And So It Begins

It's day two of the month off.  My last day at work was Friday, four days ago, and I've got until early September.  Arguably, the financially clever move would have been to keep plugging away on them networks until some point in mid or late August, but the academically and mental-healthily clever move was definitely to take the whole thing off instead.

I have to write lectures, you see, for I am teaching a class I've never taught before and it's going to be a lot to read up on and a lot to write about.  We also have house stuff coming up - kitchen disruption and reconstruction, various much more minor decorative enterprises - and, in something of a non-sequitur, we're buying a new car (no better time to buy a car than just after quitting one's full-time job, after all.)

Mostly, though, we're going to do a big reconstruct-the-sanity month.  We're going on a three-day vacation to the coast, officially constituting the first official vacation we've officially been on since...2008?  I have no idea.  We're seeing family from back east, my brother graduates from his radiography program, and we plan to spend a lot of time hanging around w/ our homies in Portland.  Above all else, we're getting to spend time together as a three-person elite cadre.  This is a revelatory thing, to get to spend that much family time together, and I have been seriously looking forward to it.


Making a Lot of Money

We've been interviewing for my replacement over the last two weeks.  The short version of the results: it looks unlikely that we'll hire anyone.  Instead, the company will probably back-fill from some of the senior developers here, dealing them in on the operations team and shuffling things around on the software projects they work on.  It's not a great solution, since the company's revenue depends on programmers writing code, not on programmers running internal systems, but there just hasn't been anyone that fits the job floating around out there (there are various caveats about this, the biggest of which is the fact that the company can only afford to hire a part-time IT guy, and would-be IT guys need full-time jobs.)

Which brings me to my point: one of the many perverse elements of contemporary first-world capitalism is the division between the highly sought-after 10 - 20% of the working population, the techs and project managers and other highly skilled white-collar types who staff the so-called information economy, and the other 80-something % who drift from temp job to customer service gig to retail to unemployment and back.  One of the weirdest things you encounter trying to hire from the former class of people is that it's desperately hard to find someone.  This is because they all pretty much already have jobs.  Thus, you're confronted with the fact that even though thousands of people in, say, Portland, are unemployed and actively looking for work, we still can't find the right person.

Rather than ramble endlessly about how utterly fucked-up the situation is, though, I want to just put in a plug for a surefire get-rich scheme: become a vendor-certified network engineer.  As a young person, let's say college-age, pick a major vendor of network equipment (Cisco and Juniper are the two big ones) and, by hook or crook, learn not only everything there is to know about TCP/IP and the other essential networking protocols, but all of the vendor-specific special sauce that implements those protocols.  Then, spend a few years working in IT shops.  By the time you're, say, 25, you'll be able to charge about $50/hour to do networks.  By the time you're, say, 30, you'll be able to charge about $70/hour (and these are Portland rates; I'm sure it's higher in California, New York, etc.) 

Yes, you have to be fairly smart and have some kind of natural intuitive feel for this stuff, but neither do you need to be the proverbial rocket scientist.  This is much less complex than doing medicine, for example, and you'll end up with a less difficult job (than being a doctor) that pays almost as well and doesn't involve you going into massive debt to get the degree.  You don't even need a degree, just some technical certifications (e.g. one guy we interviewed has two Cisco certs [CCNA and CCNP] and he's my example of the $70/hour rate.)

I have no idea why I'm writing about this, I think I'm just kind of slapping my forehead about how absurd post-postmodern life is.  Duty Now For the Future.



I've mentioned here and there that B and I are only having one kid.  We have the same attitude toward our friends who are having more than one (or already have) that most of our child-free friends have toward us: you are crazy, dude.*  Plan C is the toughest customer we've ever dealt with; nothing has ever been as hard as just keeping up with her while trying to keep normal life more or less truckin' along.  Tasks that should be simple become complicated, and tasks that are complicated become nigh-impossible (and nigh-invulnerable.)

That said, the great, brilliant moments of parental Stockholm Syndrome make it worth it, when your little captor pays you back in kindness and/or hilarity in such a pure, shocking burst it makes quotidian emotion seem shallow.  For me, it's when Plan C laughs her ass off while I'm being silly with her; her eyes get huge, she adopts this manic toothy grin, and she loses it while I'm chasing her around with tickles or whatever.  This morning, B was out with our homie E and I had a good 15-minute "party dance" (translated: dance party) with Plan C to Scissor Sisters.  There is this guileless, utterly innocent adoration and devotion to her parents that is all the better for being totally selfish on her part.

This is banal and obvious to say, but it's all worth it.

* I want to be clear that this is in a friendly, supportive, just don't personally understand it way.


The Job (complete)

This'll be a longer one...

I taught my last class in Fall term of 2011.  I'd been offered a full-time job in June doing IT, QA, and project management at the software company, after working there part time and at the community college part-time, and I made good on my threat to throw my lot in with whichever job / career / identity offered me full-time work first.  I told the department head that I wouldn't be teaching further classes as an adjunct and geared up to teach one last iteration of history 103 (the last in the western civ series, covering the history of Europe from Napoleon to the present.)  In the meantime, I bought a house and started earnestly trying to wrap my head around what "business analysis" consisted of.

Then, in late November, a few weeks before I was going to be done with teaching for the indefinite future, the CC posted a full-time position teaching western civ and advanced topics in European history.  It was like getting punched.  I'd finally made my peace with being a computer guy for good, and now the dream job fluttered down from the heavens to make me feel like a jerk.  I almost chose not to apply, but I realized it would be insane not to.  I had spent six years earning my doctorate.  I love teaching.  Despite the miniscule odds of success, I had to throw my hat in the ring.

According to a discussion thread on one of the big academic job forums, there are about 300 applicants per faculty position at community colleges.  Of those, it's safe to assume most have PhDs and at least a few years of teaching experience.  With the academic job market being even worse than the regular job market, you're going to have people from top schools applying for any full-time job, regardless of how far away and how obscure.

In my case, insult was added to injury in that I had withdrawn my application for a one-year teaching post at the CC after getting the software job; the people who would be on the hiring committee already knew me, or knew about me, and knew that I hadn't gone for it.  I applied with very, very little hope of success.

What followed was a roughly four-month process involving four distinct phases, with the successful candidates moving on to the next phase and the unsuccessful ones (most of 'em) kicked to the curb:

  1. A general application
  2. A series of tough essay questions having to do with teaching and professional service.
  3. A twenty-minute teaching demo followed by an hour and a half panel interview with the half-dozen-or-so members of the hiring committee.
  4. An open forum with any and all faculty members from the entire division who wanted to come (in my case, about 15 of them showed), an interview with the dean of instruction, and a culminating interview with the campus president.

I pretty much expected a navy SEAL obstacle course, a sherpa-less climb to the top of K2, and a chess game against Death to follow.

Again, this whole process took months, and the whole time I was working full-time at the software company, doing really difficult IT / ops work and serving as a kind of project management henchman on one of the company's big contracts.  Stress levels around the kungfuramone household reached a peak in about mid-March.  I knew that I had made it down to the final 3, and while it had been easy enough to make light of it when I was one of 300, it was acutely painful to imagine not getting it having made it that far.

I got the call right at the start of April.  I hid down the hall and around a corner from my office so that my co-workers wouldn't overhear.  The head of the committee credited me with some nice attributes that had worked in my favor, and she put particular emphasis on how glowing my recommendations had been.  That part didn't surprise me; if I did one thing well at UCSC, it was cultivating my relationships with the old guard of Europe.

After getting the offer, I was still faced with the prospect of working full-time at the software company for months, and I was quickly reminded by B, friends, and family that giving notice too early was potentially financially suicidal.  So, instead, I slogged along for three solid months, being oncall, overseeing complex network changes, suffering through long, painful meetings at the headquarters of our biggest client, all while biting my tongue about the fact that I was a short-timer.  This period ended up being almost as stressful as the final stages of the interview processes.

Finally, I got to give four weeks of notice right at the start of July.  I'm taking August off to do insane stuff like go on a three-day vacation with B and Plan C (first vacation since...2008?) and, of course, work on lectures.

I can't overstate how momentous an event this was.  I honestly never believed for a second that I'd get a full-time academic job.  The odds were too horrendous and the gallows humor we all cultivated in grad school turned out to be, if anything, inadequately pessimistic about the real state of affairs.  I have never for a minute thought I'd get to do something professionally that I actually loved; being a historian means I'm too well aware of the fact that almost every human being for almost all of history has toiled at things they at best tolerated, and usually actively hated, to make ends meet.  I saw no reason (and still don't, really) that I should be an exception to that rule.  There are some material sacrifices involved - a much longer commute, a 20%-ish pay cut - but I could not care less if I tried.

Portland, the return to Portland, as demonstrated by what we've been able to do since we moved back, is the best place and, people excepted, the best thing on Earth to and for us.  B and I have made no better decision in our adult lives than to move back here.


The Two-Year-Old Thing Is No Joke

We've been hosting B's folks for the last week; they just took off this morning to move the party to B's oldest brother's place in Oregon City.  Their stay coincided with the second truly volcanic event of Plan C's latest thing she's into: being two. 

The concept of the terrible twos is something I hoped was just a phony bit of received wisdom.  It is not.  This shit is serious.  She goes from zero to ballistic in three seconds, she won't take no for an answer, regardless of how much no has to be the answer (e.g. "no you may not have daddy's machete"), and she's basically out to murder us.  She punctuates the insanity with moments of brilliance and cuteness, just enough to keep us from joining her in the screaming and crying the rest of the time.

Oh, and in other news (post on this forthcoming), I officially put in notice at my job.  I'm done being an IT guy at the end of the month.  As of September, I'm a FULL-F'ING TIME HISTORY INSTRUCTOR at the local community college.  Everyone who reads this thing probably already knew that, but just in case not, yeah.  Again, I'll try to capture how monumental this is for me (and, really, for humankind) in a post to be written in the near future.


Some Really Shitty Band Names

  • Nifty Discus
  • Laundry Day
  • The Fancy Dancers
Happy Tuesday everybody!  I hate fireworks!