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PostGetting Away from It All: Australia (Martin Storey, Australia, 04/15/18 4:58 am)
Me, me! Me?
I had an American dream. It started on July 3rd, 1976, the day I landed in Chicago, Illinois, for my first visit to the USA as a twelve-year old boy from the Sologne region of France--see the recent film L'Ecole Buissonière a.k.a. The School of Life. What I saw on the next day in Park Ridge, and for the next few weeks amazed me: such BIGness to everything! Friendly people! Magnificent nature! (My godfather host took me along with his family to Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario). A few years later, when I completed high school, I left the Sologne, and after few meanders arrived at Stanford as a star-eyed and very clueless "international student." A fashionable ambition at that time of the Japanese "Fifth Generation Project" threat, was to go into computer science so I did, cramming my BSc in two years because that was the duration of my scholarship. I got into a good grad school elsewhere, again the only one that was generous enough to grant me a scholarship, but had to defer this to do the French military service.
I was able to dodge that, instead spending the deferred year working for the United Nations then in IT in Belgium, and for Médecins Sans Frontières in the Sudan. The people I met there triggered an epiphany: being totally uneducated does not mean that one is totally unintelligent! And another related and more sinister one: being highly educated does not mean that one is intelligent or benevolent! I returned to California, crammed my MSc in the duration of my scholarship and stunned my advisor when I declared that I did not want to go on to do a PhD. My MSc officially qualified me to design Very Large Scale Integrated (VLSI) circuitry, with a particular emphasis on communications. I did the graduating student thing and interviewed for every company that would talk to me--which turned out to be very few on account of my foreign citizenship and the usual requirement of "US citizenship required," although I did have a green card by then.
How I got away from it all--or is it "into" it all?
Interviews were not going so well, mainly because I was unaware of the protocols and truly had no idea of "where I wanted to be five years later." One of the interviews I went to was with a VLSI company in Palo Alto. The process was hectic and amateurish, and at one point I ended up one-on-one in the messy office of a thirty-something engineer who rambled about the necessity of working long hours; his desk was sprinkled with white powder which he made no attempt to conceal. That experienced puzzled. At another interview, for what later became an "iconic" Silicon Valley computer company (now long since acquired), an HR person told me confidently something along the lines of "Vacations. Yes. You get 6 days per year during the first years. But if you really care about your career, you are well advised not to take them." That may have been the last straw for the French in me.
Concurrently, Royal Dutch Shell had offered me a job and during the obligatory "thinking-about-it period," called to warn me about another company that may court me, and why I shouldn't work for them. By the end of the call, I was quite keen to talk to that company I'd never heard of and couldn't quite pronounce the name of. I traced it and got an interview with them--Schlumberger--in Houston, Texas. A few days later, a short offer came in the mail wrapped around a plane ticket for Venezuela. I took it and the job. That was over 30 years ago, and during that time I have not resided again in North America or in Western Europe, but I have lived in South America, West Africa, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and for most of the past 18 years, Western Australia. During these life-travels, I have met many more uneducated intelligent people and highly educated unintelligent people. I occasionally reflect on what I would have been if I had remained in Silicon Valley or in academia... someone else. Revolving doors!
Does that qualify, or was I too young when I got away?
JE comments: Martin, that makes you a WAISer! Thank you for telling us the details of your fascinating peripatetic career. If I do an on-the-fly survey of our colleagues, I think you rank with World Citizens Tom Hashimoto and Marga Jann for the "most countries worked in" title. Two of you, I note, are French.
Great to hear from you, Martin.