- Going to see Rush tonight as part of a bachelor party, in case you were wondering where to find the absolute last place in the galaxy a woman would ever want to be.
- Saw my new back doctor this morning. I liked him. He knew the other guy—called him an asshole even before I told the tale. Says I’ll be golfing in a month.
- Which is a miracle, since whatever I’ve done in the past can hardly be called “golfing.”
- Corey Crawford packed an awful lot of NC-17 language into a 19-second speech today. In front of 2-3 million people. “Beauties.”
- Big, big job interview on Monday. Mojo gratefully accepted.
Follow-ups to The Work Thing
- Thank you. What a supportive bunch. <3
- I’m reluctant to link that post from FB for reasons I can’t articulate, possibly related to the previous bullet and fundamental differences between here and there.
- I probably need to spend some quality time on LinkedIn to freshen that up. Be my friend or buddy or comrade or whatever they call it there, if you want.
- I am going to keep developing my home automation application. Might as well. But I have some TODO items around the house that I am going to get after, too. Maybe a 50/50 split.
- Not wasting any time, I have my first phone screen tomorrow. I’m not entirely sure it’s a fit, but you never know. It will be good to shake off some of that rust, too.
The Work Thing
I’ve spent just over two months developing an idea for a startup venture in the field of home automation. The plan was to build a prototype, then take it around to find investment capital and, assuming I got some, turn it into a completed product.
This was an especially risky (borderline insane) proposition for me on several fronts:
- I was rusty at coding.
- I don’t have any experience with consumer products, sales and marketing, manufacturing, or the industry in general.
- I have very little experience with electrical engineering, especially in RF (radio frequency).
All of this seemed fairly easy to overcome, though. And certainly, the first bullet has been. Coding every day for two months has me feeling pretty sharp again. The other stuff, I figured I could get help with when the time came.
Here’s the killer: I am nowhere near as far as I thought I’d be. While I have a basic driver application completed to control devices, I haven’t even started on the user interface yet. While I was pretty sure I would not have a complete prototype after two months, I thought I’d be farther along than this. Extrapolating from here, I’m at least another two months away, maybe three, from a decent demo. Even factoring in rust, lost time due to injury, and the horrifically bad documentation I got from the RF chip vendor—none of which should be a problem in the next phase— the realistic estimate is having something showable in mid-September.
I have some experience in raising capital, and even the most optimistic scenarios from there involve another couple of months of pounding the pavement, almost certainly including travel. The very best case scenario—never a good idea to plan to—would have me getting funded after the first of the year. That date happens to coincide pretty closely with when I’d run out of personal cash.
I’ve done the math, and I’ve done the soul searching, and here’s what it boils down to: if I really had passion for this project, I’d take that risk. But after a lot of late nights looking up at the ceiling, it occurs to me the passion isn’t really there. It’s no better or worse than my previous career. When I think of what my actual passions are and compare this effort (or my previous career) to them, there is no comparison.
Unfortunately for me, my passions don’t amount to any way to make the living I need to support my family. (Please, don’t try to convince me otherwise. I know me.) But that’s OK. I can still pursue them avidly in my extra time as I have done for years. I am comfortable with this decision.
So, moving ahead from here, I’m looking for a job, and I’m doing so with a fair amount of enthusiasm. I don’t feel any regret about the decisions that have taken me to this point. I got to spend most of the school year working at home and spending a lot of time with the kids…a huge bonus. I learned an awful lot. I got my nerd skills refreshed. I decompressed fully from the stress of my previous job. It’s time. I’m ready. Here we go.
It has been nearly four months since I quit my job.
Last night, I met a former coworker for a couple of beers. I caught up on some of the office news, the state of some big projects that were in mid-stream when I left, stuff like that. No major news on the surface, at least none that he had access to. Nothing really changes.
At one point I was trying to tell him this story. A couple of weeks before I quit, I was in a conference room with my manager and several of my peers. I remember the meeting because I got so angry over something my boss said that I began yelling, pounding the table, rising out of my chair to do so, my face bright red and my whole body shaking with rage. It was the day I knew once and for all that I had to leave, and soon. I didn’t get fired for it, miraculously, but you just can’t stay somewhere if that sort of outburst is even possible.
But here’s the thing: while I was telling him this last night, I couldn’t remember what I was so mad about. No idea. I had a vague recollection that it was about this one other coworker, but I wasn’t even sure about that. I remembered the anger, sure. But I couldn’t remember why.
I recently went through my phone and cleared out a bunch of old contacts. It was mostly people from jobs long gone, either coworkers or external people like vendors. Some dated back to grad school. There were a few from my softball playing days, people I’d call if I needed subs. And there were a surprising number who’d passed away.
A large part of what we do in options trading is to fit smooth curves to a bunch of seemingly random points. Data comes in and we find a pattern, plot a pretty line, and draw conclusions from it. We can do this very quickly, in a fraction of a second. The most important curve is called a “smile.”
Sometimes, in the course of working, one receives different kinds of data points. Sadly, there, it may take months or years to fit a curve.
Not so smiley, that one.
I manage software engineers at an options trading firm. Most of them are pretty senior engineers who are really good at what they do, so my role is mostly to make sure that they’re pointed in the right direction and then get out of the way. I set the overall technical strategy for my team, and to a large degree, the internal customers who use our products.
I also do all the non-technical bullshit work for them, dealing with budgets, plans, project managers, contracts, senior management, and human resources. More succinctly, I think of my job as “bullshit eater.”
I am good at what I do, the pay/benefits are decent, and I’ve got the team to a place where most nights I don’t take any stress home with me.
On the flip side, it’s not very satisfying, and I have grave concerns about the overall ethics of the industry. (I have no concerns about this place—these are good people.)
Ultimately, I need to find a way to scratch my technical and creative itches more consistently. There is only so much bullshit a man will eat.
Just a little thing I’m thinking
Along with three partners, I started a business in 2004. From the outside, it looked like a trading firm, but from the inside, it was quite clearly a technology firm. We purpose-built a massive software system to realize our trading strategies. Our commitment to technology would be reflected in our employee rolls: on the day we sold the firm in 2009, we had two traders and seven technologists. This is common practice in this sector…what we do is so specialized and difficult that there really is no off-the-shelf product that works. Everyone builds.
The timing couldn’t have been worse when the markets fell apart in late 2008. We weren’t generating enough revenue to support our costs yet, and just as we were about to go out and try to raise more capital from our investors, they were watching their own personal fortunes crash. No one was in the mood to dump more cash into our fledgling, uncertain business as it was then structured. Our only choice was to sell the firm: the people, the assets, and especially the software. We did, and things worked out OK.
Recent events have given me reason to reflect on the business model and software system we built, still in use today. Steve Jobs’ passing adds a new dimension to my analysis / navelgazing.
What did we do right, especially from an Apple-ish point of view? Well, certainly, we focused on design. Elegance mattered. Doing it right mattered. It wasn’t a question of applying the Broken Windows Theory to our system flaws; it was about making those windows out of quartz in the first place. It was tight. Were there problems? Obviously. All systems have them. But I felt good (and still do) about the modularity of that design. As we identified weak spots, we could replace them on top of an infrastructure that made it possible without taking a backhoe to entire swaths of the codebase.
We also built a damn good team. Hiring well is the most important thing any business can do, and it’s that much more critical in a small business. We had a couple of misses, yes, but we also had a couple of rock stars. We all made each other better…no one wanted to be the derp fixing bugs in production. Great advice I once got from a manager of mine was to never be afraid to hire someone smarter than me.
We had a vision, technology-wise, and we followed it. We took our time and invested in the foundation. We sweat the details. We were all pulling the same way.
Now, don’t get me wrong; I would never dare to compare myself to Jobs in any way. I’m not sure we’re both Homo sapiens, and in terms of business sense, design ethic, marketing, and all the rest, the gap between him and me is measured in parsecs. Just saying: we did a few things Apple-ish, and these things I’m still proud of today. They are still working in production. Other systems I deal with aren’t close to that level of elegance or operational smoothness or extensibility.
But the business failed. So it couldn’t have been that awesome after all, right? I mean, some of it was due to market conditions, but ultimately the responsibility is mine. So, what I am wondering tonight is: what if we’d been more Apple-ish? In terms of our technical vision and our business plan and our relationships with investors? What if we’d been more committed and single-minded and confident? What if we believed harder in what we were doing and fought harder for the outcome we desired?
Where would I be driving to work tomorrow morning if I’d been just a tiny fraction more like Steve?