That Was The Year That Was

This Was The Year That Was (Tom Lehrer)
That Was The Year That Was (Tom Lehrer)

So, it’s a bit early to call this year complete, but for my purposes, the year I’m going to review is from mid-November to mid-November (more or less).  For these purposes, we’ll call that 2009.

The year that was 2009 got an early start in mid-November of 2008.

The startup that I’d been a part of for a little more than a year ran out of funding and was forced to close its doors.  It was very sad since we had interesting products (which were arguably still looking for their best markets), great tools, great folks and actual customers.  Unfortunately, a hardware company is a tougher sell to investors even in good times.  In the bad times of late 2008, at the beginning of the year-long recession we’re arguably still in the midst of, it was an untenable time to try and wrangle tens of millions of dollars from financiers who were trying to hold on to what they had in hopes of weathering the coming storms.

We were forced to close our doors on November 14th, 2008.  For all but the CEO, who probably had a bit more warning than the rest of us, we came in that Friday hoping that we had another couple weeks to secure financing which seemed like it might happen and left at the end of the day with a box with our personal stuff in it while they locked the building behind us.

Around the same time, you might recall, we elected our first African American President in our country’s history.  This was, for me, probably one of the most hopeful things to have happened in a great while.

After Ambric closed its doors, we took a vacation that we had planned (and paid for) for some time before that.  It was a nice vacation.  I even did a phone screen for a job, so things seemed like they might not be so bad.

I was wrong.

The phone screen turned in to an interview at the company down in Mountain View.  It went poorly.  It seemed more an opportunity to torture the candidate than to really establish whether I was a good candidate.  What it did do was establish that this was not a place I wanted to work.  Which was fortuitous since it turned out they felt the same way.

For much of the next few months, I sent out lots and lots of resumes, usually getting no response whatsoever indicating that they were even received, let alone seen by human eyes.  It was a cold, cold winter on the job front.

In the Spring, based on my experience with Ambric, I landed a consulting job for the company that purchased the IP (Intellectual Property) that remained after Ambric shut its doors.  I was tasked with rebuilding the process that we used to build and test the tools.  This meant provisioning a Linux and Windows box, running down the necessary tools, installing and configuring them and trying to recreate the build process which hadn’t run in the past five months.

I described the process like this: Imagine that you know what the Death Star from Star Wars looks like.  Now imagine someone hands you a tote full of Lego bricks and says “This can, if assembled correctly, be built in to the Death Star.  We don’t have the instructions.  But, we know you know what the Death Star looks like, so please build us a Death Star.”

It was a great project and I delivered a working solution that could build the product and run some basic tests.  (And, yes, like the Lego project above, there may have been some bricks left over…)

This kept me busy and off the unemployment rolls for two and a half months.  I am very thankful for that opportunity.

That project ramped down and it was back to looking for jobs as my full time occupation.

Much like the winter was cold, the late Spring was very, very dry on the job front.

In June I landed a job.  It was the one job in my professional life that I look back and and think was a terrible mistake and wish I’d not taken it.  But, things were learned in my two and a half months there and then I was out in the market again.  And that was two and a half months of making a salary (albeit reduced) and not being on unemployment.

This year seemed to have a theme to it.  Loss.

For most of the year I had known that my mother was suffering from COPD.  Amongst the list of things I’m thankful for (which probably ought to be a separate exercise, whether I choose to share it or not) is that I was able to travel the seven hours by car to spend several weeks with my parents and specifically with my mother.  On Mother’s Day my brother and I were there and I wasn’t sure she was going to make it through the weekend.  I’m glad I was there, but it was a very hard time to be there.

My sister flew out from the east coast and stayed with my parents for a couple weeks.  I joined her for roughly a week of that.  I’m thankful for that time with her, as I don’t get to see her as much as I’d like.  I’m also thankful for the additional time with my mother.

My mother passed away the first of August, 2009.  She was at home with my father, which is where she wanted to be.

I was struck, repeatedly (as with a hammer to the forehead) by the disconnect between how I experienced this intellectually and how I experienced this emotionally.  I could intellectualize myself through the process all day, but all it took was thinking a bit about how it felt and it was like getting beat with an emotional hockey stick.  Surprisingly painful and difficult.

So, loss of a close family members, loss of job(s).

Loss of control.

This was a big one for me.  I pride myself (and pride goeth before the yadda, yadda, yadda) on many things in my life and one of those is my career.  I’ve been very fortunate, in many respects, but it’s also come with a great deal of work on my part.  That is to say, I’ve worked hard for my career.  To have that sense of control of my destiny yanked away by the realization that circumstances outside my control can still have a dramatic effect on me and on my career was a painful realization.

Learning to focus on the things that I can control and attempting to let go of the things I cannot.  Now there’s something I could likely spend the rest of my life working towards and never reach that goal.

In the first week of September, I received an email from a former co-worker asking if I knew someone looking for a job as a QA (Quality Assurance) Manager.  While I am not a QA Manager, I threw my hat in to the ring in part because, frankly, there weren’t that many rings in which to toss my hat.

After a few weeks a time was set up to interview.  In that same timeframe I found out I would be interviewing against another former co-worker from Ambric who actually is a QA Manager.  And a good one.  Crap.

But, I had some indications that perhaps they might consider a Development Manager who could do some QA.  I thought I could do that.  So, I retained some hope.

In the end, the QA Manager rocked her interview and apparently I did well with mine because we were both offered jobs.  The best of all possible outcomes.

So, on November 3rd, 2009, I started my new job as a Development Engineer at Flashlight Engineering and Consulting.

It’s been a little over a month now and it has been more than 13 years since I have had this much fun at a job.  And a job that felt like a good fit for me and where I want to be in my career.

To summarize, this last year, as I choose to measure it from mid-November 2008 to mid-November 2009 has been a year of ups and downs.  It’s a year I would not choose to repeat, though I suppose if I’ve learned anything it’s that, while you cannot plan for the unpredictable, it may well happen and it can happen to any of us.

For all of the adventures of the last year, I also have much to be thankful for.

I have my health and the health of my family and kids.  My kids are doing well in starting their lives as young adults.  I have a relationship that makes me happy and hopeful for the future.

The fundamentals (if we were talking about the economy as described by multiple elected officials) are sound.  After a year like the last one, that’s a lot to be thankful for.