Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Heigh Ho, Heigh Ho

I'm just starting my third week of work at the as-yet-unnamed-but-still-totally-obvious internet company, and the honeymoon period has definitely not ended. I'm in the "user operations" department, which is basically a fancy way to say "customer service," except with the twist of us also being responsible for user feedback, internationalization, harassment reports, site security, and enforcing the site's terms of use. This means that if you're bullying someone, maintaining multiple accounts, or posting child pornography, my colleagues and I will swoop down like avenging angels and bam! disable your account. More specifically, I've been put on the "site integrity" team, which means that I'm in charge of resolving problems with hacking Nigerians or ex-boyfriends, and occasionally even hacking Nigerian ex-boyfriends. You never know.

I enjoy the work, which it's just about as different from graduate school as I could get--lots of quick tasks, with an emphasis on efficiency rather than accuracy--and think each individual hacked account is like a tiny mystery to solve, figuring out who hacked who and when and how. That's right, I'm rapidly becoming the Angela Lansbury of social networking.

That's probably enough about my daily episodes of "Hacked, She Wrote"; I'm not sure what, exactly, the confidentiality agreements cover, so let me venture onto safer territory: the office. I think I mentioned the perks in my last post, but let me just reiterate: a cafeteria with delicious, free breakfast, lunch, and dinner. (Today's theme was "Mediterranean," and so I ate a spicy chickpea stew, spicy garlic-fried kale, Greek pasta salad, bulgur, and eggplant ratatouille. Yum.) Free snack stations everywhere, stocked with everything from drinks to organic dried apples to KitKats. A casual work environment, with everyone in jeans and sneakers. Smart, interesting, Stanford-educated 25-year-old colleagues. A chiropractor, paid for by my health insurance, who comes to the office. 21 paid holidays a year, plus unlimited sick days and 11 paid holidays. Free laundry service, twice a week. A free shuttle to and from San Francisco for commuters. A new laptop and wireless modem, the better to work on that commute.

Which is the major downside: commuting? I'm not used to that. As a student I always lived within a few miles of campus, and either walked or rode my bike, and suddenly I have to commute every day--every day!--from Berkeley to Palo Alto. For those that don't know the Bay Area, that's about 45 miles--45 traffic-congested miles, including a bridge across the bay. Ugh.

I would never dream of driving this--the thought of that much down time in a day just kills me, plus I can't drive our car, something I'll talk about in another post--so I do it on public transportation, which takes about an hour and a half each way: half an hour on BART, the metro, and an hour on the work-sponsored shuttle. This isn't so bad, really, as it gives me a chance to read, read, read my little heart out. I've read an entire book every work day since I started two weeks ago, and that shows no sign of stopping; in fact, since we're housesitting for Mike's sister in Marin County right now, which expands my commute to 2-3 hours each way, my reading rate has increased. Yesterday I read two books start to finish, and checked my email, and read parts of a New Yorker magazine.

So all in all, it's not so bad. I get to move closer to my goal of reading every decent book every published, plus a good portion of the terrible ones, and I get to join the real world in a big way; there's no better introduction to American adult life, after all, than shoving through crowds trying to catch a morning train into the city. (Well, maybe sitting in a car on a highway into the city, but even I can't read a book a day at stoplights alone.) And, in the end, if the commute is the price I have to pay for interesting work, a steady paycheck, and the daily frisson of pleasure I get from walking around the office with a badge on--I just feel so grown up!--then, hey, no worries: I've got a library card and I know how to use it.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Turn and Face the Strange

This is a serious entry, guys.

(Well, aside from the David Bowie references.)

Two weeks ago, I withdrew from school. All the doors are still open for my eventual return, but, really, I don't intend to go back.

Maybe this isn't as serious to you all as it is to me, but, let me tell you, to me it's the end of the world. It's terrifying. I have been a student all my life. All. my. life.

What will I do without homework? What will I do without teachers? What will I do without constant validation of my memorization test-taking abilities?

(I'll take the LSAT and apply to law school, that's what.)

I had always thought that I wanted to get a Ph.D. and be a professor. I am a child of two Ph.D.s who learned to crawl up the steps of the MIT library; I agreed to go to BYU for undergrad because I knew I could go elsewhere for grad school; I always envisioned myself building a career of reading and thinking and, if I had to, writing. I didn't know anything different, I couldn't imagine anything different.

And yet, over the past two and a half years, I have grown steadily more unhappy in grad school--though there were some good times, there were more than enough bad times to balance them out, and, in general, a sense of unease, discontent and, eventually, boredom, lingered over my graduate school experience.

I know everybody hates grad school; that's the way it is. And yet, if I'm so unhappy at it now, how is the end result any different? Do I really want to suffer through another three or four years of this pressure-filled, stultifying environment only to get a $40,000/year job doing exactly the same things, only this time with tenure on the line? Do I really want to go to conferences and force myself to attend talks that bore me or talk with colleagues that irritate me? Do I really want to talk, think, eat, breathe linguistics, linguistics, linguistics all the time? Do I really want to spend my life in trivial arguments? Do I really want to publish or perish? And do I really want to work 16 hour days, to put my time, mental health, family life on the line, for language change? In sum, do I really believe my work is worth it?

I've been mulling over these questions for a long time now, almost a full year, and no matter how many variables I've toggled in my environment--fewer classes, no classes, teaching positions, research projects, whatever I can change--I find myself coming to the same answer: no.

I went to grad school for some of the right reasons and lots of the wrong ones, and, though I don't regret that decision--I got a free master's degree out of the deal, after all, plus a husband, a home, and, most importantly, the sure knowledge that academia isn't the right place right now--I would regret the decision if I stayed, if I let myself be dragged along by the system, writing each chapter of my dissertation just because it's there, or just because there's funding, or just because I'm trapped in the culture and can't think of anything else to do.

So I left. And here's where I consider myself very lucky, because I found something else to do. I got a job. A good job. I don't know if I'll love the work itself, but even if I don't, it's a job that pays well, or at least better than grad school, a job where I work with interesting, smart, dynamic people, a job that gives me unbelievable benefits and perks, and, of course, a job with pretty serious confidentiality agreements, so, uh, don't expect to see much discussion of it around here.

(Curious about where I work? Let's just say that it starts with F and ends with acebook.)

Sometimes when I think about how much my life has changed in the last year, my head spins and I want to reach through a time portal and shake my January 2009 self by the shoulders, just to warn her about the change that's about to come--brace yourself! Take some deep breaths! Hell, take a nap--in a year or so, you'll deserve it. At this time last year I was a single graduate student living in Oakland, riding a bicycle to school and dressing in jeans and T-shirts; this year I'm a married Facebook employee living in Berkeley and taking a work commuter shuttle to work and dressing in…well, okay, I can still wear jeans. At least I have something in my life that isn't ch-ch-ch-changing.