01 March 2016

Shiny Tech Bubbles

I'm reading lately that the tech bubble in Silicon Valley has burst. Maybe it has, maybe it hasn't, I don't know-- I'm not going to try to answer that question. Many people who know more about it than I do can't agree either way. It matters to me because Silicon Valley is the general direction I'm headed. It would be nice to arrive in the middle of a tech boom, where bags of gold are pushed into the faces of people like me who know how to write code. (I really don't expect that to ever happen.)

An important part of PTSD for me is that I question things: is this dangerous? Is this a threat? Where can I hide? What action do I need to take? I do this many times a day, just in normal life. Imagine this on the scale of packing up all of my shit and moving to a different state on the far side of the country. There are those times when I think about moving to California and wonder if I'm doing the right thing. Of course, there are a lot of distinct variables involved, and when I wonder if I'm doing the right thing, solving the equation always results in the same answer-- yes. Even if I'm not yet able to solve for all of the variables (and trust me on this, there a lot of them that I can't yet solve for).

The first bubble implosion that most people think of, the dot com implosion, was pretty bad. I was there, in the middle of it-- I saw and felt it happening. There was one particular time, a meeting in which the VP told us all that we had a market cap bigger than a whole list of companies including GM. He also told us that where we were (Milwaukee WI), we were "safe" because "if I'm going to put butts in seats, it's cheaper for me to put butts in seats here than anywhere else." That was early in 2000. By the end of 2000, all of those seats were empty because all of the butts had been laid off. I'd left in June, at the same time as the one other real hacker that worked there. We'd seen the writing on the wall clearly enough.

Having the foresight to see the ship sinking didn't help a great deal; I ended up working for a consulting temp company at a job that I was a terrible match for. It seemed better than the dot com, and so I grabbed it, because the year 2000 wasn't the greatest time for a junior programmer to be looking for a job in Milwaukee. I went to a few tech happy hours, where I met lots of people who were in exactly the same situation. There was hope that things would rebound. Things didn't, at least not for me.

I wasn't actually diagnosed with PTSD until 2009, but it was there a lot earlier-- it was there in 1999, at the dot com, which was an old warehouse converted into office space. I had a cubicle, but it was a noisy place. Realty companies would send in listings via fax (this was 1999, remember), and the fax machines rang and printed constantly. Phones rang constantly. There were a few people who had cellphones, who would leave them at their desks and go do other things, so throughout the day their favorite ringtone would play. And play. And play. Account managers would interrupt constantly either by phone or in person. If I didn't answer my phone they'd leave a voicemail, then email to tell me they'd left a voicemail, then come to my cube. It was... maddening. I started staying late into the evening, because that's the only time it was quiet and therefore the only time I could actually get anything accomplished.

Kinda like now. I need a quiet, calm, stable environment to work in.

In 1999-2000, Persian Gulf War veterans didn't have PTSD as far as the VA was concerned. It was never something they asked or talked about. In 2000, depression sunk its teeth in-- the temp job I was working was in a server room, full of servers but also modems. The systems located in 1,000+ field locations would constantly dial in to send and receive data. It was a windowless room in a basement, behind a conference room. When the company was using the conference room, I wasn't "allowed" to go through the conference room to get coffee, or use the bathroom, or whatever. (More than once I went through anyway, explaining that I was sorry but it was either this or the server room gets really messy.) Things weren't great at home, either. So it all added up to depression hitting me hard in the fall of 2000. And when I went to the VA in Milwaukee, they didn't ask me anything about PTSD. They put me on an antidepressant (celexa) that made me feel like a zombie, and things went pretty well downhill from there for a while, until I went back to school in 2003.

The reason I mention this, is that the dot com implosion in 2000 had a really big effect on my life. You could say it was a negative effect, and it certainly seemed so for a long time. There were a lot of things about my life that changed. For quite a while, I was treading water-- not floating, not sinking, but not getting anywhere either. I realize now that the PTSD was there anyway, that it was going to have an effect anyway, and that it showed up when it did may have been a consequence of the business climate, or it might not have. There wasn't anything I could have done at the time that would have changed anything-- and in fact some of the changes that eventually happened turned out to be good things. Eventually.

It is not without a healthy dose of fear that I'm moving to California. It's easier when you're young and don't know and don't care how things can get-- you don't worry so much about things going wrong because you don't know how bad life can be when they do. I've put a lot more into getting a feel for things for this move than I put into deciding to join the U. S. Air Force, for example. I know, somewhat, what I'm getting myself into. I also know I'm not the person that you see in the New York Times when they publish a slideshow on Silicon Valley-- they recently did publish a slideshow that included CalHacks 2.0, which I participated in. I was about two rows of chairs outside the photo. I'm also not that person that you see lying on a pillow in a co-living space with six other twenty-something people eating pizza and starting at laptops-- although I do eat a lot of pizza and stare at my laptop a lot I live alone, and because of PTSD and just who I am I prefer it that way. I'm not necessarily a lone wolf, but I am something of an introvert anyway, and I just need quiet and alone time. Hyper aware introverts, especially Desert Storm vets who are twenty years older than everyone else, don't get written about in the papers.

It's for that reason that I'm not sure exactly where to aim, to fit in. Hopefully I find a job before I move, that will pay for a place to live. I don't know if I'd last very long in a co-living space. I'm sure there are other quiet people and I know there are quiet places, even if they need to be looked for. If I don't have a place to live, well, I'm moving anyway. My next blogging project may be "life in a van", although I know I wouldn't be the first nor the last. I've written before about open plan offices and noise and all that, and I don't know how that's going to work out. In a way, I'm trying to learn from the past and the present-- my current job is as much about working and being productive in a "real" environment as possible, learning how to cope with the problems. I'm also thinking about the things that went wrong before I knew what PTSD was, and trying to come up with answers that will help now.

Just to be clear, there's no written manual for any of this. I'm winging it.

There is also the matter of college-- something I haven't talked much about lately, but that I've been looking into a great deal. It is very likely that I'll need to establish residency in California before I can afford to be in school, so I'm looking at a year (potentially) to make that happen. I'll also need to transfer into a school in California, which is going to be complicated. As a computer science major, I don't have the grades to meet the minimums (that semester where I was evicted from VA transitional housing really hurts here). It is looking increasingly likely that I'll be changing majors-- to what I don't yet know. I will possibly be able to do a computer science minor. Where this happens has a lot to do with getting a job, and probably even more so which school actually accepts me. Or maybe there's a way to move out to California and go straight to school-- financial aid, scholarships, whatever-- but I haven't figured that all out yet. College is going to continue. I'm going to finish a bachelor's degree in something, even if it's not computer science.

Writing this all down serves a couple of purposes. Mostly, it's me getting my thoughts organized and arranged into something that resembles a plan. I'm honestly struggling with more than a few things, one of those being that I really wish I could just stuff my laptop into my backpack, get on a plane, and not come back. There are so many reasons that I don't want to be here any more, and it's easy to focus (and get stuck) on them. Thinking about why I don't want to be here doesn't do me much good-- the answers are always the same, they don't change-- but thinking about the future is a positive thing. Even if it's mostly undefined at this point.

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