Category Archives: Life

General life topics

Code Monkey

A few years ago, while still working for a software company called Foundation 9, I attended the annual gaming nerd fest; CGDC (Computer Game Developer’s Conference). While cruising the expo floor for free swag and miniature chocolates I stopped by our company’s recruitment booth to see if there was anyone I knew (or more miniature chocolates). It should be noted that at this time I probably knew less than 5% of the company on a first name basis and probably less than .05% knew me on any basis whatsoever since I worked primarily from the backwoods secluded bunker known as my home office. Seeing no one there I could identify without a name tag I turned to leave when one of the cheerful booth reps happily offered me a list of open positions and asked if I wanted to drop off my resume and portfolio.   As I thumbed through the listing of available programming roles it dawned on me that if I were to apply at this company, for which I was already employed, my resume would likely hit the shredder faster than a teenage mutant ninja turtle (how’s that for a vague reference?).

This fear was later confirmed when, following my divorce, I found myself “light on employment”. Since my first job in the industry 20 years earlier, I had typically relied on past contacts and word of mouth to either put in a recommendation for me, at least, or get me a job outright, at best. There was none of this nonsense with cold-calls, job boards, and multiple interviews. It was a civilized affair where I meet the team, get a security badge and proceed to my work-space with company mug in hand. Not once did I have to endure security checks, phone screenings and long grueling interviews that are as charming as a TSA strip search,… from a man with large cold hands and a nervous tick.

With all of my acquired “experience” <cough, cough> this meant that I was applying for a senior engineering position, one usually reserved for that eager intern that had killed himself working 90 hours a week for his first summer before coming on-board and being subsequently promoted four times over the next 6 years for kicking ass, chewing bubble gum and eventually amassing the collective knowledge of every nuance in their product and every kludgy line if their code base. Fast forward to me, having successfully fast-talked my way through the phone screening and now scheduled for the first of three interviews with this very same Mr. Eager-beaver-intern-turned-team-lead who was (no exaggeration) still in diapers when I started my first job those 20 years previous. This is the man or boy-child that I must impress with my checkered programming past that includes either technologies that companies no longer care about or technologies that companies care very much about but which I haven’t actually worked with for a dozen or so years, which, to put it in perspective, was about the time the interviewer discovered his first pubic hair.

Now, if it were just the generational gap I was working against, I’d really have little room to complain. But once the pleasantries have been exchanged and we’ve reminisced about the first computers we programmed on (Vic 20 vs a frickin’ MacBook Pro) we get down to the real meat and potatoes of the modern programmers job interview; the white board. This is when the other senior programmers at a company get to ask you the most ridiculously complicated questions they can dig up for the sole purpose of watching you squirm and sweat out a response while getting high on dry erase fumes. Mind you, these aren’t the word problems from your days in grade school with trains bound for Chicago and St. Louis at fixed rates, these are either problems or optimizations that the programmers previous struggled over and proudly solved, or complex logic puzzles that graduate students write their thesis on (seriously, look up “100 prisoners and a light switch” – http://anttila.ca/michael/100prisoners/ ). Whatever happened to the good ol’ days when they’d ask you thoughtful questions like ““if you were a tree what type of tree would you be” or “describe your greatest weakness”. How about my great weakness for impaling people with dry erase makers when they ask me questions they already know the answer to.   I’ve since discovered that finding the solution is often secondary to what they’re really interested in which is seeing how you logically work through a given problem. As proof of this I recall once turning the table on my interviewers and asking them a logic question that I already knew the answer to. I was delighted by the fact that none of them was able to correctly answer the question, less delighted when none of them called me back for another interview.

The real take away from this process was a reevaluation about whether or not I’m even in the right line of work. I picked up programming after graduating from college, when I realized I had no viable options for paying down my ever swelling credit card debts. The career tracks available for my college majors and minors came bundled with the “struggling” prefix; struggling artist, struggling writer, struggling cartoonist, struggling interpreter. After being a struggling student for 5 years I didn’t have it in me to venture forth as a professional struggler.   Once I started on programming I was drawn to educational software, and how kids interacted with the product. It was all about game play and fun. Programming was a tool, just like art and animation, to provide an entertaining delivery platform for dry educational content. Since I didn’t have the formal computer science education starting from binary baby talk and working up through adult compilers a lot of the programming was learned along the way; with each new project came a new set of skills to master, new programming languages to learn. I had a good logical mind and enjoyed the problem solving nature of debugging and finding a way to make something work. Eventually the educational software industry started to dissolve with the advent of widely available cheap apps for mobile devices. I was left with less interesting tasks using different languages and technologies. Curriculum made way for database structures. Teaching mathematics made way for teaching corporate compliance. Before, when people asked me what I did, I was able to mention the products I worked on that their kids might have played. They would smile when I mentioned the big clients like Disney and Nickelodeon that everyone has heard of. Now when asked what I do, there are no smiles and rarely any follow up questions, just a polite nod and then a subtle redirect to another topic. “Have I shown you my hernia scar?”

Even great programmers with an in-depth education and an impressive breadth of experience can potentially age out of an industry with such a constantly evolving technology. Kids graduating from college have been given the distilled essence of the most current technology and its applications in the modern business world. A company can pick between hiring a whiz-kid like this as a free intern turned cheap, but seasoned, employee or filling the same role with an untested “senior engineer” for 2-3 times the salary. It’s a no-brainer from a business standpoint.

From a career perspective the alternative to this dismal fate is to try and remain viable at a company for as long as possible until you’re able to move up the career track into management or even a producer role. From there you should be able to leap frog to management in another company or rely on all of your connections to land you a new job. As I’ve mentioned though, working remotely is not conducive to either of these options. I have fewer contacts and references since working at home and many of my older contacts have themselves transitioned out of the industry for one reason or another. With all of that I get the sense that an expiration date has been stamped squarely on my behind, and without some fresh packaging this Code Monkey will go rancid in another year or so.

Share

Mud Tougher

I have another million dollar idea; Have people pay me to be tortured. No, no, really, this is going to work. I’ll electrocute them, submerge them in ice and push them off high-rise platforms. And they’re going to love it. The best part is I’ll convince them it’s actually good for them. I’ll make them run from one evil obstacle to the next so they feel like they’re exercising but I’ll keep them close enough together so there’s really no cardio benefit. I’ll make it a competition so people will strive to be the most beaten up. They will glory in the pain. Blood and bruises will be the badge of honor here so I won’t have to waste money on fancy trophies. We can even mix it up, sometimes I’ll keep it simple and just pelt them with colorful dyes, make colorful toxic clouds for them to run through, and make it feel like a party as I deafen them with an upbeat dance mix. Maybe I’ll put a fictional spin on it and make them feel like the last survivors of a zombie apocalypse or gladiators sentenced to death in a fiery arena. I’ll find some people that enjoy role-playing to dress up as zombies or Spartan’s and have them beat the snot out of people that generally mock role-playing. How sweet is that?! And again, they’re going to pay me for the privilege.

People seem to have lost interest in something as mundane as running; since the dawn of man we have run quite naturally towards prey and away from predators. Who wants to spend money on that? But throw in some back-breaking labor and a mud puddle or two and you got yourself a money-maker. All I need now is an iron clad liability release form and some legal small print about consulting a doctor before arriving for your time of torment. Actually compared to an Iron Man, no one will blink an eye at the abuse I’m signing people up for. This might just be a short-lived fad that I can cash in on quickly before people realize what they’re actually paying for. I can’t imagine anyone signing up to do something like this more than once. Nobody is that stupid.

Share

Mean Cuisine

I would like to propose a new show for the Food Network; “Kitchen Swap – Iron Chef Edition” where top professional chefs and their picturesque TV kitchens trade places with random normal folks and their overused overpopulated suburban kitchens; Watch as Bobby Flay spends 25 minutes trying to find which drawer someone has hidden the good spatula in. Watch as he struggles to navigate the kitchen tripping over dogs and dodging Nerf bullets. Meanwhile watch as I casually prepare a full weekend brunch sipping a cocktail in the fully stocked kitchen with not a single interruption or distraction to be had. Ok perhaps more of a personal fantasy then a show pitch but it might help me to appreciate cooking again.

It had actually crossed my mind (albeit a quick sprint across the mostly vacant frontal cortex) to make this a cooking blog instead of a,… whatever this is. I could have been the next Pioneer Woman, minus the ranch, cattle and womanhood. I could have posted pretty pictures of culinary creations if I were actually capable of taking pictures half as good as the Pioneer Woman and if said creations weren’t just modified versions of stuff the Pioneer Woman has already posted.   “Ranch House Chili” lacks a certain credibility when coming from a computer programmer living in the suburbs. In all honestly I actually love to cook and have made a few recipes my own over the years or at least have waited out the fame of the original chefs enough to make my claims uncontested. The real problem comes in the form of 6 painfully picky eaters. I mean to the extent that 90% of their diet can be defined as ‘carbs and cheese’ with the remaining 10% being pure sugar. I can spend 3 hours preparing a delicious Coq au Vin only to have the kids push it aside in disgust and ask for seconds of the butter noodles I made as the side,… and then proceed to inform me, butter dripping from their chins, that the noodles would go great with frozen chicken nuggets, which in turn gets a boisterous roar of approval from the others, the very same boisterous roar of approval that my deluded mind somehow thought I’d hear for making the savory homemade chicken with a sauce reduction. “They’re both chicken for god’s sake!! Quit your bitchin and eat!” screams my inside voice, while my outside voice says with just a dash of bitterness “Fine! Eat your butter noodles, but don’t expect the Ranch House Chili tomorrow!” To which they respond with another boisterous roar of approval.

Share

Dog Gone

Along with the four kids our combined family also came bundled with two canine additions; a brilliantly high-strung Border Collie, Meg and a dumber than a doorstop Siberian Husky, Maya. While Meg has her own assortment of doggie quirks (number one of which is her singular devotion to Nicole to the extent that she will pine miserably by the front door until her raison d’être returns), the many annoyances of Maya are much more difficult to catalog. We could talk about the “husky tumble weeds” that drift freely about the house requiring us to strap on a vacuum cleaner like the Ghostbusters and chase down the offending hairballs, or perhaps the way she sleeps on her back until roused by a convulsive burst of gagging snorts followed by a long series of sneezes.   But by far her single biggest doggie quirk is the fact that she’s not much of a dog at all; she doesn’t come when you call her, has not an ounce of loyalty and is driven solely by self-interest; basically, she’s a large, dumb cat. She is not a member of the family sharing our home, she is a ward of the state imprisoned within our house.   Given the choice she’d run wild without a backwards glance. She plots constantly for her escape and has succeeded on multiple occasions. We’ve met more neighbors through prisoner exchange then we have from PTA, and block parties combined. Unfortunately Maya comes equipped with both the old school dog tags and a sub-dermal GPS tracker that both direct the little convict back to our front door.   During one such prison break she was taken in by a nice family of dog lovers including one little girl that was hoping and praying that Maya’s owners would never find her. How many times since then have I regretted picking her up or thought about going back to make a little girls dreams come true. I thought about it when Maya peed all over the entryway the morning I was rushing out the door for a business trip. I thought about it when Maya started treating bathroom garbage cans as her own person smorgasbord.   I thought about it when Maya got sick repeatedly all over the house, 90% of which landed predictably on carpet.

Now this last one brings us to the other joy that is Maya; the expense. Being a husky she is already predisposed to have certain joint conditions, specifically in her hips, that require some additional expenses; supplements, medicine, therapeutic beds, a doggie walker with little tennis balls on the feet,… you get the idea. And I get it too. I’m a dog lover, and dogs can be an important part of the family. But an animal that runs past your outstretched arms choosing the open road over your loving embrace does not embody the spirit of Ohana. I start to ask myself “how much money do I want to invest in an apathetic animal”. This was the dilemma, when Maya started to have difficulty standing, then walking, and then the next day became a fountain of bile. Luckily our local vet is gracious enough to be open on Sundays so the first thing in the morning we brought Maya in for a checkup knowing full well the potential money pit we were leaping into. Our worse fears were confirmed on both fronts and after a $1000 visit the radiologist suspected a possible tumor in the stomach and throughout the intestines. Now I wouldn’t be telling this story if it actually ended that horribly, I may not be organizing a Maya fan club but I’m not completely heartless,… penniless perhaps, but not heartless. So when the vet suggested we follow up with an ultra-sound we reluctantly agreed. I figured that since the diagnosis had no real treatment options we at least owed it to her to get solid confirmation of her condition. In my mind though it was merely a formality. For a fleeting moment my mind danced with the freedom of having a single dog. A loyal dog. An intelligent dog. Not a chain sneezing flight risk. It was a world free of fur drifts, free of unpleasant surprises. It was a beautiful, peaceful, allergy-friendly world. And then it was gone.

After a $500 appointment with the ultra-sound the very same tech that had, only the day before, condemned our overgrown furball to imminent doom gracefully back pedaled with a new theory that maybe it was just something she ate, like a lump of clay or an extra helping of toilet paper. The governors’ pardon on her supposed death sentence. The convict was coming home.

And now every time I see one of those husky tumbleweeds I can’t help but see little money signs; money signs drifting off her body with every step, money signs bursting off her body with every sneeze, money signs littered down the hallway with the shredded tissue paper. Every annoyance that is Maya is now decorated with sad little money signs. Is it too late to make a little girl’s dreams come true?

 

Share