(Dave here) Back in the Fall of 2007, I left a company after nearly eight years, as they were being sold-off and split apart in somewhat of a messy process. I was then briefly employed by a small consulting firm in Norfolk, Virginia. Our team consisted of myself: a Windows Server support engineer, Bill: a Cisco Network Engineer, Rob: an AD/Exchange Engineer, Jamie: our Project/Sales Manager, and a Desktop Support Technician named Chad Post.
The five of us were trying to grow business for our tiny office, and worked hard to satisfy our customers. Each of us, for the most part, worked independently of the other, so we didn't really stay in touch as much as one might expect for a small office. This was also when the U.S. economy began to contract, so everyone felt the stress and concerns equally.
In March of 2008, we were all called up to the home office, in Richmond (Virginia), to be fed, watered and spoken to about how "great" things were going. The CEO walked up to each of us from the Norfolk office, offered words of encouragement and support, and promised to support our fledgling office "no matter what". Within three weeks of that event, our office was shut-down and most of us were laid-off. Only one of the engineers remained with the home office in Richmond, while the rest of us scattered to the four winds.
Four of us remained in our relative "comfort" zones of geography, but Chad chose a path most of the rest of us didn't anticipate: overseas IT contracting. In the years since, I have tried to stay in touch with Chad and the others, because, as you get older, you also get somewhat more sentimental about staying in touch with people.
I felt it was a fantastic opportunity to interview Chad since he's probably doing the most unusual and relatively "extreme" type of work of anyone I've personally known. I recently asked him if he would be willing to share his experiences and thoughts gained from his work abroad.
Dave: How would you describe what you are currently doing for a living?
Chad: Right now, I’m basically an Active Directory paramedic. I’m out here in Afghanistan in case things go wrong, more or less. Should something break or fail, then I jump into action. Otherwise, it is a whole lot of checking on servers and reading tech articles.
Dave: You've been to some interesting places since leaving Virginia: Afghanistan, Kuwait, Cuba. What other work locations have you been to, and what other places would you to go? Any that you'd like to go back to?
Chad: I don’t tend to revisit places once I've worked there, unless the position offers a new spin on things. The few times I've revisited places, I've found that the novelty of being back wears thin quickly. Having said that, I would not mind revisiting Cuba… as a tourist on Guantanamo!
Dave: What's the most interesting or surprising thing (or event) you've experienced, either personally or professionally, while working abroad (OCONUS)?
Chad: I mean, you can’t go wrong with the surprise of your first insurgent attack. ;-)
Dave: If a young American IT worker approached you about working overseas, and asked you what they should pack in their luggage for a year-long opportunity in some remote place, such as Afghanistan or Guantanamo Bay, what top (5) items would you recommend?
Chad: The secret of working with the military is that you can get most things delivered via USPS in 2-3 weeks. Having said that, I tend not to travel without a laptop, universal outlet converters, electronic copies of my documents, a spare set of clothing, and enough local currency to escape my intermediate stops should something go wrong.
Dave: What aspect of American culture do you feel is most misunderstood by other cultures? What aspect of other cultures (those that you've experienced, at least), do you feel is most misunderstood by Americans?
Chad: Many citizens of Middle Eastern nations assume that American policy reflects the opinion of all Americans. Because they’re used to their governments controlling the dialogue, they assume the same is true of us. That’s why you have people protesting America over films instead of directing their ire at the producers of those films, for example.
On the flip side, Americans tend to view the Middle East as a land of burkas and angry men. That’s definitely true of some places, but when you’re in Bahrain or the UAE, you’re just as likely to see a hip Middle Eastern woman in skinny jeans and Prada sunglasses.
Dave: What types of IT-related skills seem to be in most demand (outside of America) these days? Are they more in-common among various locations or are they more specific to industry or culture for each location?
Chad: On the contracting side, your big names certs are what will sell you. Microsoft, Cisco, the CISSP, and CompTIA are the most requested certifications. It bears noting that most jobs will require Security+, though. Additionally, SharePoint, SCCM, and anything security will get you in the door. More important is getting that security clearance, though!
Dave: Is it as "dangerous" as most Americans believe to do IT contracting work in places like Afghanistan, Qatar, UAE, or Kuwait?
Chad: See, those places are all different. You can’t compare a Kuwait or a Qatar with an Afghanistan. Afghanistan is clearly more dangerous, but the actual level of danger varies based on your location. Arguably, I am statistically safer here than I would be wandering around Norfolk at night. Bahrain and Kuwait are almost ridiculously safe at night. I was never worried walking around alone at one in the morning.
Dave: You've mentioned that there can often be enough "down-time" in remote locations to focus on education pursuits and obtaining certifications. Since you've been working overseas, what goals have you achieved in that regard? Which goals are still in your cross-hairs right now?
Chad: It can be indeed. In Iraq, I completed my MCSA, MCSE, MCITP: SA, EA (and both desktop certs,) ITILv3, and CCENT. I also managed to finish up a semester of college. In Bahrain, I had less time… that was more of a real job… but I still found time enough to finish my undergraduate degree. In addition to being on watch 10 hours a day, 7 days a week in Afghanistan, I've been attending Arizona State full time.
As far as what’s next? Well, law school is pending for 2014. I shall be leaving an IT expatriate spot open for the taking, come mid-2014.
Dave: Have you read any books that impressed you lately? What titles or authors?
Chad: I've read something like 87 books this year… but I recommend Sam Kean's Disappearing Spoon & Violinist’s Thumb.
Dave: What would make your "perfect" breakfast, as far as food and drink items are concerned?
Chad: I’m partial to savory crepes and a hot chocolate… that’s my Washington DC breakfast of choice.
There's not much I could add to what's been said above. That said, Chad exists on the internet in quite a few places. Facebook, Google Plus, LinkedIn.