Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Yesterday was my last day at the online bookstore. Sadly and with a gleam of anticipation in my eye, after one solid week of very enjoyable work, I have moved on to... the past.

What happened to the last ten years? In the spring of 1998 I was working at a digital map company, tracing lines over aerial photos. Then for ten years I did a lot of different things- today I started working at a certain Internet giant (the one who DIDN'T just lay off a thousand souls) making digital maps. When I showed up for work today, I thought I'd be checking scanned images, probably of books, for clarity and completeness. If I'd persisted in standing in the first crowd I joined, that's pretty much what would have happened to me- I saw the scanning booths, and I did not like them, Sam I Am! Instead, I got rescued by a helpful stranger, and for the second time in my life found out that while I'd been told I'd be doing one thing I was actually destined to do digital mapping. It was deja vu all over again. 1993.5 calling me by name, and asking for a rematch. Woo-hoo! That's like telling Br'er Rabbit he's gonna be tossed in the old briar patch. Sure, hooking up with an ex who you know you were better off without, and who you were finally very glad to have seen the last of is probably unwise, especially if the last hitch almost drove you mad. I think any self-help expert who knew how much sleep I lost over the last mapping job I had would tell me to run like hell from this, but I won't. You see, the last time something like this happened to me, the job I never saw coming turned into a wild five year joyride along the cutting edge of mobile navigation technology which I wouldn't have missed for the world. As a matter of fact, it delivered the world to me, or at least big important patches of North American territory. My first assignment here in 2008? Italy! Just north of Sicily. Well, well! I feel more worldly already. Near as I can tell, this effort is a few years behind where my old company left off ten years ago. Same chaotic approach, same ragged interfaces, same mix of lazy thinking and aggressive goals. Same slow, glitchy computers. Same broken chairs, same parking lot traffic jams. I'd almost swear some of the people are the same, or might as well be. The work is achingly familiar, and far easier to learn than it was the first time around. I don't scare so easy anymore, for one thing, and I already know how to do this stuff, for another. If it didn't all feel so new, I'd think nothing had changed. I'm making at most 75 cents more per hour than I was way back then. There's free catered food for snacks and lunch, but nobody who isn't all elbows can get near the chow before it's reduced to scraps. Thankfully, I foresaw that and took along a sandwich that wouldn't need refrigeration, and that's exactly what I intend to do every day. Heh-heh. The triumph of experience over optimism, to adapt the old phrase about second marriages. And this time around, I'm not in the least reluctant to put in earbuds and tune out the room- I used to think that was selfish and irresponsible, but I know better now. Some of the best digital cartographers and most engaged process innovators I've ever met worked with headphones on and paid so little attention to the production chatter they would have to be shaken by the shoulder in case of fire, or for a meeting/break/announcement.

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