Category Archives: I Should Have Been a Firefighter


Over the past three or four years, since I decided that I no longer wanted to be a delivery driver, I’ve been focusing my career in an administrative direction: the plan was that I would start as a basic administrative assistant at UC Davis, then move up the ranks to become an administrative analyst, helping the University function on a day to day level. I saw myself as a department manager, perhaps even a vice chancellor or something someday.

At this point, of course, I have no desire to move in that direction. In fact, I doubt that I’ve been interested in it for a couple of years; I haven’t even tried to make any progress in the analyst direction, in spite of several opportunities to do so. I think that working in Labor Relations has helped me in this regard; seeing how badly management and employees are capable of treating each other has made me realize that there are many messes I simply don’t want to get into, and as an analyst, I’d be thick in the middle of them. And, so, about a year ago, I decided to move my career in a technical direction.

Of course, being an administrative assistant can be awfully comfortable; and my position was extremely comfortable, as my supervisors and managers seemed very willing to let me explore my technological inclinations as long as my "official" job got done. So while I thought about moving in a technical direction, I never felt a strong need to pursue it very aggressively.

As the one or two of you who read this journal on a regular basis probably know, the urgency for me to find a new job and get my new career going has suddenly skyrocketed. My revised position description contains no technical responsibilities whatsoever, so my comfort level has vanished. It’s now vital for me to develop a plan for getting a new job and for developing the skills and contacts that I need in order to get that new job.

The first step of the plan is obviously to set a goal. With a goal in mind, it’s easier to point yourself in a direction and, with help from as many different people as possible, develop a specific course of action which can get you from where you are to where you want to be. This afternoon, I sat down, gave it some serious thought, and came up with the following (based on where I’ve been focusing my learning and interests over the past year or so):

Career Goal: To find an exciting, challenging, and rewarding job as a database/web developer, paying at least twice my current salary, for a large, socially conscious organization, within one year.

Part of the plan for achieving this goal is to get as much practice in doing these things as possible. Fortunately, today, I was able to take a step in that direction. I received an e-mail from a professor at UC Davis who is interested in having me help him with a web-based project which would allow students to virtually explore the ruins of Rothchild Castle in England. I’m excited about this project, because I can utilize many of the skills I have already learned, and it will give me a chance to learn many new skills.

Here’s where the irony comes in.

This same professor was formerly the chief representative of a labor union at the University; and my current job involves helping the University cope with the labor unions. So now I’ll be working for this professor. Well, okay, maybe the irony is lost on other folks, but I think it’s there.

Of course, I keep thinking to myself, if I had been focusing on this sort of learning for these past four or five (or ten) years, I would be well-established in my technical career by now. This, of course, is a pretty useless mode of thought, since I wasn’t even interested in this career field four or five years ago. But, being the impatient sort of person that I am, I want to be in my new job now! Ah, well. Patience, I suppose, is something that I need to build up.

That mode of thinking — that "if only" — certainly isn’t limited to just my career; it’s present when I think about relationships as well. I found myself thinking, several months ago, that I should have followed through with certain relationships, taken certain up certain women on the offers of relationships that they had offered, and so on. And as I think about my upcoming marriage to the most incredible woman I’ve ever known, I found myself thinking: "If only I’d been looking harder before or if I’d followed through on certain offers before, I’d probably be married by now."

That last part is probably just as true as the statement that if I’d focused on technology five years ago, I’d be in a comfortable job by now instead of my secretarial job. On the other hand, if I’d gotten myself married years ago, I would not be getting married to Jennifer in a year; and in all honesty, I can’t see myself as happy sharing my life with anyone else. If I’d gotten married years ago, I would be unhappily married now; these things take time, and they have to happen at the right point in your life. I’m not a person to use terms like "fate" or "soulmates" or anything like that; but I’m pretty certain that if Jennifer and I had gotten together even just a few months ago, it wouldn’t have worked out.

So to talk about my career the same way probably carries the same irony; changing careers four or five years ago would probably not have worked out at all, but changing careers now is definitely the right thing to do.

Fortunately, though, just as I’m on my way to marrying "the one", I know that I’m on my way to the career I’ve been looking for. It’s going to take me awhile — I have no illusions about that — but I’m on the way, and I feel good about it.

And, as always, I’m always open to suggestions and ideas. Feel free to send me e-mail if you have thoughts, ideas, or suggestions.

My Parachute Just Exploded

Note: I’ve finally gone and changed the look of this journal. I personally thought that the pop-up windows for each journal entry were cool, since I wrote the JavaScript myself that opened them and allowed the viewer to manipulate them. Unfortunately, too many other people didn’t think that the pop-up windows were cool, so I’ve decided not to use them for future journal entries. The archives will still have the pop-up format until I get around to fixing them (about the same time that Hell freezes over, I imagine), but future entries will be formatted like this one — until I change my mind again.

A few months ago, the acting manager of the Human Resources division at UC Davis announced her resignation; and in the wake of her resignation, which came shortly after a massive organizational review by the KPMG Management Consulting Company and a severe budget crisis, it was announced that Human Resources would be re-organizing completely. The new structure would be lean, mean, tight, financially stable, and tremendous fun for everyone. Not only that, we were promised, but everyone within the division would have the opportunity to let their own talents and skills shine, and everyone would be happy.

Generally, I try to be an optimist. When the above announcement was made, I tried to believe it; I tried to believe that I would get a chance to shift into a more technology-oriented position which would include web development and database development, without having to go through the hassle of actually looking for a new job. And when my unit was subsumed into a larger "super-unit" consisting of our group and two others, I was told that I would be the primary technical support person, the webmaster, and the database consultant (in liaison with Human Resources Information Services). I was invited to submit my own position description and I excitedly set about writing one up, tossing all of the secretarial functions I still had to other administrative assistants and taking on all of the technological and database/web administration duties that I knew would ultimately move my own career forward at a careening pace.

Unfortunately, it seems that it’s the cynics who rule the workplace.

Yesterday, after all these months of restructuring, promises, and solicitations of my own input, I was finally given my new, revised position description. I can’t help but wonder whether my ideas and desires and talents were all written down on a list and then burned or possibly pulped, or perhaps even lining a litter box somewhere. Not only is there no mention of database and web development anywhere in the position description, but any hints of technical support are gone as well. Nothing remains but a brief token nod to "report generation" and "data maintenance." Instead, my position is nearly 100% administrative support: I went from being a technical support coordinator, webmaster, and database developer to secretary. It’s as if all the months I spent fixing broken computers in the unit, building applications in Access and Cold Fusion to let the manager get the data he wants when he wants it, and developing the unit website were completely ignored.

I’ve been trying desperately to figure out the motivations behind this. I’m told that it isn’t punishment for anything (though I’m not certain I can see what I would be punished for anyway); all I’m told is vague mentions of "business necessities" and so on. What I’ve concluded is that this is driven primarily by ignorance. My tech support duties have been removed because Information Services is supposed to handle these duties; my webmaster responsibilities have been removed because Information Services is supposed to handle them. Of course, my own conversations with the manager of Information Services lead me to believe that Information Services would like nothing better than to have a distributed network of technical support people and web developers so that they don’t have to tax their own very limited resources. On the other hand, perhaps that, too, is as empty a statement as, "Richard, I’d like your input on the development of your new position description."

And my own emotions surrounding this development have been pretty strong for me. I feel hurt, certainly, but also betrayed, ignored, and disenfranchised. Why did management bother asking for my input if they had never intended to use it? I found myself so upset at the entire situation that I couldn’t concentrate on my work. I told my supervisor that I was going home, and I left. Later, at home, I had a conversation with a friend of mine who works in the same office, and she suggested to me that I take today off as well; she even talked to my supervisor on my behalf, which I really appreciated. I’m feeling less upset today, but I’m certainly not happy about the situation.

What really bothers me most about my own reaction is that I find it very difficult to build up any concern anymore for the unit. I want to be a good employee and contribute to the unit; I want to be able to do my best and give my all and feel committed to the work. Unfortunately, it’s not happening. In its place I’m feeling nothing but indifference for the unit, its management, and the work it does. I find that I have no motivation whatsoever, and no interest in doing good work. This is bad not just for the unit but for me as well. It’s going to be a drain on me, and it’s going to hurt my career in the long run.

What I’m really getting out of all of this is a voice from God saying, "Get the hell out of Human Resources now!"

So the urgency behind building a career as a web developer and database developer has skyrocketed. I still don’t know how to start doing it, really, but I’ve taken the plunge by contacting potential employers, revising my resume, and developing a plan for learning Java, Access, and working on how I can learn Oracle and a few other tools and development applications. Ideally, of course, I’d slip right into a high-paying job that would pay me at least twice my current salary just to learn all of this, but that’s not terribly realistic. I’d also like to start this new job this coming Tuesday, but a realistic job hunt timeline is at least four to six months; and since I’m looking at an entire shift in career, the process will probably take me even longer.

I find that my emotional state is very mixed. On the one hand, I have never been this upset over a job-related situation before; I’ve never had to actually leave my workplace because I was feeling upset. I’ve never had to take a day off because of stress or burnout or frustration. And yet, here I am.

And yet, at the same time, I’m feeling happier than I ever have in my life.

The latter emotion is easy to figure out. I’m engaged to the most amazing woman in the world (see my May 22, 2000 entry: "Letter to Jennifer"). And looking at her, I know that she is one person who will never abandon me or abuse my trust; and I know that if she wants my input on something, she will actually consider it. I can trust her, and I know that she’s good for her word.

As I push forward in my career hunt, knowing that I need to be more aggressive with this hunt than I have ever been in my life, my natural reaction is to get discouraged. There’s so much that I don’t know, and the market is rather competitive, and I don’t have the overwhelming experience that would give me a strong edge.

But Jennifer tells me that she has faith in me. She tells me that if I put my mind to it, I can get that dream job, using the skills I enjoy using in a workplace that I believe in. She has faith in me.

And looking into her eyes, I know that it’s true.

My Parachute Has a Great Big Hole

I have to confess: I really don’t care for my job all that much.

Surely, not liking my job puts me into a tiny little minority of American workers. After all, doesn’t 99.9% of the American workforce love their jobs? Well, no. Some studies have shown that something like 70% of Americans just don’t like their job, and that a significant majority of that 70% — something like 85%, I think — feel that they are simply stuck in their job with no hope for advancement or improvement.

That I don’t like my job that much is nothing unusual. But why don’t I like it? After all, I have great co-workers that I like and that I have a lot of fun with. My girlfriend can even attest to that. I also believe that the work I do is important work, since it helps keep the University running (even if I do occasionally feel that the whole point of labor unions in California is to deliberately waste my time). The money I earn is somewhat decent, though I won’t be buying a house or a car or anything like that anytime soon — especially when I’m still paying off some large debts and putting away 20% of my income each month to save for my trip to Europe. And the benefits — medical, dental, etc. — of working at the University just can’t be beat. Free medical coverage with no deductible and a small-ish co-pay, free dental (with no co-pay), free vision, legal insurance, a nice retirement package, and so on.

So what’s wrong with my job? Simply that it’s dull. It was a challenge when I came on board almost three years ago, when I found University personnel policies and labor relations fascinating. But once I figured out the rules of the labor relations game — that for every stupid manager there is at least one psychotic employee, but that people in the work force are, surprisingly, mostly stable — I realized that I didn’t find it at all interesting anymore. I do believe it’s important — after all, in large organizations, the Labor Relations unit (if it’s run properly and the people there know what they’re doing) can keep the workplace stable and healthy. And it’s gratifying that I work with people who do care about this stuff, and honestly do their best to keep the University functioning well. But I’m not one of those people, and it’s beginning to wear me down.

On the other hand, though, I am starting to delve into areas that I do find fascinating. Web development, for example, and database design. Last week I started learning how to program in Cold Fusion to create websites that are dynamic and which pull information from a local Access database — my first application was well-received in my department and I’m trying to get the go-ahead to build more. And just last night I wrote my first Java applet (it’s not exciting, to be sure, and does nothing more than print a silly phrase on the screen), and I found that Java is surprisingly easy to grasp. Object-oriented programming is going to take a little getting used to, but I don’t think that my brain will melt when trying to figure it out. So, needless to say, I’m very excited about the possibilities of building dynamic web pages for inter- and intranet use, with Java, Javascript, Cold Fusion, and MS-Access, or whatever. I’ve even coded XML, and find that fascinating as well.

But at the same time, this is all very daunting. I have all of these books on Java, JavaScript, HTML, XML, Perl, Cold Fusion, and Access, and they all fill up at least two feet of bookshelf space. It’s exciting stuff, but the amount that I still have to learn seems overwhelming at times.

And, of course, there’s the question of employment. I could probably find a stable job with the knowledge that I already have under my belt, but probably not anything that would match what I’m earning now. I haven’t got nearly the skillset I need to find a job that pays what I need to earn to keep myself afloat, let alone buy the house and the car and the Palm Pilot and so on and so on and so on. Until I can get paid to learn what I want to learn while still contributing to something which I feel is valuable, I am stuck doing this on my spare time and writing up small useful applications here and there to impress the socks off of my co-workers.

While it’s easy to get depressed over this, I find that I’m not. Sure, I’m a long way from the exciting high-paying job where I travel to dangerous parts of the world and solve tough database/web development problems, Indiana Jones style, and it’ll probably be a couple of years, at least, before I can seriously think about getting there. But, on the other hand, I’ve managed to get places before that seemed daunting and impossible. When I first graduated from college, it seemed downright impossible that I would ever find a good job at all, let alone one that would give me decent benefits and where I might have a boss who does, in fact, support my efforts (as much as she can, at least, without sacrificing the needs of the unit). I once thought that I would never own a car of my own. And even less than a year ago, I was nearly convinced that it would be completely impossible for me to ever be involved in a healthy relationship with a wonderful, stable woman. But all of these things happened, so, in all likelihood, I can probably improve my job situation as well.

Until then, though, I’ll keep fobbing off less interesting responsibilities of my current jobs onto other administrative assistants who find the idea of using the University’s centralized accounting software really, really exciting (while I myself find it tedious and mind-numbing), or who live for setting up meetings. And in the meantime, any ideas you might have for helping me develop my web development/database design career would be more than welcome.

Until next time, I remain,
Your obedient and humble servant,

P.S.: Shortly after posting this journal entry for the first time this morning, I received a telephone call from a recruiter who had seen my resume, and who was recruiting for a web development design position in Sacramento, which would use some of the very skills that I’ve been developing recently. The Universe excels at irony, and this is just one more example. Please keep your fingers — and whatever other digits you find helpful — for me. -RC

P.P.S.: And very shortly after posting my P.S., above, I received another call from another recruiter. This is simply too weird: two recruiters calling on the same day that I post my whiney job-hunt-related journal entry. I turned the second one down, though, because it is a Unix-heavy position down in Menlo Park; and I am certainly not any kind of a Unix guru (I’ve used "vi" and "chmod" and that’s it), and right now I have a vested interested in staying in the Sacramento area…