Monday, May 19, 2008

What The Hell Is Wrong With Me?

Why have I spent ten years playing employment musical chairs in corporate I.T.?
Why is a decent and rewarding long-term opportunity such a difficult thing to find?
Why is it I spent over 10 hours yesterday working on my in-game Fishing skill in World of Warcraft?
Okay, that last one defies all reason, but I have a theory about the first two.
Logic tells me that the one shared variable in all my past failed jobs . . . Is me. Are my expectations too high? Do I have some vision which is unshared by Corporate America? Could I possibly ask more questions at the beginning of a blog post? Could you be more annoyed with me about that?
Like most of the people who graduated in the mid-nineties, I entered the workforce a decade behind one of the most career-driven classes in American history. The 1980's were all about the corporate ladder and by the time I entered the workforce, the top rungs were all filled up with people with ten years of experience on me.
Also, people entering the same jobs as me at the same time have all grown up in a culture of our peers which carries an inherent disdain for corporate crap and brown-nosing. Most of us had parents laid off in the seventies or knew a family impacted by the farm crisis or factories beginning the great outsourcing trend which claims, even now, victims in more and more fields every day. We don't trust Big Business, and now we work here.
When I ask the people around me what they would like to be doing in five years, most talk about opening a small business somewhere, dropping out of Corporate America completely, and getting out of the rat race as soon as possible. No one wants to move into middle management as a stepping stone, because we've all seen what a minefield that is.
The people in the highest positions at any company are either staying on after retirement age or are still twenty years from it. Moving up in a corporation narrows the options anyway. It isn't like twenty server guys can become twenty executives all at the same time. If one of those positions opens up, chances are it isn't in a position directly above a person who can step up.
Sadly, the recent grads whose parents are executives have the best shot at advancement, because the standards have all changed again while the class of the mid-nineties have been pulling all-nighters.
The economy sucked in 1995 and it is tanking again. I started in I.T. just as the Dot-com bubble was bursting and I've been working (thankfully steadily) in the time since, but remember that I hate myself a little more every day for caring.
One more thing, work is last on my priority list. Like a bunch of people I grew up around, my parents worked a lot. My mother worked nights and went to school. It was the right thing for all of us, and I knew it at the time, but now that I'm a parent I don't volunteer to work extra if there is a chance I can get home to see my daughter. This is a choice I've made, and it has impacted my career growth, though I would not have it any other way.
Most companies just don't know what to do with us. As geeks, we have unique things which drive us and corporations which provide these incentives on purpose are extremely rare now.
My favorite jobs have nothing at all to do with the work, but more with the people around me with similar experiences. We can bond over ancient Saturday morning cartoon memories and laugh about the co-workers too old or too young to share the fun. Company is, to me, more important than "The Company", and it always will be.
So my trade off on the fast track to the Executive Lounge and private parking space is that I get to share work space with people whose goals rarely line up with that of our Corporate Overlords. We play pranks and trade links and blog about complete crap, because we know this is how things are.
This doesn't generate work-related misery, it cures it. And having a drive to succeed at all costs programmed out of us all by Sesame Street helps a lot, too.
And drinking.
For the record, I like my current job a lot. "Consultant" advances to "Higher Paid Consultant" on the Org Chart, and that is a career path I can live with.

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