Monday, July 21, 2014

Career Changes Cometh

As we all know at this point, one of the big end-game goals of the Growing Up After 30 initiative is the goal of shifting from a McJob, into a career I really care about.  In my particular case a career in the IT industry.  I started my trek by studying for, and passing, the CompTIA 220-801 and 220-802 for my A+ certification.  The theory being that a degree in computer science (like a lot of bachelor's degrees) is highly over-rated.  I figured that a few certifications, a little experience, and some good professional connections would be just as useful, if not more so.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Spring Re-Cap

For obvious reasons, this blog went off to the wayside for quite a while.

Most of last winter, frankly, sucked.  Loss, emotional upheaval, and generally, life. However, despite my well laid plans going awry along with the best of them, life moves on.  My life in particular, has moved on at a heck of a clip through the end of last Winter and Spring.

In honor of all that life going on, I thought it seemed like a good time for a Spring re-cap as we approach the official start of Summer.  (June 21st this year if anyone cares)

Once the new year rolled around, in the wake of our loss, my wife and I redoubled our efforts in searching for a new home, and in fact, as I type this, I'm sitting in our new home.  As it would happen, I'm sitting in an actual office while my wife watches a movie in the living room.  (She may or may not be watching Wreck-It Ralph, and I may or may not pause for 90 minutes to go watch it with her.  I admit nothing)

A lot of folks will tell you that you shouldn't make big life decisions while grieving. The standard line being something along the lines of not having a clear head while overwhelmed by emotions and so on. To be honest, I can't argue.  There were moments along the way when I hesitated, wondering if we were rushing, buying at the wrong time, or just buying the wrong house. As it turned out, we ended up in a home we're very happy with, for which we paid a good deal less than the appraisal, and well within what we can afford.

The home buying process is more than a little nightmarish for the uninitiated.  I'm told, by every person I know who has ever bought a house, that our purchase process went quite fast.  31 days from our initial offer to keys in our hand.  All I can say to those people is, "thank God, because I'd have lost my mind if it took 6 months."

If I could give you one piece of advice before you begin the home buying process it would be this: buy a decent quality scanner, and make sure that both you and your spouse know how to print, sign, scan and email back.  One of my coworkers bought a house recently, and instead of scanning and emailing, she and her fiance ran back and forth across town every time the mortgage broker needed another piece of paper, which happens more often that most people use the toilet.

In short, buying a home is an awful lot of work. Granted, we can watch a movie, listen to music, work, exercise, and generally enjoy our lives without having downstairs neighbors pound on their ceiling because we made half as much noise at they make every Friday night.  No more pot smoke wafting up from the next balcony down, no more incessant road-noise.

Most importantly, space.  Blessed, wonderful, we're terribly grateful for it space.  We have a modestly sized home on a very small lot, but it's so much more space than either of use has had in years that it feels like being freed.  We've actually had a dinner party with two other couples.  In our old apartment, if we'd wanted to have 4 adult guests, plus their kids, join us for dinner we would have had to set up a table in the apartment building's parking lot.

Of course, I also have a sunburn at the moment because... well...

...because I'm bald....

...but also because while buying a house is a lot of work, it's nothing compare to owning one. Today I mowed, edged, repaired a broken sprinkler line, replaced a hose-bib (which I may or may not have been the one to break in the first place), fertilized the lawn, pulled weeds, sprayed other weeds, attempted (with a success rate of 1:4) to repair some LED garden lights, and unearthed half of a flagstone patio that the previous owners had allowed to be swallowed by dirt and ground cover.

All of which is wonderful.

Seriously.  It's pretty great.

Despite appearances to the contrary, such as my love of computers and the size of my pants, I'm really not an indoor kid. Spending an hour pulling up weeds or mowing the lawn is just about heaven for me.

I know a few folks who resent every minute they spend working on their homes.  One coworker in particular comes to mind, and it's no coincidence that in the same conversation in which he tried to tell me that buying a house was the biggest mistake of his life, he also told me how awesome Grand Theft Auto 4 (4?, 5?, 27?,  who can keep track?)  Honestly, people, you don't need any video game that has, "hooker mode," as a feature.  I can admit that I occasionally spend a little time now and then playing video games, but you can rest assured that none of the video games I play provide you with the option of hiring a hooker, and then give you the choice of either paying said hooker, or dragging her out of the back of your stolen car and beating her with a bat.  Congratulations to Rock Star Games, for lowering the lowest common denominator of modern society by making a popular video game franchise that revolves around committing crime, and has the option of creating a character who is a modern day jack the ripper.

Anyway, enough of that rant for this week...

One of the big pieces of the puzzle for anyone who is trying to Grow Up™, is of course, their career. Only days after one of the most heartbreaking events in either of our lives, my amazing wife started a new job working for the Department of Human Services. It's not an amazing, fun-filled, challenging, ideal career sort of job, but it's a foot in the door of a place where she can eventually do fulfilling work that matters.  It was a small, but very worthwhile, step back in terms of pay, placing her on a much better path.  Now that she's there, there are an awful lot of very promising doors waiting to be opened.

That brings me to last piece to address in my spring re-cap: my ongoing quest to find myself in a better career. Sadly, the only success I can claim is that nothing in my working life is any worse than it was 5 months ago.  Amazingly, when you stack up multiple major life events, it can be a little tough to find the necessary motivation to make the big changes for a little while.

Of course, I've got plenty of motivation at the moment.

First, I've hit the salary cap for my position.  It's one of the down-sides of being hired well above the usual starting pay for a position; you're that much closer to the salary cap. So, instead of annual raises, I get a tiny token-bonus each year.  Yay me.  Of course, I've had some excellent nudges.

I've been working on a project at work which is so far above my pay grade, that it truly is a joke.  My Assistant Manager wanted a tool for tracking a variety of pieces of information about our group sales for the hotel.  Not a terribly complex sort of job if you have the right tools, so I told my Assistant Manager that I really needed MS Access to get the job done, and she passed it along to IT. To make a long story short (too late, I know), the IT manager refused, because it wasn't a necessary tool for me to get my job done.

You see, there's something in the IT industry called the "principle of least access."  The concept is pretty simple, and on paper, it makes a lot of sense.  The basic idea is that you give each employee the very least amount of access that will allow them to get their job done.  For example, if you have an employee who doesn't need any more internet access than the ability to communicate with your credit card processing company at a specific address over a specific port, then you can lock out the entire internet except for that one connection, and more or less eliminate the risk of getting a virus from the web.

The trouble with that principle however, is that once a company gets over a certain size, usually when you start having people working in IT with terms like "Manager" or "Director" in their title, there's a good chance that the person making the decision about what exactly is the "least access" that will allow you to do your job, generally has no clue what you really need.

If you find yourself in a position like I'm in, where I'm overpaid for my official title because the position I'd really fit doesn't exist, you can get yourself into a place where the person deciding what you can and can't have access to, not only fails to understand what your official job really needs, but totally fails to understand what you need in the real world.

So, having been refused access to Access, I wrote a program in Excel VBA (yes, that is actually possible.  Bizarre, and in no way the most efficient way to do things, but possible).  It uses VBA userforms and scripting to completely hide any and all traces of excel, and uses a separate workbook, with all the data hidden of course, as a database.  Granted, a remotely competent user could have created the same functionality in MS Access in a fraction of the time, but there it is.

On showing my first serious draft of this 'program' to my supervisor, she commented that it was ridiculous that I still worked there, because I'm way too smart for that job, even for what they're paying me.

When your boss tells you that you're under-employed, that's pretty much game-over.

Monday, January 27, 2014

1 in 5 should not be taboo.

For my readers who are friends or family, you're likely already aware of why my big push forward with the Growing Up After 30 blog fizzled after Christmas, but those who only know me by my blog couldn't be aware.  Shortly before Christmas, I announced that my wife and I were expecting our first child, and I'm sad to say that in the early morning hours of New Year's Eve, at 3 months along, we lost the baby.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The real Santa

Most folks who know me, know that if you catch me in the right mood, I can tell quite the story. Today, I'd like to tell one of my very favorite stories.

Favorite, and true.  

This is the story of the time I got to meet the real Santa Claus.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Spawn of blogger

The best piece of news I've had all year, is also one that I haven't shared here on my blog. Despite the wonders of our beloved pseudonymous internet, there's some things you don't want to share online until your friends and family know about it.

One of those is when your wife is pregnant.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The high cost of living (in a house)

This week's life improvement project has been working with a mortgage broker to get a pre-approval letter so we can start house hunting in earnest.  We've finished the initial application process, and we're waiting for the great and powerful Underwriters to send word to us through the kind and benevolent Mortgage Broker.

It's been a fascinating experience, and I've learned a huge amount about the process. For instance, I always thought that the biggest obstacle to home ownership was down-payment funds, or possibly your credit score.  It turns out that I was wrong entirely.

Monday, December 2, 2013

A week of successes

Welcome, friends and neighbors, to the Correct Direction™.

I mentioned last week that I was on my way to take my CompTIA 220-802 exam, which was the second and final exam required for my CompTIA A+ certification.  First, I'm happy to report to anyone who doesn't know, that I passed with a score of 95.5%, and I am now a CompTIA A+ Certified Professional.

By itself, the CompTIA A+ certification is not terribly useful.  Well, it's useful, but it's not a free ride.  It shows perspective employers that I have a basic level of competence, which will help to get my foot in the door, but that's about it.  Most will still expect some verifiable experience. For now, I plan on enjoying the holidays, and digging into our next big goal, which is getting out of this apartment. (more on that in a minute) I'll also be taking a look at the CompTIA Network+ certification, but that one may be a more realistic goal with a bit more working experience.

In any event, come first of the year, I plan on making the rounds to local churches and other non-profits that may not have a lot of budget for IT support, and offering up my services free of charge, asking that they provide a letter of reference if they felt I was helpful and deserving of their recommendation. It's a nice way to get something that looks like experience, while also helping the community.  That's two very good things.

Now, I mentioned that our next goal was getting out of this apartment.  My wife and I have been saving, and have just about enough saved up for a down payment.  Not a 20% down, no PMI, 'ideal' down payment, but at least enough to get into a starter house.  As a matter of fact, I spent some time talking to a mortgage broker today, so with any luck, we'll be in our first home within just a couple of months.  The scary part is the mind bending number of options.  There's FHA, conventional, USDA (if we want to move out of town), we can use the small amount we have for a down payment or we can pull out some 401k money (I know, Dave Ramsey would throttle me for considering it) and give us a much larger down payment, which means a better loan and lower monthly payment, but the risk of terrible tax penalties.

None the less, I now have a widely respected entry level IT certification, our finances are well under control, and we're rapidly approaching home-ownership.  I've even trimmed off a few strips of bacon this week. That's all kinds of win.

Sadly, buying our own home will mean saying goodbye to some things.  I'd like you to join me, as you read this week's blog post, in a moment of silence for all the things we'll be missing once we've moved to a house of our own, such as:

  • Neighbors smoking pot under our balcony
  • Neighbors playing their music at 1:00am, so loud that it shakes the floor of our apartment
  • Neighbors having screaming matches when they walk in on their cheating girlfriend with another guy. (admittedly, that one really was kind of entertaining)
  • Neighbors walking out into the parking lot wearing boxer shorts and carrying a shotgun to menace other neighbors who won't stop their screaming match in the parking lot at 2:00am
  • Neighbors getting into a 'who can bang on the walls harder' match with each other because I walked too quickly and they were able to hear the footsteps
  • Neighbors underneath us
  • Neighbors we share walls with
  • A prime view of the busiest and loudest street in town
*begin moment of silence*

*pick nose*

*inspect findings*

*end moment of silence*

Yeah...  ...that's long enough.

As I look at that list, I can't help noticing a pattern to the things I hate about this place.  Sometimes, a USDA loan on a house in the country suddenly starts looking like a better option.