Saturday, October 19, 2013

Second Guessing Tape Kicks into High Gear

I read the news today oh, boy
About a lucky man who made the grade
-- The Beatles, "A Day in the Life", Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Capitol Records

On Thursday morning, the RSS feed of a local business news show made my draw drop. There was a press release about how my former employer, Company Line, had agreed to be acquired by THE Big Bad Database Company. Terms were undisclosed, but the story percolated all the way to the top of the food chain the tech and online marketing trade publications.

A good chunk of the day that followed involved me chatting online with some former Company Line coworkers with whom I keep in touch. A couple of them had exercised stock options upon their departure. The earlier hire was thinking he'd come out ahead by about 40 percent. The later hire was going to lose $0.50/share.

All of us were surprised by the news. To the best of our knowledge, the company had achieved little traction in the past year. A major product redesign went live early in the year, and I know that there had been a major build out of analytics infrastructure for tracking site traffic. I had also received reports of as a host of demo-driven-development features rolled out because the self-important product guy who came on board back in late spring 2011 had promised them to potential sales customers.

Indeed, in the acquisition press release, the three big-name clients they cited all had been subscribers for at least three years. The acquiring company isn't buying an existing or growing revenue stream. There were suggestions that the application will complement feature gaps in another marketing application that it acquired last year. It's also worth noting that the acquiring company is seeing stagnation in its existing markets and is playing catch-up in the world of cloud computing. This acquisition gives them some buzz and an air of seriousness about its strategy.

Still, the press, both locally and nationally, is touting this as a win. The spectre of self-doubt that likes to nag me in these moments reminds me that I left and chose to exercise none of my options. Although in retrospect the stress was wearing me down and making me more irritable in my latter days there, the spectre suggests that I didn't have what it took to get them across the goal line. Bowing out gracefully was the best I could hope for.

I have put myself out to pasture, doing largely maintenance programming with no real greenfield development in sight.

Nearly three quarters of the savings accumulated since the divorce have been swallowed up largely by repairs to the roof and some drain line work. Although my gross pay decreased by about $500/month (since 7/1, that gap has narrowed to just under $300), I continue to pay child support at the same level. I have a car payment now, and lots of costs have gone up. My sense of financial security is worsening. In my darker moments, I think the only options I have left at retirement are hitting the lottery and suicide.

This is what plays through my mind when I feel doubt. I know it's probably skewed. I try to remind myself of the saying "You cannot be replaced," but somehow it can't compete with the anti-mantra "You aren't that great. You've never been, and it's not going to get any better. Why try?"

I can't bring myself to commit any kind of self-harm. Not yet at least. But I am seriously lacking things to hope for. Things that make it worth getting out of bed in the morning. I don't trust the universe.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Seven Years Gone By... What's Next?

Seven years ago, I published my first post on this blog.  It was a heckuva ride for the first couple years.  I posted pretty faithfully, with posts being pretty lengthy, detailed pieces.  After I changed jobs and moved on to a post-marital life, this space became increasingly dormant.  If SiteMeter's counter stats are to be believed, most of my traffic are visits from Google's crawling software.

Lots of other blogs, which were displayed on this space's blogroll have since gone through similar changes.  Anais keeps chugging away at LiveJournal, and Digger will resurface every once in a while with an update.  Otherwise, the overriding majority of posters are like the illusory mathematicians and carpenters wives about whom Dylan wondered rhetorically in the final verse of "Tangled Up in Blue".  Yet still, I am on the road, looking for another joint.

So here is where things stand on my end...

I still make my home in the Circle City, living in the same house that I've lived in since Oct. 2000.  I'm also still very much involved in my daughters' lives.  They are now 10 and 8 years old.  The X keeps them booked on a pretty tight schedule during the school year.  Two of their scool nights are filled with dance classes.  During the competition season, that also includes an occasional Friday night.  On Wednesdays, they have piano lessons.  I work a early-shifted schedule that day, pick them up, and see them off to lessons and help with homework.  They stay with me on alternating weekends, and this summer, I have been taking vacation time to spend days with them. 

Both get pretty decent grades, As, Bs, and the occasional C, but my older daughter struggles with math and has trouble retaining concepts.  She loves to write stories and letters to her friends.  She also gets a kick out of drawing comic strips, but unfortunately, most of them are about bodily functions.  The younger is a lover of art and prolifically draws pictures that she keeps in binders.  I'm grateful that they've found creative outlets.  They're very much into pop music, much to my chagrin. :-)

As for me, I changed jobs shortly after the beginning of the year.  I accepted the offer with the Biggest Post-Secondary School in the State, which meant a pay cut.  Fortunately, I got high marks on a mid-year salary review and got a pay increase that restored a little over 40 percent of what I gave up making the leap.  Given the school's budgetary situation, I am very grateful for that. 

Working for a large organization like this has taken some getting adjusted to.  The pace is much slower, and you wind up getting locked into holding patterns while waiting for several divisions to reach agreement on where things should go next. 

I've been able to make some positive contributions, eliminating a big chunk of software development backlog, but all of that has been with bug fixing and extending some pretty dusty legacy applications written in the Perl programming language.  The next project I will be working on will be a mixture of Perl and newer code written in Python. 

Their project management and planning processes are in dire need of updating.  There is no infrastructure for deployment or automated testing.  Business analysts are basically order takers for project sponsors, rarely pushing back when sponsors or proxies overprescribe a solution.  The software that runs their mainline business functions does not have uniformly maintained environments for development, testing, and production, so it is commonplace for problems to be encountered when code gets promoted from one environment to the other.  Fortunately, there are some in leadership who want to modernize and have been willing to ask for my input on how to revamp things.  During my time at Company Line, I oversaw similar modernization efforts.

Living on the reduced pay has been a stressor for me.  I opted to keep my child support payments at the same level as what I was paying out under my old job.  About 35 percent of my net pay goes straight into the X's bank account, and I think she still gets paid more in child support than what she grosses with her current employer.  I've been cooking at home more, and eating out less.  I also take leftovers with me for lunch at work. 

Still, there have been some added challenges.  For one thing, on the Friday before I started my new job, I wrecked my car after hitting a patch of ice on a side street, so I started off the new year with a new car payment.  In February, the dentist decided that a crown that had been giving me problems since October of last year was in need of a root canal.  In March, a small part of my roof on my porch started to collapse due.  There was a lack of ice and water protection near the gutter and leakage over time resulted in rotting.  Insurance doesn't cover such things, so that repair work will require the replacement of the roof.  The price tag will be around $9,500.  I will be financing a little under a third of that because to do otherwise would basically wipe out the saving I have accumulated over the past five years.  I am praying that my air conditioning doesn't die this summer.

The recurring series of unfortunate events left me feeling some deep emotional lows.  I did see a counselor at the beginning of May through my employer's EAP.  He suggested I start doing freelance work on the side to supplement my income rather than trying to find a higher paying job.  I also went to the doctor to see about getting put back on antidepressants.  I went of venlafaxine for a month, but it resulted in anorgasmia.  Although my current employer is supposed to have great health coverage, I was being charged around $190, about six times what I was paying for venlafaxine at my old job at the same pharmacy (in network), and the cost of doctor visits went up about $30.  Yes, both plans were high-deductible.  The whole experience left me feeling that I can't afford to be treated for depression.  I have been doing my best to keep things together by trying to avoid negative thoughts.

On the relationship front, that is going pretty well.  I have been seeing her for a little over two years now.  We talked about blending families some at the beginning of the year, but the house issues  from March meant that I had less money for remodeling and expansion work.  We still see each other on the weekends where we don't have our kids, and I come over to her house for dinner once a week, usually on Tuesdays.  I took my first out-of-town vacation in over seven years about a month ago, joining her and her family at a rented cabin down by the river that forms the southern border of the state.  She is struggling financially, too.  Back in September, she took a job that is more in line with a postgraduate degree she has been pursuing, but there was a pay cut involved, so I know she has been stressed over that.

That's about all I can think of for now.  If you have additional questions about what's been going on, let me know in the comment section.