If you told me six weeks ago, while I was getting my drink on with friends in Seattle, that I would be moving to Orlando, I would have told you that was crazy. And yet, that's exactly what we're doing. I took a contract gig with a Major Attraction Operator™ in the area.
In some ways, this happened very fast, but it has also been in the works for six months at least. I wish there was some way that I could refine the description of the whole effort into some clever little blog post that would inspire people to follow their dreams or some such nonsense, but I can't. It's more complex than that.
Our first winter back in Cleveland was brutal. I think the only thing that really made it tolerable was that I was telecommuting, so I didn't have to leave the house. But then, I was also stuck in the house. We also struggled to re-establish a social groove here. Remember, we moved back partly because of the social scene, and partly because of the house I couldn't sell, and all of the financial drama that came with it.
And the truth is, everything about the financial situation turned out to be true, and it didn't take that long to get to a really fantastic place. We moved to Seattle with two unsold houses and tens of thousands of dollars in credit card debt. We went back to Cleveland with just the one house, but still nothing saved. The thing we kept questioning though, was whether or not the financial wins were worth the compromises in local career potential and social changes.
I can't put my finger on what it was, but it felt like we took a step backward.
By the time 2012 was winding down, I was ready to start looking around for new opportunities, as I didn't see a lot of long-term potential at Humana. The experience was great, but I didn't see a clear future. With enough local work, I worked briefly for a local company that wasn't what I hoped for, and did plenty of contract work. Essentially, I figured it was a good time to act on our desire to figure out next steps to leaving Cleveland, and doing that meant stepping out of career-building mode and into sustaining income mode (read: contracting).
In January, a friend of mine was reversing a career change. Well, he was double reversing it, actually. Like me, he worked in broadcast, then he didn't, then he did, and now he was moving back to do what he liked. It's not that he made any mistakes, it's just that he was clearly free to change his mind. I respected his courage to do so. It was a pattern that I had seen before among other friends. Sometimes you need to see someone else making big changes to believe that you can do the same thing.
Then in March, we got a little more serious and decided to commit to a real timeline to move. I would continue to do contract work, even if it wasn't particularly interesting, until the end of April, at least. Then I would commit to working full-time on the quilting community project that Diana and I have been working on. The first iteration should hit in July, on a limited, invitation-only basis. This may or may not become a viable business, but we don't know unless we try and get it out there. By July, get the house on the market, and by August, move to our new locale, with or without a job there. Given the banked contract work cash, we could live comfortably through at least September without huge savings damage, but go nine months if something went horribly wrong.
The secondary motivation for this plan was to spend as much time with Diana and Simon as possible. The boy will never be 3 again, and I think he needs the interaction. Between his developmental delays and the normal crap that comes from a 3-year-old, I wanted to be more of a hands-on dad.
The timeline all worked out, though the house selling and moving has moved way, way up. Getting the first version of our site up before I go is going to be a challenge, if not impossible, especially after losing a bunch of time to travel to Orlando and Seattle, some spontaneous family travel, and focus on getting the house ready to sell.
We finally got back to visiting Seattle in September, 2012, almost a year to the day from when we left. My brother-in-law graciously let us crash at his place for the week. So many fabulous times were had. In addition to hanging out with our Snoqualmie family, we met up with many Microsoft people, and had a big party with our early parenthood group. We even went to see Garbage at one of the local concert venues. It felt so good to be there. We felt some amount of regret that we ever left.
The thing about Seattle is that stuff is just "better" there. It's hard to put that into definitive terms, but it's a combination of the culture, the smart people, the snow-capped mountains around you... it's just a win all around.
And then there's Microsoft. For better or worse, I'll always love that company. I kind of associate Seattle with it. I loved being on campus, knowing that people around me were working on the next Xbox or that the products around me were multi-billion-dollar businesses. Say what you will about the company, but it remains one of the most awesome American success stories. I loved being part of it.
There are a few negatives about Seattle. The first is a lack of theme parks. I convinced myself for two years living there that it didn't matter, but it does. It matters even more now that we see how much Simon loves them. It also takes forever to travel anywhere. Las Vegas and the California coast aren't terrible, but otherwise, your choices for driving trips are Portland and Vancouver. Awesome places, but still limited. And finally, there's the housing cost. For some reason, we still want to own a house, and it's just too many years off, no matter how I do the math.
Even still, we love Seattle, and I can't possibly say that we'll never live there again. It gets in your blood. I can't explain it.
In May, I followed a lead from a friend at MSFT about a gig that sounded like a good fit. After two phone interviews, they flew me out there to interview in person. It was a strange experience, to say the least. The people who interviewed me all seemed to think the position was something different. I passed the first part of the loop and got to the "as appropriate" interviewer, but I couldn't get a read on him. They did not make an offer. While it was a blow to my self-esteem in some ways, I also felt that the job was probably not the fit that I hoped for. I often tell people that the company is really many small companies, and some are awesome, some are not. This might have been one of the nots. Still, I sure was close to suddenly moving back to Seattle.
When we moved back to Cleveland, we really did think it was a stop on the way to Florida. It came up a lot even before we moved to Seattle. By last summer, we had heard enough bad things about schools in the Orlando area that we just kind of wrote it off without any additional investigation. After visiting Seattle in September, it became even more "obvious" that Orlando just wasn't good enough.
But Orlando kept bouncing into our life. In October, I went down for my step-dad's memorial, and couldn't help but feel good about being there. A month later, Diana and I went down for our first long vacation without Simon. Sure felt good again. In February, visiting for a cruise, and yes, it felt good to be there again.
It wasn't until just a few weeks ago that I started to look deeper into it. I had a couple of my friends down there brief me on the good neighborhoods, and as you would expect, they coincided with decent high schools. The elementary schools in those areas were even better. In other words, it was like any other urban area: Follow the money to the better schools.
At that point, the allure of a snow-free winter at the expense of season changes was looking a lot better. I reached out to recruiters in the area, and quickly found that the career potential there was much higher than I expected. Local technology folks really see the area as the next Austin, Texas, which is another place that has morphed into a hub of techie companies. More importantly, it wasn't a town with the same old bank and insurance jobs that make Cleveland such a crappy place to work. Orlando was back on the table.
There are negatives that come with our decision, but no decision is perfect. We're not going to be in the same neighborhood as Simon's cousins, and that bums me out. We won't be among our awesome early parenthood group friends, or all of the awesome friends I made at Microsoft. These two things are going to suck, but we've been living with them for the last year and a half, too, so they aren't new problems. It just means we need to visit more regularly. And of course, given where we will be, there's a good chance many of our friends will be visiting our new home town.
Our plans don't have to be perfect, in part because we'll adapt and change, and our experience has demonstrated that we can always move again if we got it totally wrong. I don't think we will, but when you think of it that way, the risk doesn't seem like a big deal.
Last week, I booked a last minute trip to Orlando, on my own dime, to talk to a particular theme park company about a software architect contract gig. It seemed like a long shot, but worth the gamble, because it demonstrated that I was serious about relocation. It also gave me a chance to scout the area for neighborhoods. Within minutes of walking outside at the airport, I felt good about being there.
I was really impressed with the people I talked to at the company, and they're into a lot of interesting things. It was also exciting because it's so career stage appropriate. When they made an offer two days later, that was that. I don't think I ever thought, "Gosh, I enjoy software, and I enjoy theme parks, perhaps I should be involved in both, as a job." That only took me 15 years to figure out. This gig combines so many of the things that I like to do the most, at the level I like to be engaged. While we were already leaning heavily toward the move, having income lined up before getting there certainly made it more of a good feeling thing to do.
While the conditions are right for work, I'm not sure I would entirely base the decision to move there on career. I'm very optimistic, but I still think our primary motivator is to avoid real winters and get a real fresh start as our own little family unit. It's really hard to see how your career will play out in the long run (we never guessed Diana would be a stay-at-home mom and I would shift away from heads-down coding), but no matter what happens, having the right scenery behind the action is important. We think this is the right set for this play (or musical, as the case may be).
So we're off! We're pretty excited for all kinds of reasons. We look forward to January when we're not scraping ice off of the car. Ice cream at Magic Kingdom? Can do. More time for GKTW coming soon. And perhaps a year from now, if things go well, we'll finally figure out our very own home.
The adventure continues!