Due to luck, privilege, and a high savings rate, Ingrid and I felt we were getting within a few years of early retirement. In my own mind, I thought I was content to continue to work in the job I had been in since 1999, all the way until early retirement sometime in the 2020s.
There were a lot of good things about this job—I worked with several of my closest friends, the specific tasks sometimes were really engaging, and it enabled us to live without a care for money.
In the spring had I decided I might leave, but only if I found a job that felt "special". I had a few interviews with one company in the 3D printing space but I was adamant that I was staying in Lincoln and in the end the other company decided they were seeking someone to work on-site in Boston.
However, day to day life at the company was changing. Two close friends moved away and became remoties; another left to start his own business. The company, having been sold by the founder a few years earlier, had a small round of layoffs and the CEO was replaced. On the dev side, I was allocated 50% to 3 different projects for an extended period of time. ha ha not joking, though I still only clocked 40 hours of work a week, in part due to reaching a point of not caring whether I got fired or laid off. Technical debt felt insurmountable.
In June, just after the CEO was replaced, I was already coincidentally going to Seattle and had made plans to meet Scott Shawcroft (@tannewt) for coffee. I had made some small contributions to the project he heads, CircuitPython, a year earlier. I told him a little about what I was experiencing, and then asked him how he liked contract programming. Before I knew it, I'd agreed I'd put in a propsal to Adafruit to do a paid project on CircuitPython. Working for Adafruit felt like the proverbial "special" job.
Later on, I learned that in January for #circuitpython2019, Scott had written
Community is one of the defining aspects of CircuitPython and Adafruit… As we grow bigger and bigger we need to continue to empower community members to help out at every level… Specifically, I want to find more people to:
- Help create and review core C changes (aka more @danh) including:
- Modifying the supervisor
- Adding additional platform support
- Supercharging the skeleton systems like audioio and displayio.
is that my exact job description or what? (well, it's pretty close)
He also mentioned that Kattni would be keynoting at PyOhio, and I made plans to attend that conference the next month. Every talk I sat in somehow sent me the same message: my current job was not working for me, and I needed to make a big change. Kattni, who had already supercharged me with her talk about the importance of community, encouraged me that I should ask Adafruit for what I wanted.
I only sort of listened, asking for and getting one or two more one-off projects. But, of course, *extra* work and extra money weren't what I was looking for. I also interviewed with a remote-first contract development software company who had a booth at PyOhio. They seemed to be mostly web oriented but interested in getting into embedded/IOT space. In the end they didn't make me an offer and I was less convinced it would be a fit for me anyhow.
Then finally in August I did ask Adafruit for what I wanted: half time work on all parts of CircuitPython. They said yes the next day. For a variety of reasons, though, I didn't switch jobs until November. (I would do _that_ differently next time! Getting PTO for my Japan vacation was not worth that much) Since then, I've been doing around 20 hours a week of hacking on CircuitPython, and I've started finding the interest to do other personal projects. I've built two 3d-printed and hand-soldered keyboards, including one I designed myself. (It's my daily driver and the only thing I regret is that it works so well sometimes I forget I'm using a keyboard I designed myself!) I laser cut some designs in acrylic that I couldn't have done any other way. And I finally made a complete etched glass edge-lit display (albeit a single digit).
On the other hand, I've moved into a time of more uncertainty. Our 2020 household budget didn't entail giving up anything, except that we wouldn't be making any more retirement investments. Of course, those investments are down some obscene percentage and will probably go lower before they start to increase. So full retirement moves an indefinite distance into the future, at least as long as I choose to work only part time. (even before this Ingrid joked that we would be able to retire after the next recovery. I guess she's right)
Other "this never happened in any other year" events in the last 12 months: I've had foot surgery, eye surgery, and an unexpected dental crown breakage. Ingrid had a health scare of her own (and, thanks to high deductable health care, this is basically all out of pocket). We experienced a typhoon in Japan. Now, with COVID-19, we've canceled multiple trips, and we're worried about friends and relatives and the general condition of society over the next weeks or months. Right this second, we are under a tornado watch, unusual for this early in the spring; and then temperatures are forecast to drop like a rock and things will freeze overnight, so global climate weirding continues unabated.
However, I've taken my best old-work friends with me to new chat systems, I've got new friends at Adafruit (who are being extremely supportive of all their staff and contract workers like me even while they've had to suspend physical operations) and a local makerspace. At the moment I feel like I have the mental space to deal with "stuff".
The first time I drafted this story was a few weeks ago, and I ended with a caution against thinking you're at the end of your story--it's what kept me in a job that wasn't right for me anymore. Right now doesn't feel like a moment you'd mistake for the end of a story, but all the same we need to remember not to see ourselves as stuck. We need to examine what is going on and make the right changes to move forward.
No huge promises to keep up the blogging. But if you're interested in seeing
what I'm up to in software, stalk me on github or join the Adafruit discord.
You can also find me posting designs on Thingiverse when I have 3D printing
ideas. I dabbled in twitter for about 5 minutes again but haha no no way not
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