73) A Sober Realization

Welcome new reader!

In my last post, you read a bit of the inside scoop on the compensation for a career in mask (semiconductor layout) design. In this post you will read about my realization I had become a “hard-core” mask design contractor. I was no longer just experimenting or dabbling in independent contracting. I was a temp; albeit – a highly compensated one. 

1996 –  A Road Warrior Emerges

The next week I drove my VW Jetta to the Toyota dealership in Derry (I think) New Hampshire and traded straight-up for an almost new Toyota Tacoma pick-up, loaded my road-warrior gear and set-out for Fort Collins, Colorado.

New Road Trip, New Cube

At 46 years of age and bound for my first road trip as a contract worker in technology, my job skills and experiences were deeply embedded in a world of electronic design automation (EDA) and spending a lot of time inside of an 8 x 10 cubicle. As a contractor, I was immune from some of the negative things that employees routinely face, the chief of which – at least in my mind at the time – the repetition of entering that same cubical week after week and year after year. The movie “Office Space” exaggerates this aspect but makes the point. I was happy to have found contract Mask Design. Contracts typically lasted 3-12 months, paid pretty well and provided an opportunity to have a change of scenery frequently. (Why did I need that?)

My Change Addiction

Once I had decided to hang my shingle as a mask design contractor, I had justified leaving the New England area that included Boston and Manchester technology clusters by proclaiming no contract mask design work was available. Honestly, though, I hadn’t looked for work very long. But I’d had a taste of contracting. And now there was no turning back. Once again, with the wisdom of hindsight, I didn’t appreciate the situation my family found themselves in. Steve was experiencing random episodes of severe pain from pancreatitis flare-ups, preparations for the sale of the Londonderry house needed to be made and I was running off to Colorado for a contract; leaving Nadine to manage everything. Bonehead.

Maybe you’re thinking I was running away from my sons’ bouts of blinding pain. Not true. Although I felt helpless to solve the underlying cause of his chronic pancreatitis, I loved being there for him. If I was running away, it was from a failed career of making a long-term committment to ONE work situation, never family.

Had I Become Unemployable?

If a mask design career was a highly specialized sector within electrical engineering design, contract mask design was even more narrowly focused. My 5-year assignment as an employee at Analog Devices (ADI) had proven to be the pinnacle of a 27 year career in this field. I had participated in the development of the ADXL50, a chip that launched a billion dollar acceleration g-force measurement industry. When I left ADI to begin contracting, I knew inside I had reached the end of the line in the career. I had become unemployable – at least in the traditional sense.

Road Not Taken

Rather than buckle-down and take steps to switch careers, I began instead to follow the money. Stupid.

But I was excited.

Did you ever hold a position as an independent contractor?

Next: My Big, New Contract at HP in Fort Collins, Colorado

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