Could It Actually Be?

I’ve basically just about totally given up finding a job in the world of bigoted tech bros, because, well, they are bigoted (and thus incapable of believing  someone who’s obviously over 50 can do a good job).

By implication, that means moving out of my current home, which is not affordable unless I earn the sort of income one does as a computer professional. Which, in turn, means moving significantly further away from the big city of Seattle, a place I only moved close to under the assumption that I could find a tech job here.

All things being equal, I’d much rather live someplace with fewer people and more nature. So, there’s a silver lining to the dark cloud of inconvenience that moving (something I’ve done too much of and am generally sick of) represents.

Another bright spot came to light last week, when my investigations revealed that although there has been housing cost inflation there, Bellingham is at least as affordable as Olympia is. That was unexpected, as Bellingham is probably my preferred destination; I’ve long fantasized about what it would be like to live there some day.

Then tonight I learn that I’ll probably get significantly more money for my current home, should I sell it, than I had estimated. I was dreading hearing the opposite news, for the simple reason that the universe has tended to frustrate my life decisions and make everything a struggle in recent years. Could it actually be that that sorry period is finally ending?

Yes, It’s a Cult

Many cults have their members dress distinctively in public. Here’s one stereotypical example from the 1960’s:

How is that fundamentally different from this (snapped recently on the ferry one afternoon):

Answer: it’s not. Not so far as I can tell. Both expect you to turn over your life to the cult. With cult religions, it’s rituals and faith-based beliefs in things that cannot be proven. With cult employers, it’s the cult of high technology.

Both cults expect you to devote your life to the cult, wearing the clothing the cult provides, and devoting your “free” time to activities the cult approves of, generally ones that support the cult’s mission.

And I think that, in addition to my age, is really hurting my employability. I have my lifelong interests, and I’m not interested in putting them on the back burner in the name of prioritizing any cult’s interests (no offense, geeks, but role playing games and science fiction simply don’t interest me). I’ve developed my own idiosyncratic sense of personal style, and I’m not interested in changing it in order to become a human billboard for some business. I regard social networking as a baleful influence on society, and participate in it only reluctantly, under an assumed name. I firmly believe that what I choose to do in my unpaid hours is none of any employer’s business.

If you value your personal liberty, you don’t belong in a cult of any kind. It’s just that simple.

And Another Age Discriminator Passes Me Over

It’s 17:00 on a Thursday a full ten days from when I interviewed for a job, and not a peep out of them, despite my sending a followup message. So you know what that means: they’re pursuing someone else but haven’t quite finalized things yet. But rest assured the odds are so insignificant they can safely be disregarded: at this stage, I have about as much chance as being hit by a stray meteor.

It’s not really a surprise or anything, but it is annoying, given how good a match the job in question was for my skills, and how well I solved one of the programming problems on the whiteboard. But there’s only so much you can do when not having any gray in your hair is one of the prime qualifications for the job.

And I’m certain the experience is equally frustrating for anyone who’s female, or who’s not White or Asian.  Just keep this all in mind the next time you hear some stuffed shirt from the technology sector whining about a lack of qualified talent.

Why Gardening Is Not for Me

There’s basically two kinds of plants you can grow: annuals and perennials.

Annuals come up fast but require a lot of tending during the growing season. But the growing season is also the outdoor recreation season, and I’d much rather be communing with native plants someplace wild than stuck at home trying to repeatedly assert control over a tiny plot of urban land. Yard work sucks.

Perennials are not nearly so high-maintenance, but they are slow to settle in. I, by contrast, just don’t settle in. It’s never happened in my life, and given that I’m well into my fifties, that means the odds are it’s never going to happen.

I tried to settle in to the home I am sitting in right now, but it didn’t work: I had overlooked how ageist and cultish the high tech world would become, and how much this would adversely impact my employabality in it. And if I can’t have a high-paying, high-tech job, it’s very hard to justify the expense of living in a region as costly as the Seattle metro area.

So this year I’m leaving. The year my native cacti in the window boxes are finally going to put on a huge bloom. The year my thimbleberries (after years of getting settled in) have flower buds on them. The year the dewberries finally flowered (female flowers, we’ll see if there’s a nearby male and I get fruit). The serviceberry is still a little thing, a decade or more from looking settled in.

Someone else is going to enjoy the results of the work I did. Not me. Or, someone else won’t appreciate all those “weird plants” that are not the ornamentals everyone else grows, rip them out, and replace them. Either way, I am going to get little benefit for the work I did.

It would be nice if my life were more compatible with gardening, but it’s just not.

Wow

This is easily the most snow I’ve seen since moving to the island five years ago. About 9 inches and still coming down! Quite the birthday present from Mother Nature!

View out the back door this morning.

View out the front door this morning.

World AIDS Day

This is a day that I’m usually pretty quiet about, because it’s a puzzle to me how to respectfully respond to it. You see, I’m a queer guy (not a gay guy) in his mid-fifties. Personally, and for reasons I won’t get to in greater detail here, that difference between queer and gay is a huge part of the reason why I managed to both avoid that HIV bullet myself, and avoid the experience of having most of my close friends die, despite being the “right” age to have experienced both.

Therefore, I can’t really relate any sort of the personal horror stories that most gay men of my age can, nor do I really feel in any way like a survivor (or have any consequent survivor’s guilt). So I’ll just have to say that while I haven’t personally experienced much of the impacts many of my friends my age have, I understand that many of them have, and that it must have been terrible.

I will say that I have had the pleasure of meeting many unassuming people who were fierce warriors during the era when AIDS was a crisis in the First World. That latter part is important; in many parts of the Third World, particularly sub-Saharan Africa, AIDS is still a huge crisis today. It is due to AIDS that many African nations have a lower life expectancy today than they did 30 years ago.

Finding Your Strengths Can Be Difficult

I remember when I first figured out I was naturally good at discrete math, probability, and statistics. It was in a probability theory class, which up to that point had been easy. Then came the unit on Bayes’ Theorem. Up went a welter of new and confusing notations on the board, accompanied by a confusing, mind-numbing, and nonsensical welter of jargon. For the first time in the class, I was lost.

The end of the class came. Unexpectedly, the teacher assigned a problem which to my eyes had nothing to do with all the confusing mumbo-jumbo of the past hour. Moreover, the apparent answer was so cryingly obvious I couldn’t fully understand why the professor would ask anyone to solve such a self-evident exercise. Hoping to clarify the past hour of confusion, I blurted out a question to the effect “Well, offhand, the answer is intuitively (some number), because the second event is a sub-event of the first, and that’s a product of the two probabilities, but I’m not sure that’s right by the theory you just discussed.”

The professor scowled at me, because I had just ruined his homework assignment by answering it and explaining the logic behind it, and he now had to cook up another one on the spot. It was then that I thought back about times I’d run across sets of math problems in puzzle books: generally difficult, but with a few mysteriously easy probability or statistics ones thrown in for some reason.

It dawned on me: those “easy” problems really weren’t intrinsically easy; I was gifted at solving them. The problems just seemed easy, because they were easy… to me. In the absence of any data on how challenging those branches of mathematics were for others to understand, I had been operating on unrepresentative information and laboring under the misconception that my level of talent was representative.

That latter assumption is usually a valid one, of course. In most things, talent is distributed according to a bell curve, and odds strongly favor one being somewhere near the middle of it. The rub is, usually and always are not the same thing.

Nearly everyone has at least some areas where they excel far above the norm, but the principle above can make it difficult for one to realize those strengths. For those trying to assess their strengths, or to build a career based on them, this can make that task difficult.

For those trying to advise others, it can render their advice far less useful. Consider this article. It’s a common thread I’ve run across: just follow your passion and everything will sort itself out.

Sorry, wrong. No, it won’t—not unless you’re very lucky and by random chance happen to choose something that’s marketable. I speak as someone who pissed away four years of his life doing just that sort of passion-following and hoping for something to come of it. Nothing ever did.

You see, that author has innate entrepreneurial ability, and I do not. While he was “simply following his passions” he was also filtering them for marketability without even realizing it, or at least without realizing how difficult that can be for others not so gifted as he. He simply assumed he was normal and virtually everyone else shared his special ability. He wrote a whole book on helping the innately entrepreneurial make careers for themselves while believing he was writing a book useful for everyone.

More on That in This Post

A couple posts ago, I wrote:

Part if it is that I may be moving further west and simply not visiting this particular cranberry-harvesting spot in future years (more on that in another post).

Today, it became rather more likely that I will be doing just that. At my most recent job, I interviewed for a software developer position. I was informed that there would be some on-call duty to support mission-critical software in those cases where front-line people can’t resolve the problem, but not much.

While I positively loathe on-call duty, I’ve managed to shirk it in the past by taking pains to release only well-tested software, and engineering in reliability to the code I write (e.g. designing things so that if components fail, the consequences of the failure tend to be less severe and self-healing). My code would sometimes fail over a weekend (nobody writes perfect code), but never badly enough that I’d get called to put out an emergency fix.

Such shirking works if you’re a developer (and employers love it; it means you’ve written reliable software). But for a sysadmin, it’s basically impossible: emergency response is a core part of the job. It’s one of the reasons I got out of systems administration and became a developer. One of them: I also simply find the creative aspect of designing and writing code to be intrinsically fun in a way that messing with system and network configuration parameters never can be.

Anyhow, it turns out that the position which had been advertised as a developer job (and which I had been hired for) had morphed into a systems and network administration one in the months between when I interviewed and when I was hired. Or so my boss said this afternoon, and I have no real reason to doubt him; he comes across as basically an honest guy.

I just wish he hadn’t assumed I’d be OK with that just because I mentioned having been a systems administrator in the past. I never mentioned the part about getting burnt out doing it, because I didn’t want to appear negative.

I’m resigning the position. There’s really no alternative. When I burned out on systems administration in 2002, I was so thoroughly burned out that I adopted what I call Rule No. 1: no more systems administration, no matter what. It’s a good rule, and a necessary one: I’ve come to despise systems administration so much that any stint of it I do, I’m fated to be resentful and do a terrible job. I’ll just end up getting canned for poor performance within a year, anyhow. Then I’ll have to recover from that. Better off to nip the problem in the bud and get out now. I call it Rule No. 1 for a reason.

I guess the moral of the story is that there is simply no good way to mention past experience in systems administration in an interview. Either you signal a whiny, negative attitude (if you mention being burned out on it), or you signal a willingness to do systems administration. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

At this stage, it’s becoming increasingly clear that it was a mistake for me to get a computer science degree so many years back. I’ve almost never had good high-tech jobs, and the few good ones haven’t lasted. As the old saw goes: the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

So it’s time to get truly busy with the difficult process of moving on from high-tech work. What that will be exactly, I don’t know yet, though I do have more ideas than I’ve had in the past.

What I will say is that it probably doesn’t make much sense to continue living in the Seattle area:

  1. The availability of tech work is why I decided to move back to this area, and that point has now been mooted.
  2. The Seattle area has become increasingly expensive; given how my new income is going to be significantly reduced, I’m better off living someplace more affordabole.
  3. The above is particularly the case given how I don’t think Seattle is really that great a city; it suffers too much from too many decades of poor planning and lack of vision. There’s not enough large parks near the urban core, and Seattle’s mass transit is decades behind most other West Coast cities.

All in all, I’d love to live in a place like Portland, if my allergies weren’t so bad there, that is. Portland has Forest Park, and great mass transit. I can’t have both the city and nature like that in Seattle; I must choose one or the other. If compelled to choose, I will choose nature every time. Conveniently, that’s also the option that involves a lower cost of living.

So it’s likely I’ll be moving further away from the big city, probably to the Olympic Peninsula, though it’s still very early in the visioning and decision process and that could easily all change.

Back from Camping

Cape Flattery was spectacular and well worth seeing, but the camping options near it leave something to be desired. In particular, Hobuck Beach got crowded sooner than I thought (by Thursday evening; I was expecting it to get bad Friday and as such had planned to leave Friday morning). Worse, it attracts clueless idiots who think it’s a reasonable thing to fire up generators for their RV’s at quarter to five in the morning.

Prompted by that camping experience, I craved balance, so I decided not to go to Lake Ozette on Friday. Instead, I went into the Olympic Mountains and did some dispersed camping on national forest land, because I craved silence and solitude. I figured I could look for high-elevation huckleberries, part of an ongoing search. They’re easy enough to find in the Cascades, but not so easy to find in the Olympics.

And I found them. Not just a few bushes, good for a snack and that’s it (all I’ve found before in the Olympics). They weren’t near where I camped, so on Sunday I packed up and started driving to a spot on the map that looked promising (higher in elevation). The road became impassible before I reached that area, but at the same spot I was compelled to turn around, there they were. I found the silence and solitude, too. It was delightful to fall asleep to the sounds of no other human activity.

Today, for the first time in many years, I made mountain huckleberry jam again.

Tomorrow, I start my new job, which I certainly hope turns out to be a better match than my previous one.