About me

Monday, August 29, 2011

Jobs

My jobs

I will not review my current job here. That would be both a stupid thing and an unfair thing for me to do. I've been there now almost ten years, longer than anywhere else, and that will stand as a sufficient review.

It's odd to me that I'd be doing laundry on a Monday morning after a long weekend and thinking of the various jobs I've held.

The family farm.

I started before I knew there was other work than on my family's farm. Daddy was a share-cropper. He worked the land owned by his uncle and his brother. He also work his daddy's few acres of sand, but that was a different relationship. The uncle and the brother had formal relationships with Daddy based on money and obligation.

Daddy shared labor with two other farmers in the community. Those two owned their own land. By sharing labor, they were able to give the crew a complete week of work during the tobacco season. I started work there as an early teen working for free because I was family. Later, I started earning a quarter an hour. As a male, I earned more than the girl of the same age to whom I handed the leaves I had just snapped off the tobacco stalks. That always produced some discussion, but it didn't change the pay scale.

This was hard and grueling work, work that I do not recall as ever being fun, but work that made me look forward to the beginning of school, and that was probably a very good thing. It also made me reject shop class and FFA (Future Farmer's of America) membership in favor of Latin. Although the work crews were quite young, there was little humor or fun involved, probably because the adults were from that stock you so often see glaring in the old photographs. That damned Puritanical mindset will surely be one of the factors identified in the final chapter of this country as a serious limiting factor for the welfare of the people.

Just look at our work scenes now and the paid time-off that's a part of the wage. Now compare that to what you'll find in most other civilized countries. We are far down on the human scale. We still work to achieve a smile at the Pearly Gates. It does little or nothing for our overall productivity, and I'll submit that it precludes us from achieving our full potential. We stand where we are as a country and an amalgamation of societies because we had the good fortune of being born on a continent rich in natural resources, not from the fruits of our Puritanical labors.

After I left for college, my daddy took public work with the county sheriff, and that left me with no built-in summer work. Now looking back, I should have pursued summer employment in labs, something that would have enriched the education, but money was an issue, especially as my balance of loan and grant shifted with my daddy's shift from farm to county work, and I found myself taking paying work back home.

The Holiday inn.

First, there was a brief stint washing dishes at the Holiday Inn restaurant off I-95 in Selma. The building is still there, but it's under another name now. That lasted a very few weeks, and I left them at 2 A.M. on a Saturday night with every dish in the house waiting to be washed. This was my first experience with an environment where unseen greed drove policy. It would not be my last. However, I still feel a pang of guilt over leaving that mess for the others to find that next morning. The site manager later told my mother that I could not handle stress. His subsequent heart attack would give him a pot-meet-kettle moment, but I've never yet understood what kind of stress he would expect a dishwasher to feel. Boredom? Yes. Not stress.

The neighbor's farm

That fortuitous failure left me working on Ina Ruth and Harold Ray's farm. It was the same work as on any other tobacco farm, but this was different. People had fun with it. Back-breaking labor, chronic dehydration, repeated 70-hour weeks, and they took time to laugh. Forty years later when I meet people from those few summers, we still comment on how we had fun with it. Having fun with it was to become a standard of measure for me. It would also get me into a lot of trouble. It still does.

I notice now that the more successful companies of this world maintain having fun as an important part of the corporate culture. Zappos even hires on fit with culture as a primary selection factor. Competence and skill are important and required, but they are also secondary.

So I graduated in 1975, and there was no work to be found. After a short stint as a substitute teacher, I worked as a bricklayer's helper for six months. They hired me as a courtesy to my family, and I even rode in the cab of the truck, not in the back with the black helpers. Because that was embarrassing, I hopped in the back once. The guys there were set aback, and it was a long, quiet ride. Along with the motion sickness and carbon monoxide poisoning, the ostracism pushed me back in the cab.

I needed some reminder of my place then, and I often still do. This is not something I expect to change anytime soon.

Easley Junior High SChool

Onward and upward with a return to school for a year to get a teaching certificate, which left me accepting an end of year appointment in Easely, South Carolina, a mill town with all the excitement you might expect. A physical science teacher had been fired for making out with a student in the parking lot. That he was a black man and she was a white girl had nothing to do with it. School management did not offer an appointment for the next year, and that was a very good thing because I had already set my sites on a return to graduate school that was to fail, but it did set me on a return trajectory to the classroom.

Sanford Senior High SChool

Sanford, North Carolina, to be exact. The geographic center of the state, a small county with one high school. No where you'd really want to be, at least for long. I was there almost three years, beginning as a general math and Algebra I-A teacher, ending as a Physics and Chemistry teacher. The general math produced my only encounter with student paddling, and I do not see that as a particularly fine moment in my varied career. It was, however, what I did. The Physics and Chemistry teaching was fun, especially the Physics where color and eccentricity is expected.

Well, with one exception. The principal at the time was a certified fool and an idiot. He's thankfully dead now. One spring, he wanted 100% participation in the United Way drive. I was the last holdout, and on my way to his office, I found a penny on the sidewalk. I taped that penny to my donation card, and he met his goal, which he later announce in a memo to all the teachers in which he wrote “Every penny counts.”

East Wake High SChool

In three years, I grew bored, applied to Physics graduate school, was accepted, and almost graduated, but I grew tired of being exceptionally poor, not that teaching had exposed me to high living, and I returned to the classroom, Chemistry and Physics, at East Wake High School. This rural school was likely my best position because I easily identified with the students and their parents. I even supervised the Sportsmen's Club, think hunting and fishing. We brought weapons on campus for club meetings, and the only response from the principal was to join and participate. Those days are long gone.

During those years, personal computing was born. I had been introduced to computing in 1971, and the idea of computing in the classroom intrigued me, but not my department chair in Sanford who said that he saw no purpose for computers in the classroom. However, he did buy me a laser, and that was fun. Granted, he was a good friend for years, at least until his homophobia shone through, but he was not a man given of vision, this despite a very strong intellect.

Enloe High SChool

Digital Equipment Corporation gave Wake County a VAX/VMS computer, and it was used in the magnet program at Enloe High School. After a summer program in which I created some piece of code that performed numerical integration for use in an advanced chemistry lab (taught by the fellow in Sanford!), I applied for an open slot to teach Physics and Computer Science at Enloe. I lasted two and a half years.

University of North Carolina at Greensboro

I left because one summer I didn't know I had a job for the next year, and I started applying for other work. Word got out, and the principal called me to let me know I had a job. With that knowledge, I started declining the offers, but then one came through from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in User Services with Academic Computing. I took that one, and left Enloe in mid-year It was a difficult departure because I could feel how the decision was casting in place future gains and losses that I could not divine, but that I knew spelled the beginning of the end of my work in the classroom.

Working at UNCG was fun. The first year or so, I worked in User Service where I learned the SAS System sufficiently well to become the school's SAS System consultant. I transitioned from consulting into systems, but retained the SAS work. Work there was a delight, and I was to learn that this was because the director protected his creative staff. When he retired, the university hired a Machiavellian demon who proceeded to orchestrate his own unschooled vision, which had no room for anything fun. He continues to stand as one of the least pleasant men I have known. I doubt his view of me is any better, and I consider that high praise.

AVX

Most of the UNCG staff that could find other work found other work. I was among them, mostly because UNCG was $500 short on my requirement to stay, and that spoke volumes to me. I felt sorry for those who could not look afield because of personal circumstances, but that was not enough to keep me in place. It makes no sense to consort with evil people just for the money. I left UNCG for a three-month stint with what was Corning Glassworks. I was to manage the computer systems there. In the time between my acceptance of the job and my stepping into the job, Corning sold the plant to AVX in Myrtle Beach. During that time, they also moved the man who was to become my boss from a New York facility to Raleigh, and in the process, sold him with the plant.

AVX was my next experience with evil and short-sighted management. Well, my boss was simply an idiot, though I doubt he had the papers to prove it. The men above him were evil and short-sighted chasers of money. It didn't matter how much. Racism was also in a rare and smiling form there. They reopened my position, and I accepted alternative work back in Greensboro with A&T State University the next day. AVX management were taken aback by that speed, but my search was also still open, mostly because academic institutions think in longer terms than companies.

A&T State University

I was appointed to be the Academic Computing Manager at A&T State University. I never have been sure why they bothered with academic computing, and mostly what we did was sign in and out as we moved about the campus. The director was concerned that he couldn't say what we were doing at any given moment, and that's likely because of his manager who had a reputation as a very unpleasant woman. Our secretary used to anoint reports with holy oil before sending up the chain.

Although I did not learn a great deal about computing while at A&T, and though it gave me three good years to bootstrap a dissertation, my most important take-away there was being the minority presence. Being a white man, I had no idea what it was like to be the odd man out. They treated me well, and that personal learning was to become one of the most important in my time on this planet, but I doubt that was in the job description they used. My biggest problem was that I wanted to do something more than sit around and shuffle reports of things I pretended to do.

Yes, the story of my leaving a concrete block on my office chair with a note about it floating away is true.

Greensboro College

Greensboro College needed a Director of Academic Computing, and because I knew, tangentially, the Director of Administrative Computing, I landed the job though it would cost me a year in finishing my PhD. I took it, and a few months later, the school discovered embezzlement, and that led to severe problems, but I was safe. However, the school's librarian had delusions of grandeur, and she was moving to build an empire predicated on a few of her useless but well-groomed state computing connections. I have little patience for fools, and it shined though with alarming brilliance, and I moved over to teach full-time in Mathematics. They even let me be chair for a year.

I love the classroom. I'm probably at my best there. What I'm not good at is dragging unwilling students through the semester. After a few years, I burned out. Again. The real problem was teaching extra evening classes and summer school classes to boost my income. While people might scoff at teachers with long summers and other holiday vacations, you should not do that until you experience the psychic load of hundreds of questions in the run of a day. Most teachers answer more questions in a day than regular folks do in a month.

Regardless, I remember that little school with it's storied history fondly. That is exists is testament to the importance of long-range planning that is measured in generations, not months, as well as the importance of a broad education. I defeated my problem with language there by taking Spanish classes every semester. Those classes also kept me occupied, introduced me to some smart people, and otherwise pushed me forward. I still like returning to sit by the fountain in the front yard.

Center for Creative Leadership

The Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) beckoned, and I took work there as a psychometrician. I'm not sure why they hired a psycho, but they did, and there was a wealth of data to support pure and applied research. I used it extensively, and it was probably the most prolific writing period of my life. However, and especially after 9-11 and the Center's resources diminished, it became clear that my job was going to become one of running numbers for norms to support training, and while that work is necessary, it's substantially boring. Three years to the day, I left.

It's important to learn something from most everything, both good and bad, and I'll be the last to think of CCL as a poor appointment. It just wasn't the most interesting, and it was on course because of economic reality to become one of the most boring when I left. However, those three years were, perhaps, the most enlightening. As a part of my first year, CCL sent me through the flagship Leadership Development Program (LDP). That week-long look in the mirror, especially with mid-life approaching, produced more introspection that anything this side of being a parent.

If you ever have the opportunity to take LDP with CCL, take it. You'll learn about yourself, and that's important, but the more important thing is that by learning about yourself, you'll come to learn about others, and you'll see that all those boring, perhaps evil people, who've filled your life with unnecessary memories, are generally one-dimensional, and they have no idea. They will likely never have a clue, but at least you can dodge them better.

The now

And so there you are. The jobs I've held. I've been around, typically with the three to five year tenure until this last appointment that I've held for nearly ten years. My ex expressed the supposition that my frequent job changes were motivated by a fear of being outed. I suppose that helped her reconcile the series of ambiguities that arose as we lived together.

However, she was wrong. In every instance, it's been about boredom. Every change was to alleviate the boredom. I doubt that changes, though it leaves me wondering how I've stayed put for a decade. That's likely because of other changes that have ameliorated the boredom that comes with knowing a job and a workplace inside out.

What are those changes? Children stepping into adulthood. Financial gyrations. External professional activities. Writing activities. These blogs. Those tweets. And probably being old enough to remember my mother's admonition to entertain myself.

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