Friday, March 24, 2006

While Paris Burns...

What does one do when French students are revolting, standing up against an oppressive state attempting to impose unfair conditions on vulnerable workers? Why, go to a classical music concert in the poshest theatre in town, of course! And that’s exactly what I did recently with three friends (Dan, Lieven and Martin from Yorkshire, Belgium and Germany respectively). The programme was Brahms’ 1st Piano Concerto and his Second Symphony, sandwiching Theo Verbey’s orchestral arrangement of Alan Berg’s Piano Sonata; the venue, the sumptuous Theatre des Champs-Elysées. We were entertained by the Leipzig Gewandhausorchester under the baton of Riccardo Chailly. The playing was absolutely superb, and we had a good view of the pianist’s hands, albeit with a bit of craning of the neck! The theatre was a superb art-deco affair, with an auditorium of a couple of thousand seats. You might be wondering how four scruffy students managed to fit in in a place like that… well, we decided to change out of our rioting clothes and smarten up for the evening.
After the concert, we decided to take a stroll through Paris, ambling towards a Ligne 6 station which would take us directly back to our residence. As it happened, we ended walking all along the banks of the Seine until we got to the Eiffel Tower. I think the Tower is at its most beautiful at night, with the exception of the ghastly flashing fairy lights which are turned on on the hour, every hour. I don't know what they were thinking... it makes Paris's most famous icon resemble a giant Christmas tree.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

La Neige à Paris!!

This is going to be a short and factual post.

On the evening of 28th February 2006 it snowed in Paris. The following photos document a walk I took the following morning. There's not much more to say really, except for the fact that it probably won't snow again here whilst I'm living here, so I'm glad I made the most of it. I didn't have the opportunity to indulge in any snow-ball fights though, alas.

The first two pictures were taken from the grounds of the Cité Internationale Universitaire de Paris, a place that can only be described as a sumptious student village that is doubtless too elegant for those who are fortunate enough to live there. Lucky sods.

Enthusiasts of public transport may be interested to note the progress on the new south-Paris Tramway. However, I don't think much work was done on 1st March.

I have more photos were these came from. Does anyone know of any decent photo publishing/sharing websites? I would appreciate any hints.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Two job interview in two European capitals on two successive days

Having occurred to me that it is now almost a month since I have posted an epistle on this site, I felt the need to explain to you, my dear reader(s), what I have been occupying myself that is sufficiently important to distract me from this important project.
At the age of twenty-two and three-quarters, coming to the end of eighteen years’ formal education, I have reached the stage in my life where many things are telling me I really ought to decide what I am going to do with the rest of my time on this planet. It’s not just the "voice of reason" that one hears within one’s head giving "sensible" instructions, but also the nature of my dialogue with my peers, particularly those back in London:
"So, how many interviews have you had?"
"How many investment banks have you applied to?"
"What’s the highest starting salary you’ve been offered?"
Back in September, I was fully under the impression that I wanted to go and do something a bit "whacky" for a year, such as teach English in Japan, rather than throw myself immediately into the world of work. However, towards the end of last term, I started to feel slightly homesick, and I became envious of all my friends’ talk of getting nice graduate engineering/management consultant/investment banker jobs in London, a city I still yearn after. So I decided to check out the UK graduate recruitment scene after all. I was still under this high-minded ideal that an electronic engineering graduate should take a post in a relevant field, otherwise the degree would be "wasted". I was also (and still am), firmly of the opinion that one should be employed in a job which directly benefits society according to one’s own moral framework. I decided to apply to a couple of jobs in the public transport sector; people’s desire for mobility is continuing to increase, and a worrying increase in usage of air travel for short-haul transit leads to the inevitable and unavoidable conclusion that our land-based public transport network is a bit crap and needs to be improved.
On Tuesday, I had an interview with Network Rail, the company with the unenviable task of looking after our national rail infrastructure. It was my first interview, for which I prepared myself not unconscientiously. I wanted to know everything about the company’s history, and the intricacies of the arguments for and against rail privatisation. This was perhaps missing the point, as this knowledge was not really backed up by self-knowledge, which perhaps became painfully evident during my rather unconvincing answer to his very first question, "why does a promising Master’s of Engineering student at Imperial College like yourself want to work for crummy old Network Rail?" I was somewhat thrown off balance! The interview was amiable enough, and I managed to find adequate answers to all his questions; I’m not sure what to interpret from the fact that I went on for nearly an hour longer than it was supposed to. I guess he was just in a chatty mood! Whilst it was good to get my first experience of a real job interview, and even better to get a free ticket back to London, my conclusion was that it was not the right graduate scheme for me.
The following day, I found myself in an interview with a young consultant in the Telecoms Group of CSC (Computer Systems Corporation) in La Défense, Paris. It took place in an impressive modern glass edifice in the new business quarter of the French capital, in stark contrast to the Network Rail interview, which was conducted in a back office in Waterloo Station! It was much less structured than the previous day’s "competency-based" interview, and the onus was on me to justify my educational and professional experience, a task that no mean feat… in French! The upshot was that I was more suited to a project management or management consultancy role than the "pure" telecoms engineering that my interviewer and his group indulged in, but this could be accommodated in another department of CSC, and he would forward my CV onto the relevant recruiter. Altold, I survived an experience which I would have found mortally terrifying only a few months ago. In many ways, it was nice to have a couple of trial runs in jobs that weren’t really suited to me.
So what am I going to do? Well, I’m still not entirely sure, but I have certainly stopped worrying about the "You’ve missed the Goldman Sachs deadline!" genre of comments from my colleagues, preferring instead to concentrate my efforts on a more imaginative search for what I really want to do, and where in the world I want to do it. No discussion of my current career search would be complete without mentioning Richard Nelson Bolle’s superb career guidance book "What Color is your Parachute?" which has been my guide during the six weeks in which it has been in my possession. I thoroughly recommend it.
By the way, sorry for the length of this post; I didn't have time to write a short one.