Victus Spiritus


The tale of two offers

11 Mar 2011

Inspired by Louis Gray's recent tales of early employment in the Valley, this morning's post will capture what I remember of how I started out at my first and second jobs out of school.

It was the spring of 1995. Everything was lush, green and alive. I had just graduated from Stony Brook University with a B.S. in Physics and had no idea what to do next. Unlike many career minded students, I had never looked for internships at big name companies and startups weren't even part of my vocabulary*. Anything and everything was possible in my 20 year old mind. I consider it a blessing of fate to have rediscovered that mindset after a dozen years of working (2008 was my eye opening year).

Much of my education was complemented by odd part time jobs, Friday movie runs, habitual role playing and computer games, and serious slacking including the blissful triumvirate of frisbee, hacky sack, and sevs runs for iced coffee^. 

Job #1 Low Grade Transistor Factory

My first job out of school was the summer after I graduated at a chip company. I learned how to etch, air blast, cut chips with a fine saw (I was a hack), and test finished products with a Basic coding system that relied on a printer as its only display. A special consultant would come in and program the tests and print them out. It was like a bizarre throwback to the late 70s. 

My direct boss was a master of aromatherapy and she believed in meditative aroma trances over personal hygiene. She treated me and the other new employees well but I knew this wasn't the type of career for me. It was at that moment that the ideal professional setting for me crystalized: an office with a high end computing system surrounded by amazing colleagues on the bleeding edge of tech.

On top of that the $10/hour pay wasn't enough to live comfortably on my own with. I left in August after applying to graduate school in Electrical Engineering and getting a half teaching stipend which was the perfect setup for Job #2, my current dayjob.

Job #2 Systems Engineer

During my first and only full time semester of grad school I stopped down in the career development center (fall 1995) to page through massive binders of job listings**. Out of all the listings only two stood out as interesting. One was for an engineer at Photon Research Associates (PRA), the other was for a tech at Brookhaven National Labs (BNL). I contacted PRA and met with the VP in charge of the division Ralph and a few of the senior engineers (Tony, Charlie, and Ken). They said to come back and visit after  my full time semester was over, as learning on the job would work best if it was my primary focus (pro tip).

Towards the end of the semester of grad school my pop switched careers from AT&T after it was broken up (he subtly suggested it was time I earn a living, pro tip) and I was hungry to become financially independent. I setup interviews with the two companies I had earlier uncovered in the dusty arcane jobs listings tome.

The BNL interviews consisted of a intro screener, followed by day long meetings with five professional research doctors and post grads. It was intense but looked like interesting work. The PRA interview was a quick office chat with Ralph, Tony and Charlie followed by a burger lunch with Ralph (my current boss). The job appeared way beyond my technical chops at the time, but also sounded like a fantastic opportunity to crank up my programming skills^^. Both interviews turned into job offers, and I took the PRA job starting in January 1996 for $17 bucks an hour.

The history of my work will have to wait for other posts, but I discuss how I arrived at my present situation in the following tales:

*= I wish I knew about startups out of school. I had familiarity with a few programming languages and a solid math/physics background.

^= sevs runs are seven eleven trips. There's one just north of campus. My memory happily edits out any relationship trauma experienced at school ;).

**= That's how you searched for jobs back then if classifieds didn't cut it. There was no, and the consumer Internet was in its infant stage. I finished my masters in EE at night while working by 1997

^^= One of my many life long dreams is to have my thoughts instantly translated into automated code. After years of programming I'm not as close as I'd like to be to that dream, and can still clearly envision an ideal interface driven by thoughts and extremely high level abstractions.