I was deeply moved and impressed by the raw honesty of Chris’s article, I’m Home, Finally, from a few weeks ago, which was inspired by Chatty DM’s article, Lessons from Day Jobs. Here were a couple of devoted, talented gamers who were cracking open the mysterious black box (Red Box?) and allowing an intimate look inside their lives. We all know how the internet is supposed to work, cloaking us in anonymity and as we say anything we want through a persona that we invented.
In person, I might be an awkward, gooney blob with no friends and the social skills of a cutting board, but online, I can be clever and sharp, witty and engaging, brilliant and striking. We just need to make sure that we keep everything inside and hidden, that the readers only get to see exactly what we want them to see. But Tourq and Chatty pulled back the curtain and got all autobiographical on our buttocks, and that made me think, “Huh, that looks fun. I think I’ll do that.”
As I think back over my professional experience, I marvel and shudder simultaneously. I’m pretty sure, had I listened to bald Mr. Pepp, my school guidance counselor, he wouldn’t have recommended this particular route. Neither do I. Okay, okay, this long and winding road prepared me for the job I hold now, a job that I really do like, a job I’m good at. Had I not experienced all I’ve experienced, I wouldn’t have this job. It’s as simple as that. But even my foulest and most flatulent enemies–you know who you are, and if not, I’ll be releasing a list later in the week–even these rotten people don’t deserve a history like this. You wanna get it, you gotta pay it. I paid it.
It’d be nice to create a fancy graphic of the jobs I’ve held, a timeline showing the spans in bright colors, but unfortunately, for such a timeline to be meaningful, it’d have to be to scale. That presents certain difficulties, given that I’ve held one job for 5 years and another for 1 week. Anyone wanting to look at the graphic would need a monitor the size of a garage door, and I can’t ask that of my readers. If, however, you have a monitor the size of a garage door, give me a call because I want to play video games on it.
First things first, I need to get my pre-Army jobs out of the way. While each served a purpose (mostly giving me money that I could waste on food and D&D), I’m not going to count these because 1) I’d never put them on a resume, and 2) I have no idea of the start and end dates. I was young and stupid and the word “tomorrow” meant as little to me as the word “fiduciary.” I’m now older and stupid and I’ve got a pretty clear understanding of “tomorrow.” Fiduciary? Something about money, I think. Which I don’t have much of, so it’s still pretty meaningless.
First Job Ever
Not sure, actually. It might have been my near-week stint as a dishwasher at an ice cream-based family restaurant (Heffies), or it might have been my one floundering weekend with a friend at a gas station (Texaco). The former had me walk off the job, because either it was horrible work or I was hopelessly lazy. Probably both. The latter, I was frightened by credit card sales, I was unable to pump exact totals (“Uh, that’ll be $10.03”), and I consistently forgot to reinstall gas caps. Now that I think about it, I continue to struggle with these deficiencies.
My big one, my defining job, my Burger King. It lasted four years, out of high school and into assorted flirtings with college, and it introduced me to the pretty girl who inexplicably would agree to marry me, though not right away. Pretty and smart. It was Burger King where I met some good and wonderful friends, and even to this day, I maintain contact with none of them. While I’ve always been irritatingly introspective (I had my first identity crisis at age 4), it was during the Burger King days when I started wondering, “Is this all there is?” As it happens, the answer is a definitive yes and no.
First Semi-Professional Job
Right around the time I proposed to Wendy (pretty and smart, see above), moved out of my mother’s house (and into the apartment above the business where she worked), and pursued a degree in something I hated (architectural drafting, though I didn’t figure out my hatred until about a week before receiving my degree), I interviewed at JobPro, a temp agency that offered two employment tracks, office and warehouse. Warehouse sounded very hard, so I did their office testing and they placed me at a company called Brown & Sharpe, which did something involving large, noisy machines. I did data entry for some months, wearing a tie and uncomfortable shoes, and so impressed my supervisor there that she offered me job there. And I would have taken it, except for one tiny commitment, and I don’t mean my marriage to Wendy in September ’90. No, the commitment I’m talking about is…
HUA (2/91 – 12/94)
The US Army. And so my career began. I signed up in July 1990, to begin Basic Training in February 1991. Right in between those dates, right around the time I started thinking that this decision might not be the best one I’d made in my 22 years on the planet, right around the time that Brown & Sharpe offered me a non-military, non-shooting, non-grenade type job, the Gulf War started. So when I approached my recruiters to admit I wasn’t so keen on the Army after all, they informed me that the Army was still pretty keen on me. I would get out of the Army on December 2, 1994, to return to college and this time, I’d get a degree in something I loved…
B&S Redux (4/95 – 5/00)
Or not. I did get out of the Army, and I did return to school, for a short time, but with a son and a newly-hatched daughter and no recognizable income, I scuttled back to work. I got in touch with my supervisor from Brown & Sharpe, just to catch up (wink wink), and wouldn’t you know it, she had some stuff I could do. I started part-time there, 20 hours a week, and then 30, and then 40 but without benefits, and then 40+ without benefits, and finally a full-time salaried position, with benefits and everything. I’d broken through, I’d found my professional job. My Architectural Drafting degree was really paying off. I was full-time and salaried April 1995, and would stay there until being unceremoniously fired in May 2000. You know how managers talk about Open Door Policies? They don’t really mean it. If you have a problem, an issue, a concern, or a worry, you best keep that pink mouth shut.
Dream Job (5/00 – 5/01)
After receiving notice at Brown & Sharpe, I set to seeking a new job. It took exactly one week. A friend asked if I’d consider writing for a living, and because I had not recently suffered any major brain injuries, I naturally said yes. I started working as a technical writer for e-Business Technologies on May 30, 2000, and enjoyed a year of the best work I’d done since I’d started working. This was a pure software development company, just this side of a DOT COM, with free soda, free coffee, free bagels and danishes, a pool table and ping pong table in the cafeteria, a great big bucket of legos for anyone to play with outside of one office, pizza-laden training sessions, and some of the coolest technologies I’d ever seen. This was the sort of software–content management, web-based, workflow, neato neato neato–I’d buy and use. I was working with people vastly smarter than me. Not that big a deal, except this was a case where I couldn’t help but acknowledge it. Real, honest-to-goodness scientists, people with lots of little letters after their names, people who were sitting on the W3 board and getting patents and inventing stuff no one had ever seen before. Naturally, the company went under. On May 17, 2001, we were all called into the cafeteria and told we were out of work. At the time, looking ahead to 9 weeks of severance pay (getting my paycheck? for doing nothing???), and possessed of an unnaturally high opinion of myself and the job market, I thought I had no worries.
I was seriously wrong.
Unemployment (5/01 – 7/02)
Really, really long unemployment really, really sucks. How could I have possibly known that after the dream that was eBT, I’d be scrounging for work for 14 months? We scrimped and we scraped, our church and friends and family helping us pay our bills, and I sent hundreds and hundreds of resumes to all corners of the earth, all of which generated a baker’s dozen worth of interviews. All for nothing, nada, naught. I did find out a lot about myself, most importantly that I didn’t like being unemployed.
In the interest of full disclosure, I did manage to snag a few contract jobs, defined as short-term, unreliable, and just a little terrifying:
- OmniCom. 10/01-11/01
- Red Bridge Interactive. 12/01-1/02
- Tzell Travel. 5/10/02-5/15/02
- New England Medical Center. 5/02-6/02
A few of these opportunities hinted at “bigger and better things,” but it was the one I was least interested in that panned out. See below. There are people out there, adventurous people, daredevil people, life-on-the-edge people, who love this kind of life. Where’s the next paycheck coming from? Will you have work next month, next week, tomorrow? “Who cares, dude! Live in the now!” These people ain’t my people. Also, these people probably don’t have kids.
Underemployment (7/02 – 1/03)
It turned out OmniCom, a tiny little division of a company called GBA, liked the contract work I had done, but couldn’t quite hire me full-time. GBA, which really wasn’t that much bigger than OmniCom, considered me for a good long time before offering me all the slavish toil of a real job but with half of that unsightly salary. And, just for fun, crummy benefits. But you know, beggars, choosers, etc. On July 16, 2002, I started at GBA. I’d be doing something brand new for me, training, which evidently required interaction with other people. As I am a paralyzingly introverted person, this seemed rather a challenge. But once I started, it turned out to be only a nightmare.
But that’s not entirely fair. Remember how I said about eBT, here is “software… I’d buy and use?” Well, GBA was selling software I wouldn’t cross the street to spit on. I had to learn a new and bewildering industry (health insurance), an old and dreadful software, and an agonizing and draining skill (training). I quite hated it at GBA, but what choice did I have? I didn’t want to go back to unemployment. Thankfully, GBA spared me the horrors of suffering them for too long, and fired me on January 30, 2003, for a crime I didn’t commit. Back to unemployment.
Unemployment II (2/03 – 5/03)
Unemployment still sucks. See above.
Yonder (5/03 – 9/03)
It came time for me to move. The technology opportunities had played out in the northeast, so on May 12, 2003, I took a job with Columbia Research Corporation in Virginia, figuring there’d always be work in the DC area. CRC was a job placement agency, so they placed me at a company called Titan Secure Solutions, which wanted me to write proposals for work with still other companies, and it was all pretty confusing. It hardly needs saying, but I’d never written proposals before, so here was yet another skill I needed to learn.
A job in Virginia meant living with a friend for a few months, and then orchestrating the whole house sale, apartment rental, family relocation, school registration, and house hunting joys that are more than sufficient to drive a stable man to uncontrollable weeping. And I wasn’t stable to begin with.
Once my family settled in (more or less), I began looking for new work, figuring that I couldn’t do any worse than the job that brought me to Virginia. At Titan, I had a good boss and a reasonably good environment, but the work was soooooooooooooooooo dull. I sent a few resumes out, and got a snag. One interview landed me a follow-up, but one of the company’s co-owners called me and said, “Never mind the next interview, do you just want the job?” I said yes. My last day at Titan was September 12, 2003.
Dream to Nightmare (9/03 – 1/08)
Fairfax Imaging started so well, as most new jobs do, with interesting work (documentation and training), fascinating people, and bucketloads of travel to all over the United States (and both ends of Canada). This was a privately owned company, with one owner being the day-to-day president and the other owner being a brilliant developer. The former owner never failed to annoy me, putting out fires with a sort of manic glee but never actually solving any problems, and the latter owner was a vast, seething pool of intimidation, always reducing me to grinning idiot status.
Unfortunately, the Fairfax Imaging experienced growth, much as a cancer patient does, only more painfully. The owners saw value in making lots and lots of money, but decided to do it without upgrading the 1998 software or growing the Mom & Pop infrastructure, which resulted in record low morale and a grossly dissatisfied customer base. Since these customers couldn’t take their anger bats to the noggins of the owners, they turned on the person they saw for weeks at a time… the trainer! And yes, that would be me.
As my irritability and frustration mounted, and as I watched other talented rats flee that ship, I cast out my resume net and found a new job, this one where I would only be writing, for a company that looked like it saw its employees as valuable resources instead of coal for the engine.
Current Dream (1/08 – Present)
I started as a technical writer for InfinityQS at the end of January 2008, and have had the opportunity to do some interesting, important, and exciting things. I’ve come face to face with new technologies (and yes, this software company sells a product I would use, just like old eBT from back in 2000), I’ve faced all kinds of challenges, and I’ve found myself well-respected and appreciated, something I haven’t always experienced in the past. This is a good company, and I hope to stay here with these good people, but, you know… you know…
My timeline of work suggests a certain pattern, and it’s not just me growing tired of a particular environment and wanting to move on after five years or so. It’s the reality of work, even when it’s good, forever and always being work. It’s something you need to get up for, it’s something you need to go and do, it’s something that’s there and demanding when you don’t feel like doing it. I am the dog that’s been smacked on the snout enough to grow fearful of my owner, even when he is loving and kind and generous.
This is a job I want to keep, but talk to me again in a few years.