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
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.
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.