Saturday, August 26, 2006

About that Trial ...

I promised when last I wrote to write about my jury duty experience, but I'll warn you now, it isn't very dramatic. At best, I can offer that it was a criminal trial, but it was a lowly misdemeanor, albeit one that falls in the pet peeves department. It's a long story, which I'll trim to the important parts.

This Story is About Taking Responsibility

The accused was charged with leaving the scene of an accident, and I was one of seven jurors chosen to hear the case. The trial started at about 9 AM Wednesday morning, and the opening statements from both sides left me about neutral, a good place to be as a juror.

The first witness for the prosecution was the victim, a young black man who just happened to be an auto body mechanic. Bad luck for the defendant, there. The witness first advised us he was there because he was ordered to be there; he had no particular animosity against the defendant. The reason for this came clear a little while later.

The victim had been stopped in traffic at a traffic light, and felt his car rear-ended. He looked in his mirror, saw the defendant, stepped out of his car and, looking the defendant in the eye, he signaled for the defendant to pull into a neighboring parking lot. The victim then returned to his car and pulled into the parking lot. Rather than follow, the defendant proceeded down the road.

The victim quickly re-entered traffic behind the defendant, called 911, and described the offending vehicle and the tag number. He was then told to return to the scene of the accident. The victim returned to meet with a state trooper.

Technology Makes the Job Easier

The trooper used his onboard computer to look up the car, and from that, the owner of the car. The computer displayed the driver's license picture of the owner, whom the victim identified as the driver of the car.

Of course, the defense had to have their say, and they went after the physical proof of damage: which was nonexistent. The victim had called the defendant's insurance company (number provided by the trooper), and an insurance adjuster came out to check the damage. The adjuster offered the victim $48 for the repair - about an hour's labor. As I mentioned, the victim was an auto body mechanic and knew the damage would cost more to repair, so he asked a co-worker to prepare an estimate. The estimate from his co-worker came to over $1,000... but he'd lost the estimate when he later left the employ of that company (he thought he might have thrown it out with other papers from the company).

Further, the victim had been in the process of trying to trade-in the vehicle for another, and succeeded to do so roughly a week after the accident. So, the victim did not have the car, or proof the accident had occurred - except for the testimony of the trooper, who came up next.

He Should Know, He Sees It Everyday
The trooper indicated he saw the damage, believed it to be new damage (no dirt or rust), then went on to describe how he apprehended the defendant. It appears the defendant wasn't home, but a neighbor indicated the defendant frequented a local bar, where the trooper caught up with him. The trooper brought the defendant outside and asked about the accident. He said the defendant denied being in an accident, and showed the trooper where no damage had existed on the car. The defendant persisted in denying involvement, claimed he'd been there a couple of hours (the accident had occurred maybe 1 and 3/4 hours earlier), and the trooper arrested him.

A third witness, a bartender at the bar, recognized the defendant as a regular patron who had been in the bar maybe an hour and a half before the trooper arrived.

Bad Move for the Defense

Next came the defense's turn, and they had only one witness: the defendant. He took the stand on his own behalf, and described the events of the day. What we found most important was that the defendant was very detailed about everything except his interview with the trooper, when he suddenly could not recall the specific events of the discussion. We also noticed that his activities would have put him at the scene of the accident at nearly the right time, if you allowed fudging with the timeline (and no one except the trooper had an accurate timeline of their events). Finally, the defense offered into evidence photos of the defendant's car, as the defendant boasted of its pristine condition (a nicely kept 15+ year old car).

After closing arguments, six of us were allowed to go to the jury room; the seventh was our mystery alternate, who was visibly disappointed at not getting to deliberate.

A Nice Way to Top Off a Nice Trial

Through fate, and maybe a little excitement, the jury decided to let me be the foreperson. Before we took our first vote, we passed around the pictures of the defendant's car. Then came the first ballot:

"All who believe the defendant's guilty, raise your hand!" No wimpy secret ballot for THIS jury. Five hands went in the air - and I was the lone holdout. "Convince me," I said.

They did. I had a crazy theory that it was possible the victim had setup the defendant, and without physical evidence, we couldn't convict. They saw it another way. My theory, while possible, wasn't plausible. The two had never met; there was no reason to believe the defendant had any money, or even insurance, at the time; and the rest of the story fit the victim's claim. I again looked at the pictures... and you know, that front bumper DID look out of alignment with the rest of the body. You couldn't tell at a casual glance, but that car HAD been in an accident at some point.

I gave in, and signed the paper. My first jury had convicted its first criminal.

We never did find out what the sentence was, but I wouldn't have passed on the experience for anything. Lunch time!

An Aside

By the way, a couple of notes: first, I have found a new job, which I'll write about a little later, and yes, I'm still collecting news at Your World News. I hope you'll come visiting.

Monday, August 21, 2006

They call it Jury DUTY for a reason

I take my civic responsibilities seriously, so when I was summoned for jury duty the thought of avoiding it never crossed my mind. I understand there are circumstances why one might need to defer jury duty; it even happened to me, once before. But when called, U.S. citizens have an obligation to respond, and it surprised me to learn that a sizeable number of people summoned simply don't appear.

If you want the benefits that come from being a U.S. citizen, then you should be willing to satisfy the obligations of one. And it isn't like the obligations are strenuous: remember, the draft doesn't exist in the U.S. any longer (for now). Where's the pain in voting? Yes, it takes time from our busy lives, but with the extra steps our various federal, state, and local governments have taken to make voting convenient (such as absentee and early voting), is there really an excuse not to register and vote?

This is usually when some moron says something about registering to vote just gets him on the list for jury duty. I call him a moron since he's another of those abusive citizens who want to take, take, take, without giving any more than his tax dollars. Like all you need to do to be a U.S. citizen is buy an annual membership!

Well, just for that moron's information, many localities no longer use the voter roles as the pool for potential jurors. In Manatee County, Florida, potential jurors are selected from driver's license registrations. If you're so afraid to be called for jury duty, give up your driving privileges!

Jury Duty in my community

Jury duty is handled differently for different locales. Manatee County calls all of the week's potential jurors together on Mondays, and each judge collects his or her pool of potential jurors from that larger pool. Those selected are told when to report for service, and those not selected are returned to the big pool. If you aren't chosen by the end of Monday, you're dismissed from duty for another year.

I was selected from my first pool, and found myself on a jury for a criminal case. I'll talk a little more on this next time.

Still room for editors

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Monday, August 07, 2006

Good job interviews can get creative

Job interviews come in many forms. I was reminded of this with a recent application, for a position related to website development and management.

In this particular case, it appears I skipped the traditional face-to-face Q&A or the similar yet common phone interview. Instead, the employer jumped straight to evaluating my skills, providing a situation requiring me to evaluate a site and offer my recommendations.

This particular interview reminded me to a small degree of the second interview I had for the ICA position. In that case, the first interview was in group form. ICA extended an invitation to 30 some individuals to attend a meeting where the organizers explained the organization's purpose and what they sought. Then they gave each of us a few minutes to ask questions and formulate our ideas as to where we might fit in. After this, we were tasked to go home and, if we were still interested in the position, we were to write an essay explaining how we would approach the position, and why we thought we were the ones to do the job.

For the ICA job, the essays determined who would be invited to the third interview (the essay counted as interview #2): dinner with the executive director and his senior staff. What was surprising about this whole thing was that, even though I ended up being cut after the third interview, my ideas were sound enough that the executive director paid me for the right to use parts of my essay in the final plan, then later called me back when he decided I did have a role in implementing that plan, after all.

This time it's different

In the current situation, the site I was tasked to evaluate was a live site having issues, and the principal offered to pay me to do my evaluation. What he got for his investment was both a solution to the problem at hand, and an example of how I performed the work. Clearly, the work came first, as I expected it would, but I found it odd, and maybe a little refreshing, that they wanted to see me in action before they took the time to learn about me.

As a bonus to this, the company again offered to pay me for my effort, but I took the tact of offering the employer to pay me only what he thought the results were worth. This was risky, since I might find myself essentially uncompensated for my fair effort, but I was confident that I could produce something of at least some value. I pointed out to him that, if I nailed the problem, a decision to hire me would be far more valuable to me than any one-time fee would be worth.

The task was done. I found the problem and made my recommendations. In fact, I made more recommendations than the scope of the task required. As a result, I now have an appointment for the long-overdue personal interview.

Things are looking up.

Lest you've forgotten

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I look forward to seeing you there!

Thursday, August 03, 2006

The IT Job Dance

Fresh from another interview, some thoughts come to mind that might make the whole process easier for both parties.

See, one of the most annoying things about seeking an IT job is that no matter how many positions there are, and there seems to be quite a few positions in the Tampa Bay area, there are always more applicants than the employer (or recruiter) really needs. In fact, I think a lot of employers turn to recruiters because they can't handle the flood of applicants on their own.

But there is another side to this coin: employers are publishing dreams when they list their required qualifications. One pundit observed that employers are trying to save a buck by advertising for a relatively lower-paying position, but asking for skills belonging to a rightfully higher-paying position. The thought is that the "network administrator" they hire with Java coding skills could actually fill the need for the "Java developer" they really want but can't afford.

I think of it another way. The employers list the skills an ideal employee would have, but fully expect to have to settle for something less. Maybe there is a "network administrator" with Java, ASP, and Oracle skills in addition to his CISSP and CCNA, but you'd stand a better chance of finding three people with those skills combined. Still, there's no harm in asking, right? So, the company that really needs an Oracle administrator asks for everything else, just in case.

Now, what happens?

At first, the company that asks for the moon gets nothing, but then it occurs to the IT workers growing desperate for work that the employer has published a wish list, not a true requirements list, so in their desperation they submit their resumes, matching maybe only 10% of the requirements. The employers get 100+ apps for every job advertised, can't handle the volume, and end up turning to recruiters, who probably end up manipulating the deal into something that cost the employers far more than if they'd kept it to themselves. The next ad is lighter on the wish list, maybe even accurate in the needs, but the workers are already used to applying to anything, and so the overall problem doesn't get better. Every job opportunity is met with 100+ applicants, few of whom are actually qualified, and many of the qualified are "round filed" due to the sheer volume of applications.

How do we fix this problem?

We'll start with the employer: only advertise what you need as requirements, and list the bonuses separately. Be realistic in your needs. A network administrator shouldn't be expected to know Java; either you need an administrator or you need a programmer, but don't ask for both as requirements. And does the administrator really need a Bachelor's degree? Or is that just something to try to reduce the volume. If the latter, it isn't working. Finally, list your salary expectations. You'll get a whole lot fewer applications once people see what you plan to pay, especially if you're hiring for an entry-level position.

And for the job hunters, stop applying for everything in sight. You're only making things worse. Only apply if you truly believe you have a shot at the position. If the ad seems genuinely written toward a specific skill set, only apply if you have that skill set. This reduces the number of applications HR has to screen, and increases the odds for the truly qualified. Essentially a win-win situation. And, of course, don't claim a skill if the skill doesn't exist. Not only does it hurt your reputation, but it makes it harder on everyone else who has to follow you.

I recently applied for a job I probably shouldn't have. The position was advertised way below my skill set, but in a moment of weakness, I went ahead and applied.

I was amazed to find myself granted an interview... which lasted a whole 10 minutes. Just long enough for the IT Director to look me in the eye and ask me why I applied for a position clearly beneath me. It then occurred to me why he granted the interview. I was simply a break from the norm, a chance to put his feet up. But I did point out that if he'd published his salary expectations, I wouldn't have responded. Hopefully, we both walked away from that interview a little more prepared for the next time.

Now, I need to teach Bocona to be a little more patient.

As for other things...

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