Once I had gotten settled into my life. Wife. Child. House. And had made myself respectable in the eyes of my family. I went to work for my uncle. He had a respectably sized Heating and Cooling company. For the longest time my mother thought it would be a bad idea for us to work together, she and I. She was the receptionist/secretary/bookkeeper/office manager for her brother. But I needed a skill. A trade. So I went and talked to my uncle. He gave me a try, just like he had my brother, only I stayed with him for 9-years. My brother had done just a single summer.
In those years I learned a lot, moved up the chain, became a useful and productive member of the team. I taught the younger guys the ropes while learning different ropes from the more skilled guys. I don’t know if they liked me, or If they assumed that I would succeed my uncle in the business, but either way I was given the training and the opportunity to carve a spot for myself in the company. I was being groomed for something, but what I was being groomed for really depended on who I worked with. I didn’t see it then, but looking back it is pretty clear. Those years were hard on my body. It was hard work and I felt it, in my back and feet mostly and I knew I needed to move on or move up.
Getting out of the tough physical work of HVAC seemed like the thing to do when a couple of friends of mine, who had worked themselves up into management positions at an up and coming Internet Service Provider, called to say they were hiring and thought my troubleshooting skills would more than compensate for my modest computer and network skills. The work sounded interesting, the pay was great, and I would get to work with my friends. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse. But I knew how good I had been treated by my uncle and his people, so I did the right thing and gave plenty of notice before moving on to a career in IT network support.
While I was at the ISP, we were bought and sold three times. Each time becoming a bigger and bigger company. I made friends and developed relationships in this new field and with my new coworkers. I was recommended to a support position by one friend for the skills that I had learned from others. Layoffs came around with each change of ownership and then we, as a company, ran into legal problems and most of us were laid off. It wasn’t a surprise; they gave us a full month’s notice.
I found myself without a job and looking for work. But I was trained at my last job and most of the systems and procedures we’d used didn’t translate directly to new positions. I had no degree. Employers did not want to take a chance on a skill set they couldn’t verify. I had my references, but most of us had been cut in the layoffs and there wasn’t a lot I could do to prove my skills to a new employer. Just as my unemployment was running out I received a call. One of those friends who had gotten me in the first time, had kept his job. He was being asked to start a new team and he had thought of me.
I went back to work for the same company, now with a new name, in a new group and with a new focus. Again I cultivated relationships and learned what I could about the processes, technologies, and procedures. Again, when the opportunity came about, I was promoted to a support role. But it was not to last. More layoffs rolled around and I was out. I had done my tour in the corporate world of cubicles and I made a decision to not go back. I had done my time working with tools and done an equal time doing work on a screen. I wanted to combine both, but didn’t see how without going back to school. I made the decision to go back to HVAC. It was harder work, but I found it more rewarding and I did not want to go back to sitting in a cubicle.
Having been out of the field for eight years I felt I needed a refresher to get my skills back up to speed. My uncle’s company had been sold, to one of his longtime employees, and I made arrangements to work part time for him while taking an eleven-month certificate course on HVAC. It was the best thing I could have done. Doing so massively increased my ramp up to my old skill set and coupled with the organized class education I became better than I had been.
At the school I was a superstar. I was the guy who knew it all. The guy who had done it. The guy with the field experience. All the young guys had questions, some wanted help, and others just wanted a peak into what their future profession would really be like. I could have simply basked in this attention. I could have ignored them all, they had nothing to offer me. But instead, I tried to do as much for each of them as I could. I answered questions. I related stories. I made myself approachable. I made friends.
As we neared graduation the school asked if I would like to become an instructor. I was interested, but circumstances were such that I could not take them up on the offer. Many of those fellow students have kept in touch with me, even now. But one in particular was, like me, a veteran looking to improve his skills. And when the company that hired him was looking for another guy, he thought of me.
So as I walked into the interview with two men I had never met before I was taking advantage of fifteen years of friendships and hard work. A man I had not talked to in eight years sang my praises to a fellow church goer. A man I had gone to school with just a month prior told the two men that I was just what they needed.
I am where I am today, because I have cultivated relationships and worked to help others.