Bamboozled – Politics in DC

My fiance and I left Brooklyn New York in September, 1991 with $200 to our names. We were broke, and needed a fresh start, a new location and better employment prospects. We moved in with family in the metro Washington DC area, and spent the next 3 months saving our pennies.

I was still employed (remotely) as a software engineer by my employer in Long Island City, NY – and was hoping to keep this job long enough to afford the first month rent of our new apartment. Luckily, I landed a gig in DC. It was not easy breaking into the metro DC job scene. My software experience was in manufacturing and finance….and the DC technology market is all about government and lobbyists. I felt a strange southern vibe. Head hunters referred to me as a “Yankee”. Was it that obvious I had never lived below the Mason-Dixon line? Should we have stayed in New York? Did we relocate into the Confederate south?

A small IT company located in Prince Georges County called to arrange an interview. I jumped at the chance, and practiced putting a lid on my “yankee”. I met with the President. He was creepy. He was more interested in my appearance than my work skills. My inner voice screamed “walk away”. But, I didn’t listen. I needed work.

I was assigned to a downtown DC work site as a “contractor”, and write application software for District of Columbia Department of Public Works. I had a lot to learn about being a government “contractor”. In a nutshell, being a contractor, is the best way for area technology businesses to over bill the government for services they may or may not need. Here is their recipe. Private companies will place a body in front of a government desk, bill up to 3 times what they pay you, and keep you in that position for as long as the money train keeps running. It doesn’t matter if you solve any technology problems, or meet project expectations….it is all about billable hours. It was “day 1” on the job – and I was already learning many things.

I sat in a empty 8′ x 8′ cubicle, with no computer or phone. Generally, a computer is handy when you are tasked to write software. Not here. My on-site supervisor gave me software manuals to read. Yes, manuals. Nobody reads software manuals, but I obliged – since I needed to pass the time of day. I read through the software technical manuals in the first hour. I spent the rest of my 8 hour assignment daydreaming about how I could never be a government contractor. My next job would surely be more rewarding than day 1 in the District Government.

By noon, I had absorbed a great deal about my new surroundings. In the cubicle next to me, one of the District employees was a crack addict. His dealers showed up twice with some bling. My on site supervisor (a government employee) informed me that she had forgotten her underpants. I wasn’t sure what I had done to encourage this feedback, but decided that maybe I should go back and re-read those software manuals to appear busy. I buried my head in the sand of software manuals, and experienced one of the longest days of my life. I was bored to tears. Surely there must be more meaningful work for me in the DC area. I vowed to find another job by the end of the month.

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