Spearfish, South Dakora
September 18th, 2019
The town of Swordfish is a 45 minute drive north on I-90. The terrain in between almost resembles parts of central California. Dry grassy hills with scattered trees in the lowlands and forested hills that are more densely packed than an oak forest would be.
The town supports a Safeway, Walmart Superstore, CVS, and the usual compliment of franchises found on the west coast. Downtown is more spread out than the AG village and significantly less “cute”, but does boast a craft brewery and several independent coffee shops.
Spearfish Canyon seems to be the entrance to the Black Hills. A five minute drive from downtown takes you into a river valley with scenery unlike anything I’ve ever seen. The way the rock formations protrude from the surrounding trees makes them look like they belong in a Japanese scroll, except for the fact that they’re yellow and gray. I kept expecting to turn a corner descend further, but overall the valley was shallower than I expected.
The company I applied to, SRAM, has grown through acquisitions leading to offices scattered around the US. The position I applied to is on the “Quarq” product line which makes various sensors and electronic components for bicycles (including an electrical seat adjuster which can move your seat up and down while moving from a button on the handlebars). Despite being purchased eight years ago this brand has remained relatively intact—SRAM acquired them to facilitate integration with their existing products and move into the electronic component market.
The offices almost feel like the robotics team room, electronics are being designed on in one room and their corresponding mechanical parts in another as well as offices for software development and people working on tasks supporting the business. Down the street is a manufacturing and shipping facility with even more employees.
The software team (and all of the mechanical engineers that I met) were white, male, late 20’s or early 30’s with young kids (in fact one person I was scheduled to interview with had to be replaced because his wife was giving birth), cycling enthusiasts, from Spearfish or the Midwest.
+ Work with cool bicycle technology
+ Low cost of living
+ Better outdoors than NJ
+ Employee discount
- Homogenous environment
- Lack of opportunities to network / make connections
- Long car ride or flight required to reach any urban area
- Possible bias from future employers against someone working in South Dakota
More thoughts to come if/when they make me an offer.
ADK and VT
September 9th, 2019
Part 1: The Hiking
Early on Friday afternoon last week I finished a call with the company in DC, glanced at the news, and realized it was Labor Day. If I left within the hour I could make it to the Adirondacks by nightfall so I packed up my bag and left my AirBnB a day early. Past experience told me that all of the campgrounds were going to be booked, but on my a past trip I had come across several primitive campsites next to one Rock Lake on the southern end of the park. A primitive campsite is really what it sounds like, usually they’re located off the side of a trail in groups of two or three sites with no infrastructure, no campground manager, no running water—really nothing except a clearing in the trees and a place for a campfire.
My campsite was about a half a mile from the parking lot and I timed it perfectly, I finished setting up just as the sun set. After a hearty dinner of plain pasta I lay down in my hammock with a podcast review of Taylor Swift’s new album Lover in my ears and proceeded to doze for several hours before finally falling asleep (Side note: several songs on that album make me feel things). In retrospect that should have been obvious, I sat in -the morning, I sat in the car, and now it was 9pm and pitch dark out, I definitely wasn’t falling asleep right away. But I was the only person on this side of the lake and being alone in the woods was more peaceful and relaxing than nerve wracking (which I feared was the potential flaw with this plan).
Not only did I sleep, but in fact I woke up feeling rested at 5:30 am when the sun rose. I broke camp and headed off to the north side of the park. Around 9am I arrived at the “Adirondack Loj”, a very popular setting off point for reaching the High Peaks region (“Loj” is some bastardization of “lodge”? If there’s a joke I don’t get it. Might just be like “bnad”). The lodge is run by Adirondack Mountain Club is a private organization that runs a small store and info center, concession stand with hot food, and campground. Unfortunately their parking lot had filled up.... at 6:30 am. I was considering risking parking on the side of the state highway that said “no parking”, like the hundred other cars were doing, but after seeing a ticket dated from the day before decided against it. I eventually found parking on a side road and started walking at 11am.
Side note: the following day as I was setting out I saw a forest ranger working his way down the huge list of illegally parked cars issuing an incredible volume of tickets. I came across someone headed to his car and told him this, he ran off, made it just in time, and then gave me a ride to the trailhead!
But back to Saturday, despite my late start I made it up Mt. Marcy, the highest point in New York State! Theodore Roosevelt was descending Mt. Marcy in 1901 when he learned F William McKinley’s gunshot wound had unexpectedly gotten worse. Though it was a lot of elevation change it took place over a long distance. By the time I got back to my car I had been out for more than 8 hours and was a bit light headed. Maybe it was some sort of runner’s high, perhaps I hadn’t eaten enough (coffee, Cliff bars, and mixed nuts), or just exhaustion. But I made it none the less!
Camp was another primitive campground close to where I had parked, this was much more popular due to it’s proximity to the loj and had glorious pit toilets. I met a group of four Canadian MechEs and MatSci majors! I shared my pasta and terrible tomato sauce, we made tea, and they provided hot chocolate and Mike & Ikes for dessert. They set out at 4am to check multiple peaks off their list—I enjoyed sleeping in. Tents are much warmer than hammocks.
I set off at 11am towards Algonquin Peak, the second highest. It looked like it had good views of Mt. Marcy and would be a moderate challenge. I WAS WRONG. I was so wrong. Mt. Marcy had been tiring, but not taxing. Algonquin kicked my butt. It was a slog up exposed rock face and then a scramble down while trying not to slip. But I made it to the top, made it down, got a burger, and slept (very) soundly in a hotel because of the risk of rain.
Part 2: The Job Searching
The reason I got reeled in to Vermont was because I sent Aunt S. a picture pointing out Mt. Mansfield on the horizon. This turned in to “Oh you’re in the area, you should come stay with us!” It took a while to wear me down, but she did convince me and so far I’m glad I came.
When the job I had applied to in DC said “no” on Wednesday I relented and allowed her to start recommending contacts. She back-channeld confirmed that an email from me to a tech founder friend would be okay and by Friday I had sent in an application. I have also continued applying outside of the Vermont area, on Tuesday I am going down to Maryland for an in-person interview with a small army contractor.
And, uh, apparently I’m in contact with a company in South Dakota. They make bicycle components and technology. I sent them a copy of my resume and got a very enthusiastic response back from an engineer who addressed me by my ham radio callsign and signed it with his. Honestly, working for a bicycle company in South Dakota sounds like more of an adventure than than Maryland might be.