Saturday, October 08, 2005

Where'd The Market Go?
The hardest thing about being in business for yourself is definitely "projecting the market". When I went independent as an instructor in March this was a much easier business to be in. The State of Ohio, and it's Federal counterparts get their training budgets in early July. Prior to July, they get into a mad dash to spend all of their money from the previous year. It was like fucking Christmas, and I was your spoiled cousin. The phone rang off the hook. I was turning away jobs left and right because I was simply booked! But that was then, and here I am sliding into October. I'm no longer smiling.

To make things even harder, my former employer (who had been hiring me out so much, they might as well consider me employed there) went and merged with their lifelong competitors in the training business. Of course when this happened it was said that this "superpower" in the training industry was combining courses, and was going to go out and "kick ass" or something. But I knew then that this was a bad move. My former employer had all ready merged with my former-former employer ... and there was nothing left of that merger. I was the last to get laid off from that original company and by my count that left ... nobody. So would this merger prove to be the same? Nothing but a "legal merger" to aquire a contract or two? It seems so.

The scheduling contact I had at the super-power headquarters sat down with my one day to go over the coming schedule. She was a bit disappointed. "The way we understood it, they were going to give us their students so that we could run more classes ... but they don't have any to give us". This company that they had merged with brought a full staff, but no aparent business with them. So now the superpower had many more hungry mouths to feed, and no business to support it. As you may have guessed, this staff has dried up to practically nothing. We all suspected this would be the case, and sadly we suspected correctly.

In the meantime, I have been taking the table scraps of the training industry. "We can't run this class unless we break your rate down to somewhere near what we pay the toilet sanitizers" - "I'll take it!". Of course, the brokers still contact me with odd requests. "Can you teach ProPoint Clustering?" - "WTF is ProPoint?". Or, "Can you teach a class in Albany?" - "Albany New York?" - "No, Albany Canada".

So, as I watch the training industry sink into it's holiday slump, I wonder how I will pay my bills through March when it picks up again. I am also a little concerned that my taxes are going to be murder this year, and I will have to come up with the bazillion dollars for that too. What do I do with all of this downtime? Study!

WTF Am I Studying?
I decided the best way to determine where we were "missing out" with training gigs was to sit down and go through all of the emails and phone calls I get from brokers who were desperate for instructors. I saw a couple of common requests. At the top of the list was Microsoft SQL. I know nothing about SQL, but I know I could learn it. And I certainly have the time to study it! I also found I would only have to pass two exams, and I could begin delivering those courses and naming my own price. So I am one third of the way through a book, and I have been playing with the courses that I downloaded. But this took my attention away from what I had been studying the week before ...

Certified Ethical Hacker! Yeah, I am a HAXX0R (an ej33t one b1tch3$). I get asked every once in a while if I can teach this course. Of course, I can't. But maybe I could get certified to do it. So I looked at what needed to be done. One exam. I can pass one exam. I got to studying. As I studied, I also contacted my local training center (my former employer) and talked to them about it. In so many words, they don't offer the training because it "costs too much". They let other training centers fight for those students. Maybe I could work for those "other centers", but they are all far away. I also found that unless I take the course myself, the exam will cost $250 to try. Oh, and everything I had been studying is now declared "old" as they just revised the exam. Shit. So screw that. Dropped. Maybe I wasted some time. So what.

Another hot trend that I picked up on was "Microsoft Office Manager" (MOM). This is an awkward product that Microsoft made to monitor servers, and kick their ass once in a while when they drop a running service. It's neat stuff. It has also excited many IT managers and project leaders who are rushing to send their administrators off to MOM classes ... which aparently noone is qualified to teach. A quick look at my Microsoft Transcripts told me that I WAS qualified! I had been turning away calls saying "I can't teach that", when in fact I am permitted to. I don't know anything about it though. So I have speant a good week learning all I can about it. I downloaded the course, and I have been working through the labs. It's a neat product, and the course seems fun. So I volunteered myself to teach it twice this month. I am ready! I am confident! And ... after one cancellation for next week, I may still get a shot to run it on the 19th. Fucking cancellations.

And then there's Sharepoint. I know nothing about Sharepoint. I have used it as an "end user", but I don't think that counts. I get a call Friday afternoon from a broker out in VA. He says "So I have this guy to do the Sharepoint class next week ... he has done it for us many times ... but ... he might be passing a kidney stone". To which I replied "ouch!". He adds, "if I call you Monday and ask you to drive to Maryland and be there for a class Tuesday and Wednesday, can you do it?". I thought long and hard about this. At least four seconds. Almost long enough for me to glance up to a calendar I have hanging over my desk with lots of red pen marking out all of the cancellations I have had. "Yes! Count me in!". So this weekend I am learning Sharepoint as fast as humanly possible. Because I 'might' teach it next week. :-/ Alas, I need to teach it once or twice anyway just so that I can start taking the offers I get for it.

Cleveland Traffic is Worse Than LA Traffic
Having now been to Las Angeles and Pittsburgh (both known for intolerable traffic) I can safely say that areas of Cleveland are actually WORSE. I had a gig there for a five day class, and I was determined to stay in hotels as little as possible. This was a good plan. It did however involve me getting out of bed very early, and driving straight to Cleveland (a good 3 1/2 hour trip). My first day in, I arrived into town a full hour ahead of time. Good planning!! Yet, when I rolled off the highway I could see that the directions I had been given the previous week were terribly flawed. I was told to come off the highway and "bear right" onto "Antenucci Blvd". So I barrelled off the highway, with my Bug running hot and trying to stall. And alas, I could find no "Antenucci" anything. Turn right, then? And so I did. Bad move I guess. It took me about 20 minutes to get through one mile of traffic which abrubtly dead ended into a residential area. I could see residents backing out of their driveways, looking at all the traffic, and then turning to go in the other direction. They must know something I didn't.

After another 25 minutes or so I had worked my way to the other end of this road. Now I was sitting in a parking lot that rolled downhill into nothingness. It was really creepy. Just smog, and hills as far as the eyes could see. I would later learn that all of the construction and traffic was for a Wal-Mart getting built. I rolled off the edge of the road, and cut the engine. Reaching into my bag I pulled out my cell phone and my little black book and called the training center. The woman at the desk was describing a building which I was sitting next to. "Hey, I think I am all ready on that road". "Turn down that road to your right", she says. And so it seems that this parking lot connected to a narrow road which was somehow "Antenucci Blvd". No sign. No arrows. No indication that this dirt ridden path was even a road. I wonder how students find this damn place?

So I found the place, and when I got into my room I thought I might be in the wrong room. There were a couple of books and whitepapers laying around for Microsoft Exchange (I was teaching Windows XP) and my desk was littered with trash and coffee rings. Hell, even the waste basket had trash in it. But alas, this was my room. It was just not ... clean. Aside from the filthy condition of the classroom, it would be the only problems I had all week. In fact, the students were fantastic, and the class ran smooth as butter.

That night I checked into my hotel. It was much further away than it seemed on the map and traffic still sucked. Yet, what else did I have to do? I was in Cleveland. Once I arrived, I quicly realized why this room was only $32 a night. It was terribly small. The bed was warped in the middle. There were two tiny bars of soap on the sink that a guy like me could easily lose up the ass, or between the toes. The towels were more like washrags. This place didn't even give you shampoo! Now THAT's a cheap motel!! Aside from the low quality freebies, the place was suprisingly clean, and quiet too.

Halfway through the week I drove home after class. I was able to catch my son's football practice and sleep in my own bed. It was great. The only downside was that I didn't really want to drive back to Cleveland the next day for two more days out of town. Let me tell you friends ... there is nothing more lonely than sitting in a cold hotel room watching TV. I don't know how you "traveling types" can go on with your lives. I was in bed every night at 7:00PM hoping to God they weren't showing "Batman Forever" on HBO again. Yes, I watched that whole movie. All the way through. You know the one with "Poison Ivy" and the chubby "Batgirl". Fucking awful. My second night in the hotel I was laying in bed at about 10:00PM watching TV and it struck me. I was bored as hell, and really hungry. I had made the mistake of eating dinner directly after finishing a class, and I was ready for "the real dinner" now.

So I drove to Denny's across the road. When I walked in the waitress asked "are you a regular?". I didn't know it was one of those places. But when I looked around I could see that this place was a club for fat truckers. I plopped my bag down and placed an order for the cheapest, yet most satisfying junk on the menu. When they brought it out on two plates I delightfully said "oh, this came with a side of pancakes?!?!". That was a lot of food, and I ate every bit. While I waited for the food to come I popped Audrey (the laptop) onto the table and played a game of Hitchhickers Guide to The Galaxy (the 1980's Infocom game). I think I dragged every bit of amusement I could out of that laptop. You would too if you were stuck out in the middle of nowhere without wireless!

It's funny though. As shitty as it is to travel, I didn't mind that week a bit. I think partly because I knew I was just a long drive from home (not two connecting 5 hour flights). And I also knew that I was making a fair bit of money for a class that required no prep time, and very little expenses. With gas, hotel, and food, I averaged $36 a day in travel expenses. Yes, I lived off of the value menu for dinner and skipped lunch. :-) One week later, I got that check in the mail. A check the size of two paychecks (or four weeks of work) from my previous job. Not bad at all.

Oh, had I forgot to mention that my laptop came back to life? Just when I think the battery is completely shot and worthless, it begins charging again. It's as if Audrey got a second wind. Maybe she wants me to take her wardriving again and she misses "old times". I had finished surfing the web one night and had sat her down on my night stand. That's when I noticed her. Flashing "amber" (for 'Im charging') was just her way of reminding me that she needs love. The next trip I take, Audrey ... I promise. We will hit the unintentional hot-spots and make this Blog interesting again.

Historic Comments

It's nice to see your posting again,and things are looking up.

apex | Homepage | 10.14.05 - 1:01 pm | #

I was thinking the same thing too. Post more wardriving adventures. It's been ages since we've had a fresh one.
SiliconSnake | Homepage | 10.16.05 - 8:00 pm | #

Is the The Blue Monster going to post new stories, its been a year?
oc12 | 10.16.05 - 9:46 pm | #

Can kidney stones be turned into diamonds like human remains can?
Poe | 10.16.05 - 10:38 pm | #

I do really need to bring back the monster. These past few months he has been stuffed into the back of my Bug getting mildew posioning.

And I do not believe that kidney stones can turn into diamonds. But, I'm sure they would still make nice jewlery. Perhaps ear-rings?
Ray Dios Haque | 11.04.05 - 3:09 pm | #

Holy sh*t! You're alive! Glad to see you're still managing to scrape by. Hang in there and keep posting.
_shaun | Homepage | 10.08.05 - 6:46 pm | #

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