The Job Experience, Academia: Year #13 – Present

What I Do Here

More of the same....

Long story short, more of the same.

It’s time to talk about the most boring aspect of the job, which is the job itself, of course.  What exactly is it that I do, again?

For the most part I’m supporting internal application teams, architecting infrastructure solutions, and providing systems level support for problems and outages. This is very similar to the stuff I’d been doing back at FinancialCompany, if you care to review it.

In addition I’m asked to learn some new networking technologies, so there’s some amount of knowledge upload going on, particularly the first year.

I’m on call, but in the close-to-three-years that I’ve been at my current position, I’ve been tagged a total of six times, which is not that bad.  Most of the time I don’t even think about the fact that I could be contacted at any moment to work, because it happens so infrequently.  It just doesn’t bother me that much.

My manager does ask me to become a team lead in my second year (and, by ask, I mean that he tells me I’m going to do it, of course.) Although I’m not super excited about performing in this function, I agree to it because he’s really keen on it.  What can I say?  There were three other choices for him to pick from on our team and I felt like:  I’ll be damned if I have to do what they tell me to do as well.  It’ll be better if I only have to take orders from one person.

And that’s pretty much that.


 Same Old Shit, Lower Intensity

Top:  crazy, frenetic, nonstop battles.  Bottom:  one on ones in Academia.

Top: crazy, frenetic, nonstop battles. Bottom: nice, controlled dogfights.

To this point in my career, I’d become used to madness.

And when I say “madness” what I really mean is unfettered chaos, being pulled apart in multiple different directions like a man being drawn and quartered daily, only to be reassembled at night and put to the same torture on the next.

Going into academia, I had this strange and unfounded expectation that everything was going to be better.  I thought I’d be working with plant-eating dinosaurs, slow and non-aggressive, the sort of relaxed people that spent a lot of time grinding their cellulose-rich diet between blunted, flat teeth before taking a mid-afternoon nap in the bog and calling it a day.

I quickly found that people in academia are pretty intense, after all.  There was a decent amount of work to do, and some people were passionate and interested in moving things along and being productive.

In particular, the people near the top of various management chains were stressed out and anxious, just the same as they are at any company in any private sector.  A couple of teams had pretty terrible director and VP-level personnel filling positions and as a result, stress trickled down through the ecosystem until it made its way into my own air supply.

Funny thing was, it didn’t affect me in the slightest.

I’d become so used to breathing the smog of work stress that I barely notice when the air is fouled up anymore.  Also, the levels of stress in academia are much, much lower, overall.  I’d essentially moved from Beijing to LA.  Yeah, there’s occasionally a couple of thick clouds hanging over the valley, but most of the time the air is perfectly breathable.  I never have any thoughts of putting on a gas mask like I did back in China.

Other people who hadn’t become accustomed to much higher-stress environments didn’t realize how good they had it, though.  They hadn’t been conditioned to it.  So when certain people occasionally said jump, other certain people, lower down the chain, would not only jump but would keep leaping around continually without even being ordered to until exhausting their energy and breathlessly collapsing in a heap on the floor.

The bottom line is that although I observe roughly the same silly patterns of human behavior in academia, the volume and intensity have been dialed way, way down, and that makes everything seem easy.  Put another way, there’s the same bullshit, but much, much less of it.

Another analogy fits, too:  I felt as though I’d just gone from the major to minor leagues in <sport of your choice.>  I retained major league skills but was now facing lower-level competition across the board.  The game slowed down and became a cakewalk.

I seem to be the only one that realizes how good I’ve got it at this place, though.  Another constant everywhere is that humans love to complain about work — my coworkers gripe about anything and everything. This point was hard for me to accept, actually — it was hard for me to believe that morale sucked at a place that seemed so awesome and easygoing to me.

My morale didn’t suck, though.  Like I said about ten billion times already:  I just can’t be bothered to get all excited about the same things that other people do anymore.  At work, I’m now optimistic and happy most of the time.

And I don’t even have to fake it.  No joke.


I Don’t Fear The Reaper

asdf

Beware: She’s gonna make you do stuff for the sake of doing stuff while simultaneously demanding you break laws of time and space to get it done “yesterday.”

There’s one director in particular that makes people crap-in-their-pants anxious.  She’s aggressive, controlling, and rigidly believes in the order that a hierarchy of command provides.  Let’s call her Dolores.

Fortunately, Dolores doesn’t have any direct control over me.  She leads a few application teams that produce <stuff> for the University.  Our team has to work with these application teams, though, and pretty much every member in our group dreads this sort of contact because of the stress and ridiculous expectations — they (Dolores’ team members) work from a default position of panic. This means that everything is an enormous fucking emergency for them — all functional tasks they request have to be completed A.S.A.P. and they complain loudly when they perceive they’re not being properly taken care of, like a mewling cat missing its cream.

Here’s a typical conversation with a coworker on this subject.

I can’t believe that Dolores wants all of this crazy shit done by the end of tomorrow.  They just opened the work request today, for fuck’s sake.  It’s so unreasonable.

Yeah, I guess so.

It’s always the same thing with that team.  Everyone’s always falling over themselves to give her what she wants.  Nobody pushes back, which means I can’t either.

Yep.

I’m going to have to work extra to get this stupid stuff done now, and they’re so internally dysfunctional that once I’ve completed it, they’ll probably tell me that it’s all wrong and requirements have shifted.

Maybe.  If you’re so certain they’re going to change requirements, though, you should have them solidify things up front so you’re not working so inefficiently.

No way.  If I try to get a meeting with them right now they’ll go crazy and blow their stack.  They always do.

If they’re going to blow up either way, might as well get that explosion over with now.  Or at least escalate to our manager first so he knows what’s up.

Not a chance.  I want to reduce my exposure to Dolores, not increase it.  Our meeting should be as far out in the future as possible, and any extra work I have to do to kick the can a bit is worth it.  I hate her, she’s so difficult.

If you say so.

Of course, I’m thinking, Dolores isn’t the only one being difficult in this situation, dude.  During exchanges like this, I speak softly, don’t waver my tone, and assume my best glassy-eyed look of apathy.  I just don’t care enough about anything to get deeply involved.

Truth is, once you’ve worked for Satan and Cthulhu for a while, having a single Umbridge running loose will leave you utterly nonplussed.

For the record, when I receive requests from their team I process them exactly as asked.  Sometimes I’d rush them if I think the work is extremely sensitive and sometimes I don’t.  Occasionally things blow up, and that’s OK with me, too, because it gives me a chance to calmly state to my management team that I wasn’t given enough time to complete the tasks, so the burden is therefore on Dolores and her team, not me.

IDGAF about it, you know?  Getting involved in the politics is a complete waste of energy.  As I mentioned before, it’s not as though there is any threat to my job security.  I was learning that this place is exactly the kind of environment that allows employees to push back without consequences.


Contributions Matter

Some of what i do results in letters for admissions going out.

My work indirectly makes beautiful moments like this possible.

It’s worth pointing out here that I generally feel better about my contributions to the university than I did for any of my previous employers.

I mean, sure, I understand that the costs of higher education are way too high and many of the institutions run their supposedly not-for-profit organizations as though they are, in fact, for profit, with yearly 5-10% tuition increases and steadily rising endowments and all of that.  And I get that lots of students leave with a mountain of debt that takes forever to repay — hell, I was one of those students, not too long ago (although of course the scale of the problem has since increased).

But even so, I’d prefer to be donating my life energy to the cause of higher education than, say, making it easier for banks to make money off of consumers.

I’ll also add that in my current position, most of the work I do is actually worth doing.  There’s value in it. Back at FinancialCompany, many projects were created just for the sake of having more work to do; their primary reason to exist was to put a feather in someone’s cap.

I don’t see it this way at my university.  We’re working to modernize old stuff so that we don’t fall behind certain technology curves.  Think of it as periodic home renovations:  if you don’t occasionally update your bathroom, at some point it’s a liability when you go to sell, and it’s also possible some pieces are no longer up to your state or town codes.  I’m helping to keep certain bits up to code to increase reliability and day to day functioning of services.  This ultimately allows data to move around and eventually transform into useful things like financial aid documents and employee paychecks and Harry Potter’s 1,000 acceptance letters.

It’s a nice feeling to know that most of what you’re doing has a measurable and positive purpose beyond the walls of your building.

And at the very least, I’m certainly not making the world worse anymore.

If you’re waiting for me to call my work rewarding, you’re reading the wrong blog, though.  This is about as close as I’m going to come:  It’s no longer completely unrewarding.  There’s still no chance whatsoever that I’d perform in my function without pay.

Honestly, though, this is a pretty fantastic development and I’m very grateful for it.

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45 Responses to The Job Experience, Academia: Year #13 – Present

  1. Fuzzy Buttons says:

    Great post – I’ve loved being able to read this series. Thank you for taking such time to write out your experience.

    On a side note, I believe on page 8 you meant ‘pieces’

  2. Wow, this is an epic opus of job chronicling! You have such a great writing style, I didn’t notice it spanned 13 posts!

    Thanks for the enjoyable narrative, I look forward to seeing you accelerate and lift off the employment runway into FI flight!

  3. Lou says:

    Aw, I’m so sad this series is over! But happy for you, and looking forward to following along with you into your FI adventure next year.

  4. “It’s not that people don’t fit jobs. Jobs don’t fit people”

    Love that line.

    Granted, all of the images would be hell to license, but I’d buy the e-book if you ever did one 🙂

  5. Glad it’s ending on a high note! Cheers

  6. Jennifer says:

    When your boss agreed to let you take your overtime as extra time off, did he extend the offer to all of his direct reports, or was it just a confidential agreement between the two of you?

    • livingafi says:

      Other people get comp time for extra hours when they start complaining, which is not often. I get comp time for any and all extra hours, including a full day if I have to do anything scheduled over the weekend. So if I, say, work 2 hours on Sunday morning, I still get a full day. I’m pretty happy with this arrangement.

  7. RelaxedGal says:

    “Meantime, I started doing other things in the office on days that allow it — reading, blogging, some casual internet browsing. Some readers might tell me that I’m stealing from my university by not working all day. But that’s not really true. A large part of my job is simply being available to respond to needs of the business on demand. Sitting in the office is working.”

    I have to keep reminding myself too. I’ve been asking my boss for busy work and he doesn’t have any for me – hasn’t for a few months. I came into the office yesterday and Yay had a ticket to work on. Finished that in an hour or so, but the users aren’t ready to test it, and it’s not going live for a week at least. So…. I read the Mr Money Mustache archives over the summer, started devouring the forums when I got to current. I spend my days planning dinner, planning vacations, shopping online. But I’m here! I’m available!

    I’m glad you’ve reached a good coasting position, to glide down to early retirement.

    • Jennifer says:

      My husband’s employer has recently adopted a new work philosophy called ROWE (Results Oriented Work Environment) that I think would improve the working lives of many people. They have done away with “ass in your seat for 8 hours” and instead let you come and go as you please as long as you are performing well and getting your work done on time. He works from home a lot more now, can go in late if he wants, leave early, work on Sunday instead of Friday, etc, as long as he doesn’t abuse the privilege and puts in what he has to in order to get the job done. Obviously this wouldn’t work for all functions, but I think a lot of office jobs would work.

      • livingafi says:

        Jennifer – that is *awesome* and would definitely work at my current gig. You must both be very happy about the flexibility. I agree, more companies should adopt similar policies. It sounds almost — what’s the word I’m looking for? Oh yeah. Sane.

    • livingafi says:

      Sounds like a pretty good way to spend your slow days. Very cool. Sometimes it’s difficult to ditch the guilt, and sometimes it’s not hard at all 🙂 I haven’t had slow days in a month now — things have picked up again and will probably stay busy for a while. My blogging time has, as a result, gone down a bit, unfortunately.

  8. EA_Mann says:

    Thanks for sharing all of these stories. I work in a similar field just south of you in RI and your experiences have been very instructive.

    I’ve worked for the past 11 years in IT and systems engineering for the defense industry, both as a contractor and government civilian. My experience has been much closer to what you’re describing in academia – both the pay and the lifestyle. I rarely work more than 40 hours and always get compensated for anything over 45. There’s a small subset of climbers, but most people work together well and are just happy to be doing technical work. And except for very specific times during project lifecycles, stress is low.

    On my trips up through Boston I used to see all those big companies on the I-95 corridor: SAP, Oracle, etc and feel a twinge of loss, worrying that I could have made more money and done more interesting work if I’d worked my way to one of them. Reading your accounts, it’s clear that I’d have no interest in that way of life. Thanks again for sharing!

  9. kb says:

    Man, it’s been great reading this whole series. I really enjoyed reading it all and can relate to a lot of it. I’m a little younger and further beyond on my FI path, but reading your story helps me reenrgize my own thoughts and feelings about getting out of the rat race.

    I’m not in a university but my current job (been 1 year) is so much more relaxed than anything I’m previously used too. I have this constant paranoia in the back of my mind that I will be let go because I’m not working like a slave like normal. So even when it’s good, it’s still bad mentally because of the expectations we are used too.

    I wish you the best and continued success man!

    • livingafi says:

      “I have this constant paranoia in the back of my mind that I will be let go because I’m not working like a slave like normal. ” I had that for the first twelve or sixteen months. I’d been so conditioned to sprint and crank all day every day that I felt like there was something wrong when I started coming into the office and not working nearly as hard. The issue was all internal, though, and it sorted itself out over time.

  10. Like many have mentioned already, I too have enjoyed the series. It was kickass and I definitely can relate to many of the examples especially Finance Company. I also need to reread your drawdown posts from earlier in the year. I mainly focus on dividend investing, but part of my early retirement strategy will be accessing my 401k. I know you use a 70/30 stock-bond mix so do you use a bond etf like BND for you bond bond component?

    I hope you can pull off FI next spring!

    MDP

    • livingafi says:

      Hi MDP – thanks for stopping by, as always. I use VBTLX (Vanguard total bond admiral) for that 30% of my allocation but that’s identical to BND minus the differences in rules between ETFS and mutual funds. I’m continuing to follow your journey, too — I know you’ll make it.

  11. Dwayne Hoover says:

    Man, what an awesome series. Thanks for creating this. If I didn’t read FI blogs, I’d never have found your blog. Which is kind of a shame since this series relates to darn near everyone – not just us crazy hyper-savers. Good luck in the future!

    • livingafi says:

      Hey Mr. DH, appreciate you reading, I know you’ve stuck through some mighty long posts as the series progressed. As fun as it was to put together, I’m glad it’s over though — it’ll be good to return to regular-lengthed blog entries. (They’ll still be long compared to other writers, as I just can’t seem to help myself when it comes to cranking out too many words.)

  12. csmith says:

    Great series! Thanks for putting in the time to write it. As a 22 y.o college grad you strangely mirrored a lot of my experience working in the university ITS department. It’s all the same no matter where you are I guess.

    I’m looking forward to your future content!

    • livingafi says:

      “It’s all the same no matter where you are I guess.” Yes, that sounds about right. Different flavors and intensities of the same underlying stuff that comprises the work environment. Good luck with your own journey!

  13. G-dog says:

    The only downside to all of this, if it can be considered one, is that within a couple of weeks, more than a few people in the office insinuated that I was rich. This was a reminder of something I’d learned way back in Year 4 with my first employer, SoftwareCompany. People don’t keep this kind of shit a secret. They can’t help themselves. My manager had leaked the information.

    “Proof? A few weeks later, two different people on my team directly asked me, virtually out of the blue, if I could retire.”

    Hah! Your boss was SO OUT OF LINE leaking this information. Possibly lawsuit out of line. So, I take it your co-workers accepted your story when they asked.
    As I’ve said earlier, I made a mistake of saying something to a co-worker, who then told another co-worker that I am rich. I still haven’t found out what she thinks “rich” is…

    • livingafi says:

      Yes, there’s probably a legal issue there. I try not to think about it too much — it’s not worth my time and energy to pursue, but I will say that *that* particular day that I realized he’d been blabbing I was pretty upset. I got over it though. One of my special talents is to let things go. It’s probably why I’ve managed to stick through so many disappointing employment experiences 😉 Most non-savvy people tend to think rich is 2Mil nowadays, btw. Tagline: 2Mil: It’s the new 1Mil.

  14. Alex Kenzie says:

    Wow, awesome series of posts. I thoroughly enjoyed them! Wonderfully well done, and great economy of words. Long posts, but nothing extraneous.

    I’m having trouble getting accustomed to my cushy academic job. I am truly being paid to be here and assume responsibility, and it drives me out of my skull with boredom and guilt. Blah. But reading this series helped with both the boredom and the guilt, 😉 so thanks!

    • livafi says:

      You are the first person to ever say I write economically — I have the sense that my posts could circle the moon already if words were placed end-to-end.

      Jobs: Yep, they sure are tedious sometimes.

  15. RB35 says:

    This is amazing. I literally went through this entire series over the course of today. A real eye opener of starry eyed young padawan learners who believe work is a fun place.

    Like you I’m a firm believer that work sucks balls, regardless of what. So do the work where you can maximize your inflexion point on the earnings sanity curve, ramp up your savings rate and take the necessary measures to get invested in index funds and one will be FIRE in no time. However I think consistency is key in this game and it does get to me on some days because I feel like I’m the only sub 30 mofo going against the grain when my peers and colleagues in the industry are living it up through expensive holidays, property purchases and what not.

    So reading blogs like your, being able to commiserate and revel in similar beliefs certainly helps with the motivation.

    Thanks buddy.

    • livafi says:

      Trust me: You ain’t the only one RB35. Whole messes of people out there who are tired of working. We just don’t talk about it much in polite company (and almost never at work.)

      For some reason there’s a cultural rule that we aren’t really allowed to complain about our white collar jobs. Blue collar sure — it’s kind of expected. I mean if you stock at Target, it’s totally OK to say “Yeah, I stock just for the pay.” But part of why you get paid so much to sit at a desk doing whatever it is that you do is to simultaneously be a cheerleader for your company, to “plug in,” to become the borg. At that point you’re supposed to jump up and down and say “I absolutely LOVE this! I would do this practically for FREE!” waving your pom poms wildly all the while. You have to sneak out to a bar with a trusted co-worker in order to air your true feelings.

      Anyhow, best of luck on your own journey.

      • RB35 says:

        Agreed. Many people probably feel the same, but few choose to undertake action to strive for FIRE. I guess following the horde of lemmings off the cliff is easier than taking a road less, but most certainly traveled before. Have actually tried broaching the subject to some colleagues I would consider as friends, but their reactions ranged from incredulous to rage… and right back to bitching about the senior bankers and clients.

        What’s your take on insurance? I just had my insurance agent pitch to me about different coverage plans today and whole life plans for investments – had to cut short that meeting otherwise someone would have been hurt real bad.

      • livafi says:

        I have car insurance and that’s it. High deductible collision – car is currently worth 5K but soon we’ll drop the collision entirely. (Update: I will be dropping it post-move. It doesn’t make sense anymore – if I need another vehicle, I can just purchase one. I just re-read the MMM article http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2011/06/02/insurance-a-tax-on-people-who-are-bad-at-math/ and what can I say other than I agree with him?)

        I do carry higher than state minimum payouts (250/500) if I’m at fault because I figure that’s one of the more likely ways I might get wiped out and it costs very little extra. But that’s the only so-called insurance luxury.

        Home insurance: Minimum allowed by law.

        Nothing else. If I get flattened by the proverbial bus, my wife will get my worth, making her twice as loaded as she is now. Why would we need life insurance on top of that? She could find a new Doom — even one with a NW of 0 — and they’d be fine, both of them, without working a single additional day, as long as they were careful.

        It’s generally a waste of money. Wife and I are about to become renters — we will not be getting apartment insurance.

  16. Loved every post in this series. It was awesome to see the way FI gave you the confidence and leverage to stand up to managers and dictate on YOUR terms. Employers know that most of their minions have no choice but to accept whatever bullshit is heaped upon them; people like you who have F-You money at their disposal must be management’s worst nightmare. I was already on board with becoming FI; I’m now more inspired than ever to make it happen as soon as possible. Thanks, livingafi!

  17. Adam says:

    This series was an amazing read… It actually made me feel relaxed about work, knowing that it could be so much worse. Can’t wait to be free 🙂

  18. Jacq says:

    Holy mackerel. I have had some of those bosses. I am glad we both survived. My current role is much better, better managers. The corporate ‘putting out fires’ culture is still there, but the management team does a better job of shielding us from it to a certain extent. I am aiming to get this job to be more work from home in the next few years to make it more flexible. Plus aiming for FI to negotiate for that flexibility. We’ll see!

  19. Patrick says:

    That was a great set of posts. Such fun to read, almost like a good book. I’m in IT myself so I could identify a lot of the personality types. I have about two years to go, so also looking to maximize the work life balance at this point.

    I’d love to hear what you’re up to today, I see you haven’t posted here or on the MMM forums in a while. Any updates coming up?

  20. Troy says:

    Feels like I’m becoming a fan boy but I don’t even care, this series was amazing! Seriously, I never thought a dude chronicling his work history would be so enthralling but I guess I was wrong. It is rare that I get totally engrossed in something (last reading of Harry Potter comes to mind) but I enjoy when it happens, it’s like being sent to another reality while being able to totally escape your current one.

    Glad you were able to ease out of your work life without any more crazy bosses.

    Also, I believe in rewarding content creators for their work, do you have a PayPal or Patreon or something similar? Just wanted to kick you some cash for the value I got out of it.

    Finally, even though I like my current work and speak out when I feel I need too, your downshift article made me realize I don’t need to keep my high salary job anymore (due to already following FI principals). You have opened up possibilities that my own mind was shielding, so thanks.

  21. Stephen says:

    Doom –

    This is my 3rd time reading this series, the first time when I was 24 and it was just coming out, and now again at 28. Your series is my favorite FI-related thing to read on the internet. Thank you for writing it!

  22. Jon Dziedzic says:

    Doom, as a fellow tech worker I can relate to this so much it is surprising. I make a point of reading your job series on a yearly basis and have been doing so for the past 5 years through my own FIRE journey. It always makes me laugh and smile at how ridiculous the white collar office environment is and like this last year post for you I’m now as well winding down toward the end. At this point office politics and BS are just entertaining to me but as you know it’d be much better to not even hear it at all! Hope you are enjoying the RE life!

  23. A person essentially help to make seriously posts I would state. This is the very first time I frequented your web page and thus far? I amazed with the research you made to make this particular publish extraordinary. Magnificent job!

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