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Monthly Archives: August 2015

Musings on tech culture and employment

How realistic an expectation is it not to be miserable one’s entire life?

It sounds pretentious to put it that way, perhaps. Or perhaps entitled; I do find myself wondering whether the main problem I suffer from is unrealistic and/or greedy expectations.

This all sounds rather vague, I’m sure; context will follow.

There is a response I often get, especially from my parents, when I complain about anything job-related or job-search-related, which essentially boils down to “everybody hates their jobs, so suck it up and deal with it”. Or to put it slightly more charitably, “nobody enjoys their job all of the time, and most people don’t enjoy their jobs most of the time, so suck it up and deal with it”. And while I am certain there is some truth to this, I still find myself unwilling to accept the consequences (and I do suspect there’s a level of “misery loves company” to my parents’ promotion of this view, because neither of them are particularly happy in their situations). And there are also practical considerations, in that the longer I languish unemployed the more inescapable that position becomes.

Nevertheless, I find myself pretty thoroughly miserable in the current job (and this is before being paid much of anything and/or getting an actual job placement out of it), watching my depressive symptoms intensify and despairing for the future. So you get to have an angsty rant from me! Aren’t you lucky? (I suppose I could only be more of a cliche if I were publishing this on LiveJournal, but I haven’t got an account there and have no intention of making one.)

Firstly, I’m being reminded all over again of how little I like programming and working with code in general (one of many reasons I didn’t pursue a CS degree: I’ve found recently that to get myself to work on code I often have to take anti-anxiety pills first), and how little I like programmer/tech culture. And while there may be something to be said for trying to do activism from within to change that culture, I doubt I have the emotional fortitude for it. (I keep thinking back to the Adria Richards incident, for example; I’ve been witness to quite a lot of similarly inappropriate ‘humour’ in the past few days. Lots of juvenile ‘humour’, lots of sexist/misogynist ‘humour’, etc, from the instructors as well as the students. I’m never sure whether it’s worth my while to speak out against this sort of thing – especially when it’s in a classroom environment and would be disruptive – but not doing so often reads as condonation and probably contributes to the problem in the long run. I do sometimes wonder whether I should consider myself to have a moral obligation to stay and try to effect change from within, much as I’d hate to actually have to do that.) And the endgame of this program is something like earning the privilege to be immersed in this environment for an extended period of time; just what I wanted, clearly. And furthermore I suspect I’ll find myself further entrenched in the tech world after that period has ended, with even less hope of escape than I have now.

But what right do I have, really, to a career I won’t hate? Maybe it’s my fault for being too picky or too depressive; I genuinely don’t know whether such a thing is even possible (and also there have been studies in psychology which suggest that paying people for doing a thing decreases their enjoyment thereof, which has further unpleasant implications: it may well mean that finding a career doing something I love, if there is such a thing, would just suck all the joy out of it and render me equally if not more miserable in the long term).

I almost want to make a slightly goofy analogy here and compare job-hunting to looking for a marriage as a woman in a Regency romance or the like: if it weren’t necessary for survival/livelihood a lot fewer people would be doing it, the odds of ending up in a satisfactory situation are rather low and there are far more people vying for the good opportunities than can realistically attain them, and, of course, one just has to hope against all odds to end up with someone who isn’t going to be abusive and exploitative, let alone merely not insufferably dull. The vast majority of job prospects are not going to be Fitzwilliam Darcy. But, merely to remain with Pride and Prejudice here, does that necessarily mean that one should resign oneself to the likelihood of having no better than a Collins? (Hmm, what would a Wickham be in this context? Something like my current situation, perhaps? – mandatory relocation, tempting offers of money and opportunity that mysteriously fail to appear in the promised quantities? God, that’s depressing.)

When I think about it rationally I think the best I can realistically hope for is to find some kind of 9-to-5, 40 hour per week job that I don’t absolutely hate, and then try to build the life I actually want in the fragments of time that that leaves me. But there’s another part of me that rebels against this, arguing that that’s actually quite a big time commitment as it is, and that if the work is even moderately taxing it will likely leave me unable to accomplish much of anything in mornings or evenings during the week, and essentially giving me at most two days out of the week to actually live. I know a lot of people are capable of living that way, but I have a hard time convincing myself it’s a pleasant lifestyle unless the job itself is better than tolerable. Plus there’s the annoying fact that – especially in technology-related fields, where I’ve mostly been pigeonholed whether I like it or not – many if not most companies have an expectation of being the worker’s number one priority and that a certain amount of work is going to be taken home with them (to the point where I almost find it refreshing when one is honest enough to just demand people work overtime). Shouldn’t the bloody 40 hours of servitude be enough? (No, of course not; THIS. IS. CAPITALISM!)

And then I’m reminded that it’s not even as simple as that, because people who enjoy their jobs also do better work and are therefore more likely to get the bloody jobs in the first place. I’ve been observing this recently as well – most of the others in this training programme actually seem to enjoy programming and working with code, don’t (much) resent being expected to do so at all hours of the day without regard for spare time, and are excited about continuing to do so at actual work placements. Whereas I, obviously, do not. As such, while passing no judgment on the relative intelligence levels of persons involved, I can safely say these people end up being better (and vastly more employable) programmers than me by virtue of enthusiasm alone even disregarding any other factors.

And then on occasion I listen to something like, for example, Mark Rosewater’s podcast, and am reminded that there do actually exist people who find careers they love and seem to have a marvellous time at it. Dare I actually hope for such a thing? (This comes full circle to the question I asked at the beginning of this piece – statistically, what are the odds, and is it greedy and unrealistic to use that as a standard?)

Sometimes I think I should just change my name to Marvin and give up on any hope of enjoying life.

This has been a rather amorphous rant and I’m honestly not sure how much sense it even makes, so I’m not sure whether publishing it was the best idea… oh well, it’s too late now.

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Posted by on August 31, 2015 in mitchell

 

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Congratulations on your nuptials!

Congratulations, Steven and Emma!

From what I’ve been given to understand, you’ve survived an awful lot of planning-related bullshit from the wedding-industrial complex, and have now joined the ranks of those who’ve rendered their romantic relationships legally binding and more difficult to escape from should things go badly! Here’s hoping that never ends up mattering to you; I wish you all the best.

(I’m trying my hardest to be positive without sarcasm, but that’s always been difficult for me.)

 
2 Comments

Posted by on August 9, 2015 in mitchell

 

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I’m an American, get me out of here!

I can’t apologise enough for the lack of posting recently; my life has been kind of a mess for a while now and I haven’t had a whole lot of coherent things to say that people might care to read. I’m not sure that this will be, either, but I need to get some things off my chest before I suffocate. That’s what blogs are for, right?

The title of this post may go without saying, as it’s how I’ve felt for quite some time trapped in this hellhole of a country. But bugger that, let’s talk about the New Job. I promise it’ll come full circle soon enough.

The new job is a bit odd to explain – basically this company is a sort of intermediary recruitment agency that helps to retrain people for technical positions (mostly software-related) and then hires them out to client companies in exchange for a cut of the salary the client would otherwise pay. The training they offer is meant to fill in the knowledge gaps employers would otherwise be requiring the ubiquitous “2-3 years’ work experience” for “entry-level” positions for, and it seems a sound enough proposition. They don’t pay much during the training period but they do provide housing, which is actually decent enough. I don’t plan on naming them at present for various reasons, even though I have little if anything that isn’t positive to say about them thus far (in point of fact I’m going to use pseudonyms for everyone discussed in this piece and try to be nonspecific as to location as well; I don’t want to identify people here). If nothing else, I’ve appreciated their willingness to be open and honest with me.

In any case, what I want to complain about is (naturally) the living situation in which I currently find myself. (Admittedly this is only temporary, as it’s only for the training period which should be at most two months… but that doesn’t absolve it of its issues, since I still have to survive that period.)

The company provides apartments for people to stay in during the training period, and they are actually rather nice (or at least the one I’ve been placed in is; I haven’t seen all of them and I’m given to understand there is some variation). Unfortunately they are also rather crowded; they have six of us living in a single flat. Though it does have three bedrooms and two bathrooms, and a small kitchen, the bedrooms are small and taken up almost completely by the beds, so aren’t good for much aside from sleeping, and the modest living/dining area ends up being where everyone ends up while they’re here (and isn’t really big enough to be comfortable). And because the bedrooms are shared (and small, and the doors are thin) there’s really no good place to retreat if I want privacy; I definitely feel very exposed here no matter where I am.

That might not necessarily have been the worst thing, if it weren’t for a few other details about the people I’ve been stuck with. Or, at least, some of them; three of them have done nothing yet, and seem like perfectly nice people thus far. Then there’s the uber-capitalist Libertarian in his fifties who insists on turning every conversation into an argument with me (I made the mistake of mentioning in his presence that I identify as some sort of communist/socialist) and WILL NOT FUCKING SHUT UP, oh, and the self-identified Neo-Nazi 4chan Gamergate dudebro. Let’s call them Schmuck and Putz; why waste time coming up with realistic-sounding pseudonyms when I can just use various words for penis?

Anyway, I have never been particularly fond of tech culture, which will probably come as no surprise; that said, I allowed myself to succumb to the naivete of distance and time, and find myself surprised at the intensity of my culture-shock and revulsion. I’d expected to have some issues but hoped they’d be more manageable; that said, this is at least an improvement over the Job From Hell to which I’ve alluded in the past (where I lasted an entire six days before quitting because the bosses/managers were also hateful bigots and fostered an environment of bullying and harassment), though not as much of one as I would have liked.

In addition to the tech culture aspect, though, there’s also the fact that this job is located significantly further south than I’m used to living, and while it’s not in the Deep South or anything it seems like a lot of the people they recruit are from there and many of their eventual placements end up being there as well, so in interacting with people here I’m finding another level of culture shock as well; I seem to be the only person anywhere left of centre, at least amongst the people whose political views I’ve been acquainted with, which is equally alienating. I don’t want to take stereotypes too far here, because there are definitely plenty of people in the South who aren’t right-wing bigots, etc, and with whom I’m sure I’d get along swimmingly (and I’m sure those people don’t care for this stuff any more than I do, so I certainly don’t want to dismiss them as part of the problem; I certainly don’t want to make anyone else’s situation more uncomfortable!), but thus far I don’t seem to have encountered them.

In any case, let’s talk specifics. Schmuck I’ve mostly summed up, I think, except that he seems to hold ignorant or obnoxious opinions on pretty much everything you can think of, and insists on opining loudly about them to everyone around as often as possible. (For fuck’s sake, last night he was going on and on about how he believed there really were alien spacecraft at Roswell!) Disagreeing with him just makes him double down and argue more vehemently, which is frustrating because I don’t want to sit silently and have to listen to his opinions going unchallenged, but neither do I want to get involved and cause him to escalate (especially because when I do he doesn’t take it too well, either). He just never shuts up. And he loves to bring everything back to his pet economic issues… I do wonder if I’m being a bit hypocritical in getting so pissed off at this guy, because some of the things I’m complaining about are like a funhouse-mirror reflection of myself (I too am talkative and opinionated and irascible, and like a good argument sometimes, though of late I find it harder and harder to tolerate people whose disagreement with me is this fundamental – I’d rather debate interesting nuances with people I respect than try to demonstrate people should be entitled to food and healthcare), and I’m not sure I’ve handled the situation as well as I could have. I’ve tried setting boundaries and disengaging, both implicitly and explicitly, but it doesn’t help except in the short term (he’ll just pick up later where he left off, and there’s often noplace to run in any case) and I really don’t think Schmuck knows what a boundary is. I’ve tried explaining that I’d like my living situation to be relatively conflict-free, but all I get in response is a disingenuous “but we were just having a conversation! I like talking about/debating things like this!” Well, bully for you, Schmuck; I don’t like you and I don’t like talking about them with you, so go get your jollies elsewhere. Consent is fucking fundamental in my view of ethics, thank you very much, so take your virtual argument-penis and stop shoving it in my ears, you can perform mental masturbation just as effectively on your lonesome. (“If you experience an erection lasting longer than four hours, consult a physician immediately.”)

He also gets accusatory and plays the victim (at one point he went off about how rude I am) if I disagree too strongly with anything he says, try to put an end to a conversation, or just ask him to leave me be. Because of course he does; why should I expect him to be a decent human being? “Are you calling me stupid? Because a professor at [insert name of prestigious university] once told me I was a very deep thinker. How can you be so arrogant and think you’re so much smarter than everyone else?” Yep, argument from authority fallacy everywhere too, and he really didn’t like when I pointed that out either. For the record: Yes, Mr. Schmuck, I do think you are stupid and your ideas are stupid, and I actually think you are quite a shallow thinker as well. I don’t like to say so to people’s faces, especially because I’ve been walking on eggshells around you for some time because I’d like to minimise anxiety in my living quarters, but as long as we’re being honest with each other here and you’re never going to read this I’ll say what I fucking mean. You’re so full of shit you may as well be a sewer.

And then there’s the guy I’m calling Putz. Who is actually perfectly civil to me most of the time, and can carry on a perfectly decent conversation without touching on ideological disagreements for the most part, so he’s a lot more tolerable. Which is weird, because his views are probably even more odious. In an attempt to break the ice I decided to tell an anecdote about my father’s freshman roommate at university, which was about the worst possible roommate situation a university could create – Dad’s Jewish (I think he was the only Jew in his class), and they put him with the son of a member of the Hitler Youth. Immediately in response to this, Putz tells me he’s a neo-Nazi. I took it as a joke at first, but apparently he’s perfectly serious… the 4chan connection explains where he learnt it, I suppose, but it’s still very disturbing. For the most part he seems to regard me as a curiosity at present, which I’ll survive (he’s said he finds my views fascinating and well-thought-out even though he disagrees with me on practically everything…). But he’s still claiming to be a Nazi, going on about the evils of “cultural Marxism” (whatever the fuck that means; background here and here ), and hinting around the edges of Holocaust denial. Needless to say, I am not amused.

(Also, I should probably not make any further jokes about Sabbath elevators and the like around self-identified neo-Nazis like Putz. I hadn’t realised when this particular gentleman told me such that he actually meant it, because for better or worse I have a bad tendency to assume people I’m interacting with are basically decent and couldn’t conceive a reason other than shock value for anyone to say such a thing. Ironically, for such a pessimist, I tend to be irrationally optimistic when interacting with new people; I think I might project too much.)

That said, I’m not sure yet whether I need to be watching my back, and if so what for. (If I do turn up murdered, though, please mention this connection to the investigators.)

And of course they also looked at me incredulously when I told them I’m a feminist, because the rest wasn’t enough yet. (Both of them support Donald Trump for president, too, which says quite a bit about them I think.)

In particular regarding feminism, I’m not sure whether the underlying issue in many of these people’s cases is an inability to properly identify the scope of the problem, or a deliberate choice to be on the wrong side of it. In many cases you can tell which of those buckets a person falls into (if not both to some degree), but not always. I’m also not sure which is worse to deal with – with people who are openly and deliberately bigoted, it’s at least easy to know where you stand, whereas the (willfully or not) blithering blinkered ignoramuses are frustratingly obtuse and just deny/gaslight everything away. Where economic issues are concerned it’s easier for me to see how people end up with the beliefs they do even if I think they’re equally nuts and harmful, and liable to drive me insane (or moreso than I am already anyway); when it comes to racial or sex/gender-based bigotry, I just don’t understand these people.

I’ll admit it’s entirely possible I’m contributing to the problem here, despite the fact I’ve been acting surprisingly conflict-averse (for me at least) and have been trying to keep my head down. Maybe it’s partially my fault for caring about these things and being sensitive enough to find them painful to listen to. And there is the concern that I could be being hypocritical here… but regardless, these two gentlemen feel like just the tip of an iceberg and I’m already feeling trapped. It probably doesn’t help that these particular flavours of right-wing ideology feel particularly American to me (though it might not be entirely; I do get the feeling that especially online it’s a major export of ours, and 4chan etc isn’t confined to any particular location), and just in general I feel surrounded by reactionary nastiness. My escape can’t come soon enough, and yet I’m likely stuck here in the States for quite a while yet (if all goes well I’ve agreed to a two year commitment with this company, after the training period; I’m just hoping that wherever they place me will be more pleasant than here).

In the meantime, I’ve been drinking like a fish.

 
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Posted by on August 4, 2015 in mitchell

 

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