My Departure With TABC

If you’ve been reading this blog and noticed there was an extensive amount of work travel with TABC and it abruptly just stopped, you’re right in that observation. Since the end of October, I have decided to focus on this blog full time.

Making this decision wasn’t exactly easy. I wasn’t going to post this until all the dust settled, but it finally has. In hindsight, I do feel it was a good decision to go my separate ways with TABC. I reflected back on some of the last blog entries I wrote while traveling for TABC and it was clear I was miserable.

Now you might be in awe of the fact I just said I was miserable. My blog portrayed a lot  of positive and cool things. I will admit, there was a lot of positive and cool things I got to do with TABC. For a good amount of time it was the perfect fit.

When I first took the job, I started as a contractor with a 3 month contract. I was meant to work strictly 3 months and then go on my way. There was a huge help desk backlog and I was the guy to catch them up. My original boss saw my potential and created a job for me to transition on full time.

In the meantime, I decided to go back to school for my MBA. The public sector and law enforcement were whole different sectors for me to learn and I was able to compliment my classroom learning with real life experience in the same way I did for my bachelor’s degree.

During that time, my original boss had retired and I received a new boss. When asked what my goals were I told him I wanted to “automate myself out of a job.” He gave me a funny look because I highly doubt he had ever heard that before. He was an extremely hands off manager so I was able to take my words to heart and start working towards my goal of automating myself out of a job.

One of the things I enjoyed doing was traveling. There was a switch that went down in the Arlington (Dallas) office and when they asked someone to go, I jumped at the opportunity. After getting the replacement switch working, I found there was a ton of pent up demand for IT work to be done on site. I proposed that I start to travel and take care of the many things that had been neglected over the years. My boss told me to go for it and my first “Tour of Texas” was born. Over the course of the next 2 years, I would travel extensively throughout the State of Texas and learn a ton about the agency while getting a ton of projects and work done. I was also even able to do a ride along with the TABC agents and get a good idea of how they did their job.

Fast forward to more recently, I was almost always on the road. Besides doing my MBA, I was eliminating redundancies such as extra servers and paying down the technical debt that was accumulated over the years. I was able to automate the printing system, move the help desk system to the cloud via Zendesk, and I revised many internal processes and standards. I also wrote countless pages of documentation.  Ultimately, I even re-architected the network and was able to replace 19 routers at 17 different port of entries in 2 weeks. In essence, my fingerprints were on everything IT-related at TABC and I took great pride in the work I had accomplished.

Reading the above, you probably are thinking, “What’s the issue then?” If you’ve read my work-related trips, you realize I was extensively traveling. You know I love traveling, so this would seem like a dream. While I always carefully planned my trips to minimize overtime (read about my methods in detail here), I was still accruing overtime. In many ways it allowed me to do things such as take the whole month of July off. This was definitely a positive if I could plan my own schedule.

Eventually, I was asked to work excessive amounts of overtime to the point my boss joked he’d have to, “Send me back up to Wisconsin for 2 months.” The problem with always being on the road and towards then working excessive amounts of hours is it pushed me past my limits. I was feeling physically exhausted and burnt out and knew I could not keep the schedule I was being asked to or even be safe while driving.

While I’m not going to air dirty laundry here and reveal management’s motivations, you can easily dig deeper by doing an open records request and asking for my emails and anything pertaining to the PC Refresh in 2017. I’m only here to talk about the excessive amount of hours I was being pushed to work and ultimately why I departed the agency because of it.

As outlined in my travel tip about y = mx + b being the perfect work road trip project management equation, I found I was able to get very in tune with the amount of time it took to deploy a computer and then know the amount of travel time it would take. If you read that blog entry you will see how I was able to continually be on the road and yet stay within a normal working week.

That first PC refresh was completed successfully with barely any overtime. The time estimates were pretty dead on and that project was deemed a wild success. We found the 3.5 hours per user was perfect and accounted for almost everything that could pop up and set us back literally to the point during the Beaumont, Bryan, and Conroe portion of it I came to the conclusion of:

“One rule of IT is never become too optimistic. I thought I’d have the whole deployment done that night and could leave a day early. There ended up being a lot of quirky things popping up, so I wouldn’t be going back a day early and would have to come into the office again. My intuition always seems to be correct when I do my initial planning. I am usually able to remain on schedule and keep my workweeks around 40 hours. This was no different and my optimism proved to be wrong, but my more realistic planning in the past proved to be right.”

With that, you would assume that the next wave of PC refreshes would follow the same time per user that was proven to work in the past. Well, that was not the case as we were pushed to deploy each user in approximately 1 hour per user, or 1/3 of the time that we actually needed. On top of that, there were some days where 17 or more users were scheduled for a single day before having to drive somewhere else and move on to another location the next day. Even with the 1 hour per user estimate, that was a 17 hour day planned and how much more driving right after it to get to the next spot.

In addition to the long days planned, they wanted us to work a month straight to try to get it all done by the end of that month. Right before the PC refresh project had started, I had planned my border router replacement trip. During the middle of that trip when I was already on the road, the PC refresh work was tacked on for El Paso. I ended up working over 70 hours that week and 12 days in a row before I got a weekend.

With the accumulation of all the hours I had to work and what I was expected to work, I started feeling the physical toll. When my dad was having heart issues I realized if I didn’t back off, this would be me in a few years. Reading the following from that trip to Wisconsin is a hard reflection of what I was pushing myself though:

“As of lately, work has been extremely stressful for reasons I could write a novel on, but lately having to travel and do the PC refresh has taken its toll on me, so now I had multiple reasons to just get away.

The Thursday I talked to my parents on the phone, I had actually burned a sick day to relieve some stress and was planning on burning another one to make it a long weekend. Everything going on at work has started to manifest physical symptoms of stress and knowing my family history of heart disease, I knew I had to nip this in the bud.

Instead of taking the additional sick day, I went into work on Friday. I got everything packed the night before and was pretty much ready to go. My boss wasn’t there so I went to his boss, because he comes in earlier. I told him I was going up to Wisconsin to be there for my dad. He was cool with it (which honestly if he wasn’t I may have just walked out). I actually had a large comp time balance from working a bunch of overtime with the PC refresh project and also my vacation balance was starting to get up there again.”

After I came back from that, I didn’t feel any better. During the time where I was first pushed to work excessive hours, I had a disagreement with my boss. I tried going through the proper channels including HR. After almost 2 months, it seemed like nothing was going to change so I spoke my mind to my boss and that was that. I had separated from TABC and writing this blog entry was one of the first real times I have looked back.

Instead of finding another job quickly, I have decided to focus on my well-being and take a bit of a sabbatical, as well as work on this blog. The physical symptoms of stress are now gone and I’ve actually started to lose some weight and just feel much better.

For the blog, I am now able to focus on the many things I’ve been neglecting over the years. You may have noticed the pages load a bit faster and all the pictures now have watermarks in them. That was the first major project I worked on. I was able to use an open source image editing program and write a script to effectively process over 17,000 pictures to have that watermark and be smaller in size. The image processing happened overnight, but I had to manually fix each blog entry’s pictures. This obviously took me a while.

I am also working on a map-based theme to the blog and have a huge list of improvements I want to make. Hopefully you’ll be able to start seeing vast improvements soon. With that, I am actually using everything I learned from my MBA and also applying a lot of my tech skills I have learned.

TABC was a great experience that led to a lot of personal growth and it was the right place at the right time during much of my tenure there. As time went on, that started to change with being pushed to work more and more on the road. This was especially hard the closer I got to Victoria and not being able to see her at all during the week. In many ways it was great to travel all the time while I was single, but as we got closer and ultimately got engaged, it became harder and harder to be on the road. That and also the stress caused by increasing hours and demands eventually got to be too much.

It’ll be interesting to see what the future holds and this is time I don’t want to squander. If this blog takes off like I want it to, you’ll be hearing a lot more of my crazy travel stories. If not, at least I can say I tried for my dream. Regardless, I thank you, the reader, for continuing to read my adventures, and I wanted to keep you in the loop on where I’m at with things.

To see more of my adventures, click on the map! Or if you prefer to see a list of more blog entries, click here.

If you want to contact me, click here.