Well we’ve been back in the States for a month now, and I’m finally sitting down to write a blog post reflecting on our experience spending the last year and a half living in Slovakia. It was a bold move, one which mostly confounded friends and family, but which paid immense dividends, both in terms of personal and professional growth. I called it my “sabbatical year,” even though I really didn’t stop working. What I did, though, was to go independent, working freelance for an international developer training company, while residing in a country where the cost of living was substantially lower and the pace of life significantly slower than the one I had been leading in Southern California. Although I probably could have pulled it off, I decided not to take a pure non-working sabbatical, as I had from 1998-2000 when I first lived in Slovakia. At that time, I swore off technology of all sorts and spent my days immersed in Slovak language, culture and society. In the process I gained a new understanding of what was most important in life, namely, building strong friendships and helping others. Having had a large student loan payment, I eventually had to find work (training developers at Siemens), but my goal at that time was to rest from the intense labors of the previous 6 years and reorient the priorities of my life. And I was successful in this endeavor, the fruit of which was meeting the love of my life and returning with her to marry and live back in Southern California.
But after having worked another 6 years, mostly as a principal developer for the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, and after having spent countless hours in establishing a non-profit corporation, it looked like I needed another break, a sabbatical. However, this time the goal would be different. This time, I had a family to support, and I needed to revamp my professional life. Rather than simply taking a break from work, what I needed to do was transition into a new career and restructure my life to allow more time for the things that really mattered and, in particular, to be able to be present with my wife and son during the day. I realized that, after having spent the past 6 years working a nine-to-six job with an hour commute each way, which basically meant I was out of the house from 7 am to 7 pm, I was not able to spend enough time with my spouse to establish a foundation for marital and family life that would take us through the long haul. And it wasn’t just the time away from home. Most of the time, I would come home from work so depleted all I wanted to do was zone-out in front of the tube, lacking the energy to engage other human beings. The weekends were spent mostly running errands and maintaining the house. After 6 years of this existence, I had to ask myself the question, “Is this what life is really all about?”
Desperate times called for desperate measures. So I decided to ditch the comfy job with the big corporation and strike it out on my own. I realized that, in order to make it on my own, I would have to raise my level of technical competence to a whole new level. So I contacted the best developer training company I knew of and applied for a job. Now, most people probably would have just wanted to take a few courses, but I’m the type of person who learns by teaching others. I hate sitting in a classroom passively receiving data, only a fraction of which I could possibly retain. I learn by actively applying new principles and techniques, and I learn the best when I have to demonstrate and explain those things to others (which also motivates me, as an instructor, to make the learning experience as exciting and dynamic as possible for my students!).
The challenge I faced when applying to work for DevelopMentor was that, as a corporate developer I didn’t have the time to get the level of technical depth required to teach as an expert in the field, which is precisely what sets DevelopMentor apart from other training companies. Because of this requirement, it takes on average an entire year for someone to come on board with the company, from the time they first apply to the time they step into the classroom to teach. Then it takes another year to get the hang of it, learning the ins and outs of the field and perfecting their teaching style.
I quit my job at Disney back in March of 2006, but we had enough money saved up so that I could study fulltime for a month, which I needed to do in order to get through my test teach (the first part of the hiring process). We then moved to Slovakia in June 2006, but in August we had to turn around and return for three months to California, in order for me to complete the hiring process and prepare to teach my first class, Essential .Net 2.0. So starting in November 2006 we returned to Slovakia, officially starting my Slovak Sabbatical, during which time I traveled to London an average of once per month to teach there (I also came back to America three times to teach). Because the cost of living in Slovakia is about a third of that in the States, I was able to support my family on just my training salary, which I would not have been able to do had we remained in Los Angeles.
So the main purpose of my sabbatical was to transition to a new career, in which I would not have to work a “normal” job but could enjoy the flexibility provided by self-employment. I still have to work, and the work can be arduous, requiring travel and time away from home. But I can be home most of the time, and when I am home I can spend a much larger portion of time with my family, taking an active role in the running of our household and in rearing our children. Now the trick is to be able to continue that lifestyle while living in America. I’ll address that topic in my next blog post.