December 29, 2004

All Jobs Are Odd

Les Jones is wondering what sorts of interesting employment people in the blogosphere have had. I've had my share. My resume describes my early history simply as "worked in a variety of industries and obtained an overview of the manufacturing process." This is clever bullshit of course, but by now that overview has more impact on my value than the fact that thirty years ago, with no specific skills or control over my vices, I couldn't hold a job. Among the products I helped produce were brushes for carwashes, musk oil aftershave and machined metal parts for hash pipes. I also spent a season mowing lawns in the ritzier suburbs (minimum wage but cash) and for a while did day labor out of the State hiring hall. One of the characters waiting alongside me there wasn't worried about getting hired that day, he could always just roll a drunk in an alley.

After a couple of years of this, I figured out how to change my direction. I took a course in welding at an adult trade school run by the Chicago Board of Education, and got hired at a funky little specialty fabricating shop. I stayed on there for over two decades, and helped it grow from seven employees to over forty. I did everything from digging the hole for the crane mast to outside sales and product design. The single most memorable thing I did while working there was to submit the Engineering Change Proposal which led the Naval Mine Warfare Engineering Activity (they would answer incoming calls "Nim-wee-ah, this is an unsecure line") to issue Revision D of Mil-F-17280. I made the earring I have worn continuously since the mid-eighties (the pierce itself is much older) from a scrap of welding wire in the alloy I identified which is uniquely suited to the requirements of rigging hardware for mine sweep gear.

We were in the process of trying to find a larger house to move to in a less expensive neighborhood in Chicago when I was sent up to Milwaukee to accompany our distributor's salesman into an end user facility. I arrived early enough that I stopped at a nearby grocery store, and picked up a soda, a chunk of cheese, and, on impulse, the free homes for sale magazine. The end result was that we pulled up stakes and relocated. Thanks to the Gingrich era "tax cut for the rich" we came out with enough cash that it didn't matter that I didn't have an actual job lined up when we arrived. I started out looking for something in industrial sales, purchasing or estimating, and had interviews in all three. What I was able to get was computer operations out on the factory floor, and then inside sales support for industrial control computers (until the manufacturer of the primary product line changed their marketing strategy, which led my employer to do the same). While working briefly at one little place I actually spent half my time cutting metal.

Given that it was my computer background that was getting me hired, even tho my twenty years with computers did not amount to any experience, I decided I needed to formalize my skills with some certification. I picked up the A+ technician cert after a quick skim of the Dummies guide and a couple passes thru the practice test, but the the Microsoft certs I got before Microsoft rendered the track I was on obsolete involved a lot of hours at an expensive computer school. While I was pursuing that, a staffing firm needed planeloads of geeks for a couple of long out of town weekends switching banks over to the computer systems of the Milwaukee bancorp which had acquired them. I usually referred to these contracts simply as "bank jobs".

That staffing firm becaming my primary job-hunting target, and a couple of months later I was one of two people they tapped to work as a test driver for a company launching a GSM mobile phone network. At first I simply drove while an engineer operated the call monitoring / data collection system, but by the time the network was implemented and we were no longer needed, I was not only planning my drives and operating the equipment, but reviewing the collected data for points worthy of analysis. After a summer of job hunting and renovating the rental property whe are now moving into, I got a short contract doing data collection for another cellular company rolling out a new technology, and just at that ended, I got a call from an engineer at the first company. He offered me "at least six weeks work" which in fact is now approaching two years.

I have reached the point where I function independently most of the time. I review customer care tickets and network statistics, and decide where I am going to drive for the day. I analyze the data I collect, and recommend parameter changes to the engineers. Most of them get made, and most of them work. In the last month, I have reduced the dropped call rate for several of our worst sites by thirty percent.

It isn't an odd job like some of the occupations listed in the discussion which prompted this post. It isn't an odd job like some my wee wifey has held. She had trained as an alligator wrestler before I met her, was one of the first woman apprentices in the Chicago Carpenters Union, and, for a while, commuted to Mars. It is however, one of those many jobs most people never consider, beyond the impact of the "can you here me now" dweeb in a competitor's ad.

That is what is so neat about Les's question. We don't think about the coopers and fletchers, the grips and gaffers, the hookers and strippers and bungee jump professionals, without whom the world could not function as it does.

Posted by triticale at December 29, 2004 07:58 AM

So you're the "can you hear me now?" guy! And I thought that was an invention...

Posted by: Nathan at December 30, 2004 11:31 PM
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