Category Archives: I Should Have Been a Firefighter

On the Air (II)

I have no idea where I am over the United States at this moment, but judging by that huge expanse of white down to my left, I’m guessing that we’re over the Great Salt Flats of Utah. I can see the highway that cuts through it. I’ve driven through that plain, about five or six years ago; it’s one of the loneliest and most desolate places I’ve ever been, save, possibly, for the Badlands in South Dakota. It was a strange experience, as I recall, driving through that area; so few cars, and so few signs of life. The Badlands, for their dryness and desolation, were somehow more full of life than the Flats. I remember spending the night outdoors on top of a mountain in the Badlands, and waking to a magnificent sunrise, which I have not seen the likes of since, and watchind deer play in the distance while my friends and I broke camp and packed everything back up into the truck.

Right now, it’s Saturday morning. I arrived in California on Wednesday night after being in Oregon for just a short week, and so I got to spend an extra day with Jennifer. Now I’m on a flight to Chicago, which I will leave twenty minutes later to catch a plane for Boston. So here I reach another first for me: my first cross-country business trip. I’ve always wanted to see Boston, and I’ve always wanted a job which would let me go there. So here I am. Granted, though, I’ll only be in Boston for four days, and I’ll be booked solid all four days, so I probably won’t get to see much of that city, but I’m hoping that I’ll get to see at least some of it. I had hoped, when I learned that I would be switching planes in Chicago, that I would get a chance to see some of that city as well; but I’ll only be in O’Hare Airport for about twenty minutes, probably desperately searching for the gate that my flight to Boston will be leaving from, so I imagine that all I’ll see of Chicago will be a bunch of people rushing from one gate to another all of them frustrated and impatient, as I’m sure I will be myself.

At the moment, though, things are relatively calm. We’ve been in the air for just over an hour, and probably have another two hours or so to go before arriving in Chicago. The Great Salt Flats — if that’s what they were — are apparently far behind us. When I look out the window now, I have no clue where we are; there is a lot of snow on the mountaintops below, and passing over the clouds reminds me of the way the Tule fog settles into hollows and valleys in central California at this time of year, with the trees and houses sometimes rising above the fog like islands rising from an ocean of mist.

I’m sure this journal entry will be long. I’m certain I’ll add more to it later in this flight, or perhaps on the flight from Chicago to Boston. We shall see.

II: So That Was Chicago

Some vague impressions from Chicago O’Hare Airport, which is all that I saw of that city (and not even very much of that). First, to get from Concourse C to B, you have to pass through what I had had described to me as the "Psychedelic Tunnel": an underground tunnel connecting the two concourses, with multi-colored neon tubes glaring overhead as you walk or take the walkway through the tunnel (I chose a combination, walking on the moving walkway, as I was worried about getting to the next gate on time), music reminiscent of chimes playing overhead — all in all, I was reminded of the concourse leading up to the main ride of Disneyland’s Space Mountain.

After the tunnel, an escalator leading back above-ground. At the top of the escalator, I was kind of surprised to see a little outlet from something called the Field Museum Store; I expect to see gift shops and fast food outlets at airports, of course (and was pleasantly surprised to discover last week that Portland’s airport has a branch of Powell’s Books, which I might even have time to explore before flying back to Sacramento this week), but not a Museum Company Store, or a Field Museum Store, or anything like that. But what surprised me even more was the full-scale replica of the dinosaur skeleton. Naturally, I was rushing through the airport, on the phone with our answering machine in California, so I didn’t get a chance to look closely at the skeleton or identify what kind it was (when I was young, I was, like just about every young boy in America, a dinosaur addict and I still remember many of the species that I built models or drew pictures of when I was ten or twelve years old). I glanced at it quickly, then spotted my gate and pretty much sprinted there to make sure I got there on time.

The last leg of this trip is on board a Boeing 767. Much more comfortable than the 727’s I’m used to on Southwest or the first part of this trip. In fact, this flight is only about half full, so there is no one in the seat next to me, which gives me a welcome chance to actually stretch out a bit and type normally on this computer without scrunching into myself to avoid bruising the arms of the person sitting next to me.

And here’s dinner!

Jennifer’s last experience flying United was apparently not a positive one, but I must admit that this, my first experience flying United, has been pretty positive. The flight has been on-time (early, in fact); this part of the trip is quite comfortable (for coach class, at least), probably because this flight was, oddly enough, undersold; and the food has actually been quite decent. The chicken fettuccini with was great, and the chocolate macaroon that I got for dessert was delicious. Perhaps that chocolate macaroon was what colored Jennifer’s experience; for all of her wonderful qualities and for all of the amazing things she does for me, she is unable to appreciate coconut.

On an entirely different note, I confess that I had no idea that Lake Michigan was so large. As we flew into Chicago, we could see the western shore of the lake, and we couldn’t see the far shore. The kid who was sitting next to me asked if that was the Atlantic Ocean; I told him that it was not, that it was Lake Michigan, but that I, too, was surprised by its size. We also flew over the Mississippi River, and I admit that I was kind of surprised by that as well; but with the River, I was surprised at how narrow it was. Perhaps it was just that one stretch of the river, but I’d always thought that it would be much, much wider.

We’ll be landing in Boston soon, so it’s time to turn off all electronic devices, including this laptop. I may write more from the hotel, or I may wait until tomorrow. Either way, have a good day.

Blind Man's Bluff

There are those who have expressed to me their disappointment that I have been averaging a single update every two weeks now, instead of the nearly daily schedule I had at the height of my journaling career here. I guess that’s understandable. I can only say that I wish I had time to update more often.

In one of my previous entries, from August 4, 2000: Odds and Endings, I wrote, "As I begin my new job next week at a new company, and as I build up my skills over the next few months, I’m certain I’ll be longing for days like today, when I didn’t have eighteen different projects due right now." I didn’t realize at the time how prophetic that statement was. Only two months into the job, and I’m feeling completely overwhelmed.

This job has been quite a learning experience for me, but not quite in the way I imagined. I haven’t had much of an opportunity to build up my programming or database skills (although I’ve become proficient enough with Unix and PL/SQL to be deadly to any Oracle database that lives on a Sun server, given the proper permissions). I’ve learned a lot about how the software development process works. I’ve learned about the rift that can exist between data migration staff and programmers, and about the often bitter conflicts that exist between development and QA. I’ve also learned how to smooth over some of those conflicts and differences by focusing on each person’s style of communication and learning how to translate to someone else’s style. And I’ve learned from one of my co-workers some of the myriad ways of scamming extra chocolate chip cookies from the staff of the Double Tree Hotel in Portland.

Mostly, though, what I’ve learned has been about myself. I’ve learned, for example, that when there are a lot of changes in my life all at once, I can become immature and whiny, even if those changes are all positive. My new boss pointed out to me that the biggest stressors in a person’s life are: (a) marriage; (b) new job; (c) moving; and (d) death of a spouse, and that in the next year I’ll be going through three of those. Then he laughed and called me a "stress monkey". And, of course, we’re not just moving; Jennifer and I are building an entire house.

These are all great changes. I can’t imagine being happy without Jennifer in my life; the house we’re building is going to be beautiful; and the new job is going well. But when I get stressed and overwhelmed, I’ve found, I wind up focusing on the negative parts of my life. In this case, it’s been an unwarranted focus on the less than positive aspects of my job and my career. For example: instead of appreciating the opportunity I’ve been given and the fact that I am involved in building something new which could potentially make life a lot better for thousands of people, I’ve focused on the fact that I’m not learning everything I’ve wanted to learn; on the working hours (which, because this is a startup, can sometimes hit 17 hours per day); on the fact that all this travel is starting to wear me out and that I don’t get to see Jennifer nearly as much as I want to; and so on. And over the next three weeks, our jobs will take us separately to Portland, Boston, Seattle, Atlanta, and Andover; we determined that in the next three weeks we’ll have something like three days, total, to spend with each other. As the house building heats up and the plans for the wedding get more and more involved, we’ll probably get more and more stressed, though we’ll probably at least be able to spend more time face-to-face with each other — so that we can take out the stress on each other more appropriately. I’ve learned that while Jennifer is the most amazing and wonderful thing that has ever happened to me, an overabundance of stress can lead me to appreciating her less than I ought to.

I’ve also learned that I wasn’t as prepared for this career transition as I thought I was. When I was with the University, I bemoaned the fact that I hadn’t made it into the private sector, even though I had "broken the clerical barrier"; now I find myself occasionally wondering if perhaps I should have stuck it out with the University just a while longer. But, then, I knew that this transition was going to be a culture shock, that I was going to be drowning for quite awhile (sipping from a firehose is the metaphor that our general manager uses) before I really felt comfortable here. I hadn’t realized how big a step it is.

But, then, I remind myself of how far I’ve come (thanks to a whopping head blow from Jennifer, whose grace under pressure and ability to remain calm keep me in a constant state of awe), farther than I had thought possible just a few months ago and farther than many people make it in their lives (though I have no doubt that just about anyone could — I’m no smarter than anyone else, after all). I remind myself of where I was, and where I am, and where I’m headed, and even if the path ahead of me is still hazy and unclear, it’s starting to come into sharper focus; for example, I find that my interest in web development is continuing to shift from straight front-end design and usability concerns to the presentation of dynamic data, customized for the user and for the presenter of data. Which means, of course, that I’m finding myself learning more about PL/SQL and Oracle and Perl than I had originally planned to, and that I am also now interested in building my programming skills in XML and Java. The company where I am now may not be the company I’ll be with a year from now — then again, it might be after all, if the learning and development opportunities that I am building are present.

When I jumped into this ocean, I wasn’t doing it entirely blind; but I was, partially, playing a game of Blind Man’s Bluff. I’ve still got a few more rounds of this game to go before I can see clearly where I’m going. My challenge now — and for some reason this is a challenge I’ve rarely been up to, though I am doing my best to rise to the occasion now — is to enjoy the ride; to seize the day, as I wrote in my own journal a few months ago, and to throttle it.

The View Is Worth It

I really wish I had a digital camera with me right now. I’d love to take a picture of the view from my hotel room window and upload it to this journal. I’m on the 4th floor of the hotel, and from here I can see the Columbia River, and beyond that, Mount Hood. Between the river and the mountain there are lots of trees. And at the moment, the sun is setting to the west, painting the clouds purple and pink. There is no snow on Mount Hood, but the view is still incredible. Each evening this week I’ve come home from work and stood at the window of the room and stared out at the window. It’s a great way to relax after a long day at the office up here.

Things have gotten just plain crazy up here. The original plan was that I would be up here through the end of September, but it’s starting to look like I might be here for a bit longer; possibly through the middle of October, when I fly out to Boston for the first of the trade shows. And between getting our own development environment up to speed, beginning to completely revise the product, preparing partner integrations, the implementation of an entirely new data model, interviewing candidates for our webmaster position, getting our new Perl developer ramped up, reading up on project and software management, and documenting the hell out of everything, it hasn’t been unusual for me to spend a full eight or nine hours at the office followed by another six or seven hours spent on-line in my hotel writing, developing code, creating new graphics, and chatting with co-workers on AIM and exchanging ideas.

This job is very different from any other job I’ve ever held; of course, most of that is because most of the jobs I’ve held have been with the huge bureaucratic institution that is the University, while this company I’m with now is a startup. The University was about nothing if not legacy systems that have been around for a decade or two; while here we’re playing around with new technologies and getting in on the ground floor with lots of different tools. At the University, employees had to pretty much beg for training or opportunities for advancement; here, constant training and education are pretty much expected. The pay is pretty good — not great — but it’s good, and the opportunities I can see coming are really exciting.

But right now, after nearly two solid weeks of these 15-16 hour days, I’m beat. The weekend in Washington was Jennifer was refreshing, as any time I spend with Jennifer is; but I really wasn’t built for this sort of work schedule.

I was warned about this sort of thing when I was first considering this job, and I certainly don’t regret the decision to take it. Though I admit I wasn’t expecting to be "on" 24/7. I was expecting some downtime during the week. The week of Labor Day was a short week — only four days — but I still managed to put in close to sixty hours that week.

Sounds like I’m complaining, doesn’t it? I’m not, though. I’m enjoying the pace to a degree; I thrive on working hard, on putting long hours in on a project that I know will end up working out well. But some of the other things I’d been hoping to do with my time right now — writing, reading, spending time with friends or exploring Portland — are definitely on hold for the time being.

My boss tells me that once we get our development environment implemented in Sacramento, along with our own instance of the database, things will calm down and we will all be able to enjoy normal working hours. I certainly hope so.

Meanwhile, though… I’ve got Mount Hood watching over me, and the Columbia River to guide me along.

Back in Puddle City

So here I am back in Portland for a second week of work/training. The propoganda says that in Portland is rains all the time, though I have yet to see a drop. Which is good, because I managed, for the second time, to forget to bring any sort of raincoat or jacket. But if it really does rain a lot up here, that explains why this town has the nickname "Puddle City".

I still enjoy flying; I’m told that it will get tiring and wearying, but it hasn’t so far. I sat on the plane up here and did some work outlining the documentation guide, but mostly I stared out the window down at the forests and cities that were underneath the plane. Being able to see Mount Hood, Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helen’s, and so on, from above… seeing an ocean of clouds… it was breathtaking to this landlubber.

It pretty much made up for the two airsick Intel employees who were sitting on the plane next two me, trying to get their marketing reports done while also gulping down Dramamine and trying to hold in their breakfasts.

It was kind of strange arriving here in Portland; the last time I was here to work, I was here with CW1 and CW2. This time, I arrived by myself, though CW1 and CW2 will be arriving tomorrow morning, along with several other bigwigs from the Roseville office. After a productive half hour convincing the hotel that they did, indeed, want to take my credit card, I went into the office here and began to work. I fought with a single page for some time while also continuing to document the directory structure and getting some direction from the production manager.

It’s hard to feel as though I’m really "in the loop" as of yet. I’ve got a good grasp of the product we’re shipping out, and tomorrow I’ll be involved not only in documentation but also in testing the data migration to the new hub. This should be interesting, to say the least. It will give me a good opportunity to learn about the QA and production migration processes.

It’s also kind of weird to be back here after the weekend that I just had; on Thursday night, after arriving in Sacramento and driving away from the airport, I merrily took the wrong turn onto I-5, and started heading south. I drove for nearly 45 minutes before realizing my error, and managed to turn myself around (there are stretches of I-5, even close to civilization, where a turn-off is a hard thing to find) and get back to Davis… and got all the way back home with just about a half-gallon of gasoline in my tank. For all of its faults, my Geo Metro does at least get excellent gas mileage.

Saturday and Sunday were spent with different members of Jennifer’s family; on Saturday we spent the afternoon with her sister and brother-in-law; and on Sunday we went to church with her parents and then, later on, had dinner with them. Jennifer’s family is just as fun as my own family, and I really enjoy spending time with them. And just like with my own family, spending time with them puts me in a good mood for the rest of the day.

So here I am back in Portland; and, in a way, I feel like I’ve never left. I feel like I didn’t get to spend enough time with my friends back in Davis and Sacramento; and I wonder if that feeling will get stronger the longer I do this.

On the whole, though, I’m glad I’m here. I miss Jennifer, I miss my family and Jennifer’s family, and I miss my friends… but I’m glad to be here, feeling productive and knowing that I’ve finally got my career going in a direction where I want it to go.

On an entirely different note, I admit quite freely that I sometimes wonder about the people who read my journal on a regular basis. The tracker I have installed is a wonderful thing: I know now that there are several regular readers from around my home town, which isn’t surprising; but I also have one regular reader from Folsom (I think I know who that is), and a bit of an international audience as well (including the regular from Hong Kong and the regular from Australia). I’d be interested if you could drop me a line.

Be well!

You Kiss Your Mother with that Mouth?

We were on the plane, a few minutes out of Portland, my two co-workers and I, and we were talking — as always — about technology. Co-Worker One (hereinafter referred to as "CW1") had just taken out his new web-enabled cell phone and was demonstrating to Co-Worker Two (hereinafter referred to as "CW2") some of its features. In the middle of his demonstration, CW1 paused.

"Just think," he said. "A hundred years ago, this kind of technology would have been inconceivable to doctors and their patients." We’re all three of us in the e-Health industry, which is why our focus in many of these conversations tends to be on doctors, patients, and how to use the Web to faciliatate communication between them. "I mean, just the idea of a telephone at all would be completely foreign!"

"Yep," replied CW2. "It’s pretty amazing."

CW1 went on. "And just the idea of taking an airplane to get from Portland to Sacramento in less than two hours… a hundred years ago, it would have taken a week, if they were lucky. And can you imagine using a web-enabled phone to browse a website back then?"

To which CW2 replied, laughing, "Can you even imagine using language like, ‘Using a web-enabled phone to browse a website’?"

The conversation then turned to coming up with more and more obscure ways of using language. I pretty much won with, "Our mission is to enhance and facilitate the migration of neurologically-focused business practices from transient processes to a fully integrated suite of web-oriented management processes." (I didn’t like using "processes" twice so close together, but I had to think fast at the time).

As soon as I had uttered that, both CW1 and CW2 stared at me. "Where in God’s name did you learn to talk like that, Richard?" CW2 — who also happens to be my manager — asked in awe.

I shrugged modestly. "Well," I said, "the last department I worked in at the University had been infested with Gartner Group terminology. Plus," I continued, "I worked in Human Resources for three years. Sometimes, it just kind of rubs off on you."

The really scary thing, though, is that when I thought about the sentence I had just uttered, I realized that I knew precisely what was meant by it. I meant that our job was to take bad business management practices that were on paper and transform them into good business practices using the Web as a tool. But somehow when you get into the world of startups, you stop saying things like, "Bad ways of doing business," and you start saying things like, "Transient modalities".

But the worst part, really, was when I was writing an e-mail to my mother this morning. I was telling her that I was worried that I hadn’t yet figured out how the company I’m working for will be making money in the long run (which does not, of course, mean that they won’t be making money — just that I haven’t been involved in figuring it out); but instead of saying that, I wrote to her, "I’m concerned because this company has not yet identified a revenue stream."

I didn’t realize I had written that until I’d sent it.

I told CW1 and CW2 about that on the flight back. Both of them complimented me for actually e-mailing my mother, but they both agreed that it was funny as hell that I had done that; and then they both admitted to talking the same way to their wives from time to time.

But still, I can’t believe I wrote that. To my own mother. Excuse me, but now I feel like I have to wash my mouth out with soap.

Window Seats

…And so ends my first day in Portland.

I spent a lot of time in front of windows of various types today. On the flight up — a short flight from Sacramento to Portland, too — my new co-workers were good enough to let me have the window seat. Actually, neither of them wanted it, so I had no problem snagging it. Of course, the flight was on Southwest Air, which was sort of a cattle call as we were being herded on to the plane itself. The flight was kind of crowded, and short. And I sat next to the window, with the morning sun streaming right into my face. I could look down onto the clouds and see the sunlight reflected off of them.

I do love flying. I will be doing quite a bit of it over the next couple of months; perhaps I’ll get sick of it soon, but for now, I really am enjoying it.

At the Portland office, I discovered that desk space is a rarity, indeed. I don’t have a desk, and certainly not a cubicle. I have a card table with a computer on it, situated against the western window of the building. Behind me is the technical support manager, who has gobs of ideas for projects and tasks for me. So before me lies a wonderful view of the hills of Portland, and behind me are piles of work for me.

And, of course, my computer didn’t work when I turned it on… something about being unable to see the network. So the LAN manager, who has been with the company for eight weeks — which, because this is a startup company, means he’s one of the "old-timers" — spent the entire day fussing with the cables, the cards, the hubs, and so on — while I dug out my laptop with the network card that I had just happened to buy over the weekend, and set myself up to do some actual work.

Suffice to say, I’m a bit overwhelmed here. Okay, I’m here to do web development. Yesterday I learned that this can entail going beyond straight HTML and JavaScript to Perl, other middleware, WML, and more. Today I learned that I’ll be interviewing candidates for supporting developers, QA personnel, and technical writers; documenting the entire web development process in the parent company with an eye towards creating a complete development manual for the child company’s web product; designing and implementing a web data migration protocol; and delving into marketing and serious testing as well. I’m overwhelmed, but very excited. As opposed to the minor growth opportunities that there were for me at the University, this place is so wide open that I could go just about anywhere with my career. While at the University I had to kick and scream to get any sort of growth opportunity, I suspect that with this company, I’d have to kick and scream if I wanted to stay in one spot.

There is a downside to all of this, of course. While I put in a normal 8-hour day yesterday in California, today I put in a 16-hour day, from the "working flight" in the morning where we discussed implementation strategies to the "working dinner" where we brainstormed about just about everything to do with the company. There’s a part of me which hopes I can just sit in my little cubicle and happily code away for eight hours each day; but there’s a bigger part of me which knows that this job situation simply won’t allow for that. And, more importantly… I’m glad about that.

A Not Entirely Unexpected Turn of Events

I love my new job; it’s great that I get to go in each day, spend nine or ten hours straight coding in Cold Fusion to build dynamic pages which are actually useful, and working as part of a team to get a large project finished. My co-workers are fun, my boss is a good guy, and I love the work I’m doing. I know that I’m very fortunate to have gotten this job, especially since it’s really the first job I ever went out and actively pursued as opposed to simply "drifting" into it just because I needed a job, any job (which is how I’d gotten all of my previous jobs, including the job at Labor Relations at the University).

So today I gave my two-week notice.

Does that make sense to you? Why would I quit such a great job after only two weeks? The answer can only be that someone else made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.

At about the same time that I applied for this new job with the University, I had also applied for a job with a company called [the new place of employment], Inc., which provides on-line services and web applications for physicians and medical groups. For [the new place of employment], I went through three interviews here in Davis, and four interviews in Portland, Oregon (fortunately, all four interviews were all on the same day, so I only had to fly up there once), not to mention a ton of telephone calls and lots of e-mail correspondence. In spite of all of this, I had thought that my chances with [the new place of employment] were very slim; it’s a pre-IPO startup organization (though it’s been around for a number of years), and I know that they were looking for very talented web developers. I know that I’m pretty talented at what I do, but, I suppose, I hadn’t thought I was talented enough to actually be competitive in the field. This offer from [the new place of employment] is pretty much the opportunity I’ve been looking for: I’ll be doing the kind of work I love, getting lots of training, interacting with end-users to help build the web applications that they need, and more. The benefits package I’ll be getting is comparable to the University’s, and the whole thing comes with an 83% increase in salary.

Naturally, of course, I can’t do anything without a significant amount of angst (I think that this is a holdover from my childhood; I had a much better childhood than just about anyone else I can think of — save, possibly, for Jennifer, whose family is so nearly identical to mine that our childhoods were just about identical — so I must have developed a habit of surrounding everything good with angst, just to feel better able to relate to my peers). So, my decision to accept the offer from [the new place of employment] was an angst-ridden one; it’s the first time I’ve gotten a "serious" job outside of academia in my life, and I know that the corporate world I’m moving to is a very different one from the academic world I’m leaving behind. So, naturally, I have to worry about things like: what if I can’t get the medical benefits I need? What if I can’t handle the workload? And, most importantly, what if I simply screw it up?

Fortunately, I have a good supply of friends and relatives who are quite happy to thwack me over the head when I need it. My best friend, who is also the father of my godson and who thus loves making references to Don Corleone and The Usual Suspects, said that this was simply "An offer you can’t refuse" (said in his most threatening Marlon Brando-esque voice), and that to screw up this kind of job would take me actively planning out doing so for at least three months. My dad simply said, "Sounds like a no-brainer to me." And my soon-to-be-former co-worker said something along the lines of, "You’d have to be a moron to turn this one down." Jennifer, wise and wonderful person that she is, told me that as long as I was happy, she would support any decision I made with regard to [the new place of employment] and the University — though she did confess that she was leaning slightly towards [the new place of employment], simply because it seemed more like what I want to do with my life.

No, I don’t let other people make my decisions for me. I do trust my friends’ judgements, though, and I know that they know me well enough to know what would make me happy; so, I’m happy to take their input and consider it while I make my decision. In this case, even though this huge career switch will mean some big changes in my life, I’ve decided to do it. This kind of opportunity doesn’t come along every day, and, even though I know there would be others if I decided not to follow through on this one, I know it’s time for me to break the University barrier and move on.

When I gave notice, the manager at IT:CR was understandably disappointed. I’d only been there two weeks, and they’d been counting heavily on me to complete the application that they’d hired me for. I told him that I’m committed to seeing the application through testing and that I’d document everything out very carefully and thoroughly so that the next developer will know what I was doing, but he was still disappointed. In all honesty, I don’t blame him at all. I wished him the best and apologized profusely.

How am I feeling right now? Excited, thrilled, overjoyed, and happy. This is the opportunity I’ve been hoping for, and I can’t wait to get started.

Making a Fresh Start

Yesterday I started the new job; I’m now an actual paid web designer, working for UC Davis. Today as I was going through some Cold Fusion code and matching everything up with the databases, I found myself marvelling at the fact that I was having a blast doing this and that I am actually getting paid to do it. I feel like I’m fitting in well with the two people that I share my office with — we all seem to have similar tastes in music (which works out well since we all three of us work best with music playing), and it turns out that I’ve worked with one of them before in a cafe in downtown Davis. We’ve had some interesting conversations.

Of course, as with all new jobs, there are a few surprises. One of the bigger surprises for the other in the department, apparently, was that I had been hired at all; official word went to my office mates last Friday that I would be starting this week, which meant that they had to spend a good chunk of time cleaning up enough space in the office for me to work and for my computer. The other web developer has been going a bit frantic trying to set up a multi-user development environment, even though she is glad to have someone on board to help pick up the workload.

Most of the surprises, of course, were for me. I know who my boss is, of course; he’s the project director. On the other hand, I’m not entirely sure to whom I’m supposed to directly report; the project director also manages three or four other units and doesn’t really have time to act as Application Development Director as well. So the other web developer and I are pretty much on our own to make sure that the project we’re working on is completed within the schedule outlined in the project plan. This shouldn’t be a problem, as long as we can get the three new servers up and running in time, and as long as we can get SSL, Kerberos, and SQL*Net installed and functioning before we port the code over to the new servers (making sure we can fix all of the breaks that will inevitably happen when the Access tables are converted to Oracle and the code is ported to the new servers). It will be challenging, but I’m really enjoying what I’m doing so far, and it seems likely that I’m going to enjoy the next few months.

I also hadn’t expected that I would be getting a photo ID badge with the job; I haven’t worked in a job which required a badge since I worked for Lockheed for a summer back in 1985 (don’t be impressed; I got the job because my father works for Lockheed, and it was a summer job for a high school junior). And in addition to the photo ID badge is the pager; I’m now also responsible, partly, for keeping the web servers up and running which means that people are going to have to occasionally get in touch with me, which means that I get a new alpha-numeric pager. This has proven immensely amusing to my best friend, to whom I mistakenly sent the number (he’s the father of my godson, and he’s going to be the best man at my wedding, so I figured he’d probably need to get in touch with me sometimes), and who sent me several brief e-mail pagers reading "Yank!" (because I’d jokingly referred to the pager as "my leash") or "Zark!". The last time I ever had a pager was when I borrowed one from a friend of mine for a couple of days two summers ago, when there was a situation where certain friends of mine needed a way to get in touch of me in a hurry.

One of the other surprises came while my boss was giving me the tour of the division, and introduced me not only as a Cold Fusion programmer, but also as a Java programmer. I have some experience with Java, but I don’t think it’s mentioned on my resume at all; the only thing I can figure is that I briefly mentioned that I had taught myself some Java when I was in for my second interview. That’s just fine with me, though. I spent a few hectic minutes this morning downloading and installing JDK 1.1.8 on my new workstation. I was introduced to many people as "our web developer", and was received universally well. "Thank God!" one person actually said. "Now we’ll be able to get that [project name withheld] site up and running!" By that point, of course, I knew that I was already assigned to one project that was of very high importance to the division, and that other projects would probably be kept on hold for awhile.

All in all, this is actually starting to feel like an actual job; not just something I floated into, but an actual job that I got because I wanted it; and, more importantly, a job where I know that the projects I work on are going to be appreciated, and where I know I have the skills to do the job well. The department has a demonstrated committment to training and education, so I know that I’m going to get some great training here.

If nothing else, this job is a good start for me in my new career. I’m excited; I know that there are more surprises in store, not all of them pleasant for everyone involved, I’m sure, as well as some wonderful opportunities for me.

Yep, it’s a fresh start for me, and things are definitely getting better.

Ending an Era

Now, why should it be difficult for me to feel motivated at work today? After all, after today is over, I only have three days left at this job, and there is a lot for me to do here; documentation to finalize so that my replacement can fix the Cold Fusion applications I’ve written in case they break; training my supervisor on how to process grievances and run measurement reports (processes which both involve at least three different applications); and just general cleaning up. My supervisor has thanked me three times today for the work I’m doing on cleaning up one project in particular, as if she understands that as a "short-timer", I could simply slack off and hang out in my cubicle all day, doing nothing but working on my on-line journal and surfing the web.

Heh. Kind of like what I’m doing right now.

Wandering around the division, I’m beginning to realize that I’m certainly not the only one who has been feeling burned out, overwhelmed, and generally dissatisfied with their job; everyone has been congratulating me on my transition to a technical position ("breaking the clerical barrier", as a friend of mine put it last night), and more than one person has expressed to me that they’re kind of jealous. One woman even told me how much she admires me for pursuing the kind of job that I want. I have to admit that this last puzzles me, since I didn’t do anything that anyone else couldn’t do. And furthermore, I whined about it a lot while I was doing it (just ask Jennifer or any of my friends who were kind enough to put up with me). If I had done it quietly and stoically and with a minimum of fuss, then there might be something truly admirable in it.

Not to belittle my accomplishment, of course. I’m very happy that I was able to get out of my secretarial job and into the web developer position, and proud of myself for having done it. I just think that there are other people more worthy of admiration than me.

Now, I’ve been doing the clerical thing for as long as I’ve had "real" jobs after graduating from college (aside from a brief stint in circulation management at a local newspaper — and the less said about that, the better). It’s been a life of photocopying, correspondence, setting up meetings, taking minutes… and now I’ll be out of that. To think that I’m going to get paid now for something that I’ve been doing as a hobby before. How weird is that? As I sat here at my desk today finalizing some correspondence for one of the Labor Relations analysts here, it occurred to me that this was likely to be the last letter I ever did for anyone. The thought of that thrilled me.

So, in a way, this transition really marks the end of an old era and the beginning of a new one for me. Transitioning to a new career will be exciting, overwhelming, and fun; I’ll be learning a lot, and probably going crazy for a bit. But it’s good, and I’m really looking forward to it.

The Stephen King Effect and a Brand New Parachute

Stephen King says that when he first heard that his first novel, Carrie, had been accepted for publication, he got so excited that he went out and bought a toaster. At the time, he was an English teacher at a local college, struggling to get by, and so on. Publication of his novel was a big break for him, and signalled the beginning of his brand new career.

Yesterday, I got the call. After two interviews — the first of which I was sure I had flubbed, and the second of which I was more comfortable with — and a week of sweating, I finally got an e-mail from the manager I had interviewed with. He told me to give him a call; so I did, and over the telephone he offered me a position as a web developer. I accepted. So in two weeks, I leave Labor Relations at the University, and move over to Information Technology to begin my new job.

Now, I already have a toaster oven, so I didn’t go out and buy one of those. Instead, I took yet another deep step into the depths of true nerd-dom, and took my new credit card to Office Max and bought myself a Palm Pilot Vx. I’ve been lusting after one of these things for months, and the new credit card arrived in the mail today; and I had been planning to use this credit card for just this purchase before putting it away to let it accumulate good credit for me. Of course, this requires some work on my part — namely, actually making payments on my card, something which I have been lax in in years gone by.

Okay, the Palm Pilot is exciting. But what’s more exciting is my new job. I finally get paid to be a web developer. A year after I decided that I definitely did not want to start climbing the University’s administrative ladder, and less than six months after I decided that I wanted to pursue a career as a web developer, and less than two months after I seriously began hunting for a job in the field, I’ve got one. I can’t begin to express how thrilled I am by this development.

This new job will be a slight raise in pay for me as well: not much of one, but the training I’ll be getting through this job — in Oracle, in project management, in programming — is more than worth it. I’ve been dreaming about learning Oracle for months, and it’s really not something you can teach yourself. When I got the call, I excitedly wrote an e-mail to my boss and to my supervisor, giving my two-week notice effective this coming Monday. This means that the next two weeks at my current job are going to be extremely busy, as I put together a desk manual to teach someone else how to process staff and union grievances at the University, and documentation to cover the databases and web applications that I’ve created to make my job easier. And after that, I delve head-first into a brand new job which will probably just about overwhelm me at first, but which I have no doubt I will enjoy and master fairly quickly.

Further updates as events warrant.