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Two Years

It was two years ago today that I quit my job, left my IT career, and became a full-time musician and voice over actor. After 23 years working as a full-time employee or consultant, the change was radical, something I hadn’t even been considering as we entered 2017. However, it was a necessary change, in many ways, and was something that had been coming for quite a while.

I stumbled into the world of IT when I worked for CompuServe in the mid-1990s. Remember them? They’d been around since the 1970s, and had developed quite a few technical marvels, such as dial-up technology, e-mail, and more. By the time I arrived in 1994, they were part of the big three in the online services world, along with Prodigy and the up-and-comer America Online (AOL).

I started as a customer service rep, and the job came along at a crucial time. My ex-wife and I were 19, had a baby on the way, and had just applied for welfare a couple weeks earlier. We couldn’t find work, and were desperate. This well-paying job with full benefits came along and essentially saved us. We were able to stabilize and start our family.

I took some tech training after a year or so and eventually knew everything about modem strings, VPNs, and anything else related to computers and tech. When America Online purchased CompuServe in 1998, they laid off the entire customer service department, clearing out some 500+ employees. I’d been there four years and as it was my first layoff, it was pretty scary.

Fortunately, business was booming at this time. The Y2K crisis had become big enough that there were almost more jobs available than people to fill them. Within a few weeks, I’d landed with a consulting firm and my career path accelerated quickly. I self-studied for my MicroSoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE + Internet) certification, which I achieved at the end of 1999. A couple months later, Y2K happened, and the world ended.

Or, not. Actually, in most cases, there were some annoying hiccups that were quickly patched up, and the world moved on. Ironically, the impact to IT itself (to us, the folks working to save you from death and dismemberment) was far more brutal. My firm laid me and several other off in January, because we were ‘on the bench’, which meant we were coming in to the home office and twiddling our thumbs while we waited for them to find work for us. They got tired of paying us for that, so we had to go. Layoff #2.

It was tough to find work, but I managed a couple small assignments before finally landing my first web development job at an American Express subsidiary. It was exciting, a real learning experience, and changed the trajectory of my career. Sadly, it ended in my third layoff less than two years later, and that kicked off a two-year drought that remains one of the most challenging times of my life.

Newly divorced, with bills and child support to pay, I spent much of the next two years fighting for whatever work I could get. I spent three months with no work at all before finally swallowing my pride and taking a 30% pay cut to get work as a service tech. The work was sporadic. At one point, I worked two jobs.

I didn’t have another full-time job until 2004, when I landed at WebFeat, a small company based in California that had patented federated search technology where libraries and universities could combine all of their database and service providers into one web-based search portal. I was doing development again and working from home. This lasted seven years, until layoff #4 occurred.

After seven years working from home, I found myself back in an office, doing development for Chase. It was a great job at first and invigorating, as I found myself leading a re-design for an important internal site for all the bankers around the country. Coincidentally, two months after starting this job, I played my first open MIC. I’ll get back to that in a moment, but I had no idea that playing those four little songs in a nearly empty bar that night would completely change my life.

My main project at Chase was cancelled after six months, and it crushed me. I’d put so much effort into it, and was genuinely excited about it. When it disappeared, my enthusiasm for the job itself diminished, and now that I look back on it, so did my overall drive. I was there until the end of 2015 when layoff #5 occurred.

Back to the music. I’d played that first open MIC with no expectations, just wanted to try it. I got enough encouragement that I came back a couple weeks later, and back again, until it was becoming a regular thing. In April, 2014 I played my first solo show and while I wasn’t very busy at first, things ramped up quickly. I was making some extra money doing something I loved. By early 2015, I was hosting my first regular open MIC, and that’s really when my two worlds began to collide.

By the end of 2015, I was exhausted. I played shows most weekends, and the open MIC I hosted on Wednesdays sometimes went until midnight. My 5am wakeup call ensured that I wasn’t getting enough sleep, yet slowing down the music was simply not an option.

So, when the last layoff happened, I found myself, for the first time, truly unmotivated to find another job. I’d had some good experiences, and certainly had value in the industry, but I just didn’t care about it any longer. The passion was gone. It took me six months to find work, another consulting assignment. The pay was good, but it was a business analyst position, which meant that I wouldn’t be doing any creative development. I was a go-between, writing up documentation, facilitating meetings, essentially helping other people do the real work.

Within just a few weeks, I wanted out. My level of fatigue was so oppressive that I’d be sitting at my desk, staring, unable to focus. I got the work done that I needed to, but it was without passion. My music was what drove me at that point.

So, six months into it, a good friend finally told me in no uncertain terms that I needed to get off my ass and start using my voice to my advantage. We set up a quickie voice over web site and I started looking into getting training……and, crunching numbers to see if it would be at all possible to not have to work.

It was rather audacious, but the more my wife and I talked about it, it was clear that it was worth trying. So, I quit my job, and plunged into this new life that, after two years, has been more challenging and rewarding than I could have imagined. With a solid handle on my live music engagements, the voice over work has provided many unique opportunities that continue to push me in new directions. It’s exciting, and while there are no longer any days off, and there’s a constant need to network and find work, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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