Cover letter advice: Don't be an asshole

We had a person write in inquiring about a position, and I feel the need to share a couple of the statements as good lessons in what not to do.

...from what little I know it would be a fairly smooth transition into your company.

So basically you are telling me you have no ability to research us on your own - we teach web development and yet you are helpless to source data about our company online. Not impressed. Then even worse, with no data you have decided that it would be easy for you to jump right in and add value here. You sound awesome. 

...and I need reassurance your company is stable.

So let me get this straight. You reached out asking if a position is still open, then proceed to doubt us as a worthwhile place of employment? You aren't sure you want to move in with me, so let's not even have a first date? 

For those of you presenting yourselves to a company in hopes of an interview: don't be an asshole. Or better yet, if things like this aren't common sense to you, go ahead and include so we don't waste our time.


Don't fret the Things

Recently I was reminded again that stuff simply doesn't matter. And by stuff I mean physical items that are just Things. Sure we go about our lives spending money obtaining goods to enjoy our lives, but in the end these are just things that don't add any points to my imaginary life scorecard.

On Nov 25th, we came home to find a burglary had taken place. My daughter and I entered the garage hesitating, wondering why some boxes were off the shelves and on the floor. At first, I thought our cat somehow got in the garage and moved things around. But something was just... odd. 

We went inside to find a smashed living room window, a ransacked master bedroom, and other randomness. Our shelter had been violated by a stranger, even our underwear drawers investigated for potential piles of money. 

After the police report and forensics process, a friend came over to help board up the window. We had lost some gadgets and video games, but then we discovered that my wife's engagement ring was also missing. She wears her wedding band but not the engagement ring. It wasn't really that valuable in terms of money, purchased when in graduate school.

So while the ring had sentimental value, it was still just a thing. More than the material goods, it's the feeling of violation of privacy that hurts most. The feeling that as a father I wasn't able to stop a random person from messing with our family's safe place. 

I previously learned the lesson of not caring about stuff back in Dallas in the 90s. My mom was moving down to Dallas where my dad was living for work, and had everything from our old family home packed into a big U-haul truck. The rain was bad the day our friend drove the truck down, so we parked it in front of the house to wait. The next morning it was gone. Everything on it. A few priceless kimonos she had brought from Japan. My collection of comic books from high school (I used to be an avid collector and had over 1000 issues of various series). Furniture. Jewelry. Artwork (my mother did oil paintings as a hobby). 

I stopped collecting stuff after that. In fact, I moved to Japan for two years which helped me avoid hauling stuff around. It's much more important to just live. So many unmet necessities in the world, why box up and transport stuff that isn't being used? Shows like Storage Wars horrify me, seeing that people have so much crap they store it for long periods of time and then lose it due to missed payments. 

Unfortunately, once you have kids, stuff seems to find a way to creep back into life. I do what I can, but it's tough to be really strict about it. I can remember some of the times when my parents reluctantly allowed me a purchase that didn't really make sense and I eventually learned how to make better decisions. I'll keep providing my guidance to them as they learn to deal with peer pressure and marketing.

Really I'm just rambling at this point - no plan or clean conclusion. No complaints or expectations of sympathy. Just felt the need to write. Let's just end with this: I'm happy my family is safe, and that things are easily fixed and replaced. Stuff doesn't own me.


On not burning bridges

I've been away for too long, so I decided to return to this blog. I still find it tough to make blogging a habit, so I think I can be considered a yo-yo blogger. Months of activity then nothing, then another burst of posts, then nothing. Hopefully I can stick with it this time around.

As we get closer to the job discussions with our current engineering class at The Iron Yard, I was thinking about one thing I personally like to encourage to everyone: Don't burn bridges.

I know there are certain situations in which a clean separation is extremely difficult, but I'm referring more to the elective job change. There really is no reason to go out with a bang just for entertainment's sake. It's much better to be honest and allow for a proper transition as much as possible. Creating bad blood can come back and haunt you or potentially create a whisper campaign against you that unfairly shuts the door to future opportunities. Why give anyone any doubts about your future potential?

In my case, I think I have a somewhat unusual career history. I have the experience of leaving a company and then returning to it later three separate times in my career. Each time there were different circumstances, but by leaving in a professional manner, the door was open to my return because my relationships were still valued and nobody doubted my word. I always followed through on what I communicated regarding the transition, documenting everything I knew would be needed for the next person in my role. 

So that leads me to my latest moment of honesty. Recently my wife resigned from her position at Furman University. After starting her third year here, she has a much better idea of what type of academic environment suits her best and she is applying to a few openings for fall 2015. Since the university hiring process is essentially a yearly cycle, she will fulfill her third year here but by announcing her decision early Furman can move ahead in finding a new professor for next year while she does her own search. 

What does this mean for me? Well, number one is that we will be leaving Greenville next summer no matter what. I could hold this close until next year, but that's not fair - I have already told the owners of The Iron Yard and they are supportive of our move, and hopefully as the company continues to grow I will find a way to contribute in a different role. It also means there is plenty of time to figure out a transition plan, rather than put them in the stressful position of needing to find someone quickly. Because we have 4-month cycles of incoming and graduating students, a sudden personnel change can really throw things off. 

So for now, really nothing is changing for me and there is a lot of time before I have any idea what will happen. But like I said above, doing what you can to make sure nobody feels burned is a good strategy both in life and in your career. 

I'm likely a horrible parent, if you ask the PTA

Tomorrow my daughter will be celebrating "5th grade day" at her school. It starts with awards ceremony and then lots of fun events the rest of the day. Each grade has one during this final week of class.

I realized this weekend that I'm expected to attend the entire time as an involved parent. We were happy to attend the awards session in the morning, but kind of amazed at the expectation of committing a whole day to lots of other events. I must have missed an earlier memo, but maybe not. Generally the parental involvement expectations seem to be driven more by the core team of volunteers who seem to live for this. I don't doubt their sincerity or motivation, and thank them for spending so much time making sure the school has organized support, but sometimes they forget not everybody is able to divvy up their time the same way.

While we are lucky to be in situations that allow us to go ahead and attend this event, many parents are not able to easily take a full day off of work, and must weigh the option of potential negative consequences at work with the disappointment of a child comparing their parent to all the others. The same goes for all the school birthday party events and other class parties that seem to think everybody can easily just go spend money on a bucket of treats. However, we live in a community where that's not entirely true. Just because it's easy for me to go grab a big fruit salad at Publix for a class party does not mean other parents can just as easily make that happen.

The peer pressure of typical PTA-style organizing and fundraising is really where I start to turn off - once there is a sense that participation is mandatory for any given optional event, I want to just avoid it out of spite. I dislike any communications that focus on guilting parents into contributing. Anything that publicly lists the parents who are helping can be a potentially horrible message to the children of parents who aren't able to do so. I have enough friends with kids who live paycheck to paycheck to know that it's not always that easy - and time/money spent at school does not represent how much they love and attend to their kids at home. 

Just needed to rant a little...

The daily bus route

I drive my entire family everywhere. And most of the time, I really like it.

In the morning, it starts with dropping my daughter off at school around 7:45am, followed by my wife at work a bit after 8am and then my son at daycare by 8:15am or so depending on how grumpy he feels.

Then in the afternoon, the bus route reverses, targeting a smooth pickup and delivery home by 5:15pm or so. 

In total, that's a decent chunk of time in the car with the entire family. On the morning route, we can coordinate any unusual schedules and remind each other of to-do items. On the evening route, we can catch up on the events of the day and transition into dinner time.

Of course there are exceptions thanks to kid activities and work-related functions, but generally it results in the papa bus making the rounds at custom times.

It may sound strange to some people, but I like the routine. It keeps things moving along nicely in our daily lives and we rarely have communication issues. A lot of potential stress is nullified.

Eventually my kids will get older and find ways to challenge the routine. But for now, I'm totally taking advantage of my bus route.

I'm a fraud

I have a bad habit of questioning myself constantly. In the past couple years, the posts going around explaining the idea of "impostor syndrome" made me feel strange that other people were having these kinds of doubts about themselves. No, this can't be true - it's just me who feels like a fraud! All you other people are frauds about feeling like frauds.

After moving to Greenville, I continue to have this problem. Perhaps it's even stronger now that my previous home and support network is so far away. It's an entirely new community of stellar personalities and super smart people. I am simply in awe of some of the people I've met. They are all so confident and so driven. So clear on how they live their life and what their strengths and motivations are. I see Matthew Smith speaking so articulately and driving others to share experiences and continually learn. I see Chris Merritt rocking an amazing Grok conference, staying cool through any pressure. I work with Peter, Eric, Mason and John, watching them expand the vision of the Academy and changing lives while ensuring the culture they have created persists. I see people like Bryan Martin, Dodd Caldwell and Rob Wright working to make a big difference in the world with their talents. Plus so many other people I have met only briefly or have yet to meet, but just assume they are full of equal greatness based on the sampling to date. 

What's even more amazing is that they are all so transparent in their own fears and worries. Hearing Bryan talk about his doubts for Hunger Crunch. Witnessing Chris and Matthew share some painful personal memories on social media. Listening to CoWorkers be open about their ignorance or doubts at Zero Days.

The funny thing is that these moments are even more evidence of their super powers. For whatever reason, I can't see that they have their own weaknesses. Somehow I'm surrounded by super people and I'm still just the fraud.

How do I fit in? I'm certainly among the older people in this circle - how are all these young punks kicking ass like this? What can I possibly offer to this group of creative, talented, successful people? Who am I to think I deserve to be among them? 

My point is this: I'm realizing that I actually LOVE this feeling and should cherish it. Because if I'm not feeling like that, I'm working with the wrong group of people. I'm not putting myself in a community that challenges me to be better. Instead, I have a responsibility to do good work and help change peoples lives at the Academy, then throw some of my own personal projects on top of that, all while being the best dad and husband I can be.

Come to Greenville and doubt yourself with me. We'll do great things.

Inspired to code

I've been working in online environments since 1997, when I started getting into active server pages and doing some basic corporate brochure sites. Then I did production work at Disney Internet Group - lots of tables and transparent gif spacers back then. I moved into online campaigns and optimization for Microsoft's online division and eventually into leading product management at BigDoor.

So I've been around online projects throughout my career, and have messed around with php, javascript, python, etc. enough to prototype ideas and communicate with dev teams. I tend to enjoy debugging too just because I like solving problems. I've enjoyed success in marketing and product management because of this ability to be in the middle of business needs and technical solutions.

But I've never been a developer. I can make simple tools that help keep things moving when there isn't bandwidth for others to do so, but I know that it's all just random things smashed together and not constructed in the right way.

Being around The Iron Yard Academy has made me feel that I'm completely stupid for not taking advantage of this background. I heard a student talking about Ember yesterday and showing off some new tools. Many of these people are new to programming and now they are totally schooling me. I felt compelled to do the TodoMVC demo lesson to go through the basics and better understand Ember. Amazing - they are all so way ahead of me. They now have a foundation I never had. And that's when I took it personally.

In a way, I forgot that I'm not too far behind to build out my own ideas rather than rely on others. I let myself get old and lazy. Seeing these students change their lives by taking control and working to become professional web developers has inspired me to be more active in that pursuit. I have MANY bad habits and concepts to unlearn - but they inspire me to do more. I owe it to them to push myself too. I want to be the best resource I can be for them professionally, and that means that I need to stick with it just as much as they do every day.

Keep building!

trying out Medium

Last week I took a stab at writing something for Medium to see how the tool works and go through the process of publishing. I chose to write about my mom.

Overall, I love the simple way posts are handled. The blank page is easy to use and focuses only on your writing, not on fancy additional functions. Just write, write, write. 

Because it's tied in to Twitter it's very easy to see how these posts become an extension of that public persona. Rather than worry about traffic to your own blog, you post in Medium's environment and the response essentially accrues to your Twitter identity. It also made it easier to focus on the message, rather than the potential traffic - no concern over the SEO aspects of the content. My intent was solely to get something off my chest regardless of traffic. 

And the flow was so smooth that now I'm already thinking of my next Medium post. 


thinking about time

Lately I seem to be noticing timelines more often. I've seen that there are some really horrible timeline utilities used in various news articles, and lots of one-off graphic treatments when a certain event includes highlighted times to recreate a scene (think crime reporting). Of course there are also timeline apps that let you do project timelines for work, or historical timelines for education. Some open source scripts exist to help include time data in a web page, but there does not seem to be any easy to embed tool/service that has become a best practice in any way.

None of these options really seem to offer strong narrative design customization - all more attacking the complexity of managing sequential data rather than the output. And I don't see anything that easily lets you bring in existing data from a verified source - is there not some central Wikipedia style time event API that lets you layer in verified (and filterable) historical data to integrate into your own views of time? Scenarios such as seeing what is going on in the world layered on your own family history, or for seeing what happened in the business news last month when your marketing numbers had some unexpected spikes. 

Going to keep thinking about this and try to determine if there's anything really there worth pursuing...  



moving too slowly

I moved to Greenville, SC over a year ago, but I haven't really done much to start a new life for myself. Mostly I've focused on making sure my family is all set.

Now that my wife's new job is going smoothly, and both kids are enjoying their schools and making friends, I feel like I can really start something new. 

But what should that be? I want to remain flexible: my wife is working toward tenure, so she needs support for teaching, publishing, travel, etc. And I want to be available to my kids for all their events. So really a new 9 to 5 job isn't the answer. 

Now it's time to make my own path. Lifestyle business I think they call it. So I am piecing together some contracting gigs and volunteering a bit, but I still hold on to a dream of starting something more substantial. I'm getting older and can make up plenty of excuses not to do something - but really none of those reasons matter. It's time to just throw myself out there and do something.

So I decided to make this site to force me to do so. I'm too private - by opening up a bit more I hope to stop the excuses and just move forward.