Someone at work last week asked me what I did before this, and wondered why in the world I was there.
“There,” since I haven’t actually posted a resume or work history here yet, is FedEx Ground, as a lowly package handler. I say “lowly” in part tongue in cheek, and in part with dismay at how some might view it, including, in my experience, within corporate HQ. I have done most of the non-management jobs on the inbound sort other than loading vans, probably the most common task. While it’s all very physical, and that is oddly appealing, it also helps not to be brainless. Having any degree of OCD tendencies doesn’t hurt, either. I work the wee hours, where inbound packages get sorted and sent on their way to final destinations. The schedule is part of the reason I landed there in the first place.
When my full time manager was leaving to change jobs almost a year ago, I was the logical candidate to replace him, to the point of being actively groomed for it. Most of the crew were enthusiastic about my having that position, which was part of why I applied, despite some trepidation, and ultimately not being sure I’d have accepted it if offered. At the time, my wife would not have been willing to change her full time career path, and I assumed the pay would not be sufficient for babysitting, etc. and so forth. That was fine, because it was probably the worst interview experience I have ever had. I understand more about the type of interview questions and the motivation for them, but you might have thought I was applying for head of the terminal – or the entire division – not the sort.
It was not the first offputting interview experience I’ve had since I went on the job market some four years ago. After I left the room at that interview, the HR person who had participated in the process laughed before I was out of earshot. Almost before the door latched. At a previous interview, with an IT consulting/services firm in Boston, the owner expressed amusement that my former business had relied primarily on one client and gone out of business when it was, as I like to say, raining soup; business there for the asking, as much as one could want. Come to think of it, the other person involved in interviewing me for the full time job at FedEx disparaged my business failure as well. So much for building from failure, it being a useful learning experience, or whatever they always tout to make you feel good about it.
The first of not very many interviews I’ve had in all this time was another that left me dismayed. Nobody laughed. Nobody disparaged my business closure with amusement. However, it was for what I thought of as an absurdly easy temp job supporting new software during a rollout period, and a former colleague was a programmer there and had referred me. I didn’t get it. I don’t think it was even close. Not that I said or did anything to blow anyone away, but in that case I wouldn’t expect to have had to. That was on the heels of not getting interviews at all, of course, but my past experience had been that if I could get an interview, I could get hired. Way past, since the last application of it had been fourteen years previous, but hey. This interview and the one for the consulting firm had in common the generalist problem, to some degree. The consulting guy was looking for a focus, a way he could plug me in for a specific type of work – preferably not in an area he already had covered. I had no preference or strong focus or obviously specific background that I could offer him. The temp interview was support and generalist oriented, on some level, but in the end they were putting out feelers for someone who could migrate to programming, and do so in the relevant languages. Specific.
In fairness, I stopped looking to speak of almost as soon as I began. Each failed interview reinforces the “giving up” element of that. The home dynamic is such that I have been the child care parent, rendering a traditional search or placement potentially challenging, and causing even more atrophy than years of working mainly with increasingly obsolete technology did. The part time job is a surprising energy drain – note the wee hours, physicality and non-brainlessness again – and has been almost enough to scrape by in an economy where I could as easily have no income at all. I fell in love with the operational/logistics elements of FedEx, and my camaraderie with and respect for the people there is one of the highest I’ve ever experienced.
Ultimately, the interview failures have been part of why I haven’t looked. I feel as if it’s pointless. Recently I had the opportunity to apply for a part time management position on my shift at FedEx, and there was a straight line between the experience last year and my decision not to, compounded by it being insufficient to improve things enough to make up for the babysitting challenge. It’s closer than you might expect, and suggests that perhaps the full time version of the job pays better than I’d thought. Since my wife is now willing to swap with me, moving to part time if I get something that pays enough and has predictable hours, in theory a part time job at a high enough rate would cover it. Though we’re so far on the edge that I need to more than replace her income (more accurately, replace her income plus my income less what her reduced income would be), it would only take $20 an hour on a 25 hour week for me to do that, if she dropped to a 25 hour week (fewer would be preferable). Considering that if I were working “in my field” a full time job would, or did, pay from 30-something k if on the cheap to 80k or beyond, depending, in theory this should be a non-issue.
But the impetus for this post was not to bemoan my interview failures or talk dollars and cents. The reason I brought up my current employment in the first place was to set the context in which someone asked me last week what I’d done for work before and what in the world I was doing there. Awkward to answer in brief, or even at all. He seemed to believe that it’s raining soup in the realm of IT-related jobs, with many going begging so what am I waiting for.
I didn’t have time to explain the family dynamics that are deeply rooted in how things stand. Or the business history and dynamics. I had minimal time to point out skills atrophy. It sounds great that I ran all IT for a 50-person law firm, including networking, Exchange Server, SQL Server, maintaining and writing software… But the network was NT4, and it took setting myself up to be replaced by another vendor in order to get them to upgrade long after they ought have. Yeah, I knew that was how it was going to go down, so I should have been more prepared, even job hunted sooner and forced the issue from a position of strength. Who knew that I would be a harbinger of economic doom, closing shop and being out of work. Perhaps there are too many excuses. This site was supposed to be about pulling myself back on my feet, out of the funk, out of the skills hole. In addition to discussing the whole issue of job hunting, self-reinvention, and self-promotion.
It made me think. Hey, it led me to post this, clearly the result of some of that thinking. It reminded me what I am supposed to be working on. Though in my stubborn manner, I have issues to tend to before I tend to others – including the skills building – and refusing to move to one until the other is done is my apparently ineffectual idea of incentive. Or self-flagellation, as the case may be.
My inquisitor seemed especially impressed with my having written software, but… VB6 and earlier? Just a tad out of date, even if they remain good products potentially capable of doing useful things, and even if the leap to .NET may not be that bad. And even though I have dabbled slightly in certain other or newer things. Dabbling isn’t coding, and my coding as such was minimal. I was surrounded by people far more prodigal than I was, so it was not the thing I pursued avidly. Perhaps I should have, considering how much I always seemed to enjoy it. But then, I enjoyed the design/UI aspect, and working with people to determine their needs. Not that they ever fully understand their needs until what they asked for explicitly is deployed and not quite what they were expecting… merely what they wanted. I digress. There’s a reason that a lot of the focus in what job searching I did was on project management. Big interest of mine.
So why am I a lowly if somewhat senior package handler? There’s some psychology and odd history and inertia involved. There are the dynamics that make change challenging. There’s even a degree of financial challenge to leveraging up to having less challenge. I would have to land something, for enough pay, with stable, predictable hours, followed by a change of spousal work and/or babysitting to make it happen. There’s fear. Despite my previous mention of no more fear, it’s never completely escapable. Compared to what I have been through, I should have nothing to fear. There’s not really anything worse that can happen to me versus what I’ve encountered in recent years. For that matter, even the ridicule or failure of some interviews should be as bad as that can possibly get. There should be no shame in closing a business that is untenable and/or unwanted. There should be no shame in spending time taking care of the family hands-on more and bringing home the dough less. Going to work tends to be a relief, really. There should be no shame in having an extensive, deep, blows most people away tech background that just happens to need a bit of updating to get fully current. And who is ever fully current anyway, given that we each tend to have some focus or another to the exclusion of other things? That famously happens in programming. I have routinely helped people with or fixed things completely unfamiliar to me.
But seriously… there is unmet demand for jobs in tech? I have some trouble buying that, without investigating firsthand. Is that because they won’t hire anyone who has been out of relevant work more than three months, putting most of us out of the market? Or because some of us aren’t getting any younger and the youngsters everyone prefers to hire aren’t interested in that field of work anymore? I dunno…