01 Feb Life after ships: interview with software implementation engineer – Sean Halliday
Los Angeles native Sean Halliday had a very clear vision about what he wanted his career to look like. He yearned to be a dive instructor. In 1990 he joined a concessionaire with Norwegian Cruise Line as a dive instructor for two years. Later he went to Costa Cruises, Royal Caribbean International and a concessionaire, working on a total of 18 ships in a variety of positions concerning diving and information technology. He even spent two years working shoreside for Royal Caribbean in its Miami office.
Halliday’s book – Cruise Ship Stories: 12 Years of Working on Cruise Ships, writing under the pen name of Guy Beach – digs deeper into his cruise-ship stories. “I like to think of it as a book on how to make your own luck,” he says. Today he’s an implementation engineer and manager of a technical support group for a Boston-based software company, working out of his Tennessee home.
What were your initial career aspirations?
I became a dive instructor at 20 years old and wanted to see the world. I had offers on other cruise ships but I held out for Norwegian Cruise Line because, at the time, they were the best for divers.
What was your professional experience prior to cruise joining ships?
I worked in a manufacturing facility as a grinder, crafting computer parts. Then I worked in a department store, and back to manufacturing, until I became a scuba instructor. I quit my manufacturing job to work at a local dive shop. On the first day of that job I got a call from the cruise line.
What inspired you to pursue a career in the cruise industry?
I wanted to travel the Caribbean. I had been on a cruise when I was 10 years old and thought that would be a really cool way to see the world. I wouldn’t be stuck in one place. I’d see a variety of places.
Back in the ‘90s there were very few Americans on the ship. Of the 275 crew members only six were Americans. I wasn’t bothered by leaving everything and going to a place where I didn’t know anybody.
What position(s) did you hold while working onboard ships?
After serving as a dive instructor onboard Norwegian Cruise Lines, Royal Caribbean and Costa Cruises, I was tired of diving and worked my way into a position with Royal Caribbean as an assistant shore excursion manager. I was only the second person to get hired from outside the company. I did that for 10 years – 10 years on ships is a long time – and went back to help my family run the family business. Then I returned to Miami and got a job in the shoreside offices of Royal Caribbean as a database analyst. From there I went back on ships as an IT officer. That’s where I met my wife.
What did you enjoy most about working onboard cruise ships?
It was a good job with a view change. When you work in an office you look out at the same view every day. On a cruise ship, one day you’re in Key West or Cozumel or Barcelona. There’s a story on every cruise. It wasn’t boring. There was always something going on.
What did you find most challenging about working onboard?
Back then you didn’t have email, you did everything by “snail” mail. I sent faxes to my parents for $40 a piece. When I worked on the private island we called Miami every day on a ham radio. You had to go to the next island over to make a phone call.
What is one of your favorite memories working onboard?
My favorite memory was meeting my wife. We were in Alaska on Royal Caribbean’s Radiance of the Seas. We met at a Canada Day party in the crew bar – she’s from Quebec. She was a massage therapist working for a concessionaire.
What skills did you develop in your cruise line jobs that lead you to where you are today?
You get to learn the idiosyncracies of different cultures. In one of my defining moments, I was on Dolphin Cruise Line as a dive manager with all Greek officers as it was a Greek line (Costa Cruises). I was in a manager’s meeting with the captain. The captain was telling me I did something wrong. I’m a very quiet person and never raise my voice. The short version of the story is that he egged me on until I was screaming at him from across the room and he was speaking in Greek. We argued. He was testing me to see if I was a man and would stand up for myself.
What advice do you have for someone interested in pursuing a career in the cruise industry?
You have to be okay with long stretches away from home and your support structure. Oddly enough, the cruise ship becomes your support structure. That becomes your family. Be prepared to not know anyone and be thrown right in. Try to have the fewest preconceptions as possible.
As an implementation engineer and manager of a technical support group for a software company, what would you consider the most fascinating aspect of your current role?
I do things as far away from a cruise ship that you can think about: working for a software company in the middle of the Appalachian mountains. I chuckle every Friday because I have two days off. I spent 12 years taking my weekends in a lump-sum vacation.