We were on the phone a lot during week five of the course. By now we’d done a lot of intensive learning, had overhauled our CVs and had set them free on the internet. It was 2007 and there were IT jobs everywhere as companies scrambled to make digital transformations and grow their teams to support the initiatives.
One of the concepts that had come up during the training was around contract jobs. I’d never even considered the idea of a contract role, but I was to discover that there were a lot of them around. I put my CV out into the world seeking literally any type of IT role, and one of the first bites I got on the line (mixing my metaphors here) was from somebody recruiting for a contract role. A contract role that was only three weeks long, but would pay the same amount (pre-tax) as almost three months at my previous role.
I was chosen because I lived near Cardiff in Wales (the location of the role’s HQ), could be available immediately, owned a car, and my CV showed that I had the requisite skills.
I did not have an interview. The interview itself was a conversation with the recruiter about whether I could install software, could drive and had a clean license. The answer to all three was Yes, and I was in.
I walked out of the training company (with their blessing – I’d already paid upfront for the course and would forfeit the last two weeks) and through the front doors of the Welsh Assembly Government building in Cathay’s Park in Cardiff.
After passing through metal detectors, I was led to an office area with two other older guys, and given some paperwork to sign. Apparently as we were going to be installing a particular type of software on particular types of laptops, we would need Security Clearance. Actual UK Government Security Clearance, that would if granted allow us by law to handle Secret-classified government and military documents, and view – with supervision – Top Secret-classified documents.
As it turns out, SC clearance is very common. There are thousands of people across the UK and her territories that possess SC clearance for a wide range of reasons. The reality is that many of them will never actually see something relevant to national security, but the mere fact that they work on a system that contains it could be a requirement for them to be cleared.
After I filled in the form, I was told that it would be sent off to the Developed Vetting Agency (DVA) for processing. References may be contacted (they weren’t). We dutifully went about our work, which was installing a VPN client on laptops.
Yep, that was my first Big IT Job. We were to travel around Wales (hence the car requirement) visiting various Welsh Assembly Government sites, uninstall an old VPN client and install a new one, test that it worked, and leave.
I loved it. Of course I did! I was earning as much money in a week as I had done in a month, a large part of my day was driving (which I was a few years into and adored), and I finally legitimately worked in IT. I wasn’t even particularly worried about what was going to happen next, because I essentially would leave the job with two months’ wages in my pocket with which to cover me as I searched for another job.
Two and a half weeks in, I was invited to dinner with our scheduler, who informed me that I’d done an excellent job, and that they wanted to keep me on for another two weeks if that was okay.
Hell Yeah it was okay. Another two months’ wages! (I stopped thinking about it in those terms when I finally realized that what I’d been earning at my previous job was not really classified as a ‘real’ wage).
To my surprise (and slight ego boost) the other two guys had been dropped from the schedule. They basically had a few very remote additions to the schedule, so only needed one person to bounce between them. I even made a day trip out of one of them – I was headed to Aberystwyth in West Wales, which was a personal favorite place for a friend of mine. In the pub one night I mentioned that I was going to Aber’ in a few days time, and she asked if she could join me.
I mentioned to my parents what I was doing, and my Dad very graciously offered me the use of his car for the day. This was A Very Big Deal. Dad had company-owned cars, and was particularly precious about keeping them in good condition. For him to make this offer, it meant that he trusted me as a driver and as an adult, which meant a lot to me.
Also, his car was a lot nicer than mine. Here’s a picture of my first car, a vehicle my ex-girlfriend of the era christened ‘Captain Undy’.
My Dad drove a Ford Mondeo 2.0 Ghia X.
For non-UK or non-car people, the Mondeo was the car of middle management, for companies that couldn’t quite afford to shell out on a BMW 3 Series. The 2.0 turbodiesel meant that it was punchy as hell on the throttle, and the Ghia X designation was the top line trim. We had wood all over the central console, and on the steering wheel – on the steering wheel – as well as beautifully cushioned leather seats, and a 6-CD changer from Sony.
Plus, it was red.
OK, this isn’t the sort of car that usually excites someone in their early 20s, but it marked a significant upgrade over my Ford Ka. If nothing else, it was considerably more comfortable and much faster. It was definitely an ‘old man’s car’ in some respects, and at this point in my life I looked like a child in a grown-up’s clothes, but it would be great for the journey.
Of course, I fucked it up.
I picked up my friend from her place early in the morning, feeling pimp as fuck in my big 20 grand car. We headed out, my little TomTom satellite navigation unit (remember those?) pointing us Westward until we reached a huge stretch of road that was being resurfaced. They’d essentially torn the old road to pieces and built a brand new one parallel to it – in places. This confused the bejeezus out of the TomTom, as we darted around the map on the old road then the new, and it decided that this road was no longer The Way.
As we were driving, it asked me to pull left shortly ahead. My friend cautioned against it, but I was adamant – trust the satnav!! So we slowed down and I swung a left, immediately finding ourselves driving up a very steep, very agricultural lane. Halfway up there was an almighty THUNK! from the passenger-side, and the car sagged to the left. We made it to the top of the lane – finding ourselves actually deposited on a real road, counter to expectations – and I discovered an absolutely flat tyre. The wheel itself was intact – thankfully – but the tyre was a goner.
This wasn’t turning into the best morning. I was due in Aberystwyth that afternoon, and we were still several miles away. I resolved to fix the issue – I pulled the spare wheel and the toolkit from the boot of the car and set to work trying to loosen the wheel nuts on the flat tyre’s hub.
I bent the wrench.
I am not strong, nor have I ever been. Unfortunately one of the areas that Ford clearly cut costs was in the toolkit, and the wrench bent, splitting open the metal and rendering itself useless. Thankfully my friend had free roadside assistance coverage with her bank card – not something she’d ever actually needed on account of not having a car or knowing how to drive – and after some considerable time we managed to find someone in the area from the AA who could fix the issue.
The guy rolled up, whipped out his industrial-grade wrench (unf) and had the wheels swapped in no time at all. It had cost me nothing but embarrassment and time. I made a swift call to my scheduler, covering for my severe ineptitude by simply saying I’d had car trouble, so that he could relay the message to the people waiting for me in Aberystwyth.
We eventually rolled into Aberystwyth – slower thanks to the space saver installed on the car – in the mid-afternoon, and I got the job done in just a few minutes. We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring Aberystwyth and riding the funicular railway up to the top of the cliffs. It was a nice time and, despite the tyre-related disaster, turned into a good memory.
That role came to an end after the fifth week as promised, and I turned my attention to finding something new. Before I left however, I discovered something which would put me on a collision course with the next person to alter the trajectory of my life. Of course, it’s a windy collision course, but I swear it all ties together.
I was told that when the other two guys left after three weeks, the WAG also pulled the request for their security clearance. They walked out of there contractors just the same as they walked in.
However, the request for my security clearance wasn’t pulled. I would receive it – assuming it was approved – in a few months. I was going in as a contractor, but walking out (in a few months) as a security cleared contractor, and that was a completely different situation.