Welles: Getting ready to retire?

Richard Fidler’s retirement story illustrates the possibilities in store after a career in IT

If you are planning to retire this year, you may have a pretty good idea about what you will do after your government job.  But if the next step is still murky, the experience of another information technology professional who took the leap to retirement may provide some ideas.

Richard Fidler’s primary thought was making a higher income when he decided to retire early from the General Services Administration in 1997. Fidler was 55 and had 30 years of government service. He started as a civilian employee in the Navy, where he trained as a programmer and progressed as an IT professional at the Government Accountability Of-
fice, Commerce and Justice departments, and General Services Administration. 

“It takes a lot of thought to decide when to retire and what you will do next,” Fidler said. “It’s a good idea to start before retirement by dabbling in various short-term activities. Join an IT professional association and go to meetings.  Try various things.”  

Fidler said facing college expenses for three children made income an important factor in his decision. Taking advantage of a buyout offer, Fidler calculated that he could retire with 58 percent of his salary and make up the difference and more by getting another job. He applied for an opening at Geico shortly before the Year 2000 bug created a lot of new business for the computer industry.

After retiring, Fidler joined the Washington Chapter of the Association of Information Technology Professionals (aitpdc.org). He also volunteered at the Thomas Edison High School of Technology in Silver Spring, Md. That led to his appointment to the board of directors of the Montgomery Coounty Students IT Foundation that assists schools and students (itfcareers.org). 

“We provide support for the IT program at Edison and serve as a go-between [for] the public and the school,” he said. The group helps provide scholarships and arranges speakers and trips for the students.

Now, 10 years later, Fidler has retired a second time and has entirely different goals. He said he wanted to “fool around and do something entirely different” and has volunteered with the Literacy Council of Montgomery County, Md. He began tutoring a Chinese couple who spoke little English, and that led to helping at an Asian Pacific film festival.

Recently, Fidler started developing a Web site for the Bethesda-Chevy Chase, Md., chapter of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association.

With a little planning, Fidler’s retirement has worked out well. “My life is semi-structured, not as rigid as nine to five, but not totally open-ended either,” he said.

Fidler tries to achieve a balance of scheduled activities and freedom to do certain things spontaneously.

“People think you have so much time when you retire,” Fidler said, “but I am busier than ever.”

If you are considering retirement, experts say Federal Employees Retirement System employees can get the maximum lump sum annual leave payment by retiring by Dec. 31 this year.  For Civil Service Retirement Systems employees, the date to get the maximum annual leave payment and retire is Jan. 3, 2008.

Welles is a retired federal employee who has also worked in the private sector. She lives in Bethesda, Md., and writes about work/life topics for Federal Computer Week. She can be reached at jwelles@1105govinfo.com.

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