My Twelve Year Career Path to Network Engineer as a Female: Part Two, The Bad Years

This is Part Two of my Twelve Year Career Path to Network Engineer as a Female. See Part One here.

June 2014 to October 2015- TekSystems was the subcontractor to Hewlett-Packard for the Marine Corps contract that I was on. My ultimate goal was to move back into networking as a “direct hire” of HP, or someone who is directly employed by the main contracting company to the government. The only networking positions were with HP, so it made sense for me to want to be hired by HP. HP’s manager knew me because I worked for him (extremely remotely). I called him up and told him I wanted to be a networker again. I had proven I was reliable and competent to HP and they had networking spots opening soon. Japan was finally taking the network back from the contracting companies (like I had led during my time as a Sergeant on the West Coast). So if I joined the networking team with HP, I knew I would be going through the same thing I had gone through as a Marine, but now as a much more relaxed contractor. Direct hires pay better (they don’t have to skim money off the top to pay the sub-contracting company), and benefits would be better (actually receiving paid time off). With a baby on the way, I knew that was the best bet for me. I moved to another base (Foster) and started working on the network team there as a junior engineer making $54,000 (tax-free). Starting a new position seven months pregnant was unfortunate, but I was still providing decently consistent results (pregnancy brain hit me hard). I had my son in October 2014. After six weeks of “recovering” from a c-section, I went back to work, and took the Cisco Certified Design Associate (CCDA) exam in December to ensure my CCNA wouldn’t expire. I became the project lead for the networking projects that affected the bases in Japan. It was simple stuff, the same stuff I had done as the Network Operations Chief on Pendleton. It required lots of coordination, lots of managing people I was not officially in charge of, and lots of learning how to handle people as a normal person and not as a Marine. As usual, I was also looking for my next step. I knew that contract requirements meant I needed CCNP to be promoted within HP to a mid-level engineer. So I started studying and taking the three separate exams for CCNP. I passed Switch in Feb 2015 and Route in March. Then my son was medically evacuated to Hawaii for surgery in April and I went with him. In between hospital appointments, I took the Troubleshooting exam and received my CCNP. Here’s the thing: I had saved up enough time off to go to Hawaii and be with my six month old son who relied solely on me for food. I had given HP the heads up about the surgery and evacuation. However, the surgery trip was only supposed to take two weeks. Complications made it take 30 days. I gave HP a week notice about the extension of my time off (which I still had enough hours to use) and I received an email that said the status of my job was unknown at the time. When I finally caught a flight from Hawaii to Japan (holding my still-recovering son), I immediately drove to work and was told “the only reason you aren’t fired is because the Marine Corps likes you so much”. Supposedly the contract also said a contracted seat couldn’t be left open for more than 20-something days without HP filling the position. They couldn’t find someone to fill my position so they were fined (or something along those lines). As I walked out of the room, I mentioned I had gotten CCNP while in Hawaii. My boss offered me an immediate raise to mid-level engineer. I accepted, feeling like I had experienced whiplash.

I applied to graduate schools and started my Masters of Science in Information Technology in May of 2015.

I charged the government for a mid-level position for two months. I never saw a pay increase (roughly $20,000 difference a year, still tax-free). When I went back to my HP boss to ask why I wasn’t seeing the pay increase, there was a lot of hemming and hawing. I was leaving the island anyway (trying to transfer to North Carolina with HP to follow Matrix). I needed that raise in order to be considered for a decent pay in America (I didn’t have to pay taxes as an ex-patriot in Japan. I would have to pay taxes back in America. Every dollar mattered.) When I started looking for positions in NC to transfer within HP, there was only one about an hour away where I would be living, a senior level position that required CCDP, CCNP, and CISSP. I applied, and was told I needed to get CISSP and CCDP. I was reluctant but assumed the pay would be worth it. However, I was told I would not receive a pay increase…so I would still make $54,000 (the same as what I was making as a junior engineer but now I would be taxed.) as a senior engineer. I was expected to get CISSP and CCDP in the two weeks I was moving out of Japan, with a nine month old, and still doing grad school. I told the hiring manager in North Carolina that it was impossible and she said “there are ways to pass the exams.” They expected me to unethically pass CISSP and CCDP to fill a senior position at $54,000 that was a two hour commute from where I would be living. I turned down the job and left Japan.

October 2015 to August 2016- Once I moved to NC, I began applying to subcontracting companies for the same contract that I had worked on in Japan. I set up multiple job interviews for the days immediately after landing in North Carolina. The companies wanted me, and I got callback after callback from multiple excited companies who wanted to hire me. However, each one would stop returning my calls once they sent my name to the contract prime (which was HP). After I finally got one HR rep to answer my call, he told me that my name had been put on a two year blacklist from working for HP or any of its subcontracting companies. I wasn’t going to be able to find a single IT job in North Carolina working for the federal government.

So I applied for the Department of Education for the county. I went through multiple hour long interviews and they were visibly excited to hire me. During the last interview, I was asked what brought me to the county. I mentioned my husband was a Marine, and the lead interviewer shut my folder and said “thanks, but we want someone who will be around for longer than three years.” The interview was over, and I was not hired.

There were no other jobs closer than three hours from where Matrix was stationed. So I doubled my grad school load (taking four classes at a time like an idiot), and kept looking.

I became extremely depressed not working or interacting with anyone, so I told Matrix I was leaving for California, where I knew IT jobs were in abundance. I interviewed with Fortinet, and botched the salary negotiations by asking for only $70,000 when I was later told I needed to ask for at least $120,000. I did a few phone interviews with other companies and had a few tentative options, but without a job lined up and without a place to stay, I packed my car and drove across country.