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2013-06-13

Dave's Lookin' for a Job

The title of this post actually has a story behind it. 

In the summer of 1994, I decided to look for a new job. I began in those pre-online days by looking in newspapers and working my network of friends and acquaintances in person. One evening, my wife and I had planned to meet friends for dinner--a couple we had not see in many months after they moved out of our neighborhood. They had already settled in at a table when we arrived. As we strode up, the husband--Vic--asked how we were doing. Without hesitation, even before I could sit down, Julie blurted out, "Dave's lookin' for a job!" As it turned out, Vic was dealing with the loss of his technical staff that day as they departed to start a new company with his blessing. Consequently, dinner turned into a job interview as I said again and again, "Yes, I've done that," when asked if I had direct experience with a particular technology from video editing, programming, database design, telecommunications, etc. In several years working in the private sector, I learned how to master a new technology in a hurry. As it turned out, a few weeks later I was hired by Vic as a temp and began almost two decades at UNC (if you want the specifics, here are links to my curriculum vitae and my LinkedIn profile.) 

For those still with me, I'll try to explain what I might bring to a new opportunity and some hint of what might be interesting to me. 

My search is not specific. I'm not looking for a particular position, although I'm interested in many kinds of jobs. That seeming paradox explains my approach for almost all of my career. I learned the hard way, and early on, not to get my hopes up for any particular type of job. I started out as a freshly-minted PhD looking for a tenure-track faculty position as an academic historian. I discovered very soon that any open position often had scores of candidates. I did move from temporary teaching jobs to work for a small historical society. During my time there, however, I taught myself how to work with databases and began to realize that there was another path for me. When I switched to information technology, I was open to anything legal that supported the family. 

As it turned out, I managed to find jobs that were inherently interesting and I soaked up technical skills rapidly. By the time I joined UNC, I was conversant in several languages--with the exception of English, none of them human. But I also brought another set of skills honed from holding my own in family dinner table political discussions, challenging my high school English teacher to debate, regaling my fellow college students with ideas I learned in class that day, eventually lecturing and leading discussions with my students as a graduate teaching fellow and faculty member. It gave me practice in listening, engaging ideas, and bringing a group to a shared state of knowledge and even decision. (It also encouraged my mouth to go on and on. Sorry about that.) The result was a mixture of technical knowledge based on experience and the ability to lead a team to find the best solution, a combination that worked well for me over the next 25 years. I'm also accomplished in geek-to-English and English-to-geek translation. 

Most of the positions I gained were with organizations in trouble when I arrived. 
  • Technical teams with months of effort before them and only weeks of time before an absolute deadline
  • Research groups that needed to move from finely-crafted technical solutions to industrial-strength approaches
  • Technical services groups that lacked a coherent mission or business structure
  • Administrative groups that badly needed to clear some dead wood and bring in new management to address tightening budgets
  • Multi-institutional partnerships that lacked the sinews of partnership below some lofty rhetoric
In each case, I helped them bridge those gaps and meet the challenges they faced. I also recognized that once the challenge was met, I was ready for the next set of problems, and looked forward to learning new things. I often joke that, like the old curse, I wanted to live in "interesting times". I also discovered there are levels above interesting: fascinating, then riveting. (Riveting is very bad, but I know how to survive it.) 

So if I can bring lots of experience, technical understanding, an eagerness to keep learning, and organizational savvy, what am I seeking? Clearly, a position where all those are needed and in play. I'm open to contract work or joining an organization as a full-time member. The world has an abundance of challenges. I can't address more than a few, but I hope to make a positive contribution to our human family. 

If you know of a challenge that meets my experience and skills, here's how to reach me: