Christmas Letter

Another Long gap in the updates. Since it’s that time of year again, I thought why not do it in the form of a Christmas letter?

I have just finished 8 final exams in 5 days, about this time last year I was getting laid off from my job in favour of some phillipino at 1/10th my salary. As soon as that job ended, a 3-month stint at a popular e-commerce conglomerate began. Armed with a chatroom system that could handle up to 4 clients at a time, I advised people on everything from minor password issues to selling their own breast implants online. The clients were weird, but for the promise of job security, full benefits, and 35,000 a year, I was willing to go through anything. After giving up the chance to see my niece’s first birthday and many, many odd shifts, they let me go on my day off. Canned twice in 4 months, and in front of my girlfriend, no less.

The most important lesson I learned this year is that the only way to make a living in this world is to manage change. Take for example, my parents. My mother is a geriatric nurse and my father an estate lawyer. By managing changes from young to old and living to dead, they’ve been able to afford a very nice lifestyle for themselves and their children. God help you if you are working on what’s already changed. Once change has happened in industry, the industry’s energies are directed to lowering costs, starting with their entry-level workers.

I had entered the IT industry on just such a cusp, when change had already occurred. Ever since the turn of the century, business tasks performed by computers had already become critical to business. Once businesses had figured out what they wanted to do with computers, the market focused on making them easier to handle. As the use of computers grew, the solutions to problems became standardized, and what was once handled by a $40,000 a year technical consultant could now be handled by $1000 a year call center agent in India. I was now like a laid off GM auto-worker, swept aside by technology and market forces. There was no chance to organize some sort of labor movement when companies laid you off within the space of a year.

Not too long after my inglorious exit from the call center beast it seemed willing to scoop me up again for light snack. A few of my friends from V-link had ended up at another call center ready to cure America of its internet woes. The interview was little more than a formality and the salary was comparable to my last job, but I still turned it down.

It was Charles J. Sykes that said “Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your grandparents had a different word for burger flipping. They called it opportunity.” Now, I don’t believe Mr. Sykes flipped burgers for one day in his life, much less worked in a call center like mine. He assumes that hard work is something that can’t be usurped by irresponsible people. Sure, I could’ve accepted that job, worked hard, and get laid off a year later for my trouble. I still would have been in that cycle, were it not for one person.

I finally mustered the courage to speak to Sara about 3 years earlier. Even though she was in a hurry to her last class, she was so much more attentive than anyone else I had tried to talk to. It also should go without saying that she is beautiful, intelligent, and kind. As we started dating, she would actually reward me for thinking for myself, taking risks, and trying to protect her. Essentially, she encouraged me to act like the man I already was. She stuck with me whenever I had to move to Vancouver for work or when I had to come back because I was laid off. Running teacher errands for her when I was home was the least I could do in return. I often thought about a future with her, and it always made me happy. I knew that it couldn’t happen if my professional life continued in this way. She deserved better.

I decided that the fastest way to a better job was to try to upgrade my education. It would have to be a program that would make the best use of the skills I learned in my Bachelor’s degree in Computer Information systems. My sister, Christy had suggested Geographic Information Systems, a technology she was making use of in her Master’s degree studies. A full time 1 year diploma was being offered at BCIT, one of the top Polytechnic schools in the country. A few friends of mine had gone there with limited success, so I was worried that I would not be able to get in. When the acceptance letter came, my course of action was clear. Using a California vacation as pretense, and a clever ruse by my friends as a means for surprise, I asked Sara to marry me on July 2, 2006.

School started at the beginning of September, and I was quite impressed by the program. It’s hard to procrastinate when you don’t have time to do so. 9 university level courses later, I can translate raw satellite data, perform elevation and bearing corrections, calculate a flood loss analysis, do a campaign round trip analysis, draw all kinds of maps, and that’s just the first semester! After this winter semester I’ll be doing some programming for a software company that deals with forensic geographic profiling. Catching bad guys with computers. I’d have to say that for now, that job would be managing change.