It seemed easy enough. That's what I thought when I received an e-mail from the Computer Science chair at my University advertising a C++ programming opportunity involving a fairly simple API to interface with a radio receiver card. The details weren't great, so I replied and said that I'd like to get some more information. About 2 weeks later I heard a reply from the CS contact person. I was given the contact person for the job, the person actually doing the hiring. I shot off an e-mail asking a few preliminary questions such as the features he'd require, the time span, the pay, etc... The reply this time was fairly quick, and the job was sounding relatively do-able.
There were a few catches though. First, the programming would need to be done on a Windows computer and he would require some TCP communication with the data I'd be working with. I'd never programmed under Windows, and I'd certainly never done anything with Windows sockets. The other problem? They needed the entire project done in 3 weeks and they were only able to pay for 10 hours of work per-week at the University minimum wage of $5.50. Dealing with that insulting pay is one thing, but actually expecting someone to come in and write code for an arbitrary API in very little time is something completely different. On the other hand, I was a poor college student, and the actual programming didn't seem like it would be much of an issue at all so I figured I'd give it a shot.
I shot back an e-mail stating my concerns about completing the project in such a short amount of time, stating that it would probably require a number of hours that they weren't able to pay for in order to do it. About 2 weeks went by and I heard nothing. I assumed some other student had also responded to the e-mail and opted to sell their soul for $165. Then, 1 week before the original 3 week "deadline" I receive an e-mail from him saying that they can raise the hours to 15 per-week, but they need it done in 3 weeks (again). By this time, mid-terms are in full swing and I've got major programming projects for school to complete. I tell him flat out that I just don't have time now, but talk to me in May when school ends, I'll be available for the entire month. Again, I heard no reply from this message.
Fast forward an entire month. They inform me that they "finally have time to get the card programmed" and wanted to know if I was still available until June. I thought long and hard about this. I had just finished a demanding year of school, and 2 very advanced programming projects. I was burned out. I needed a break. I also needed money. By my math I'd make around $300. I took a deep breath and sent off an e-mail stating that yes, I was available until June. As was par for the course, it took him a week to reply to me. Just how important is it to get this thing done?! Honestly, their deadlines came and went as I waited around for e-mail replies from this guy.
Anyways, we got everything arranged and I met with him to pick up the equipment. This consisted of a really old piece of junk computer (the card used an ISA slot), a matching really old piece of junk monitor, and 2 antennas (high and low frequencies). Being of rational mind, I decided I'd do all of the core programming on my Linux box, use boost for the TCP communication, and then move over to my high-end Windows XP machine to add in the API-specific code. I wanted no part of using the computer they gave me for anything more than trying out the final code. I encountered a pretty serious problem right off the bat: The card had 2 inputs, a BNC and a SMA. The problem? Both antennas had BNC connectors. The project description as given would not be possible with this setup as both antennas needed to be used at once. I sent off another e-mail informing him of the issue and he promptly replied asking ME what he needed to buy, and to let him know and he'd get it. Reality check: I'm a programmer. I don't know anything about this stuff! I was brought in to write code that performs the task at hand. Troubleshooting BNC/SMA antenna connectors doesn't really fit in there anywhere. Nonetheless, I did a quick Google search and located 2 links that offered some adapters. I sent them to him and told him he needed to check into the matter further, and to let me know when he had acquired them.
One week goes by. Two weeks go by. I send him a status update on the project, pose a few other questions to him regarding his desired requirements. A third week goes by. A month goes by. At this point I'm convinced he's at the bottom of a lake somewhere. I see no other reason to ignore e-mails that only serve to accomplish a task that he needs completed. I keep chugging away at the code, making my own decisions about the questions I'd posed to him. I got to a point in which I was ready to test the code on the old crappy machine. I shit you not, the video card would not kick in. That's right, I'm given improper equipment, the contractor goes "Amelia Earhart" on me as soon as I get started, and the computer I'm supposed to develop for doesn't even WORK!
I send out a 3rd e-mail stating that I've finished the code as much as possible, and that I can't test the API-specific code due to the computer not working. I finally get a response stating that he was finishing up a trip in New York and that he'd be in town in a few days. At that point we were to meet and try to get another video card working. A few more days went by, and finally, we were set to meet. 9am, Thursday.
I arrive at about 10 till 9 and head upstairs where we met the first time. He works in a musical instruction type of building. Due to all of the expensive equipment, you can only access part of the second floor, the rest is locked off by 2 doors at opposite sides of a winding hallway. My process for handling this in the past was to knock at one door, wait, walk to the other end and knock, wait, then repeat. With each trip, my knocks get louder and louder. Now, you may be shocked as I was, but it was 9:30am and he STILL WASN'T THERE. I really should have known. Being relatively amused by the whole situation, I decided I'd get creative.
As I said, I was in a musical instruction building. This meant there were practice rooms all along the hallway, wide open. With pianos in them. There was never anyone on this floor of the building, either. I figured what better way to get someones attention in another part of the building than to start playing piano? So, I did just that. I sat down, and I just played. My basic line of thinking was that anyone that would be important enough to notice me playing piano and arrive to yell at me would also be important enough to have keys to unlock the door I needed to get into. I gave up after 5 minutes and decided to just leave. As I walked out the front door, I see the contractor walking up the sidewalk. Just a simple "Hi how are you?". I spent the rest of the day explaining all of the code and documentation to him, and never once did he mention being nearly an hour late.
The job is done now, and I feel very relived, to say the least. I accomplished a lot, I learned a lot, and I ended up making close to $500. Despite everything, I made sure that I wrote the best code I could, and gave the most informative and helpful documentation possible. At the end of the day, I even like the guy, he's very intelligent, and I'd be "more than happy" to do some future development on this project for him. Of course, if he reads this, he'll immediately know it's about him, but I suppose that's fine. He got the best $500 custom software package imaginable.