Tag Archives: life

2012: A Year In Review

A couple of years ago, a friend of mine started including me on an annual email blast wherein he reviewed the year and talked about the upcoming one. I loved the idea, but each time I tried to start my own—as I glanced at my blog(s) to create such a recap—I was struck by how gratuitous it would be. Back then, I was blogging and posting on social media with such ridiculous regularity that to send such an update felt like overkill.

This year, looking at how infrequently I have forced my thoughts into the unsuspecting eyeballs of others, it seems almost a necessity. Still, I struggled with the idea; as much as I enjoy getting Luke’s email, I have spent too much time telling people “if you don’t like what I have to say, don’t come and read it” to shove my writing into their inbox. So…my happy medium: I shall steal Luke’s idea for my own, but instead of email, I’ll just post it here.

I seriously overthink everything.

Review

There are a few constants in my life: I am always stupidly busy, I am always just around the corner from a break, and I am always puzzled when the ‘break’ around the corner is just being more stupidly busy. Constants—a situtation or state that does not change.

Keep that in mind when I say that this year, I was STUPIDLY busy. I mean that however busy you have seen me in the past…I was definitely busier. Way, way busier. Remember the year that I helped wrestle three conventions into existence, worked two jobs, and went to school full time while being the single father to two children? Yeah…busier.

I’m pretty confident that things will be better really soon though. :)

2012 was the year of change for me. Stepping back from convention work to devote myself to other aspects of my life seemed like a huge adjustment, but it was nothing when compared to the changes that followed. It wasn’t until I had to step out of employment talks with the big G that I realized how much I missed coding on massive projects with a great team. I was provided with what appeared to be a chance to do the sort of development I want to do as a part of the exact sort of team with which I would like to be doing it—so I lept back into ‘corporate’ programming. It has been everything that I had hoped it could be so far. That change, however, precipited another change; I had to step back from school for a bit.

If going back to programming for others was the scariest change of 2012, certainly taking a break from grad school was the hardest. As it came down to mid-November, it became apparent that I was doing a disservice to family, work, AND school. For years, I knew that there was a theoretical limit to the amount of burden that I could shoulder for even brief periods of time, but that limit remained just that—theory. This year, I found that limit. So, with only one class and a mostly done project left to go, I withdrew from grad school until the summer. Instead of graduating in December of 2012, I will graduate in the summer of 2013. Hopefully.

Even though I know it is for the best, it still tastes bitterly like a form of personal failure. Failure, however, isn’t the end of the world.

Failure can actually feel pretty good. The past month I have spent more time interacting with my family in a focused, relaxing way than I have at any point in the past five years (ten years?). No more doing things in the same room with them while I work or do homework, I have spent literally HOURS of continuous time playing videogames with my wife and children. I have relaxed at a family dinner and not immediately jumped up to finish writing code. I have done absolutely nothing at all for an entire day. Nothing…at…all…

Sure, that probably doesn’t sound like much, but it’s a pretty big deal to me.

Finally, it has been a year of upheaval for family and friends. It’s no big secret that Ger has been going through a lot, but if there is a silver lining to everything that has happened, it is that we were able to find people that were selflessly there for support and love; and that our marriage has been made stronger through our dealing with difficulties both inside and outside of the family. It is true that amidst pressure and heat one finds diamonds—those of you that have been there for us just to chat, lend a hand, or to be a shoulder to cry on—you are those diamonds.

That was needlessly overwrought.

Goals

I am a creature of goals. I have a constant supply of them, both lofty and realistic, floating about in my head at all times. Some that I had for 2012 include:

  • Finish grad school
  • Transition into teaching more, consulting less
  • Do more personal programming projects
  • Spend more time with my family
  • Take on less convention responsibility
  • Write more

Clearly, I’ve had mixed success. Some goals had to be sacrificed in order to pursue others. Teaching is still something I really, really want to do…and after a break from it, the desire is no less strong…but some opportunities are of the here-and-now sort. The chance to work for one of my dream companies was one, and the opportunity I’m enjoying now is another. Neither allow for more teaching time at the moment, however.

Similarly, I have never worked LESS on personal programming projects and writing than I have this year. However, failing these goals coupled with stepping back from convention planning has meant that I have had significantly more time for family and self. I call that a win.

So this year’s goals won’t resemble the goals of the last few years very much, but insomuch as that feels like growth, I won’t lament the change too much. For 2013, my goals include:

  1. Spend hours each week exclusively with family and friends – not solely while working on any projects or half-way being there
  2. Make time for hobbies – not just programming projects, it’s time to get back into cycling, kayaking, hiking, reading, etc
  3. Two days of complete relaxation per month – no trips, no plans, nothing on the schedule…just do NOTHING at all
  4. Become a great employee – I’m really, really good at what I do (and humble)…I want to be really, really good at what my company does too
  5. Continue to learn – dig in and research new things whether they be tech related or not…I love doing it, there is ample opportunity, I need to make time for it
  6. Write – I love doing it, and I am terribly rusty…maybe stick to a blogging schedule or work on book(s)
  7. Finish grad school – at a reasonable pace, not insanely paced

Note well that the second list is ordered, because the order matters. It seems that when I simply list goals, I find it easy for the relative importance of those goals to become murky throughout the year. At year’s end, I am almost never happy with the specifics of which goals I chose to hit and which I chose to miss. Hopefully, the sequence of this list will be a reminder that the order matters, and that the hierarchy I invariably choose in the heat of the moment is always, always wrong.

If I accomplish the first several, and fail almost entirely at the last few, that is far preferable than to only succeed at two in the middle and blow numbers one and two. One goal that is not enumerated above, but stands as a constant in my life is simply keep taking chances. Nothing positive has ever happened in my life while playing it safe, so, it is important that I don’t stop taking chances now. Don’t turn down opportunities and don’t stick to the path.

If you have made it to the bottom here, well, congratulations. I owe you a coffee or something. There are a lot of words up above, and since they’re mostly about my favorite subject (me), that would be a lot to get through. Well done. Know that I love you best, and you…yes, you specifically…are my favorite.

Thank you all for being a part of my adventure this year, and I look forward to you all being even more a part of my adventures in the year to come. Here’s to a great 2013.

This was a really, really long post #2013isRuined

A Visit from the Busy-ness Blackhole

Apparently, I’m now going to be going a LONG time between updates.

I’m in a pretty good place, which feels like it’s the right place to be when one is a middle-class desk worker with a job he/she loves, a loving family, great friends, a fridge full of food, and precious little of any legitimacy to complain about.

This and last week has been a mixed bag. My boss has been out, so I’ve been helping out in a more ‘leadership’ role…I forgot how much I love stepping in and helping guide the work flow, running interference for the team, and making sure things are prioritized correctly and getting done. I wish this was an actual job I could be paid to do; why isn’t there a job somewhere that would allow me to be hands-on in the code while giving me the opportunity to apply my project management experience to process development and work-flow management that doesn’t automatically come with the baggage of being client-facing and managerial.

I want to write code and manage projects, I don’t want to assuage clients and manage people.

So this week was awesome in that respect: I got to do a thing I do pretty well, in managing a formidable workload. Unfortunately, much of that workload management was because we were short several key players…it was the equivalent of being told that I can coach this world champion team, but several of the stars won’t be allowed to play.

Thankfully, this team is full of stars.

On a down note, I think I’m going to have to delay finishing grad school by a semester. I just don’t feel like I can do a good job of work, school, and family by cramming everything into this last month of school. Hell, I’m not convinced that I can do a passable job of even ONE of those if I try to do them all. It stings to admit it, but I can’t do it all.

It’s been so long since I’ve posted, I feel like I should post more…but I am flat out exhausted. A side effect of this week’s massive work load was that I finished my 3-day work-week with just over 50-hours…and that’s a long week to wedge into 3 days.

Until next time (which could be a crazy long time)

RE: The New Job

So I’m rapidly coming up on the end of my first quarter at the new job, and I’ve been planning to post my thoughts for nearly two months now. As it turns out, the past several years of being busy doing full-time school, teaching, consulting, convention planning, and raising a family was merely a warm-up for being really busy. Writing has, as usual, suffered.

So how am I liking the new gig? I am in love with this job. I was decidedly nervous at the prospect of making a return to so many things I hated in the past. I hate having a rigid work schedule—for me, programming is a creative activity, and I need to write code when I’m feeling creative. I hate writing code for other people—the last six or seven years have afforded me the ability to be selective about which clients and jobs I would take. I dislike working with project management teams—most project managers are not terribly good at the ‘managing projects’ part of the job. Finally, programming professionally is terribly time-invasive—employers have always demanded ridiculous hours and I’ve exhausted tremendous quantities of energy fighting on behalf of me and the teams I’ve lead for the right to sub-60-hour work-weeks and vacation time that involves actual vacation. While the interview process left me comforted, I was still pretty concerned about the possibility that I was walking back into the same situation again.

I needn’t have worried. In (almost) all respects, this couldn’t be more different.

In the first phone interview I took leadership roles off the table, choosing to focus on developer positions. While being “only” a developer meant a sizable cut to my salary, it still represented a comfortable paycheck; more importantly, managing a team of developers always came at the cost of being able to write code. (It turns out that the organization is flat enough that the leadership role probably wouldn’t have been bad either, but I still think that my decision was correct.)

The Company

The schedule is exactly what I need. Extremely flexible hours with a generous attitude toward working from not-at-my-desk. Provided I am reachable, make my meetings, and get my share of the work-pie done, the when and where aren’t all that important. For me, that means that I can go in very early and knock off a bit earlier as well. I can work and have time for family to boot! Madness!

I do not avail myself much of the opportunity to work remotely, though, because I genuinely enjoy the culture at work. I am used to seeing work cliques: the managers are upstairs, the project managers in that section, the creative folks all over there, front-end folks on one side of the office, back-end on the other…minimal interaction. It was like several companies working in the same building throwing work at each other.

It’s going to sound a bit cheesey, but here we really are just a single, big team. I really love the producers (which I still keep calling PMs) in my division. They are, by and large, the best group of them I’ve worked with. Working closely with the front-end folks has really boosted the quality of the work I put out, and the work that we generate as a team.

Even amongst the software engineers, the culture is more to my liking. I despise being on teams where everyone is working super hard to make sure that nobody thinks that there is something that they don’t know. It is needlessly stressful and makes for worse code. This is…whatever the opposite of that back-biting, paranoid place is…that’s what this is. Everyone is quick to answer questions; and they’re quick to ask questions too. As a developer, that sort of environment—the sort where a group of programmers will get together and all try to figure out some pesky quirk or weird behavior—is precisely the sort that I thrive in.

The best example I can think of to describe the culture here: early in my second month, my supervisor was on vacation for a week. We all put in some significant hours that week. Early one morning the VP of my group was walking by and just stopped and asked how I was holding up. He had seen that I had a posted some pretty big numbers to client work that week, and just wanted to make sure I was holding up okay.

Just like that…”Hey, how’re you holding up?“

And that’s the rule, not the exception. My whole supervisory chain is amazing. They communicate, they listen, they go out of their way to ensure that everyone knows that their contributions are appreciated. They are all genuinely concerned with people as well as product.

The Work

Frankly, I really enjoy the work. I hate working on a single project *FOREVER*. It gets SO BORING. Here, I have around 10 projects on my plate at a time in various stages of completion requiring different amounts of attention; and they’re all different beasts. Right this second I have a few projects preparing to launch, a few more that have launched in the last week or so, a few that are just beginning to gear up, two that I’m doing recurring maintenance on, and a smattering of small things that are currently in other hands and I’m working support on.

I am constantly engaged in programming that makes me think, in problem solving that keeps me interested, and in writing code that is honing an edge back on to some rusty Perl skills. The work was the part that I was most certain I would just be tolerating…I couldn’t be happier to be wrong.

That said, the one downside at the moment is that there is a LOT of work. I mean, a lot. Like, given my history of busy-ness, believe me when I say that this is the most busy that I’ve been in many years. We are short staffed, and while we’re trying to hire, they are pretty strict about making sure that those they hire are going to be a good fit for us. In the interim, it has made for some long, long weeks. It should be an indicator of how happy I am here, though, that I’m throwing out some 70+ hour weeks (while going to school) and still in love with this place. I end each week exhausted, but happy.

And there’s light at the end of the tunnel…help is on the way, and hopefully more help beyond that too.

Wow, I just skimmed what I wrote so far…could I be giving this place more of a hand-job? I’m going to stop now, so I can get back to work. I’ll try to get something less stream-of-conciousness posted at some point. Just know that I’m very happy with my choice. I feel useful, engaged, and appreciated.

And tired…lots of tired too. :)

Making my Transition

“It’s hard to take responsibility for your own transition…”
—Tina Fey in a Nerdist podcast interview

Today I left a job that I really love—a safe, comfortable job teaching at a local community college—to embark on a risky journey as a software engineer at a local firm. I am truly ridiculously excited about the new gig; the culture is comfortable, the people I met are bright and engaging, and the work sounds like a fun challenge that is right in line with my interests and strengths. It’s scary…the last time I did ‘corporate’ development, I was miserable for a host of reasons (most no longer applicable) …but I am really geeked about this.

It is bittersweet though. I love the school, teaching, and my colleagues, and today when I left, I was actually a bit emotional. I have worked there in various capacities for 6 years; I have never worked anywhere uninterrupted for so long. The choice to leave was a hard one to make, because there is momentum in sitting still where you are happy and comfortable. In the end, two things made the decision for me: first, everything great in my life has been the result of risks, so it would be foolish not to take chances now. Second, I will continue teaching my evening course in the winter semester.

In all, it’s an exciting time for me, and Monday starts an adventure that will surely be even more so…

Still Crazy, After All These Years

In two hours, it will be Geralyn’s and my third anniversary. That means that three years ago today, I was putting the finishing touches on Penguicon 7 and on our wedding which was to take place immediately prior to the convention. There is a certain symmetry then in having this anniversary serve as a bookend to these three years of con.

When we first chose to celebrate our nuptials at the hotel immediately prior to the con it was, in part, recognition of the convention’s role in our meeting, dating, and our highly unlikely relationship. For me, it was paying tribute to whatever geek gods chose to bestow upon me a woman so out of my league& mdash;so unfathomable beyond the reach of a foul-mouthed misanthrope like myself—that all manner of superstitious rites seem warranted. What we failed to factor in was that it meant that each year, our anniversary would fall on or around this busy, social time.

On our first anniversary, it was still an adventure. How sweet was it that we could spend a few hours sequestered in our hotel room over chocolate covered strawberries (both of us), wine (her), and Monster (me). Even better, we could then spend time with our friends too! By last year, the shine was very clearly off the rose, and Geralyn proved what an amazing partner she was: she didn’t pitch a fit, and she didn’t remain silent, but she did point out that she would like for us to arrange to celebrate somewhere other than a convention. Our conversation coming midway through the second year of our marriage, I’d be lying if I said that it wasn’t a factor in our date selection.

It’s no secret that Ger has been having a rough time of it, lately. That didn’t stop her from being entirely supportive through these last few planning months. Without her, juggling work, school, other work, family, conventions, and a little time for fun would be far too difficult. I’ve proven time and again that I can’t manage the balancing act; I just sacrifice things like fun and family. Ger makes it possible, and she makes me actively happy when I’m going through it.

Well, she makes me less rage-filled; that’s pretty much my version of happy.

So Geralyn, please know that I love you. I appreciate everything you do for me and our family, and I could not be more happy that you are a part of it. I cannot wait to see what we are doing on our tenth anniversary and those beyond! (Spoiler alert: it rhymes with “blenguicon bleventeen”) Thank you for being you.

(Also, for the sex, but mostly the other stuff.)

Losing My Mind

So, at some point I need to revisit that blog post wherein I discussed how overwhelmed I have been and what I’m going to do to fix it with an eye toward “well, did I fix it?”

This is not that post. This post, in fact, flies pretty effectively in the face of that post…this is a post of sharing my busy-ness. Never let it be said that I learn from the past even slightly.

Last weekend was slammed: a birthday party, seeing friends I don’t often get to see, tons of work…then a concom meeting for Penguicon that was simultaneously gratifying (we got a LOT done) and grating (a pretty key member “overslept” a noon to three meeting, and only started responding when I snarked about it on Twitter). So, in one weekend I had to jettison someone who used to be a friend and take on a tremendously increased amount of work to make sure the con happens well.

That part could have gone better.

This weekend is similarly beyond the pale: Ger and I are having company Friday, then Saturday it’s volunteer work at the school, Ikea, and the AASFA spring voting meeting (where a small but whiny group of jack-holes are clamoring for the ability to go to cons at a cheaper rate. It’s weird…when I was poor, I went without. It never occurred to me to demand that it becomes mandatory that everyone else must finance my frivolity…) Sunday, Ger and I are hosting a work meeting/gathering so that programming and anyone else that wants to can socialize, work, and get ready for con.

In the weeks that follow, I have a trip to Boston for PAX East (where I’ve volunteered to be an Enforcer), a brief respite, then Penguicon (coinciding with final exams, term projects, and probably more than a few tears).

So how is your spring shaping up?

Choosing Words

A while back, I was posting on my blog and referred to something that I disliked as “retarded” while railing against it. I’m sure it was something important like snack foods or archaic, opinion based tech topics (you fucking emacs wankers). I had long since eradicated “gay” as a pejorative term (with the ironic exception of any time prior to which I had been hanging around a homosexual friend who used the term frequently referring to things he dislikes), but calling some thing or situation I disdain retarded, or affectionately referring to a friend who had done something foolish as a “tard” was still very much a part of my vocabulary.

On this particular occasion, an online acquaintance called me on it. What she said boiled down to “you’re funny, that’s not, and you’re smarter than that.” I drafted a hasty rebuttal referencing free speech and an argument referring to the blog as my house in a way that was not entirely unlike Cartman’s daytime TV quote, “it’s my life, I’ll do what I want.”

It was probably not entirely unlike what is quoted in this article. Fortunately, I faltered when I got to the part where I tried to defend the usage. How do I defend that in a way that is logically sound and fits with my own ethics? I don’t. In my own unthinking way, I had lumped retarded in with a bunch of other words that had no real meaning, save for disparaging. Like “gay” before it, I had used the language without consideration that it had an initial meaning that was wholly free from negative connotation; and when I used it to mean something was bad, I was equating “gay”, “lame”, and “retarded” with “bad”…with “undesirable.” 1

That’s not alright.

Now, I’d love to say that my vocabulary is entirely free from those, but it’s not. The fact is, I never really used “gay” all that often, so it was pretty easy to ditch. Lame and retarded, however, I used much more often: and so they still seep out. The best I can manage now is to not do it when I’m choosing my words with care (such as in writing), and when I catch myself doing it verbally, immediately stop and correct it.

Well, that and ponder what other words I use casually that don’t mean what I think they do.

1 Before you give me that trite shit about “being retarded *is* undesirable” remember that you’re not saying “dude, that rule is totally being retarded”…you are saying that it *is* retarded, and therefore unwanted. You are putting out in the world that things (people) that are retarded, gay, or lame are unwanted.

Dearly Beloved…

This weekend I served as last-minute officiant for the wedding of a friend. On Wednesday, I was asked if I could fill in for a wedding to take place on Saturday. I had availability, I wanted to help out, I said yes!

In all, it was an awesome experience. I am really glad that I could help out…and Krista and Trevor are clearly fantastic together. I was a bit nervous that the short notice was going to be a problem, but cramming a lecture into my head on short notice has become par for the course for me; by Friday, I was golden.

By Saturday morning, I was less golden. For nearly two weeks, I have been having what felt like a constant, low-grade asthma attack—like someone was applying uneven, firm pressure on my chest. Uneven, firm, completely-unaffected-by-Albuterol pressure. By Friday night and early Saturday morning, my “asthma” had become a phlegmy mess replete with a slightly wet cough, extreme shortness of breath, and a deeper, more rumbly, more difficult to hear speaking voice. Pneumonia was sounding more and more like a possibility.

Because—and this is the important bit—what every public speaker needs immediately before speaking is to lose the ability to talk for any length of time without becoming dizzy from lack of oxygen while at the same time losing any ability to make audible sounds with his or her voice.

I spent the last hours before the ceremony trying to change my natural pattern of speech to allow for breathing breaks, lest I lose consciousness mid-word. Ger even admonished me, at one point, not to pass out during Krista’s wedding. That, as Carl[1] is fond of saying, is my least favorite thing to do.

Ultimately, I made it through without passing out. I was quiet (Ger says that at the back of the room, she could hear that I was speaking, but could not hear the precise words mostly, which is precisely the effect that having a sick-induced low, rumbly voice generates), and I had difficulty remembering what to say while at the same time remembering to change my cadence and take breathing breaks, but it came off well and both the bride and groom seemed happy.

There was an awkward moment, however, early on where things got dicey: I forgot to take a breathing break, so midway into the next clause I suddenly got slightly dizzy. Concerned about losing consciousness, I paused as soon as I could, which was not at a very natural breaking point. It wasn’t at a natural breaking point, but it was just before I was going to have to use the names of the bride and groom.

JUST before. Like, two words before.

I blanked for what felt like a half hour but was instead exactly long enough for all gathered to notice, before I pulled it back together, remembered where I was in my spiel, and soldiered onward.

Not, as it turns out, my favorite way to speak in front of people.

As I said though, I consider it an entirely positive experience and I hope that they were genuinely as happy with their wedding as they appeared to be.

Because I’ll want to find it later, here is the text of the ceremony that I wrote. I’m not a super sappy sort of guy, but I feel like it said the things I wanted it to say and didn’t come off either too cliche or too casual: both concerns I had going into this.

(For the record, I did not, in fact, forget to get the last name!)