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Indulging In A Little Whining May 22, 2012

Posted by Tom Wells in Introductions.

Thirteen years ago at the turn of the century  I was working in the architectural equivalent of a sweat shop.  My salary was about as much as an hourly drafter would earn with overtime in a 45 hour week, but the management of this pressure cooker treated their salaried workers as if they were slackers if they worked anything less than 60 hours a week. It was the height of the housing boom and I was helping to produce the plans for the stucco boxes that everyone is foreclosing on these days.

If I had stuck with it in the production home industry my life would certainly be different now.  I would have had to embrace a management style that idealized such crazy notions like, “If you can take two weeks of vacation and your work goes on fine without you, then you should be fired for not being vital enough.”  So if I had spent the past twelve years never taking two-week vacations and working 60 hour weeks and learning to artfully promote my efforts, then I could have been making more money than I do now, but only up until the financial crash in 2008.

In 2008 I would likely have lost my job when the housing boom went bust.  The national architectural firm I worked for then, closed its doors in California. Other firms I had worked at have also closed their doors and I would have been forced to move anywhere to take a job earning anything I could muster.  Back then my coworkers thought I was crazy to leave the fast rising salaries and chances at partnership, but I made the right move thirteen years ago.

At the turn of the century I chose another path.  Earnings wise, its sort of the tortoise career path in lieu of the rabbit pace that I was on back then.  Back then 20 hours of my week was spent in marketing efforts to support the 40 hours of billable work.  Changing to work as an architect with the State of California meant my workload was set, so I could concentrate on 40 hours of production and forgo the other 20 hours of marketing.  The trade-off is that I wasn’t making as much money as I could have been right up to 2008.  The upside is that I am still working and that I probably have earned back that difference in salary by still having a job for the past four years.

Why would I write all of this here on a blog that is supposed to be about my creative writing?  It is a long-winded set up to talk about the current forces that have severely impacted the time I would rather be writing.  I am very thankful that I do have a job doing the work that I do love doing as much as I love writing.  But while working for the State has insulated me from the economic depression in the architecture profession, the State is in its own crisis.

It isn’t a revenue crisis that my state is in.  Our tax income continues to grow at a snail’s pace.  The problem is that the state spends money like it did when the economy was growing.  The politicians consider it a cut if you change the growth of government from 15% a year to 12% a year.  Government is still growing, just not as fast.  But that doesn’t mean that it’s not growing too fast. We would be fine if the people in charge just froze spending where it is.  But they can’t or won’t and that leaves the state in crisis.

The business of what I do must go on.  I am working on projects that are upgrading and replacing school facilities that were built sixty years ago.  These facilities have been used hard for the past six decades and they need to be replaced to give these kids the quality education they deserve.  However with the budget crisis comes the difficulty bringing the projects online.  The first hurdle being the sale of the bonds that will fund the project, the second being one of manpower for producing the plans.

Government cynics out there might try to argue that the work I do could be done more cheaply by private architects.  That might be true if the school could walk in to an architect’s office and hire him directly, but government doesn’t work that way.  The school has to go to a bureaucrat agency to let them hire the architect and that agency has to try detailing all of the architects duties and responsibilities in writing before shopping the whole state for the firm that will charge the least, but who also is going to ask for more and more money every time something they are asked to do is outside of the detailed description of work that had no place being written by people who have no proper understanding of what they were trying to manage.  Then when the private firm is hired by the middle man agency, that agency has to spend more extra man hours managing the work of the private architect while the school has a harder time communicating with the design people they wanted to hire.  In the mean time, all of the extra bureaucracy of the state project goes on being produced by more government bureaucrats pushing paper behind the scenes for the project that the private architect is working on.  The efficiency of a private architect is not only lost, in many ways it ends up costing the state more money to work with private design firms than it does when an architect such as myself does the same work as a direct employee of the state.

The easy way to make cuts in government comes from its employees.  Every time someone retires or transfers, their position is eliminated.  That works fine at first, and believe me there are plenty of agencies that need to make those kinds of cuts, but we have reached the point in my division where there is no longer enough people to handle our workload.  In many government agencies as it is with my own, there are plenty of paper pushing, report writing, and policy overkill bureaucrats who need to be eliminated.  But for the work I do, there comes a point when too many positions have been eliminated to allow us to keep up with the demand for projects that need to continue. I get two choices, work more hours to cover the loss, or give up the work which would lead to no job.

So I opt for long hours.  I can’t really complain because it is a full on depression for the building industry, but I don’t have to like the long hours.  Especially when this wouldn’t be a problem if the politicians could just freeze spending where it is and let the small tax revenue increases catch up.
What suffers for now is my writing.  I don’t get to do much of it lately and after spending 10 hours a day in front of a computer for my day job, its hard to motivate myself to get back on it at home.  I’ve only finished this blog entry on a flight to Eureka for a project there.  I don’t have to draft today so I can face my computer screen a little more at ease.

And hopefully I’ll get a chance to finish a short story I’ve been working on for quite a few months now.  I’d talk more about that story, but I do hope to enter it in the Writers of the Future contest which prevents me from doing so.  But I do want to finish the story just so I can know what happens next to its characters


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