Paul Makepeace ;-)

Why aren't you in NZ yet?

This is a slightly long story. You can cut to the chase though.

Take it from the top

In early 2002 I found myself in the rather unpleasant situation of having to leave the US at short notice. The prevailing market conditions of the tech industry in California (i.e. ravaged), a combination of my own naïvété about the likelihood of employment with a small company (generally, not specifically) and, if I'm honest, insufficient forward-planning about the whole work visa renewal issue conspired to have me on a plane London-bound on Valentine's Day. Which is one good thing since I was single at the time exempting me from staring wistfully at canoodling couples in restaurants.

Wow, one month to get the ... out of Dodge?

It wasn't 'til the last moment I gave up hope of staying in the US. Most of the middle to end of January I spent frantically trying to find a job, since this was a requirement of continuing my stay on the H1-B work visa. Hmm, whose expiry was set at Feb 1 2002.

Obviously, I was applying for work in the US but one of the things that turned up in the course of my probably rather tense-sounding email conversations was an opening in New Zealand at a company a friend Jez Weston worked at, Brookers in Wellington, a town of a few hundred thousand at the south tip of the NZ North Island. In apparent stark contrast to the entirety of the Bay Area these guys were actually hiring, with the caveat of the job being in a different hemisphere.

This wasn't so bad for a number of reasons.

First, it's New Zealand. I haven't met anyone that doesn't actually like NZ. I had the good fortune to visit there in late 1998 to early 1999 and really loved it to the point of mentally noting "I really must come and work here some time".

Second, the job description was a tight fit with several of my specialist domains. Most of 2001 I'd spent on what I euphemistically have been calling a "sabbatical year" on account of its apparent directionless meandering through a collection of unrelated and disconnected jobs & technology, most of them taxing me quite hard with demanding learning curves. So this was an opportunity to go back and do something I consider myself quite good at rather than spending my nights reading endless PDFs and manuals (I love both, but can't do the same thing for too long...).

Third, it rapidly came apparent from the two interviews I had with Brookers that this was a company I could easily work at, fit in with, and be productive for. Not to mention already knowing at least one cool person there.

So you went for it, right?

Yup, at this point it was looking like a winner, all the pieces fitting into place in that almost preordained meant-to-be way they sometimes do. Brookers offered me an eight-month contract position, and at that point I made quite a significant decision to ship my apartment contents (~700kg) West rather than East. Cost for the shipping was US$2,350.

Dude. $2,350?!

It gets worse. At that time though I was in a flow state of Getting Stuff Done and one technique is throwing money at a problem until it goes away (so

Anyway, to work in NZ as a foreigner also requires a work visa; they call it a permit. As an amusing aside compare and contrast these two immigration information sites:

Still, getting a NZ visa through a NZ lawyer was going to cost around NZ$2,500 or, accordingly to my Visa (ha) bill, about US$960. At this point my relocation expenses were already over US$3,400 and that's not including plane flights, customs, accommodation at that end, or any of the other myriad ways these moves deplete cash. Prompted by this I looked again at the job offer contract and noticed there was no mention of relocation expense. I assumed this was a mistake since my previous encounters have all paid relocation or at least substantially helped out. It wasn't a mistake: New Zealand employers do not apparently pay relocations and since this was an unusual situation to be hiring me at all--Brookers rarely hired foreigners--I shouldn't hold out much hope.

$3,400 is quite a bit, but surely not that much in the long run?

If this were a US company paying US salaries, yeah, that'd be fair enough. (Well, if it were a US company they'd pay the damn relocation but putting that aside...) However the NZ dollar has very little buying power outside NZ. Put another way, it's worthless: a very respectable salary in NZ would, if converted into UK currency & compared to UK market rates would not even impress a recently graduated computer science student, let alone a senior software architect.

But you'd be living in NZ!

Yes, but all my relocation expenses to Cheap Land were incurred in Expensive Land. Doing the math taking into account tax etc I would be working for two and a half months to just break even, i.e. pay off the estimated overall relocation expenses. Then, five and a half months later I'd be at the end of my eight month contract and potentially in the position of having to leave and re-incur at least some chunk of those expenses all over again. I.e. I'd be ... well, there's a word for it.

So I pressed Brookers for relocation expenses and even armed myself with a little New Zealand corporate tax knowledge thanks to some late night calls to random NZ tax accountants found on the Web. Despite assurances from one very savvy accountant Brookers seemed sure that they could not swing relocation, apparently on account of some interaction with their head-office in Australia. To their credit Brookers did seem to try hard to find a way but it wasn't to be, and thus I didn't accept the offer.

Awww :-(

But all was not lost yet!

By this time I was back in London and Bristol for the first time properly in three years, readjusting and reacquainting. And I pleased to say thoroughly enjoying myself (this fortunately hasn't stopped yet). Brookers & I came to an informal agreement to stay in touch and they would try to make a more permanent offer at some future point. There was quite some hope for this with a big project in the wings but the overall message was very much to get on with life until that happened.

So I did. Shortly after getting back to London I hooked up with a friend and ex-client/colleague, Peter who was in the midst of an exciting opportunity to have a transformative effect on the Open University, the UK's world-famous distance learning organization. I can't say how exactly as this is still in discussion but suffice to say it has the potential for something really significant. Peter offered me the chance to get involved which I duly jumped at (not only that, Peter was an exceedingly gracious in providing me a place to stay in London for quite some time).

About six weeks after I landed in the UK Brookers came back with a fresh offer following their successful negotiation of the aforementioned large project. This new offer was for a permanent position sweetened with some salary restructuring to ease the tax burden to assist the relocation expense pain. Not ideal, and I still don't understand why they couldn't just take it off their yearly corporate tax bill but certainly a much better offer, and one I was willing to accept. I had of course however become involved with the OU project; a commitment to Peter for at least the pilot ten week phase. Following some waffling on my part, and waiting for the OU Brookers were not prepared to wait the length of time that was needed, estimated around 10weeks plus a couple for sign-off.

I had the option to bail and go South but it just didn't feel right. Sorry, can't be less vague than that. Intuitive thing.

So you're still in London?

Thus I am in London still having a great time and currently freelancing in a somewhat less hopeless tech market than the decimated California one.

But where're your apartment contents?!

Er, heh. It's all in New Zealand. No, I don't know where exactly although at a guess I hope past customs. Next question.

What now?

Summer in the UK; travel around Europe perhaps; Burning Man maybe although it'd be my fifth attendance in a row and expensive from the UK (expensive anyway actually); then head South for the winter. So yes, still a plan to go to NZ in the medium term, and back to the US when obtaining a visa becomes more likely.

Work-wise I seem to have people contacting me frequently for bits & pieces so am confident there. I've also met some really wonderful people here and look forward to a great summer!

Thank some people, go on

Leaving a country essentially without choice that you've lived in for three years and grown to love, and love the people there is really, really stressful. I highly don't recommend it. Doing all that on a ridiculously compressed timescale--about three weeks--is even worse. Somehow, I didn't go completely psycho or even have a nervous breakdown. A big chunk of the credit for that is the tremendous support of my friends, and Karen in particular who went so far beyond any possible call of duty it still blows my mind. Putting me up (and up with me..) in SF, lending a van to move stuff from Monterey to SF, going on endless errands, forwarding mail, cashing checks, dealing with me tying the phone up for ages, providing a staging point for selling a pile of computer stuff, my car, my bike, and of course seeing me off to the airport. Wow. Thank you Karen, you rule.

My landlady, neighbor, and great friend, Elizabeth Murray provided much needed love and moral support throughout, and plenty even before all this too. A shining light!

Also a huge help was Philip Dzilvelis who kindly provided at short notice space in their cage for my server which is, and contains, at this point quite a large part of my life, and little bits of others' too! I think if I hadn't found hosting space I could well have lost my mind.

A drunken "cheers!" to Vordo for providing his space at the Abstrakt Zone for my Exit Strategy leaving party.

I'll be back!