Will Code For Food

This article originally appeared in the Wall Street Journal several years ago.  It's come up from time to time at work and most folks find it to be an amusing tale so I figured I'd post this before I lose track of it.

In these dark days of dot-com despair, Web developer Brian Yangas never thought a practical joke would yield three job leads in an hour.
Recently Patrick Husting, eHome Inc.'s chief technology officer and co-founder, told Mr. Yangas and 30 of his co-workers at the company's Bellevue, Wash., tech office that the online real-estate brokerage would shut all of its 11 regional sales offices and lay off the employees there.

Only the tech office would remain open while eHome tried to sell its technology. But the company might run out of money, so Mr. Husting suggested the employees be prepared and start looking for other work.

Mr. Yangas, a self-described "quirky guy," didn't fix up his resume; he fixed up a cardboard sign. It read "Web Developer...dot-com went bust...will code for food (or options)...hungry -- sober."

He arrived at work at 8:30 the next morning, bundled against the November chill in a hardy brown twill jacket and baseball cap. Sign in hand, he strolled out to the nearby highway-exit ramp and waited to make his co-workers laugh as they arrived. Mr. Yangas, 31, hoped his joke would "relieve the anxiety," he says. "You know, lighten the mood."

For the first 10 minutes, passing drivers essentially ignored the avid foosball player. Then some of the commuters, most of whom he didn't recognize, "started to notice and laugh, so I thought I'd stay a bit longer," he says.

A man driving "maybe a Toyota" shouted "Cogenix is hiring!" Mr. Yangas recalls. Cogenix is a database-application and Web site maker based in nearby Redmond, Wash. About five minutes later, Cami Cole, an associate with information-technology recruiter Maxim Group, stopped and asked "Are you really a Web developer?" Mr. Yangas nodded, and Ms. Cole handed him a business card with the parting words, "I can get you a job."

After about 45 minutes, Mr. Yangas went inside to warm up. He came back out at 10am because his boss wanted a picture of the prank. While Mr. Yangas was waiting for Mr. Husting to find a camera, "a long-haired guy in a blue truck" yelled, "Go to Microsoft campus building D. Ask for Tim."

"I wasn't sure what to think about it at first," Mr. Yangas remembers, "but later that day, no one was doing any work," so he headed down to the Microsoft campus. "I thought, it's been a weird day so far; let's see what fate brings."

He found the D building on Microsoft's Red West campus. It was three or four stories high and Mr. Yangas, who had caught only a fleeting glimpse of his contact, worried he wouldn't find the right Tim.

But he did. With the help of a new receptionist who didn't know a soul in the building but did have access to a photo database of employees, Mr. Yangas located what he thought might be the right extension.

The receptionist called: "There's this guy down here who said you yelled to him on the street." Tim Noonan, a development manager for Microsoft's MSN Explorer group, came down to meet Mr. Yangas, took him back to his office and talked to him for 15 to 20 minutes before passing him on to other members of Mr. Noonan's team.

"We're always looking for good developers, so why not" talk with Mr. Yangas, Mr. Noonan says. "And if he's as good a developer as he is at coming up with this scheme then woo-hoo! We value creativity."

Mr. Yangas "was pretty excited" about the outcome: Mr. Noonan called him back for a second, formal interview a few weeks later. And yet another rolled around a week later. Among other things, he was asked to write code on a dry-erase board and was interviewed during lunch to see if he could answer tough questions while eating. The interview lasted nine hours.

Thursday brought good news. A human-resources representative called to say the company would be making him a job offer early in the new year, once "the numbers guy comes back from vacation."

Meanwhile, eHome hasn't shut down. Since the pre-Thanksgiving meeting, Mr. Yangas's current employer has decided to reposition itself as a technology company. EHome's Web site is up and running, the company is referring leads to former agents and receiving referral fees.

So Mr. Yangas, who has two kids and is paying off a home mortgage and a minivan, says he hasn't "gone back out" with his sign. He was encouraged by the job leads, he says, but, in fact, "I was actually kind of hoping for money."

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