Friday, September 10, 2010

Into The Blue, Part III: Lost At Sea

I stepped off the plane and walked down the terminal. As I stepped into the airport everything was familiar but different. I'd been here just a few weeks before for the interview, but it had just felt like a free vacation at the time. This time everything had more gravity, more impact. Because I was here to stay.

Longtail had a limo waiting for me again. It was the same driver as when I visited. We'd talked last time, so he congratulated me on getting the job and we chatted as he took me to the corporate apartment. I had an apartment lined up already, but until my stuff arrived it was empty, not even a bed, and until my car arrived it was also really out of the way. So Longtail put me up in their corporate suite for a month until my apartment was ready. I'm there now writing this entry. There was one caveat though, this is where all employees in the middle of a move stay, so I'd be sharing it with one of Longtail's new artists, a guy named Fernando who recently moved here from Columbia.

When I arrived I saw the apartment was quite nice. Two bedrooms, two floors with a ceiling balcony. Longtail really takes care of their employees. Fernando was chilling in the living room and we introduced ourselves to each other. He seemed like a cool guy. I was tired from the flight and headed to bed. It was Friday night, I had the weekend to get settled, then Monday would be my first day at Longtail Studios as QA Lead...

Saturday I slept in pretty late. I was pretty heavily jet-lagged; Halifax is 3 hours ahead of Edmonton, 2 ahead of Winnipeg. After showering and getting ready I went down to the living room to watch tv. Fernando was gone to the beach. I needed to do some grocery shopping so I went for a walk. I ended up walking for an hour to a grocery store, getting some essentials, and then walking back with the grocery bags. It was a workout all it's own, especially since Halifax is so hilly.

Later in the evening Fernando got back. He told me some of the Longtail guys were going to Moxies for some food and drinks and invited me along. There was a guy named Sean who was moving to Vancouver, and he'd actually worked at BioWare before too, though I didn't know him personally. So it was sorta a going away thing for him.

We drove across the bay to Dartmouth (a different city, technically) and headed to Moxies. We were there for a while, and I got to introduce myself to some of the Longtail folks. It was Sean, Fernando, a guy named Andrew and myself. They all seemed like cool people, but I definitely felt like the odd one out. They all headed to the bar afterwards, but I've never been much of a bar guy, and I had some important calls to make so I headed home.

The next day, Sunday, there was a BBQ at another Longtail person's place. His name was AJ and he was staying in the corporate apartment as well cause he'd just moved here from the New York location, so it was just a walk down the hall. I tagged along again and met AJ and his girlfriend. Both really nice people. Sean was there again too. I could tell Sean would be missed, and could relate with what he was going through, as I'd just gone through it myself. We ended up watching the Emmy's after. It was fun, but I definitely still felt like the odd one out. These guys were all higher ups, and because I'd just been a term tester, jumping to a lead position and hanging out with other leads was still new and intimidating to me.

That night I tried to get to bed a bit earlier since the next day would be my first day at work. Wasn't happening. My mind was racing and I couldn't sleep. I did finally manage to though, and suddenly it was the next morning.

After quickly getting ready I walked to work. It's only a few blocks away. I arrived at work and met with John, the producer I'd had my main interview with. He got me set up with my desk and computer and left me to it. I was pretty overwhelmed. I was essentially told to "go make a QA department". Longtail hasn't had an in-house QA department before, so that's a big part of my job. My first tasks were to create and implement a database for bug tracking using JIRA, roll that database out to the team as seamlessly as possible, create test plans for smoke testing of the builds and for pipeline testing of the tools, start looking through resumes for new hires for my new QA department, integrate into the SCRUM meetings and have deliverables ready for sprints. It was more than a little intimidating.

As the week went by I fell into a bit of a routine. I'd go to work and try to wrap my head around everything. I'd leave wondering if I was in over my head. When I'd get back to the corporate apartment I'd hole up in my room cause I was just completely drained. I'd lie in bed and watch tv on my iPad until I fell asleep.

Honestly, at this point I was feeling pretty low. I didn't know anyone, and felt like even though everyone I'd met was super nice, I'd never find a place in the group. I felt like I'd maybe bitten off more than I could chew with the job, and I felt completely lost in Halifax. Winnipeg and Edmonton were very similar. So it wasn't too huge of an adjustment. Halifax is very different from either. Almost no one drives here, mainly because the few that do take up the very limited parking. It's a city with way more history. The building across from the Maritime Center (the office complex Longtail is in) is 200 years old! There's character everywhere. Buskers at every street corner, horse-drawn carriages making their way down the streets of downtown. A freaking' cannon going off at noon every day from the Citadel! But as cool as it all is, I was feeling lost in the shuffle.

As my first week came to an end talk of a hurricane started to come up. Hurricane Earl was a category 4 hurricane trending up the East Coast, directly over Halifax. Fernando was moving into his new place on Friday but then I found out Sean would be taking his room until his flight to Vancouver sometime during the weekend (flight time was dependent on the hurricane). Fernando and Sean were both great guys, but I was a bit disappointed. I needed some down time. I hadn't had any proper time to myself since I'd left Edmonton. Was staying in my Mom's basement in Winnipeg and then sharing a corporate apartment with people I'd just met. They were great people, but I was getting overwhelmed with everything and desperately wanted some time to myself to just process it all.

Friday night I stayed in. I couldn't get these lingering doubts out of my head. I was starting to think I'd made a huge mistake moving here. I felt like I was in over my head at work, I couldn't picture ever fitting in with anyone at work and the city seemed completely foreign. The hurricane was estimated to hit Halifax the next morning, making it that much harder to silence my thoughts long enough to fall asleep.

Saturday morning I woke up the howl of the 120+ kmph winds. The windows rattled and the rain was going sideways. The power was out by noon. The power lines in front of the apartment had torn right out of their sockets on the telephone poles. In the afternoon, while still pretty intense, it started to let up a bit. I had a knock on my door and it was AJ, his girlfriend, and one of the programmers from work. He told me they were feeling adventurous and were going to walk the waterfront during the hurricane. As stupid as it sounded, I knew I couldn't pass it up.

The power was off in the entire building and we were on the the 5th floor. We had to make our way down the hallways, then down 5 flights of stairs with nothing but the light of our cellphones. It was really creepy. As we walked the streets we surveyed the damage. There were thick tree branches laying everywhere in the street. Store signs as well. Many street lamps had the glass fall out or were bent. It looked like half of downtown was without power. It was still insanely windy, and the buildings seemed to act as wind tunnels carrying the powerful winds up from the waterfront.

We made our way to the waterfront, and it was getting windy as we got closer. We stopped at the Maritime Center, the same building we work in, and had breakfast at what was probably the only restaurant open. Some of the windows had been broken so the rain was getting in and they had to mop it up every few minutes, but they stayed open!

After we finished eating we made it to the waterfront and walked down the docks. The bay was empty except for the Coast Guard. They were making sure no one tried to take their boats out, and also to catch any debris before it did damage to the docks. There was what looked like a giant propane tank in the water that could of done some serious damage if it made it back to shore and we watched them retrieve it. The waves were pretty big, and they had a tough time.

Eventually the winds died down. The hurricane was over. Not soon after we split up and I headed back to the apartment. I had to climb the 5 flights of stairs in the dark alone this time. Even though it'd been a fun afternoon, I was still really stressed. I was honestly beginning to consider moving back to Edmonton or even Winnipeg, industry or not. I was so filled with doubt and depression. I missed my friends, my family, and any sort of familiarity. I couldn't see a future in Halifax, it was just so far removed from anything I'd ever identified with.

These were the thoughts running through my head as the sun went down. The power was still out and non-stop sirens could be heard throughout the dark city, so I knew it'd be a while. As the sun went down the apartment descended into pitch darkness. No tv, no internet. I didn't want to use my phone to save the battery in case of emergency so no music or phone calls / texts either. I was alone in the silent darkness with just my thoughts...

I still hadn't seen the apartment I had lined up. I'd heard from a few people the area it was in was considered the slums. I'd figured I'd get a really cheap place at first since I was making the most money I've ever made it'd be a good way to save a lot of money fast and get some nice furniture and save a bit of a nest egg. But now I was wondering if it'd been a bad idea. Would this place be dangerous? Would I even feel safe in my "home"?

Could I just cut and run? Imagine how nice it'd be to just undo this. Go back to Edmonton and live in the old apartment with Chad, watching our favorite tv shows and playing video games. Olga would be there too now! I'd be able to hang out with my Edmonton friends again, I'd live with my friends from Winnipeg and I'd know the city.

Or what about Winnipeg? Imagine living in Winnipeg again! The city I grew up in, where everything was familiar and safe. Back living in the same city as my family. Going to Christie Road for all the family gatherings, heading out to the lake with my Mom and Dave or my Dad and Andrea, family nights at my Mom's etc. I could hang out with Kristina whenever I wanted, reconnect with some of my old Winnipeg friends I'd lost touch with, etc.

But neither of those scenarios were happy endings either. For either of them to happen I'd have to give up on my video-game industry aspirations outright. I'd have to go back to working an unfulfilling job for a low hourly wage. I don't think I could do it.

So where did that leave me? Every option felt like a failure, and I felt like I was progressing on momentum alone, and wasn't sure if I liked where it was taking me. I was completely lost. I was alone in the silent darkness of my room in an equally dark city, drenched and battered. But the storm was clearing, and tomorrow would be a new day...

Location:Sackville St,Halifax,Canada

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