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[personal profile] chipotle

I’m skimming through my LiveJournal entries over the last few years and there’s a recurring pattern there, which goes something like this:

  • I’ve lost my IT job. Crap.
  • Hmm, maybe it’s time to re-evaluate my life and figure out what I want to do, and—
  • Look, an IT job! This could lead somewhere good! Let’s take it.
  • I’ve lost my IT job. Crap.

It’d be nice if, instead of just telling me I’m heading the wrong way every few months, fate would consider giving me better directions.

You know, I didn’t wake up one day in high school or college and say, “Hey, wouldn’t it be great if I had trouble ever holding a job for more than a couple years? And wouldn’t it be especially wonderful if those positions were just contract work with no chance of permanence? It’d be just great if, twenty years after I graduate high school, I could be one of those statistics in newspaper articles about people with a negative net worth!” Twenty years ago I didn’t even expect to be working in the technology field, despite having been a computer nerd from a very early age. It’s not what I failed to get my degree for.

If I’m frustrated, it’s in part because I’m surrounded by people who came from very similar places to me and have done a lot better. The wall I run into is often less a lack of degree than a lack of portfolio. I have very little I can point to as examples of my past work; what I’ve done has usually been proprietary manuals or UIs I haven’t been able to keep samples of.

I feel like I’ve spent the last few years in particular stuck with most of the drawbacks of a tumbleweed existence, but few of the benefits. If I was able to roll around the country in a VW conversion van doing odd jobs—or if I wanted to be a 21st century bum, doing just enough freelance web work by remote to pay for wireless internet along with gas and food!—for a couple years, that’d be absolutely terrific, but that’s not what’s happened.

So what if I pick up on my idea of going back to school and pursuing something completely different? I don’t know. At this point I’m having trouble seeing how to get off the hamster wheel without, well, a lot of money I keep failing to secure. What I’d really like, I think, is a short-term contract that would pay me an ungodly hourly rate through the end of this year, so I’d be in a better position next year to go back to school, move anywhere, what have you.

Could I just move back home for college? Yeah, and I might, even though the idea of moving back in with mom at my age is a bit wince-inducing. Yet now I’m a California resident, rather than a Florida one, so I would pay in-state tuition rates here and out-of-state rates there. Pasco-Hernando Community College’s’s costs for me would be over $200 per credit hour, for instance; Foothill or De Anza’s cost would be about $20 per credit hour. Even so, if I’m not paying rent there and I am paying it here, the finances still marginally tip in favor of such a move.

But hold on, my spreadsheet says: working part-time retail won’t pay for tuition, expenses and debt reduction in either place. If I got 10-15 hours of work a week at consulting rates, it’d work out, but I haven’t had much luck pursuing that approach in the past.

And, of course, if I got an AA in English, say, what could I do with it? Go on to get a BA in English. (In Florida, you’re automatically accepted at a state university with an associate degree awarded from a state community college; in California it’s not automatic, but it is more likely.) Or not. Then what? Journalist? Staff writer… somewhere?

I could do that, of course. I might like it more, in the long run. Computers are in my blood at this point, but maybe taking on an open source project or two would be sufficient for that. (I have a perverse temptation to implement a generalized version of the document management system I’d started to design for the company I was just let go from, although on a practical level I should only do that if I can apply the lessons from it to other personal projects like Claw & Quill.)

I am, in any case, starting to wonder if my California adventure is coming to a close. I haven’t been a miserable failure out here; I’ve transitioned to technical writing successfully, I’ve worked for some interesting companies, and I’ve grown to really love the area. But I’ve barely been keeping my head above water. Every job has managed to leave me in a slightly worse financial position than when I started. And it looks like I may end up having to fight to get the last 6-7 days of pay for the most recent contract.

If I can get support to stay out here and go to school, I may very well do that. And, if one of those high-dollar contracts really does happen, terrific. This upcoming week I’m likely to talk to a college or two near here, and I’m going to be dusting off the resume and getting myself back in circulation. My experiences in March were fairly encouraging in terms of my “marketability” now.

If, however, I’m still writing emo journal entries this time next month, it may be time to cut my losses and hit the road again.

Date: 2006-06-26 00:04 (UTC)
From: [identity profile] twentythoughts.livejournal.com
While you can't do full University studying, you can look for ways to learn new stuff on your own in your free time. You won't necessarily get the actual degrees, but you'll have the knowledge, and you might be able to prove that in an eventual job interview/application/whatever.

Date: 2006-06-26 01:51 (UTC)
From: [identity profile] joshuwain.livejournal.com
I wonder...

Once upon a time, when communities were smaller and more close-knit, people would band together to get through tough times. While I don't think they used modern terms like "downsizing", "living wages," or "job satisfaction" the troubles they faced were just as problematic.

I've been on the same roller-coaster as you've observed and keep thinking, "wouldn't it be nice if all of us in the same boat could band together, pool our resources -not like a commune but like a business opportunity- and try to support each other in a common push towards personal satisfaction?"

Then again, I wonder if such a thing would really work or if the "too many Chiefs" issue would sink any such endeavor.

Personally, I'd like to be part of an extended community that could break away like that and provide something satisfying and supportive to each other.

Problem is, I have no idea how to start such a thing.

What do you think?

Date: 2006-06-26 05:33 (UTC)
From: [identity profile] chipotle.livejournal.com
I think it's a good idea in general, but I'm not sure of the specifics, either. I know for my part my biggest worry would be getting someone who's good with finances and accounting in to help with it all, which is what I suspect my own weakest point would be in doing my own business. It's the administration in general that's sunk my fannish "businesses," although to be fair those were never things that were intended to make money. If my income actually depended on it I would probably at least be *passable,* but I doubt I'd truly be *good* with it. :)

Having said that, a sort of "remote distributed" consulting company could certainly work. I think the trick would be figuring out how it would be differentiated. For example, 37 Signals is very well-known for "Web 2.0" work, specifically Ruby on Rails; in fact, they're probably making more money from their web applications than they are for consulting. The trick might be figuring out a great hook--whether or not it's an application.

Date: 2006-06-26 17:06 (UTC)
From: [identity profile] joshuwain.livejournal.com
Maybe. I'm not sure if distributed networking would work at first since the physical presence of co-workers can often provide more inspiration and impetus to "get things done" than just a computer monitor.

I wonder, though, what sort of firm/service could a group like us offer if we pooled our skills? Hypothetically, of course.

Date: 2006-06-26 17:57 (UTC)
From: [identity profile] chipotle.livejournal.com
It would depend on what our collected skills were, to risk stating the obvious. :) I have a pool of web programming experience with popular open source technologies -- I know PHP, PostgreSQL, and MySQL and have professional experience with all of them, and have (informally) studied database design. I'm not a great graphic designer by any stretch but I manage to get by, because I have layout and typography experience and because I'm a web standards nut. And I'm learning Ruby on Rails, Ajax and a few other current buzzwords.

Of course, this leaves lots of other things I don't know. I have little experience with any Microsoft-created technology like .NET, C#, and the Ten Thousand Iterations of ASP. I know SQL but not Oracle-specific extensions. I've tried to learn Java but it gives me hives. And there are whole classes of software I don't have real experience with (customer management applications, for instance).

I suppose a good approach for founding a business, though, would be to decide if you were going to try to aim for a specific service to provide, or for a more generalist "all your web programming needs" type. For a web-focused company, I think it'd be good to have someone who really *is* a strong graphic artist, and a good layout person, and one or two good programmers with experience across the typical range of applications--the specific technologies not being as important as the function (i.e., database, front-end programming, network security, etc.). And a business manager. Some people could wear more than one hat--say, both database guy and front-end programming guy--but I suspect you'd need all the hats accounted for.

Date: 2006-06-27 17:04 (UTC)
From: [identity profile] joshuwain.livejournal.com
I think that trying to do a general programming house is an Ok idea but there is an element of "Rat-Race" to that part of the world that really doesn't sit well with my stress levels. What I keep thinking about is trying to build a company around the needs of the workers at the same time as the needs of the customer. Both can be done: there's a lot of business out there.

But, then, I guess my answer to your question is: I'd do a skills checklist first and then build a company -with an offering of services and/or products- after that...

Does that make sense?

Date: 2006-06-27 23:18 (UTC)
From: [identity profile] chipotle.livejournal.com
It does make sense, yes -- the only caveat I see being that a checklist of skills still lends itself relatively easily to that 'rat race' idea. Are you open to any and all customers who are looking for one or more skills that you have, or is there another selection criteria past that?

Since I don't have an answer to that myself, I suppose it's a trickier question that it first appears. If it's not a general web development (or other software development) company, what is it? Is there a specific vertical market you'd want to target, or to be a generalist for a specific industry (for example, specializing in doing computer consulting for environmental nonprofits)?

Date: 2006-06-28 17:19 (UTC)
From: [identity profile] joshuwain.livejournal.com
I think detailing a list of assets, drawbacks, skills, desires, and dislikes would be a good start -amongst a group of people- to determine what it is that they would like to do together as well as what would be possible. For example:With everyone filling out such a form -in great detail- it could provide a good starting point for setting up a business.

Date: 2006-06-26 02:39 (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kereminde.livejournal.com
Just think, it could always be worse. You could be someone like myself who only has worked retail (for the most part) or food service, and thus doesn't have experience to land anything greater. And who, subsequentially, hasn't had much "nest egg" building. It's always been going somewhere . . .

Even now, that money isn't really mine. It's being held for someone else.

And thusly being someone like me, you could have precious little marketable skills or experience which companies would want to look for in something which pays above minimum wage. I've been told several times I didn't have necessary experience to do data-entry positions, for instance. (Experience? Doing WHAT now?)

I'm just quite lucky to have friends who can help me out and are willing to take lumps on my account while I try to get something better going for myself. Even if I do fail a lot.

Date: 2006-06-26 09:31 (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ladyperegrine.livejournal.com
There may be a way to combine journalism with computers: writing for a publication like Wired, for instance, or writing a technology column for a newspaper.

Another thought: Your personal projects (at least the ones I'm aware of) tend to be more computer-related (developing the MUCK, learning Ruby-on-Rails, etc). It might be possible to take that same time that you're devoting to personal stuff and do some freelance writing, try to break into the business that way. I know that the Orlando Weekly (a local alternative newspaper here) is looking for freelancers who can come up with a good story idea (and subsequently write it). The pay wouldn't be great at first, obviously, but it would be supplementary if you did end up in another IT position. (I'm not advocating that, just sort of thinking out loud on here.)

While the degree would be nice, and I don't think working toward it is a bad thing--it'd be fun, if nothing else*--I think experience goes further in the eyes of potential employers. At least, that's one thing that I struggle with.

But hey, if you could end up with both, or all of the above, that'd be cool.



*and yes, I may have a rather strange idea of what's fun :-)


Date: 2006-06-27 22:46 (UTC)
From: [identity profile] haikujaguar.livejournal.com
I feel your pain about the hamster wheel. I am noticing similar hamster wheels in my own.

The hard thing is figuring out how to fix them, definitely.

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