food travel work

Don’t Stay Stuck

Ages ago, I embarked on a road trip with my best friend and my boyfriend. We lived in Virginia and decided to spend a long weekend exploring Boston: the map said it was an 8-hour drive, so we packed our bags and went on our merry way.

It was not an 8-hour drive.

We had not accounted for rush hour traffic. After 2 hours of going nowhere fast, we decided to stop for something to eat at the IHOP in Laurel, Maryland. Surely traffic would clear up in the 45 minutes it would take to load up on pancakes.

We were quickly seated at a table, and soon Boris came by to take our order. He was a new server, and things were a little awkward, but he got the order and we saw him head over to the machine to enter it into the system.

We chatted for a bit, trying to map out what we’d see in Boston: museums? Harvard? Salem?

Tables near us started to get their food, but ours was nowhere in sight. We hadn’t seen Boris for awhile, but then we spotted him: wrapping silverware at the hostess station.

We waited a bit longer, but Boris seemed to be very intent on his silverware duties, so we waved down another server to check on our food.

Our food, as it turned out, had never been ordered. Boris forgot to ask us how we wanted our eggs – and he couldn’t enter our order into the computer without our choice of eggs.

Boris got stuck. And so he fell back to doing what he already knew how to do well: wrapping silverware.

Now, Boris could have done something different when he got stuck. He could have come back to our table, apologized, and gotten our complete order. He could have just entered ‘scrambled’ into the computer. He could have asked a coworker what to do.

Instead, he stayed stuck. He delayed moving through the problem by falling back to duties that had previously brought him success at his job.

Why did he stay stuck? Maybe it was poor training; maybe fear of getting in trouble; maybe the last table he had apologized to for not getting the complete order had treated him badly.

It was easy for us to shake our heads and say, “Oh, Boris” – but – how often do we stay stuck?

When faced with a challenge in life: how often do we stay stuck? How often do we back away and fall back to the things we know how to do? How often do we spin our wheels?

Here’s the truth of it: it can be really hard to do something new. Unpleasant, uncomfortable, maybe even embarrassing because we know there are people who could handle the challenge without breaking a sweat.

It’s human nature to want to avoid the uncomfortable. Especially when we made a mistake, and we can’t move forward until we’ve fixed it somehow.

We all get stuck. We all find ourselves in moments where we don’t know what’s next.

But: we don’t have to stay stuck.

How do we get unstuck?

Google it. I’m a software engineer by trade, and, well, google has served me well. There are a lot of people out there who have been in your situation, and sometimes their experiences can get you unstuck. (Caveat: timebound this. Give yourself an hour or 3, or you can easily fall into a rabbit-hole of research and actually find yourself staying stuck. Ask me how I know this …)

Step away from the situation for a bit. I don’t know how many problems I’ve solved by getting up from my computer to walk to the vending machine for chocolate. There’s something about releasing your brain from the tight focus of your problem that actually lets it come up with potential solutions to your problem.

Ask for help! This one can be humbling. Especially at work, where you feel like you got the job because they assumed you could, well, do the job. But here’s a secret: part of the job is also learning the best way to do the job. And sometimes that means asking peers – or managers – how to proceed. A good manager wants you to succeed. A good manager does not want you to stay stuck and will gladly help get you unstuck. (Caveat: in many cases, they do expect that you’ve tried some things first, or come to them with options you’ve come up with.)

Life is full of unexpected challenges and opportunities that take us to places we’ve never been before – and that means we mess up. And get stuck.

But we don’t have to stay stuck.

That long weekend, our stop at IHOP took quite a bit longer than we expected it to. On the plus side, though, Baltimore traffic had cleared up by the time we hit the road again, and we were able to start our pancake-fueled adventures.

life money work

Downsizing: house edition

After the husband launched his writing career, he found himself highly motivated to be able to keep writing. The original plan was for him to take six months off to write a novel, and then return to the daily grind while he shopped it around to get published.

Six months, because that is how long I calculated our savings would last at our expenditure rate.

But a funny thing happens when you are highly motivated to keep writing: there’s a whole lot of budget analysis and soul-searching to figure out what’s really important.

And you know what wasn’t actually important to either of us? Home ownership.

But … it’s the American Dream!

But it’s also a whole lot of work. Yard work, house cleaning, figuring out how to fix stuff when it breaks or else hiring someone to fix stuff when it breaks. And all that stuff adds up: it’s time and/or money you can’t use to do other things that, let’s be honest, are way more fun. (Ok, I get there are some people out there who love mowing their lawn? I guess that’s a thing neither I nor my husband inherited …)

I wasn’t sold on the idea of apartment life when the husband floated the idea. I thought back to my college days of cinderblock walls and 20-year-old, filthy carpet. I looked around at my custom-built home with acres of wood floors. And I didn’t think I could take that plunge.

But, y’all: there’s a whole big world of apartments out there! With (faux) wood floors and actual tile. With upgraded appliances, open kitchens and floor-to-ceiling windows. With garages. With pools that you don’t have to maintain! With gyms! With fancy clubhouses for entertaining your friends! With package lockers, so no need to worry about porch bandits!

So we took that plunge, downsized from 3200 square feet to 1200. We got rid of 2000 square feet of … well, stuff. Stuff that we acquired for the sole purpose of filling up our American Dream. The American Dream that everyone told us was our dream, but … when we really thought about it … wasn’t the dream that made sense for us.

I know the apartment life isn’t for everyone. But for us? With no kids? With our serious lack of handy man skills? With our desire to live in a clean place but without a great love for cleaning? (Seriously, 1200 square feet is so. fast. to. clean.) With a desire for a pool, but no desire to change in a locker room or drive home wet … or the desire to maintain one?

It’s a pretty sweet gig. For us. No diminishment in happiness. A lot of time and energy freed up for the stuff we love!

And: it allowed the husband to get our budget into shape, so now he can focus on the writing. (Fourth book is out later this year!! Three years later with 4 published works? That’s some serious focus.)

life money work

The way it really happened

The husband posted yesterday about how he launched his novel-writing career. (I hope it’s a career! Fingers crossed!) But, he didn’t quite get our conversation right.

The real conversation:

TH: I don’t want to work any more. [Manly pout.] I want to write a book.

ME: MmHmmmm. [Log into YNAB.]

TH: Complain, complain, complain …

ME: Yeah, it sucks. [Run some reports in YNAB.]

TH: I’ve always wanted to write a book, I’ve started so many.

ME: Yeah, I want to know how the cable guy one ends. You stopped just when it got good. [Budget analysis in YNAB.]

TH: Retirement’s so far away, I wish I didn’t have to wait.

ME: Can you do it in 6 months?

TH: Can I .. what? Write a book in 6 months?

ME: Yeah, can you write a book in 6 months?

TH: I don’t … Probably? Probably, yeah.

ME: Ok, let’s do it. You have 6 months. But that’s all, you’ll need to go back to work after 6 months.

TH: Wait, you mean just … quit my job and write a book?

ME: Yeah. But only for 6 months. That’s when the savings runs out.

TH: Really? You mean for real?

ME: Yeah. But not forever, ok? Just, you know. 6 months.

TH: [Manly cartwheel.]

Ok, ok, so maybe that’s not how it really, really happened. I don’t know that there was any pouting and there probably weren’t any cartwheels. Probably. But, in any event, it all came from a place of careful calculation … not from anything like a ‘heart’. I’m not so noble or generous as the husband’s post would imply. But, I suppose, that’s the novelists’ prerogative.

nerdly work

don’t even try to out-nerd me …

I answer complex coding problems in my sleep! 

For the last few weeks, I’ve noticed a trend:

Tuesday through Saturday, around 5 am, I am struck with a thought.  And not just any thought – the answer to a problem that I walked away from at work the afternoon before.

This morning, it was the realization that my java object contained a java.sql.Date, NOT a java.util.Date, and so of course my JSON serialization would be off. 

I’m hoping for the magic solution to dealing with circular references in my hibernate objects tomorrow morning.

I love my unconscious mind … now if only I were that smart ALL the time.  THEN I might be able to get some work done.

nerdly technogeeky work

workin’ from home

Is really kind of awesome!  At my new job, we get to work from home as long as we don’t abuse the privilege (i.e., when you have to sit at home during a 6-hour window for a 3-minute service call).

I had to wait for the not-blind blind man to come measure the basement sliding glass door so we can get new vertical blinds put up – which took him all of 37 seconds.  So I left work early this afternoon – which meant I was 2 hours behind on my workday.

But, thanks to the wonders of modern technology, I was able to vpn into my work network and remote desktop to my machine.  And work for two hours! 

My tiny little laptop screen isn’t the best thing for juggling a java ide, two web browsers (gotta make my web app work in IE and FF …), an oracle ide, notepad++, and my services manager, but it works well enough.  Especially since now I’ll be able to have a regular-ol’ 8-hour friday tomorrow. 

food life work

back to sittin’ and eatin’

During my two weeks off, I was fairly active. And I didn’t eat as much as I normally do. Which meant my li’l britney belly started to disappear and my pants don’t fit no more …

It’s not that I was trying to eat less – I’m a big proponent of eating whenever I’m hungry. It’s just that I wasn’t hungry! I did a little googling, and I actually found that exercise is a natural appetite suppressant. According to ‘them’. On the ‘internets’.

But now, I’m back to work, and it’s back to constant eating: breakfast at 6 am, second breakfast at 9, lunch at 11, afternoon snack at 2, post-work snack at 5, dinner at 6, after-dinner snack at 8. My belly will be back in no time!

technogeeky work

back to work

I headed back to work yesterday, which is good, because I really like spending money.  And buying stuff.  So a paycheck coming in really helps make that habit work.

Yesterday was filling out forms and learning about benefits and policies.  The boss man chatted at me for a few minutes in the afternoon to talk about what I was going to be doing, but since it was the first time in, well, 17 days that I had pulled myself out of bed before 7 am, it was mostly in one ear and out the other … 

This morning was meeting all the bigwigs and getting computer accounts.  And this afternoon was setting up my computer!  Eclipse and plugins (wtp and subclipse), tortoisesvn, tomcat, all the necessities.  I’m toying with the idea of buying a textpad license, I do so love textpad.  Even if you can’t edit hex in it.

I pulled down the code I’m going to be working on and determined it’s a spring-based web app.  With test code!  It does so warm my heart to see test code.

And, I get a window office!  It’s a 3 person office, but my desk is right in the window.  On the 15th floor.  Overlooking a hotel pool.  So when I get bored, I can look out and see little bitty peoples swimming.  (Seriously bitty – I can’t tell what gender they even are.  Promise.  So I’m totally not pervy.)

There’s no place on my desk for my batmobile, I have cupboards over my desk instead of open shelves like my last desk.  Which really is a shame, the batmobile is awesome.  And a half.  It should be shared with the world.

There’s also no parking garage … which I lamented as I got in my 100 degree car this afternoon to head home.

All in all, though, I’m still glad I took the new job.  🙂  I’m even looking forward to getting in nice and early tomorrow to buckle down and get to work.

nerdly technogeeky work

don’t even try to out-nerd me …

I just bought a book on regexes. For those less nerdologically inclined, ‘regexes’ is short for regular expressions. Regular expressions being ‘expressions’ you use to match a certain pattern in text. They really are way more impressive than they sound …

Having just started a new job, I’m full of all the excitement and go-get-em attitude that comes with it. Which is what prompted me to buy the book. It got 4 and a half stars on amazon, so it must be good, right? Plus, it was recommended by an old colleague.

My new job makes good use of regexes. Which sounds completely … lame … but if used correctly, according to the intro of my new book, regexes can shave hours off of tasks.

The last time I got all gung-ho about my job and bought a book, I made it to chapter 5. Here’s to hoping this purchase was money well-spent …

confession work

new job stresses

New jobs are exciting, because you get to embark on a whole new adventure – but then there are also all the stresses that come along with it.

I have no doubt that I can master my job. I have confidence in my technical skills – and my ability to quickly learn new skills – so there’s little pressure coming from that aspect of things. The stress all seems to lie in the social aspects of working in an office.

It’s like the feeling I get when I leave a phone message – the paranoia of “did I remember to say everything?” – “did I leave my name?” – “was I loud enough?” – “was I too loud?” – “did I say my phone number slowly and clearly enough?” – “OMG, did I LEAVE my phone number?” – “did I sound like an idiot?” – “are they going to play my message over and over again and LAUGH at it? – and then put it on youtube?” You know, that feeling. The feeling that you really are rather stupid and insignificant, and the rest of the world just wants you to stop bothering them.

I worry that they don’t believe I’m really a grown up. One of my new colleagues asked if I was fresh out of college – from the look on his face, I don’t think he even thought I was THAT old. When I told him that I’d been out of college longer than I was in it, I think perhaps he decided I must have some 18-month certificate or something.

I worry that they think I’m not very smart. I’m no Einstein, and I’m well aware of that fact – but I am a capable, intelligent person. Who just happens to ask really dumb questions. And say dumb things. And not know all the eclipse shortcuts. (Ok, but honestly, who does??? There’s got to be half a million of them.) I was working on a ‘getting started with the team’ programming project with the other new team member, and since his computer hasn’t been built yet, we did it on my box. Which meant I drove. Which meant he had to watch me spastically go about our ‘assignment.’ I’m not exactly one for going through all the steps in order … And then he got to witness my true anality firsthand, as I was compelled to update the ‘assignment’ whenever I found things that weren’t right. On the plus side, even though he now knows what a nut I am, I learned that he’s very capable and knows his stuff.

The truth of the matter is, my new coworkers don’t think about me. They really aren’t expending any effort to think bad things about me. They aren’t at home, right now, telling their spouses about the impossibly young and exceptionally stupid new hire. And for that, I am thankful.


two year itch

I recently took a new job for the simple reason that I had been sitting in one place for too long. The work was challenging, the mission worthwhile, the customer hungry for what I had to offer, and the colleagues were among the best in the industry. But, alas, I suffer from a 2 year itch – and so it was time to go.

I opted not to send out a mass email to my coworkers, to thank them for an amazing 2 years, because I hate it when I get those things from people who just send them out to a group address, and I don’t even know who they are. I make fun of those people. But I didn’t want to just send it out to a list of people I made up, in case I inadvertently left someone off the list, and ended up hurting their feelings forever, which might cause them to run me off the road in a chance encounter 15 years down the line. And who likes being run off the road? Especially in the shiny new Lexus I’m sure to be driving 15 years from now.

So then I had the brilliant idea to thank my old colleagues in my blog! Then the 1 person who reads my blog might point it out to the 2 or 3 other people who actually care.

So here it is:

The last two years have been amazing. But, alas, I suffer from a 2 year itch, and so it was time for me to go. Also, there’s actually an unalterable law of the universe that if you have two female developers working in the same place at the same time, you risk planetary implosion. And, well, Teresa’s rock beat out my scissors …

It was a really hard decision to leave – it’s not every day that you have challenging work, supportive management, and the resources that you need to be successful as you fulfill a mission that has world-changing impact. And it’s especially not every day that you get to work with a team of people as great as you all are. Working on the team, you very much get the sense that it’s a hand-picked group of talent. And not only is everybody very skilled at what they do, it’s also a team who knows how to work together, who’s not interested in playing politics or fighting turf wars, and who was always willing to help me out when I needed it. And – well, you all know – I needed plenty of help. 🙂 There wasn’t hardly a day that went by that I wasn’t asking someone for something – whether it was for yet another explanation of what the 36 different IDs mean, or help with installing and configuring a tool, or getting clarification on how a particular process worked, or having files transferred from one network to another, or help in getting a a web server built, or … the list could go on and on.

I hate to be cliche, but it was truly an honor and a pleasure to work with you all. And I especially thank you for respecting me as a fellow human being, and treating me with respect. Thank you for being the kind of place I could climb under my desk to plug in a lamp, and not emerge to find that a crowd had gathered to gaze upon my upturned derri̬re. Even though it is 2007, there are still places that the gender war is still being fought Рthank you for being a place where I could leave that particular chip on my shoulder at the door.

And a special thanks to my officemates: I had no idea that I could learn so much and work so hard, and simultaneously have so much fun and consume sooooo much chocolate.

So, thank you. I already miss you all, and I sincerely hope that I get the opportunity to work with you again in the future.