On Thursday, June 1, 2017, I received the bad news that my position had been eliminated from the renewal of the SSGCID (Seattle Structural Genomics Center for Infectious Disease) government contract. The grantor of the contract, NIAID (the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases) had, in anticipation of the cuts in the upcoming national budget, ordered deep budget cuts across the board, a directive they had received from their parent, the NIH (the National Institutes of Health). My position will go unfilled and that money distributed across the scientific staff so that they can be retained as FTEs and do the actual science, which is–after all–the point of the whole thing.
My position will not be filled by someone younger and/or cheaper than I am. It simply does not exist as a line item in the next SSGCID budget. The web application that I’ve labored on for the last eight years will be left without a caretaker for the final five years of its life. I’m confident in my manager’s skills and familiarity with the underlying database to be able to curate the content of the database through manual SQL manipulation. However the front end? The middle tier? She has neither the desire nor the time (she’s a real scientist and works on real, awesome science stuff for the good of the contract) to take over my web app and so it will languish.
Eight years is the longest period I’ve spent in any job. I’ve been held here by golden handcuffs. One of the greatest of these has been the no-drama friendliness and delightfully geeky intelligence of my coworkers. If I geek out about some aspect of programming, I can appreciate a lab researcher geeking out over some new process they tried in their experiment and vice-versa. SO. MANY. NEAT. PEOPLE! This was especially valuable to me because they hired me after I reentered the workforce after taking two isolating years off with my second child.
Another aspect of the golden handcuffs is the mission behind the SSGCID endeavor. Its purpose is to take genes that are potential drug targets and discover the shape they make when the protein they produce is crystallized. The crystal shapes then suggest pockets and other landing points where medicinal compounds could block the protein from acting, sending a chain reaction through the bug (SSGCID works on bacteria, fungi, and viruses) and kill it or at least render it non-harmful. My web app is a tiny cog in the works, tracking the genes we were studying (over 14k of them have been selected) and helping to push them through the pipeline. However, it is critical in helping to produce the numerical evidence needed every six months to provide to NIAID that we were still worthy of our funds.
I am sad to leave this position behind because I feel this chemistry of people and mission and corporate culture will be hard to find. However, I am also somewhat relieved. I knew I couldn’t stay for the whole thirteen years. That seemed like too long in the same spot, especially if I didn’t get a chance to dig into new technologies as they arose. A part of me is really looking forward to a new opportunity to grow my skills and to work as a programmer among other programmers.
Even though I’m still somewhere in the stages of grief and couldn’t FizzBuzz to save my life, I am starting to apply for jobs. Even though many look quite tempting, I’m finding myself feeling a twinge of terror each time I do it, because each application leaves you vulnerable to rejection. How many interviews will it take before I finally don’t choke at the whiteboard? How many interviews will it take to find a team that feels like I “click” with them and would be a good addition (I’m not exactly a stereotypical coder)? I’ve learned so much about being more at ease, more “me” when around strangers by observing some of my more socially gifted coworkers. Will it be enough?
My funding runs out at the end of August. I’m not bitter–they didn’t really want to cut me from the budget but I don’t actually do the science and without the science happening, I’m useless and I know it. I know others who are still on the contract have made sacrifices, such as cutting back their hours to save money. They will still do the same amount of work, but only be paid for a fraction of it. This makes me sad because they are good people who do good work and they deserve to be compensated appropriately.
So, let’s wish them luck on a successful next five years as well as wish me luck on finding a good new job to call home.