Not too long ago, a job posting at Steve D’s university called for “a student familiar with C++ programming” that could help “develop software to interface with radio receiver cards using an existing API.” The ad also mentioned, using big, bolded letters, that the candidate “MUST BE AVAILABLE IMMEDIATELY” and that the project had a “TIGHT, THREE WEEK DEADLINE.” While that would have been a warning sign to most, to a cash-strapped student, it was a great opportunity to make some extra cash. Steve emailed his resume right away.

Two weeks later, having mostly forgotten about the job, Steve received a reply back. The good news was that they were “very interested” in having him work on the project. The bad news was that the project still needed to be done right away. And the project needed to be complete in three weeks time. And they were only able to pay for ten hours of work per week. And they could only pay $5.50/hr.

Steve didn’t have too big of a problem with the pay. After all, 3 Weeks x 10 Hours x $5.50 = A Whole Lot of Ramen Noodles. He was more concerned with being expected to come in and write code for an arbitrary API in very little time. He fired off another email stating that, considering he has no experience programming Windows, and no experience programming Windows Sockets, it will probably take more than thirty hours.

For two whole weeks, Steve didn’t get a reply: he just assumed they found another student who was willing to sell his soul for $165. And then he got a “CRITICALLY IMPORTANT!” email offering some good news: they could increase the hours to 15/week, but it still had to be done right away, and finished in three weeks. Steve declined. By that point, mid-terms were in full swing and he simply wouldn’t have time to work until the end of the semester.

Fast forward two months (that’s twelve weeks after initial contact). Steve received a reply to his last email stating that they “finally have time to get the card programmed.” The company wanted to know if he was still available. And it absolutely had to be complete in three weeks.

Steve thought long and hard about this. But in the end, it came down to $250. How could he possibly pass that up? He replied and said he could start right away.

As was par for the course, he received a reply back a week later and set up a time to meet with his contact. A week following that, Steve finally met the guy and was given some more specifications and a box of computer equipment. Actually, “computer junk” was a more apt description.

The supplies consisted of a pair of ancient computers with a radio adapter in their ISA-slots and couple SMA antennas. And as Steve quickly learned, this set up presented a pretty serious problem. First and foremost, the radio adapter cards only had BNC connectors. Secondly, the video card on one of the computers was dead.

Despite those problems, Steve got started coding and fired off an email to his contact. No reply. A week goes by. Still, no reply. Another week passes. He sends out a few more emails with questions and status reports. Nothing. Another week. And then another week. Still, nothing.

Finally, five weeks after starting the project (that’s nineteen weeks after the initial “three week deadline”), Steve’s contact finally replies: he’s ready for the code and isn’t terribly concerned if it wasn’t fully tested. They planned to meet at his office.

Steve arrived at his office the following Tuesday at 9:00 in the morning, but his contact was nowhere to be found. And I should clarify what I mean by “office:” the company he worked for rented a small room inside of a musical instruction building. Due to all of the expensive musical equipment, only a small part of the second floor was accessible: the rest was locked by two doors at opposite ends of a winding hallway.

Assuming his contact was behind one of those doors, Steve devised a plan to handle the locked doors. He’d knock at one door, wait, run to the other end, then knock, wait, and repeat. With each trip, his knocks turned into pounds and got louder and louder. Still, no one opened the door. It was time for Steve to get creative.

Being that he was in a musical instruction building, there were practice rooms all along the hallway. Some had pianos, some had harps, and some had drums. Steve chose to sit down and start playing one of the pianos. He figured, what better way to get someone’s attention in another part of the building than to start playing a piano? After another ten minutes of banging on the keys, Steve gave up and decided to leave.

Just as he was about to get back in his car in the parking lot, he saw his contact walking inside. They finally met, talked about the software, and Steve earned an extra large paycheck: nearly $500 dollars for his six or so weeks or work.

The guy was pretty happy with his software and asked Steve if he’d be interested in another project. Just one caveat: it had to be done right away…