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My Work History in Turnings

My Work History in Turnings

In my life I’ve had many jobs and moved around a lot. The Nomad life course. I have a bachelor’s degree in computer science and have mostly worked as a contractor. For fun, and because I like categorizing, I wrote down every company I’ve worked at and the year the company was founded. Some interesting patterns emerged.

The majority of companies where I have worked were founded in the 2T or 3T of this saeculum. Many of these were startups that failed or got bought out. Not surprising since I am a software engineer but too old to be in on the ground floor of any 4T unicorns.

These jobs were all in the first half of my career, pretty much coinciding with the 3T of this saeculum. The other places I worked in this time period were two venerable public institutions founded in the 1T of the Great Power saeculum: Virginia Tech where I went to school and the United States Geological Survey where I interned.

Then in the second half of my career, starting just at the tail end of the 3T, I started getting contracts at more established companies, founded in the 3T or 4T of the Great Power saeculum (IBM for example). This reflects both my increased work experience and a life course related desire for greater work stability. This is my Nomad settling down in the 4T phase.

Here is a complete chart:

Saeculum Turning
First Second Third Fourth
Revolutionary   o   x
Great Power xxo x o x
Millennial o x xxxxxxxx

 

The cell is the turning in which a company where I worked was founded. An ‘x’ marks a company where I worked in the Third Turning, and an ‘o’ marks a company where I worked in the Fourth Turning.

You can see my flurry of positions at dot com startups (sadly I did not get rich from any of them) and how later in life I was working for more established organizations. And yes, that is a company founded way back in the Second Turning of the Revolutionary Saeculum, which is where I work now.

I thought it was a fun exercise and you might want to try it yourself!

The Mysterious Project

The Mysterious Project

At work I bill all of my hours to “Project Octon,” but amusingly no one can tell me what the origins of this project are or how it got its name. I can only assume that it came on the heels of “Project Septon” and hope that it isn’t going to run out of funding any time soon.

An Octon Hierarch Modron

Now, in Dungeons & Dragons, the Octons are the sector governors of the Modron race from the outer plane of Mechanus, but what they might have to do with the company where I work I could not tell you.

The whole mess reminds of me of the Jabberwocky Project from Better off Ted. If you haven’t watched that show, you probably should. I wonder if Project Octon was originally pitched like this? I’d better not let on that I don’t know what it means.

My life (so far) in the IT crowd

My life (so far) in the IT crowd

Last spring I posted a little recent career history. This was when I lived in North Carolina, and worked at a corporate campus nestled in a lovely wooded area in the famed Research Triangle. I ended the post with the hopeful expectation of more corporate campuses in my future. It’s been over a year now, and I have moved to Pennsylvania and have a new gig – in Wilmington, Delaware of all places – reportedly an up-and-comer as an information technology hub.

I don’t work at a campus, but rather in a shiny blue office building on the city’s touristy river front. It is also a lovely work environment, although there are not nearly as many nearby conveniences. The location is a strange kind of wasteland of office buildings, overpriced restaurants, and parking. But undeniably it is delightful to step out to the river front on a beautiful day.

My coworkers are, once again, mostly from India. Actually, the percentage here is much higher than at my last position – probably 90% of the IT staff. No sign of “Hire American” here, though perhaps those visa reforms don’t apply to my company or industry.

And, once again, I am working as an IT contractor. I started contracting in the late 1990s, after finding that “full-time” positions in the boisterous dot com era tended to be short-lived. Of the past twenty years, only a few have been spent working as a full-time employee instead of a contractor, and that has happened only when my position was “converted” from a contractor position. This is a mark of prestige in my business, sort of like being made (not really).

My contracts are generally through an agency, which means I am paying payroll taxes, and often have some access to benefits. The contracts tend to last between 1 and 3 years, and then I am looking for work again. I do enjoy at each new position the opportunity to meet new people, learn new workflows and processes, learn about a new type of business, and experience a company’s particular work culture. It can be a bit stressful adjusting to the new environment, but it is also exciting and satisfying when I learn the ropes and prove myself.

It is also stressful when the job search phase begins again, especially now that I am middle-aged and worried about age discrimination, but I’m not sure that being full-time versus a contractor would make any difference, since full-time positions are eliminated as surely as contracts come to an end. The main disadvantages of contracting are not receiving paid time off, and having to pay more for health insurance. For the latter issue, I have found the Affordable Care Act very helpful. For the former issue, judicious saving is required.

Way back, in the 1990s, the rise of temporary employment was decried as a deprivation of worker’s rights. Perhaps it still is, part of an overarching trend toward greater corporate power at the expense of the people. Or it could be thought of as part of the free-agency style that my generation brought to the workforce in young adulthood. In my life, a career of many short stints has served me well, but that could be because I am in the field of Information Techonology. It might not be so easy in other lines of work.

With more years behind me than ahead of me, I imagine I don’t have too many more stints left. But who knows what the future will bring.

Cricket Match

Cricket Match

You may have seen a couple of my posts where I am participating in a cricket match. This was for a tournament that is being played at my place of employment. I just wanted to briefly describe my experience.

Cricket, as you probably know, is a sport originating in England and played around the world, and is reminiscent of American baseball. As in baseball, someone hurls a ball at a batter who is then obligated to hit the ball, assuming that the throw isn’t way off or otherwise disqualified. In baseball the throwing is called “pitching,” but in cricket it is called “bowling” and the bowler is actually allowed one bounce off the ground (but only one). The bowler can also run for a bit to add more speed to the thrown ball.

Without going into too much detail, another huge difference is that the bowler and batter are in the center of the field, and are surrounded by the other fielding team members, so the batter can hit the ball in any direction. To the side, behind him, whatever. Also, there are two batters, one at each end of the pitch (the center bit) and they run back and forth, switching places, between the two creases (the ends of the pitch). And also there’s a wicket in each crease, which is a set of three wobbly poles, and it is bad for the batting team if the ball touches a wicket when a batter isn’t in the crease defending said wicket. Whew!

It’s all very complicated and I’m sure I haven’t explained it very well, despite the fact that I went to a training class and watched a couple of instructional videos. I joined my group’s team in the spirit of participation and camaraderie with my coworkers, and also because it is fun to learn new things. And also because of peer pressure, because the team needed me for this reason: in the tournament format, each team is required to have a certain number of “novice” players.

A “novice” player is defined as one who is from a “non-cricket-playing nation.” In practice, this means someone who is not from India. So the language of the rules dances around this kind of racial prejudice, which might seem justified by the fact that no one at work who is not from India has any effin’ idea how to play cricket. Oh, and each team also has to have at least one woman player, who can be from a cricket-playing nation (that is, India), and who is treated like a novice player, so there is some sexism added into the format to boot.

What it means to be treated like a novice player is that the bowler has to bowl softly when a novice is batting. This makes it easy to hit the ball, especially considering that it is a tennis ball instead of the real thing. I imagine this is for liability reasons. Hitting the ball is one thing, though; scoring is a bit harder, because if you don’t hit a good grounder, you won’t have the time to run to the other end of the pitch before the fielders make a play for your wicket. It’s the same as trying to reach first base in baseball.

Our team played two games, winning the first and then losing the second. A game consists of each team batting once (so sort of like one inning in baseball). The score that the first team to bat achieves then becomes the target for the other team to beat, and if the other team does beat the target then the game ends immediately. A batting team gets twelve “overs,” each of which consists of six balls – not counting “dead balls” or “no balls” – well, it was way too much for me to keep track of, and I basically had no idea what was going on.

Suffice it to say that I had fun, got sunburned, and though I did not contribute much to my team, I did gain an appreciation for cricket which I’m sure will come to good use the next time I see a game on the telly at the local pub. 🙂

Warming up before a game
On my third page

On my third page

Last week there was a retirement party at work, for a man in his sixties who had been with the company for about a decade. There was some nattering from other employees conveying wonder that someone would actually have the opportunity to retire. It felt like an expression of the anxiety of younger workers about their future. My generation in particular is notoriously pessimistic about its retirement prospects.

I have some notebook papers on which I have been tracking my computer career since it began when I was a college student. I write down where I worked, when, and what skills I developed. Each paper covers about 14 years, and I am now a quarter of the way through the third page. When I reach the end of the page, I will be in my sixties.

One career, easily compressed onto college-ruled notebook paper. Will I need a fourth page?

My Adventures in Information Technology

My Adventures in Information Technology

Nearly ten years ago, in late 2007, after about six months of unemployment, I started a job as a software tester on a data warehouse team in a corporate IT department. I had just enough database experience to bluff my way through the interview, though I had never worked with data warehousing before. So I started reading Data Warehousing For Dummies (I did not bring it to the office) and went to work. When I joined the team it was me and three Indians. I found it hard to understand their English, but despite difficulties communicating and my lack of subject matter expertise,I became productive.

I remember posting on a now-forgotten social media site (yes, it was MySpace) how glad I was to have found work, and how I now had two tasks before me: to learn data warehousing, and to learn to understand English spoken by Indians. Fast forward to 2017, and I have become an expert at both skills. I am on my third data warehouse gig since then, and in all three companies there has been a preponderance of associates from India. Where I am now, I would say about 50% of the staff. I bring this up in consideration of the tenor of the times, with Indian engineers now feeling unwelcome, even endangered in this country.

Personally, I’m happy to work with anyone, as long as they’re not a complete jerk – I don’t care where they are from. Are companies in the U.S. abusing the visa system to depress labor costs? Honestly, I’m not involved enough in the hiring process to know. I will say that I have heard one person who was hiring for a position say that they wanted to hire American, but most applicants are from India. And an American I know has said that when he looks for work at contracting sites, he feels overwhelmed by the competition from Indian engineers. I think the truth is that India has a huge population and has focused on training an entire generation of workers in IT skills – and that’s reflected in the make-up of the IT labor pool.

Can the new administration’s “Hire American” order alter the IT labor force by fiat? I guess from where I sit I can let you know, in time. But what keeps people out of skilled labor is not having the skills or experience in the first place – not a problem which hiring restrictions will solve. Training is a better idea. I do have one piece of advice for any young person who wants to join me in IT adventuring – get your work experience as soon as you can, preferably while in school.

Meanwhile, I’m sure I can keep developing in my field and stay employable; companies will always need people to manage their data. Automation doesn’t worry me because software automation just expands the possibilities of what people + computers can do together. I expect there will be more corporate campuses in my future.