Monday, December 10, 2012

Late Night Listening XLII: Take Five (Years)

The title for this post is inspired by Dave Brubeck, whose passing last week gave jazz lovers reason to pause and reflect the richness of his life's work.  It's probably cliche to express a fondness of "Take Five", but I especially love this recording, which sets the tune to lyrics.

If you click around the 2007-era post archives on this blog, you'll turn up a lot of agonizing about a lengthy and stressful job search, which wrapped up at the end of that year.

The year 2012 has seen a similar search, playing itself out over the course of a year, but not the national scale.  Almost all of my job prospects have been local to the Circle City, with the few national ones being those which had telecommute options.

The motivation for moving on started out as a growing dissatisfaction with the job, as the product veep started to grate on my nerves more and more.  But as the year drew near to an end, it became more and more apparent that the company's future was becoming ever so more cloudy.
At this late hour, I have my eighth job offer of the year on the table.  I also had my share of rejections (five to be exact).  Most of them stemmed from lack of familiarity with a particular language or technology and an unwillingness to take a chance on me assaulting the learning curve.

The present offer was extended formally to me this past Thursday evening, with a request that I make a decision by this Tuesday, and I have been at levels of anxiety that I haven't experienced for some time.  I've bought some time by sending a list of clarifying questions to the hiring manager, and he as responded by asking me to come up to the office for another visit.

All and all, unless I see some serious red flags during my visit, I will accept the offer, but I want to make sure I don't hate myself in the process.

So where did the other seven offers come from.  I'll itemize:
  1. Subscription-Based Online Business Reputation Listing of Angela -- originally applied for engineering position for search; offered me lesser development role involving more generic website development; offer extended in Feb.; increased pay by 2 %.
  2. Big Pharma Marketing Collateral Warehouse Fulfillment -- suggested by local recruiter; would have involved Java MVC framework development with dysfunctional source code tree and hosting on a mainframe; offer extended in Feb.; increased pay by 2 %
  3. Education Employment Screening System -- applied for senior engineering role; somewhat shaky operation with production servers hosted in their building's basement and strange Java/SQL Server architecture; offer extended in Feb.; decreased pay by 5.3 %
  4. Local For-Profit Professional and Trade School -- suggested by recruiter; school spent $2 M on outsourced development in China for custom built social network; brought in-house in desperate need of scalability; offer extended in late June; maintained same pay
  5. Bean Crock 24-Hour Restaurants --  suggested by recruiter; restaurant chain needed a senior level developer to come in and bring code base and build process under control; turned down job before they could give me a salary
  6. Consulting Firm for Big New England Insurance Co. -- suggested by recruiter; would have been contracted to contractor; enterprisey development team built newfangled insurance quoting site without good knowledge of JavaScript; needed JavaScript debugger; offer extended in late Oct.; 16-percent annual increase in pay
  7. Red Diamond that Does "Great Things" Seed and Pesticides -- suggested by recruiter; would have been a 6-month contract to help a biostatistician build a web interface around some statistical analysis code that would help them make decisions on where to funnel R&D dollars; offer extended in early Nov.; 6 percent annual increase in pay
  8. Biggest Public Post-Secondary School in the State -- responded to ad; surprisingly progressive IT team looking to bring mature and effective development and operations people maintain legacy apps of ill repute and develop new apps using open source technology stack; 6 percent decrease in pay but awesome health insurance, retirement savings plan, and vacation time policy
Yep.   That's right.  Tons of effort to find a job only to wind up taking the one with the biggest pay cut.  That's the biggest part of my ambivalence towards accepting the offer.  In the long run, the benefits may turn out to be a better deal, but giving up $500 gross per month is a tough one to digest.

Of secondary concern is that the job would require the return to a car-based commute.  With my current job, I've been riding the bus into work for the most part.  The only days I've driven have been situations where I needed to be somewhere, and taking the bus to get there would have been impractical or would have required me leaving too early since the service is hourly.

I won't be driving as far as I was driving for my job that I held from 2005 - 2007 (19 miles versus 25), but it will be to the northeast side of the metro area, passing through two or three traffic choke points.  That means more stress from the drive, more costs on fuel, and the possibility that I'll finally have to ditch my 2000 Saturn L Series which has like 168,000+ miles on it.

Finally, I will most likely be giving up my flexibility in hours.  One of the things that has kept me tied to my current job for so long is the fact that I do have the ability to shift my hours as long as I am getting stuff done.  That means that I can take off work at 3 pm on Wednesdays to pick up my kids from the bus after school and take them to their piano lessons, if I have to.

On the bright side, even if this is an academic institution, their leadership seems to be heading in a more forward-thinking direction, and I will continue to work on an open source technology stack and get a crack at doing some bleeding edge technology stuff as well.

Moreover, of all the potential employers, this is the only one where I didn't feel like I would need to take a shower at the end of the day because I felt like I was doing something either shady or evil.  Since this is a vocational and technical school, my work would be helping people get an education that would open new doors, rather than shifting wealth towards the already wealthy.

I can probably  make it through the pay cut.  It will require eating in more and being more stringent about not saying "Yes" to every expenditure that X asks for.  There is a chance I could also supplement some of that lost income through freelance work, but that would be new territory and I don't know if I have a deep enough rolodex.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Late Night Listening XLI: Are You on Fire?

There's something about the season... the shortening of days, the changing of clocks, or perhaps the contentiousness of the nation's political Zeitgeist... that works to stir up my existential angst. But when you throw in an Indigo Girls concert, that kicks things up to crisis level.

This past Friday, these talented souls put on an amazing show in a college town southeast of here. I had purchased the tickets back in mid-July when my Beloved had heard they were scheduled to play there. It was my first time seeing both of them live. This past May, I had seen Amy perform solo at a snug local venue and was similarly blown away.

I remember being hooked on them after seeing the video "Closer to Fine" on Mtv back in the early fall of 1988. I hadn't even turned 20 yet, but the song's yearning to transcend the confusion of living spoke to me strongly. Their harmonies, unlike anything else in the mainstream, lured me in.

I was in my second year of college, struggling mightily with organic chemistry, worried horribly about a grandmother who had endured a horrible accident that would leave her an invalid for another 16 years, and still stuck in an estrangement from my father that had lasted for almost four years.

Unfortunately, it was also a time of limited budgets, so I didn't invest in a copy of that album. The song would wander in and out of my mind over the years, but for the most part, I didn't follow their prolific career.

When I moved to the Circle City in 2000, I started listening to an indie rock station here, which would play newer tracks from them. In 2005, I borrowed a copy of Retrospective and it gave me a chance to sample their work in the years between.

My Beloved, by contrast, is a huge fan and has followed them throughout the years, and has been to multiple concerts. I smiled as I would occasionally glance over to watch her singing along to her favorites.

The performance on Friday was interesting from the standpoint that their opening act, the Shadowboxers, doubled as a backup band, a group of young guys who have some killer harmonies in their own right.

The show had many moments that touched me, but the most powerful performance was their rendition of "Kid Fears". Amy and Emily started off alone, and toward the end, a member of the Shadowboxers comes on stage to sing the male vocals. The emotions the song tapped in side of me have left my mind playing that part of the concert over and over.

The overall state of my life is difficult to describe, and there are probably changes on the horizon, but I can't quite puzzle out what form it take. My employer, Company Line, is probably reaching a point where it is time to pull the plug. Despite revamps in the product and efforts to create a more effective sales program, the traction hasn't been there.

After having been there for almost five years and seeing a lot of people come and go, and having seen my closest coworker been dismissed ungracefully after she burnt out, I have struggled most days to get of out bed and get to the office.

I've done some job searching over the summer and fall. I have been presented with three more offers, and I've turned them all down because they were not natural steps of growth or not good cultural fits.

Amid all of the work uncertainty, my relationship with my Beloved keeps me going. The loneliness and isolation I've struggled with in the past has become a distant memory, and I've been spending way less time living inside my head when dealing with problems, which is why I haven't felt the need to post to my blog for a while.

We've been together almost 1 1/2 years, and the emotional bonds have grown stronger. And much to my surprise, both her kids and mine have been very comfortable with us, although we do get some ribbing over displays of affection. We're still a ways away from merging households, but it has become an ever increasing reality with the passage of time.

Although there are many planes in our connectedness, music is perhaps the strongest one, and we have had countless conversations over what we love most and what it means to us.

Perhaps some of the emotional heaviness I experienced at last Friday's show was an elevated awareness of the time that has passed over the past two-plus decades of my adult life and the sorrow that so many of those years were spent without knowing her, or even knowing of her existence.

Sometimes, I catch myself wondering if things would have been better if we would have crossed paths at a much earlier point in our lives. My Beloved puts it into perspective by saying we met at the right time in our lives, when we were ready for each other, shaped by the bumps and scrapes of living life.

Although that ascribe to the Universe a level of grand design that I don't quite buy into, she's probably right in the sense that we are who we are now because of the things we lived through, and that to think that we could have lived for the better by meeting earlier on would be foolish because at that stage of our lives, we were very different people.

When I hear this, I know she is right. To meet her at this stage of my life couldn't be a better time, for there is still plenty life to be lived, and everything leading up to this point has made me realize just how rare this kind of sustained connectedness can be.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Where Do We Go from Here?

I saw where Digger Jones posted an update on his current situation over at the Wordpress version of Reality & Redemption. I chimed in with a note of my own.

A glance at his blogroll made me realize not only how little energy I have put into blogging the past year, but that many of those who found themselves in the Diggersphere of anonymous bloggers, those with relationship issues determined to find resolutions via cerebral or spiritual means, have since shut down, gone private, or gone dormant, if not intermittent. My analytics show I still get on average of four or so visits a day, but most of that traffic is Googlebot, so a webcrawler has become my biggest fan.

I found myself with a few spare moments this morning, so I thought I would try to tap out some updates on my life since the end of 2011.

Kids On Friday, the kids finished up the third and first grades respectively, and did OK for the most part. She loves to read and write, pouring herself into projects where she has to create reports. With school out, she has been obsessing with writing her own story. She's finishing up her second year of piano lessons and will have her first recital this Thursday. The younger daughter's passion is in drawing. We go through a lot of crayons, colored pencils, and markers. Both are finishing up another year of dance. Their fourth and final competition was this past weekend. The end-of-year recital is in two weeks. Instead of a national competition, they will be going to nationals. Work

>I am nearing in on 4 1/2 years with my current employer. They are treading water and trying to finish up another round of securing money to keep running. I had an unpleasant conversation with the the product veep in early January, after I got back from some time off during the holidays that made me think he might be pushing for me to get fired.

He was complaining about the "lack of urgency" in my team and how other departments seemed to be stressed out but we weren't. We were losing clients and we were going to be very behind in the marketplace if we didn't start developing at a much faster rate. I asked him for some clarification to identify instances of where we had fallen short. He complained that we weren't releasing a lot in December.

I noted that we had several members of the team who had to use up vacation time at the end of the year and would lose it otherwise. He said it was more than that but couldn't give me a quantitative description of his vague complaints. He went on to say that if it meant sacrificing some application stability in the name of new features, he'd be willing to make that tradeoff. I asked him what that meant exactly? Was he willing to give up 99.9 % uptime? Be willing to offer service credits for downtime? He wouldn't say.

The next day, I called up three local recruiters with whom I had worked with in hiring capacity in the past few years. They put me in touch with some leads. One was with a local company that had been around for a long time but had gone public in November. The other was with a marketing service fulfillment company on far north side of town. There was a third lead that I don't really count because I believe that the recruiter was misrepresenting the role to me as well as my goals to the prospective employer. The interview didn't last more than a few minutes. I also secured an interview with another, more established company a few blocks away, based on a job posting. I got three offers, two of which were slight increases in pay. The other was a drop but had more employer coverage of health insurance.

I was on the brink of making a decision to take one of the jobs when I learned that our lead sales guy was leaving the company with only one week's notice. That would take the sales department to one person. Moreover, the lead over in the support department would be going on maternity leave in a couple weeks.

If I were to leave, that would be three out of four director level roles quitting the company or going on an extended leave. Rather than run the risk of burning bridges, I withdrew from the job seeking process. Fortunately the companies extending the offers understood and were glad to see I put my employer before myself.

While the job search was going on, I worked to get my team to retool the development process so that we could push releases in a more automated fashion so that we could deploy code more frequently than once a week. The changes we made were enough to mollify the veep. We started shipping so much so often that just this past week, he had to request that we start putting a 48 hour hold on deployment of user-visible features so the client relationship managers (read: people who couldn't make it in sales or product support and got transferred) could weigh in on it.

About a week after I withdrew from my job search, the CEO asked to have lunch with me. He asked me how things were doing with me towards the end, and I let him know that I was approaching a point where I was ready to think of moving on. He seemed both surprised and distressed. He asked me what was driving it. I said part of it was working for so long at the company and that I was ready to do some development on something different. I also expressed an incompatibility with the veep. He said that he didn't want me to leave and asked me to work out my differences with the veep.

In April, one of the three recruiters I had been working with contacted me and let me know that she had another possible lead for me. This one would be for a local professional school that had build its own social portal with outside contractors and wanted to bring development in house. Things were still in the budgeting phase, so nothing was certain. I did have an initial conversation with two managers in April and that went well. They had me undergo a technical phone interview on Friday of this past week. The interviewer was a third party because the in-house development team is a Microsoft centric bunch, and the portal is built on open source technology. If the job work out, I would make my transition sometime in July.


On May 14, I celebrated one year since my girlfriend and I started exchanging e-mails. Our in-person meeting anniversary is on the 24th. We've been doing a lot of reflecting recently, and both of us are very happy with where we are. We are committed to the long haul, still keeping our kids in the top priority spot, but looking forward to a day several years out where we share a place of our own.

Prior to meeting, both of us had struggled with a lifelong sense of not really clicking with anyone. We have very much in common with respect to past experiences, world view, and love of the arts. I've started to attend her church, which is has similar ties to my own upbringing, but more progressive. We are content just snuggling or sitting together and reading. We also help each other out of our shells so we see a lot of live music, most recently at a concert by a certain somewhat famous folk rock singer who also has an edgier bent when she plays solo.

We have not only become lovers but also playmates, best friends, and confidants. I will probably have some more good things to write about this in a future post, maybe in the next few days.

Any other questions?