Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?

It has been a while since I have written a post. So as to not disappoint my one reader out there ;-), I am making time to do so today.

I have been really busy actually - to a point where creating blog entries has fallen below the ZBB line. (Now, I am pretty sure ZBB is a foreign term to many -- it is an acronym used at my old company that stands for Zero Baseline Budget. Actually I don't know what that means, per se, but the gist is if something falls below the ZBB line, it doesn't get done for that quarter).

So what has kept me so busy. Let me give you an idea of my daily schedule.

  • 6:30 AM Wake-Up
  • 6:30-8:00 A little email, eat breakfast, get the boys ready for daycare
  • 8:00-12:00 After seeing the kids off to daycare, I work. I have the fortunate opportunity of having another consulting effort, this time where I am the lead editor on creating a technical specification.
  • 12:00-12:30 Take a walk around the block
  • 12:30 PM -1:30 Pick up the kids from daycare, put them down for their nap
  • 1:30-2:00 Eat lunch
  • 2:00-6:00 More work after spouse comes home and watches kids
  • 6:00-8:00 COMPUTER OFF LIMITS, spend time with the family
  • 8:00 Put the kids down for bed
  • 8:00-10:00 Eat dinner, down time, relax
  • 10:00 PM Bed time

So between my consulting job and my family, I am kept super busy. The weekends are generally kept for family time and some outdoor adventures.

The bigger question for me is how the work I am currently doing affects my overall sole proprietor / Micro-ISV plan. I am using this technical editor opportunity to decide if this is something I would like to do long term. What this has going for it is:

  1. Flexible hours
  2. Good pay
  3. Interesting (at least for now) work
  4. Oh, and did I say good pay (i.e. a real paycheck)

If I decide I do want to continue down this career path, my plan for starting my Micro-ISV may indeed change. I know I will have some downtime where I will need to be doing something. The well will run dry for short or long periods of time. In fact, I do have an idea that I have been throwing around in my head (I have the domain name reserved and the software idea floating around). But being a "full-time" Micro-ISV has now not a certainty.

We'll see. Stay tuned. I will keep you updated.

Until then, best wishes!

State of the Joel

It has been a few weeks since my last blog post. I have what I consider a valid excuse for that -- I moved across the country.

In the spirit of the new year, and inspired by the various State of the State/Union addresses that have occurred or will occur, I have decided to provide you a "State of the Joel" address.

The State of Joel is a calm after the storm.

We have completed our move from North Carolina to California. We met with some old friends who have helped us as we settled in (thank you very much -- you know who you are). We have made our rental house into our new home. And things are starting to feel "normal". Being back in California feels right, and visiting San Francisco yesterday just affirmed that even more. By the way, I highly don't recommend flying across the country with two near-two year olds on a regular basis ;-)

My wife starts work next week, and I watch the kids for a week (see below as to why only a week). After that, we have a trusted person to watch the boys for 3 weeks. Then they go to part-time daycare starting in mid-February.

On my job front, I just finished one consulting job. That lasted around 3.5 months. I have another 3-6 week consulting job that starts in two weeks, related to the work I just finished. I like the consulting work that I am doing as it provides some new challenges and great flexibility.

I received an email last night from an old friend and colleague of mine asking me if I would like to partner on a business venture with him. I am in the midst of reviewing the idea. I have a lunch meeting tomorrow with another friend and colleague to talk about other venture possibilities as well. These startup ventures may never pan out, but it is very cool to even consider things like this.

I still have my initial business projects to focus on. However, I will continue to examine new ventures and consulting work as they come available and make appropriate decisions.

Oh yeah, and we bought a Panasonic 50" Plasma TV as our Christmas gift to each other. I didn't go 1080p -- I figure the prices will come down in the next couple of years and we are sitting 13' feet away and thus will not notice any noticeable difference. So I went 720p for a very good price at Costco. Watching the NFL Playoffs in HD is awesome -- and I cannot go back! My next home entertainment decision is whether I should go get a Blu-Ray player now that it seems like it is leading the charge in the hi-def DVD war (although I have friends who work in HD-DVD land, the other competing format).

So, what do I see for 2008? I see this as a year of clarity, specifically with respect to the careers of me and my wife. I also see us buying a house.

Lists

image

Being the holidays, and remembering the lists of things I used to ask for from Santa, I thought I would make a post about lists.

I admit it. I like lists. No, programmers, I am not talking about the data structure kind -- although those are fine in their own right. I am talking about those other types of lists -- the ones that, for example, rank items in a certain category.

For example, I like David Letterman's Top 10 lists. I like Billboard's Top 200 lists. I like Ebert and Roeper's 10 Best (and Worst) movies of the year. I like a city's top 10 restaurants.

I know these type of lists are subjective and have no real intrinsic meaning. But lists like these serve a couple of purposes that I find valuable:

  1. They remind you to do or get something. For example, I was reading a list displaying the Top 300 rock songs of all time. It reminded me to go buy some music to add to my music collection.
  2. They are good conversation starters. For example, if you and some friends are going out to a restaurant, but do not know where to go, you can always look up a list and say "Well, Food Magazine says the best restaurant in Anytown, USA is McDonalds". Then you discuss whether you should go to McDonalds or not (although, if your best choice is McDonald's, well, ummm.....)
  3. They help you find out about a person or entity. For example, if you see a list that ranks the top 10 movies of all time, and they all have Mr. Bean as the lead character, that would tell you something about the person who created the list (what that would tell you, I am not sure, nor do I think I really want to know)

So periodically, I may throw in some posts where I list some of my favorite items (songs, movies, quotes, books, programming languages, etc..). It will give you a chance to find out some more about me, what I am into, and maybe trigger something that you can go do or get.

A Proud Father Moment

Official seal of City of BuffaloBuffalo Bills helmet

I depart from my normal technology/business related posts for a just a moment...

I spent some of my formidable childhood years in Buffalo, New York. I lived there from about 1 to about 8 years old. I am avid sports fan, especially NFL Football. I established my team loyalties during that age range when I lived in Buffalo. As such, my favorite teams are the Buffalo Bills (NFL) and Buffalo Sabres (NHL).

So you can imagine how proud it made me to hear one of my 21 month old sons (Devan) say the word "Buffalo". Actually he says it like "Buf-a-wlo". This all came to being as we left the boys at the grandparents for an evening and my father was determined to get the kids to say Buffalo. When we came to pick them up the next day, the Buffalo Bills had just beaten the Washington Redskins and Devan exclaimed "Buf-a-wlo!". Of course, my father coached him for a better part of a day and told him to say it ;-). But, nevertheless, it was great to hear that word come from Devan's mouth.

A proud father moment, indeed! --- one of many. It's funny how little things such as this can bring you some joy. :-)

...and now I return you back to normal programming.

Westward Bound

State of CaliforniaGolden Gate Bridge Well, it is official. We are heading back West; California to be specific. This is going to be happening in mid-late December.

California has appeal for many reasons:

  1. My wife got a part time job at our old company. She has been wanting to balance adult interaction with being a mother for a while now, and, honestly, this is a perfect opportunity to do it. We couldn't have asked for a better offer (and, since I am not bringing in a "stable" income yet, this is a great way to keep food on the table while I get my business off the ground).
  2. We will be living close enough to one of the tech hubs of the world (Silicon Valley) that it can only help me in my business ventures. But we will be living far enough away where we can afford the cost of living. ;-)
  3. While low probability, there is still a chance I can partner up with an old colleague of mine back in California in a business venture. There is zero probability if I stay in North Carolina.
  4. Personally, from a general landscape (e.g. mountains, coast, etc.) perspective, I like the west coast much better than the east coast. I have missed that.

What makes this hard, of course, is the family situation. One of the reasons we moved from California was because most of our family is in North Carolina and on the east coast. They will be missed.

But, I think, in the end, this is what is best for the four of us, and when it all comes down to it, that is what has to drive your final decisions. I hope our family members understand and decide to come and visit us in California more often. It is a wonderful place to visit, that is for sure.

It is very possible that California becomes our final "landing" point. And that wouldn't bother me. After living in 4 different residences in the last 1.25 years -- and this will make 5 (and maybe 6 if and when we decide to buy a house) -- I am kind of tired ;-)

For the next 2 months or so, the blog name "Life of Constant Flux" takes on a literal meaning, as a move across the country with two young children is crazy!!!

Pirates of Silicon Valley

I just watched Pirates of Silicon Valley (again). It was originally a TNT made-for-TV movie, it came out on DVD/VHS a few years back, and apparently it is on YouTube as well. For a techy person like me, this movie was really good. For a non-techy person, this movie should be quite good as well. It stars Noah Wyle (of ER fame) as Steve Jobs (of Apple fame), and Anthony Michael Hall (of Breakfast Club fame) as Bill Gates (of filthy rich -- errrr, Microsoft fame).

It is set from 1971 to 1984 (with a glimpse of 1997) and discusses the rise of these two powerhouse companies -- how Apple "stole" all the constructs for the Macintosh OS from Xerox Parc, and, in a weird sense of irony, how Microsoft stole the constructs for Windows from Apple Macintosh.

The movie really shows, whether true or not, interesting sides of both Jobs and Gates; their business savvy, their quirks and their relationship together. I personally like the way the movies personifies Jobs as a brilliant mind, yet a man who sometimes has a distorted view of reality around family and work (e.g. around his daughter Lisa, whom he claimed was not his, but he named a computer after)

In the end, we all know what happened. Gates got the better of Jobs. Microsoft won, owned the 1990s, and Apple has been playing underdog and catchup ever since. But, since 2000, Apple has coming on very strong and is really a formidable force in both hardware and software nowadays -- all due to Jobs returning as leader of Apple back in late 1997. Hey, I am writing this on a MacBook Pro running OS X Leopard.

This is a popular interpretation of how Apple and Microsoft got their starts and the relationship between Apple/Jobs and Microsoft/Gates. I don't know if the movie provides *the* truth or not; I wasn't there. But still.....great movie!

My Manifesto

While I am not religiously following StartupNation's 10 Steps to Open For Business anymore, one thing I did take away from it was coming up with a Life Plan. And one part of the Life Plan was to come up with a manifesto as it relates to life and career. This is my current manifesto: Don’t regret because of fear. To work on something I enjoy, being responsible for my successes and failures as a result. Not having to work in an old, outdated corporate environment. Having work structured around my personal life and wants. Ensure work is a close second to family, but still second, never first. All is equal in the work environment. Living somewhere I am proud to call home.

May be kind of lame, but I think it encompasses a lot.

I think the first sentence is very telling. For example, it is scary quitting your "secure" corporate job and going out on your own. But, if you have a plan in place, the proper resources, and the desire, you shouldn't fear it. Now, I am not telling everyone to quit their job (and quitting a job is not for everyone). Money and feeding yourself and family are still a big time necessity in this world. So you need a plan of attack and resources (e.g. savings, a working spouse, etc.). But if you have these things, and you have the right mentality, go for it. You would hate to regret it later on.

And "All is equal in the work environment" really means that there is no in-your-face notion of a hierarchy at work. For example, offices for the higher ups, 3x3 cubicles for the grunts. I understand that decision makers must exist, and in the end it is up to them to make the final call on things, but you don't have to be so blunt about it.

I think the rest is pretty self-explanatory.

It won't hurt me to revisit this from time to time to make sure I am still living by the messages contained in the manifesto.

What do you think?

I Hit the 1000 Blog Visit Milestone!!

OK, it is not a defined milestone. I am sure that is not such a wonderful feat, and my hope is that 1/2 of those aren't my own visits ;-) , but according to my WordPress statistics, I have had 1002 visits to my blog. I am hoping the next 1000 comes much quicker. My blogging is going to change gears a bit from my previous topics about leaving my former company to now starting my own business. After a lot of thinking, and a couple of possible opportunity requests, I have made the decision to go it alone (for now) and try to become a Micro-ISV. I will continue to contract as good opportunities arise (I am currently doing one now), preferably part-time, but my main focus over the next 6 months is going to be getting my Micro-ISV started.

My next post(s), which I expect to today, will be about the methodology I am following to start the business.

Moving On; Out With the Old, In With the New

Today was my first day without a corporate job to go to. I started my part time contracting assignment. I sat in a coffee shop (ironic because I don't drink coffee) and did some work. I worked a good 5 hours and got more than I thought I would done. There was a refreshing feeling to the whole thing. Very freeing in many ways. Now, this could be because it is a new experience, and like most new experiences there is a sense of excitement. Maybe it was the fact that I wasn't driving over 100 miles today ;-) . Time will tell if this is just a fleeting feeling or if it is something that can become a long term way of life.

One thing I do know, is that I am done talking about former job. It's in the past. I am going to avoid all new blog posts about it, if I can so avoid it (but I will continue to answer comments to older posts).

I have moved on and am now going to talk about the present and the future. I just feel better knowing that.

A Bit More On My Exit Interview

I have seen some comments on the web about my exit interview. Interesting comments for sure. So I thought I would add a bit more response. It's hard to express the tone of a person in a text medium like a blog. It was just the way the HR person spoke and the tone of his voice that really got to me. Almost condescending. I can understand being confused, and maybe even a bit flabbergasted, about me leaving just after a year. But there is right and wrong way to express that. I thought he stepped over to the wrong side of that line.

My boss himself understood. He didn't want me to leave, but he told me straight up that personal and family situations come first. Would he hire me again? I would like to think so; he said I did good work.

Someone told me that 18 months is a pretty standard time for many people to stay in one company. I don't know about that, but I did stay at my first company for 10 years, so it is not like I make a habit out of moving from company to company.

The job itself wasn't my dream job. I took the job not because I thought I would love it, but more because it filled a need for my current situation at the time. If I was "in love" with the work, I probably would have tried to find a way to make it work -- maybe the 115 mile commute would have taken on a different flavor. But even then, a very difficult decision would have had to be made. I would say the job was fair to good, but there were some issues with the role, the team and the work itself that did not make it a perfect situation.

The bottom line is that life happens, and life is more than just your career. You can't always time things perfectly to make sure all parties involved don't feel slighted. You can, however, do your best when you are doing what you are doing, but sometimes you just have to make decisions that you think are best for you and your family. And that's it really -- not much more I can say about it.

My Exit Interview Was Not A Pleasant Experience

In my previous post, I hinted that I was none to pleased with my exit interview. Well, here are the details. At 10 AM, I went to the HR person's office. It started out innocently enough. We shook hands. I handed him some of their belongings (badge, cell phone, VPN hardware key). I sat down.

Then it started to go downhill quick. He made quick mention that I am leaving at just over a year of being hired (3 days to be exact). He wondered why. I told him it was for mainly personal reasons, primarily that the 115 mile round trip commute was not sustainable, and we are not moving back to where the company was located. I said we are going to stay put where we are, or maybe even move back West.

Then he starting questioning me saying things like 'Well you just moved to your current location that is 115 miles away, and now you may be considering moving again. I am confused. What is going on with you?' I told him that it was personal and family related. 

He then went on to say that they did not even recoup the cost of relocating me and hiring me for the year since I am leaving so quickly -- that they obviously made a mistake with the whole hire. I felt like I was getting the 3rd degree here when I thought an exit interview was to discuss what I thought of my management and company. I was getting angry inside -- basically I was thinking, it is your damn policy that a new hire work a year at the company after being relocated and, after that, there is no further obligation. I fulfilled my obligation! I even did quite well at work over the year. My manager said I would have fell in the successful part of the bell curve for my review, maybe even almost in the above successful category. I would have gotten a raise.

It even says in the handbook that employment is "at will". I mean they can lay me off / fire me without cause, and I can leave without cause. Me doing the exit interview was a courtesy to them; and here I am feeling like I am on trial.

I kept my anger bottled up and acted professional. He apologized and said he didn't mean to make me feel uncomfortable and make me feel like I was getting an inquisition. I said OK, and we moved on to the "normal" exit interview questions. I didn't throw anyone nor the company under the bus; I just answered the questions and left.

Not fun at all; not a pleasant experience :-(

But that is the past and now it is time to look to the future, which I am looking forward to :-)

Well, I Am Off To Smaller and Worser Things

People always say they are off to bigger and better things. Since I don't really know if that is going to be the case, I figure I would mix it up a little bit. :-) So, I am officially corporately unemployed. I had my exit interview today at 10 AM. By the way, that really wasn't a pleasant experience. More on that later, maybe.

Anyway, I have some temporary contract work lined up for the next three or so months to keep "putting food on the table" while we get our life in order. Where we go both professionally and physically is still up in the air though -- it can be anything from staying put in North Carolina and both of us starting our own businesses, to moving west with one working in the corporate world and the other partnering up on an opportunity, to other combinations (although it looks like it will only be North Carolina or the West coast)

A lot will be known in the next few weeks, possibly days.

And, yeah, I know "worser" is not a word ;-)

T Minus 0.5 days

Well, it is about 12 hours until my exit interview (10 AM Friday morning). There they will surely ask me why I decided to leave, what I liked and disliked about the company and rip what is really their possessions away from me (laptop, phone, etc.) I have submitted my last work related stuff to my manager and team. I have nearly made my laptop ready for use by the next person. So tomorrow when I get to work, I will walk around saying goodbye to the 2 or 3 people to whom I regularly talked -- yeah, kind of sad; I really had hardly no interaction with anyone over the past year at work.

I am getting more excited and nervous as the hour of enlightenment draws near.

Why the Blog Name "A Life of Constant Flux"

Someone asked me why I named my blog "A Life of Constant Flux". Well, it's pretty simple -- My life is currently always in flux.

It didn't always used to be that way. Until about 1.5 years ago, my spouse and I did what many people do when you don't have kids. We settled in a place, bought a house, lived there 10 years, went to work 5 days a week, took some vacations and just lived a "normal" life.

Well that changed in mid-2005 when we found out we were having twins. That set off a chain of events that led to the birth of the twins, 2 quit jobs (me and my spouse), a move across the country (from California to North Carolina), 4 different residences in the span of a year (house in California, apartment in NC, house in NC, current apartment in NC), another about-to-be quit job (as of October 5, 2007), another upcoming move (going to leave the current apartment), indecision about the future of both of our careers (do I contract, start my own business, or both; does my wife go back to work part time or start her own business) --- all this while raising two twin boys.

Flux, indeed! :-)

My New Mobile Phone Carrier is AT&T (Cingular)

Well, against my better instincts, I chose AT&T (Cingular) over Verizon as my new mobile phone carrier. Remember, I needed to get one because my old employer would not allow me to keep my current one (not even the phone number), even if I paid for it. I know the horror stories about coverage, etc. But here is my rationale.

1. My immediate family is on AT&T, so I should get free calls to them.

2. In the near future we are going to get the family plan, and AT&T has a cheaper plan than Verizon.

3. If I want an iPhone, I would just need to extend my contract as opposed to paying a termination fee with another carrier. Yes, I know about unlocking it.

Btw, I got a free black Motorola Razr V3 with a free bluetooth headset.

Here's hoping for the best.

Thank You Scott Hanselman

I sent Scott Hanselman an email this morning asking him how he likes Google Apps after a few months of real use. We are considering using them for hosting our business-related email. He answered the email within 2 hours. Now this is the same Scott Hanselman who runs the Hanselminutes podcast, a popular blog and just started to work for Microsoft. So it is not like he is just sitting around waiting to answer emails from complete strangers. And, btw, he does like Google Apps.

Thanks for the response, Scott. I do appreciate it.

The Mobile Phone Shuffle Sucks

Leaving a company is stressful for many obvious reasons. But one that adds to the stress level quite a bit is around the mobile phone. My company gave me a mobile phone and plan when I joined. And, like most everyone else, the phone became a business/personal phone. Thus, my family, friends, acquaintances call me on this line -- more than any co-workers do, for sure.

When I leave, I have to give the phone, phone number and plan back. Man, I can't even transfer to another plan and keep the phone number!!!

So, now I am put in the position of trying to find a new phone and plan in the most seamless way possible. Seamless, yeah right -- gotta find the right plan, the right phone, tell all of my contacts, update my resume, update my bank information and other on-line sources, etc. :-(

The mobile phone shuffle sucks! If I ever work for a company again, and not for myself, I believe I will have a clear separation of personal and business mobile phones. I don't want to go through this again.

Well, I need to have all this straightened out by next Friday. Wish me luck :-)

 (btw, I know there are worse atrocities in the world -- I am just trying to make a point even on a relatively trivial situation such as this)

My Boss Beat Me To It and The Dull Spoon

So there I was. I was to have a pre-farewell lunch with my boss' boss and afterwards I was to tell my teammate the bad (I hope) news. On the way to lunch, I told my boss' boss that one of the hardest, if not hardest, thing I was going to have to do was to tell my teammate that I was leaving. The response "Oh, [my boss] told him yesterday". I was shocked. Not that my boss told him, but that my teammate let 1 1/2 days go by without saying a word!!

I walk into my teammate's cubicle after lunch, sit down and he gives me this look like he knew that I knew he knew the news (is that an alliteration??). I asked why he didn't say anything. He said so I could suffer in agony. He brought out his dull butter-knife that he said he would use on me if I was to ever leave and then said he was going to use a dull spoon instead ;-)

He understood my reasoning for leaving.

I am going to miss my teammate. He is a good guy and super smart. I wish him all the best in the world.

Stomach Virus

My son got a stomach virus yesterday and it continues into today. He is getting sick pretty frequently. He hasn't drunken or eaten much, obviously. I feel bad for him. Stomach viruses are awful. The whole family had one back in February, and let me tell you, it wasn't a pleasant site. One of the most physically painful experiences I can recall having.

My stomach is feeling a little bit rumbly as I write this; I am hoping for the best, along with the best for my spouse and my other boy as well.