(Not So) Bad Job Experiences, Number 7 in a Series

I haven’t continued this series in a while, partly because I’m coming to another period in my life that isn’t so rant-a-licious.

While I was at Gandalf, I’d started an on-line relationship with a woman who lived in the United States. I was curious about how much further that relationship could go, plus things at Gandalf were rapidly going to shit because of Jerkface. Suddenly, out of the blue, I got a call from a pimphead hunter. How would I like to go to Akron Ohio for six months to work for a company that bought a GeoVision system from SHL, and needed some people to customize it for them? It paid pretty good money, about 30% more than I was currently earning if you take into account the exchange rate. The pimp also said that because it was temporary, I could claim a hundred dollars or so as “per diem”, and it wouldn’t be taxed as income. That later turned out to be bullshit, and I had to pay income tax on it after the fact which was expensive and annoying, but it was good at the time. I jumped at the chance. Not only would it get me away from Gandalf, but it would also give me a chance to sample working in the US and all the complexities of visas and the like. Because I was going to be so far from home, one interesting thing I negotiated in the contract was that I would work four 10 hour days, then get four days off, then four 10 hour days on, then two days off and repeat. That gave me time to go home to Ottawa once or twice a month to see my kids, and also time to see this strange woman in Rochester NY.

I worked down there on a “T-N” visa, which is a temporary NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) thing available to certain employment categories. It’s strange in that you can only pick it up at the border, you don’t get it ahead of time from a consulate or something. You show up at the border with a letter from the employer, a resume, your degree, and $50, and it should be pretty simple. The requirements for the T-N are that you have EITHER an appropriate degree or six years related experience. Well, I had a Civil Engineering degree which may or may not be related, depending who you ask, but I also had nine years of solid work in computer programming, including 6 in Geographic Information Systems, which is what this was, so I figured it was a piece of cake. Not so. The friday before I was due to start work, I showed up at the border in Niagara Falls with a U-Haul “cube van” full of nearly everything I owned, and presented my paperwork. First problem – I didn’t have my degree because I thought I was going to qualify by work experience not degree. So I had to dig through the furniture in the back to find it. Second problem – after hemming and hawing for a while, the INS guy at the border said I didn’t qualify because my degree wasn’t related. I tried to explain the meaning of the word “or” to him, but he said that if I disagreed with him, I should come back on Monday morning and talk to their NAFTA expert. That’s going to make it hard to move in this weekend and start work on Monday if I can’t cross the border. Oh, and my car is in a parking lot at a rental complex in Akron. Oh, and Vicki is waiting for me on the other side of the border at a hotel because she was going to help me move in. Ok, this is the Niagara Frontier. There are several other places to cross the border within reasonable distance, I can try one of those. I drove down to one of the other border crossings, carefully liedmisinterpreted the question that asked if I’d ever been refused entry into the US before, and got my T-N no problem, and joined Vicki.

There isn’t much more to say about working in Akron in a series about bad job experiences, because I liked working there. Akron was a lovely little city, at least where I was living. I had a very pretty drive through a state park to get to work, and there was a fantastic Thai restaurant at the bottom of the hill that I lived at the top of. The leaves turned beautifully, and then it didn’t get too cold or snowy. The work was interesting and my cow orkers were mostly clueful – although the boss of the project kept screwing me up by plugging in his laptop with the same network address as my work station.

While I was in Akron, I got a UUCP email and news feed from a guy I’d been hooked up with by an on-line friend who lives in Washington DC. Don’t you love the way the net changes the whole “six handshakes” paradigm? That was fun. At the same time, I was dialing into work and trying to run an X-windows display over a 14.4kbps modem, which was fun because it was possible, but not exactly conducive to productive work. But that’s how I grabbed this screen shot.

Another cool thing was that at that company, Ohio Edison Electric, I had a personal web page. Like most people back then, I made my personal web page by going to the only friend I knew who had a web page, doing a “Save as HTML”, and modifying it. My web page hasn’t changed much since then – it’s still a picture and then a bunch of barely categorized links. If you want to know what Rich Holmes’ web page looked like in 1993, look at my current one.

At one point Ohio Edison sent the entire team, including me, to training on the “Vision*” product, which is what SHL and another company in Montreal had turned GeoVision’s software into. The bit we were being trained on was a new customization bit that looked amazingly like the script code I had been working on before I was laid off. Except the bastard who had given me a bad performance review had taken my name out of the comments and put in his own name a the primary author. So he was an even bigger bastard than I had ever suspected.

Things were going well on the relationship with Vicki, and so in spite how much I enjoyed working for Ohio Edison and the fact that I’d been offered a contract renewal by OE and a full time job from the guys in Montreal, I spent the last couple of months of the contract spending some of my long weekends pursuing contract work in Rochester NY. Once again, I made the same mistake I’d made in Ottawa, sending my resume out to several pimpscontract houses instead of just one or two, and once again got shot in the foot by unscrupulous bastards who submitted me without asking me first. Once again I lucked out, this time because one of the nicer contract houses withdrew so that I could get a contract through a pimp who had NEVER EVER TALKED TO ME until they had the interview lined up. Needless to say, the next few times I needed a job I talked to the nice contract house first.

Next episode will be another non-ranty one, I’m afraid, because that was with Cineon, and it was pretty great.