This is a slightly long story. You can cut to the
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
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
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.
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 1998.com).
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
, 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!