.
They agreed with a strange proposal. Namely, the new candidate should work for 3 months, then I should come back. I accepted but didn’t know how the other DBA would react.
It was me to conduct the interviews. I received 19 Resumes. 10 were colleagues of mine at Scotiabank who found out I was looking for a DBA for Bell, and something was wrong at the bank. First of all, several consultants have already been fired there. I knew that bank experience doesn’t help solve problems at Bell, so I called 4 of the others on the list to interview (not my ex-colleagues), but they weren’t any better either. It was really hard to find the right DBA.
I was never biased about my colleagues’ origin; for me, the value of each individual is what counts. And I know well what I am talking about, considering some misconceptions about Romanians.
On the list of those who were my colleagues, there was also a Russian, a former university professor at in Russia before immigration to Canada, with a doctorate in mathematics, around 50. I told myself that if I had to choose someone to replace me, at least he should be smart, even if he didn’t fit as well as I would have liked. I formally called him in for the interview, even though I was pretty sure I was going to pick him. I would have turned him down only if he was talking nonsense at the interview. But he didn’t talk nonsense, so I chose the Russian guy. I’ll call him V, because all Russians are Vlad.
He was a consultant at the bank, finished his contract, and would have accepted anything, including a full-time proposal. I think he was desperate.
My boss hired him at my recommendation, but I didn’t understand his behavior. He never said “thank you”, didn’t answer my emails, or didn’t comment on the documentation I sent him with advice on different aspects he needed to know. We stayed together for 2 weeks. I solved the problems the first week and sent him emails about how it was done so he could learn. He wasn’t answering. In the second week, I let him solve the issues and only checked his work. The problems to be solved were not complex, the system was very stable. Well, I gave him a good job as a gift.
There was another reason I had to leave: consultants could only work for two years, and more than that, you should be a full-timer. And I was already 2 and a half years on the job. The 6-month extension came with special approval from the company’s vice president because Covid started, and they didn’t want any changes.
I was shocked 3 months later when I was recalled to work again. They told me about a 3 more months contract. After 3 months, I left again, and V came back for a full-time job.
Four months later, my boss called me again. V did not vaccinate against COVID, and the company’s policy was to send home the unvaccinated. I was vaccinated.
So I worked for another 6 months until the restriction was lifted, and V returned to work. I guess he didn’t find anything better in the meantime, or it was hard to find work being unvaccinated, or he didn’t find such a stable system with good pay and no hassle.
But his attitude was always the same, he didn’t want to communicate with me. I called him a few times, and he answered, he was polite but distant. He never called. What could have been? The feeling of superiority? Every time I left the job, my colleagues flooded my email with thanks, but nothing from the Russian.
Well, that was about my jobs in Canada. I am now retired.
Very short tricky jobs:
Where it all started:
I had a Nigerian teammate, and I was on amicable terms. I kind of owe my job at Scotiabank to him because he was on the team that interviewed me. He was a smart, friendly, hard-working guy. He was DBA on Oracle, and we worked together in the first team at Scotiabank. The business on Oracle was closed, and the Nigerian was moved to SQL Server, and I helped him get it off the ground. So we helped each other.
After our team disbanded, I was moved to D, and the Nigerian to another team. After D fired me, the Nigerian was moved to D's team.
I know what happened to D from my colleague. We kept in touch for about 2 years after my bank contract stopped.
After I left Scotiabank, I found my new job (at Bell Media) in about a month, and it was the best job I ever had in Canada. Shortly after I started at Bell, I bumped into a colleague from another team at Scotiabank on the street (I mentioned him in a previous post: the one who organized the party where I danced in the meeting room). I immediately told him that I was glad I left the bank because I found a much better-paid job (which was true). I didn't say it to brag but for D to hear. In my head, I built scenarios of how D would react if he heard, and I'm sure he did. The scenario I would have liked the most was for him to hear about me while he was eating lunch and bit his tongue.
Anyway, his frustration grew for some reason (maybe because he heard about me, among other things?) as he began to do what he did to me to the Nigerian. But you don't mess with the pride of Nigerians. The man went straight to HR and reported him.
The company's reaction was immediate. All but one member from D's team were moved to other teams, including the Nigerian. D was left with only one member.
D's anger reached cosmic proportions, this time directed against other team leaders (also Indians) who were younger, newly arrived, and had regular teams (5-6 members). One day, in the middle of a meeting with the department, he started yelling at one of these team leaders, accusing him of some things that no one understood. D was fired on the spot.
Those who work a lot at a bank can only be useful at another bank and do similar work (I think I mentioned that DBA work at a bank is quantity, not quality). So DBA experts move from one bank to another for promotion or better salary. But D wouldn't be accepted by any other bank because he was fired and couldn't hide it. And he was not smart enough to learn other skills needed somewhere else.
A year later, he sold his house, I assume, to have money to survive. And the hell for him came at a wrong time; he needed money for his kids' scholarship. It's not good to enjoy someone else's trouble, and besides, I shouldn't have enjoyed it because I got better job after D kicked me out. But look, I can't. When I'm writing this, I slap my face to keep from smiling, but I can't. I'm still happy, especially since it was not me punishing him, he did it to himself.
Dad had a saying: "The one with a big mouth receives kicks in the ass". D was still at the bank if he knew it.
Where it all started:
In this post, I continue my story at Scotiabank talking about my boss D, the bully.
What do you think of someone who puts his hands on his head and says he is the smartest among his fellow citizens? I am not talking here about a president (who, putting his hands on his head, said that he is so smart that even the Chinese are amazed), but about boss D.
From the first moment he got me on his team, he started doing weird stuff. He would call me into one-on-one meetings to tell me he had been with the company for over 20 years and should have been vice president. He said (putting his hands on his head again) that he had all the company’s business in his head, and those who came after him unjustly became directors and one vice president. He and all whom he talked about were Indians like himself. I make a small parenthesis here. He was a team leader, but he called himself a manager. The manager called himself director. The director was addressed with the title of vice president. There was something wrong with the pride of these people.
Against me, D had even greater anger because I had a higher salary, I was a consultant, he worked full-time. I had about 30% more hourly pay, which must be calculated differently. I was paid for hours worked, I was not paid for vacations, public holidays, or time taken in case of illness or personal problems, the company did not pay me a percentage for the personal pension plan, no one paid me medical insurance, I had no protection from termination of the employment contract, etc. He had all this paid for because it was permanent time. But his face was red every time he looked at me, and I think with one eye he saw the hourly pay for me and with the other for him (his eyes bubbled differently).
What I had to do was mainly installations. We had to fill out a paper form with the steps during the installation (it was 2017 !! when nothing was done on paper anymore). Well, that form was D’s invention, and since hundreds of installations had been made filling out that piece of paper, he thought the bank would have collapsed without that form. He thought all DBAs were fools who couldn’t have done without that piece of paper. I used to fill it out while doing the installation for peace of mind, but I found out that other colleagues were doing the installations without looking at the form and then filling out the form because they knew it by heart, and they were almost identical anyway. I think they were just copying the previous ones. D didn’t even look at them anymore, I think he was sick of them too.
I lived in a suburb of Toronto and had a train home at 5:15 PM. I had to leave at 4:50 or 4:55 if I ran to catch it. Well, D would send me an email every day at 4:57 with an exclamation mark next to it (which meant URGENT, meaning I had to respond immediately). I think he was thinking all day about what to write in the email because he didn’t have much to do. After a while, he started repeating the emails because his imagination wasn’t helping him, something like: “Have you prepared the form for tomorrow’s installation?” What to prepare? I had 100 printed forms in the drawer. But I answered, “yes, it’s in the drawer.”
So I had to take the next train at 6 PM which was overcrowded. D knew very well which train I was taking because he was also taking the same train, two stations farther than me. When we met at the station a few times, he looked through me as if I didn’t exist. He was getting into the front cars somewhere. I learned this and sat on the platform at the back cars. The train had 12 carriages.
By the way: D came around 10, right before the department meeting. He had to stay until 6 PM (working 7 and a half hours plus 30 minutes for lunch). How did he catch the 6 train? He stole half an hour of work time every day.
I told D I wanted a staggered schedule, from 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM. All IT managers want staggered schedules, some start at 6 AM, some finish at 6 PM, so the team covers much more of the workday. The rule was that everyone had to be in the office between 10 AM and 3 PM when meetings were scheduled.
D told me: “You can come at 5 AM if you have a lot of work, but when you leave, you leave at 5 PM.”
About 2 weeks after I danced in the meeting room (previous post), he called me again to lecture me about how important he was for the team and how unimportant I was. I told him I didn’t care about his frustrations. It’s like he swallowed an apple whole.
After a week, my contract was canceled because the bank no longer had the money to pay me. They couldn’t say for disciplinary reasons (for example) because the people from human resources had to investigate and hear my version as well, and that’s exactly what his manager, who knew D well, didn’t want. Or (maybe), his boss didn’t want to open Pandora’s box, because more would have been found out about what D did (he was always losing people from the team because of the way he behaved). With some kind of investigation, the calamity would have fallen on the director for not taking action sooner. I’m sure the director (well, the manager calling himself director) told the human resources department something like they want permanent time for the job covered by me, or that I no longer correspond for some reason. Anyway, I couldn’t take it anymore working in D’s team, and left without comment. It was a Tuesday, and they paid me for the whole week.
Somewhere in this Universe is a balance because what came next for D is worth telling. He took a kick in the ass bigger than all of mine put together.
Where it all started:
I intended to have a single post about my catastrophic departure from Scotianak, but an episode that strained my relations with my boss D deserves a separate article.
That episode relates to the Transylvanian men’s dance I performed in the meeting room.
It was a custom at the bank to have themed parties once a year in the boardroom. That year, a pair of Brazilians offered to play the guitar, and I offered to perform a Transylvanian male dance demonstration.
I had the music on an external USB stick.
When the Transylvanian music started, those who were passing through the aisle crowded inside, and those who didn’t have a place were looking through the windows (the meeting room had windows facing the aisle).
With such an audience, I gave my soul by jumping, whistling and giggling, clapping my hands... and when my muscles couldn’t hold me anymore (after about one minute), I continued to beat the floor with my feet and hands, still giggling. I came out from the dancing ring whistling, my head back and my shoulders back, which meant (in Grandma’s village) that I was proud of what I had done.
D and I had the office in the same cubicle with 3 other employees. I sometimes observed D when employees from other teams came to ask for clarification. They needed answers to questions like “When is the server’s installation ready?” D would answer with a big smile, telling them how busy we are and how important it is that everything is done correctly and checked and double-checked (by the way, no one checked anyone else’s installations; it was too simple). He was deliberately delaying the delivery to give himself importance.
After that dance, the people coming into the cubicle would pass by D and come up to me to congratulate me. D prepared his smile, which quickly turned into a grimace. I think what bothered him the most was when one of the organizers (also an Indian) came and told me that the party was a success because of my dancing. I’m not kidding; the guy was very excited.
D couldn’t take it anymore and moved my desk outside the cubicle where I had traffic behind me (I was used to it, because it wasn’t the first time).
By the way:
Two months later (after I was fired), my wife and I were talking about my affair with the job at the bank, and she asked me to do a demo for her at home (in the basement). He filmed me, and I put the video on YouTube.
I’m sorry I didn’t force it to be like that dance in the boardroom, but I just couldn’t feel like being close to a heart attack once more. Anyway, it works as a demo. Note: the whistles heard are mine, not from the tape, but the song is the same.
However, getting back to Scotiabank, D didn’t stop there. But that’s next time...
Where it all started:
I left my previous job I left to prepare for two interviews set up for me by placement agencies. I passed the one that would have suited me better, at Scotiabank, one of the 5 largest banks in Canada.
The one who hired me was an Indian. We became friends. During the lunch break, we walked around the underground city, paid each other coffees, and discussed everything: politics, religion, society, and various traditions. He was a smart and well-read man. He told me that his family in India was of the Brahmin class, the highest in Hinduism. I liked my boss, life was good.
A few things about being a DBA at a bank. If you stay there for a long time, you disqualify yourself as a professional. They boast that they take care of 500-600 servers, which sounds fabulous, but how can you do that? First of all, a team of 7-8 takes care of them, and each says that he has 600 servers in his yard. But that's not the problem. What they do there are mainly installs and upgrades (nothing sophisticated). Like any job in this world, it's about quantity or quality. When there are problems, the solution came from the software companies that provide the applications; the DBAs at the bank are just intermediaries. And I know how software companies solve problems very well - they are the real experts. I just worked at one, Changepoint, as I wrote some time ago. Maybe it's different elsewhere in the world; maybe there are banks that write their own applications, but where I worked, it was quantity not quality.
With the new technology, "cloud computing," the future of DBA at banks is in question. In my opinion, all large companies will make their own "cloud," and the only DBAs who will have work are those who maintain the databases in the "cloud".
A year and a half was good.
But Scotiabank sold the business where I worked, and I was moved to another team, almost all Indians, good guys, except my new boss, who was the biggest moron I've ever met.
But that's for next time.
I danced in the Scotiabank meeting room
Where it all started:
The next job (about two months after I finished the job at the hospital) was at Bluesun, a financial company with around 40 employees. HR found my RESUME on Indeed, and they were looking for exactly what I knew best: an expert in SQL Server, and wanted me to start the next day if possible.
I signed a 3-month contract and started the next day, a Thursday. The payment was better than my previous contract, but about half what a senior IT contractor gets.
Their problem was urgent; the system's performance was so bad that they said "hurray" during peak hours when a transaction went through the system. Their programming team determined the problem was in the database server, but they didn't know more.
I had a USB flash drive that, over the years, I added scripts to determine weak points in a database. On the first day there, my scripts determined the cause: their server had too little internal memory, and they didn't set the split between how much memory the database engine should take and how much for the operating system. So, SQL was grabbing all the memory, and there was nothing left for the OS, which had to use virtual memory on disk, maybe 1000 times slower than internal memory (external memory was on spinning disks - today that technology is expired). The first solution was to set the memory correctly, but it didn't help much, there was still too little memory.
What was I to do? I could find myself out of contract in a week. I felt very embarrassed not to tell them (prolonging the investigation time as much as possible) because they were waiting with breathless for the expert's verdict.
I told them that I would give them a first assessment the following Monday. That Monday, my conscience was stronger then the benefits of not telling them yet. I told them the whole solution, showing them the graphs of the data captured by my scripts during the four days from Thursday when I was hired until Monday. I told them to buy the maximum memory the server would support, which was about 4x what they had at the time.
The company decided to go with me, and the upgrade would take place in 3 weeks.
In the meantime, I analyzed their procedures, but the system was so slow that my changes would not have helped at all. I had to wait until they added the memory, as we agreed, and then see how much those changes I worked on would help.
It took about a month for them to buy the memory and have their network administrator add it to the system. The app started going so fast that they thought the system wasn't processing the transactions. They quickly clarified that everything was fine.
A party was held where refreshments of all kinds were served, cakes, sweets, and fruits in abundance, and colleagues and bosses competed to praise me.
One of the two owners (the one on technical issues) was my direct boss. I had my office in the cubicle next to him, discreet and quiet, no one could see what was on my screen.
I told him that in the second half of the contract, I would increase the performance of the system even more. Even though all transactions were going through quickly, there were still procedures that took 5-10 seconds (which meant a user was waiting on those screens for 5-10 seconds to go to the next screen). I told him I would try to get them all under one second. He agreed and seemed pleased, although it didn't mean much to him.
Since Christmas was approaching, I told him that I would wait two or three days to see if anything else appeared after adding the memory; then, I wanted to have a 10 days off, my wife suggested a Caraibean vacation. He agreed.
I had a huge surprise on the way back. My office was moved in the middle of the road. In front of my desk were those going to the cafeteria, and behind me was all the traffic of employees going from one office to another.
My former place was given to someone who was promoted to manager.
I don't have a lot of pride (at least I think so), but I felt terribly offended.
And I was caught at a bad time, as the plan was to start looking for a new job upon my return. So, I swallowed my pride and went ahead with what I promised, increasing the performance of the stored procedures.
I think my boss was happy with what I did, apparently, some users expressed satisfaction that the application was fast.
The 3 months have passed, but I haven't found a new job. The rescue came from my boss (if I can call it rescue). He told me that in a week or two, they were releasing a new module with heavy activity in the database and they wanted me to be around. We verbally agreed to a one-month extension.
The module was launched after 3 weeks with no issues.
In that month, two placement agencies found me a possible job, the interviews followed the very week after the end of the contract.
My boss asked me if I wanted to stay another month, but I refused. The priority was to seriously prepare for the 2 interviews, which meant getting as much information as possible about the two companies and preparing my mouthpiece, that is (knowingly) telling them why I would love to work for them (bla, bla, bla to get the job).
Do you think a job for a big company could solve the job-seeking problem? Nah.
Where it all started:
The problems with finding a new job were much bigger than I thought. I was over 60, and that was a barrier. Who hires someone who, from day one, is thinking about retirement? It wasn’t my case, but that was the point. And you could easily guess my age when it was written in my RESUME that I graduated from university in 1980. I took this information out, but too late, my RESUME was already posted on all job-seeking sites.
Then, the first interview question would have been, “Why did you leave your previous job?”
Whatever I said didn’t sound right; who is crazy about leaving a job when they are only a few years away from retirement?
And there was something else. I was unemployed. At all the other interview jobs so far, I was still working, and I said that I was interested in their projects, it’s convenient to reach them from home, and things like that. I didn’t have that leverage either.
Three months passed, and nothing came of it, not even an interview. I had to change something. I read all kinds of articles, and it seems the solution was to try working as a consultant. With the experience I had, there were quite a few small and medium-sized companies that needed help quickly to solve a problem. With a contract of a few months, an expert could fix the problem, then goodbye.
So, I incorporated a company, posted my RESUME on Indeed (a job search site), and sent it to a few placement agencies.
Consultants are paid 30-40 percent more than full-time employees, and you can deduct expenses from your taxes. Dream big until life kicks you in the but.
Those agencies interviewed me immediately, but there was another problem: I had no experience as a consultant. That pissed me off. Once in front of the computer, what matters is what you know, not what is written on a piece of paper.
Anyway, a month after I had my company, I went to an interview where I signed a 3-month contract with the possibility of extension. The pay was very low, about a third of what I got at my last full-time job, but hey, it was my first consultant job, I had to start all over again.
The job was at Sunnybrook Hospital, one of the largest hospitals in Canada. A team of kidney researchers had an IT team of 4 people (one of whom was the boss and didn’t do technical work). I was hired to finish a project where the developer left just before the implementation.
The project was to gather data from other hospitals and medical clinics that provided information on patients with kidney problems. The database at Sunnybrook was SQL Server, so no problem. But all the data at data providers was coming from another kind of database engine, MySQL, which I had never worked with. MySQL is free, it made sense, I know that hospitals and medical clinics don’t have money. MySQL is not that powerful, but it is enough to store an acceptable volume of data; at least that was the case back then.
Anyway, all I needed to know about MySQL was to connect and extract the data from there. It was 2015, and everything you needed to know was on the Internet. It only took me 2-3 days to understand enough about MySQL to understand what the developer before me did and continue to finish the project. I modified the program a little (very well done, by the way), because the programmer who left forgot some test values, which I replaced with variables to specify the source where the data comes from.
About a month after I signed up, data started coming in on external USB sticks. In two weeks, I imported everything, and that project was finished, I waited for the next assignment. The boss invited me to the hospital cafeteria to celebrate the successful completion of the data transfer.
There I found out that he ended my contract, saying he thanked me but had nothing more to give me work. As compensation for the rest of the contract, he paid for my coffee.
I think everything was planned from the beginning, hand in hand with the placement agency. He wouldn’t have found anyone for the money they offered, such a low pay for a 6-week contract.
So the man made me understand that I had to take my bag and go home. There was nothing in the contract for such a situation, so I did the following: I took my bag and went home.
Once bad times started, the problems keep coming.
Where it all started: