I tell people “I work at the National Cancer Institute.” Not “I’m a contractor working for Terrapin Systems supporting the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health.” Partially because it’s a mouthful but mostly because they’re eyes glaze over and they want suddenly want to talk about the weather.

Being a government contractor often means having very little contact with the company I actually work for and pays my salary. I work on the client site. For the client.

I am one of them.

Scarlet CONTRACTOR Letters

Scarlet CONTRACTOR Letters

It’s a strange dissociation. Some contracting companies are very hands on. I’ll interview at their offices for their people initially. I will meet HR and Finance people in addition to the recruiter. I will meet my manager-to-be if I’m hired. I will know the faces attached to the phone numbers and email addresses. It all feels very real.

Other contacting firms might as well be ghosts. I’ve never met the people. Never been to their offices. I don’t even know where the offices are. Sure, I have an address but it’s still not real. It’s just a number on a page. I know they exist because my salary gets paid. And I get emails from people I don’t know and will never meet.

It’s a strange life, that of a contractor. I often think of it as being a hired gun or a nomad. Roaming from job to job. Learning a new language. A new culture. Then doing it all over again in a few years. In the world of IT Support, every job is the same. But every company is different. Changing jobs is all about unlearning everything I know culturally about where I am but transferring my technical knowledge and soft skills to the new place.

It’s like moving to a new school. All the subjects are the same. There’s a gymnasium and a cafeteria. There’s a track and rows of lockers. But everyone is different. I am the stranger. I have to make new friends. I have to learn new social norms and expectations.

I would love to live my grandparent’s ideal. I would love to work for one company for 20 years and never think about leaving. I want a company to invest in me. But that’s not the world I work in.

I will never work for one company for 50 years, retire and receive a pension. I will never be taken care of by a company I’ve committed my life to. That world no longer exists. I’ve never worked anywhere more than 3 years. I’ve been laid off in budget cuts. I’ve been fired. I’ve left for a whole host of reasons. My mother is fond of say I still don’t know what I want to do when I grow up. And it’s true. I don’t know what I want to do when I grow up.