Today, I did something I haven’t done in over a decade: I turned in my two weeks notice at work.
I often tell people I’ve been working at the FAA since 1995, which is really a half-truth. It’s true I’ve been working at the FAA since 1995, but save for 18 months back in the late 90s, I haven’t been employed by them. Instead, I’ve been working as a contractor for a series of contracting companies, providing services for the FAA. Being a contractor isn’t embarrassing; it’s just easier to say “I work at the FAA” than to hash out all the details.
There are a lot of benefits to being a contractor: it’s relatively easy to get hired on (much easier than becoming a federal employee) and the pay is typically good. The downside is, there’s not much in the way of retirement and even less when it comes to job security. Personally I’ve always believed that if you do a good job and are pleasant to work with, you’ll always be able to find work somewhere as a contractor. Either that attitude has paid off or I’ve just been really lucky; regardless, I’ve had steady work out there for fourteen and a half years now and have never been laid off. I have several friends who were not so lucky, and met untimely fates.
Most contractors would eventually like to become federal employees. Unfortunately there just aren’t enough jobs to go around. Federal hiring rates are often affected by congress and the economy and there are a lot of hiring freezes. Whenever a federal position opens up, hundreds or sometimes thousands of people apply for it. Federal jobs are seen as the ultimate goal for many contractors. I landed a federal job with the FAA back in 1996 as a LAN Administrator position up in Spokane, Washington. Finally, I had reached my goal! My fellow contracting co-workers were congratulatory and jealous. I had made it! Susan and I, with help front friends and family, packed up all our possessions and moved to Washington state.
Eighteen months later, in 1998, I turned in my two weeks notice. We were young, and homesick, and perhaps foolish to give up those jobs. Susan and I returned to Oklahoma, tails between our legs, as contractors once again. Susan quickly found another government position, but I was not as lucky. I was told by several people that quitting the government was “the dumbest thing I could have ever done,” and sometimes I felt like they were right. I had a government job — the “holy grail” — and I let it go.
In the fall of 2000 I was promoted to Network Engineer, where I felt like I had found my calling. It wasn’t a government job, but I didn’t care. Instead of supporting end users, I was finally supporting the network itself. The area I worked in was CDA — Central Domain Administration — and the five of us who worked there were the Domain Admins. Over the next few weeks, months and years I learned the ins and outs of a Windows-based network. I started off by earning several Windows Certifications (Workstation, Server, Enterprise, TCP/IP, etc) and applying that knowledge to our environment. I had many people take me under their collective wings and teach me things. We all found what we were good at; my background of writing batch files came in handy and I wrote (and to this day, write) lots of batch files, VB scripts and VB apps to help automate network tasks.
Over the next few years I saw several of my friends leave and take federal positions. I was — we were — always a little jealous to see friends leave, but I was always happy where I was. The people around me changed (some came, some went, some returned), but I was always happy. And now, the co-workers I have now are literally the best group of people I’ve ever worked with. I really mean that.
I’ve seen a lot of federal positions advertised since I returned to the life of a contractor, but to be honest, none of them interested me. That is, until a month or two ago. For the first time, some federal positions were posted that looked tempting. The first round of positions were for network admins, basically doing what I do now. I applied for those, but never heard back. “Wasn’t meant to be,” I said. Then, last month, another job was advertised, one that seemed to be written specifically for me. The FAA was looking for a security specialist to perform network security and vulnerability scans. That’s right up my alley! I filled out the application and promptly forgot all about it.
That is, until last week, when I was contacted out of the blue and offered the position. To be honest I was flabbergasted. I must admit the stress was immense, being forced to choose between a federal position and a contract position that I am both comfortable with and that I enjoy. At the age of 36, something else came into play — not just the job security of a federal position, but the retirement. Currently, I have essentially no retirement. That’s something I didn’t worry about fifteen, ten or even five years ago, but the older I get, the more these things weigh on me.
Ultimately, I chose the new position, a decision that at least for me, defines bittersweet. The new job sounds like a dream to me and I am very excited about the opportunities and challenges that await me — in the same breath, it would be easier to justify leaving my current position if I could find something wrong with it. I work with some of my best friends. I’ve been working for the same line of business for almost fifteen years and doing the same job for nine and a half of those years. I’m very comfortable, both in my knowledge level and my salary. Quitting this job is just about the hardest work-related thing I’ve ever had to do; the only thing that would be harder right now, I think, is letting this new opportunity pass me by.
My official offer letter came swiftly, via e-mail last last week. I accepted, and started the ball rolling today with my two-weeks notice. My last day in my current position is Friday, September 25th. I start the new job Monday, September 28th.
Wish me luck.