Thursday, April 05, 2012

Defying Gravity (aka, doing something Cray-zy)

2012 has turned my life upside down. Mostly all positive. If you'd asked two months ago what my life would look like, there's no way I would have guessed.

In these last two months, I:
  1. [finally] decided to pursue my MDiv at seminary.
  2. launched a casting/extras casting company, booked background for several commercial shoots in the last couple weeks, just finished two nights of auditions for a theatre show, and also just got hired to book 100+ extras for a national TV show shooting here later in April.
  3. received an email from college roommate and good friend Ben, inviting me to apply for a position at Cray, the supercomputer company.
In your years of living you've no doubt encountered moments when you realize, "life will never be the same again." Change is happening. And ready or not, here it comes.

When I read Ben's email, I was intrigued. He's told me stories about Cray, that they're a good employer and he enjoys his job. I've even (very briefly) considered applying in the past, but the timing never seemed right.

It never seemed right because I'm comfortable working at Minnehaha. I know the system, I know the people, and I'm pretty awesome at my job. Why leave?

But ready or not, this opportunity was knocking at my door. So why not see what happens?

I sent Ben my resumé, he forwarded to his boss, and, less than 6 days after Ben's initial email, I had my interview.

During the interview I met with Blaine (my would-be boss), and Carl (another coworker who, up until now, has been doing the job they'd be hiring me to do, in order to take it off his plate). Both were friendly, and I felt comfortable, as much as one can in an interview, I suppose.

I've only had one "real" job interview (for another IT position), and that was more than a year ago, so I didn't really know any tips or tricks except to be myself. And send a hand-written thank-you note afterward. I thought, "surely they'll have better candidates, but one of my goals for 2012 was to have at least one interview, so if nothing else, I'm crossing that off my todo list."

The job description itself, in non-techy-speak: test a bunch of programs with a bunch of other programs, see how (or if) they work together, document it, and let the programmers know what might be a bug that needs fixing. As my interviewers put it, the job is 80-90% testing/documenting, and 10-20% maintaining a website where clients can read the results.

The down-side: this 80% involves a considerable amount of UNIX/Linux server administration, which, while not completely foreign to me, is not my strongest strength. The plus-side: they reassured me that, if I were hired, they could train me on that 80%, whereas it's harder to find someone who's got experience and creativity on the 20% web portion.

I felt good about the interview: I cited specific examples of my problem-solving ability - writing different scripts at MA that integrated with our Open Directory, and later with Google Apps, and how I had no knowledge going in, learned everything on my own, and problem-solved some very complex issues. It felt wonderful bragging about myself in a not-really-bragging sort of way.

I asked lots of questions about the job - found out it's part-time contract work, not benefits-eligible - and in total spent about two hours with Blaine and Carl. They said they needed to interview a few other folks the next week, so I wouldn't hear back for a while. In the meantime, I needed to total up my living expenses and give them a number of how much I'd like to get paid.

The problem is, if they were to offer me the job, I'd essentially have three jobs on the table: Minnehaha, Cray, and Casting. There is time in my day for any two, but not all three. Given that Casting won't be going away, if I were to be offered and accept a position at Cray, it would need to offer enough to replace Minnehaha's paycheck, plus the health benefits, phone/internet service, etc, that the school covers. I threw out a number that seemed to work, Blaine emailed back, thanked me, and said they'd be in touch.

I put it out of my mind. No sense worrying about it until there's something to worry about.

Two Fridays ago, I got an email from Blaine: they'd chosen me. He was working with HR to draw up the contract, and I should expect an offer the following week.


Humbling, exciting, nerve-wracking, and at the end of the day, I convinced myself again, "don't worry about it yet." Because until I know what number they're offering, I can't make a decision: if Cray offers less than what I need to cover expenses, then that would be an easy decision; otherwise, I'll deal with it when I actually have facts to ponder.

Monday came. No email from Blaine.

Tuesday, no email.



Here goes nothing. 8 page PDF with lots of information, NDA agreements, places to sign, etc. And the offer. The actual, real-life job offer.

They met my requested number.

Freak-out again! I practically ran out of the school building, nervously tapping at my phone. I needed help, advice, and I knew the two people I most wanted to talk it over with were my Aunt Lisa and Uncle Mark. When if comes to financial advice, I know few people I'd trust more.

Lisa picked up, I asked if they were free that evening, and then after work I drove down to talk it out. Two hours later, we'd worked through all the pros and cons. Actually, there really weren't any cons. I've long wanted to experience life outside of Minnehaha, I've even joked that "getting fired would be the best thing that ever happens to me," because it would force me to put myself out into the real world. Cray's offer will cover my expenses, even health insurance. If it works out and there's a full-time position that opens up later on, great, I'll have my foot in the door. If this job runs its course and the time comes to move on, great, I've got so many options open to me, from the corporate world to independent contracting, web development, maybe the casting company will become a full-time gig by then, or "worst" case I can apply at an Apple store (there's nothing "worst" about it, though - I'd love it). And worst-worst case, I'm forced to say to my parents, "I can't afford my rent payment this month," and they'll understand and work with me. I have the benefit of not buying my house from a bank that would foreclose on me. My absolute worst case scenarios are better than most of the world's best cases. Why am I afraid?

And again, looking at my last two months and what's changed, why worry about what life will look like in a year, when I don't even know what the next two weeks will bring?

After leaving Mark and Lisa's I went to my parents' and filled them in. They were supportive of my decision. Because really, I've thought pretty much everything through. No one can rationally accuse me of making a rash decision here.

I emailed Cray back Wednesday night to accept. Thursday afternoon I met with Merry, my boss at Minnehaha, to give her my two-weeks notice. She was amazingly supportive. Sad for the school, but supportive of me as a person. We talked about a transition plan, and how I didn't want to leave the school in a lurch. So I know I'll be back a little bit to help train in the new person when they hire him/her.

Over the last week I've met one-on-one with my tech team coworkers, and they've all been very supportive, too. A year ago I thought I was leaving to move to California, so in a sense, I worked through some pre-emptive mourning at that time. Still this experience is bittersweet, because let's be honest: this is a major life change for me. I've been employed at Minnehaha (at least part time) for almost 9 years, and it's become a home. It's not like I'll never be back - Cray's just over in St. Paul, and I'm not moving anywhere (though my commute does quintuple from 3 to 15 minutes). But I know life will be so incredibly different.

Not bad-different. Just, different.

To quote Elphaba, "Now it's too late for second guessing; too late to go back to sleep; it's time to trust my instincts, close my eyes, and leap!"

My letter to all Minnehaha employees:

Leaving home

In September 2001 a shy, introverted 10th grader came to Minnehaha Academy, and for eleven years, this community has been a home. As a student I remember bringing home trophies for the Debate team; as a student worker, I remember countless hours of tutelage from Peter, my mentor and predecessor; I remember walking through the chapel building when it was under construction; and I remember my heart-warming graduation/going-away-to-college party from the business office. These and so many more precious moments fill my mind when I think about Minnehaha.

Now it’s time to explore the next chapter in my life: I’ve accepted a position at Cray, the supercomputer company, to do some nerdy computer work, and I start there on April 16.

Minnehaha forever will remain part of me. And as I reminisce about these past eleven years, I’m also excited to hear news from the next eleven, and beyond. If I were to write out all my hopes and dreams for Minnehaha, they’d look something like this:

I hope that, as budgets continue to be cut, we won’t lose focus on The Student; I hope that activities benefitting The Student will continue in spite of financial burden and overall enrollment downturn. In the same vein, I hope every department and office will be creative in how we spend money, remembering that art supplies, music sheets, athletic equipment, or classroom desks and chairs, are just as important as office remodels and administrative restructuring.

I hope the capital improvements budget is allowed to replace the dying carpet around our buildings (especially the computer lab at North :), and that painters will continue to beautify our hallways, giving them a new, vibrant life.

I hope Minnehaha will launch a 1-1 laptop or iPad initiative for middle and high school students. Our school has the potential to be leaders in technology, but right now we’re just followers.

I hope to see more paperless classrooms and fewer printers.

I hope to see a deeper understanding of diversity: theological, skin, socio-economic, political, etc. I think too often we, myself especially included, think it’s “us” vs “them” - I would desire conversations to open up new perspectives, on all sides of all issues.

I hope Minnehaha will finally hire openly GLBT faculty members at both campuses, not only to grow diversity, but more importantly to start transforming Minnehaha into a truly safe space for questioning youth.

Most importantly, I hope Minnehaha continues to foster a community deeply rooted in our common faith, in which teachers, staff, and students continue to be blessed with opportunities to worship and pray with one another before our Most High God.

My deepest and most heartfelt thanks to those many coworkers who have supported me, brightened my day with your smiles, listened to my frustrations and joys, counseled and inspired me, both as student and more recently, as friend. My eyes are tearing up - I will miss you.

May the LORD bless you and keep you;
May the LORD make His face shine on you and be gracious to you;
May the LORD turn His face toward you and give you peace.

- Jeremy

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