Category Archives: Work

Market Placed

Nothing makes you question your ranking in this game we call Life more than a hefty dose of judgement.  Not the simple parental judgement like you never measured up to your sister or you never fully committed to the clarinet but the self-imposed judgement that comes with putting yourself on the market.  Be it the job market or the dating market we open ourselves up to a level of critique that is tough not to internalize and impossible to ignore.  I’d like to think that I have a fairly solid sense of self, with a complete awareness of all my strengths and weaknesses, but then people keep telling me otherwise, so who’s a guy to believe?

While I’m certainly not in a good space to start dating again my return to the job market got me thinking about both pursuits with a classic exercise in “compare and contrast”.  With that in mind here are a few random thoughts about hunting for love vs hunting for jobs;

  1. When hunting for jobs you can proffer an impressive assortment of references and recommendations. When hunting for love it’s typically best to keep a separation between past and present partners.  Not to say all relationships end badly but few leave with a burning desire to fluff you with flattery in front of your next potential mate.  Likely any offered “constructive criticism” would be light on constructive and heavy on criticism.
  2. I’ve never been fired from a job, but I’ve certainly been “let go” of a few relationships. Wouldn’t it be refreshing if there was a corresponding concept of “collecting unemployment”; some form of lesser relationship provided temporarily to tide you over until a full-time position could be secured.  You did your time, you paid your dues, why feel guilty about getting back from the system?  Sure now that I write it down it sounds like state-sponsored prostitution but it started off as an inspired concept,… kinda like the Shake Weight commercials.
  3. There’s no negotiation for better benefits at the start of a relationship; Terms are typically vague or left unspoken. Benefits are offered spontaneously and generously during the initial vetting period… then drop off gradually with each subsequent anniversary.
  4. Relationships typically don’t require relocation and any required travel is usually a good thing. Invasive TSA screenings are more easily tolerated when you’re just hours away from umbrella drinks at a beach-side all-inclusive.
  5. Both markets offer convenient shopping sites online to assist with finding a good match. These sites help facilitate the connection starting with an email inquiry, moving to a phone screen and then finally to an initial meet and greet with the team.  Luckily neither one scores you with a Netflix rating system after the relationship is terminated.
  6. There is no “technical challenge” or “white board coding question” in a relationship, though you have to wonder if woman would approach prospects differently if there were; “you did a solid job in the cuddling and listening portions of the exam but we felt you lacked the depth of experience we’re looking for in the bedroom, so we’ve decided not to go forward with this relationship.” To which you’d think, with smug satisfaction, that it’s probably just as well since she had an annoying habit of speaking in the third person.
  7. When hunting for jobs working with a recruiter is a perfectly acceptable shortcut for finding the right position. When hunting for love though the idea of matchmaker feels old fashion and typically ineffectual in the long run, desperately misplacing you with only the small handful of leads they have at hand regardless of compatibility… ok, maybe they are exactly the same as recruiters.
  8. When hunting for jobs I feel I’m often competing against a much younger generation. When hunting for love at least you can target woman of the same age range. You’ll still be competing against a younger generation but woman will either be more subtle about their preferences, won’t show up in your search criteria or will be listed on a cougar-centric site that you’re too old to register for.
  9. Taking it a step further, when hunting for love we can be specific about not only age, but social class, faith, race and sexual preference. When hunting for jobs, all that crap would be illegal, at least on the employers’ side.  I do still have every right to steer clear of the faith-based radio stations and health care providers however, not because I have anything against them as an organization but because my digital resume would likely be blocked by blasphemy filters.
  10. When saturating the singles scene you very much want to find the perfect harmonic match. You want to be the “one”, without question.  When trolling the job market I’m not so hung up on such minutia; if we both compromise our idealistic views and settle in for a complacent yet mutually beneficial relationship,… I’m ok with that.

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Open Door Closes

When one door opens another closes.  That’s how the saying goes, right?  Right?  No, it’s not.  Sorry, were you still thinking about it?  Anyway, the actual optimistic quote attributed to Alexander Graham Bell goes: “When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.” It’s meant to give us a warm fuzzy about the hope and opportunity always sitting just out of view.  Lately I’m starting to feel like the reverse statement is more fitting.  Every time I seem to approach an even keel with good fortune opening before me, a random door or two seem to close behind me.  Sure, in the spirit of optimism, I should probably keep my eyes front and center and continue focusing on the open door, but it becomes hard to ignore the nagging slams behind you, not knowing which ones have closed and what implications they will have going forward.  I might turn around to address a new issue and after some struggle find a way to open it again, only to have another slam shut behind me, perhaps the one I was just happily gazing through just moments before.

Recently the company I’ve been working for was acquired by a larger conglomeration.  The particular division that I work for was deemed to be too costly and ultimately redundant next to one of the existing organizations.  So this week we were told during a rather jarring conference call that they were generously offering 6 available positions at said existing organizations to the 9 employees who remained.  In my mind this played out like the scene in The Dark Knight, when Heath Ledger’s Joker proclaims that he has a job opening in his organization but “there is only one spot open right now, so <snap> we’re gonna have try outs” as he tosses the two unfortunate applicants jagged halves of a pool cue.  When the announcement was made everyone exchanged an awkward glance, knowing that our former colleagues were now our competition against future employment.

As of this writing I’m not sure how this will all play out but suddenly I find myself potentially back in the job market.  Like my previous hiring ventures I have growing concerns over my growing age.  Not to say there is a prevalence of ageism in the workplace, but there are some factors that certainly work against you in the young hip world of small software startups.  Even if I was the same pizza gobbling video game addict I was at the age of the office population, I’m simply not that same person now.  I can no longer hold my own in a FPS blood match and pepperoni gives me heartburn,… and it has nitrates, a fact I’m sure the gathered youngsters would love having me point out.   As much as I might want to consider myself hip or cool, I don’t even know the right words for hip or cool these days and when I watch fast food commercials I don’t even know if the pitch person is an athlete or a rap star, having practically no exposure to either.

And then we come to the education vs experience factor. The software engineers coming out of college these days have state of the art equipment and applications at their disposal.  They have industry professionals as mentors encouraging them to push the technical boundaries of computer science. You end up with a mini-me genius willing to work for free pizza and FPS couch time, running against me who has actual dependents, a private living space and more than six items in the refrigerator that are not connected by plastic rings.  While I could safely say to the other candidates that I’ve forgotten more coding knowledge as a programmer then you will ever learn, I not sure if that speaks to the wealth of my knowledge and more to my sketchy Etch-A-Sketch memory.  On the other hand I do still know all the words to “You Can Call Me Al” by Paul Simon, but if I mentioned that in my defense during an interview they would just look at me funny, having no idea who Paul Simon is.

Another consideration is the possibility of returning to an actual office environment.  I’ve gotten much accustomed to my current commute to the home office.  I can go the duration of days without seeing another living soul or finding proper motivation to put on a pair of pants.  And that’s not in the same glamorous way I may have done it as a bachelor with those pizza fueled gaming marathons.  This is work, followed by more work, uninterrupted by any reality check or social contact.  Okay, there are still distractions; Distractions of cleaning and laundry and children and pets and shopping and napping and,… well okay maybe that last one is non-essential but it’s still an occasional distraction.  What will I do if I have to put pants on and stay somewhere other than home for 8-10 hours a day?  Who will do my laundry?  When will I have time to clean?  Where do I keep my wallet?

I’m taking it all in stride though.  Perpetual change makes for a youthful mind, right?  I don’t know, I just made that up.  But regardless of the current state of my “doors” (or my youthful mind), I need to appreciate all the opened ones and consider all the closed ones as potential for more openings.  I will step right up this closed door of employment, open it with bold certainty and declare to the hiring millennials on the other side “I’m not old, I’m prepackaged with experience!”

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What a Part Meant

Somewhere in my twenties, while away at college I was first introduced to apartment living.  At the time it wasn’t much different than sharing a house with friends, which had been the rental yardstick from which I measured life beyond my childhood home.  In both situations you had your own cramped messy room and shared a more cramped and much messier common area with your fellow roommates.  If anything the move to an apartment was a step up at the time since the first rental house was located in ghetto central, while the apartment was biking distance from the college campus, so less theft and vandalism, more coeds and beer consumption,…. Ok maybe a tie on the beer consumption, but the apartment was clean (when we moved in), the area was safe (no police dogs chasing suspects through our backyard,… yeah, that happened), and most of the appliances were both free and functional; perfect for cooling off your beer and cooking up your Rice-a-Roni.  What more could a young bachelor desire?  We didn’t care how many square feet the unit had, or read through the list of property amenities.   We weren’t concerned about the floor plan or how we were going to fit in all of our furniture.  At that age, having real furniture was like having a carton of cigarettes in prison, you had more sway as a roommate if you owned a comfortable couch; currency to hustle for the larger bedroom or purchase loyalty for future disputes over the last Pop Tart.  That single bit of furniture could become the inspiration piece on which all other home décor would be built upon.  That is if there were any home décor to speak of.  In the pre-Ikea era we filled in the gaps with creative arrangements of plywood and cinder blocks.  There were no picture frames, area rugs or accent pieces.  If you couldn’t eat on it or sit on it then why own it.  The apartment wasn’t so much a sanctuary as a safe place to pass out, and keep your post-hangover food stash.

Throughout my twenties and thirties I waffled between house rentals and apartment living.  My last apartment residence was at a place called “The Cowbarn Apartments” for reasons unknown to me, though considering the location and prevailing smells it could easily have been the previous predominant structure.  The Cowbarn had the distinct advantage of being located at the base of the hills surrounding the Broderbund campus, where I was working at the time.  I had a studio apartment with maybe three feet between the foot of my bed and the back of my couch.  My computer desk was where the kitchen table should be and other than my weird rattan basket chair from World Market the remainder of my possessions were stuffed into the walk-in closet that was about the size of my only bathroom.  A small folding chair sat on the balcony next to my bike to offer the option of outdoor living and a stunning view of the parking lot.  It wasn’t much, but again, at the time, it was all I really needed.

Fast forward roughly 15 years and I find myself in the surreal position of returning to apartment life after having graduated to home ownership for most of those formative years.  Even immediately following my divorce I was able to exit on a more graceful timeline and with the help of my aunt and uncle get a new home a couple of miles away.  At the time I remember coming across an article that stated that kids that grew up in a parentally owned house were more likely to attend and graduate from college than their apartment dwelling counterparts.  That had been the extra kick I needed to commit to home ownership again even though my career was imploding at the same time my escrow was finalizing.  I ended up with a house that was bigger than I needed, more expensive than I hoped, but centrally located by friends and conveniently equipped with every major appliance I was lacking.  It was two-stories, with four bedrooms and a fully open concept kitchen and living space.  It might have felt a bit empty when the kids were away but we really grew to love that house and made it our home for two years.

From there we had up-sized to a house with 5 bedrooms, twice the square footage and a corner lot yard complete with play structure and swimming pool out back.  The space felt expansive but with 5 more people and 3 more dogs, that house never felt empty.  Transitioning from that back to a two bedroom apartment, was jarring to say the least.  Not to say there weren’t some benefits; for all the lost space there was a proportional reduction in chaos and dog hair.   These trade-offs were somehow fitting, in the spirit of rallying the troops.  It was time to take stock of where we’d been and consider carefully the next step forward.

So with careful consideration I gathered up said troops, and started the search for a new home base.  Unlike those earlier, less discriminating years this time around I was all about weighing the options.  There was the balance of location and property rental prices, finding something affordable closer to schools than meth labs.  There was a balance of square footage and layout in the floor plans.  One place had an extra 100sqft but distributed it unevenly into a double-wide bathroom at the expense of a living area only slightly larger than a well stuffed beanbag.  There was a balance of amenities from necessity to trivial.  Would you rather have the in-unit washer dryer, with the clubhouse that smelled like sautéed jockstrap or the enclosed garage with the frothy lukewarm hot tub?  There was even a more subtle balance of presentation and security.  The one I picked lacked the unsightly iron bars on the front door but does require a half-dozen keys and a security card to get around the complex, not to mention the random guy in the hallway eager to provide a TSA style pat down,… I can only assume he works here.

After being here a few months I must admit there is a certain appeal to not having the added burdens of home ownership.  There is no yard to maintain.  There are no projects long neglected.  I have fewer reasons to frequent Home Depot.  I can vacuum the entire space from a single outlet.  The heater has been obsolete, even with my windows open in the dead of winter.  My commute to work is now even faster by one flight of stairs and a hallway.  Ok maybe that last one doesn’t really belong in the win column but all things considered the only two unacceptable compromises to apartment living so far are electric stovetops and noisy neighbors.  As a wannabe chef I cannot abide the use of non-responsive coils that slowly heat to the fires of hell and then slowly pitch down from there once everything has been suitably scorched.  More troublesome though, as a normal diurnal dwelling homebody I also cannot abide inconsiderate people.  I think of myself as a fairly tolerant person and have, over the years, had many a noisy roommate.  Granted, my current neighbors might even be excused their heavy footed stomping about if it were confined to daylight hours but for reasons incomprehensible to me he/she/they seem to stir into action around 11pm each evening and continue to prance about like a herd of drunken wildebeests until roughly 6am when they either collapse into slumber or go out to annoy people elsewhere.  I think it’s this unexplainable nighttime activity that bothers me the most.  I simply can’t understand what someone would be doing awake at dark o’clock.  If you worked the night shift, then shouldn’t you be at work,… and if you worked the day shift, then shouldn’t you be asleep?!  And if you worked the night shift, but worked at home, shouldn’t you be sitting at a desk the whole time like normal people?  That’s normal, right?!

Anyway, noisy neighbors aside I’m trying to make the best of apartment life while it lasts.  For my kids it’s like the excitement of going on a vacation and staying at a cool new hotel,… except all your toys are here.  For me it will serve as a transitional airlock helping me to decompress into a new space; any place I go from here will feel huge by comparison, and anything I’ve managed to live without during this time probably isn’t necessary going forward.  Either way my whole attitude towards ownership has shifted over the years.  No longer is there that pride of ownership I used to have when I was younger.  Back then you wanted to show off your new car or your new house.  It was a representation of who you were and how you’ve grown.  It reflected your personality.  Sharing it with others was like sharing part of yourself.  Most of my friends have had their homes for years, visiting them is like going to their folks place when we were kids.  It still represents who they are, but who they are is grownups, with established lifestyles.  Functionality has replaced fashion.  Those homes are like the worn comfy couches we used to prize during the college days, the ones you didn’t want to get up from for fear of someone taking your place.  There is no substitute for that subtle ass-imprinting aging process that settles into a joint.  I, on the other hand, continue to reset complete with new couch and new carpet smell.  I still have very few picture frames, area rugs and accent pieces.  My place represents me as a bachelor, which doesn’t have the same shiny quality it did even a few years ago.  Now it feels dangerously close to crazy old cat lady or whatever the male equivalent would be minus the cats.  Optimistically I could say this expresses my personality as a blank slate, ready for a rewrite, and not just a repeat loner with a growing list of failed relationships, but it’s hard to squeeze optimism into 1000sqft.  Maybe a new home will rekindle my nesting instincts and provide a fresh perspective. Best to get all this angst out now, tuck it tightly away in my little cramped apartment and leave it all behind along with the nocturnal neighbors, the coils from hell and the inevitable deductions from of my security deposit.

 

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Quotable

“Code Monkey have every reason
To get out this place
Code Monkey just keep on working
To see your soft pretty face
Much rather wake up eat a coffee cake
Take bath, take nap
This job fulfilling in creative way
Such a load of crap
Code Monkey think someday he have everything even pretty girl like you
Code Monkey just waiting for now
Code Monkey say someday, somehow”

-Jonathan Coulton

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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.

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My Day

How was my day, you ask?  Why how very thoughtful of you?  I would love to tell you about my day.  I would love to describe in vivid detail my heroic actions this morning at the Starbucks drive thru where I helped bring a new life into this world before the paramedics arrived and before my venti vanilla latte was fully whipped.  Or maybe I should start with the ongoing drama I’ve been having at work where our biggest client is involved in a sex scandal with Jim down in the mail-room (along with the back-story of how he used to be Jill 6 months and 3 surgeries ago).  And then there is that hilarious incident with the leftover sandwich and the homeless man that kept petting it like a cat, and nibbling on its face.

Yeah, I would love to tell you all of this and impress you with just how much life I fill my life with.  Like there is just so much that happens to me in a single day that I struggle to edit it down to the juiciest highlights.  Unfortunately though, none of that crap happens to me,… ever.  My commute is a flight of stairs.  My coffee comes from my kitchen.  My co-workers are in another time zone (and lacking both a mail-room and a transsexual). Even the homeless have more interesting neighborhoods to hang out in then my slice of suburbia.

“Wow”, you say “you should get out more”.  And before I can defend myself or fill in the gap with the more mundane details of my actual day, you dive into a colorful account of your day instead.  At that point it finally dawns on me that the original question was rhetorical.

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