What I’ve learned about the world in the past four months.

I’m currently working in a lab where I am the only person who was born in the United States.  We all work long hours and consequently spend a lot of time together.  We end up having some really interesting conversations.

In the past four months, I have learned more about immigration law than I had ever thought possible.  Who knew there was a difference between an L1B and H1B visa?  I was familiar with the H1B variant, but the L1B was new to me.

I’ve learned how certain policies, which I find objectionable, affect those from other countries.   For instance, on trips I’ve made between San Diego and Arizona, I have to go through a couple of check points.   I refer to these as “East Berlin, California”.   As a non-citizen, you must be prepared to show that you are authorized to be in the United States.  If my coworkers have to go through the checkpoints, they are required to carry all of their original documents.   They don’t like doing that as it’s painful to replace them.

I’ve also learned a fair amount about world religions.   I’ve learned that there are countless Hindu Gods and Goddesses.   I’ve learned that there is religion in communist China, but it’s merely tolerated by the government.

Lastly, I’ve learned more about curries than I ever imagined I would know.

Coming from Boise, all of this has been a very good experience.   What I’m learning now will prepare me for whatever is next.



San Diego’s Craft Beer Scene and My Extra Tonnage.

I was very happy to find that San Diego had a robust brewery scene.   Boise had a handful of breweries, but I only considered a couple of them to be really good.   Idaho’s strength, from a beer-perspective, was its proximity to Washington and Oregon.   There were so many great beers to choose from.

I was a little worried about the scene, until I arrived here.  According to the San Diego Brewers Guild (http://sandiegobrewersguild.org), there are currently 36 breweries in the area.   I’ve been chipping away at the list.   Some are hard to find as they’re tucked back into industrial parks.   Even when my GPS is telling me that the destination is on the right, I often have to get out of the car and walk around a bit to find it.

I’m fortunate in that one of my favorite breweries, Green Flash, is 1/2 mile from my apartment. It’s an easy walk.

The one thing I find strange about California breweries is the Growler law.   For those that don’t know, a growler is a refillable, half-gallon bottle that you can use to take beer home.   In Idaho, Washington, and Oregon, you can fill any growler at any brewery.   Here in California, you can only fill a growler at the establishment printed on the bottle.   I’ve already asked about just using stickers, but that too is not allowed.   This conceivably means that if I wanted to bring beer home from all of the breweries here, I would need to own 36 growlers.  I can’t help but think some legislator’s brother-in-law is in the growler business.

I’ve been noticing that my pants have been getting a little tighter lately and my stomach is becoming a belly.   Men judge their weight by their pants waist size.   We hate when we have to break out the fat-pants, or worse, have to buy fat-pants.    Today, I went for a long-overdue trip to the gym.  There’s a scale in the locker-room, which I used to weigh myself.   I’m now at 204 lbs, when my weight is normally around 195.

I can already hear a chorus of voices blaming the beer.   I don’t blame the beer.   Sure it’s a component, but an equally large component is the types of food that go well with, and can often be found, at breweries and brew-pubs.   Pizza, burgers & fries, mac & cheese,  nachos, etc.  Like I told a friend at one of our beer and pizza nights, “It’s not the beer making us fat, it’s the two large pizzas we ate with the beer”.

It’s time for me to ditch this extra tonnage.   This means reducing my pub visits, walking to work more, and reducing my overall calorie intake.

To protect the guilty, I’ve removed certain company names from my posts and replaced them with more generic terms.  My friends will know who I’m talking about.  Others will have to use their imaginations.

BBPM = Boise-Based Printer Manufacturer.

BBMM = Boise-Based Memory Manufacturer.

Name changes

Feeling appreciated at work

I was pulled aside today by my target lead.   He told me he had tried to put me in for an award.  This was to show appreciation for the work I did on our current product.   Due to me being a contractor, and the associated politics, it is not possible for me to receive the award.  The award itself doesn’t matter to me, but having someone recognize you for your sacrifices and achievements does.

Being recognized, as a contractor, was unheard of at BBPM as contractors were seen as less than “real” employees.   The ranking order at the BBPM campus goes like this:

“real” employees -> spouses and children of BBPM employees -> interns -> geese that shit all over the sidewalks -> contractors.

All that BBPM’s institutionalized marginalization of contractors does is breed animosity.   Who do I want to work harder for?  The folks who treat me as less or those who treat me as an equal?

This doesn’t mean that all BBPM people treated contractors poorly.   I have people I consider good friends there that treated me just fine.  It has more to do with corporate’s attitude towards contractors.   Not that there weren’t lazy contractors.  As team-lead, I dealt with some of these guys daily.

One of the funniest things I heard regarding contractor ranking was in one of the weekly meetings my team had with our BBPM liaison.   We had just gotten a new project manager and I made the comment that we had just gotten sold for cigarettes.   One of my guys said something like, “We don’t rank high enough in the prison economy for cigarettes.  Maybe a dessert once or twice a week, but not cigarettes.  There was no controlling the laughter in the room after that.

Before you go thinking that I’m overly bashing BBPM, there were some good things that came out of my time there.  I actually really enjoyed the work I did for BBPM.   Having come from an almost 100% UNIX/Linux background, BBPM gave me the opportunity to expand my Windows knowledge.   I also learned a ton about building and maintaining virtual servers.   Like I said, I made some great friends there, who I continue to stay in touch with.   The time I spent at BBPM prepared me for the much-better job that I am now working.

Dealing With Uncertainty.

As humans, we are absolutely not programmed to deal with uncertainty.   We have the capacity to handle both good and bad news.   Not knowing is where we fall apart.  If you’ve ever dealt with a seriously ill friend or family member, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

When I accepted my current job, I knew it was a seven month listing.   I’m just over half way through the contract period.   I ran into my boss this morning.   He’s a pretty decent guy and works harder than any of us under him.  English is also his second language.  This means that sometimes his verb tenses are a little off (His misuse of American euphemisms is also comical).   He mentioned something about an email this morning regarding my contractual period.

Now, I haven’t seen an email, so I’m wondering if the verb tense thing means that an email is forthcoming.   He told me not to worry as he’s working to extend my contract.   A couple of months ago, I applied for a full-time position that came open.  He mentioned that if the requisition became available again that I may be rolled to full time status.

Corporations so often give you conflicting information.   At the time I applied, I was told that as a contractor that I would have to wait until the end of my contractual period.   This is for political/financial reasons.   My pay comes from funding that has been allocated for the current fiscal year.  To roll me prior to the end would mean a decrease in funding for the following fiscal year.  When I applied for the full-time position, there were five requisitions open.   Where they went, I can’t say.

As a temporary worker, I accept a certain amount of risk.   How is this different from the people who work “full-time”?   At the time BBPM decided I was unnecessary (but had me train internal replacements), I also saw several full-time BBPM people fired (laid off is a nice way of saying fired).

I could very well be done with my current job in September.  Fortunately, I was able to sell my house and no longer have that responsibility.  I can see the advantages of being unemployed in San Diego, at least for a few months.

I don’t regret leaving Boi-C (local enunciation).  The job market there continues to decline.  Staying would have only hurt me.  I also never really liked the place.  I think you have to be from Boise to really love it.  The problem is its sheer isolation, which tends to breed narrow-mindedness and xenophobia.  Salt Lake is the nearest major city and it’s five hours away.

It’s going to be interesting.

Starting Over Again

I’m sure that I’m not alone, given the economic climate of the past few years, but having to start over is hard.

When I moved to San Diego, I had six days of notice.  Two of these days were needed for driving.   I drive a small car and had to prioritize what I took with me.  Everything else was left at my house awaiting my eventual return.   Since I didn’t know how long I was going to be gone, I had to take enough to get by on, but little enough that it would fit in my car.

What I chose to bring was all of my work clothes, a couple of pair of shoes, a pair of sandals, my two laptops, some basic toiletries, and my three Hydroflask stainless steel growlers.   I had my growlers filled with water on the way down.   Turns out they’re useless in California, but that’s another story.

I had booked a week at the Extended Stay America motel just across the street from the Qualcomm campus.   It was an alright place, but I’m the kind of person who needs an address.   I found an apartment, but had to extend my stay a couple of days at the motel until the apartment was ready.   When I moved in I had nothing.   I took a trip to IKEA and picked up some basic dishes.   I also ended up with an inflatable air mattress and bedding from Target.   A trip to IKEA a couple of weeks later and I now had a couple of chairs.   I didn’t want to go overboard, as I had a house full of furniture 1000 miles away.  It was an exercise in learning to do without.

My house sold relatively quickly.   I had it priced to move and was flexible on the terms.  When I flew back to get the place ready for the movers, I had to make decisions about what would ship.   It’s amazing how you can quickly lose attachments to the things you thought you couldn’t live without.   I gave a ton of stuff to friends and to charity.  Funny thing is, I don’t really miss any of it.

I’ve proven who I am so many times the magnetic strip’s worn thin

-Bruce Cockburn “Pacing The Cage”.

Another aspect of starting over is proving yourself at a new job again.  You’ve got to learn the acronyms, the job, and the corporate culture.   You’re doing this all while trying to prove yourself as an asset.   It’s an intimidating time, but you have to get through it.   I had to do it when I was doing the contract thing at BBPM and now I’m doing it again.

I like to think it’s a “growth opportunity”, but so is cancer…

Friends have asked me if I made the right decision to sell a house and move 1000 miles away.   I can only answer by saying, “Ask me again in a year”.

Redefining What Home Means

I remember, after moving away to college, the first time that I realized that my childhood home was no longer my home.   It wasn’t a feeling that hit me hard, but more of a subtle understanding.   I had the same feeling after graduating college and moving away from there.   I’m now experiencing it again.

I spent the last 15 and-a-half years in Boise, Idaho.  I moved there to take a one-year temporary job with a Boise-based printer manufacturer (BBPM).   I moved on to working for a Boise-based memory manufacturer (BBMM)  for 11 and-a-half years.   After too many years of an abusive boss, I took a severance in October of 2008 and left BBMM  on Feb 29, 2009.   I tried to sell my house at that point, but the market was bad.   It took nearly a year to line up a job.   I ended up working as a contract engineer at BBPM again.   After 22 months my entire team was cut.

What to do now?   I was tired of the contract thing anyway because BBPM treats contractors terribly(constantly reminding you that you DON’T belong).  There were openings at BBMM that I was qualified for, but I figure jobs are like girlfriends; they’re exes for a reason.   Not just that but I could never risk having to work for my ex-boss again.  I tried applying, but got ill at the thought of going back.

I started my job search again; knowing that I’d most likely have to leave Idaho.  Unlike 2009, where I rarely ever got called back, I was spending an average of three hours per weekday on the phone.   In December of 2011, I was contacted by a contract agency that had an opportunity in San Diego.  I had largely forgotten about this contact, when on February 2, I was contacted about interviewing for the position.  I interviewed with a manager and then didn’t hear anything for a week.   On February 9, I interviewed with two other people and was offered the job that night at 18:00.  The catch is they needed me to start on February 15.

I now had four days to get everything together and two days to drive.  I needed to arrange a place to stay in San Diego, get my house ready to go on the market, make sure my car was road-worthy, say my goodbyes, pack up what I might need for an indeterminate time away, and finally get my house on the market.

My house sold quickly and I was back in Boise on March 16 to get the house packed for the movers.  That was another two whirlwind days.  In addition to getting the house ready, I had friends to see and beers to drink.   I’m very indebted to two of my neighbors who helped me to accomplish an impossible amount.

June 14 is the four month mark of me being in San Diego.

If you made it past the background of how I’m here, you’re probably wondering what this all has to do with “Redefining What Home Means”.

I don’t miss Boise.   I miss my house, I miss the neighbor kids, I miss beer and pizza nights with friends.  Largely, what I miss is Community.   I keep in touch with my friends, but it’s not the same as having a beer with them.  It’s the same reason I never understood “Social Networking”.   I’d much rather have dinner with friends than read their boring-ass facebook pages.

San Diego isn’t home yet, as I don’t have community.   Boise can no longer be home because I’ve moved on.  I’m just in a weird state of limbo.   Working as a contractor doesn’t help either as it’s hard to lay down roots when you don’t know how long you’ll be in an area.