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Visiting Boston, job hunting, and the FFF. - sparr [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]

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Visiting Boston, job hunting, and the FFF. [Feb. 13th, 2012|07:36 pm]
I am finishing another visit to the Boston area, flying home to Atlanta tomorrow afternoon. This visit has been one of my most fun yet, and coupled with my last visit I now have a relatively widely distributed network of social acquaintances that I can seek out in my future quest to meet even more people in the area.

To recap my last visit, which I didn't write at length about... I came to Boston for Arisia, a sci-fi fandom convention. I taught a few classes (origami for kids, shibari for adults) and worked on tech staff in a more serious fashion than last year. I did some duty as a cameraman, on a lighting board, and a lot of time in clue-required grunt work like scaffold reconfiguration. My local social network started to blossom then, including a lot of connections in the geek, techie, and maker scenes in the area. I visited Artisan's Asylum, one of the maker spaces in the city and the largest and most well organized one I've been to anywhere. I also got to spend time with Kat, enough so that we actually managed to find a balance between being together under frustrating time constraints and being completely casual about seeing or not seeing each other at any particular point in time.

Back to my current visit... I arrived in Boston on Tuesday night, after having missed my flight out of Atlanta by an embarrassing failure in planning and being forced to spend 4 hours wandering around that airport. Getting here I had no problem taking a bus+train+bus trip from the airport to Kat's place. I did learn some things about the last train and bus of the night on the MBTA as well, which will be useful to know in the future. I also continue to be amazed at the quality of the bus arrival predictions on nextbus.com, and regret not living in a city with a predictable (if not reliable) transit system in the past. There was a moment of potential awkwardness, which I didn't realize until later, when an alternate universe version of myself avoided waking Kat up in favor of taking the previously offered spare bed in the house, which happened to contain an unplanned houseguest with whom I am not acquainted and certainly not on surprise-bed-sharing terms with. Greetings with Kat gave way to sleep rather quickly.

Wednesday involved a series of phone interviews for jobs, followed by in person interviews. Some of them are getting mixed together in my head already, but most notable were a desktop-application oriented technical phone interview with Support.com as a remote tech support representative (low pay and boring, but very flexible hours in the long term, and a 100% remote job that I'd be very good at) and a drive to Natick MA (about 30 minutes by car from where I am staying in Somerville, 2 hours away on the MBTA by a very indirect and circuitous route) to meet the most sociable team I've encountered at a well established small company (I'm not sure whether "startup" still applies after 12 years, even if the company is still comprised of <20 employees. Eventually you're just a "small business".) That interview was both fun and enjoyable, progressing from meeting and greeting my potential supervisor to a discussion about the technologies and infrastructure with my teammates, back to the supervisor for a whiteboard programming technical assessment (fizzbuzz and a string manipulation function, with revisions for optimization and functionality) which led to an impromptu discussion of embedded platforms she had worked on in the past. Then I met with one of the owners of the business to discuss more about the company, and then with her husband and co-owner for a more informal discussion that I took as less of an interview and more of a conversational personal audition. The whole process took longer than I expected (meeting one recruiter for a 45 minute interview is very different than meeting an entire company for five 45 minute discussions) which led to my zipcar rental going overdue, which I was able to rectify via their website with another reservation. As an aside, there are two zipcars, both medium size sedans, less than 500 feet from Kat's house. I love living in a city dense with car-free professionals, because it leads to things like that along with all the more common pieces of transit awesomeness.

Thursday involved a handful of face to face interviews near downtown Boston and Cambridge. I started the day meeting the management and development team (totaling three people, out of a ~10 person company) at a small startup to discuss a development and operations position for their web service, which involved a lot of information acquisition and organization from potential customers. Then I walked a few blocks to what I thought was an interview for an IT position at a local university, but turned out to be a more general pre-interview with a staffing agency. After some initial outcry over their strange and unacceptable paperwork requirements I was very pleasantly surprised when the interviewer talked to her boss and informed me that the points I was opposed to were either already under revision for new versions of their paperwork or negotiable on a per-placement basis. This exception to bureaucracy gave me a great feel for their style of business, so I was disappointed to discover that the IT position I had applied for, which is near the bottom of my salary requirements and for which I was rather overqualified for, was in the rarefied upper end of the sorts of positions they typically hire for. Despite that, I had a good chat with my interviewer about my resume, my prospects, and the job market in and around Boston. After we parted ways I headed over to Cambridge to meet another small startup team, this time in the logistics field, to discuss working on a web service cum distributable software package with their deployment and instance management. My chat with one of their developers tended to stray off-topic, and I suspect that I might run across him in one of various local tech-geek-oriented social groups in the area in the future even if I don't take that job. Overall it seemed like a neat position and would most sate my desire to be working on Computer Science problems, such as algorithms and optimization and efficiency.

The job offers I've been entertaining have run the gamut of benefits packages from Dell corporate benefits (amazing in every way except vacation and city-specific offerings) to we-pay-half-your-non-corporate-medical-insurance-and-nothing-else, and anti-benefits of all sorts (such as dress codes, rush-hour hours, etc). I've tried to make it clear to the recruiters and HR folks involved that I am ok with all of this, but am also practical and able to put specific dollar values on all of these things. This concept seems surprisingly alien to most of the people I've talked to, including non-work acquaintances. Specifically, if you are willing to reimburse me for transit expenses, that's $720/yr in MBTA or MARTA passes that I don't have to buy for myself (and it's pre-tax, too!), so that's $720/yr less in salary that I need. If your medical plan involves $50 copays on a half dozen services that I need every 6 months, as opposed to a plan with no copay for those services, that's $600 more in salary that I need. When discussing salary differences on the scale of $10000, these benefit differences of $500-1000 add up very quickly, and it is very easy for a $80k salary with good benefits to be much more appealing than a $90k salary with weak benefits, or even better than a $150k ($75/hr) contractor position with no benefits at all. The classic mantra that an employee costs twice their salary is rooted in benefits packages that would be considered ridiculously good by modern standards, including things such as retirement benefits, but also matches this example in that a company giving me $80k and spending $80k on my benefits (including FICA) and upkeep is doing more for me than a company that just gives me $150k and leaves me to fend for myself in all other regards.

Assuming I don't get an email or phone call from ITA or the FSF in the next 36 hours or so, those ~6 interviews and the three companies I've spoken to in Atlanta already comprise the extent of my current job search. I have three offers of various sorts on the table right now, expect to receive an update on one of them tomorrow, and hope to hear back on one more of the interviews tomorrow as well. From those 3-4 offers I will be making my decision in the next few days. The current front runner is a position based in Atlanta (and Providence) where I would spend some months working in the office for training, familiarization, introductions, and such, followed by transitioning to a remote development and operations role. It's the position I am most interested in for career development reasons, and I'm hoping they can make me a compensation offer that is competitive with the higher-but-less-appealing offers that Boston's higher cost of living has produced.

Thursday marked the end of that phase of my job hunt. Since then I've had another dozen positions brought to my attention, all stronger than "here's a job, you should apply" but none as strong as "I'll hire you right now". I can't delay my decision on the current offers long enough to pursue another 2-3 week round of applications, interviews, and offers, so I won't be following up on those. It is good to know that the opportunities are out there, and I've passed most of them along to former colleagues and friends who are also looking.

Friday I prepared and departed for the Fetish Fair Fleamarket event in Providence. Despite being 60 miles and a state away from Boston, the MBTA still runs trains there and back every 1-2 hours as part of its commuter rail program. I was traveling heavy and bulky, including a 40" tall duffel backpack, my regular backpack, a rolling suitcase, and an upright vacuum cleaner, so this was a very fun experiment in transit awkwardness. The only difficult part was climbing the stairs in the double decker commuter train, and gradually compacting myself and my luggage down from 3 seats down to 1 seat on the train. I was happy with the transit experience overall. I made a bus+train+train trip in about 110 minutes that would have taken 80 minutes by car (or longer, with traffic), which is a quite acceptable ratio for me.

I'll begin speaking about "the flea" by saying that it was the most boring fetish event that I have ever attended, and that despite that it wasn't a bad event or a bad time for me. Frolicon, among other lesser events, has thoroughly spoiled me in ways that will probably only be exceeded by way of trips to the west coast or to Europe. The FFF is, first and foremost, a vending event, with both ballrooms full of vendors (numbering around 35) that operated on a schedule and multiple entire floors of the hotel housing vendor halls (one vendor per room, selling out of a bed-removed hotel room, numbering around 50) open whenever the vendors chose to be open, often long into the night. Secondarily, it is an educational event, with somewhere around 30 panels on various kink topics (lifestyle, community, play, etc) and a few rooms set aside for short daytime periods for specific kinds of non-sexual play demonstration (rope room, whip room, pony room, etc). It is explicitly NOT a play or party or dating event, which is why it stands in stark contrast to other events I've been to. I said that it is the most boring fetish event I've been to, and this is true insofar as "boring" is used here as an explicitly relative term. In absolute terms, it is not boring at all, and provides for a quite busy and fulfilling experience.

While at the flea I attended three social munch or meet and greet events for local groups, volunteered two 2-hour shifts for NELA to earn my badge, and got into all sorts of other mischief. I spent some time in the rope room suspending myself and a friend (hours apart), as well as meeting a few people of notable standing in the local and less-local rope communities. On Friday night I set up my vacuum cube at an impromptu non-sexual play party in the room of a friend of a friend (thanks, again, H!) which was the most novel toy I brought. I regret not finding time or space to set it up again during the weekend, or in a more public space, but I got to have fun with it and some other people enjoyed it as well. Along with the vac cube I also did a lot of social TENS play, with gloves instead of pads, which gave me some slight psychological anti-anxiety motivation along with constant opportunities to greet new people with a memorable and novel bit of sensation, which sometimes led to a quick bit of more playful interaction. I did some rope as a costume for a friend (posted near here and elsewhere) and let my friend from the rope room wear her harness for a few hours as well, and later received some indirect compliments on that work through them and from other people who recognized me and had seen the work. Between the rope, the TENS, the vac cube, and socializing a few times, I think I've started to plant the seeds of a social presence in the Boston area.

The transit trip back from the flea was uneventful, leading to a grocery trip and then a munch at a cafe near Kat's place. She hung out with her boyfriend for most of the evening while I suffered from reddit meetup syndrome for a while before finding the right table full of kinksters (who had, accidentally, failed to have a sign). Some fun chat ensued, including a couple MORE plausible job leads, and a few other shy newcomers showed up after me which made me feel less awkward about being the sole stranger to the group. It was a small group, owing mostly to people being exhausted from the flea, or even still out of town, but an interesting collection of folks. I've since found or been found by half of them on Fetlife and will add that experience as a positive mark on my burgeoning social exploration of the area as well.

Today has been a mundane day at Kat's place. We went for groceries, and to the library. We stopped by a thrift store as well. She's sitting next to me typing about various things co-temporal with the contents of this post, occasionally overlapping but mostly distinct. The enjoyable nature of our silent company sharing and occasional reading over each other's shoulders is one of the best parts of how our relationship works both as true introverts and while playing extroverts on tv. We also occasionally snark at spelling mistakes or will glance over and eavesdrop as the other fields IMs or emails, and less commonly will discuss the ways I am going to try to fix her computer to work more like she expects it to.

That's about all for now. I'm going to write a few emails to professional contacts this evening, and make some social network posts in order to reach out to people regarding my plans for my remaining time in Atlanta. I need to figure out what I'm doing with my warehouse, where I'm going to stay if I take the job on the north side of town, how I'm going to get my stuff to Boston on any of various timeframes and budgets, etc. There's also the task of making sure the two (or more, with her housemates) of us get fed tonight, and possibly a movie, so I'm done. Let me know if you want to know more.

[User Picture]From: cos
2012-02-14 06:54 am (UTC)
You applied to ITA? Do you have someone working here as a reference? If not, email me, tell me which position you applied for, and I'll poke people.
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[User Picture]From: sparr0
2012-02-14 04:21 pm (UTC)
I put you down as my employee referral. It's mostly too late, now, though. I've got enough offers on the table that I can't delay another 2+ weeks while I organize more interviews.

If nothing else, it inspired me to start doing CS-ish algorithms stuff again. I picked one of the more math-intensive programming challenges to go along with my application and had a great time wrestling with Big-O to get my runtime down from weeks to hours.
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[User Picture]From: xochitl
2012-02-15 02:37 pm (UTC)
I have some friends in Boston if you want me to hook you up with 'em. They're all hashers of course, but they might have some job and other social connections for you :)
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[User Picture]From: sparr0
2012-02-15 04:26 pm (UTC)
The job hunt is over for the foreseeable future, but I'm definitely open to hanging out with some cool people when I'm up there. And I know some folks who run and drink and might want to know about Boston area hash events.
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