Google Engineer, Living in His Truck

A term I used to answer a question on Quora is what I call, white-collar homelessness. It is when a person has a white-collar job, works in an office, and leads a certain lifestyle associated with that work, but their living situation tells a different story. I go into more detail about that on Quora.

The reality is that a job working with computers does not guarantee a better life. College debts, very high cost of living, and other restraints on gross income can undermine a person. Big tech companies, famous companies, and well-funded organizations can pay very well except the salary may not work in some tech hubs and major metropolitan cities.

I thought struggling against high cost of living in places like Silicon Valley was theoretical. A theory I never wanted to test, but there are people who are struggling to make it in Silicon Valley. Those of us who do not live there will stop this very moment and ask ourselves if it is a true struggle when you work for a major tech company (or in a well compensated tech job) despite living in a place known to be really expensive?

The story of one Google engineer seems to show how this can play out.

The interesting thing about his story is not the circumstances but the choice itself. A feature of his story is that his employer is helping him out in terms of consistent, regular access to facilities to refresh himself. His situation is not frowned upon and seems to be accepted more than it might have been if he did this somewhere else. The choices he made are not to be glorified or for others to follow. The path he took does seem worthy of understanding given the steady nature of employment today. In his case, it seems he could have chosen to live in a more conventional way. I don’t know if he truly had that choice. Many others truly do not have that choice.

What is more common in the IT industry are white-collar IT workers who work on temporary basis. Usually, they are called contractors or consultants. Online job boards for IT and other computer positions often designate them as such. These are temporary positions. Those who hold such positions may find themselves in a cycle of having to move from city to city, sometimes state to state.

Some IT positions are not like this, but many are. Ironically, a person can move between a full-time position and a temp role without blinking an eye. A long-term temp role is not the same as a full-time position. Recently, a major company in Atlanta, GA decided to let go nearly 100 full-time IT roles. The effect of this cycle is to diminish the idea of a truly permanent job. The distinction between full-time and temp gets fuzzier all the time.

Temps, contractors or consultants in IT have much in common with those who work in construction. I know someone in their late 70’s who has worked in construction since they were in their 20’s. The way this person describes construction work in terms of employment sounds very close to the way many IT roles are setup today. A wider story exists there as to the similarity as others have alluded.

A person who enters the field of IT may be unaware of the fragile nature of their profession. People do exist for who everything I say here is the total opposite. Many others however, unaware of this fragility and who encounters it, may be unprepared for the day they have to break the lease on an apartment. They simply cannot afford two apartment leases when they have to pickup suddenly to go to another city because their temporary assignment ended (sometimes suddenly) or their full-time position was eliminated. That means one of their options may be to live like this Google engineer. To live in a truck, car, or migrate between expensive hotels and public transportation.

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