losing

fortune cookie reading "I learn by going where I have to go"

So I lost that job I was sort of excited about. And when I say lost I mean I was summarily fired last Friday afternoon with a vague collection of reasons after working there eleven days. I’m not even mad so much as “Wow, I guess that was a terrible fit, huh?” I own my part in it. Here’s the story anyhow. This is not intended to be a call-out, so I’m leaving some things vague.

This company, or rather, one person at this company who I had worked with elsewhere, had been asking if I was interested in work since last January. I had a Skype interview that I thought went well, where they said “We’ll call you” and then didn’t. Contacted me again later in the year and we slowly started putting together a gig for me there. I have a lot of requirements, but I also work my ass off. I think I’m a good employee but it depends what you’re looking for. Eventually we settled on ten hours a week contracting (temporary but maybe an option to extend) at a rate of pay that made it worth it. I’d be doing spam fighting. Not glamorous, but necessary, and really interesting in a puzzle sort of way. This company uses an agency to do all the hiring for their part-timers, so I’d technically be an employee of the agency, but this was seen as a mere hurdle. I started the process in June.

Onboarding was a serious pain in the ass. You can read the set of tweets about it here. Being publicly grousey about this may have been part of the issue, but who knows? My future manager saw my tweets. Heck, he listened to the MetaFilter podcast where I talked about the job. I presumed he knew what he was getting into. I had to e-sign fifteen different documents, read dozens of curiously formatted URGENT emails, get logins to four different portals and a new Outlook email address, and drive to a service center to show someone my passport, all before I got any credentials at the job. There’s a longer discussion about how the tech industry treats contractors generally, I just figured this was a temporary hassle, a one-time gauntlet. My soon-to-be manager was with me sympathizing every step of the way. I had a STAFF badge on my profile page.

All the documents requiring signatures could be signed by checking a box, or you could draw something in a signature box. There was no room for discussing the terms of the contracts, one of which was a loyalty oath. I won’t lie, I had fun with this. Signing my NDA “ABOLISH ICE” was probably something I’d do again, but it was also something that got called out as “unprofessional” and I can’t argue with that. That said, the agency approved all my signatures and everything else and cleared me to work on the 5th of July. I thanked them and told them about the typos I’d found in their documents.

My job start was delayed due to the difficulty of getting my work laptop to me as I was traveling for the holidays, rural package delivery is always a challenge. I wasn’t expecting to be given a work laptop, so I got to add “learn Chrome OS” to my todo list which wasn’t that difficult but did take some time. The regular workers at the company mostly use Macs. On July 11th I got all my credentials, set up various two-factor authentications, and did a little training. I worked every day from then until the 20th, sometimes just a little, sometimes a few hours. The work was fun, the people were nice. I really liked being on a team. I really enjoyed having a boss who was good at being a manager and seemed to like the work I was doing.

Friday the 20th I got a phone call from my manager at 5 pm saying the agency could not extend an employment contract to me. He had received an email from one of his superiors and was asking me if I could think of why that might be. I could think of a few possibilities but was pretty confused. Then I got a call from the agency saying my “assignment was wrapping up” which I knew wasn’t true. I asked for some clarification and the woman from the agency–I rag on the process a little, but the people who worked there were pleasant and professional across the board–made a few phone calls and said there were two issues:

  • my NDA signature was unprofessional (truth)
  • I had used a computer other than my work laptop to do work (my manager had said this was ok and apparently it was not)

My manager had no idea, this had happened without his input. A spam fighting job is technically a security job, my title was Platform Health Security Analyst. Security jobs are more SRS BSNS than other jobs. I am not SRS BSNS, but I am pretty good at following rules. By the time I got back to my computer, all my credentials were revoked, my STAFF badge was gone. My manager said he’d check in with the big boss on Monday but he was pretty sure this was a done deal. I was told I could keep the laptop which had a list price of around two weeks of work. I talked it out with my sister. “Dude, I work for state government and we fire people all the time, this seems like a weird firing.” That said, it was a done deal and so I’ve sort of made my peace with it. I’m even a little hesitant to write about it because of my concern that someone will tell me that the real reason I was fired was because I am awful, or an idiot, or something. I can’t help feeling that there is more to the story, it’s tough to settle with the idea that I’ll probably never know.

My sister and I had Chinese food that Friday and I waited to open my fortune cookie until I’d gotten the final word on Monday that I wouldn’t be coming back. I got the final word. My fortune said “I learn by going where I have to go.” I don’t know if all Chinese food eaters are readers of Roethke, but I was, and I knew this poem. I’d written a report on it in high school. And I could make all sorts of hand-wavey interpretations of it within this context, but it felt good to see something familiar.

I’ve got no wrap-up here except that writing this down is my symbolic “OK now that’s over with.” I wasn’t even there long enough to put it on a resumé. I have some vague concerns that maybe I am secretly unemployable, but they’re pretty low key. My dad had a Bob Dylan song he liked to sing a lot, more than anything parts of it are running through my head, and not always the same part.

P.S. I’m giving the laptop to my Drop-In Time intern. His parents said it’s ok.

more of the same, or is it

maroon screen saying "Hi I'm jessamyn,. I'm a Vermont Librarian. I can teach anyone to use a computer"

I was chatting with someone on Twitter the other day, as one does, and I checked out her website. It had the lovely spareness that I had been hoping to use on my own website. Better yet, it was in HTML which meant I could copy, alter, and use it (after asking, of course). So I redesigned the entryway to jessamyn.com and I’m pleased with it.

I’ve also been recommitting to my VT 183 project, wanting to visit all of Vermont’s libraries. I got jazzed and re-energized by the Vermont Library Conference (which is exactly what it’s supposed to do!) and went to five new libraries this week.

I’ve done a lot of legal stuff, from my day in court with Equifax which you can read about, to visiting the Vermont Attorney General’s office to talk about suing the recent managers of the local drive-in for defrauding the people in the town via Kickstarter, to updating my will. People who know me may know that I almost went to law school instead of library school. The structure of legal theory and thought appeals to me.

I’ve been able to get a lot of this stuff done because my teaching, public speaking, and related travel are wrapping up. And, for the rest of 2018, I am planning to not do much more of it. Not for any bad reason but for a few good reasons:

  • I’ve been overdoing it. I’ve been stressed out and for whatever reason (maybe grief, Jessamyn!) this same-old combination of things has not been allowing me to thrive.
  • I don’t have to, right now. I’ve got a stable, if low, income and I’m going to make that work for now.
  • I’ve had my head in the sand about global warming but the biggest thing I figured I could change in my life was not getting on any more airplanes. This isn’t a total overhaul, just a reminder to be more mindful about when I decide to travel and maybe doing it more for fun and less for work.
  • I’m throwing myself in to my hobbies and my neighborhood. This includes visiting more libraries, stepping up my work with the Vermont Library Association, joining the town’s Conservation Commission, and (my new announcement) joining the board of the Vermont Humanities Council

More to the point, I think my definition of “thriving” is going to include more community work and less get-money-for-Jessamyn work. I’m really lucky to be able to make this choice for a few months (or longer) and gosh is it lovely outside.

the road ahead

I have gone far too long without an update here. Blogs being what they are, I am certain this has not been a problem but usually I just fail to update because I’m busy or because I don’t have much to say. This time it was much more because I wasn’t sure how to say what I wanted to say. And I still don’t.

In short, I am fine and life is fine, but I made a decision to leave MetaFilter and do a few more things. Unlike leaving a shitty job where you wake up the next morning thinking “I did the exact right thing and why did I wait so long?” this one feels a bit weirder and I think I was putting off writing about it until I had that “This is totally right” feeling but now it’s occurring to me that I may never. It was not a shitty job and yet it was still time to go.

Anyhow, if you know me much at all or follow me on any other social media you know the story already. Revenue was way down, layoffs needed to happen. As employee #1 (after Matt) I had a choice to either continue working but in more of an “everyone works all the time” sort of way or move on and let someone else stay working there. The last eighteen months of working at MeFi had been, for me, difficult. We knew revenue was down, Google’s mechanisms were opaque, Matt didn’t want to tell the community about the problems, he and pb tried an awful lot of cost-saving measures but every so often there would be a “Things are looking worse than usual” email to the staff and continued discussions that the site might have to actually shut down or be sold. As Director of Operations–more of a title that I took when I also had to take a pay cut last year than an actual description of what I did–I offered a lot of suggestions and tried to keep staff morale up, but the final decisions were Matt’s to make. And it was hard, for a long time. And ultimately, as much as I loved the job, I had a few conflicting concerns…

1. I wanted to do more work with libraries. The MeFi job was pretty flexible, but the more public speaking I was doing the more I’d have to get coverage when I was away and the more I’d be working seven-day weeks including travel/speaking time. This was too much. AskMe is an amazing resource and I feel like I had a big hand in making it what it is but it’s not public and it’s not a library.
2. I was getting burned out. People who have done similar jobs know what this is like but I’d find myself looking at big fighty threads and just thinking that everyone was being awful (which, in truth, they may have been) and not wanting to wade into it to help sort it out. The community deserved better than that. Many of the other mods are better at not letting this stuff get under their skin so much. This was a good news/bad news thing. I think I was very good at my job because I cared so much about it, but it also took a lot out of me. And the meticulous attention to the work that I did may have been more than the site really needed. Maybe.
3. I was tired of covering. We’d been living with this news for nearly two years and I’d already nearly-resigned once. After the public announcements were made about the money problems and the layoffs, the community responded incredibly positively and started donating a ton of money to keep the lights on. This was, for me, incredibly gratifying but also sort of a bitter pill since it was a thing I’d wanted to do much earlier in the game, when I was still around. We’d launched a mod-intensive subsite a month before we were announcing that we were laying people off. I love the subsite, I thought the timing of the move was a mistake. But I think more to the point, I was tired of being one of the main public faces of a site where I wasn’t calling the shots, and disagreeing with some of the shots. Matt’s a wonderful guy as a person, he has some shortcomings as a boss. I’m certain I have some shortcomings as an employee. I really wanted to be in a workplace situation where I could work hard and get positive feedback for that work, or if not, feedback on how to improve. Instead I got paid well to work in a vacuum which was great but weird, mostly left alone but with occasional “Hey we’re going to make some big changes in 48 hours” emails. When Matt’s post on Medium about “the troubles” mentioned me only for my scheduling work, that stung. And made me think, more than anything else, that I was making the right decision. I needed MetaFilter to be less about me and I needed me to be less about MetaFilter.
4. I had a place to go. When the MeFi stuff started being difficult I decided I needed a hobby and I started a volunteer job over at Open Library helping do the support email there and beef up their FAQ, trying to make what had been a bit of a ghost ship into a live concern. As I was casting about thinking about what my Plan B was going to be, I asked them if they’d consider bringing me on and they said “Sure!” So I started a part time gig there a month before I left MeFi. Longer description of that here. And, since MeFi was such a good job for so long, I have a chunk of money in the bank so I don’t have to start scrambling for other work just yet.
5. I am aware this may sound snotty but I think I had sort of peaked at MeFi. I wasn’t sure there were new paths to explore there within the structure as it was and I didn’t see the structure changing. Ultimately I took the place from a Matt-and-sometimes-Jess place to a site with a staff of eight round-the-clock employees and a bunch of community-enhancing stuff (April Fool’s events, holiday swaps, music exchanges, the MeFi Mall, a user-built wiki with full podcast transcripts) better than any place else operating at a similar scale. A place where you could read the comments and not be appalled at how terrible “internet people” can be. A place where even if you did have a bad day, you’d have a chance for a better one. A place that was a good place to work as well as a good place to hang out, for the most part.

So it worked out. MetaFilter did right by me and I think I did right by MetaFilter. I’ve committed myself to not starting to look for other work until the summer starts winding down. I’ve been keeping up on my public speaking and redesigned my “Hey you might want to hire me” site and it looks really nice. I’ve taken over the Twitter accounts for Open Library and the Vermont Library Association and I’ve recommitted myself to reading books as if it were my job (check the reading list). I’ve been pruning the junipers at my dad’s place a lot these past few days and realizing that my grandmother (who used to do this a lot) may have really had something there.

And MetaFilter? It’s still my internet home and I’m still there a lot of the time, but being there because I want to be is a whole different kind of being there, and one that I like a lot.

my world of work and money

2010income1

I think I usually make this post around tax time, but I kept good track of money stuff last year (thanks Excel, and USAA website) so it’s easy enough to make now. Without giving actual numbers, this is where my income came from last year. Nothing too surprising except that the library sliver is teeny. Interestingly, it’s not that I worked so much less at the library on an hourly basis but that the jobs pay so much worse. Working at the library pays about 30% of what working at the high school pays. I decided that my library job was going to be my public service work for last year, so I donated all the money I made working at the library directly to the food bank. I’ll probably do the same this year.

My MetaFilter job now comes with health insurance, a 401K and all those other “normal job” perks. It’s a little strange to have a job that is largely invisible to most people, but I muddle through. I passed my five year mark at the new year and got a gold star next to my username as recognition. And then some random MetaFilter person sent me a pen set anyhow.

I’m trying to do less travelling for work this year, something I did fairly successfully last year. I’ve got two trips to Austin and one to Connecticut lined up. I’ve picked up a few more volunteer jobs, possibly against my better judgment. I’m teaching some classes for the Vermont community broadband project. Natural fit, right? Unfortunately, there’s this reinventing the wheel aspect to the whole thing that I find maddening, I’m trying to be the change I want to see in technology instruction, but it’s an uphill climb. I’m reminded of one of the inside jokes we have on MetaFilter, when you see yourself (or someone else) again doing that same old thing that drives them crazy and expecting different results….OH LOOK SISYPHUS THERE GOES YOUR ROCK AGAIN. I’m also the web editor for the VT 251 club which has so far been delightful.

My book (available April 30th) which has so far paid absolutely nothing is in the copy-editing stages. Like all nerdy types, I’m not really a gracious editee but I’m doing my best to just power through it and not turn into a fussy irate special snowflake dork. It’s going okay.

Holidaytime wound up okay which I attribute to my decisions to make tiny presents for people and to bring slice and bake cookies everywhere I went. Could it be that simple?

down/up with this sort of thing!

So as a result of the post-holiday morass, I haven’t done other wrap-ups or much else. I had a week of good sleep and getting ready for work and then I woke up with the sniffles and was like “Oh THIS again” but it seems to be mostly at bay. Works going fine. I quit my job at the library. You can read about that decision over at librarian.net. I still feel pretty weird about it. I’m sort of at a point where if I make a big decision in my life, I’m likely to have a bunch of people being supportive (see librarian.net comments). This is lucky for me, I’m fortunate to have a large peer group of people who mostly like me, and yet it’s hard when I’m doing something that feels wrong. I wonder if they’d tell me if I was screwing it all up? Maybe I can’t screw it all up.

Unlike in the past where I’ve had a chart about swimming, last year I switched to a more maintenance approach to exercise. That is, I do it for mood balancing and if I feel I have been slacking in the fitness department, but not in the same auto-competitive way as years past. I also started running. I know, weird right? I had always assumed I couldn’t really run, both because of my mild asthma and also my “loose ankles” which means I was always spraining them. Some combination of years of swimming and better footwear seems to have mostly fixed this. I now trod along on the treadmill sometimes instead of swimming. I like this because I can listen to music and the time commitment is less and my pulse races higher. I can do a mile in 13:22. I am aiming for 12:00, for starters. Kelly’s been good at setting me up with some good habits and now I’m sort of motoring along on my own.

As a result of this, I had to buy sneakers. Since I’m paid something like adult-level wages now — and we got healthcare and assorted benefits with my job at MetaFilter this year — I figured I should invest in some decent clothes. So I now have a new winter vest, new sneakers, new “snow clogs” and a few sharp-looking pairs of second-hand pants. I agonize over spending money like this, but less than I worry about becoming some crazed Hetty Green type person, so sometimes I shop.

A few more things you should know:

– As a result of rejiggering my morning routine, I have now created a slot for brushing my teeth and do it every day. I’m dumbly proud of this, as well as embarassed that it took me this long to figure out how to do this.
– I have decided that if I’m going to eat soup every night [I love soup!] like some rooming house hotplate owner, I could at least make it myself. So there’s been some cooking going on. Man… soup!
– I’ve got a caretaker in Topsham who is paying (a little bit of) rent and that seems to be working nicely for both of us.
– The plan for this year is much less travelling-for-work. We’ll see how that goes. More to the point, I feel that there was some aspect of me that enjoyed scooting around and overprogramming myself because I was concerned about having downtime, maybe being bored? I have decided that I am never bored (even in the absence of the internet) and have set out to prove that with more opportunities for doing what my Dad calls “the nothing” We shall see.

how do I get a job like yours?

I’m on my way to the SXSW Conference in Austin Texas. This will be the third time I’ve gone. The first time was in 2000 and I met my boss and co-worker there, though I didn’t know it at the time. The second time was last year and I gave a little presentation about being a community moderator for a job. As I mentioned in this photo on Flickr — and I’m working on a longer post about the topic for librarian.net — I culturally identify as a librarian, whatever that means, but being a community moderator (or Chief of Operations when I’m sounding fancy) is what pays the bills and is the bulk of my income. It also keeps me in computers and free Internet when I travel but I’m one of those folks who loves what they do so I could probably get paid in sand and still be doing this.

It’s only been lately, really, that you could say “Oh I ‘run a community’ for my job” and have people know what you meant. Back in the day AOL had people who sort of kept track of what was going on in chatrooms and had some admin privileges but nowadays if you interact with any website that allows you to post or comment or rate anything, chances are there’s someone like me behind the scenes making sure it goes smoothly. The panel is going to be talking a little bit about that: what does it mean to do this sort of thing as a job, or even a career? I’ll be on the panel with people from Flickr, YouTube, CurrentTV and Etsy, all big name sites. I’m sort of the small potatoes person. MetaFilter was a community before any of those sites existed, but it’s stayed pretty small (relatively) and texty and off of people’s radar. That said, Matt Haughey who runs the place has been doing some form of community moderation since 1999 which is the Stone Age in Internet time.

People often ask how they can get a job like mine. Sometimes that means running a website, sometimes it means doing public speaking stuff, sometimes it means rural public librarian stuff, sometimes it’s teaching email to old people. The way the crazy swinging mobile of my work-life arrangements work, it would be hard for me to do any one of these things without the other three (though I do think about it) and my advice often turns into some hippie-dippy “follow your bliss” combined with “don’t get into debt so you can work for cheap while you wait to get paid well for being good at what you do” The last bit of advice I have is “You don’t want my life” Not that it doesn’t work well for me, it does, but when I talk about what’s really involved in keeping all these balls in the air (lots of travel, lots of online time, lots of multitasking, lots of new faces and places, lots of diplomacy, lots of apologizing for me and for others, lots of late nights) it’s really rarely other peoples’ idea of a good time.

I tend to re-configure these questions into something more like “How can I live where I want and do what I want while feeling like I’m having some sort of positive effect in the world?” and that’s the question I try to answer. I’m looking forward to hearing what the other panelists have to say about similar questions.

The two day work week

I got moo cards

A friend asked me how my “work downsizing” project was going and I reflected that it’s going pretty well. I looked at my calendar from last semester and realized I was working more, enjoying it less and not doing the sorts of work I wanted to be doing because I felt like I was so busy doing the work I should be doing. That had to change. It mostly did.

I kept most of my travelling work because I enjoy that a great deal, but I set things up so that I’m not coming back from a long trip just to go back to work the next day. I’m also not on call for as much tech support. I also say “no” more often. So I travel a few times a month, alternating between local and farther away. I charge more so I get paid better when I do travel and if the trip is a total nightmare (happens less and less often, but travel is always uncertain) I at least feel well-compensated. I trimmed down my drop-in and teaching days to one a week. Seems like almost none but teaching adult learners is a lot of work and this way drop-in time is full, rarely empty. I’m also a real librarian, sort of.

I’m helping a local library automate their collection of about 8000 books. I’m also doing their website and maintaining their computers. I have a job with librarian in the title but I’m not working with patrons, unless they bring their laptops in. I do that one day a week, sometimes a little more at home.

This month is vacation for a lot of the local students so I’m also lifeguarding at the pool. It’s just barely work to sit in an 85 degree room in the sunshine for a few hours but they do pay me. Add to this that my apartment is pretty much set up the way I like it — so I’m not endlessly re-arranging and can just sit and BE here — and I’ve actually got travel for fun scheduled during the holidaytimes when travel for work drops off.

Though I haven’t mentioned it much here lately, the treehouse has a guestroom, or a guest closet, and another spare bed. People cruising through Vermont won’t get quite the same palatial digs they may have gotten used to over the past five years, but this place also comes with no early risers and a barely used Bananagrams game. I’m expecting the WinterWonderland snowdump any minute now — had a little preview on Sunday as I was coming home — otherwise see you in the Springtime!