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Career Update Mid-2024

When I graduated from California State University, Monterey Bay, I was recruited alongside my capstone project teammates to go work for Booz Allen Hamilton, one of the largest and oldest government contracting companies in America. I had known very few things about that company when I received a job offer: that it was massively financially successful, that Edward Snowden had been employed there in some capacity during his exfiltration of classified documents revealing the illegal & unconstitutional existence of a dragnet wiretapping program led by the NSA, and that if I were a government, I would never pay a company to do something that I felt was necessary to do myself. I decided that an opportunity to jumpstart my career with a reputable and serious firm was too good to let my beliefs about how the world should work get in the way. I decided to move across the country and let an experience that I hypothesized would anger and disappoint me unfold - to test the validity of adolescent angst against reality.

I did excellent work at Booz Allen Hamilton. I was assigned the ugliest, most byzantine projects they could safely assign to new hires and I wrestled meaning from decade old enterprise Java code like an archaeologist dusting off ancient stone tablets, consulting with the ivory-tower-dwelling sages of stackoverflow (rest in peace) to bolt on upgrades and earn the respect and admiration of more seasoned colleagues previously tasked with the same job.

I was right about a lot of things, namely that every signal I was attuned to screamed “this is not the most effective allocation of government funds” at varied volume and pitch. Out of politeness, I won’t enumerate those signals here, but understand that when I left that job after 2 years against the desire of a company which wanted to retain me and was only incentivized to promote and reward me, I considered I now owed 2 years to an indisputably good cause as penance. It did not sit right with me that so much taxpayer money went straight to the contracting/management consulting industry - which is overwhelmingly comprised of and could be the encompassing description of - the military industrial complex which itself prioritizes money and weapons far higher than its own service members. I believed this was wrong as a 14 year old reader and viewer of the Iraq war, witnessing far more than a child probably should thanks to the uncensored web of the early 2000s, I believed it was wrong as a college student attempting to “just focus on the cool tech” while my university masterfully subdued and realigned me with numerous ethics courses, and now I finally knew it in a way that none but the crankiest of grandfathers could hand-wave away as youthful naivete.

I was wrong in some areas, too, mostly in thinking that these infamous spaces would be inhabited by outright crooks with evil goatees and sinister personalities. I found, nearly everywhere I looked, hardworking, family-oriented, regular people doing their best to make things right for the people they loved in a system they truly believed in. These were not overwhelmingly cishet white men, as I had expected. I saw what could be described as a sign that the dream of America as a cultural melting pot was not completely dead. The presence of black and brown workers felt comforting and familiar for a California transplant in Virginia. Overall, I realized that most people are good, but the cross-section of Americans who have the luxury of the time and education necessary to examine systems wholistically in order to determine righteousness is shamefully small, and even if they did have that, what does it matter if the only options that put food on the table are problematic?

In America, the only jobs that can sustain a family are overtly or covertly about enriching the rich.

*This is a generalization I wish to disprove, that saddens me deeply, but still feels right.

In my head, it was a difficult and terrifying journey from “a guaranteed, set-for-life, early-retirement” quality of life - something that my parents had decidedly not seen and had worked incalculably hard to make possible for me - to anything more aligned with my frustratingly rigid personal ethics. I decided on moving back to my home state of California and to take the transition realistically, gradually. I would find another lucky opportunity in an income-lateral job working again as a contractor, this time on the personnel & healthcare side of the Dept. of Defense. It was entirely unsexy; for the first few months I had no desk and a broken chair procured from the Dank Closet of Abandoned Office Furniture, and I’m pretty sure the whole place was full of actively harmful mold. I worked with some wonderful, smart people during a period of near-total disarray - this was Donald Trump’s DoD which felt at times like the inmates running the asylum - but ultimately was still not able to convince myself that it was the right fit.

At my first job, I had a version of the best of business infrastructure and support necessary for software development to make an impact at scale, with no guiding moral mission that would ensure I was really helping those in need.

At my second job, I had great people with a clear desire and mission to help people who absolutely deserved our help, with little to no oversight or care from the places that absolutely should have cared.

My third job could be it. The job to end all job searches. An environmental nonprofit with the mission of scalable carbon reduction. Sure, there it is. Sign me up. Anything I can build to advance that mission, I’ll do it. Surely there is no shortage of software need in that space, and I build software and am willing to do it for a less-than-evil wage. It means I don’t have to waste my life building better ad-targeting systems while the biosphere crumbles. It means I could put back into the system what I got out of it, maybe even boost it an order of magnitude. It means I could maybe have kids someday and be able to look them in the eye and tell them I tried to make it better and you can too.

Right now, though, the company has a comfortable, tangible path toward consistently reducing carbon emissions in a few states for at least a few years that doesn’t include any software engineering. Due to some things that I fully understand and some that I don’t, they’re in a position to choose a well-defined, sensible path at the cost of some talent and a force-multiplier on a gamble that might allow themselves to be positioned as a nationally-recognized environmental consulting firm. They’re at a pivot point: take a big risk, spend a lot more, insert themselves into an entirely new business, or retreat and keep doing the thing that is consistently bringing in money - which they use to help the community. While it is frustrating to be great at your job, to be right about things for 4 years and be largely ignored, then politely shown the door, I cannot in my heart of hearts fault anyone for choosing slower economic growth in 2024 America.

It will be a huge personal loss for me to part ways with my team - a group of passionate, empathetic, ethical nerds with seemingly infinite patience - who has stubbornly and with great care attempted to contort ourselves into any shape palatable by the larger organization in furtherance of collective empowerment toward the stated mission.

I will lose no sleep over no longer having to sit through the garish displays of toxic positivity which boils my blood due to its suffocating effect on honest communication and the pressure it creates to live in delusion.

So, it seems I’m at the next shattering point, the point at which the topography of the flaws of the current belief system is revealed and made available for self-study, the point at which any responsible builder should ask themselves: where should I build next?

I would like it to:

  • Be unimpeachably dedicated to a national priority (climate change, voting rights, affordable housing, saving the fucking bees idk)
  • Contribute to the shifting of American culture back toward empathy and safety (undoing decades of pervasive apathy and fearmongering by “conservatives”)
  • Provide enough money so that I can buy a house and start a family