Saturday, January 24, 2015

Career Choices

I talk about my job a fair bit while taking care to try to obscure exactly where it is I work. I don't need HR breathing down my neck. I know as you have read these angsty and annoyed posts, you must be wondering one thing: Why didn't I quit or retrain years ago? I am going to try to explain why.

As I have said in the past, I started my career with a certain salary expectation. I decided before we had children that it would be an acceptable trade-off for me to be the breadwinner if I could make enough money for us to live very comfortably. I never thought I would be making the mega-big bucks. I know myself; I am not that ambitious, but in my mind I envisioned that it wouldn't take too many years before I was making something in the 70s. This wasn't an unreasonable expectation. If you look up my old job title on, you find that in my city, someone with my experience has a projected salary of $71869-$77403. I can't find my new and improved promotion/demotion job title on That's encouraging. Here's a similar job that has a projected salary of $65541-$70595. Here's a link to my actual job title on I don't know if this average of $75069 is accurate or not considering there is no job description for me to compare. Needless to say I don't make anywhere near any of these numbers. I make over 10K less than the lowest number you see up there. So why am I still here?

When I began, my starting salary was the lowest number that I would accept, a little under 40K, but I was happy to have a job and a significant raise over Dave's teaching salary. He made about 30K after teaching school for seven years. Even though I was a little disappointed to start at the bottom of what I thought I could expect, but I didn't think it would take long for the numbers to start rising. It did.

I thought I would be eligible for promotion after I had worked for two years. I felt like I had mastered my given job duties and was ready for more responsibility, but I had also had a baby during that second year so I wasn't terribly surprised when there was no talk of a promotion at my yearly evaluation. I know that theoretically childbirth is not supposed to be a factor in a job evaluation, but I'm not stupid, I know it is. I also thought I was, perhaps, being impatient. The promotion schedule called for one every two to three years. Maybe two years plus a baby was too early to expect it.

The stock market crashed.

The next year rolled around and I was submitted for a promotion. We were told that promotions were tight that year and not everyone who was eligible was going to be approved. Each work group had a limit on how many promotions could be granted. There was someone else in my group who was also submitted in the same year who had more seniority. His promotion was approved; mine was not. I tried to take this in stride, but I was very disappointed. I wanted to be a team player and not cause problems. I knew the economy was in bad shape and I felt it was petulant of me to expect a large raise in the midst of such turmoil. If there wasn't enough money, there wasn't enough money. My turn would come.

Even though I had not been promoted, I began to accumulate more job duties and soon I was doing as much as would be required for the next job up the ladder. I was encouraged. I thought this increased responsibility would put me in a good position to not only get the promotion, but to be able to negotiate a higher salary when the time came.

The next year rolled around. It had previously been announced that the salaries for upper management positions would be frozen.  My immediate supervisor wanted to submit me for a promotion, but my promotion papers would have to be signed off by my supervisor's supervisor, whose salary had been frozen. She was extremely unhappy and refused to sign my paperwork. She announced, "If I am not getting a raise, nobody is." I was very upset. I was also very pregnant. I did not have the mental or physical energy to do what I should have done. This decision was made known to me in June 2010. Sam was born on July 1.

A lesson I have learned over the years is that one of the dangers of having a childbearing woman as the breadwinner is that it is hard to fight for position at work when all of your mental and physical reserves are consumed by pregnancy and then a newborn. I had enough energy to do my job. To do my job and also fight for my due was more than I could muster.

Our finances were extremely tight. Since raises are only doled out once a year, this lack of a promotion meant I would still be at the same income level until at least July 2011.  I never had the expectation that I would still be making in the low 40s five years after I started. When I returned from my maternity leave, there was a lot of talk afoot that the department was going to attempt to force out the supervisor who had been such a thorn. That they just would not fire her and decided to play mind games was a sure sign of the dysfunction in my department. I was assured that she was the real problem and that as soon as she was gone, things would be set right. In a spectacular show of naivete, I believed them. In retrospect, I should have started using my copious free time at work to train myself in other database suites and started looking for another job. Four years is more than enough time to figure out if an employer is going to treat you well.

In June 2011 the odious supervisor announced her resignation. I was informed of my promotion within the week. I was elated. Finally, finally events were in my favor. I thought they had kept their word and all would be set right.

At the end of June, I was informed what my new salary would be. They set it at the minimum. I had assumed the full duties of this job without the accompanying salary for two years and when they finally formalized the promotion, they set me at minimum. I was angry. Even though it was a ten thousand dollar raise, I was insulted. I went to my supervisor, explained my position, and requested that my salary be reevaluated. I wasn't asking for much, only that I be set a couple of thousand dollars higher than minimum. I wanted something to indicate that they understood that I had been previously shortchanged and they were going to try to make it right. A week or so later, my supervisor came back with the verdict: I was staying at the minimum. There wasn't enough money; it was policy; there's nothing she could do. Whatever. I tired of the routine of five years in one afternoon.

I knew then that this job would never amount to anything. We had a little breathing room in our budget now, but any ambition I had ever had for a career was dead. I had also come to the conclusion that the money wasn't worth the trade-off of being away from my children. That the money was not coming and I still had to be separated from my children was insult added to injury.

In retrospect, it was at this time too that I should have devoted time to making myself employable elsewhere. I did not. Instead I surfed the Internet and decided to emerge from lurkdom and met most of you. Well, I guess I should say I announced to you that I existed. It was then that I decided to engage consistently in the comboxes instead of reading, staying silent, and only leaving a comment every now and again. From the fall of 2011 until the present I considered myself a short timer. If there is one piece of advice from the loathsome "Lean In" that I should have followed, it is not to leave before you leave. I've been gone for years.

“Sometimes, I feel the past and the future pressing so hard on either side that there's no room for the present at all.” -Brideshead Revisited

In that first year, I strongly believed that I would be home within the year. This was mostly self-delusion. There was nothing happening at home that would have rationally given me that idea. I was scared to attempt to change jobs. It isn't terribly difficult to find a job in my field that requires 80 hours a week. I was safe in the knowledge that no matter what was going on at work, I could walk away in the evenings and over the weekend. I was scared to find a job with more income. What if we became reliant on an even higher income? Would we get too comfortable? Would I have to work forever? If the income came where I was at, I would be happy, but I was afraid to seek it out. We were already going to likely take a pay cut; I didn't want to have so much income as to be unwilling to take the required pay cut.

In that second year, I was pregnant again. I had no reserve to even think about retraining or finding another job. There still was nothing happening at home that would indicate that I might be able to come home soon, but I still blindly clung to the hope that I would. I hoped that I would be home before the end of the pregnancy, before the end of maternity leave, by October. Each milestone passed and nothing changed. Again I was deluding myself. It was during this time when I was promoted/demoted. I received a small raise, maybe two thousand, and a title change in order for them to avoid paying me another ten thousand dollar raise that was due later in the year from market pay adjustments. This stunt only reinforced my cynical attitude towards work. I was done, done, done. And again I was very pregnant and lacked the energy to go fight for myself.

In that third year, last year, it really seemed like we were on the verge of a breakthrough. The whole year consisted of getting this close and having it fall through again and again and again. I didn't want to look for another job in order to quit it in a few weeks later. These interviews were real tangible events; I wasn't deluding myself, but still nothing happened.

And now in this fourth year of having checked out from ambition, we still seem to be on the verge of a breakthrough. With the real estate option, I am probably a few months from being able to quit. I think it is really real this time. I only have to be patient enough for the pipeline to be built.

I am by no means blameless for the situation I find myself in at work. I have known for years that my job is going nowhere, but I have never taken proactive steps to rectify the situation. I am not entirely sure I am *that* underpaid because I am severely underutilized. It seems silly to expect 75K for a half-time job. I have had the same job duties, month in and month out since 2009. I can do most of it at half attention and in my sleep. If I had known from the beginning it would take this long, I might have made different choices, but it is hard to see into the future. Even now it seems like a reasonable choice to wait it out, so I am biding my time. I don't know if this is the right decision or not. Get back to me in a year and I'll let you know.


Anonymous said...

Have you ever thought about teaching programming at the high school level? Business teachers no longer have the right skills needed, but industry professionals take too much of a pay cut, so they are very hard to hire and keep. Salary would not be better, but at least you'd have summers and breaks off? If you ever want more info, let me know!

Jenny said...

No, I've never thought about teaching business classes. My license has been long expired. I'm not sure I could tolerate the classes that would be required to re-up it. But it is an interesting thought if I ever got desperate enough to do it.

Jenny said...

Although we'd probably lose our house on a starting teacher's salary. The local county starts at 33K. And you know how set in stone the pay schedule is. Qualifications and subject area don't matter. All must be equal. Starting salary equals X and there is not a thing that can be done about it.

Anonymous said...

Here, at least, you don't even need a teacher's license if you are teaching computer science/programming. Heck, you don't even need a bachelors degree! They opened up new industry pathways but have had a hard time filling them. Well if you ever change your mind, let me know hint, hint (Masters degree starts at 42,000).

Anonymous said...

*Teaching is really a calling, though. I continue to say a prayer that all will work out just the way you hope!

The Sojourner said...

What is it with IT jobs and screwing people over?

My husband started *his* job in May of 2012. He initially had a 6-month contract and at the end of it he was supposed to either be let go or hired on full-time.

They renewed his contract for another 6 months instead. The IT managers couldn't do anything about it, it was all those darn finance people, blah blah blah. We 100% believed that at the end of the first year he would get hired on full-time and get benefits (like paid time off!) and all that good stuff. I got pregnant while we were still optimistic about our finances.

They renewed his contract again, right about when we figured out that prenatal care and hospital stays are EXPENSIVE. It's been almost 3 years and he's still a contract worker with zero benefits and making only about $2000/year more than he started out making. (He's something like 10-15k below the mean salary for someone with his qualifications and job description in our geographical area.)

I'd go on, but I'm sure you know the whole story already.

Jenny said...

I am very much aware of the whole story.

The only career advice I can give is that when an employer shows an openness for screwing over employees, don't write it off as a fluke. Get out! If they do it once, they will do it over and over and over. Get out! It is almost like an abusive relationship. You want to believe it is really different this time and that they have changed. They haven't. Get out!

The Sojourner said...

He's trying, both because of the screwing-over-ness and because he's intensely bored. He basically worked himself out of a job because after 2 years he'd written programs to automatically do everything his team used to do manually. A well-trained gerbil could probably run the department. (And gerbils don't need health insurance!)