Thursday, May 03, 2007

Post Mortem on the Online Payment Company Job Offer

After much gut wrenching reflection, I called the HR person at the Online Payment Subsidiary of the Bay Area Online Auction Company on Monday afternoon and let her know that I would be turning down their job offer. Before I delve into the reasons and described what happened thereafter, I wanted to offer a less serious look.

Top Ten Reasons 2am Turned Down the Job Offer

10) Had vision of Burt Bacharach proclaiming that there really was no way to San Jose. The song was just a hoax... one big, cruel, horrible hoax.

9) Bay Bridge overpass collapse put crimp in plans to buy fixer upper in Oakland and commute from there.

8) Would have been required to give up my blog in order to satisfy the "drama free" requirement for most room rentals.

7) The blissful thought of not having to dress up for work for the foreseeable future was just too much to handle.

6) Found out that "help with sale of home" in new employer's relocation package really just meant "free listing for auction on website".*

5) Worried that abundance of sunshine might make me too happy to blog.

4) Couldn't think of any cover stories to explain to my wife how I was getting so much information about relocating to the Bay Area.

3) Suspected that ridership of Caltrain might slip from strictly professional use to recreational, then finally to full blown addictive abuse.

2) If I moved out here without the wife and kids, the Drunken Housewife surely would have hunted me down, taken me captive, and forced me to listen to Dr. Laura episodes every weekday afternoon until Iris Ueber Alles' next birthday, after which I would have been hoisted up as a pinata to serve as a warning to any other restless carnivorous Midwesterners who dared to infiltrate the realm.

And the number one item is...

1) The cost of rebranding the blog as 11pmsomewhere to account for the new time zone was too prohibitive.

A More Serious Discourse on the Matter

Now that we've dispensed with the lighter fare, let's dig into what really drove me to turn down the offer...

It came down to whether this move would benefit the immediate family as a whole.

The offer was on the edge of six figures plus bonuses. Gross base go gross base, it was about 1.6 times what I am making now. However, I pay a lot for health insurance because the startup I'm with now makes me eat half of my own premium and 80 percent of the family premium. When you subtract that out and add the bonuses for the new job in, it was about a factor of 2.

However, in the Silicon Valley, that is a pittance. In the land of really pricey real estate, that's not enough to afford a single family home in a decent neighborhood and reasonable commute time to work.

The HR person with whom I was working was kind enough to put me in touch with her husband, who is a real estate broker and does relocation assistance. He sent me some detailed stats for the area, including breakouts for the average and median sale prices of homes in each community. Not one of the towns in Santa Clara county had a median or average price below $700,000.

When you start doing the math to figure out what kind of paycheck you would have to bring in, assuming that you're not doing any unsustainable kinky financing, the low $100Ks for a salary doesn't make the cut. I asked the realtor whether it was pretty much a given that one has to have two incomes to keep afloat, and he said that was pretty much the norm. If someone managed to do it with one income, it was because they had inherited the house.

My own findings seemed to match the findings of a regional economic report, titled Life in the Valley Economy: Silicon Valley Progress Report 2007 that got some press in early April.

In perhaps the most well-known example of the fiscal squeeze put on the Valley's residents, the report details that between 2000 and 2005, the proportion of households spending more than half their income on housing grew for both renters (from 18.3 to 22.8 percent) and homeowners (from 9.6 to 18.4 percent). Even though home sales have fallen 26 percent since 2004, home prices have yet to end their upward climb, as the median price for single-family homes grew from $521,240 in 2000 to $775,000 in 2006.

The idea of us both going to full time employment was a non-starter. Even if she were to get out there and work 40 hours or more a week, her earning potential is well below mine since she doesn't have a college degree.

A Second Chance
I got into an elevator at work and this man followed in after me. I pushed 1 and he just stood there. I said, "Hi, where are you going?" He said, "Phoenix." So I pushed Phoenix. A few seconds later the doors opened, two tumbleweeds blew in. We were in downtown Phoenix. I looked at him and said, "You know, you're the kind of guy I want to hang around with."

-- Steven Wright, except from "Jiggs Casey", I Have a Pony

When I communicated my decision to the HR person, I made it clear that my decision did not turn on compensation, benefits, or the working environment. Indeed, all of these things were quite nice, and for them to pay me enough for us to live on my income would have been way more than my market value.

The HR rep then came back with a suggestion, asking me if I would be willing to work at their other office in the Southwest. The plus is that it would be a more reasonable cost of living. The minuses would be that it is still far away, gets really hot there, and the rapid growth has contributed to sprawl and congestion.

She asked me if I'd be willing to talk to the hiring manager there, and I agreed to do so. I played phone tag with the other guy for a day or so, and I finally got in touch with him on the way home from work on Wednesday evening.

He gave me some background information, acknowledging that I wasn't the only one who had run into the cost of living barrier when interviewing. He said that I would not have to go through another interview cycle like I did at the headquarters a couple weeks ago. There would probably be an informal meeting with some members of the team, and then an on-site visit to let us decide whether this is someplace we'd like to move to.

So that lead has seen near death and revival.

A Personal Myth Emerges
I have a dream, a fantasy
To help me through reality
And my destination makes it worth the while
Pushing through the darkness still another mile
-- ABBA, "I Have a Dream", Voulez-Vous

Julia Grey's unfinished essay on heroism asks the reader these questions.
How could you turn your story into an uplifting movie, with the happiest ending possible? (No fair saying "a fairy godfather makes me rich" -- the story has to be driven by YOU and your character.)

That imaginary movie is your personal myth, the one you'll base your ethics and behavior on in the future.

My job search has reintroduced me to air travel, after about a six or seven year hiatus.

My least favorite part of flight is the taxi. Unless you fly a certain route frequently enough and know where the takeoff will occur, so you're forced to sit there watching the cryptic signs pass by, along with the occasional alternating, flashing yellow lights.

I find myself wondering what all the signs and lights mean. I wonder if the meetings that standardized these things were as mind numbing as computer standards committee meetings. I keep promising myself that I'll Google these things one day, but I never get around to it.

My favorite part of flight is the transition from taxi to takeoff. You either love or hate that moment, when the airliner makes the turn onto the runway, and you hear the jet engines rev up.

The acceleration to V1 gives me a rush every time. Although I know that you're going to be airborne by the time you reach the end of the runway, I play this little game in my mind, fantasizing about the uncertainty of the outcome. If you watch the side of a runway, you'll see large numerals that count down to "1" as you get near the end. They serve as a dramatic element that fuels the thrill.

It occurred to me over the weekend that these two aspects of air travel are metaphors of my journey in this blog. They become a guiding myth to propel me forward.

For a very long time, the progress of my life has resembled that of a taxiing airliner, slowly plodding down long strips. I have been a passive passenger, wondering when the taxi will come to a halt.

The crucible is my attempt to finally become airborne. Now it is not a matter of equipment. I have demonstrated my skills can get me a much better job.

Rather, it is a matter of preparation. The offer I received almost two weeks ago put me in an awkward position. I was faced with the task of trying to put a 747 into flight using a regional airport runway. No matter how many mind games I would play with myself to work down the anxiety, I knew that it was probably impossible to shoot for that goal now.

Maybe the alternative location will work out. With less of a housing burden, I will be able to match better my airliner with a runway, and have a greater chance at hitting V1.

Passengers, put your tray tables and seats in the upright position and turn off your electronic devices.

* -- The item about help with sale of home is pure fiction. Their relocation package , although quite generous in real life, does not include sale assistance. If you get an offer from them someday, don't go complaining that you didn't get this in your package while some anonymous armchair philosopher blogger did.
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