Stage 3: Early Adult Victories

The first victory of my adult life came about at the end of a long string of miserable failures. I’m not going to belabour those, because this isn’t a blog post about failure. I could probably write a fucking book about my failures.

But what happened was, in 1990 I had taken an early out after a positively horrific six months in the military and become homeless. And there, I took stock of what I was going to do with my life and settled on going back to what had worked for me in 1986: computers.

So I laid out this massive plan of what I was going to do with my life, extending all the way to “retirement” age. The first step was getting a real full-time salaried job at a major company, like you’re supposed to, and then to step up my game to a salary of at least $25,000.

Thanks to the happy coincidence that I had a security clearance which was readily reactivated, and lived in the D.C. area where there are never enough security clearances, it wasn’t long before I made both of those things happen. It was my first real career path – something respectable, that “real” people could actually be successful doing.

And it was during this same time period that I developed a particularly useful skill of not giving a shit about the dollar amounts involved. The budgets in the defense industry are unreal. You walk into a room to give a 20-minute presentation, and the quality of that presentation has a quarter of a billion dollars riding on it.

That’s billion – with a B. All riding on whether you can stand in front of a bunch of officers and not make an arse of yourself for twenty minutes.

It becomes reasonably obvious after a while that these officers have got no Goddamn clue what you’re talking about. But what made me the go-to guy for these presentations at several employers was that I figured out what they’re really doing.

They’re running the bullshit detector.

They don’t know the first thing about the technology, but they know body language, facial expressions, nervous mannerisms, tones of voice. Their purpose is not to find out what you are doing, but to find out whether you actually understand what you are doing, how you are doing it, and why it needs to be done.

That little secret kept me highly in-demand around the Beltway, because if you just subcontracted with whatever company I was working for, I could do your presentation and lock down massive contracts on the strength of identifying what we were really doing. I was a fucking rock star.

But the bloom went off the rose after a while, because I figured out… well, more accurately, admitted to myself that I had already figured out… that I was just helping sell bullshit. I was the only one who could do those presentations because I was gullible. I told the brass what they wanted to hear, because I wanted to believe we were actually doing it. But we weren’t, and we never had any intention of doing it. The whole industry was a cesspool filled with parasites, leeches sucking as much taxpayer money out of the government as they could.

I hated it. I hated myself for being part of it. So I came out West, to Seattle.

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