Saturday, December 13, 2008

Eulogy for my job

A couple of weeks ago I lost my job. (Don't tell my mum, she'll freak out!)

I've had my dream job at the best web design company in New Zealand for three years now. And December 31 will be my last day. Except that, as we break up for the Christmas holidays on December 19, that day will be my last. It's only a week away now. One more week of working with the best group of people you could ever hope to meet. One more week at the best job ever. One more week hanging out with folk I see as family. One more week.

Ironically enough, I saw it coming when many others didn't. It started small. The cancellation of the annual hui. The slow move from nice expensive chocolate biscuits in the kitchen to crappy cheap ones that no-one likes. A progressively smaller selection of eats at Friday night drinks. The automatic response of "sure you can" is somehow not forthcoming when you ask about going to next year's Webstock. And of course there's the workload. Because that's what it's all about in the end, isn't it?

You sit there at your desk for a couple of days thinking "Uh oh! I have no work to do today..." So you do all your filing. And then you sort all your emails into the 'completed by job' folders you set up ages ago and never seemed to have the time to fill before. And then you twiddle your thumbs a bit and make the next task last a bit longer by taking a few extra cigarette breaks and making yourself a fresh cup of coffee every 10 minutes. And then you finish that and twiddle your thumbs some more while doing online research into the latest developments and innovations in web design to keep yourself busy.

And you know.

You know the inevitable is coming.

There are three reasons why I didn't jump ship when I saw the water rising three months ago.

Firstly because I was pretty much in denial - or at least, the decision-making part of my brain was in denial. The logical behavioural scientist "I have seen this pattern before. In my experience A + B = C. I see that A + B are in place, therefore I believe C is likely to happen again" could see it all quite clearly. But the logical dude in my brain got overruled by the "I have my fingers in my ears! Lalalala I can't hear youuuuuuu" dude. *sigh*

Secondly I really really hoped it wouldn't be me. Because of course if it were me making the decisions, I wouldn't have picked me. Duh. That is so obvious on about 5 different levels of obviousness :)

And thirdly because I really really love my job and I really really love the company I work for and I really really love the people I work with. And how can you just leave all that behind on a hunch?

So I didn't leave. And now I have to leave anyway.

Redundancy sucks.

It makes you feel like such a... loser. Even though you tell yourself (and everyone else tells you) that it's not personal, it kindof is really, isn't it? I mean, someone picked you and not the other guy, didn't they?

[UPDATED 15/12/08: I want to be clear here - I mean the random other guy in any situation like this - because my "other guy" absolutely ROCKS and I love him dearly - Dom - you totally rule and I only wish I could carry on working alongside you. You're an inspiration.]

But you know what? Thinking like a loser isn't going to get me anywhere. It really isn't. I have to pick myself up, dust myself off... and at the risk of sounding like a 1930s Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movie - I need to start all over again.

I need to look at my strengths - and acknowledge my weaknesses. I need to figure out how to eliminate those weaknesses and diversify. My jQuery could be better - although I'm learning fast, and I write my own stuff rather than borrowing it all from elsewhere - it's the best way to learn. I know I'm shit-hot at HTML and CSS - but maybe I've been resting on my laurels for a bit too long. If I need to teach myself PHP next, then that's what I'll do.

Working in the web industry has always been like that, and it's something I've always valued. When I started designing and building websites way back in 1996 there were virtually no courses you could do beyond a brief introduction to HTML. I did that intro course and raced through the exercises ahead of the teacher as I realised this was something that really really appealed to me - and which I might just be really good at...

But after that, you were pretty much on your own. So we 'Viewed source' like crazy and figured it out by ourselves. "How did they do that?" we'd wonder - and then we'd go look at the code and work out how to do it.

It was still the same three years ago when I got my break at my dream web design company. At the time it seemed like everyone else was beginning to grapple with pure CSS, and I was still building tables-based websites. I had an initial interview for a contract job which went OK, but I knew that I really had no idea what I was talking about, and that my CSS skills weren't up to their requirements. I went away feeling really bummed out, and assumed that I'd completely blown my one and only chance with them - but a couple of weeks later I got a call asking if I'd be available for another contract interview in three weeks' time.

I spent those three weeks teaching myself pure CSS, and rebuilt my own website as a pure CSS site, instead of the old table-based layout. At the interview I showed them what I'd achieved - and I got the contract. I was in!!!

Brian - thank you for being my mentor on that first project. The learning curve was so steep it was pretty much an inverse slope, but you were endlessly patient with me, and helped me out so much - I can never thank you enough. The best piece of advice you gave me? "Stick border: 1px solid red; around it and see what's going on". I still use that technique today. Thanks dude.

The company that Selwyn lovingly created, and the family he first brought together whenever-it-was is still going strong, but it's a tough world out there at the moment. The economy's crapped out, no-one's spending money, all government work has been on hold for pretty much the whole year. It only takes a couple of delayed contracts and all of a sudden the tightrope you're walking between sufficient work / sufficient people turns into not enough work / too many people, and you have to let some of them go.

My fellow adventurers - Sue, Rosie and Rene - have been awesome. We've gone through the stages of grief together (albeit at different speeds).

I got through Denial pretty quickly - probably because that was the state I was in before it happened. At our initial meeting I lost the plot completely, sobbed all the way through and had what I can only describe as an attack of the vapours as I freaked out at the possibility of losing my house.

I had moved into Anger by the end of the meeting (the rubbish bin will never be the same again!) and then I spent a week in Bargaining, as I tried to figure out ways to persuade them to keep me on. Fortunately I managed to stamp out the tiny flickering flames of hope in my soul before they delivered their final verdict on our collective fates, and then I began to move towards Acceptance, via the occasional detour into Sadness.

Actually sadness has appeared and disappeared throughout the whole process - I cried at the drop of a hat during the first few days, and it's been a pretty strong force again over the last couple of days. Rene went back to Germany yesterday and I had a little weep as I hugged him goodbye, which caught me rather by surprise.

And today - well, I really wasn't looking forward to today.

We had our Christmas party this evening - and farewell drinks had been arranged for us beforehand. It was something I'd really wanted - I wanted to say thank you to everyone and acknowledge their kindness over the past 19 days, and I wasn't averse to the four of us receiving a public thank you for all our hard work either. But when it came to it, I was really scared I was just going to break down and cry all over the place, and I really didn't want to do that. I wanted to get through my speech, dammit!

Well you know what? It wasn't quite as bad as I had feared. Viv said some lovely things about all of us, and then Rosie did a very jolly and upbeat speech which had everyone smiling. And then it was my turn. I got a bit wobbly in the middle, but I managed to say everything I'd wanted to say without completely losing it. Hooray!

Last but not least came Sue, and she did us proud by tearing up pretty much as soon as she began, and then crying all the way through what she was trying to say. And you know what? That was really fucking cool, because it shows without any artifice how we're all feeling right now.

Because we all love our jobs, and we love our workmates, and we love the company and everything it stands for. We love the level of excellence that we collectively strive for every day. We love what we create as a team. We love hanging out together, and working together, and laughing at and with each other. And we especially love the celebration of intellect and inspiration that the company has always encouraged, and which I hope it will always continue to value and develop.

Anita, April, Bindy, Brendan, Brian, Dom, Franc, Frances, Hayden, Jen, Jonny, Jozef, Laura, Matt, Megan, Nikki, Peti, Selwyn, Sophie M, Sophie S, Thomas, Tone, Viv and Woody - YOU ALL ROCK!

I know the last couple of weeks haven't been easy on you either, and I just want to let you know how much I appreciate your support and kindness. I know it's pretty much impossible to know what to say in these kinds of situations, so thank you all for making the effort to say something, or email me a note, or give me a hug. It really means a lot.

Auckland dudes - sorry we didn't get to meet up this year - I was looking forward to the madness. Hope you all get to go next year instead. Thanks for all the FunStuff - and especially to Marshall and Andrew Z - your comments crack me up on a daily basis. I'll miss you.

Sue and I were discussing how to avoid using the dreaded "R" word in job applications. It's so depressing. We eventually came up with "Due to the economic squeeze, the company is downsizing and I am looking for new challenges" - which made us laugh but which we both rather liked. So much more up-beat.

I'm no longer going on my Obama Inauguration trip to DC in January, which totally sucks, but Sue and I are having an inauguration party at my house instead. We're planning to wear our warmest clothes, we'll open all the windows and hope it's a cold day, and we're going to huddle together in the middle of the living room and pretend we're in the middle of a crush of 4-5 million people while we watch it all on TV instead. Lady pee bottles at the ready!

It sucks to be looking for a job at this time of year, and especially this particular year. But hey - I have asked the Universe to provide, and because I believe it always will, it is already beginning to do so.

Tom and I have a number of leads for contract work early in the New Year, and I'm confident that at least some of them will pan out. I'm also hopeful that in a few month's time we might even be able to do some work back at the old dream company. You never know!

So here's my pitch. I guess you knew that was coming, right?

I've been designing and building websites for the past 12 years. During that time I've worked on virtually every aspect of the web design process from scoping, IA and wireframing through design to HTML/CSS, JavaScript and preparing sites for integration into a range of CMSs. I'm highly motivated, logical, creative, focused and determined. I give 110% to everything I do (I'm a perfectionist) and I love my job as much today as I first did 12 years ago. Every day I wake up happy to go to work because, to me, it's the best job in the world.

I have kick-ass HTML/XHTML and CSS skills and have never yet met a design I couldn't build. I know usability, accessibilty and e-govt guidelines inside and out, and believe that every website should be accessible to everyone - so that's how I build them. I validate and test my websites across a wide range of browsers, and build pixel-perfect renditions of the original design, whatever the browser. I'm the best bug-fixer I know, Holly and Big John are my heroes and I am proud to write my blog in a template designed and built by Doug Bowman.

If you are looking for an awesome contractor to do front-end HTML/CSS development for you, I'm your girl.

If you want someone who's at the top of their game with PHP as well, Tom St George and I can offer you a two-for-one deal. I do the HTML/CSS build, he does the PHP integration. We've been working together for the past three years and we really know our stuff.

If you want to talk to someone about designing and building you or your company a website, come and talk to us. We've worked on a few in our time (I estimate my total is now somewhere around the 150 mark).

We can work from home, or work at your place, and we're happy to do telecommuting too - wherever you are in the world, we can deliver.

Maybe you'd like to check out my website and see what I can do. I have included case studies on the majority of sites I've worked on over the past 12 years. My contact details are on my site. Here's Tom's online resumé too.

My dream job may be almost over, but I know there are new challenges, new adventures and new great places to work. I just have to find them.

We hope to hear from you soon.

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