(I’d started to write this on Friday, and lost the text in a computer freeze. I’m just getting back to it now—I apologize for the radio silence.)
It’s about twenty minutes past nine in the morning as I start this, which is unusual for me: I’ve been up nearly an hour. I have a load of laundry going, did a few dishes, and made coffee in the Rube Goldberg-esque vacuum pot. Of course, since Wednesday, I’ve been getting up at six in the morning, which is even more unusual for me—at least since I’ve been out in California. It would seem that, defying my track record, my body prefers a 6am–11pm schedule to an 8am–1am one.
I’ve mentioned this in friends-locked entries, but to those reading this publicly who may have found the last post or two cryptic: yes, I did find a job and started on Wednesday. The job is in Palo Alto (about 20 miles north of where I live), with a satellite company. It’s a contract-to-hire position, so after six months if things have worked out, it should become permanent work.
By satellite company one might think I mean, say, an installation company for Dish Network or DirecTV, or the company itself, but I mean the company that makes the satellites. I’m working in the company’s Mission Operations group, which works with Mission Control from about the point the satellite is handed off for software testing, through launch, up to “handover,” when the satellite is in its correct geosynchronous position and flight control is given to whatever organization will be maintaining it.
The particular role I have was described by the staffing agency as “mission operations engineering specialist,” but it’s really a jack-of-all-trades role: running an internal web site, coordinating distribution of certain reports, playing systems integrator for software testing, even some basic desktop publishing work preparing posters. The guy I’m taking over from is still there, and will be for another three weeks… which is good, because there’s just a whole lot of stuff in this job.
So what’s the job like so far? Part of me is curiously afraid to be enthusiastic about it, lest I jinx something—I’m not normally very superstitious, but I can’t help it this time. I’m worried that I’ve lost the knack for concentrating on single tasks when required, and organizing multiple tasks without losing my place. I’m worried that I’ve gotten soft in double-checking my work. (I’ve already made a couple trivial mistakes, and while they’re probably forgivable after only three days on the job, one of them was quasi-dyslexic carelessness—misspelling a foreign town name twice in two attempts!—and both could have been avoided by just looking at the work more carefully. I’ve got to make damn sure they’re anomalies, not the start of patterns.)
But, yes. I like it so far. I like the buildings, the industrial, 1960s/70s feel. I like the people—this is the first place I’ve worked at in Silicon Valley where I’m not feeling like being 38 makes me the oldest in the group, which is oddly refreshing.
People in this area will talk about how before Silicon Valley was Silicon Valley, it was all agricultural. But if you dig a little, there’s a step or two being left out of that picture: Moffett Field opened as a military base in 1933, and in 1960 the Air Force Satellite Test Center opened. I heard part of a story on the radio show This American Life not too long ago about a man whose family moved to Santa Clara Valley in the ’50s, part of the wave of aerospace workers who were the first to really start this area’s conversion from agriculture to technical suburbia. This company is, essentially, part of that wave.
This is not only not a Silicon Valley startup, it’s from a different culture—which is why, I suspect, it feels more like Intermedia. Intermedia did a lot of data transmission, of course, as they lived during the transition of the communications network from predominantly voice to predominantly data, but they were born out of, and maintained, a telecom mindset. Good enough is five nines—99.999% successful packet delivery.
Of course, that’s also what’s intimidating about this job. There’s a lot at stake here. The software being tested and the bugs being tracked don’t involve an online game you can roll out patches for next week, they involve $100M spacecraft that could be rendered permanently inoperable by a screwup of sufficient caliber.
…at any rate, it’s time to get going on the day. As you might guess, I haven’t actually spent two hours writing this: remember when I said I need to work on concentrating on single tasks? I have several little projects to get going on, not to mention going off to lunch. I’m perversely tempted to head up to Oakland to visit the Home of Chicken and Waffles, but I may come to my senses.