Profile: Alan Gunderson, computer programmer

Thursday, March 10th, 2011 

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Alan Gunderson, 52, worked as a systems analyst and computer programmer for a professional geological society in Tulsa, Okla.  He graduated from Northeastern University in 1989 with a master’s degree in computer science. Married 10 years, Gunderson and his wife have seven kids, from previous marriages.

Because of what he called untenable conditions, he quit his job in July 2008.  Gunderson had never been out of a job longer than a month. It took him almost two years to find work.

He landed a new job nine months ago, earning $15,000 less with no guaranteed benefits.

Gunderson contacted the Workshop through our Share Your Story page. He spoke with the Workshop’s Michael Lawson. An edited excerpt of their conversation is below.

I quit in July 2008. I didn’t know the bottom would fall out of the American economy in September.

What was it like looking for a job?

There was just not that much activity. I easily sent out four or five hundred resumes all across the country. My preference was Oklahoma, but I would’ve gone anywhere.

Occasionally, you would hear back. I had a few interviews but nothing panned out. The only thing that really saved me was that I had some long-term relationships with people in consulting positions.

And what’s your current job?

I am working for a consulting company under a contract for the University of Oklahoma and medical informatics. All of this is because of the stimulus package, funding from Oklahoma development funds and the Kaiser Family Foundation.

I wouldn’t have my job if it wasn’t for this government spending. There’s a lot more money to facilitate setting up health information exchanges, to help information flow throughout the system.

Until you’ve been there a certain time you don’t get benefits. We have private insurance because it was about the same as what they finally offered. It’s one of those hospital indemnity plans. Really high deductibles.

I’m just thankful to have a job even though I’m making less. It’s going to be a scramble for the next 10 to15 years to try to save for retirement.

How were the hard times for your family?

Everybody just sort of took it in stride. It kind of made the kids realize it didn’t have to be all materialistic. People spent more time making things. The 8-year-old ended up drawing pictures for everyone.

For awhile before the new job, I had gotten on food stamps. My daughter and son were eligible for SCHIP, called SoonerCare in Oklahoma.

We were always kind of open with the kids and told them what was going on. I think kids are a lot more resilient than we are as adults. It didn’t bother my daughter that she got her lunch for free for the school year.

It was the first time I used any type of government assistance in my entire life and I didn’t even need student loans. I could save $3,000 by the summer and have enough to pay tuition and expenses.

And somewhere along the line, you started to lose your house.

In April of 2010 we really got to the point where we were no longer making our payments. We had two months without a payment, and then we started getting letters from Bank of America.

We kept trying to talk to them. Everything you read says to keep talking to them. The worst thing you can do is not talk to the people you owe money.

They kind of took us out of the foreclosure process, but we never knew what was going on. Because we were in this loan refinancing program, we were supposed to be taken out of the foreclosure program while all of this was going on.

We realized it was never going to happen, and just left out of it and thought we would reinstate our mortgage. There was a $1,500 charge because they had filed in court for the foreclosure. They had legal fees that, of course, we had to pay. We’ve been squirreling away every extra dime for the reinstatement payments, since we hadn’t been paying a mortgage since April. The third reinstatement payment is due on the 28th of March.

At least we’re starting to dig ourselves out of the hole.

How do you live differently now?

You look at everything you buy.  If there are two products and one is $2.50 and the other is $2, I’ll get the cheaper one. We just evaluate every dollar we spend.  

We don’t go to movies. Rather than spending $20 to buy movie tickets we rent an OnDemand movie.  Kids are amazingly resilient.  

I kind of feel like I’m lucky to be alive when I was, because it seemed like a golden period for the United States. It doesn’t seem that way anymore.

What do the next few years look like for you? When might you be able to retire?

Probably when I’m about 70.  I think 70 may actually be optimistic. I was surprised how fast your retirement goes. I’m probably the typical baby boomer who hasn’t saved as much as we should have.

We’re just hoping to survive through this thing, and hopefully there won’t be any additional economic downturns.

What would you encourage your kids to do, careerwise?

Just from what I’m seeing, I certainly wouldn’t encourage my kids to be a computer programmer.

They might be better off getting an MBA and try to the become one of the head freds at one of these companies. I heard the CEO of Chase Bank got a $17 million bonus. (Editor’s note – Chase CEO Jamie Dimon received a $17 million bonus of restricted stock in February 2011).

I think it’s obscene. I don’t think any human being is worth that much money. I don’t think there’s any human being that’s four or 500 times better than what they were 20 years ago.

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The Betrayal of the American Dream on Google Books

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