In August 2006, I left my employer to embark on a journey to change my skill set and mind set. My previous employer was a very large defense contractor who offered a decent workplace, average salary, excellent benefits, and, of course, job stability. I announced to my friends and family that I would be leaving this employer, returning to Arizona and leaving the ranks of the employed for an undetermined amount of time. It seemed ludicrous to most people at the time, myself included. I was sure of only one thing at that time: I intended to refocus my career goals in an entirely different direction.
I had attempted to take my career in a different direction while still working, but I found that after 60-80 hour work weeks, a Master's program in Computer Science and a wife and two young children, I didn't have the energy. Voluntary unemployment was a calculated risk that I could learn what I needed to enter my newly chosen career path before I was forced to declare bankruptcy.
Unemployment is not really as bad as I thought it would be. I was able to spend time learning the things I was truly interested in, including Ruby on Rails. I spent a lot of time with my family and generally enjoyed myself. I found that I could actually work longer with more focus that I ever did at a previous employer without feeling tired or burnt out.
Eventually, our finances drained to the point of alarm and I began to look for a professional position working with Ruby on Rails.
Since early 2007, I have been contracting my Ruby on Rails services to various employers. While this was lucrative it was also very frustrating. During that time I learned a little about myself and the environment in which I work best. I invest myself in what I do and as a contractor I found it hard to not get involved beyond what was required of me.
My first contract position was a fixed bid contract that was referred to me by my brother. It allowed me to choose the technology and create a simple student tracking system for a wellness center. It was deployed internally in January of 2007 and as far as I know it is still being used. My first real, deployed and used application! With that experience under my belt, I placed my resume on various websites advertising my interest in Ruby on Rails development positions. In a few short days I was contacted.
My second contracting position was an 18 month contract to create an EMR system for a local, privately held behavioral health organization. This was the big test for me to gauge if my calculated risk would pay off. Unlike the previous contract I was interviewed about my knowledge of Ruby on Rails, databases and Agile development. Two weeks after advertising my resume, I was hired to work professionally with Ruby on Rails. I learned a lot during my time contracting for that company, including how much I didn't know, and met a great Phoenix Ruby on Rails developer, Josh Huckabee. I also attended my first RailsConf in Portland, OR in May with Josh and a few of the full-time employees.
Attending RailsConf was a real turning point for me, in many ways. Part of what I was missing as a lone wolf developer was the sense of community and interaction with other Rubyists – I met some great people at RailsConf! Upon returning, I began attending the Ruby User's Group in Phoenix, Phoenix Rails Group and Refresh Phoenix to connect at a local level with other enthusiastic Rubyists, developers and designers.
This was the beginning of the end of my time at my current contract. As I discovered more about agile Ruby on Rails projects I realized that it would be highly improbable to influence the current direction of my contract employer. For three more months Josh and I attempted to influence the direction of our project and rescue it from impending failure. In August, we made our exit and, because of RailsConf and local networking, we began contracting for a consulting company called Integrum Technologies.
Integrum and Me
In January 2008, Josh and I became full-time Integrum code monkeys. Integrum is an amazing place to work and completely unlike any company I've worked for. There is a level of openness and transparency that I have only read and dreamed about. Of course, Integrum is not perfect, but we are working hard to constantly improve ourselves while still having a blast. My wife constantly reminds me that Integrum is fueled by fun :) I believe that this year will be an important one for our company. You can keep up on what's going on with us by reading, or subscribing to, the blog.
A year and a half has passed since I resigned my comfortable, full-time position in California. In that time I have accomplished more that I could have hoped for and am happier than I've been in some time – my calculated risk paid off.
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