Coming full circle04 August 2021
Back in 2012 I was making preparations to leave the UK for a new life, so it is ironic that I have spent the best part of none months doing much the same things in preparation to leave for the UK. With an unresolved accommodation situation and a shattered personal & social life I decided that post-Covid I wanted to clear the deck and have the sort of fresh start that only comes with moving to a different country. While I still have reservations about the destination it was the only real option in current circumstances, and that destination is London. Today I handed in the keys for my flat, hopped into a taxi, and headed for the hills.
Working overseasWhen I left in 2012 the UK was an economic wreck and looking back I was not far off a burnt-out cinder wanting fundamental changes, but I could not see them happening unless I make a clean-sweep and started over. Questions remain over what motivated me at the time but I have no regrets about the resulting intentions, and in hindsight although there were a lot of mistakes overall it was the right things to trade in my old life for a new one. The early days of getting started somewhere new that far away are ones I tend to looks back on most fondly.
With the vast majority of my career being overseas it has defined my professional life and the times I was back in the UK actually felt a little odd. This time working abroad was dominated by my tenure at the second of the three companies I worked at, and the secondment to China was at the very least not far off the peak of the whole experience. Looking back getting served notice on my accommodation was the beginning of the end, and with Covid-19 the writing was on the wall by the time summer came. I clearly needed a change of country but going anywhere other than the UK was a non-starter in the circumstances.
The previous companyWhile some of the stuff I had done beforehand could with varying levels of validity be classified as “embedded” programming, joining my previous company was intended to officially break into embedded firmware development by taking on a role for which it was in the job title — I am pretty conservative when it comes to what is acceptable to write on a CV but once something makes it into a job title it is open season. This company was small compared to other ones I have worked at over the last eight years, but it is small companies like this where a cross-section of experience gets chalked up. Although what was intended to be a smooth career change was overtaken by events, and overall most of my tenure was difficult circumstances.
My feeling at the time I joined the company was it being best outcome I could have reasonably hoped for, but the whole ordeal was not helped by another company offering me a 15% higher salary even before the ink on my employment contract was dry. I turned the latter down because I wanted to get on with my life but no matter how I cut it I knew I was being underpaid, and that always has a negative effect. To be fair I did get an unexpected one-off bonus in 2019 and in late-2020 I got a pay rise that at 6.5% was my second-highest ever in percentage terms, and depending on how inflation and exchange rates are applied has a claim for being my highest in absolute terms.
Looking back while the company had its irritations as all companies do I cannot recall a single incident that was cause to question my association with them. Inappropriate rebukes such as “don't be so smart” are some of the things that have stuck in my mind with prior companies, but this one has nothing comparable. It just happened to be in a part of my life that I had decided to move on from.
Working under lock-downThe first six weeks of lock-down were chaos because the company had to cobble together infrastructure and procedures for remote working, which coincided with me moving accommodation, and in the process I got away with a quite a few things I should not have. I was put on to a four-day week although my productivity was far lower than the proportionate 80% of normal — in hindsight I am not sure if I got anything major at all done because record keeping such as project time-sheets, which was a barely-functional system to start with, broke down completely. This would later improve over the summer but the abrupt destruction of any semblance of work-life balance would leave permanent scars with how I viewed the company — nothing wrong with the company per-se but rather viewing it as part of what would rapidly become a very bad part of my life.
Amazingly all indications are that the company was happy with my work and when I handed in my notice my line-manager said he never had any cause for complaint, whereas my own feeling is that with some notable exceptions I never really gave anywhere close to my 100%. After six months of having never set foot in the office I had no desire for the old daily commute to and from a business park that I never had much liking for in the first place, and when I did finally go back it ended up being a reminder of what I already regarded as a past life.
Going fully remoteAfter a year of work-from-home and with no end of it in sight remote working had de-facto become the way of doing things, and that meant making further adaptations to alleviate the problems it causes such as work-life separation. In my case this included making arrangements to have a dedicated work room wired up and equipped with a workstation that is intended purely for work purposes, because ultimately I had to do something with the way my professional and personal life were getting mixed in ways they should not. Having made these changes that are not intended to be short term, the question of permanency has to be addressed.
Ultimately I decided that switching to a job that allowed full-time remote working was the only way I could make progress on the professional side of my new life, because it allowed me to decouple changing companies from the migration progress that had been plagued by uncertainties. I have reservations whether such a move will work out in the long-term but making the switch means I am no longer dealing with a perpetual temporary circumstance that precludes any proper planning.
Final packingOn the whole packing the final shipment of stuff was a lot more orderly than the previous two shipments, with a special effort made to record what went into each box. The resulting packing list was not exhaustive as towards the end some items got wedged in wherever there was space left and others were deliberately omitted, but chances are that no-one except me would ever read the packing list anyway. Unlike previous shipments there is now a €250 surcharge to deal with paperwork, but my gut feeling is that unless pets or cars are involved no-one is really interested in what items are being moved.
In the earlier part of last year I drafted a whole essay on what items are and are not worth keeping, but like many things from back then I had little desire to go back and revisit. From a residual value viewpoint the only item I probably should have kept but did not was a CO2 fire extinguisher, and there were certainly items I did keep that should have been written off, but the costs of shipping and the circunstances at the time dictated otherwise. I actually ended up taking most of my bedding because I had four suitcases to fill but very little clothing left, and a large portion of the latter was end-of-life.
Last weekendWith not much else to do I dropped by several old haunts but in most cases there was little enjoyment in visiting them, in part because in my mind they were already written off as past memories from old routines. They are what I had traded in for a fresh start and more often than not I saw no real value in looking back. Aside from a general reluctance to rake over memories at such a late stage, refurbishment and adaptation also meant that some places deviated substantially from what I remembered the most about them, so they left me feeling empty.
On the plus side I did manage to catch up with some of the people that I had resigned myself to never crossing paths with again, which included a day-long meetup walk to places I had not seen in the years I had been around, although the very touch-and-go way things happened left a bittersweet taste. While a lot better than the sudden cut-off I had prepared myself for, the order of the day at this stage should be certainty and closure rather than the winging it that actually happened. At least I have good memories to add to the library.
Like my departure from Bristol and Wellington I had thought about where I would spend the final evening, but in the end just kept things simple rather than try to create an ideal last memory.