The end of my days with Gopher-Man, et al

Well, it’s official.  I’m leaving the world of Gopher-Man, Longback Guy, Barefoot Boss, and The Chinese Contingent.  Yep, I’ve got a new job.  I start in a couple of weeks.  I have high hopes that this gig will be a better fit for me than the last one was, though based on the many comments I have received about my Gopher-Man stories, I realize this may be something of a disappointment to many of you.  I’m sorry about that, but I hope to find new characters for you when I begin my next adventure in the world of software (this time I’ll be back in the world of Marketing again, too, which holds a lot of promise for ridiculous work related stories).  I will be commuting into the city again, which should translate into many fun-filled tales of crazy BART interactions or observations, but until then, I leave you with a couple entries from my Blog Spam folder for entertainment.

Comment #1:

“I expect that what you say is true, but which one of us can understand all these changes these days”

Comment #2:

“At the same time my two brothers prayed to Mary, cited saints and periodically wandered into very odd doctrines indeed.”

Enough said…

What’s in a career?

I’ve spent the past fifteen+ years working in technology, and while I never intended to work in the industry, I’m grateful that I fell into the profession at a time when falling in was good.  It’s a rare profession, in that, you can make it without a degree – or at least you could back when I started, and I suspect you still can if you get the right opportunity at the right time.  I got in during the dot com boom, when spelling the name of a particular technology correctly would often get you the job.  I started in project management, but eventually felt like I’d be a better project manager if I knew how to program, so I learned how to code, and switched direction.  Eventually, I melded the two together and worked my way into management positions.  In the early years, anything I did felt exciting, especially compared to working in a restaurant or a factory, which were the two options available to me had I stayed in the Midwest.  Occasionally, I got bored, and when that happened, I’d switch jobs and things worked out well over time.

A few years ago, I finally decided to go back to school, even though I’d already made it far enough in my career that I didn’t really need to.  It was one of those things I just wanted to do – a Bucket list sort of thing – and so I did.  Three years later, and I’m very close to finishing my Master’s degree.  In the few years I’ve been in school, I’ve worked freelance a bit and did a six-month stint working for a friend whose start-up got funded.  I took another six months to focus on my Master’s, and just over 4 months ago, I joined the workforce as a full-time employee again.  I was close enough to the finish line that I figured I could finish my Master’s while working, which has gone fine.

What I didn’t expect was the impact my Master’s program would have on me in terms of really evaluating what I want to do with my career.  Lots of people that go through the program I’m in come out changed in the end.  I read that a lot before I started, but didn’t really expect it to happen to me.  My M.A. will be in Organizational Leadership, and the focus is very much on the sociological and psychological elements of organizations and management.  It’s also a very personally focused program, meaning practically every course is designed to encourage the student to really reflect on him or herself, and look for meaning in the things we do.  I’m a thinker and I analyze things around me all the time, sometimes too much, but in any case, it was a perfect fit for me.

The problem I face now is in finding the right company to work for.  I don’t want to just work in technology to work in technology.  I want to be able to be passionate about what I do, and I don’t think that will come without finding a company I can feel passionate about.  So, I’m starting again with a short list of companies whose products and services I use and enjoy, whose philosophies are in line with my own.  I have no idea whether I will be successful in getting my foot in the door or not, but I have to think that a smart company will realize how valuable it is to have employees that already love their products.  Of course, I have to have the skills, too, but that’s not the part I’m worried about.  It’s all about getting that first introduction, that first contact, an opportunity to show your stuff.  I sent my resume to one of the places I’d really love to work for last night.  Their job listing made clear they get hundreds and hundreds of resumes for every position, and they ask people expressing interest to make themselves stand out in the email they send with their resume.  Below is the email I sent.  If this doesn’t get their attention, I’m not sure what would…

I am writing to express my hope that this email marks just the first of many conversations I will have with you.  I would like to join your team, first and foremost, because I love [Your Product], but that is not the only reason.  Your company has a unique philosophy, as I’m sure you’re already aware, but you may not know how well aligned your philosophy is with my own.  I think collaboration and open source are great things.  I believe in simple, yet powerful.  I think customers should be happy.  I think people need new things to keep them engaged for more than short periods of time.  I think people need technology to be easy or they will go find another service that makes it so.  I think people that use a free service are more than willing to pay for premium upgrades if that free service is rock solid and high quality.  [Your Product] is all of those things, and more, but I will stop here in an attempt to stay brief, as you requested in the job listing.
On to a few reasons why I may be the best person in the world for this position…
I have worked in technology for fifteen years, almost entirely on web or mobile projects or products.  I love the Internet, writing, playing pool, watching crime shows, and getting things done.  In fact, I am the best multi-tasker I know, which is one of the reasons I would be a perfect [Job Title] at [Your Company].  For more on my multi-tasking obsession, see point 3 on this blog post.  You’ll also be excited to know that I was the co-founder of a web hosting company once upon a time, so I understand what your clients want.  I have worked at a handful of start-ups, and flourish in an environment where good ideas get somewhere, without a lot of bureaucracy and red tape that suck the life out of employees.  I have been a developer, a project manager, a product manager, and a manager of all those types of people in places as diverse as a marketing agency, an insurance company, a utility company, a software consulting firm, and a hair salon.
I have attached my resume for you to review at your convenience.
In closing, I would like to add that when you read my resume, you may think I am overqualified for the [Job Title] position.  If that is your first instinct, I urge you to set aside that concern.  I am currently gainfully employed for a company that pays me a healthy salary, but I am bored out of my skull.  I want more than anything to work for a company that I can be passionate about, and I really would be an excellent [Job Title].  That said, if there are other positions for which you think I might be the right [fit], I am happy to discuss them.  Finally, you currently have only one employee that is a Wisconsin native – or at least only one that is willing to advertise himself as such.  I, too, am a Wisconsin native, and you should really employ more than one person that hails from the frozen tundra.  We bring a unique perspective, especially on meat and potatoes, squeaky cheese, and the Old Fashioned.

On Employment

Employment has been on my mind quite a bit lately, for a handful of reasons.  First, I’m currently unemployed (though, hopefully, not for much longer) and have been looking for work for the past couple of months.  Second, I picked up Then We Came to the End yesterday, which reminded me of my past job in a marketing agency.  I shared an excerpt of it that made me laugh. Third, I heard from a friend today who just got a new job. Finally, I just finished Before We Get Started, A Practical Memoir of the Writer’s Life, by Bret Lott. In it, he devotes some time to explaining that characters in stories need jobs, and the best place to find jobs for them is to steal your own work experiences.  That could be particularly interesting for me, as I’ve worked in a toilet seat factory.  That’s a story for another day, though.

As all these thoughts about jobs, work, careers, and employment turned over in my mind, I thought back to high school.  I was very bored in high school, but I was pretty good at it, so occasionally, a teacher took an interest and tried to give me something more challenging to do.  In sixth grade, my teacher let me work ahead in math.  I finished the entire year’s work in a month.  I didn’t have to do math for the rest of the year, so instead, I read when everyone else was stuck doing long division or whatever it is you do in sixth grade math.  As a sophomore, a guidance counselor thought I should take the pre-SAT a year early, just for fun.  I did it and it was not fun.

I expected to go to college, but I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up.  No idea.  None.  My school offered a test that was meant to help you determine what job you would be good at doing.  It was a sort of affinity test.  You answered a ton of questions, and it spit out the ideal job for you at the end.  Mine was … believe it … garbage collector.  I’m not kidding.  That’s totally for real.  I wish I had a picture of what my face looked like when my counselor shared that potential career path with me.  Needless to day, I stopped going to her for help, but I still had to figure out what I was going to study.  I liked math, science was OK, and I loved flying in airplanes, although I’d only done it once.  So, the logical conclusion was that I should be an aerospace engineer.  I’m not sure who came up with that, but that became the plan.  I applied to Purdue, got in, was all set to go, but it wasn’t meant to be.  That is also a story for another day.

Suffice it to say, I ended up not going to college, working in factories and restaurants for a few years, and eventually found my way to San Francisco, where opportunities abounded.  I still had no idea what I wanted to do, and almost just stuck with restaurant work.  I thought it would be interesting to work in an office, though, so I signed up at a few temp agencies, and landed a filing job that led to another job working on a big software project.  I’ve worked in technology ever since.  It was purely by accident, and sometimes I’m not sure I really want to work in technology anymore, but it is what it is.

Thinking back to high school again, I remember that we actually did have a computer programming class.  It was early in the PC revolution, but we had a few computers in a lab that used floppy discs – the original floppy discs that were big and actually floppy.  It was still early enough that the poor teacher that had to instruct us had no clue about programming, though.  He sat at a terminal just like we did, cranking out the same assignments so he could try to get a half a step ahead of us.  We were generally instructed to write BASIC programs that spit out various characters in lines on the screen so that they made pictures.  A smiley face, a very square looking dog or cat.  Some of us spelled our names so that each larger than life letter was made up of a bunch of small versions of itself.  Maybe we wrote a program that added up every number from 1 to 100.  Nothing more useful than that, though, and never did it occur to anyone that there might be careers in this newfangled technology.  I wonder if they’ve gotten any better at helping kids figure out what they want to be when they grow up.