On Funemployment (and My Next Job)

Isaac Hollander McCreery, 5 September 2014

The inspiration for this post comes from Ernie Miller’s post of the same name. I’m going to try not to totally parrot his article. It’s pretty well-written, so at the risk of losing you as a reader here, I recommend you read it.

Like Ernie was a year ago, I’m ambivilant about endings and new beginnings. I just finished a spectacular summer at the Data Science for Social Good Fellowship in Chicago. I was blessed to work with 50 outstanding minds and outstanding hearts. My co-fellows who descended on the city for the summer to take on hard problems in the burgeoning field of data science for public policy were a great bunch. We shared a collective struggle of wanting to good in a world that, for the most part, leads people with our skills on a fast track to optimizing ad revenues and building things that just enrich those who already have too much wealth. As Nadya said even before the final goodbye, I miss you all so much already! It’s hard to imagine the next place I’ll be around so many great people who are sharing in the collective search for a good use of our skills.

New beginnings

I’ve been mourning the loss of some amazing people in my life, but I’m terrible at resisting looking forward to what’s coming, and the last few weeks have been no exception. While we worked long hours at the office on our project with the Chicago Alliance to End Homelessness, I encouraged my mind wander in what little time I could find outside of work, like on my bike to and from work everyday. I couldn’t help coming up with a few things I’m stoked about doing in between gigs, in no particular order:

I had the opportunity to take some time between years in school, and I know that the blessing of space and time to pursue what I want is hard to come by. And in a culture where most of us are apart from our families from 18 years on up, being near those who raised me is something I can’t pass up.

The list goes on, (I’ve been wanting to build a bicycle-powered blender for a while,) but those are the big ones.

There are a couple of things that stand out to me when looking at this list. The first is collaboration. I think unemployment will get pretty lame pretty quickly if I’m not collaborating with different people on lots of projects. I have a few (many) friends who are also unemployed, and this list makes me wonder what they’re up to. Usually they talk about applying for jobs, which, of course, is important. But everyone says that these days, the only days I’ve ever known, you have to know people, and that’s how you’ll find work. Regardless of nepotism, I think that’s probably true: the internet has saturated the inboxes of HR employees beyond capacity, and so it seems we’ve pretty much found our way back to a world where the internet doesn’t help you get a job much at all. So, in addition to being something I’m really excited for intrinsically, I also wonder if collaboration will be instrumental in finding my next gig.

Something else that stands out is balance. I’ve got some extremely technical work ahead of me—the mysterious art of functional language compilation is something I know very little about right now—but I’ve also got less-technical and entirely non-technical stuff I’m looking forward to. This is a balance I’ve struggled with, as I’m sure many of you have, for years, and having the freedom to do however much or little of something in a day is wonderfully pleasant. I’d love to be able to strike this kind of balance in months and years to come, too, which brings me to, of course, the cornerstone of unemployment. I’ll be looking for a next real job, and I’ve been doing some thinking about what I want out of that.

My next job

I’m afraid that some of these things might be hard to find in a single job, though I remain hopeful. I don’t know of any highly technical large team working in data science for policy, and my experiences at last week indicate that the field itself hasn’t really even coalesced yet. Combine that with a desire to do solidarity work, and I’m not sure what I’ll find. It seems like I might have to compromise on one of these things. I’ll say this: at this point in my life, learning is going to come first, so I’m hesitantly prepared to sacrifice social justice work for a great learning environment. But still, if you’re a weapons manufacturer, (or even an advertising company), don’t bother calling.

A few reflections

I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge what an incredible place I’m in right now. I’m uncomfortably aware as I’m writing this of how many people, folks who left high school early all the way to PhD’s, are struggling hard to find jobs to support them and those they love right now. It’s not an easy world to work in right now, it’s never an easy world to be unemployed in, and I feel blessed to be able to dream about some amazing possibilities. I’m committed to not taking it for granted, but I’m also here for a reason and happy to do what I can to make the world a better place. And there’s no reason I can’t have joy in my life along the way.

Here’s to everyone who’s looking for a gig.