I originally titled this as, “The adventures of job seeking”, but ended up replacing the word “job” with “dream” instead. I’m dream seeking. Not too long ago, I wrote this on Twitter:
— Rachel R. Vasquez (@RachelRVasquez) July 25, 2015
You see, about 3 weeks ago I found myself confronted with a new challenge. What challenge is this? Being unemployed. There. I said it.
Now, “unemployed” is a scary word. I felt it was about time I share some thoughts about the topic. Why? Because I’m sure that I’m not the first or the last developer that will find themselves in this position in their lives. For those that have been fortunate enough to not be in this position before, if I can share some tips to help someone out before they’re ever in my place, then I want to do that. I’ve run into some obstacles and discoveries along the way, and here are some of the lessons I’ve learned so far.
Have an Online Presence!
Back when I first created this blog about a year ago, it was a move I made after seeing Boone Gorges’ talk live at my first WordCamp. His talk, “Free Software, Free Labor, and the Freelancer: The Economics of Contributing” was truly an eye opener for me. I can’t tell you how many months I toyed around in Illustrator trying to come up with the “perfect” design for my portfolio site. Endlessly changing color schemes and layouts for what would be “Rachel’s debut” into the internet world. One day I was sure I had it, then a few days later, I’d hate it, scrap it, and start all over.
You cannot grow if you do not exist. – Syed Balkhi
In other words, I can fantasize how impressive my blog will be, how much traffic it might get, I may even dream about monetizing it to make some form of passive income. But with every moment I wasted planning this blog, I missed the actual point. To put it out there. I also wanted to put some credibility on my name in both the developer and WordPress community. So Boone Gorges’ talk ended up being the final push I needed. I can’t write on something that doesn’t exist. So I started a wordpress.com site with an out of the box theme, and started writing. The move to a self hosted site, a custom domain, and tweaking the theme to my own tastes came with time. I also became more active on Twitter and made sure my LinkedIn profile was up to date.
If there’s a common lesson I’ve seen from people who run successful blogs, it was to keep writing and if your content was something people were interested in, it would all fall into place. I can’t tell you how much this blog is working for me. This blog has allowed me to meet others like me who are just learning and going along. It’s helped me to contribute to the community and has also gotten me noticed from more prominent developers/companies. Due to me sticking with this blog and being active on social networks, it’s provided more outlets for me to job search and connect with possible leads. I’m so glad I started this blog and if there’s one tip I can start with, it’s to create your online presence. It’ll help you in your career both in credibility and networking.
Samples, samples, samples!
If there’s one big regret I have, it’s not taking the time to create various code samples. I can’t tell you how many samples and tests I’ve done in the last three weeks. Times are changing. Years ago, fresh out of college, armed with only Dreamweaver and green HTML/CSS skills, I was somehow able to get a job within a week of looking. Now? Companies have stepped up their game and even recruiting agencies are asking for samples to use as references. Especially if you’re a developer who’s only worked in agency settings where your code is owned by them. Don’t be me and have some code on hand.
I admit to having an empty GitHub profile up until three weeks ago. I like to refer to David Stanley’s post on Medium, “Passion or Professionalism?” when describing myself nowadays. I’m not saying that you should be coding both inside and outside of work hours. For some, including myself, achieving such a task is downright unhealthy and exhausting. We need to shut off work as human beings to be productive, well-rested, and mentally/physically healthy. For me, that meant code didn’t exist when I got home. Unfortunately, the consequence of that was not having any side projects or samples to show off when I needed them. So if I could go back in time, I’d try to take a holiday or a weekend ( I know, it’s hard! ) to build something small. Anything! As I quote from Syed earlier, if it doesn’t exist, nothing will happen. So at the very least, I’d like to think if I’d at least had some projects started, one of them could have become something along the way.
So tip number two, write some code. Doesn’t have to be the most fantastic thing you’ve ever written, but it’s a start. Someday you may need it.
Savings! Oh God, savings!
If we could all predict when life is going to backhand us, we’d all be better off, right? Unfortunately life just works that way. Shit happens. If there’s one other lesson I could give to my past self, it’s to save every penny. You’ll also probably need more than you think. Since life is unpredictable, it’s hard to know the right amount to save and feel secure that it’ll be enough. Sometimes we can save all our lives, and the right order of events happen ( or wrong I should say ) and it still won’t enough. I’m not trying to say saving is pointless if it may never be enough. Just saying to do your best and don’t beat yourself up about it if it wasn’t enough after all.
Having a support system like family and friends help as well. Finally, don’t let pride stall you and definitely look into what benefits you’re entitled to. Sign up for unemployment benefits if you qualify, apply for SNAP, apply for Medicaid, look into other forms of public assistance. While I can’t promise that this process is a picnic, in fact, it’s the farthest thing from fun on the planet, if you can get financial help this way, then hey, by all means. I understand there’s stigma surrounding government assistance as well, and I won’t get into that here. Instead, I’ll let Upworthy provide some insight on SNAP instead. Seriously though. Life happens. If a government program can help you, you’ll fill out a lot of forms, need copies of a lot of documents, and you’ll need a lot of patience, but it’s worth it.
Keep a Routine.
Okay now this is where I failed at first. Keeping a daily routine becomes really, really hard when you’re unemployed. When you’re used to dragging yourself out of bed at some ungodly hour while part of you grumbles whose fault it is for forcing you awake and then reminding yourself there’s a job to commute to, and bills to pay, that’s normally the motivating factor to getting you up in the morning even against your will. Now when that motivating factor is gone, it’s very tempting to wake up whenever. It’s easy to stay up late, catch up on all those video games you never get to play when you were working, eat crappy food and completely lose track of time. Especially when you’re dealing with mental illness or any other factors in your life that may be adding to the fact you’re unemployed, sticking to a routine is hard as hell.
I admit my first week, I kind of assumed the recruiters on LinkedIn would flock to me as usual, beat a bunch of games, and took it easy. By the second week, I realized I needed to haul ass. I realized I didn’t just want a job. This was an opportunity to find THE job. The one that I’d actually be happy and thrive in. Not some random place that I’m throwing myself into just to pay the bills.
So instead of taking my exhaustion as a sign that I needed to go back to sleep, I’ve actually been making myself go outside. I don’t have a job to go to, but I’ve still been waking up before 10 to make phone calls, research online, and whatever I need to do on weekdays. Eating the right number of meals and whole foods, writing myself to-do lists in the morning, making myself sleep at a reasonable hour to wake up the next day, it’s really helping me feel productive. Sure I’m eating more cookies than usual, and they’re not “healthy” but hey, there’s gotta be at least one silver lining. 🙂 Besides, if you are looking for jobs, you will likely get a lot of phone calls in the mornings. Unless your morning froggy voice is charming, I highly doubt you want to answer your phone that way.
Your Mind Will Play With You.
A lot. No, really. We’ve all dealt with impostor syndrome at some point in our lives. When you have more time on your hands, time can be a good thing. I’ve been taking time to enjoy walks in the park with my dog, cooking breakfast more often, and creating my own schedule. On the downside, having extra time with the pressure of being unemployed messes with you. With every pending interview, with each email that goes unanswered, with every passing day that you haven’t been hired, naturally those insecurities creep in.
“Maybe I’m not good enough.”
“Maybe I need to earn a happier job.”
“Maybe this field is too much for me.”
I had to re-watch Chris Lema’s video on Impostor Syndrome. I have to remind myself that there’s people in front of me, sure, but there’s still people behind me. Despite what rock stars, ninjas and unicorns companies may be seeking, these are the phrases I repeat to myself.
“I can do anything I want to do. If I don’t know something, I’ll learn it.”
“I deserve happiness no matter what my skill set looks like or how many years of professional experience I have.”
And lastly –
Some days I feel like everything’s going to be okay. Others, not so much. What helps is reminding yourself what you’ve learned in the time before it all happened. How far you’ve come. Years ago I googled the word “repository” and snuck post-its to work with shorthand CSS written on them that I hadn’t memorized yet. Here I am now using Sass, Git, and building entire WordPress builds. While I still haven’t gotten the hang of task runners, I have pride in my clean modular CSS nowadays. I’m trying to define myself by what I know now, not what I haven’t learned yet. Besides, that can change with time.
Getting a job is easy. Getting the dream is hard. Wait, but sometimes getting a job is hard too.
So I’m in a weird situation right now. Ideally, I’m aiming for the “dream” job, but with each passing day, the desire for a dream is quickly morphing into the need for a job. Unfortunately, in spite of all the motivational posts online advising you to get a job that won’t “make work feel like work”, there are bills to pay and due dates. So I’m pretty much doing both. Crossing my fingers for “the dream”, but also prepared to do what I need to if that’s the choice I’m given.
Not to mention getting a job in web development these days isn’t always that it’s hard to find opportunities. If you have a LinkedIn account, you may know exactly what I mean. It’s that there’s a process to getting hired now. It’s not like the old days where you go on an interview, you like them, they like you, bam, hired! Nope. There’s the back and forth phone calls, emails, maybe even Skype chats. Meeting with the recruiters or whoever is mediating the process, but isn’t the actual person that hires you. Sometimes you’ll have to complete a code test or provide samples for developers you haven’t even met yet to review. If you’re in this process with multiple companies, then you’re also doing this however many times for each company, usually simultaneously. Each process can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks! If you’re lucky, you’ll actually get to the point where you have a real interview.
I can’t tell you how exhausting this is both mentally and physically. I admit to resorting to a few good recruiting agencies to help me out while I continue my own job search. Recruiting agencies, followers on Twitter, friends on Facebook – apply to anything you see that you’re interested in and allow others to assist. Be patient. Be very, very patient.
Err, so what exactly is your dream?
Now I know this was a long post, and I haven’t even mentioned exactly what my dream job is. Well, part of it is obvious. While I love front-end technologies/languages, my blog and contributions tell all. I’m in love with WordPress. I’m also discovering that I’m enjoying back-end languages. Functionality over fonts and colors as of late.
A few weeks ago, on my commute home that very fateful day where I became officially unemployed, I was drawing pie charts in my trusty owl note pad. It was then that I realized why I was so unhappy. See for yourself below.
One thing I noticed after graduating college and jumping into the “professional world” here in NYC is that slowly all the hobbies I had tapered off. There just wasn’t any time. When I had time, I had errands to run that couldn’t get completed during the week. Sometimes I had time, but I was too tired or unmotivated. Something was wrong. I didn’t realize it at first until certain life events happened in 2014 and then it hit me. I was living to work instead of working to live. I don’t want to live like that anymore. It’s my most precious goal due to my family, and my physical/mental health. Notice how I didn’t have time to get 8 hours of sleep in the chart above? The “other” category is also for anything that isn’t work or sleep, as in getting ready in the morning before work, settling in after work, cooking dinner, picking things up on the way home etc. It doesn’t always include actual time for me to spend with others I love or to tend to my own well being.
A lot of days I had to bargain between whether I wanted “me” time at the end of a day or to actually get a good night’s rest. It’s a shame that I had to sacrifice one or the other. If I sacrificed sleep, my performance would steadily decline and I’d rack up a sleep debt. James Clear has an awesome article called, “How to Get Better Sleep: The Beginner’s Guide to Overcoming Sleep Deprivation,” that sums up why sleep is so important. Not taking time for myself would also make my job performance suffer while my well being deteriorates. It was obvious that the problem wasn’t that I didn’t have “enough time” – it was that work was taking too much time. How can I fix that?
The solution? A remote job. Take a look at the beautiful chart below.
I actually counted “lunch hour” into “other” assuming it’s a 9-5 kind of schedule. I did this because if I’m not tied to an office, lunch break doesn’t have to count as “work”. I’ll never have to work through lunch or bring lunch to my desk because it’s too expensive to buy lunch in the city. I’ll never have to rush back to an office due to my lunch break limit. If I’m remote, my job goes where I go. Being off to lunch and back is as simple as opening my laptop in any location I want.
Just glancing at this chart though, doesn’t that look more balanced? Not only do I have time to get a real 8 hours sleep, but I have an extra few hours of “other” time. In other words, “me” time. I know that seems silly to some people, but seriously, those few hours make such a difference. I’ve known what it’s felt like to wake up in the morning and just feel bad. Bad physically or bad mentally, sometimes both. My first instinct would usually be to call out of work. However, an extra hour or two of sleep is sometimes all I need to wake up revitalized again. I found that one problem is that maybe I haven’t slept much in the first place ( see that first yucky chart again for reference ), or if I’m not feeling well, just knowing I can sleep a little longer and work in my PJs is what becomes the difference between you, the employer getting work done or me, the employee, taking a day off. Shauna Gordon has an excellent reference, “In Defense of Remote Friendly Work Environments“.
In summary, having a remote job is exactly what I need to live a more fulfilled life. I’m fortunate to have honed a skill-set and have experience in a field that doesn’t need my physical presence in an office. I’m not saying that I’ll never visit an office again. There are times where having an office available to me would be a nice change of pace. If there’s anything I’ve learned so far though, in the last year and a half since I “woke up” from living to work, is that I no longer thrive in places where I can’t live my life. It’s no secret that Americans work way too much. I no longer want to be one of those people.
Luckily there are companies stepping up and realizing this workaholic trend isn’t doing anyone any favors. Companies are now enforcing paid paternity/maternity leaves, unlimited vacations, flexible schedules and Results Only Work Environments. Employers are seeing their employees as human beings to the point where I recently read about a company having a mental health counselor on site for everyone to make use of. That’s amazing!
Unfortunately these work cultures aren’t wide spread yet so finding a position at one of these awesome places can be difficult. There’s the freelance route as well, but that comes with it’s own pros and cons. Either way, my dream is pretty simple. I want to live my life to the fullest and if I work somewhere that nurtures that, I will be the best employee I can for them. Hopefully that’s where I end up. Keep your fingers crossed!
I hope something here was useful to someone. If you’re currently working, take some time to write a little side code, prepare socially, prepare financially. If you’re unemployed too, be patient, don’t be afraid to ask for help, and just keep on going! You can do it!