Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Decision By Attrition

Greetings, True Believers!

Two more information sessions punctuated the end of my epic career exploration saga. I swear, the whole process has been the equivalent of Moses leading the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land of New Glasgow.  

January 18'th (6 PM)

Still queasy from my Health Information Management test drive earlier that same day, I bus across the pond to an evening info session for Environmental Engineering Technician (Water). Here's the program's description from the college's guide:

"Water resources throughout Canada and the world are being impacted by stresses from population and technological growth, contamination and mismanagement, along with global climate change. The Environmental Engineering Technology - Water Resources program will provide you with the necessary skills, education, and training to be able to assume responsibilities as an engineering technologist in the management, protection, development, and use of this essential resource."

I wanted to check out this possible career path for two very important reasons:
  1. I truly believe that one day pure water will be as scarce as gasoline was in the world of Mad Max.  Or, in our own world, for that matter.  Assuming you're aware of the concept of peak oil.  You are aware that we're eventually gonna run out of oil, right?  Hey, you wasteful twat in the Navigator, I'm talkin' to you!  AhemSorry
  2. I'm a water sign.
Hey, these reasons are no less valid then the ones I eventually used to settle on my choice.  Stay tuned, kiddies, and don't skip ahead for spoilers!

After another threadbare 15-minute propaganda session we're led away by one of the program's instructors to a very official-looking lab.  En route I'm delighted to recognize a fellow survivor from my last place of employ.  She's already registered for the program but wants to check out the information session just to make sure "it's still for her".  She thinks I'll be "really good with this course" but almost in the same breath mentions   that she's already doing math upgrade classes to get the necessary accreditation to get into the program.  This isn't boding well.

In the lab are sinks, beakers, bunsen burners, mini ovens, and aquariums bearing bored-looking trout.  Extra bored.  As if I can tell.  Anyhoo, after a few cursory questions the gruff-looking instructor leads us all into an empty classroom for a proper Q&A.  Here's what I find out:
  • There are numerous prospective employers in the Halifax area for those who complete the two-year program.  They include (but aren't limited to) SLR Consulting, SNC-Lavalin, the ESANS (the Environmental Services Association of Nova Scotia), CBCL Limited, the CRA (Canadian Revenue Agency) and, of course, the FGEFSRTEET(W)ARBAGA or the Fraudulent Generic Employer for Something Related To Environmental Engineering Technician (Water) As Represented By A Gratuitous Acronym.
  • The instructor himself is awesome: he's loud, clear, boisterous and gregarious.  There wouldn't be any nappin' in this dude's class, lemme tell ya!     
  • Typical careers that may result from your study include doing water testing for the Halifax Water Commission, Environmental Technologist, Project Manager, Lab Operator, Lab Technician, Treatment Plant Operator, and Prehensile Titanium-Niobium Tentacle-Equipped Mad Scientist.  
  • "Who gives a s#!%?  How much does it pay already!"  Starting wage is typically $35,000 to $45,000 a year.  Cha-ching!  Halifax Water Commission water testers earn about $25.00/hour.  Mad scientists earn about a billion dollars per extortion/ransom.  
  • Current job prospects...wicked awesome.
  • Required math skills.  To quote the instructor:  "Relatively high.  Higher then construction, imagery work or architecture.  In fact, I'd say that this is the most rigorous program at the college."  To which my internal Lost In Space robot starts screaming "Danger, Will Robinson!  Danger!"  Entrance requirements demand High School Advanced Math, which I actually do (technically) have.  Now, I have to confess that's kinda like saying: "Yeah, I managed to jump over Snake River Canyon but I kinda wrapped my Sky-Cycle around a mesa and now they gotta feed me through a tube."  As if what the instructor has already said isn't daunting enough he then has to go ahead and use the "C"-word.   Yes, that's right, folks...calculus.   Frankly this was as much of a game breaker for me as that friggin' slide of the dog with ectoplasm coming out of his snout.  You're welcome, by the way.   Please stop sending me angry emails. 
  • In addition to full-time class hours, Student sin the program can expect to do about ten to fifteen extra hours of homework. Jesus, how can I be expected to go Back To School  Rodney Dangerfield-style (with all the requisite "partying down" this entails) with so much homework?  "No respect, I tells ya..."
  • The academic year started with thirty-two students.  Only twenty-one remain in the second year and out of those twenty-one students, only six are still clinically sane.
On the way out, my fellow work parolee says:

"Wow, wasn't that fantastic?"

"Sure was.  It certainly made up my mind," I replied. 

"Awesome!  When I was talking to admissions last week they said this program fills up pretty quick.  You may want to get your application in as soon as..."           

"Oh, I'm not applying to this, are you nuts?"  I laughed.  "If I drag my sorry, academically flabby, prehistoric ass back to college, there's no way I'm gonna be totally miserable and possibly borderline suicidal the whole time.  F#@$ that, noise!"

Hmmm, in retrospect, that may have sounded a tad discouraging to her...

January 19 

I'm back in my usual seat same Bat-time, same Bat-channel the following night for my final information session: Screen Arts.  Yes, that's right, the same Screen Arts program that every one of my career transition councilors has been trying to systemically beat out of my head as an option for the past four months.

I decide to give the presenter a break tonight and get up and do the fifteen minute introduction for him since I've committed the f#@$%^ thing to memory by now.

After Screen Arts is called, I go over to the instructor, who acts alarmed that I'm the only one who showed up for this particular information session.  Well, we're off to a promising start!

Despite the fact that there's only two of us, I have plenty of questions so there's never any dead air.  I continue to surprise myself lately.  I guess I've gotten to that point in my life where I feel less socially awkward then about 90% of humanity (including people who are older then me) in 90% of most social situations.  I used to be so shy, but now I'm a freakin' social butterfly.

He takes me on a tour of the film department.  I don't get to see the editing bays but he raves about how "state of the art" everything is, and frankly, based on what I'm privy to, I have no reason to doubt him.  He takes me onto a mock sound stage and I get to check out some props and scenery cobbled together by the students.  We drag a couple of chairs into the middle of the room and get down to brass tacks.  

Here's a summary of what I learn:
  •  Upon completion of the two year program, the goal is to get hired by a local film production company in the hopes that when the next major Hollywood production comes down the pike (Read: the next Jesse Stone movie), your company will be hired and, subsequently, so will you.  At least, I think that's the theory.
  • Pay as a starting union crew member is about $150.00 to $200.00 a day.  Not too shabby, but if you factor in the low end of that scale and the fact that it only takes a coupla months to shoot even a major film production, we're only looking at about $12,000.00 earned for one project. 
  • Maximum class size is twenty seven students, currently the program has 16.  No surprise to me, 60% of the students are only one or two years out of High School.  Wow, I can just imagine what realistic, slice of life, laconic films these grizzled veterans must be producing every year.  
  • Although there are certainly only a finite number of positions available on any given production, the Screen Arts program cross-trains students in a variety of different roles, whether it be editing, sound, set design, construction, and craft services complainer.  Sorry, I know I've only been on three film sets but on every one, some d-bag was just standing around bitching about the food even though it was awesome.  Assholes.
  • The instructor claimed that even when large productions aren't in town to give employment opportunities, you do so much networking over the course of the two year program that you often end up working on your friend's projects and vice versa.  Of course, this could mean working for peanuts.  And that would really suck 'cuz I'm allergic to peanuts.
 Now perhaps the most eye-opening bit of info: the instructor maintains that out of the last graduating class, only three felt compelled to leave for Toronto or Vancouver to get a job.  It goes back to the previous comment about networking for freelance opportunities.

"Frankly it makes a lot of sense for them to stay here.  After all, if they leave for another city they have to start the process of networking and making connections all over again."

This makes sense, but I'm left wondering about what sort of jobs the "all but three graduates" are working at.  Is this my own skeptical voice at work or the voice of my councilors who know I won't get sponsorship for something so blatantly "artsy-fartsy"?

I thank my host and although we wrap up early I still feel a tad guilty keeping him as long as I did.  But, hey, I needed to get all my questions answered and I wasn't about to leave until I grilled this dude like a cheese sandwich.

January 25

I meet with my career transitions councilor and she prods me for a decision on what I want to go back to school for.  I tell her I've certainly ruled out Health Information Management and Environmental Engineering Technology and stall for more time by telling her that I'm going to consult with three industry professionals for more information about careers in IT.  Unbeknownst to her, this merely consists of me sending an email to three of my friends about how much they think their respective jobs suck.

In what I'm sure is a completely unrelated announcement my councilor tell me she's retiring in a few weeks and I need to make up my mind by then.  I feel like screaming in her face: "Cripes, what's with all the friggin' pressure, lady?!  I've only had five months to work on this.  Sheeeesh!"   

For the record, these councilors also don't like it when you tell them that you plan to make a final decision by assigning the numbers one to six to your options and then rolling an over-sized novelty foam die down the hall in order to "determine the winner."   Yeah, they don't think that's very funny.    

January 27

I start to get responses back from my three insiders RE: the following informal survey:
  1. What are your main duties?  Besides playing boardgames at work that is...(name withheld to protect the not-so-innocent).
  2. Generally what skills/qualifications/experience is needed?  Are math skills important for coding?  By the way, if your answer to the first question is "hard knees and suction power" I'm taking something else...        
  3. Without getting two specific can you give me a general idea about entry-level pay in your industry?  Feel free to scan and email over one of your pay stubs... 
  4. Does your employer prefer certain specific schools/accredation?  Or am I okay going with Beothuk Data Processing?  They do still exist, right?    
  5. What are the job prospects like for what you do?  What about the next few years?  Are there any particularly "hot" specializations right now?  Are you sick of these questions already? 
  6. How do you feel about your current employer?  Try to avoid gratuitous use of the word "f#@%tards" if possible... 
  7. What do you like most about the work?  What sucks big hairy knutz about it? 
  8. How do you think the job will change over the next 10 years?  Use those psychic powers! 
  9. What personal qualities are required to succeed in this line of work?  Knowing me like you all do, do you think I can do it and what do you think my own personal challenges would be?  What sage advice would you give to someone who wants to persure your line of work?  Hopefully you all won't reply "RUN!" 
Oh, by the way, I've set this Monday as my deadline to decide so please send back as much info as you can muster before then.  And remember, your replies will have direct impact on my future, pressure!  Kidding!

Some eye-opening replies include:
  • "Positive energy is key, I spend a lot of time in front of customers and they need to see me as their personal technical guru.  Inspiring confidence and trust (along with other soft skills) are just as important as any of the technical stuff"
  • "A hot career path right now is in social media.  Awesome people doing an awesome job.  Social Media analysts answer questions on Twitter, Facebook, Forums and blogs.  Awesome.  I've never seen them do it, but they're generally happy people."
  • "Don't you have anything better to do?  Why aren't you watching crappy daytime T.V., eating corn chips and masturbating like every other unemployed slob?"
In light of such responses, I'm now ready to publicly declare my decision.  

February 1'st           

Without any specific instruction, I show up for my final meeting with my career transitions councilor with my "Career Assessment Report" not filled out to completion.

 "Well, I just filled out the part of the report that I decided on.  What's the sense of filling out the other two options if I'm not going to pursue them?"

My persistently patient councilor casts a world-weary sigh skyward.  I'm sure she's counting the seconds before she runs screaming out of the office, drives to airport and climbs onboard a plane to Florida like one of the Ramones.  I notice she hasn't even turned her computer on.

"You need to fill in the details for the other two occupations to show that you've done some comparative research." 

She leaves me alone for ten minutes and I scramble to fill out the balance of the document from memory.  When she bursts back into the office earlier then promised she catches me cheating using her encyclopedic Canadian Guide to Job Prospects tome to fill out the last few "What skills or qualifications are needed?" blocks.  Awkward!

I'm sure she was of two minds when signing off on the report.  On one hand she was probably pretty depressed that this moment would serve as the exclamation point on an otherwise stellar career.  On the other hand, by signing her name on that report, the thought of never having to deal with my indecisive ass ever again likely promised a rush of endorphins that would make sky diving look like making toast.

I walked out of her office with the precious document in hand.  I had made my decision.

Come September 1'st, I would be perusing the Information Technology program at my local community college.

May God have mercy on my soul.     

EPIC:  Oh, Orion pictures, how I miss thee...

This trailer embodies similar expectations RE: my return to college...

FAIL:  How we take our water resources for granted is well documented in this tremendous documentary...

1 comment:

John M said...

Forty years ago I was a local community college student in the lab technician course, but ended up spending most of my career impersonating an IT worker. Still, I'll probably never forget my assistant Effie singing "Everything is Beautiful, in Its Own Way" while wrapping up a 10-inch diameter ovarian cyst for transport to the histology department at St Martha's in Antigonish. (come to think of it, that was my old histology instructor that I gave the new OHF to yesterday -- he became a lay minister!) Sounds like your strategy might turn out to be more efficient.

Incidentally, my poetry arose out of the brain damage caused by one of those early-'70s fellow lab tech students. One never knows what weirdness awaits within the walls of a CC ;-)

I would strongly suggest considering concentrating in the documentation sub-specialty, as you can likely already write rings around most of your peers. Your drawing skills might help too; computer documentation can sometimes be in comic book format.

I've been out of the loop for a long time, but surely there's some incompletely documented Open Source project out there you could help clean up before September. In any case, best of luck on this!

Apropos "screen arts," remind me sometime to tell you about Xmas '06 when my eleven-year-old niece came to Halifax to do a video interview with Bryan Lee O'Malley