Ten Years

This month marks ten years since I first set foot in the US. As I waited in line at immigration, tired from the flight and daunted by everything that might happen next, it was easy to forget everything that came before. Just three weeks earlier, my workplace had been tense with news that another wave of redundancies was sweeping through and I was unsure in what direction I was heading1. I was ready for a change, but did not want the uncertainty of finding a new job or the certainty of choosing to leave the one I had. I was living a step ahead of my means with little attention paid to the future. I was smoking. I was making dubious decisions or avoiding decisions entirely. I was feeling disenfranchised, misplaced, and numb.

One afternoon our manager called us all into a meeting room. There, he informed us of two positions available in the US and asked if any of us were interested. It felt like the silence lasted a long time although it was probably only a few seconds. No one was volunteering. I do not know the trigger  — my desire for a change, the allure of working in the US, or my need to get control of my life, but slowly, I raised my hand. I remember rationalizing it as no big deal, after all, I was only expressing interest, it was not like I would be whisked away to a plane immediately. With the raise of my hand, so began a series of small, easy decisions that led to the biggest self-directed change of my life so far.

Within the three weeks from when I raised my hand to when I stepped off the plane in Detroit, I packed, paused, and displaced my life. Boxes were filled, paperwork was filed, and farewells were planned. There was no time to stop and think about what I was doing, just lots of small decisions to make — accept or negotiate the contract, pack or throw away my things, take or leave my guitar, stay or go, sink or swim. All along the way, I kept telling myself it was not forever, it was no big deal. I was only going for a couple of months to meet the customer face-to-face; work (and a longer stay) was always going to be dependent on the acquisition of appropriate work visas. It was no big deal.

And so it was. Three weeks flew by. My sister, my parents, my new boss in the US, my old colleagues in the UK, my friends (including my housemate, who was seriously ill at the time), and many more all helped in some way. I am incredibly grateful to their support, it was amazing. During the whole experience, trepidation wrestled with excitement. Seconds after the taxi pulled away, leaving my parents and friends as they waved goodbye, excitement turned to panic.

What the hell am I doing?

I repeated that phrase in my head many times between London and Detroit. When the taxi left my old home. When the taxi left me at the airport. When I was pulled from the security line for "special screening". When I sat on the plane. When the plane took off. At least once per hour during the flight. When I landed. When I got into the immigration line. Over and over.

What the hell am I doing?

I am pretty sure I was terrified, but just like the small decisions that got me there, I focused on the immediate situation and did my best to ignore everything else. I think excitement and terror are pretty much the same thing but with different interpretations. As I accepted the situation as an adventure, the terror would subside and excitement returned.

Blimey, I'm actually going to America!

That was how my first few weeks in the US continued. A mixture of terror and excitement, depending on the situation and how I let myself accept it. It was the beginning of something new and ten years on, I cannot imagine doing any differently if it were to happen all over again. It was by far the best decision I ever made because I learned the value of making a decision instead of letting fate decide. I faced my own anxieties head on and made a decision to challenge my fear. The amazing sense of achievement that came from deciding for myself was life-affirming. While it took me another nine years to take that moment of control over my anxiety and begin learning how to harness it on a day-to-day basis, I still look back on that decision and the many ways it has changed my life. In a moment, I went from feeling disenfranchised, misplaced, and numb, to engaged, excited, and driven.

Of course, that first day in the US was merely the beginning, a lot has happened since and a lot more will happen yet. Though my move was certainly no panacea to my problems — there were many difficult challenges to over come, it was a catalyst for solutions, an opportunity to grow, and a clear example that fear alone could not stand in my way if I could find the courage to face it. It is a lesson that I have applied many times since; from winning the CodeMash Pecha Kucha contest, to marrying my amazing wife, so many achievements began in an otherwise unremarkable moment where I pushed my fear aside and made a decision to try.

So, whatever the next ten years hold for me, it is not fear, but small moments like raising my hand in that meeting room that will shape them. Can you say the same? Where will your decisions take you?


  1. Unlike in places such as Michigan, where employment is considered "at will" and can be terminated at any time, if a company in the UK wants to downsize, they must go through a process of making positions redundant. That means the position will no longer exist and as such, the organisation cannot hire someone else to perform that job. For a better explanation and more information, check out https://www.gov.uk/redundant-your-rights/overview 

Lessons from an ever changing career in software development

At the end of last year I came to a terrifying conclusion; it was time to look for a new job. I was terrified because I had not been through the process of proper job hunting in over 12 years and because, though I had a job, I knew I would not be happy if I stayed in it. I had worked in the same organisation for over a decade and though I had worked several different jobs and faced many challenges, this felt like the biggest (yes, even bigger than when I moved to the US).

The story of my career and this move is too long for this post1, but after transitioning from university to a job, from Motorsport to automotive and now healthcare IT, and from the UK to the US, I have learned a few things along the way and I believe they are universal. Perhaps you feel something is wrong and you can't put your finger on it, or maybe you want to try something new but are frightened of what where that might lead; just knowing others go through similar emotions can be incredibly helpful, so I'm sharing what I've learned so far.

  1. Look for opportunity

    It seems strange and I certainly didn't get this for a long time, but you won't recognise an opportunity unless you are already looking for it. I look back on every major change I made in my life and can see how this was true for each and every one, whether it was going to university, farming Ostrich, or moving to the US.

  2. Know what you want

    In order for you to recognise that opportunity, you have to know what it looks like and more importantly, what it does not. List the things you want in a job and take note of the things you don't want. Don't just think about the technical side of things, be sure to consider the culture you'd like to work in too. This also helps in recognising when it is time for a change.

  3. Learn the signs that it's time to change

    Too often we can ignore the little things that indicate a bigger problem and pass them off as having a bad day or working with annoying people. In reality, these are often signs of a wider dissatisfaction that needs to be addressed. It's easy to ignore the little problems when you're enjoy what you do, but once the enjoyment is gone, those little problems get bigger. Has there been a cultural change within you or the organisation? Are you not getting things from your work that you used to? Take stock of your situation and work out what you do and don't want from your job then see if it matches. If it doesn't, work out what you need to do to fix it. Sometimes all you need to do is make some simple changes to the way you work, sometimes you'll need a whole new workplace, but recognising this before you start burning bridges is really important, for you and your colleagues.

  4. Don't burn bridges

    It is tempting when making a change (or in the throes of realising that you need to) to tell people what you really think of them or their job. Resist this urge. Unless you are truly coming from a well-intentioned place and you are certain that the other party is willing to hear what you have to say, it is best to keep it to yourself. Usually, it is best to keep it to yourself. I was once told to be nice to people you meet on your way up in your career because you never know who you'll need when you find yourself on the way back down. I didn't listen. I have one less bridge.

  5. Don't be afraid to ask questions

    Whether in an interview or just in your every day work, ask questions. If you don't know something and you want to know it, ask someone. I have learned this the hard way. Knowing when it's time to ask instead of continuing to blunder around in the dark is really important. You may feel like you're stupid or weak somehow for asking, but asking is far better than finding yourself in a job you hate or without a job because you spent too long not knowing what you were doing. Sometimes, this can even help avoid the need to change your job in the first place.

  6. Know your own mind

    Learn to recognise when fear is clouding your judgement. When we're afraid to try something, we're great at convincing ourselves that we're right to just not. For example, some people turned down the same opportunity I took when I ended up moving to the US because they "owned houses" or "had a family"2. While compelling, these excuses aren't truly impassable obstacles like those who utter them would have us believe. A person who is content and doesn't want an opportunity is surely more likely to just say, "no", but those who are afraid will find excuses instead. If I had let my fear of the unknown take hold, I could have found a hundred reasons why I just couldn't move to the US (it was only for a month or so originally, anyway), but instead I identified what might make the move difficult and I addressed it.

While I've focused on career change here, many of these things apply to life in general. I hope that you find them useful. Perhaps you have some tips of your own. Please feel free to comment and share them with the rest of us.


  1. perhaps another as I did just write it while prepping this one 

  2. As if I'm some mutant who just appeared one day, parentless and alone. Apparently, this phrase "have a family" only has true meaning if you're married with kids…please…