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Living and Working in a Techie Backwater?

Greetings, my first post here.

I live in a part of the midwestern US that doesn't exactly support a world class technology scene. I guess my overall question is, is it possible to be location-independent in the IT industry as a technology producer and stay sane AND make a decent living, and to cope with a tech hostile local business culture?

A brief history: I grew up here, went to a local college that my parents couldn't afford on scholarship, and took my first professional job in the Bay Area because my other local offers around here were so incredibly lame. My degree was BSEE, but I moved into software early in my career a few years later. I graduated in the early 80's. Due to personal and family issues I rambled in several parts of the country for a few years (as an FTE, not a "road whore"). I moved back to my home area in the late 80s and I have been
here since, again because of family and personal issues.

I was laid off or fired from a succession of three different jobs at really crappy local companies, in the period in the late 80s and early 90s, and I have only contracted since that time - mostly to protect myself from the local scene.

Here's what I have encountered in making these moves.

This area (where I now live) is extremely blue collar (auto worker dominated.) I can just about guarantee you that if I tried to explain to a company owner or manager around here that I develop Win32 applications using Delphi and C++ their eyes will glaze over and they ask DO YOU DO WEB PAGES? "No, I write the kind of programs that run on your PC in Windows!" "Oh, you mean SOMEONE does those? Uh... do you do web pages?"

Worker mobility in CS or Computer Engineering jobs is very low here. When people here find a decent development job that pays more than $50K they stay until they're laid off or the company folds.

Almost all techies here are FTEs. Contracting (my preferred mode of operation) is unknown here. The FTEs I know here are generally, absolute *pussies* (pardon the language), accepting any steaming plate of crap that is thrown their way as long as they get to build their little widgets.

Many companies and managements around here pride themselves internally on being *extraordinarily* abusive toward techies. Example: a client I had before this gig essentially let a "lifetimer" techie employee hound a friend of mine out of that company in a shouting match.  I've been threated with death and/or financial ruin at one startup. I've had several clients and headhunters make snotty and unfounded allegations about my character based on superficial comments in interviews. Getting pushed around and being treated like a 5 year old is the norm for most techies in this area.

On longevity and business wisdom, etc: this area is littered with the ruins ofmany technology companies that collapsed because they either implemented an idea poorly or were completely mismanaged. In my span as a contractor (since
the early 90's) I have outlived half the companies I've worked with. The local chambers try to put a high tech gloss on the region but most companies here are
sweatshops for those who code or engineer.

On the quality of co-workers around here: extremely low. (sic: anyone decent who could make the choice has already left the area, as I once did.) I just gave a reference for a guy that did help desk support for a client for his
entire term there, who believes that he is a programmer. He is being considered for a team lead position. (I smashed his illusions to size in a private exchange and I gave him a decent reference that sidestepped any consideration of his development abilities at all. Ick.)

What I've done: I've specialized in working with smaller, 'ugly', high turnover companies that world class developers wouldn't flick boogers on. Example: my current client company has *NEVER* used internet email, so if I
send them files I have to physically phone call someone in the company to check their FTP account.

I suspect that the ultimate answer is to keep doing what I've already been doing; form my own plans; perhaps look at developing my own product(s); don't do anything more than humor the employer or client du jour, and always keep a perspective on how absurd the situation is.

Oh, yeah, and I DON'T want to live on the road. I did it once. Right now, my wife and her family is here, so making a move is logistically impossible.

Thanks for reading... commiseration and strategies welcome.

Dissatisfied in Deliveranceville
Saturday, December 28, 2002

I worked in Las Vegas for a few months as a contractor and found the same kind of attitude amongst the locals. Basically they were all coming from other fields and would accept any job thrown at them. Although I wanted to stay because I loved the desert and Las Vegas itself I couldn't see myself working in a place where the IT  community consists of a few tech companies, one game company and hundreds of small sleazy porno establishments. I came back east to Northern VA and have stayed in the area since.

Ian Stallings
Saturday, December 28, 2002

Dissatisfied (in Detroit?),

The situation you describe sounds very similar to that of myself and colleagues in the San Diego area, which I don't think is considered a backwater. A friend in Portland reports that the situation there is worse than San Diego and Portland is supposed to be one of those up and coming tech centers.

I suspect your experiences are not related to your being in a backwater but are average for the industry as a whole.

Perhaps the valley and the research triangle in NC are different, but i think what you describe is what you'll find just about anywhere.

I don't know the solution. I got out of VLSI design and into machinist work which pays more and offers more respect and job security though my wife still works in tech, although she is developing her own products on the side. The idea about developing your own products sounds like a good one.

Ed the Millwright
Saturday, December 28, 2002

I'm guessing maybe Lansing, Michigan.

Maybe Ann Arbor.

Mitch & Murray (from downtown)
Saturday, December 28, 2002

You're in Wichita too?  Maybe we should hook up.

well cat
Saturday, December 28, 2002

Midwestern US ?

Sounds like Australia to me.

Saturday, December 28, 2002

For not being American: What's FTE? Tried to google, but without success.

Sunday, December 29, 2002

FTE = Full Time Employee

Sunday, December 29, 2002

Cry me a river.
It's funny. On tech sites people complain about their jobs. On finance sites people complain about their jobs. On sales sites people complain about their jobs.

Sunday, December 29, 2002

On jobless sites people... oh!, wait, no they don't

Crusty Admin
Sunday, December 29, 2002

If you're that good - telecommute.

I live in a small city with a population of 10,000 or so, in a county with a population around 90,000.  I commute an hour each way to a larger city (around 160,000 + more in suburbs).

Is there less opportunity than a big city?  Well, Yes. 

More %age of people who don't "get" it?  Well, Yes.

A smaller niche for me? ... Well, Yes.

But, in my book, that's balanced by neighbors I know, a lack of crime, good schools, walking to Church on Sunday Mornings, a downtown with things I need that's 4 blocks away - being able to buy a 3,200 Sq. Ft. House when I was 22 years old.


Matt H.
Monday, December 30, 2002

Dissatisfied, it's definitely possible to find good work in a "backwater" but you're going to have to modify your additude substantially.

Monday, December 30, 2002

>Example: my current client company has *NEVER* used internet email, so if I
send them files I have to physically phone call someone in the company to check their FTP account.

Why don't you alert their pager via HTTP messaging after FTP'ing a file?   
Or why don't you use a telephony board to make the call for you after you FTP the files? 
Or why don't you write a script on the client side that will automatically poll the incoming FTP directory?

Tuesday, December 31, 2002

Alternative 1:

If you're good at programming and some (on-line) marketing, perhaps you should look into writing Shareware apps ?
You could work from your own home, and have contact with people who really appreciate your work. They'll even pay you for it... (Although you'll probably never really see anyone face-to-face.)
I'm thinking about it, but haven't done it yet, though...

Alternative 2:

I'm sure you're intelligent. Why not look at viable jobs other intelligent people are doing around those "backwaters", even if its not computer related in any way...

Wichever you choose, may you have the best of luck and success.

Wednesday, January 1, 2003

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