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John O'Brien: Leaving The Dot-com World For Bricks And Mortar--Literally

After losing his job, O'Brien has had so much success in a home-remodeling and inspection-service business that he's hired colleagues.

John O'Brien likes working with his Dad, who remodels homes in the St. Louis area. In fact, the younger O'Brien says he's been hanging drywall since he was about eight years old, far longer than he'd been in IT. His last IT job was an NOC operator working on the design of a call center for a now-defunct dot-com that supported banking. Now he's gone back to brick and mortar, quite literally.

After the company went under, 28-year-old O'Brien started looking for another IT job--but without success. So to keep busy and pay the bills, he's exchanging his IT tools for a hard hat and a tool belt. He started helping out his Dad, but didn't stop there. "I decided to jump in with both feet," he says, and launched a home-inspection compliance service for real estate agents (which, handily, also provide referrals for home repair and improvement).

He's even been able to offer work to some of his former colleagues. "We all kind of ran into each other," he says--and when he heard they were still unemployed, he brought a few of them on board. "Clients love them because they're smart and personable people."

He hasn't exchanged eyestrain for backstrain, but O'Brien admits the shift from sedentary to active work made him quite sore for a few weeks. But the payoff was good: He shed 10-15 pounds and strengthened his arms and legs. On the other hand, he's still not quite used to his employers' supervision, especially not some of the older women who just pull up a chair and watch him work all day. Says O'Brien, "If you think a boss looking over your shoulder in a cube can be nerve-wracking, you should see what it's like to have an old lady staring you down across her bifocals over $250 a day."

Would O'Brien like to get back into IT? If it were the right job, he would. He reasons that he could continue managing the home-renovation business, while others would do the labor. But he's not in any hurry. "I have great faith in the industry," he says. "There will always be more networks."

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