Go Big and Go Home

Introduction

A new opportunity has presented itself to me that is so aligned with my desired next move that it’s hard to believe. Next week, I start a new role heading up the software engineering department of a technology company located in the Irish Midlands; in fact, located about 3 minutes from my home. And this isn’t a small opportunity, this is the chance to head up the software delivery aspects of a global player that makes a real impact on people’s lives.

The Commuter’s Tale

For about twelve years or so, with only one or two very brief exceptions, I have commuted from my hometown of Tullamore, Co. Offaly, to work in Dublin. For most technologists in Ireland, Dublin is where the action is. There you will find all the major technology companies as well as the Irish head offices of so many financial institutions and other organisations that depend on hired geeks that if you’re a technology professional of pretty much any type, most of the opportunities for you will be located there. Not all, of course, but most of them, and certainly the better paying ones.

Commuting to work is an accepted part of modern life and something that nearly everyone must do in some way. What marks out “Commuting” (with a capital C) as something different is the scale involved. Getting to and from work is commuting, getting up at an early hour and taking the train halfway across the country every working day is Commuting!

Humble bragging about how far you’re prepared to travel for work aside, commuting long distances has a lot of downside; it obviously takes a lot of time, time that is spent away from family, friends, and being a part of the local community in any meaningful way. There are financial costs to commuting a long way, with train tickets for my type of journey reaching several thousand Euro every year and travelling by train every day brings its own set of challenges. And of course, there are the early starts and late finishes that combine to make every day a “very long day”.

Making a Down into an Up

During my time commuting on the train from Tullamore to Dublin I have tried to make the best of that challenging situation. At first, I did all the things commuters do; I watched movies on laptops, TV shows on iPads, listened to podcasts on my phone, and read many, many books. After a while though these techniques for killing time lost their appeal and I came to the realisation that I had to do something a little more productive with the roughly ten hours every week I spent on the train. I started studying.

As part of a work initiative around project management, I found myself attending a week-long PRINCE2 course where the plan was to sit the first, foundation-level exam at the end of the third day before trying at the practitioner exam on the fifth day. In order to be in with a fighting chance of passing it was necessary to do some study in your own time. Considering what was at stake as well as how best to pass these exams I made use of the time I had on the train to study, and I found that it worked amazingly well. Not only did I pass the exams but I found myself in the strange situation of being almost disappointed when the train arrived at my stop, I found that I could always use a just a little more time with the books and always expected that I had more time than I really did, a marked difference from times where the journey seemed to drag on for ever!

That course set me on the path of studying on the train as a way of passing the time constructively. After PRINCE2 I studied for and passed the ITIL foundation exam, followed by the AWS Solution Architect Associate exam, and then five of the CIMA accountancy exams to earn the Certificate in Business Accounting. With that hanging on the wall, I turned my attention to degree level study, pursuing the University of London BSc in Management and Digital Innovation.

A Base of Operations

Even though I was making something of the time I spent travelling every day, there is no escaping that I want to be able to spend more time nearer to home, to effectively be based out of the Midlands region as opposed to only living here. The heartlands of the country is my idea of a good base of operations for logical reasons like proximity to several major towns and cities, and for the simple, more human fact that this is my home. Our environment can energise us, it can motivate us to excel, it can help to remind us of who we are and where we come from which is an essential part of figuring out where we are going; and it’s vitally important that it’s “we”, as being a part of a community is important for social animals like us.

The region is not overly populated, so participating in life in the Midlands requires to be part of communities that are pulled together from different towns, villages, and parishes across the four counties, which brings surprisingly different insights and points of view. This is where I want to spend the majority of my time, not all my time to be sure, there’s a wide world out there to explore and experience, and working in technology has provided me so many great opportunities to see the world that I could never fully retreat away from what’s out there.

Stick-with-it-ness

The ability to compromise is important in order to successfully navigate relationships and maintain a healthy balance in life, but there are also times when something is important enough that it’s worth pursuing to the fullest extent, to not settle for something nearly as good, which makes the ability of recognising when a goal is important enough not to compromise on a perhaps more valuable skill than understanding where ‘good enough’ lies.

Regardless of their form, career ambitions can be such significant drivers that they can easily lead to frustration when the pace of progress is slower than desired, which it nearly always will be as there will be so many variables beyond anyone’s control. You will need patience as you gain experience, learn the right skills, build a network, and wait for the right opportunity to present itself, so it is vital that you are happy doing what you’re doing during the wait, especially as you will need to excel in the role you are in so that you have a better chance of achieving the role you want.

My experience taught me all this and more. I had my own ideas around what compromise looked like that I took comfort from them as they were nearly as good and felt more achievable. When asked what the future held for me I always pointed to those ideas, over time almost discounting the possibility that my primary goal could ever be achieved, however when the right opportunity arose I was ready, moved faster than the competition, and achieved that goal. I now eagerly face into a new challenge, one that will give me the chance to make the type of positive impacts I know I can deliver.

One odd thought does occur to me though as I gear up to “work from home(town)”. Maybe there is, in some part of me, an actual desire to Commute. Yes, that arrangement was certainly born out of necessity and was a huge pain, but it does have upsides, with an important aspect for me being the realisation that in many ways our commitments make us better people, like how having to catch a train early in the morning makes you regulate your bedtimes and clothing preparation. Working to the train schedule made me disciplined in ways that I never would have imagined before needing to make that daily journey. Perhaps the far future will lead me back to some sort of hybrid or split-time arrangement between home and a city, but for now I am grateful for the chance to make an impact in the town and region that I call home.

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