Sunday, April 24, 2011

Dispatches from Silicon Valley - My Week in Unemployment

Friday morning.  A week ago.  Got up, went to work.  By nine I was home again, without a job or an income.  The dark grey kind of déjà vu that leaves you gut punched, shoulders sagging and that voice in your head asking if you truly ever expected any other outcome.  I made another pot of coffee and stood, staring out the window, doing the one thing in the world I am the very best at - dwelling. 

How did it come to this?  Don't try to blame anybody else, you need to own this shit, buddy.  If you knew how to act like a regular person, like everybody else, if you were something other than this weird combination of eccentric granny and murderous biker you could function in the world with other people. But waitaminute - they hired me, didn't they?  Yeah, sure they did, but it sure didn't take 'em very long to figure out that mistake, now did it?.  Ok, fine, whatever.  Just what the HELL are you going to do now?

That's the question, ain't it?  I LIKED this job - well, no, let me try that again.  I like the idea, the product, the industry segment, the customers, the buzz.  It was exciting, and people were overwhelmingly willing to talk with me about their plans and requirements.  This is THE hot segment right now - they call it "Big Data".  The realization that if you could just capture all the data that went by, you could learn important things from it.  But that's a LOT of data.  But in the meantime, they were building Facebook and Twitter and Google and Flickr and YouTube - in essence figuring out how to deal with amounts of data that only existed in theory a decade ago.  As Gigabytes gave way to Terabytes that are now starting to be Petabytes, much of it in small snippets, messages and tweets and status updates and text messages and blog comments, metadata and location data and clickstreams, the biggest companies were having to invent entire new technologies to capture, store, index and analyze all this digital stuff.  Technologies like Map/Reduce and NoSQL, all resident in a set of robust open source communities figuring out how to scale up the web.  And it's captured everybody's attention, because they've been struggling with existing tools to keep up with the amount of data they have to deal with, not even considering the data they want to capture.

But ultimately, you have to do something, don't you?  It's paralysis that will kill you.  You can do something stupid, but the only way to ensure failure is to do nothing.  So I updated the old resume, sat down and called every company that we had considered the 'competition' in our segment.

A lot of what I actually DO for work is talk on the phone.  So I'm not much for phones on my own time.  I like email, and I tend to frustrate people by not answering the phone, then answering their voice mail by email.  So for the last several years, I have watched the iPhone and Android smartyphone revolution sweeping the world, I have kept my stupid little LG phone that really couldn't do anything other than be a phone, and I was happy.  But when I went back to work in December, the company issued me a Sprint EVO.  Damn.  Amazing - perfect voice recognition, Google maps, all three email accounts, NPR and BigR Radio, GREAT music player software, decent get the point.  I was hooked.  So after I had to turn it in I only lasted a couple days of pretty serious jonesing before I couldn't stand it another minute and went to Verizon and got the Droid X.  Frankly, the EVO was better, faster and friendlier, but all we're talking here is degrees of greatness.  I find it very painful to be away from my smartyphone for very long, even though I still don't use the phone part very much.  It's nice to take it to bed and check get the NPR hourly news summary whenever I wake up.  I think I'm in love with Lakshmi Singh.  

So it was while I was setting up my Google Calendar on the smartyphone that I noticed that I had tickets for the Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers show in San Juan Capistrano on Friday.  I bought them one night in February when I was drunk (as opposed, I suppose, to the night in February when I wasn't).  I had completely forgotten about it.  But here it was, a couple days away.  And me without an income. Ah well, it's better to spend a few hundred bucks than throw away fifty, right?  So I got up Friday morning at 4am and headed off to the South coast.  It's 430 miles, so it's an eight hour run.  I got in on Friday afternoon and went for a nice walk on the beach (I have a bunch more pictures, but you can see a few on here.)  The show was fantastic, but then, if you've seen Roger and the Boys play then you knew that, and if you haven't, well, I've never understood that kind of asceticism.  He is one of those very special entertainers that forms a powerful and emotional bond with the audience, and the band is so tight and polished that it looks entirely effortless, even as the love flows both directions, from the crowd to the stage, but also back from the band.  

The response from those companies has been positive in general, but once again its the same startup ethos and chaotic atmosphere as the previous, so I don't read too much into any of this so far.  But it's positive in its own right, and that sense of something positive sustains me into the second week.  

And it still makes me smile when it occurs to me that I don't have to go to that weird and oppressive place tomorrow morning...


  1. Good man. Fun is extraordinarily important, which is why I am indoors typing.

  2. hey man. I have so much to say on this post, and am only halfway drunk...

    but my son's team is participating in the World Championships of FIRST robotics in St Louis later this week, and I relate; I just got back from the Big ZombEazy, and have a few, meager clients looking for my few meager skills that I need to satiate before I make this a short week, and the Zombizzlemobile is in need of some maintenance and I have not so much in the bank, but later this week, good or ill, I am hitting the road for St Lou and damn them all, but I WILL get there....

    But I am remarkably moved by the fact you took my offhand comment about the Library to swing by and see what the reality was.

    And I will make it a point, in return, to check out Roger next time he swings by the frozen Tundra.

    Moar Latr.

  3. Well, upbeat and forward thinking is good! Roger Clyne. Good stuff. Some friends gave me a few tunes, and I dig it.
    Sounds like a good weekend.

  4. And it still makes me smile when it occurs to me that I don't have to go to that weird and oppressive place tomorrow morning...

    That's my main positive takeaway, as well.

  5. I have no useful advice to provide in the area of gainful employment, having only ever acquired one job in my life by way of a conventional job interview (and that's the job I can't talk about).

    Given my complete ignorance, it was probably inevitable that "consultant on recruitment needs" would become one of my occupations...

  6. The term originally referred to the region's large number of silicon chip innovators and manufacturers, but eventually came to refer to all the high-tech businesses in the area; it is now generally used as a metonym for the American high-tech sector.

  7. If you're looking for experts in ASIC design, I would get in contact with Swindon Silicon Systems who provide volume supply for analogue and mixed analogue/digital