Where the hell did Chris go?

Well… I guess I can finally sit down and post about my ‘Apple Experience’ now that it is mostly over. I was putting it off until I had a final answer; and while I may never have one I figure now is just about as safe as it will ever be. After all, the ‘Apple Experience’ gave me the necessary kick in the butt to change my life and there is no stopping those changes now.

As you may or may not know, I interviewed with Apple in November for a position at the Cupertino campus. You know, where all the magik happens. Due to the NDAs I had to sign to just enter the building, I can’t even tell you what the job would have been. I can say that it would have been sooooo cool!

It started with an out of the blue email from a manager at Apple asking if I would consider moving to San Francisco. Needless to say, the answer was yes! So, we did phone interviews. According to the feedback I guess I did pretty good; good enough that Apple flew me out for physical interviews. Those went fairly well, despite my nervousness. This wasn’t like any other job for which I had ever interviewed; I wanted this one.*

(*Does that seem odd to you? I have wanted very few jobs in my life. Jobs are generally mundane for me. I trade my time for their money. While I grew to love my job at Beatnik, I wasn’t in the market for a job when they called me and asked me to come in. I went to the first round of interviews just because I was hoping to meet Thomas Dolby. This was different. This was Apple. This was not just an interview; it was an honor to even be there. And this stupid fan-boy attitude was almost my downfall.)

Tip: When interviewing at Apple you will get teased for wearing a tie. Wear all black and they will call you Mini-Steve.

The first feedback was not terribly encouraging. Several of the interviewers thought it took too long for me to warm to the situation and open up. Post interview I was asked for code samples. I had brought samples with me, but nobody had asked for them during the interview. I felt guilty, though; as I was fairly limited as to what I could offer as samples. Most of my recent work was under NDA. The only thing I could safely give them was the first chunk of PHP I had written for a client and which they had never taken delivery or used.

Then the hiring manager went on vacation, and I got to wait. I arranged things so that I was in the Bay Area for the weekend after the interviews. I had planned on trying to catch up with a bunch of friends. I wound up helping Robin and Jeri with some of their remodeling. This turned out to be what I really needed. I felt a lot more connected at the end of this trip than on previous ones that year.

The trip ended. I went back to Tampa. I waited, and tried to fight off the familiar apathy that sets in while I am there. Finally, my would-be manager at Apple came back from vacation and the feedback started coming in. The feedback was a slightly unexpected; not only because of what they said, but because of who was saying it.

  • “Chris’ code looks very clean. The naming conventions for his files are safe, and his code is well structured and commented. He reference external libraries, and takes advantage of the limited object oriented capabilities of PHP which is also a plus.”
  • “Very well documented code. Easy to read, even for someone like me that doesn’t know PHP.”

I’d been stuck in Tampa a long time. In Tampa, I can barely get my foot in the door for positions that are far below my skill set. After a while it started to eat at my self respect. It felt amazing to be hearing this kind of praise from the interviewers at Apple.

The next day they checked my references: “I talked with 3 of the people you provided as references and all I can say is – WOW.” I know that I’ve left a good impression with co-workers, but it certainly didn’t hurt to have someone else see the same thing.

Twenty minutes after that a shoe dropped. I received a brief email stating that the project was on hold, and that they would let me know when the status changed. Turns out a senior VP at Apple had suddenly departed, and all the outstanding projects under him were put on hold pending review. This wasn’t stated as such, but I put it together with an article from MWJ. I was encouraged to look at other positions on the Apple job site; which I didn’t at the time take to be a positive sign.

Time started to pass again. The apathy of being in Tampa was starting to set in. This always happens when I am there. It is easy to exist in Tampa, though it seems to drain from me the will to Live and to Excel. While I was bound and determined only a few days earlier to move back to San Francisco, I found myself again mired in the day to day tasks of finding enough work to keep the bills paid. While in Tampa I could always find enough work to get by, but never enough to escape.

Then Robin called. A project that I had passed to him when Stata Labs started consuming an unexpected amount of my time was nearing completion, and it needed an extra set of hands to polish it off. The client was willing to fly me out to SF, and pay me a fair amount of money for four days of code trance. How could I turn that down? So, off to SF I went again, only a couple weeks after the Apple paid visit. The project went well and the apathy was pushed back again without having had a chance to set in fully; but I then had to return to Tampa.

I kept in touch with the manager at Apple, and there was hope that the status of the project would be resolved by the second week of January. This fit into my schedule rather well, as I didn’t want to have to make a decision during the holidays. I find those to be stressful enough. Little did I know…

A couple of days before xmas Jeri called. An advertising firm she works for in San Francisco was in desperate need of a Windows/OSX support person for a few weeks until they could find a permanent employee. They were not willing to pay my normal rates, but I had nothing else going on, and this position would put me in San Francisco right around the time I would be learning the fate of the Apple project I coveted. I would have to fly out on December 26th, and this really stressed the holidays. I talked it over with Nancy and Melanie, and decided to take the gig. I would be gone for three weeks, starting the morning after xmas. It would be hard on all three of us, but the money would be helpful in moving us all to San Francisco.

The job was short, but it was very enjoyable. I had more exposure to OS X in those three weeks than I have had since it came out. I am very likely to be picking up a dual processor G5 sometime in the near future.

While I was waiting to hear about the Apple job, I kept my ears open for other possibilities. Being in San Francisco for just a few days had burned away my apathy and I was determined not to let it regain its hold. Melanie was also looking for work in San Francisco, and Nancy is researching getting licensed to practice out here.

Just to confuse the timeline a little more, sometime in here I was offered a two week gig in San Francisco helping transition from an in-house admin group to an outsourcing IT company. The gig was primarily for the last two weeks of January, starting the Monday after my support gig ended. This meant I would be staying in SF for at least five weeks total. The gig had the potential to be permanent, if I chose; so it made a great backup in case Apple fell through. At this point Melanie decided she had to come visit in order to keep her sanity.

At one point I was talking to Melanie about the jobs she was applying for, and it occurred to me that she might just be the perfect fit for the full time support person at this advertising agency. It was easily within her skills and aptitudes, and the pay was better than some of the jobs she had been considering. I printed off her resume, and submitted her for the job. She was even coming out for a visit, and could be available for interviews.

I’m in my third week at the support gig. I’m starting at a major publishing company on the following Monday. Melanie is flying into town on the following Thursday, and has an interview at the advertising firm on the next Friday. This is when I learn that I will be spending my first two days at the publishing house at their New York offices. Can you just feel the dripping Chaos? Here comes the downpour! My client offers to fly me to Tampa before the leg to New York, so I can spend a couple of days with Nancy and Melanie. So, I squeeze a trip to Tampa into everything else that is going on.

About this time I check in with the manager at Apple. The project has been put on indefinite hold. She has been recommending me to other managers at Apple. She hadn’t been suggesting earlier that I look for other positions at Apple because she did not feel I would get this one. She was suggesting it because she felt that Apple needs me. That is so cool! But, alas; the other positions currently open were grunt sysadmin positions and I’m looking for something a little more personally challenging. Still, the Apple Experience had a profound effect on my life. It helped break my inertia and remind me that the San Francisco area has more potential to offer me over the span of a couple weeks than Tampa had to offer over the span of years.

I’ve taken a full time position at that publishing house, as the sysadmin behind a major gaming website. I’m making more money than I was at Beatnik; so I made it back without having to take a pay cut. Melanie was offered the support position. This puts Melanie and I in a position to help Nancy get through whatever licensing hassles await her. I have no idea if or when I’ll be making it back to Tampa. If I do it will be just long enough to pack up a moving van and hit the road. I just may pay a moving company this time.

Haus Boheme is pulling up stakes and moving to the San Francisco Bay Area. I’m home again, and I’m loath to leave for anything other than a vacation.

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