Take This Job And Shove It…

Isn’t that a great title for a Monday morning? Unfortunately, I can’t play that song. Not yet. But I can on Friday.

After three years at a company I dubbed Medishack, I am moving on to a new company that does online order fulfillment. I literally will be telling robots what to do. However, I’m not literally telling Medishack to take this job and shove it. But it is time to move on.

I came to Medishack about 3 1/2 years ago after being laid off for six months. Prior to that, I did contract work to keep the lights on. I actually only had about 10 weeks of actual unemployment. The first four were funded by severance pay. The last…

Yeah, that was scary.

Medishack was a perfect opportunity. It combined my old skills (Desktop support, and no I will not fix your computer. Go see Geek Squad.) with my new (Web programming.) It also restored my old salary.

Coming to Medishack, however, was culture shock. I went from BigHugeCo the previous year to a company with only 120 employees working in a converted warehouse on the far side of town. BigHugeCo is a Fortune 500 company that owns a sizeable chunk of Cincinnati. (No, not P&G. P&G is one of those rare companies where people spend most of their working lives.) At BigHugeCo, we had a real estate department that would move your furniture for you, teams on IT to move your computer, plug in your network, and change your security, all while you sat at your breakfast table eating your Wheaties. At Medishack, we moved half the company around with the company president showing up in shorts, a T shirt, and ratty sneakers to move file cabinets.

The new company, which still needs a bogus name to mask its identity in my online presence, is closer to Nita’s company: Smallish, but behaving like a larger company. There are more formalized benefit packages. Someone else moves your desk if you move. But there’s still only about 100 employees. For now.

One thing that will take some getting used to is the fish bowl environment. The new company works on an open office plan where everyone can see everyone else. No cubes. On the upside, this makes getting distracted by shiny stuff on the Internet less of a problem because everyone will want to be seen working on code. On the downside, no privacy. I have a tablet and an iPhone. I can do my car payment online with those.

I’ve had more than one interviewer ask why I would ever want to go into development after working so long in desktop support? Simple. I realized years ago that desktop is a dead end. When I came to BigHugeCo in 1999, the desktop, network, and server guys all ruled the world. We were kings, and the business units gave us kingly raises. My first raise was 13%. Yeah, you try getting that, especially in a jobless recovery.

But in 1999, desktops still had novelty. I loved ripping them apart or changing the Windows version. It is like a teen’s obsession with cars leading to a job as a mechanic. My brother tried that. Now he seldom mentions he works on his own cars lest someone ask him to fix theirs. It’s the same with desktop. I don’t tell my neighbors that. And since Medishack, I never mention the desktop side of the job. I call myself an IT administrator and talk about the system I wrote. Forget the desktop half of the equation. I’ve got enough yardwork to spend my Saturdays finishing.

But a small company that’s been small for 25 years is no place to stay unless you’re just maintaining your income. I went to school in my forties to reinvent myself, mainly to get better income. The new company is growing. There are jobs they don’t need yet that I can grow into. There are jobs elsewhere I’d like to come looking for me in three to four years.

There are student loans to pay that won’t get paid on Medishack’s pay.

Still, it’s kind of scary. Now I have to do programming for real. And I did get comfortable at Medishack. But no one achieves anything outside of their comfort zone.

One Year On The Job

As of yesterday, I’ve spent a year at a small company I discreetly refer to as Medishack on the Internet. With BigHugeCo, I could be a little more open with what I said. They’re a Fortune 500 company, so anything snarky on my part that anyone might notice could be blown off as long as I wasn’t too obvious about BigHugeCo’s true identity. Not so Medishack, which has about 100 employees. But that’s okay. It’s good to keep your writing and your day job separate.

Still, it’s been a year since I started at this company, and not a moment too soon.

I got laid off from BigHugeCo in the summer of 2010. I’m still not too upset over it. I worked there 11 years and got a paid summer vacation out of it. If I’d have known Large Hospital Chain (TM) had no clue how to run their IT department, I’d have taken a full month off. But unlike too many people I met in my wanderings after becoming an unemployment statistic, I dove right back into the job market, looking for permanent work and taking contract positions. Still, after another hospital IT job, a system upgrade at another Fortune 500 company, and moving a dying airline, the contracts ran out. I was, for the first time in years, on unemployment. Bag boys were suddenly making more than me.

Part of the problem was that the end of my last contract came the week of New Year’s Eve. Hiring managers generally are scarce a few days before Christmas until a week after the new year. After that, they’re slogging through whatever’s piled up on their desk while they were out. So the contracts and the full time positions are nonexistent until about mid-January. So I did what you do on unemployment: I checked CareerBuilder and Monster and Dice. I cleaned house. I sat around in my boxers and watched James Bond movies. For two weeks, I wondered if I’d ever find another IT job or if I was going to have to suck it up and take a factory job working nights while I hunted for work days.

A couple of weeks in, I started to get calls about jobs, and not just desktop support, either. A contracting firm called me about a law firm needing someone to do SQL Server work. A second one wanted to see if I’d really learned anything in my .Net programming classes. An accounting firm across the street from one of BigHugeCo’s downtown buildings called to see if I had any interest in learning Sharepoint while I fixed their computers. All of these held promise, but it was a phone call from a manager I used to work with at BigHugeCo that piqued my interest.

I got the call in late January. I wasn’t sure if it was a job interview or if Bill just wanted to pick my brain. So I agreed to lunch at Camp Washington Chili (a good halfway point). We met, and Bill showed me some database stuff I did not know was possible. He asked if I’d like to talk to his company about a dual role. I needed seasoning as a programmer. They needed a desktop guy but couldn’t afford a full-time one. Would I want to do both? Would I? Well, other than chasing down rare showings of Licence to Kill and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, I didn’t have a lot on my agenda for the next couple of weeks.

I went in, relaxed (partly because the accounting firm seemed pretty interested), and just talked shop. I felt good, went home, watched Goldfinger. (Cracked up everytime Sean Connery purred “Pussy.”) I felt good.

Then things really got strange. I interviewed at one of BigHugeCo’s competitors. Cincinnati State got me an interview with a startup, only I didn’t trust my skills with that particular platform. I dreaded that interview. I didn’t want to drive way the hell up by King’s Island to get shot down. Two hours before the interview, Bill called. “Can you start Monday?” Could I? I asked the salary. It was my old salary at BigHugeCo, a bit high for a desktop support guy, reasonable for a neophyte programmer. I jumped on it and canceled the other interview.

That night, Nita said it felt like the real me had returned.

I couldn’t agree more. And I have never been happier at a day job.

Big Company, Small Company

I now work at a small company on the west side. How small? The COO and co-owner showed up in jeans and a T-shirt to move file cabinets as we rearranged cubicles. It’s so small, I don’t dare even give it a nickname like BigHugeCo, which is a monolithic presence here in Cincy.

As you can imagine, it’s a bit of culture shock. For example…

  • BigHugeCo’s CEO used to send mailroom workers out to pick up his lunch. Our boss went out to the Mexican place up the street with us and regularly heads out to Subway.
  • In BigHugeCo’s IT department, you are a developer. Or a desktop support tech. Or a server tech. Or a network admin. And that is all you shall ever be.  Right now, I am a .Net programmer. And a desktop tech. And a Linux admin, despite knowing next to nothing about Linux. Plus the IT director, who is a Unix evangelist, keeps stopping by desk extolling the virtues of Linux, PHP programming, and MySQL. “Come to the Dark Side,” he says. “We have cookies.”
  • At BigHugeCo, you meet someone new everyday. Not only are there a couple thousand employees, but by the time you interact with most of them, many leave or come on board. Here, I’m getting to know everyone’s name fairly quickly.
  • BigHugeCo has a 401k program. My current place does profit sharing. At least neither of them do pensions.
  • Downtown, parking costs you $5-$20 a day. I’m in a converted warehouse in Delhi Township. Parking is free.
  • Truly bizarre, it takes me less time to get to the west side of the city and into the suburbs, about 17 miles, than it did to get to BigHugeCo, eight miles away.  Part of the time was dealing with red lights downtown, finding parking, and walking to the office. My new company has its own parking lot.
  • BigHugeCo had access to a lot of restaurants downtown, from the Atrium’s cafeteria to several Mythos Greek locations to Mr. Sushi on Sixth Street. Currently, I have my pick of burger chains, Subway, a chilli place, and a couple of bars. On the upside, there are no Irish taverns downtown. I can walk to one from work.

So, it sounds like I prefer my new company to my old one. Well, yes. They’re paying me. And it’s a good place to work. But so was BigHugeCo for 11 years.  And I wouldn’t be able to do my job (or even know my current manager) had I not worked at BigHugeCo when I did. I’m certainly not opposed to working for a large company again. In fact, I interviewed at one of BigHugeCo’s local competitors the same week I interviewed at this new company. It had its own appeal, not the least of which was being used to the large company mentality.

But the small company appeal is that I have more of an investment in how my job is done. When I do something, it has a bigger impact. That’s rather rare in this economy.