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The Contingency Employer

In an unfortunate turn of events, I found myself laid off while living in New Zealand. What’s a guy to do? That employer was my first job out of university, and I’d held that position for eight and a half years. I had never found myself unemployed before.

Those who have been unemployed know how soul-crushing it can be to look for a job. You find a position that seems like a great fit, you craft a resume, write an excellent cover letter, fire it off, and…nothing. You’re constantly riding the roller coaster of hope and frustration and despair.

To start out with, I was looking for employers in New Zealand. I figured that this was now my shot! I could get a local job and fully commit to becoming a Kiwi. But, as I was to find out, this strategy carried with it two major problems:

First, programming jobs in the US pay about 30 – 40% more than programming jobs in New Zealand. Taking a job within the country would result in a major pay cut. And my seemingly-stratospheric salary plus my master’s degree made me appear overqualified for many jobs.

Second, New Zealand was a blossoming tech hub, but not in the area of systems programming. My friends would all say “oh, you work with computers. You’ll find a new job in no time!” which was frustrating, because I was not finding a new job, and I grew tired of explaining why what I did was quite different from the hundreds of companies out there building websites and phone apps.

Most of my applications didn’t even get me a callback. I did get one bite from a company that did hardware design with some embedded programming. They asked me to complete a programming challenge. It was actually a bit lower-level than what I usually did, but was at least in my ballpark. I was given 24 hours to complete it. I ended up staying awake until 3 in the morning after doing the necessary research, but I did in fact finish the challenge. I sent it to the address I was given, with an explanation that I hoped it was what they were looking for. I got a call back from the guy the next day. He told me he was impressed with what I had created, but the other circumstances of my application (I was an American in New Zealand on a visa and my experience wasn’t in embedded programming) meant that they were going to pass. No hard feelings there; I was just grateful to get a callback!

(I feel like in many of these stories I tell the common theme is that my work speaks for itself and makes up for my many other obvious deficiencies. I had been hoping that the same would be true in this scenario as well. Unfortunately, not.)

After three months of searching, I finally gave up. I decided I would look in the US for a job that would let me work remotely from New Zealand. I was still committed to living in my adoptive home, but it seemed the path forward wasn’t destined to be as easy as I had hoped.

As expected, it was not a long search before I started getting some bites. I got pretty far in the process with one company, but in the end they decided they weren’t interested in a remote employee in New Zealand. I also got strung along by another company for a while before I realized they were just not good at hiring and decided to move on. But it was not too long before I found a position that seemed genuinely interesting: working for Lenovo (a computer manufacturer) on Chrome OS.

Chrome OS, the operating system that runs on Chromebooks, is developed by Google. But it is also partially open source, and this allows vendors like Lenovo, Acer, Samsung, and others to not just customize the user experience to some degree but also to potentially modify the system itself and contribute those modifications back to the community. Lenovo wanted to create a team of engineers who would become experts in Chrome OS, building a solid portfolio of these Chromebooks that would establish them as a market leader in the low-cost computing arena.

This work sounded interesting to me. They were also willing to let me work remotely from New Zealand! And, coincidentally, their building was about three miles from my house in North Carolina. This geographic colocation was helpful because I would have to travel back to the US for a bit to ramp up, and then would return to New Zealand to become a fully remote employee.

Things never work out quite as well as they seem, but that’s all a story for later. At least I could stop job hunting!


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