06-20-2021

#thoughts

Going from making vinyl records to building websites.

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In late 2018, I was standing in a manufacturing facility feeling hot, tired & stressed as I watched another vinyl record being pressed in a machine & then another & another. Counting down the time until the shift was over. Tick tock.

It took roughly 30 seconds to make a record, give or take the mood of the machine. My mind in a daze as the rushing of steam through pipes & whirring of mechanical sounds joined together in a deafening symphony. A constant background noise I had grown numb to.

I remember thinking to myself "Is this it? Am I going to do this forever?", as my hand moved to a panel of blinking dials and buttons which had been precisely calibrated through daily trial and error. One notch to the right. Let's test that out. Another record drops & another.

A vinyl record starts out as tiny vinyl pebbles and those pebbles are melted down into what resembles a hockey puck. The puck is then transferred to a machine that presses upon it with thousands of pounds of force. On either side are plates that have been etched with music.

The record is rapidly heated & cooled to form the circular shape & grooves in which the music lives. It then moves to a second platform where any excess material is trimmed off to achieve the perfect circle. Then finally, it drops onto the stack with the others, and the process repeats.

A vinyl record before it is flattened in the press.

I had both the fortune & sometimes the curse of being good at my job. Good in the sense that my "numbers" were consistently high which allowed me to survive layoffs. I had great teachers. I asked a lot of questions & wanted to move up quickly but the curse had other ideas.

Frequent meetings with management to brainstorm how to improve processes, training or daily output often put me in what felt like an inner circle. Conversations that often led to ideas of promotions & restructuring. My current title was "Press Operator" but I wanted more.

A new office position as a "Sales Engineer", yet to be created, was dangled in front of me for months previous to me standing there pondering life. A job that would likely never come to be because they couldn't afford to lose me on the factory floor.

A carrot being dangled in front of a rabbit.

I understood. It's what was best for the company but when was I going to start thinking about what was best for me? One more notch to the right and little less steam. Let's test that out. Another record drops & another.

I needed more. This couldn't be it.

For several months, I had been trying to study HTML & CSS at night after work but 9 out of 10 times it would result in me falling asleep at my keyboard, letters racing across the screen while I slept. It was not working and I had to make a change. Change is scary though.

"I need to talk to you when you have time." is a simple sentence. Not too long, not too complex but it holds a lot of weight. A mystery packed into one line. My boss stared at me after I said it as if those were supposed to be their words, not mine.

Me: "I think...I want to quit"

Boss: "Is something wrong?"

Me: "I just need more. I have to do something else."

Boss: "Alright. I'll let them [management] know."

She was always very supportive and cared deeply about her team. She did not seem surprised and encouraged me during our conversation.

"We heard you are thinking about leaving us. Let's talk." This turned into me explaining my ambitions & realizations that I needed to do what was best for me. Lots of head nods & "We understand's" later, I gave them one last option. I would stay but only for a part-time position.

The part-time position was not going to be agreed upon by management but there was one more meeting planned with the owner, who flew in on Wednesdays from Chicago to the Nashville office. It was an enjoyable conversation that ultimately led to me saying that I would only stay if it was part-time but that was not happening. In the end, we shook hands and wished each other well.

On the last day of my two weeks' notice, they offered me a part-time position. Suddenly it was possible. However, one thing had changed...me. I couldn't play the games anymore.

I politely declined and returned to my machines to finish out my shift. One more notch to the right and a little less steam. Let's test that out. Hey look at that, it's finally perfect. A perfect record drops and then another.

Time to clock out one final time.

// "You can't go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending."

Putting yourself first can be the hardest thing in the world to do sometimes but if you don't do it, who will? I was very fortunate to be able to leave that job & start studying web development but I could not have done it if I didn't have others to support and help me. I still have that support now & I'll never forget it.

If you're standing there pondering your life & the changes that you 100% deserve, I hope that it will be possible for you too. Please, don't doubt yourself for one second. I did for far too long.

For those just starting your journey into programming, I wish you nothing but the best of luck in your learning & landing your next role. I'll be right there alongside many of you & I can't wait to see how your stories progress.

Until next time,

-Kyle Shook (elyktrix)