I am always amazed at the people I run into that are telecommuters. You’d think you’d be able to pick them out from a crowd…huddled over a laptop at Starbucks frantically typing, or holed up in their hotel’s business center into the wee hours of the morning. But you can’t always tell a telecommuter from a “regular” employee, and that is a testament to how many people are making remote work gigs WORK FOR THEM just like they would any other in-house position.
I was lucky enough to meet Jen Haley – a Montana-based Software Engineer with HP – and her story got me fired up all over again for the fantastic opportunities that working remotely can bring to people all over the world. She was kind enough to let me pick her brain about her work experience and the reason she wanted to bring work home to where she loves to live. Below is the first part of our interview:
JM: Tell me a little about you to help people get to know you a little before we dive in.
JH: I am a Montana native. I was born in Bozeman, raised in Butte and later moved to Whitehall my junior year of High School. I am a Whitehall High School and Montana Tech graduate (I have a BS in Computer Science and BS in Business Administration).
I enjoy outdoor activities whether it’s working in my yard, garden or out in the mountains with family and friends recreating. Also in my free time, I have volunteered my time and ‘technical’ talent for local legislators, churches, and non-profits whose cause speaks to me. I’m 47, single, no children, one cat, and a lots of extended family in western Montana.
JM: What is your occupation/who is your employer?
JH: Consultant Specialist is my official title. I’m essentially a Software Engineer for Hewlett Packard.
JM: How long have you worked for them?
JH: On paper, I’ve worked for HP for 25 years, however, the first 19 of those were with EDS (Ross Perot’s company, the large IT provider pioneer). HP purchased EDS to start a ‘services’ branch to augment their product service lines. Now HP is in the process of separating off this ‘services’ branch to be its own company again (Fall 2015) but operating under a larger HP umbrella.
JM: What drew you to that particular career?
JH: How I was drawn to this career still makes me smile. My dad was a math professor, and later the Dean of Math/Computer Science, at Montana Tech. In those days, (70’s-boy I feel old!), programs were written from a dumb terminal and output via ‘punch cards’. To run a program, students and faculty had to literally take their cards to the “Computer Room” and the person on duty would load and run them (you got ONE shot, and if a 2nd run was needed, you went to the back of the line).
My dad was one of the faculty members that would have this duty, and on occasion I would go with him and sit in the lab. He taught me how to write in BASIC; I couldn’t be any older than 10 years of age. My first program was a game to ‘Pick a number between 1 and 100’. The program would randomly generate the number and then it would accept your guess until you got the right number, telling if you were ‘too high’ or ‘too low’. When no one was using the computer, my dad would load my cards (all 10 of them) and let me play! It was so much fun; I felt so privileged! I wish I still had those punch cards.
When I graduated from high school, like many my age, I was unsure what I wanted to do. I had lots of ideas (Math teacher, Veterinarian, Broodmare Farm Manager, very diverse!), yet, nothing to which I wanted to commit. My dad suggested I attend MT Tech for the first year or two, minimize costs, and take the same coursework that is common to all curriculums; it will come to me. I decided to declare a Business Admin major and started plugging away. By my junior year, although the coursework was easy for me, it wasn’t exciting and I couldn’t imagine the rest of my life doing it.
I remember coming out of one of my business classes and saw my dad crossing campus to a class of his own. I walked with him and told him my concern. It came as little shock to him that I wanted to change my major and do something else, so many students do. He suggested Computer Science. It had NEVER crossed my mind. Why not? As soon as he said it, I thought, “Yes!” and, I began. I was already into my junior year and was starting a new major. I was able to finish my Business Degree in 4 years, and it took just one more year to complete the CS degree. The coursework interested me; I enjoyed the lectures and the professors; I was challenged and I excelled. For the first time in my life, I got straight As carrying a ‘doubled up’ 20-25 credit load semester. It was an education path that fit me perfectly.
JM: So now I’m really curious…how did you get from graduation to a killer job at HP?
JH: When I graduated from Montana Tech in 1990, Computer Science jobs were not nearly as prevalent in industry as they are today. We could go work for mining companies doing things like networking. We could go work in labs doing scientific programming solutions. Or, we could work for the likes of Microsoft, IBM, Computer Sciences Corporation, Hewlett Packard, EDS writing large scale application development. I had 2 interview options, Microsoft and EDS (well, the CIA was hiring, also, but a $20k salary in DC didn’t seem like much of an option!). I accepted a job with EDS knowing I was leaving Montana and not knowing if I’d ever get back. My first assignment was in Des Moines Iowa. I moved from there to Dallas, then San Francisco, Portland, Boise and through what felt like the grace of God, EDS landed work in Bozeman MT with a local client and I was able to move back home.
I think is is so wonderful how Jen’s story boils down to such a simple baseline: she found something she loved doing, she found work with a company she loves working at, and she was able to translate that into working from home in a place she loves to live. You can read part 2 of her story here, and part 3 here.