Posted by: GeekHiker | August 23, 2012

Always Playing Defense

I know, I know.  You’ve come here expecting tales of travel and wild adventure.

I’ll get to that.  Promise.  Really.  Sorting 18,000 photos, as it turns out, takes a little time.  Time I don’t have because I’m not allocating time for it.  For the time being, I can’t… or at least I feel that I can’t.

And you have no idea, gentle reader, how much I wish I could make editing 18,000 pictures the primary use of my day.

Instead, I’ve thrown myself headlong into the job search.  Sort of.  Actually, it would be more accurate to say that I’ve thrown myself into the career search.

(Well, that, and battling with the government over obtaining unemployment.  Which, truthfully, could be an entire blog post all of its own, but one that would quickly descend into nothing more than a rampaging rant, and one that’s probably been better written someplace else at that.)

One of the major questions on my mind before I started traveling was fairly simple: why was I so unhappy at my last job, the one I had been at for over ten years?  The question really broke down into two possibilities: 1) that the company that I worked for was a bad environment, but the job itself was okay or 2) that it was the job itself that I didn’t like.

When I left, I was pretty certain that the first theory was the true reflection of things and, looking back, it was a totally logical conclusion to draw from the situation.  While not overtly bad on a daily basis, at least not in such a way that I felt motivated to leave earlier, there was an underlying toxicity to the environment: unhappy staff, an often unsupportive environment, and a rumor mill that was second-to-none.  (Beyond that sentence, I’m not going to say more.  Not only do I think it’s rather bad form to spend a lot of time debasing a former employer (especially in a decidedly public forum where, lest we forget, what’s written will last forever), but also because it’s in the past and doesn’t really matter in the now.)

The point is: yeah, not a good place to work mentally.

Still, I think now that I picked the wrong theory; now I’m pretty sure #2 was the correct one.

Even traveling abroad, I would be thinking about what my career path would be when I returned, even perusing the occasional job search site to see what was out there.  As I read through job descriptions for network administrators, I found my stomach twisting itself into knots.

“Why?” I wondered.  “These are jobs that I’m capable of doing, that I’m qualified for, yet reading just the job description makes me nauseous.  Why?”

I think it dawned on me somewhere in London.

“Because,” I thought while sitting on the Tube, “it’s not fun anymore.  That work isn’t about creating or improving anything, it’s just about playing defense.”

Look, I’m a realist: not all jobs are fun all the time.  Doesn’t particularly matter what you do for a living, there are good days and bad days, easy days and challenging ones.  Every job is going to involve doing something that isn’t fun.

That said, I think working with computers, and the career path I have been in, has changed over the years.  Significantly so.

I remember when I started in computers, lo those many years ago (a history I detailed in a post here).  Back then, computers were new.  Not just the machines, but the very concept.  It’s easy to forget nowadays, carrying around phones with many times the computing power of what I started with (you know, back in ancient, primitive times: the 70s) just how much has changed in a relatively short time period.  I went through an era when personal computers moved out of the realm of science fiction and into peoples’ living rooms.  Everything that happened since, from the home to the laptop to the smart phone, is an extension of that first leap.

In many ways, it’s a good era to live in.  Technology has grown and advanced, and now the Droid next to me on the desk can power an app that’s dozens of times more powerful than anything I could run on my first Apple II+.

(That said, I really, really wish someone would come out with a playable version of Escape From Rungistan.  Just ‘sayin.)

Network management now, though?  It’s mostly about putting out fires.  Relatively little time seems dedicated anymore to doing new things, whether it involves improving the network or rolling out new technologies.  It’s all about maintenance.

I think that’s what struck me most while reading the job descriptions.  The position has morphed from what it was, which was mostly about introducing new and improved technologies to improve whatever business flow you were working in, to just keeping things going.  It’s all about keeping things up to date, and staying certified in software that changes at ever-increasing rates and requires re-certification more often.  Fretting over legal requirements and backups and, more than ever, security.  More and more time is spent on worrying about hackers, spam, viruses.

It’s that last one that slays me, every time.  You’re always, always playing defense.

Imagine playing a sport.  The other team is always playing offense, you’re always playing defense.  And your defense is pretty good.  In fact, it should be pretty much perfect: rarely, if ever, does the other team score a goal, make a point; if they do, it’s usually because someone on your side screwed up and opened an attachment they shouldn’t have.  (Okay, that doesn’t quite fit with the sports analogy, but stick with me here).

But your team?

You never get to score a point against them.  Your score, no matter what you do, stays at zero.  You delete most of the spam.  You prevent the hacker from getting in.  You stop the virus.  But the spammers, hackers, and virus-writers?  You never, ever get to score against them.

And you know?  That’s pretty great for some people.  For those people, it’s a calling; they relish playing defense, always stopping the bad guys from getting in, stealing data, shutting down your network, whatever.

Great for them.

But for me?  My interests?  My personality?

Apparently not so much.

* * *

All this is supposedly wonderful, of course.  I mean, great: now I know what I don’t want to do for a living.  What I probably shouldn’t be doing for a living.  Hooray.  Huzzah.  And the people rejoiced.  All that.

It’s awesome…except for the fact that I’m approaching 40.  That all of my work experience is in that area.  And that I have no idea how to take the skills that I have and funnel them into a career that’s interesting, a career that truly interests me.

So, yes, it’s awesome.

Except that it leaves me with absolutely no idea where to go from here.



  1. you made your very own tour of the world alone.
    i;m sure you’ll be just fine through this next adventure. you only get to live once, make it worth it.

    and for your next tour i have a couch in nebraska for you

  2. Tails of wild adventures? Nah, I just came to say hi. Niceto see you around.

    Hav a good weekend.

    • I meant tales but autocorrect didn’t catch that one.

  3. That same gut feeling that twisted into a nauseous knot – that’s the one that will lead you where you WANT to go. Your body is your best indicator of the path that’ll lead you to happiness. Listen to it, and it will probably tell you exactly what kind of career is best for you. If you have any inclination to read a self help book for this, Martha Beck’s “Finding Your Own North Start” is stellar.

    Can’t wait for you to sort through those pictures! 😉

  4. Sounds to me like something Education Technology (yes, you may have to go get a MA in EdTech) would be good. Or, if you love feeling rewarded as I do, education is where hi tech is or should be going. I teach high school here in LA at a school of Engineering and BioMed.

    Maybe something along those lines will suit you.

    • Just now getting around to reading these, but I’m with Tamara. I work for a educational technology software company (firstly as content filtering/network security stuff but now we’re focusing more on technology for the classroom) in CA and couldn’t be happier.

      I’ve always wanted to teach, but A) selfishly, I knew I wouldn’t make enough money; and B) I feared that I’d end up hating it along the kids I taught.

      What about creating something awesome for people who DO have those crappy jobs of always maintaining a network? (Kind of reminds me that the best substance abuse counselors are the ones who have actually had the addiction.)

  5. I don’t know you but for the little bit of the blog I’ve read, and I don’t mean to come across as insulting here, but as a fellow tech guy who’s been through some of what you’ve gone through, in hindsight I’d say that your view (and I realize that I’ve gotten the Reader’s Digest Condensed Version so you may have already thought of a lot of this) seems very narrow. Plenty of jobs open in consulting or with new companies with some green field where you can do the fun, exciting cutting edge stuff, not the boring maintenance, make sure the lights are still blinking green kind of stuff. Pre-sales engineer jobs can be a lot of fun, very stimulating. And so can implementation or consulting gigs. Potential travel, good money, changing environment. Never the same day twice. Architect jobs in big companies are fun, all the theory and creation, very little of the hands on although it is a documentation heavy role. Change of industry can be good as well, working for a non-profit where you have a strong sense of purpose that offsets some of the drudge of maintenance…

  6. GH: They always say you should work in a field you enjoy. I will not even pretend to know everything about you since all I have is three physical meetings and a whole bunch of blog posts, but it appears to me that there are two things you seem to enjoy very much: Hiking and writing.

    I would suggest you meditate on those subjects for a while. I am sure that a creative person like you can find a way to incorporate these two loves (and possibly your IT experience as well) into a new and satisfying career.

    We’re all rooting for you my friend. Good Luck!

  7. I know how you feel..

  8. Hi GeekHiker,

    I have been following your blogs for hikes primarily, but have also read some of your blogs about the more frustrating months/years leading to moving away from LA and your travels around the world.

    I hope you will forgive me for speaking my mind. I am glad you traveled to get out there in the world, to see new things/places, to meet new people and to step away from the depression that was locking you into a downward spiral. You seem to have analyzed many things of your inner self, and have come to find out some truths. Just reading your comments, I like that you seem to have linked the fact that your knowledge and expertise in the IT field is not necessarily connected to your happiness. I believe your image of the continuous defense is well put. You stepped out of the daily grind of your job, then not realizing the truths that you have since come to figure out, but you had a survival instinct. I firmly believe you would not be any happier, or possibly sliding down again, if you took another position of the same kind.

    What I have learned about you is that you have an eye for beauty, you are sensitive, adventurous, creative, yet a little unsure as to whether or not you are on the right path. However, you do have the courage to follow your own gut and discover what works for you and what does not. Follow your instincts and stay relaxed about them. If you pressure yourself too much about having to find the right thing, you’ll cloud your instincts.

    Your creativity has flowed primarily in your personal time, your hobbies etc, yet you have this passion inside of you that needs a better outlet. You have so many photos from your trip and you always had phenomenal shots of nature in your blog posts. You might consider learning more about working these skills that make you happy into something professional. You might need to learn more about this or that aspect of things but you could start your own business from a home base with very little overhead, creating what you love to do and what you do well. I cannot say which direction you would turn to to make it profitable (this is not my field) but I am sure there are venues. Enlist knowledge and support from family and friends to move you forward in addition to researching what you can do. It is worth a try.

    I am not a counselor nor a shrink etc. I just shared what seemed so obvious to me. Sometimes we are just too close to the inside to see and appreciate a wider view of things. Hope it will give you at least a bit of inspiration to explore some more out there.

    Happy belated birthday. 40 is nothing, even for a new start. My friend got out of her secure academic position because she was unhappy and started studying to become a vet at 44 (with husband and three kids). If you want it you will find a way.

  9. YES! I’ve been there and am changing my career right now!! the nice thing about our economy and the society structure right now is that it’s a great time to reinvent yourself! Go crazy! Explore your passions! Make it so! 😀

  10. I’m going to echo what Bruce said above. If your passions include writing, adventure/hiking why not focus on that — at least during the time you’re career hunting now. So many people make a living off blogging. You have a very large following here and it would not be selling out to try and monetize the site. Tons of great content here that advertisers / sponsors would love to be part of.

  11. I greatly dislike my job and I’ve been here 10 years. It’s hard to explain/understand. You just … get in the groove, eh? Best of luck to you.

  12. […] had to mentally force myself to engage with things, and to only varying degrees of success.  The aforementioned 18,000 photographs remain completely untouched, for […]

  13. […] I keep pondering the comment made by David on this post.  Just pondering, pondering, […]

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