I had originally intended on making many more posts as the challenge grew older. Life has a funny little way of throwing curve balls at even your best prepared plans, and as such, my attention had to be paid to more pressing concerns.
First, a little context. A huge government contractor has been paying my bills for the past 2 1/2 years, and has given me multiple opportunities to excel, learn, and grow my career in many areas of engineering and project management.
When I first set out to find my next rotation back in April, I had one very specific requirement: unclassified. Working in the division of my company that dealt specifically with spooks meant there were few easy transitions available. In fact, there were none. I was forced to look into different divisions, cold calling, and cover letter writing to get my foot in the door.
I found a rotation that seemed great. It was with the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), part of the National Institutes of Health. Joining the team meant I had to switch managers, locations, and accounting ledger systems. I was completely removed from ELDP, and off to finish out the program in Bethesda.
Legal Mumbo Jumbo
The NCBI contract is on a 5 year basis. Around 3 years ago, my company had bought the company that won this contract. Ever since, the company has been turning over management personnel every few months, to the point that everyone from the original management team had moved on.
I was made aware of this within my first week or two, and had known prior to rotating that the contract was coming up for rebid this fall. I wasn’t too concerned at the time, because I had (finally!) found a non-secret rotation!
I was reminded by a coworker of the impending rebid decision the Monday before the contract was supposed to end. It had completely slipped my mind, but I started preparing immediately for both good and bad outcomes. I can’t honestly tell you which outcome I thought was the “good” one and the “bad” one, as they flip-flopped for the next several days.
My company has not impressed me with winning contracts important to me. Sure, they can win humongous, multi-billion dollar proposals, but smaller contractors win the smaller contracts by being cheaper and more cost effective. That Thursday afternoon’s email announcement proved no exception. Our company lost, and I was stunned. Not with excitement, not with sadness, but with a haze of the unknown and uncertain futures for me and my colleagues.
In the email, it mentioned that the winning team of contractors would take on all current employees as their own, so as to not disrupt the NCBI operations. Well, that’s great. Nobody would be out of a job unless they chose to be.
The first and foremost thing I thought about was how did this affect my tuition reimbursement. There was absolutely no way I would be able to pay back $10,000+ in tuition assistance I had received in the prior 12 months, so until I got that question answered, I was completely in the dark.
And then there were those thoughts …
… those thoughts I had been ignoring …
… those thoughts that lead me to job postings with other companies …
… those thoughts that asked, “Why, if you’re so attached to the tech and consumer electronic industry, don’t you work in that area?” …
… those thoughts that asked, “What are the hotspots for tech jobs right now? Where would I be willing to move?” That one was easy to answer: New York City.
The Miraculously Good News
It took a while, but I finally heard back from our Human Resources department. Because our company did not win the contract, all employees were being terminated in the “End of Assignment” category, which is considered involuntary. Because it is involuntary, I would not have to pay back any tuition assistance money!
To the hunt!
While waiting to hear back from HR, I had written at least 6 cover letters and tailored my resume to a handful of companies. Perhaps it was a combination of my impatience and anxiety of not knowing my short-term future, I posted a generic Java Developer resume on Monster.com and CyberCoders.com.
Filling out their standard forms for candidates, I didn’t think twice about the information I was entering. I started receiving emails from tech recruiters noticing my contracting background and wanting me for DC jobs. I asked why I was receiving DC jobs when I had indicated I wanted to move somewhere else, to which I received one lonely reply: “Because the zip code in your profile is in the DC area.”
That’s pretty easy to fix. I picked out a zip code in the heart of Manhattan, and clicked save on Monster’s profile. This was at about 8:30 in the morning.
I went back to finishing up a cover letter I was working on, only to be interrupted about an hour later by a NYC based technical recruiter. And then another. AND THEN ANOTHER! I had three calls coming it at the same time at one point that morning.
I was so overwhelmed by the end of the day, it was hard to fall asleep that night.
All of this happening around me almost made me forget that Rose-Hulman’s homecoming was that upcoming weekend. I had taken several online coding tests by request of the recruiter’s clients and had a handful of phone interviews. Some companies I liked, some I didn’t. I was even supposed to have phone interviews while I was in Terre Haute, but those ended up falling through.
I told many people that weekend about my upcoming plans for NYC and the background about the company losing the contract. It wasn’t the most ideal way of spreading the message, but I was so excited for the opportunity it didn’t matter.
The following week was a total blur. On Monday, I told all of the recruiters I was working with about my plans for being in NYC that Thursday and Friday, and I needed to fill up my time with interviews. They didn’t disappoint. From that Monday to the end of Friday, I had a total of 11 technical interviews and 1 HR interview. My brain was absolute mush, and I’m glad I had my girlfriend to keep me from getting too overwhelmed and going crazy about the whole thing.
In the end, I signed an offer with a small company called Sociocast, a behavior analytics startup in the heart of the Flatiron District in Manhattan. I chose them for a number of reasons:
- Great rapport with the two other developers, boss, and CEO. I am employee #5.
- They analyze behavior (HUGE interest in this) on websites and try to predict it algorithmically.
- I’ll be challenged to learn state-of-the-art technologies and supporting build/test/deploy/integration technologies.
- They’re going to pay me well to do #1-3.
I’m heading up to NYC tomorrow to search for apartments. I’ve enlisted the aid of a real estate broker, who is handling all of the scheduling and monitoring of available apartments near work. After an hour-long commute to and from Bethesda every day for the past 5 months, I’m really looking forward to walking to work again.
I’m focusing my search to the Chelsea area of the city, which would be west of 5th Ave, between 20th and 30th streets. The area is a bit pricey compared to similarly sized and equipped apartments in other parts of the city and other boroughs, but I’m willing to pay for the convenience and ability to have a short commute, close to Penn Station, no roommate, and not live in a dump. At least, that’s the idea… I’ll let you know how the search goes
The other big factor is selling the things I don’t need. The whole point of the Carless Challenge was to see if I could get around this town without the need of automotive transportation, and I’d say it was a huge success. I got my car appraised at CarMax for $15,000, which is the minimum I would have accepted from anywhere else.
If you’re interested in my home theater stereo system and have a way of getting it from the DC area, here’s the Craigslist posting. The price was a starting point, so I am very willing to negotiate.
All in all, I’ll be starting the next chapter of my life around November 1st. I’m a lot excited, a little scared, and ready to roll with the punches of the Big Apple.