Shortly before thanksgiving 2010, I started looking a new job. For fun, I decided to try USAJobs just to see what kind of government jobs were out there. I say for fun because I really didn't have any burning desire to be a federal govt employee. I mean who wants to take the jokes (my favorite is why are govt employees not allowed to look out the window in the morning? Answer: Because they won't have anything to do all afternoon!) and the low pay. Anyway, I found one that looked promising, applied for it with no strong hopes of getting the job.
As you can guess from the title of this post, I got an interview and got the job. I took the job because I was no longer interested in doing what I was at the time; the other company I applied to were dragging their feet and also because they matched my pay from the private sector (perhaps that's a sign I was underpaid :).
So today, as I have just 1 more day as a federal employee, I am looking back at my 15 months as a fed with mixed feelings. When I announced that I was leaving for the private sector, the general response was shock. Shock that I would give up the security of a federal job for the uncertainty of the private sector. While that may be true, job security has never been a reason for me to stay at a job. My top priorities are quality of life and the quality of the work am doing. If/when both drop below a threshold I can withstand, that's my cue to leave.
On the one hand, it really is rewarding knowing you are working for the public. It sounds cliche but it's true. On the other hand, the commute sucks! Having to watch as your pay is frozen for stupid political reasons sucks. Having to read as you and other federal employees are lambasted on the news and by politicians doesn't exactly make you feel like you're a worthy employee (going by some of the rhetoric you might be excused for feeling like you are stealing public money! Not that I ever felt like giving any of it back). Am sure everyone thinks "I won't let that nonsense on TV affect me" but it does. My sister is a lawyer and a federal employee...I don't know how she does it.
Seriously though, the biggest reason I left is because I felt like a tailor in a company that makes shoes. Even if everybody else there is talented, they are still shoe makers and have no clue how tailoring works. NIH is primarily a research organization; for a researcher, there's no better place to be than at NIH (or FDA where my wife works and constantly raves about). But if you are a software developer, it's just not ideal (in my estimation anyway).
So was is it a waste of time going there? Not really. Perversely as it may seem, I am glad I did it. Back in Nigeria, there's something called National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) which is a sort of Peace Corp/Teach for America thing. These past 15 months have been like my personal NYSC. Plus, I learnt a few new things:
- Entity Value Attribute data model (use only if you want simplicity of adding data to your database coupled with extreme complexity in querying the data)
- the various nuances of Oracle (seriously, who makes the default sort order case sensitive? And a 30 character limit on object names? In 2012?)
- how to use pivot tables in SQL Server (sadly I hadn't had cause to use it until I used EAV. See 1st bullet above)
- not all govt employees fit the stereotype. Sure, some fit the mold but a good number of them work just as hard as private sector employees