Being Humbled

Almost a mis-pronunciation of my last name, and with my initials TBH now synonymous with “to be honest”, I have to lay out somethings that I have on my chest.

I found myself unemployed after a decade of being mostly double-booked, and handling work fabulously. After 22 years of being employee #1 sometimes, seeing to dotcom bubble burst firsthand, and falling backwards in to something that was always perfect for me, it all stopped. Jump to the bottom for a silver lining.

Maybe one day you’ll be here, you’ll need to know the world won’t end, and that it means tightening the belt, cutting down on your subscriptions, your cable bill, and making PB&J sandwiches when your working friends go to the bar. There is a rule, when you pick up the bar tab 5 times, you’ll probably get one free drink in the future.

A year ago I had offers to go everywhere. I interviewed at “Company A“ and was interviewed with a server tech which touched on nothing I do. He asked questions irrelevant to my role, but set up for a recent CS grad that had no specialty yet. I offered him my code, but he did not understand it. A contradiction to their ethos that software engineers should be able to go to any department and do that job. I pointed out that I could be perfect and he’d never know it, and that I don’t like the idea of random re-assignment when I was applying only to the local office that needs my specialty.

I was upset, mostly at the way I handled it when I had signs that they had a process that would inevitably prevent me from being hired. I think telling people I was talking to them was probably more to my ego than to what I really want to do.

I once had an interview with another “A” company and schooled their people on some CSS I use all the time that they said was incorrect. It was a rare time that whet I put on the whiteboard was copied verbatim and worked. In your face! Maybe it is because they were kids trying to say I was old and uncool but I upstaged them.

So recently I asked to make my role official as architect, after 2 years of doing just that, but instead the department was reorganized with no space for even a lead. Bad timing.

Things looking bleak, I took a gig with a tiny shop doing Angular last month, only 2 months after leaving my last gig. The way the whole thing was set up was unwieldy and there was so much code bloat and the processes so broken, it was all tribal knowledge for two people that did not really have loads of experience. The build process broke every few hours, the naming convention was horrific, and the code review process so flawed, that a double space between two words failed. After them saying 2.5mb of a single CSS file was “the norm” on an extremely simple site, and that I should perpetuate it, I asked to leave when optimization and UX were not priorities.

When you have a job, everyone wants to get you to leave for them, but they hate the idea that the same may happen to them. I interviewed a lot of places, big and small. I was immediately hit with tests that were timed to do something that would be an entire 2-week sprint, in a real environment. Other places asked me questions I found so easy, and I always brought my upbeat attitude and enthusiasm for working for them.

I have to say, a lot of people I met were extremely petty. Some of me says that they are envious of my resume, others were angry that I learned everything for free and they lamented their student debt (true story on two occasions). Others were jealous that I’d be promoted over them, thinking that hours at a company automatically promotes you over meritocracy.

I just want to work, I’ll find the perfect thing eventually.

One company and I had a very long phone convo, it was great, we exchanged war stories, movie quotes, and bbq-ing tips. Manager position on the line, the guy I’d replace had been there 4 years but was moving on. They offered the position to one solid coder and offered me that guy’s position. They said they don’t demote, but it meant that though I may be the better leader, I could be in a dead end spot for years.

Another gig would have me flying out of state, an expense account, heavy responsibility, and a fantastic company. The account manager mishandled it and pissed off three of my references.

Cash-wise, I have a year of runway, but I can’t go that long, knowing that I need to have something on the CV to fill the gaps. You are supposed to make money to have fun, but it is only permissible during your corporate mandated 10 days a year. Screw backpacking across Europe, you need to be coding again the second you return.

I am not nervous now, but I am nervous for the next time, maybe when I am 50 or 60. What can I do then? Nobody offers a pension, and 401ks are not the best investment. Suddenly buying a $4k watch instead of that trip to France 5 years ago is making sense. The memory is worthless now and the watch is $3k on the used market. I got to look stylish along the way too.

So what am I doing? I am learning more. I am working on my JavaScript, and my French. I am looking at maybe some blue collar skills that are hiring that can pay 6-figures (thanks Mike Rowe!).

My advice to you: spend the downtime with 50/50 split of things for you, and learning new skills you need. Do some open source, and then go to a cooking class. Learn to do Java and dance salsa.

I never wanted to code, I was good at it, then I good good at predicting where to go, then better at reading people and business requirements. I have grown to enjoy it and love what it allows me to do. I am sure I’ll find something else I am good at and go through the same process in a second act that I will find fulfilling.

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