With expectations already lowered, I hopped into the Uber. His name sounded like he was from Russia or the surrounding countries. We exchanged usual Hi and Hello and in few minutes the car was on the highway.
He asked me if I was from India followed by the next obvious question - Are you in IT? By now, I am very used to being assumed as an IT person and don't feel anything bad about it at all. That's what people see more of us in the USA so can't blame them. Sorry, doctors.
When I mentioned that I work "with" Google, he assumed I worked "for" Google. This happens a lot by the way. I've observed that people hear what they want to hear (myself included). To this, I promptly corrected him and explained the difference between the two.
He acknowledged but continued talking about his experience on Google Maps and how he doesn't like it. In his opinion, the original map company MapQuest (anybody?) did a better job. To that, I could have talked him out till we reach my home but I was more interested in listening to him further. So, I questioned him to understand if he could articulate it further. He did it quite well in that part of the conversation, to my surprise, he turned out to be an Ex-IT guy. Back in the late 90s to early 2000s, he worked for a big NYC telephone company in IT and was quite good at it. At this point, my tiredness started to vanish and I was very curious to find out more.
He then explained that since he worked for the telephone company on a software that was custom built for the company and nobody else used it in the market. I already guessed what happened next because about 10 years ago I went through a similar experience by accumulating great experience on a tool that was built in-house. He lost the job and there wasn't anyone who would hire him for that experience. He didn't upgrade himself in these years by learning new things, doing pet projects at home, getting certified in new technology.
He explained that he went to college, learned all the new things by taking on a loan and got the degree that would get him somewhere. But, he did the same mistake again by joining the old company. They called him as they couldn't find anyone to work on that system. Since he was tight on money, he opted for that and before he knew he spent another few years on the same thing. Whatever he learned was totally wasted!! I felt really bad for him.
So, what made him drive uber? That phone company let him go after a couple of years and now he was a solid 10 year stale in comparison to what the world was working at that time. He also got into a divorce putting him into further financial trouble. So, I thought that was the reason he was driving the Uber. Not really!
He said that after that he found love again and married to a much younger woman and also have a baby now. She was the main breadwinner and he was babysitter while she studied and worked. The Uber was only for the time when he would get some open time to do something!
Now I really felt that I HAVE to give him some hope and the best possible tips I could offer so that he can do something better in the future. We explored what he knows, can do, and can learn and found that he could become good at any hands-on coding. Since he was a bit oblivious to the changes that happened due to the internet and its scale, I suggested he should learn some core web development skills, practice those and register on the freelancing sites to get work that he can do at his own time. To that, his question was who would give him work without experience? He was right! So, we further explored and in the end, I suggested him to look at projects posted at these sites and work on it as if he got the project. That way, he would have something to show as a portfolio, would get a chance to practice the skills with a real-life example!
Suddenly, he seemed very excited. We talked for nearly 45 minutes throughout this ride. Before getting into the car, I was exhausted but after getting out of the car, I was fresh again. I had a hope that he would work on this, find his way out and be successful again in his future life.
My takeaway from the conversation was that all of us can land into a similar situation. The only way to stay on top of it is - Constant Learning! If we stay comfortable in our current knowledge base, in 5 years that could be stale or completely out of demand and we would become roadkill. The only thing to blame at that time is ourselves.