Category Archives: Work and Life

An Apology to a Cat

I’m sorry that I ignored you earlier when you wanted pets.

You see, I was working, and I could not give you pets.

You know that nice canned food you get excited about? And that comfortable bed and cat tree you like to sleep on indoors? I have to work so that you can have those.

You hunt by going outside and eating bugs with your claws and teeth.

I hunt by “working”, which is sitting indoors and staring at a screen. I spend all my time and mental energy pushing buttons so that what’s on the screen changes. I stress out, I get overwhelmed, and I have all sorts of reactions that don’t make sense for someone who is just staring at a plastic box all day. But I must focus my attention completely so that my hunt will be successful.

So when you bring a live grasshopper home and meow at me to tell me you brought me something that I could kill and eat and then get annoyed that I don’t eat it, that’s the same feeling I get when I point at the screen and tell you to fix a font alignment bug and you don’t even start up the source code editor.

All this just to say that I’m sorry that I ignored you earlier when you wanted pets. But it will happen again.

Outrage Is Useless

Before the algorithms took over the internet entirely, the news was obsessed with fear. Making people afraid was their goal, and it was what kept eyeballs glued to the screen.

As the internet evolved, fear was still in heavy circulation, and it benefited those who knew how to wield it. It was not just the news, but politicians and products meant to make you feel “safe”. But it started to change.

Over the past few years, thanks to “the algorithms”, I’ve noticed a shift more toward outrage than fear. When I visit a site, something is invariably presented that is meant to outrage me. Twitter does its best to make most of its trends political or “what celebrity did which outrageous thing you should get mad about”. Facebook shows me memes and news stories meant to make me mad, get my hackles up, and bring forth the fires of righteous indignation. So do all the other news and social media outlets.

When you’re presented with something, it’s worth taking a step back and looking at what sort of outrage it’s intended to provoke. Do you really want to waste your time yelling at some celebrity or making some 15-year-old kid cry for saying something ignorant on camera?

And when someone wants to direct their outrage your way, it’s best to just ignore it and let it blow over. It’s only temporary and in 10 minutes they’ll be outraged at someone or something else. Someone will always be offended by what you do or who you are. Don’t walk on eggshells for fear that someone might say something mean to you. Their opinions don’t matter, and that’s no way to live.

Outrage is useless. Don’t let it control you.

Having Too Much Stuff

A lot of people, myself included, battle the accumulation of excess things. There’s a meme about minimalism vs. hoarding out there that goes into it, essentially that growing up without much makes it hard for people to let go of things they don’t necessarily need. I am not from a rich family.



A lot of people like to hate on minimalism because it’s “Just Another Boring Product Wealthy People Can Buy“, which the original post mentioned later in the thread. If that’s how you feel, by all means, live your life how you want. I certainly agree that white-on-white as an aesthetic is disgusting, and it’s why most American houses and apartments are hideously boring places I wouldn’t want to live. But to me a much worse aesthetic is “piles of stuff everywhere”. It’s visual distortion, and being in an ugly environment negatively affects my mood if I actually look at it.

The biggest trouble for me is that “the things you own end up owning you”. The more stuff you have, the less freedom you have, in more than one way. It could be less freedom to live in a small space, less freedom to get a piece of furniture someone’s giving away because it just wouldn’t fit, or less freedom to move to a new place because you’d need 8 days and a 60-foot moving truck to haul everything. It’s also less financial freedom because you’ve bought too much stuff, are spending a good chunk of your paycheck on a huge storage unit, or had to pay the movers for an extra 4 hours to get everything loaded.

If everything you own fits in your vehicle, it’s a whole lot easier to go live in a different city if you want to. More freedom.

It’s really hard to unlearn the collecting of things. A shelf full of books that you might read one day is easy to keep when the alternative is to get rid of them only to need to buy one of them again two years later because you suddenly got really interested in the topic. It’s hard to know whether keeping stuff or getting rid of stuff will be more expensive.

I think a good way to think about it is whether you would replace a particular thing if there was a catastrophic fire that destroyed everything you own. If the answer is yes, then by all means keep it. If the answer is no, maybe think about getting rid of it. There’s a lot of “I don’t know” gray area in that, but it’s a decent guideline.

“I might need this some day” is a cursed phrase.

For most objects, they’re just things and they don’t matter. The only real Human needs are food, shelter, a powerful laptop, and a good internet connection.

Bad Job Descriptions Waste Everyone’s Time

Most companies hiring software engineers want you to know a few specific languages and/or technologies. It makes sense. The more you know about their existing infrastructure, the faster you’ll be able to contribute effectively.

When those companies completely fail to include any of those desires in a job listing, it wastes everyone’s time. They get hundreds of extra applicants who are not even remotely qualified, and those people have their time wasted.

Below is an example of a vague post that I recently sent my resume to. They scheduled a phone interview with me. They said that main thing they are looking for is a Java expert. The phone call was over quickly (I am not currently a Java expert and it does not appear anywhere on my resume).

Java is mentioned nowhere in the description.

Please do not do that sort of thing.

The posted description:

Thanks Again, Capitalism

Two days ago I started a new job doing DevOps at a large public company. I was really excited about it because they were doing interesting things combining technology I know well – Python, Django, C#, PostgreSQL, and C in a Linux environment on AWS managed using Salt Stack. They were also using some interesting tools that I’d have a chance to learn – TeamCity, Gerrit, and Ansible.

I told my friends that I was looking forward to spending a while at a company that didn’t have all of the chaos and instability of a startup. A company that would still exist from one day to the next. There’s a thing on my bucket list that I’ve almost but not quite reached – working at the same company for 5 years (I got to 4 years and 9 months back in 2003). I thought there might be a chance with this one.

Yesterday, on my second day, they decided to disband the department I work for.

Why?

They had a bad quarterly earnings report and had to do something to “maximize shareholder value”. This normally means slashing your R & D budget to the bone and crippling your ability to generate new streams of income. So they slashed it, canceled the product we were working on, and dropped a surprise bombshell to everyone at once. A bad time was had by all.

Short-term thinking at its finest.

In any case, I don’t regret a minute of the experience. I met some really great people who made me feel welcome. I wish them all the best.

For further reading:

Why Companies Need to Think Long Term

Short-Term Thinking is Dangerous to Innovation

Can America’s Companies Survive America’s Most Aggressive Investors

How to Stop Short Term Thinking at America’s Companies

Having a Career Again

For the last five years, since moving to Portland, I’ve been obsessed with building a viable startup.

During that time, I was either working on my own startup as a founder (or cofounder), or working a regular job just long enough to get the money to try again with another startup. None of those four startups made it (one came close). In the process, I established a pattern of not sticking around long at any place I didn’t create.

Now that I’m over the startup founder bug, it’s time to go back to having a career.

Right now I have two problems to solve:

1) What’s the best entry point?

My last pre-startup-obsession jobs were “Senior Software Engineer” and “Engineering Manager”. I also have the skills to be a Software Architect, DevOps Engineer, System Administrator, CTO, Director of Engineering, Project Manger, or Product Manager. But with the exception of CTO, I haven’t done any of them exclusively over the last few years.

So far I’ve been applying to anything that looks interesting – anything I could see myself doing well for a while and enjoying. That list is pretty broad.

2) What place(s) won’t be too concerned with the lack of consistency over the past few years?

I imagine this is probably one of two types of place – one where the person doing the hiring has also been a startup founder, or something that is contract-to-hire.

I don’t really know how HR people think, but I need to find a good way to convey that yes, I did have a disease that causes flakiness, but I’m cured and would like to find something to stick with for a while.

And for the sake of all that is good, please no pre-revenue startups. I’ve eaten enough of that sandwich.

As an INTJ “Mastermind” type, the times when I’ve enjoyed working the most are when I’ve become a broad subject matter expert with an answer to just about any question and the power to create solutions that make user/coworker lives better. That only happens after being somewhere a while and getting to know all of the systems thoroughly. Promotions and raises are pretty enjoyable too.

I’m not sure where I’ll end up next, but finding the next thing is probably just a numbers game.

What of the MUD?

That is a good question.  I haven’t touched it in a long time, around a year.

Basternae is still important, but it’s been pretty severely deprioritized in favor of the startup work I’ve been doing here in the Portland area.  As soon as I get a win big enough to retire on it’ll be my first priority, I promise.

Can you think of a way I can make a living writing a MUD?  I’ve been trying for 10 years, but haven’t come up with anything.  That’s a shame because it’s far more fun than doing almost any kind of real work.

Heading North

I live in Mountain View, CA in the heart of Silicon Valley right now.  I’m moving 700 miles north to Beaverton, OR in the heart of the Silicon Forest over the next few days.  I’m looking forward to not being around California drivers anymore.

Authentic8

In case anyone is curious about what I work on during the day, check this out:

http://authentic8.com

Sign up for the beta.  Surf the web securely, circumvent firewalls, browse anonymously, and do all the wonderful things you can do with a disposable remote browser.

Works on Windows, Linux, and MacOS.

You can even use it to create a secure shortcut that will auto-login to Dragon Wilds.  And most other sites too, of course.

Now Where Was I?

OK, now that I’ve travelled halfway across the planet, built a good bit of software for a startup (not done yet, but it’s settled down to a saner pace), and unpacked a ton of boxes, it might be a good time to start working on Basternae a bit more.

Except…  I can’t remember where I was and what needed to be done (or priority levels for things that need to happen).

So, could someone go ahead and log into the MUD and tell me what the heck I need to work on?

Basternae.org port 4502.

Seriously, I could use a project manager.  Anyone want to volunteer?

Silicon Valley Is The Best Place In The Universe

I’ve been in California for two weeks and already have two job offers, at least one of which offers a six-figure salary and is a company you’ve definitely heard of, and I’m likely to get a third offer within the next week.  I know which one I’m going to go with (hint: it isn’t the one that pays the most), but it is awesome to be in a place where my skills will be appreciated.

If I were still in Ohio I’d likely have to work somewhere that would involve cranking out WTF-worthy ASP.NET pages all day.  I’d rather live under a bridge, thanks.  Too bad Ohio doesn’t have very good bridges.

Funny thing is, I don’t really care all that much about pay and benefits at a place where I work.  I’m more interested in finding a problem that’s so hard I’ll have to throw my whole brain at it.  Not having to waste time shoveling snow and scraping ice off my car windows makes for more time to brain at hard problems.

Now In California

I’ve escaped Ohio. Right now I’m living in San Jose, CA and it’s a vast improvement so far. Hopefully development on Basternae 3 can resume soon, work and life arrangements permitting.

Heading West

As you may or may not know, I currently live in Columbus, Ohio. It’s a nice enough place to live during the spring, summer, and fall months — the cost of living is pretty low, there’s plenty of economic activity, and lots of things to do for entertainment. Other than the fact that locals treat a silly college football team like it’s the most important thing in the world, there’s not that much to complain about.

With one major exception, of course. The Ohio winters. Ohio has a climate very similar to that of Germany — warm summers that are often too humid, and brutal, snowy winters. I guess that’s why one of the most prominent areas of this city is the German Village.

I’m a mild cryophobe, so when the weather drops below freezing I have a really bad time. In February, we had a new snowfall record of more than 30 inches:

http://www.columbusbestblog.com/news-weather-sports/february-2010-freaky-weather/

I don’t know about you, but more than an inch a day is more than I can deal with.

The wife and I have been planning to cast ‘etherportal’ <elsewhere> for a while, with all possible destinations being very far west and/or south of here (Portland, Seattle, Austin, San Jose and the SF Bay Area). Sunnyvale, California is the winner, and we’ll end up there as soon as things can be worked out (finding work, a place to live, etc.), but definitely before winter.

This relocation will obviously put a dent in the amount of time available for Basternae, but a coder who isn’t afraid to get out of bed for five months out of the year will get more done.

A Little Overwhelmed Right Now

Progress will have to halt for a bit — started the new job and there’s a bunch of things I don’t know as well as I’d like to, so it’s reading tech books that’ll take up the spare time for the next few weeks.

A New Job

For the past two years I’ve been working for a home automation company, first as a developer and then as a development manager.  Unless you’re deaf, dumb, and blind you know that the real estate market has been far less than optimal for the past year or three.  That makes it pretty challenging to work in an industry driven primarily by new home sales and secondarily by stock and investment markets.

I’ve just been offered a development job with a glass company, one that’s not particularly affected by real estate market cycles.  I start in two weeks.  It’ll be great to have a change of technology/scenery/responsibilities.  I’ll miss the people where I am now — I worked with some pretty kickass programmers and great people — but I have hit something of a plateau by not being exposed to any new environments lately.

What’s that have to do with Basternae?  Pretty much nothing, other than the fact that your friendly neighborhood codemonkey might get smarter by being exposed to new things.

On Hold For Now

As you can probably tell, there hasn’t been any real activity here for a while.

I really enjoy working on Basternae code, but there’s no money in it, so for now it’ll be on hold while I work on more lucrative projects.

Don’t worry, I’ll return to B3 at some point…

Cheers,
Xangis