Peter Gabriel – Solsbury Hill
Project Firebird is a contract job I took on. I’ve been outriding the Heckler, and needed a new bike to progress. Such enablement tools cost about $4k, and I am a godlike-better QA Engineer than I am a bike mechanic. I need to clean Holbert, i need to push it at NRA, i need a rematch on Hangover.
I needed professional validation, i was losing focus and fight, slipping into the lukewarm pool of above-average nominal-commitment that my path at Ticketmaster carried me down. The raise and promotion i thought 2 years ago would come hasn’t come, the position in Dev would be a 50% paycut, and my lead developer was leaving. I wasn’t worried about my job, for at least the next 2 years, only that i would be doing exactly the same thing i was now. Stagnation = death in software. Eventually i would be expendable, with Live Nation having no more commitments to the Ticketmaster team. Shredding gnar is an expensive indulgence and daycare is not cheap. A festering clockpuncher’s acceptance of no-bonuses demanded a countermeasure of fiscal responsibility, along with a howl at the moon. Fuck yeah. The reward would be my first ever guilt-free bike, a nice bullet for the reso, and growing stronger from something not killing me.
I have done so many new and challenging projects in my career…I can solve a muthafuggin problem. I’m Duke Nukem with Rambo with an extra nut with a tesla gun. And yes, you diagrammed that sentence correctly; there is a functional energy canon blasting away off the extra cajone. Drop me into your program i will unwind it and break it and wash everything in arterial spray and get it ready for production. But being great within the structure of other top teammates is one thing; contracting you are alone. People are strange when you’re a stranger. Would 7 years working for The Man in the Big Leagues prove my shit the hardest?
Just about everything was easy, in stride. When it wasn’t, working through it or around it was not that hard. Worked up a good sweat, but not that hard. Nothing is as hard a TicketMaster’s 6-layer cake. The tech challenge was larger amounts of nominal, the real problem was the void – people who didn’t know what they wanted, how its built, or what acceptance criteria were. I used new tools, parried verbage like ‘stakeholder‘ and ‘resource‘, defined, consensified, redefined and reconsensified and rediscoverd. I could still do an all-nighter, especially for $500. I learned a new tool and new language and was functional in 40 hours. I could cleanup good and write bloated spreadsheets explaining details in painstaking detail. I wore a tie and setup a LinkedIn account. The reward was creating a job for myself, a tax-writeoff, an empowerment. 3 months later I had 3 job offers. Fate and irony and opportunity all conspire, but after 1.5 years of fishing, 3 months later I had 3 job offers. I had a contract before i made the jump to Ticketmaster too, 16 hours at $100 an hour set me and Beckie up with full snowboard kits, and I’d say the whole TM move worked out pretty well.
At first it felt like an ATM machine. Need some money, go work on the contract. Maids coming, knock out some contract. Grocery store = contract. Overtime, bonuses, found money are the American Dream. They were in no hurry, and neither was I, and I banged and floated along enough for a drivetrain and 1 leg of a fork, taught myself MS Test Manager and Visual Studio in a single day, and whined about having to sit down and work for .17 hours of email and project management. The problems of startups showed themselves: amateurs and limited experience, talented people working alone instead of together, small-town mindset. Weeks went by with my hardware not working, timelines crept up, the reality of hacking through the weeds of a V1 program, coding test code around failures. Eventually I had to deliver all by myowndamself, which is pretty much how i knew it would be, which was why even though i loved the $bling$ i had a pissy attitude about it all along. Bush leagues. The level of tactical strategicness needed equaled that of a complex environment, so much shit did not work everything i did was an escher path through a barren network. MS Test Manager is the worst thing i’ve ever smelled, in 2 hours I was the in-house expert.
Meanwhile, I got in the pipeline for 2 positions with huge potential, and an internal position requiring a move to LA. I went in heavy, striding up up with my 2 pistolas. I was oddly calm and confident in ways I’d never really been about delivering a message, highlighting my strengths, and connecting with their needs. QAing a product was the easy part. So this is PR? I didn’t hate it, it was just boring, and stressful – finding ways to steer conversations back to examples i wanted to explain, contexts to provide, skills to demonstrate. I actually ate NOTHING (well, almost nothing) at a free lunch, I was so focused on proselytizing.
11pm on a Monday night i was getting the Heckler ready for a dawn National ride when I saw it – a crack in the weld between the chainstay and the triangle. My first thought was relief. Finally i can get rid of it. Then i cried realizing I’d be riding Desert Classic in the morning instead. My annual trip to the Helipad brought it all into focus: close the contract, close the new job, buy a new bike.
In the next 2 weeks I put in 35 hours on the contract, and did face-to-face interviews with Apollo Group and Paypal. The first I had no idea how it went until a follow up call with the Director where we hammered out the role. The interview for Paypal was harder than a dirty century: 7 45-min 1-on-1s back to back, and then a phone screen at night from India.
Project Firebird ended with an evening of flashbang code generation reported as a failure, to spare us all when we’d gotten to the point of garbage in garbage out. For under 2 weeks billed they got a huge test plan and 300 bug reports, automation scripts to validate acceptance-level functionality, and working samples for a toolset they had limited knowledge about. It felt fair, and I was feeling the finish when i topped my target of $4500. I got to my mark after 6 pay periods, it ended up as 17% overtime for a quarter, I did the final report and meetings during a slow afternoon at my day job during my last 2 weeks. Nearly a perfect landing. I’m pretty sure I don’t want another contract ever again, but i am shopping for a new snowboard…
I continued to ride the Heckler on dog runs, to remember its touch upon me like an influential lover. It became intolerably leaky on its last beer run home, forcing Kila and i to walk and shuffle and ride on the rims with our 30 pack of beer. As I drank and contemplated, the tire went completely flat.
‘I was feeling part of the scenery, i walked right out of the machinery‘
I quoted that song for the Princeton yearbook too. Some days I’ve regretted it, some i haven’t. I’ve felt much the same about giving notice at Ticketmaster.
naturally, i had to change my FB avatar to this:
The day i did this jump, i held off until a local guy showed me where to land and how to get out. Once I had the plan, the rest was all on me to execute. The stakes are the challenge, the puzzle solved is not — the bike pointing down a boulder-garden, steep trees on the snowboard, AES races. It mental. I think I can do it, which means i should, knowing how much better i’ll feel coming out the other side. I try to choose well, liking to only go a little big while taking my talents to south beach. During the marathon interview with PayPal i said about 12 times ‘there are a lot of good engineers, and i’m one of them.‘
They bought it. I’m owning it. I started on Monday.