Sunday, July 17, 2011

Late Night Listening XL: Limping My Way to the Half Decade Mark

And now after some thinking
I'd say I'd rather be
A functioning cog in some great machinery
Serving something beyond me

But I don't, I don't know what that will be
I'll get back to you someday soon you will see

-- Fleet Foxes, "Helplessness Blues", Helplessness Blues, Sub Pop Records

I'm still alive, even if this blog is in a moribund state, most likely a victim of deep procrastination. It's hard to believe that I started this blog five years ago today.

Rather than write in painstaking detail over the last six months since my last post, I'll try to capture the big changes and list the challenges that remain before me.


Lots of slicing and dicing in the professional world. I'm still at my job. I still have my title and paycheck, but the landscape has undergone some radical transformations.

When I started with Company Line, I was the tenth full-time employee and first full-time rank-and-file developer. The fact that I've stayed on for this long is pretty remarkable. The only people who have been here longer are the CEO/founder and his niece.

The biggest change has been in sales, which has gone from over ten to five, one of whom is on a performance improvement plan and probably will get the axe in a month. The shrinking has been a mix of firings and voluntary departures.

The next notable is a major change in the managerial makeup of the company. The once immovable and incompetent President who pushed me to the edge of burnout left the company at the end of February, selling off her stake in the company as well. Taking her place is the guy whom we hired on in December of 2009 as the VP of ops. He proved his mettle in the summer and fall of 2010 turning around the performance of the post-sales team, stemming the churn of clients choosing not to renew.

My ex-boss, who returned to work for us as a contractor in November remained on with us up through the beginning of May. Upper management talked about making him an offer to come on full time, and this would have been a welcome development, but because there was delay after delay in formulating an offer, a window of opportunity opened for coastal recruiters who were aware of his talents.

He interviewed both for The Social Network and Shake-em-Up, the rapidly growing company in the Big Apple. He got offers from both of them, and turned down The Social Network on the premise that everyone he interviewed with was "a prick". He took the offer, much to the chagrin of upper management. Before reaching his decision, he spoke with me about his ambivalence in taking the offer. The other place would offer him challenges up to his mettle, and it was clear that he had outgrown the tech scene here. He's still young, not completely tied down, and has no children, and he knew of the struggles I had faced with the Online Payment Subsidiary of the Big Online Auction Company.

The Director of Marketing, whom I pictured leaving soon because she enjoyed a teflon coat in the days of the former President because they were sorority sisters, left in April for a position with a small e-mail marketing outfit up on the north side. A professor of marketing at the local business school has been filling in as the VP of marketing, and she's been whipping that department into shape, demanding from them faster turnaround times and better use of data.

The overpriced executive VP of sales, who had been commuting weekly from Beantown, said good-bye in mid-May after the President decided that we needed to free up his healthy size salary for product development. Further motivating the departure was a track record of extravagant travel and material expenses, including a very large screen TV that no one could quite explain.

My team also underwent changes. Our User Interface engineer, who had been with us since the summer of 2008, got a good size offer from Car Sales Management Software Company up on the north side. His commute shrank by many miles since he lives in the upper northeast burbs, and his salary shot up by about 15 grand. His departure capped off the near total replacement of my team, with our IT guy leaving in June 2010 and the System Engineer departing in October 2010. In the months in between, the other back end engineer and I have handled the job of user interface development, and we've held it together. Fortunately a new hire for our team will be starting in another week.

(warning, next several paragraphs include some ranting)

We took on a new VP of product management in early May, after upper management realized that they wouldn't be able to put my ex-boss in this role. This gave the CEO to hire someone whom he had been wanting to hire for an undefined role for over a year, mainly because he was afraid of the guy being hired on by another company in town.

The guy has a reputation of being a technically proficient entrepreneur, but in this town, to earn technical proficiency cred, you don't have to do much. As part of his role, he assumed the title of Product Owner in the SCRUM sense, even though he had zero experience with Agile development methodologies.

In two and a half months' time, the director of product, another software engineer, and I are ready to throw him from the roof of the building because he's established him as a self-important douchebag. Most of his e-mails and request tickets are injected with turf-marking language and condescending insults. At one point, he lectured the development team on the adequacy of his skills by stepping through year-by-year of his LinkedIn profile.

Despite our team's efforts to provide him with guidance and training in Agile, he has demonstrated very little desire to learn how the process works. Rather than putting together user stories for planning meetings, he would come unprepared with vague oral descriptions and hastily prepared mockups. We refer to his style as "screen shot driven" development where there are lots of markups but little explanation behind what the user interface is supposed to do.

At the last sprint planning meeting, his third such since coming on board, he told us quite openly that he had very little idea of how to write one. He also routinely makes additional feature requests outside the scope of the planning process, which is a big no-no in Agile.

Having to deal with him has been a drain on the morale of both my back end engineer and myself.

(ok, rant over)


A couple of departures over the past few months...

My mom's Chow had to be put to sleep because she could barely walk. Given that my mom lives alone, her dog was a major source of companionship. She recently adopted a St. Bernard from a rescue shelter and while the dog is a handful, she's really enjoying it.

My stepmom's dad passed away in June. I wasn't that close to him, but he was a good guy who remained physically and mentally active until the cancer took its toll this early spring.

At about the same time, I was worried that I was going to lose my dad, too. Ever since he had a stroke back in Nov. 2001, he's seen an ever growing list of prescription medications. According to my stepmom, he was on 20 different medicines.

In May, his health took a turn for the worse, and he wound up in intensive care for several days. The doctors determined that his kidneys could not keep pace with the accumulation of drugs in his blood stream, so he was slowly overdosing. Giving him a few days to dry out and then pare back the meds to some bare minimals helped him recover.

My daughters made it through another year of school. The older daughter advances to third grade with a mix of As and Bs, with Cs in math. The younger daughter will start in the first grade next month. They are now 8 and 6 years old.

They recently took home top honors in the petite division at their nationals dance competition that was held on the east coast a couple weeks ago. I got to see them perform their final round on a live webcast. The trophy was almost as tall as they were. I was very proud of them.

I've been seeing quite a bit of them this summer. Although it's nowhere near as bad as last summer, where X had me keeping them almost every weekend, they have been staying with me on alternating weekends. With my workplace trying a summer hours policy, which means most people take Friday off, I've been keeping them overnight on Thursday nights and having them spend the day with me.


I answered an ad on the big free online classified service in mid-May, and it's had a big impact on my spirits outside the workplace.

The situation is nearly ideal. She is a mother of two, with her kids being a few years older than mine. We are close in age, with her being a couple years older than me. She's been divorced for about three years, and puts her kids first. She's not looking to tie the knot, but she wants someone to share her alone time.

She lives on the south side of the Circle City, a couple of miles from my house, and is a social worker. Like me, she's been through her share of existential crises. She's a free spirit at hear, kept grounded by the kids. She loves good music, and there is a lot of overlap in our tastes. Both of our spouses had problems living within their means.

This may seem weird, but at the age of 42, I have for the first time experienced what might be described as chemistry, and for the first time I have felt wanted. Our sensual tastes have a lot of common ground, so the intimacy is strong. Neither of us see the possibility of marriage as long as the kids are at home, so this will probably grow into an arrangement of loosely coupled monogamy, which is what I want for now.

That's the news from here. If you have further questions, just drop a line in the Comments section and I will try to address it in a timely manner.
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