Saturday, March 7, 2015

I'm Free....

"I'M FREE....... I'm free,
And freedom tastes of reality..."   - Tommy, The Who

Yesterday was my last day at work, and I couldn't be happier.  On the way home I happened to be listening to The Who's rock opera 'Tommy'.  It really struck me how appropriate the song referenced above, "I'm Free", was to the way I felt, or at least the first part of it anyway.  For the past 22 months it honestly did feel like I was in an artificial reality of sorts at this job, one where the things that went on and the decisions made would be comical and downright stupid in the real world.

See, my job was working at a co-located NOC / SOC (that's Network Operations Center and Security Operations Center for you non-IT folks) and Service Desk call center under a government contract.  Specifically, it was for the US Citizenship and Immigration Service, a government agency within the infamous Department of Homeland Security (which USCIS doesn't really belong under IMO, and the fact that it was lumped within DHS speaks volumes about the paranoid and controlling mindset that currently reigns supreme within those running the US government).  And while I do firmly keep to my commitment to not divulge sensitive information or specifics that might truly compromise national security (not that I was privy to much of any interest anyway), I think it's safe enough to simply give my opinion of how the organization is run.  Quite simply, the way that the federal government, and especially DHS, operates is a frigging joke.  The stuff I've seen that passes for normal there would drive any private business into the ground within a few years or less, and many of the decisions and actions made in the organization only make sense in the artificial reality that typically exists in over-sized government.  The really sad thing is I suspect that comparatively speaking, USCIS was probably better run than most other government agencies, whether inside or outside DHS.  So I feel at least a little like the deaf, dumb, and blind boy in 'Tommy' who is suddenly able to see, hear, and speak.... he having escaped from a reality defined by lack of sight and hearing, whereas I am leaving a reality defined by big government and bureaucratic idiocy. 

Obviously, the former has a much larger impact on the individual than the latter.  Still, time spent working in government definitely appears to change people, and generally not for the better.  From most of the examples I've seen in this and previous government contractor jobs, the longer one works in government the more rigid and lazy one gets in their thinking.  They don't necessarily become dumb (though a hell of a lot of dumb people sure find a place in government employment), but they tend to lose their ability and/or willingness to adapt to changes, think outside of the box, and see the bigger picture.  It's a rare person who works a long while in government and still manages to stay sharp and adaptable.  So it appears that it boils down to indoctrination and learned ignorance.  Even worse, over time it tends to make said people less able to work and make a living outside of the government!  I've seen this especially insidious trend play itself out with many coworkers (some of whom were contractors and not directly employed by the federal government), where their skill sets and experience (or in some cases, lack thereof) has railroaded them into careers in government or government contracting.  I've even noticed this for myself, where a substantial portion of my work experience doesn't translate well to positions in the private sector. 

For example, 11 months ago part of the contract we were working was awarded to a different company, so many of our job responsibilities were moved along with it.  So for the past 11 months we had a handful of network administrators, some with very substantial experience & knowledge, essentially doing Sigourney Weaver's character's job in Galaxy Quest, serving as redundant go-betweens and repeating information other parties pass to us.  Try describing THAT job on your resume or to a potential employer in an interview  ;-)

(see Sigourney Weaver's 'job' in this clip from about 1:45 to 2:48 to get an idea what the last 11 months of my job was like...)

On my shift, not a lot usually happened.  So essentially I was paid more than $75k/year to sit on my ass and watch 'Archer' on my tablet for the majority of my shift.  Only in government and in companies that contract heavily with the government would such a job exist at that pay and use degree-holding IT professionals to do it.

So like I said in a prior post about this job ending, being laid off from it is hardly the worst thing that can happen to me.  On one hand it would have been kind of nice if it lasted a few more months until this summer when we pull the trigger on our big move towards entrepreneurship (details on that I'll go into at a later date) as it would have allowed us to save a little more cash before that time.  But on the other hand, it was getting harder and harder to put up with the idiotic bureaucracy and to keep doing a job that was so trivial and pointless.  As easy as the job was, it felt like the pointlessness of it all and the bureaucratic environment was slowly poisoning me, making it harder to look forward to the next day and harder to focus on our business plans.  So all in all I think the boost to my mental health and having the extra time to shift my mental gears 100% towards our future business makes up for the several thousand additional dollars we would have saved had I worked there a few more months.

So for all those out there tempted by a lucrative government or government contracting job, think really carefully beforehand about what you might lose in return.  Even when one knows going in that a lot of it is BS and isn't applicable to the real world, it still takes its toll...

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