So, where are we?
I started out as a kid who just wanted to write stories for a living, discovered the power of computing, dabbled in music but ultimately failed, decided not to pursue a career in acting, gotten serious about computing again after a car accident gave me an opening, took it to University and then quit, started and ended a brief career in manufacturing, gone back to school (sort of), and suddenly found myself earning more money and security clearance than I knew what to do with, for five weeks.
I knew that the security clearance was a Golden Key to something special. All you had to do was look at the job postings to realize that if you had SC, you were making bank. For my contract, I was making £1000 a week. At my manufacturing role, I was making about £1000 a month. As I mentioned, that was really a terrible wage, but a grand a week was still a lot of money even compared to a more reasonable salary.
This was not unusual. For SC-cleared roles in tech, everything was paying that for jobs that I was qualified for. With more senior roles came even more money, and then you had the senior DV-cleared roles. DV or ‘Developed Vetting’ clearance was another step above SC. It was the daddy of clearance for civilians, allowing for unescorted access into Top Secret-level premises and usage of their systems. DV roles paid even more again, and became part of a ‘contractor goals’ list once you were into a place that could get it for you.
I knew that my clearance would come through after a few months, but couldn’t sit around the house for all that time. What if it got denied? What if it took a year?
It took three months. I had held out, the promise of the £££ was too much for me to ‘risk’ going into a regular job, and armed with the clearance I sent off my applications and updated CV. I got an almost instant hit and soon found myself driving out to Hampshire – a 90 mile, 90+ minute ride – to interview for a Desktop Support position.
For reasons I’ll never understand, one of the guys they sent to interview me was almost unintelligible. Even after working there (spoiler alert: I got the job) for some time, I still could never really understand him. The other guy was also very timid, and I basically just said “I can do the things on this CV” and they said “Okay”.
A few minutes after I left, I got a call from the recruiter to offer me the job, which I gleefully accepted.
I was told that the job would be really easy, that the Desktop Support engineers spent most of their time with their feet up watching videos because the workload was so easy. I still don’t understand why he thought that would be a selling point, because I wanted to do stuff to further my burgeoning career, but whatever. His description of the work environment was completely misleading, but I’d discover that soon enough.
This was a 6 month role. I figured I’d commute for the six months, take the money, and run. As a contractor I could claim back money per mile driven for work and offset it against tax. With the mileage I was doing (180 miles a day, five days a week) I was paying practically no tax (so I can understand how the rich guys that move everything offshore feel) and making crazy money for a 22 year old.
The job was with HP-CDS (a Hewlett Packard-owned services subsidiary) working at AWE PLC, aka the Atomic Weapons Establishment, aka the Nuclear Missile Factory.
When I got there, I quickly found that there was a migration project going on, designed to update the existing Windows NT and Windows 2000 server and desktop infrastructure to Windows Server 2003 and Windows XP. Yes, this was 2007. Yes, Windows Server 2003 was already four years old. This is Government and Military baby. Slow was the name of the game.
None of the engineers wanted to know. They were perfectly happy supporting their ancient technology, and were worried that the new systems – with more integrated systems – were going to put them out of a job. Not being saddled with any of this history or baggage, I pushed myself front and center to learn about the new system. After a few weeks, I got transferred out of Desktop Support into the Escalations Team. Score!
I’d gone from being trained as a Desktop Support guy for a few weeks to suddenly working for the Escalation team. Desktop escalated to Second Line. Second Line came to Escalations when they couldn’t fix stuff. Talk about a promotion!
I worked in this office for six brilliant months, where I learned a ton of great stuff from some excellent mentors. As my six months approached, there was no mention of a contract extension, so I bid farewell to the new friends I’d made and went back home for the last time to Wales, confident that my next job would be somewhere in Cardiff or Bristol.
After I left, I decided to go back to the training center, as they were offering a course at a discounted rate for return customers. I’d already paid off the bank loan for the first one thanks to my contracting role, and still had enough left to pay for another three weeks. We covered networking and Windows Server 2003. I don’t really remember too much about this course, other than sitting up in the evening with the other guys at the shared house and watching all of ‘The IT Crowd’ on DVD.
A few weeks later I did another job for the Welsh Assembly Government. I was a Floor Walker – basically a mobile tech that would walk the floors of a government building after a major systems change had come into effect, handholding anyone who had a major issue. I think it was a month long, but was never going to be anything longer term.
At about the same time that this role was finishing up, the manager of contractors at HP-CDS for AWE walked into the doctor’s surgery my Mum worked at. It turned out he lived locally, and also did the crazy commute! My Mum recognized his name and they got into conversation. He asked why I’d left as I’d been doing good work, to which she replied that I’d left because my contract wasn’t renewed. He insisted that I call up the recruiter that I’d spoken to originally, and get my ‘job’ back!
So I did. I went back to the same job for a little more money per-hour, and picked up where I left off. One of my biggest projects was to create a Help file that would live on every person’s desktop, which would explain how everything worked. For someone used to Windows 2000 and a different security environment, this new system was a big cultural shift. The Help file was a wild success, cutting down significantly on volume of Helpdesk calls, and set the standard that I try to carry into every company I work for – good documentation is so important!
I continued commuting, certain that this would be another ‘six months and done’ scenario, and also still not yet confident enough in myself to move out of the family home. Halfway through the eventual 20 month contract I had to relinquish Captain Undy, as I’d piled some serious mileage on the car. I bought my Mum’s car from her – one suitable for schlepping up and down the M4 – a Renault Laguna.
This car made the continued ridiculous commute effortless. The Laguna was a big squishy French barge, and was perfect for long motorway journeys. It was Renault’s answer to the Ford Mondeo – both cars designed for middle managers and salesmen whose jobs was to pace the concrete corridors of the UK all day, all year.
It was, unfortunately, also thirsty as a drunk. The 2.0 litre petrol engine guzzled fuel, and cost me lot to run. Replacement with something more frugal became a necessity.
By late Autumn the Global Economic Collapse had happened, flooding the used car market with a ton of posh metal. On my budget of about £10,000 I was eyeing up diesel Ford Mondeo’s – just like the one I’d crashed into a rock up a small mountain in Mid-Wales – when I discovered that, for the same money, I could also afford a BMW …
Isn’t she beautiful? A BMW 320cd (Coupé Diesel) in Gunmetal Gray with BMW MV2 alloys. She had 60,000 miles on the clock when I bought her, and had over 120,000 when I sold her a few years later. She cost me a fair bit of money in maintenance, but I didn’t ever regret buying that car. It ignited a love affair with BMW that’s only just coming to an end 14 years later thanks to their new design philosophy of ‘let’s make the cars fucking ugly’.
I kept commuting in this from October 2008 to August 2009, when I finally fled the nest, thanks to an Australian Midwife, who worked in Yemen in 2009, but whom I met on a flight to Dubai, en route to South Korea.