Those of you who read this blog and also follow me on Twitter may be aware that I’m now out of work and looking for my next “challenge.”
Ten days ago I was given two months notice at my current job in a most bizarre way (that I am not free to share) that left both me and almost everyone else who knew the details with their jaws hanging open in disbelief. I am simultaneously very proud of what I accomplished there and tremendously happy to no longer be there because it was, to put it nicely, a very unique environment (and not unique in any positive sense of the word). Despite the odd and unexpected circumstances, when I was given the news I felt as if a 16 ton weight had been lifted off my shoulders.
Be that as it may, it puts me in the position of wondering what to do next.
My first impulse of course is to go with what I know. I’ve been doing IT for 26 years. It’s paid me very well, brought me to Hong Kong and taken me around the world more than once. IT has been very, very good to me.
I met up with a friend a couple of nights ago – actually the person who was probably my first friend in Hong Kong, 17 years ago – and he said to me, “Computers have never made you happy. You should do something that makes you happy.” The second sentence of course cannot be argued with. The first statement is not entirely true.
There are elements of IT work that I have greatly enjoyed. There are projects I’ve worked on, times when I’ve accomplished things, that have given me tremendous satisfaction. I’ve also worked on some projects that were joyless. I’ve had some great bosses and experiences mentoring and being mentored. And I’ve also had more than a few ass-hat bosses, but haven’t we all? On my last job, there were certain elements that I really enjoyed and as for the rest, I told myself (some days more frequently than others) there’s a reason it’s called “work” and not “play.”
I got into the whole computer thing by accident. The first time I got my hands on a computer was around 1983 or ’84, when I was managing the video rental store in NYC, and they got a computer to track the video rentals – this was before PCs and MS-DOS, the operating system was CP/M. I was fascinated by it and tinkered with it whenever I could. I bought myself an Atari 800 with a keyboard and a cassette drive and a modem and got online long before there was a world wide web or general access to the internet. I soon graduated from local BBS’s (Bulletin Board Systems) to CompuServe, where I became a “co-sysop” on two forums.
When we put the CD Hotline together in 1986, the service was going to be based around a database. There were two owners, I was the first person hired and it was decided that I should be in charge of all things computer there. ”Why?” ”You have an Atari at home. You know more than either of us.” The programmer they had hired was a quadriplegic who didn’t live in New York and couldn’t come into our office – he taught me DOS over the phone, and then dBase III. I somehow learned Novell Netware on my own.
When it was clear that I had no future at CD Hotline and didn’t know what to do next, my father called me up one night. He almost never gave me any advice but this time he has some for me. ”Kid (I was 35), you ain’t getting anywhere with the arts shit, are you?” ”Um, no Dad, I guess I’m not.” ”You seem to enjoy fooling around with computers, ever think about going back to school and really learning them?” ”No, I never did, but that’s a damned good idea.” In retrospect, the funny thing was that I had no idea that the skills I had taught myself had any value in the market – perhaps because it all came to me so easily.
I thought I might take a few weeks of classes in dBase III or Foxpro and then somehow I wandered into an open house at Columbia University, where they talked about relational databases and the structured life cycle and I realized this was what I wanted to learn. A year later I got my first corporate IT job, two years after that I was working in London and three years later I was living in Hong Kong. The companies I’ve worked for in the past include Barclays Bank, Sybase, Merrill Lynch, Charles Schwab, Warner Bros. and several start-ups.
All in all, not too shabby.
That being said, it’s true that there are things I enjoy doing more. I’ve been writing on and off since my college days and photography has been a huge passion these past few years. Am I the world’s best writer or photographer? Obviously not. I know I’m not the best. I also know I’m far from the worst.
So the question then becomes, at the age of 58, do I stick with what I know because it’s safe? Or do I jump off that metaphorical cliff, eyes wide shut, trying to do something different that could either make me very happy or result in my spending my golden years eating cans of cat food.
One element of all this is that Hong Kong is a very expensive place to live. As much as I have cut back on my lifestyle in the past few years, I know there are other places where I can get by on a lot less money than I need here. My gf is from the Philippines and I don’t mind Manila at all – actually I kind of like it. Well, I also like Tokyo (okay, I fucking love Tokyo) and Shanghai and Taipei and Singapore and Penang and Bangkok and Saigon and a lot of other places in this part of the world. But I think that for me, the “barriers to entry” are lower in the Philippines than elsewhere in the region.
So jumping off that cliff would entail packing up everything in HK and leaving. That would be tough. As much as I fear that Hong Kong is going downhill, I do love it here. So … some sort of business, photography and writing, something that might be primarily online so that my location doesn’t matter. Or a small shop in a mall doing baby pictures – yikes! Corporate event photography might be more my style.
Net net, no decisions made yet. Still thinking. And searching for a job – did I mention that? Feel free to drop me a line if you’re hiring!