personal/professional status report

June 28, 2005

The last 7-8 months of my life have been complex. I’ve been involved in a long, somewhat arduous and definitely ridiculous process with duke about my transferring into another position at oit doing solely the linux@duke work that I’ve already been doing in addition to my current job in the physics department. Most of the time I’ve been on hold waiting for a decision to be made about whether or not they would be creating the position. Then, waiting for the position to be posted. Then, having an interview. Finally, waiting to find out if I would be offered the position created for a job I currently perform.

Well, today I found out. I was offered the position at oit. I was offered no additional salary despite the fact that I would lose the private office I currently have; the flexibility and latitude I have with regard to machine and service deployments and; other, minor benefits. Then, to top it all off I’ve been told that I’ll be on a required 90-day probation period – a time within which I can be fired without cause, warning or justification. Now I went through one of these periods when I first started working at duke almost 6 yrs ago. (sept 1999) but I didn’t figure I’d need to go through one again.

To be fair, I’ve been told that the probationary period is a requirement of HR at Duke and that there is nothing that can be done. Moreover, that for a lateral transfer I cannot be given a raise, nor a salary decrease. I’ve contacted HR to get confirmation on this and to hear about my options. I’m still waiting to hear back from them. I’ll call again tomorrow. If this is an HR rule I’m going to look into how rules can be bent. Then I’m going to ask why it is that a person not working for Duke has more rights of negotiation than someone who is already employed here. It seems odd to me that I could potentially negotiate for a pay increase if I weren’t working for Duke. Very odd.

The pay rate isn’t what irritates me, interestingly (though it could be what would appease me). It’s that I’ve worked here for 6 years; I do not think I’ve received anything lower than ‘Exceeds Expectations’ on my yearly performance evaluations; to top it all off I received a Meritorious service award from the University for all the stuff I managed to get done in the last 5 years; yet if I take this position I could still be fired, without cause, for the first three months I’m in the position. That bothers me.

The paranoid in me says, “this is just a scam, you take the job, you’ll get pink-slipped in the first few days and you’ll have no job at all and no legal redress.”

The part of me that doesn’t need any psychiatric drugs (:-D) says, “nah, it’s normal routine, everyone has to go through it, you’re not special. You just need more sleep, you’re being crazy.” The trouble is that I do not entirely believe either part of my own thinking.

Icon raised a good point today: I often say that one should not attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by ignorance or incompetence. This is true. But when you have past evidence of malice wouldn’t you be remiss to discount it? That’s the question. Is the evidence of malice great enough for my paranoia to win out? Maybe even more importantly do I want to work for an organization where I have to ask myself these questions before I take a position with them? The answer is, sadly, maybe.

Working in physics is not a bad job. Heck, by most standards it is an excellent job. It is flexible, a great number of the people I work with are quite smart and reasonable. I get to play with a number of new toys every few years. It is, however, a job I’ve already done. I’ve done it multiple times, ultimately. Hardware and software cycle many, many times. Is it worthwhile for me to continue doing it? Would it just become a place where I wait around for a year or so and look for something new? Where’s the challenge? Where’s the drive?

To answer my own question: This could be what open source contribution is for. Have a job that doesn’t challenge you but it does pay the bills? Then do your job and when you get home energize yourself by contributing positively to open source development groups/teams/communities. Alternatively, maybe I should work a job where I work a normal schedule and call it quits at the end of the day. Where I come home and do whatever it is I feel like doing rather than doing more work.

Then let’s look at what the motives are for changing jobs?

  • I get to work in a cubicle. Great!
  • I get to ask for permission before trying out new ideas. Great!
  • I potentially get hardware for the linux@duke servers that desperately need it. This would be nice, however, it isn’t a selling point for ME, it’s a selling point for linux@duke.
  • I, potentially, get to play and organize a bigger set of people for linux purposes on campus. That could be cool. Though I’m not sure how enticing that is given my work with Yum, Fedora and to an extent CentOS in much larger development and user communities than Duke could ever offer.
  • I could have fewer operational responsibilities which could mean fewer on-call times and less things weighing on my shoulders. This could mean more of a life and a chance to try out things I never have. The question here is, given that time, would I take it?
  • I could have more opportunities to bash some people in the skull and help fix the morass of problems that have snarled duke’s IT infrastructure for so long.
  • Potentially implement a massive vision to organize and coordinate universities in linux/open source development and make the world safe. Okay, so this is kinda a pipe dream but hell, why not, right?

Sadly, some of it probably comes down to money. I might be willing to suck it up for a lot of the problems I’ve explained above if it wasn’t a zero-sum-game with regard to salary and benefits. I’ve got obligations and responsibilities to folks just like everyone else. I’ve found that some of those become easier with more money. Depressing, isn’t it? Though I’m reasonably certain there are jobs I’d be willing to take for much less money. Though, at the moment, I don’t know what that would look like.

Right now, I think I’ll wait and talk to HR and find out what options I have.

To say the least I’m feeling kinda burnt-out and I am wondering if my best interest doesn’t lie elsewhere. That maybe I should walk away while I still have some whispering shreds of an un-embittered personality left. I remember when I first got here. I had a lot more hope and I was a much nicer guy. I was also 6 years younger. It might just be I’m getting older and grumpier. I don’t want to believe that, yet.

I’ve prattled on for a long time and I think writing this has helped me see things. I’m in a lot better position than a lot of people. I get to pick from two jobs. In normal circumstances both are reasonably well-paying and stable. That’s a lot more than a lot of folks can say these days and I’m not ignorant of that distinction. But as in most situations you’ll get the most or least out of life from the choices you make. I’m just trying to work out which choices are best for me and this is one good way to banter back and forth with myself.

I welcome advice (within reason :)) if you cannot find my email address via google you’re not trying very hard.

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