For many tiny nerds growing up in America in the 80’s, Space Camp was one of those unattainable paradises that you could only hope to meet someone who had been there just to know it was as cool as it looked on TV. I never got to go, but between that, a golden age of Sci-fi, and an almost aggressive Space Program, working for NASA was one of those things that I just wanted to do. That said, I also thought the only job there was Astronaut.
Of course, it turns out I wasn’t physically gifted which you had to be. I also wasn’t smarter or more driven than every other kid who wanted to a spot. I’m sure if I had applied myself, I might have had a slim chance, but that wasn’t the sort of kid I was. Also since the first Asian American didn’t go into space until 1985, only to have him die in the explosion that all but shuttered the program the very next year, I didn’t see the need to invest in effort in something that was never going to happen.
Back in 2015, I was in the worst job. Not that it’s the worst job anyone could have had, but it was also a textbook case of what caused a Hostile Environment. A friend of mine who was contracting said he was leaving his position at NASA Ames Research Center and they were looking for a replacement. Naturally, I jumped at the chance.
I remember one of the questions that the HR manager asked me was, ‘Why here?’ And I said, too quickly and too emphatically, ‘Because it’s NASA. I drive past this place all the time. Just driving around was a bucket list item for me. So, if this is as far as it goes, that’s fine. I never thought I’d be this close.’ On paper, it’s a bad answer, but I couldn’t stop myself from saying it.
And it’s true. When I went through High School, where I found out I’m not actually a very good Scientist, and College, where I found out I kind of hate academia, I had given up on that little Space Nerd’s dream. I also turned out to be very good at what I do, which is application programming. I was better at the Engineering aspect of it than the Science.
But they had an opportunity in their Applications Organization in their IT Department. And I took it.
I never regretted it. In fact, despite some friction I had, it was nothing compared to what I had dealt with in any other job that I had ever had.
Three years later, I’ve gotten an award, launched multiple sites, and received praise from different customers in different organizations. I did some good damn work.
And I still quit.
Since then, I had my second child, and California had just gotten too expensive. Anyone who knows the public sector knows that there is an inherent pay cut between there and the private sector. I had applied to over a dozen places in the area, and three in Chicago, where my family is from and my sons have half a dozen cousins waiting.
The only callbacks I got were from there.
This was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. The groundwork for initiatives I’ve taken were being adopted. I loved the work I was doing and supporting my coworkers. The commute was rough but manageable. I could have been at that job forever. Even upon leaving, everyone I’ve ever interacted with were supportive and sympathetic. Not once did I want to burn things on my way out.
So, last Friday was my last day. I quit the job I never thought I would get, that I had somehow convinced myself I wasn’t good enough to get. Maybe someday things will change, and I’ll go back.
If I had to tag a moral to the end of this story, it’s that even if you had a dream that you moved away from and never thought was realistic, it might still happen, and it could still make you happy. If you ever have to leave, it might be the hardest thing you’ve ever had to do. It could also be the best.
For me, that means leaving the best working conditions I’ve had since I started to dive into a new industry with new technology and move a household of six people and two dogs back to the Midwest.
Wish me luck.