I’ve Been Absent From The Game For Too Long

September 12, 2009 – It’s back to the salt mines for me.

By The Cerebral Aesthetic Vagabond

Some may have noticed I’ve been rather reticent of late. I have an excuse: I took a full time job that demands my presence from nine to five (‘what a way to make a living,” I hear Dolly singing in my head) every weekday, and then some.

This is my world now – traffic, freeways, smog – a far cry from the wilds of Kentucky (I actually ride my bicycle on the freeway to get to work)

The funny thing is that I wasn’t even looking for a job. I was looking to spend money on a digital camera that I don’t need, while enjoying my “sabbatical.” After almost thirty years of slaving over a hot computer I figured I earned a year or so off for good behavior, but alas, it was not to be. Striking out looking for my future ex-camera on craigslist, I decided to click on the “jobs” category to get a sense of the job market, As I browsed the job listings, one struck me as right up my alley, so on a lark I updated my resume, which I last updated on a similar lark three years ago, and mailed it off. Craigslist promptly rejected my e-mail, complaining that it exceeded 150K in size. I was tempted to abandon my halfhearted quest right then, but darn it, I just spent almost three minutes of my precious time updating my resume and I was not going to be flummoxed by a damned machine. So I posted the resume on my web site and e-mailed a link to it to the employer.

After seven days I still had not heard back from the employer and breathed a sigh of relief – truly – that my sabbatical would continue uninterrupted. After all, I had a lot of napping and other important duties to attend to, such as spending hours every day reading articles on the web. Should anyone make me feel guilty about being unemployed, I could now say with all honesty, “But I’ve sent out hundreds of resumes and not gotten a single reply.” OK, that wouldn’t be totally honest, but if need be I could contrive the necessary wiggle room, like debating the meaning of the word “hundreds,” the way politicians do. The point is, I could say that I made an effort to get a job but it’s just too tough a market these days. Aw shucks.

On the eighth day, however, fate or fortune intervened and I got a call out of the blue from the employer. They asked me to come in for an interview that afternoon, which I did. After speaking with the head programmer for half an hour and the owner of the thirty-person company for fifteen minutes, he offered me a job. The salary is half what I used to make working part time as a self-employed consultant, but still above the median household income for this entire country, which is pretty good considering that computer programming jobs like mine are disappearing faster than dollar bills at a political convention. Plus, to be honest – and I hate to admit this – I need the money. My cash will run out within six months or so and then I’d have to start tapping into my savings, which I’m loath to do. So with considerable trepidation over abandoning my delightful sabbatical, I took the job.

On my first day I was given a customer support task for a product I knew nothing about, for a customer I had never talked to before, who was having a problem that he might as well have explained in Greek, for all the sense it made to me. It was an inauspicious start to my new job. So after cleaning up my storage room-turned-office, assembling my own workstation from spare parts lying around and installing the Linux operating system on it – since I’m to be the company’s Linux guru (what a laugh) – I sat down to investigate the customer’s problem.

Now, a common repartee between software engineers and hardware engineers involves the software person asserting that “it’s a hardware problem,” and the hardware person retorting that “it’s a software problem.” (Usually it is a hardware problem. He, he.) After writing a little utility program and e-mailing it to the customer untested, based on the feedback from that utility program I was convinced that the customer’s problem truly was a hardware problem, as in a defective board, which is a daring conclusion to make on one’s second day at work, not even having seen the board in question since it’s over a thousand miles away in Texas. Anyway, I helped the customer get his other board working properly and he was very pleased with the level of support he received.

Although the learning curve so far has been daunting and my “to do list” is already several pages long, I really like the job and don’t miss my sabbatical as much as I feared. The people who work at this company are really nice, sharp cookies and the place has a family feel to it, which is not surprising since the owner’s wife and two of his sons work there as well. In fact, one of the sons is a hardware engineer, so maybe I’d better backpedal a little from my earlier statement that problems are usually hardware problems. Last week we had a relaxed company potluck lunch right out in front of the building. It’s also pleasing that the products – data acquisition and communication products – are fully designed and manufactured right here in the U.S. The irony is that the owner is an immigrant from Poland! While American CEOs are working overtime to send American jobs overseas, here is a foreign immigrant to this country creating American jobs and American made products.

My only regret about taking this job is that I won’t be able to go camping later this month like I had planned. After my recent trip I vowed to go camping on my property in Northern California and even bought a bunch of camping gear to use on that trip, which was to last at least a week, maybe two. Oh well, life involves trade-offs.

I will certainly continue to work on my blog here, but it might take me some time to adjust to my new lifestyle. After all, for over two decades I was self employed and worked only part time, so I had plenty of free time. Now my schedule is a little more regimented and my time is a little less abundant. For example, I’d love to sit on my butt all day and lallygag or, I don’t know, maybe work on the huge work project I brought home, but in a few minutes I have to go spend the day helping my brother-in-law build a deck in his backyard, something I agreed to before I was employed.

As for the collapse that’s continuing apace all around us, well, I’m ignoring it for a little while, but I have no illusions that things will turn around. “Green shoots,” my ass! Why, beginning yesterday afternoon we were without electricity for over ten hours, that following last month’s six-hour outage. The electricity here is less reliable than that in Kentucky! Only twice did I suffer power outages in Kentucky that lasted longer than the last two here, once after a devastating hurricane and the other after an even more devastating ice storm. More than anything else, electricity outages give one a palpable taste of real collapse because almost none of our modern conveniences or entertainment devices work without it. We take for granted that the power will come back on within a reasonable amount of time, but what if the electric company is suffering under crippling financial problems? Mother nature doesn’t take a company’s fiscal health into account before meting out her disasters.

I’m working solely to make some money, and to take advantage of an opportunity that was dangled tantalizingly in front of me. I’ve neglected to take advantage of so many such opportunities throughout my life, so I thought, “why not?” Who knows, if the economic collapse accelerates in the next month or two, as some have recently averred, I may be unemployed soon again anyway, so for now I’m just taking things a day at a time.

The End