Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Q: How do you know that you are getting old?

A: Most of the policemen are younger than you, all the baseball players are younger than you and your friends die of natural causes.

My friend Inga died over the weekend, quite suddenly, from a heart problem I am told.

She was in Austria with her her husband, Wolfgang. Wolfgang is my friend too. Wolfgang is from Austria.

Inga was 61. We have known each other for about 25 years. She was an artist. Also, she and her husband started a little baking business in a 500 square foot store front. Today that business employs in excess of 100 people over two industrial grade baking facilities.

When I had my little gourmet store in Somerville, MA in the early 80's, I did business with Wolfgang and Inga. That is how our friendship started. Our whole life was before us. When I got too far behind on my bread bill, Inga would call me up and say, “Hey send some money.” I always liked sending Inga money.

Later on, upon the birth of my first daughter, I left the little gourmet store in Somerville behind. I never made more than $5,000 a year in salary. I needed to make more to take care of my daughter. Yet, Wolfgang and Inga remained friends even though my little high end food store in a low end, working class neighborhood didn't make it. We went beyond commerce. We understood that there were people in those businesses, not resources. When the business went away, the people remained, the friendships remained. And, if fortune had it that the business survives and prospers, well that was good too. But, more than anything, Inga always seemed to be about people and art.

In her forties, Inga had a daughter, almost coinciding with the birth of my second daughter. She told me that Wolfgang needed a kid to calm him down.

I always like Inga. She always like me. The last time I saw her was in December 2002. Strangely, I had been living in Austria at the time and I came back for a visit, with an Austrian woman friend. It's poetic that that little country with only eight million people and not much industry save for Red Bull and AKG should loom so large in our landscape.

During that visit we had a big meal and joked a lot. We compared daughters. Her daughter was spending a year in Latvia at the time. Inga was born in Latvia and grew up in Boston. She had a strong Boston accent. She said, “thurd” for third, “forwuh” for four and “ahht” for art.

Now she is gone. And in her absence the statement, life is short, takes on more significant meaning. Inga was a good, creative, caring, bright woman. I always liked her and she always liked me.

I grieve her passing.

May her soul rest in peace.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Q: What is the secret for a good life?

A: Living well on as little money as you can.

From ComputerWorld:

"All that special treatment that IT people were getting [before Y2k and Web-enabling] just stopped -- the high pay raises, the special bonuses," Van De Voort explains. "Many employers didn't even bother to explain it, and [employees] didn't squeal," for fear that their jobs might be outsourced to lower-paid workers. Nearly half (48%) of all respondents said that their organizations outsource work.

One project manager at a prominent East Coast financial company knows that fear. "During Y2k, the company was lucky to get any [new IT hires]. When they found somebody who knew what they were doing, they treated them with respect and made them part of the team." Now the sentiment toward IT employees has changed. "Senior management says, 'If you don't like the work, we'll get somebody in India to do it.' The computer people are seen more as part of the technology rather than part of the human resource," says the project manager, who asked not to be named.

The good news is the trend toward offshoring has slowed a bit as companies have become more aware of the quality of work and technical support they receive from overseas workers, says Van De Voort. "The whole offshoring dynamic feels a little less pressing than a year ago. But I think domestic outsourcing will continue to be a factor," he says.

'nuff said.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Q: Why give to the Bobby Fund?

A: Because the DNC, RNC, NRA, Microsoft and Google already have enough money.

Here's the deal; Coding Slave is a no profit company, not a non-profit company mind you, but a no profit company, as in $36.10 in the bank. Well, CodingSlave.com is not exactly a no profit, the book turned a modest buck and lots of people have profited from Coding Slave in terms of humor and spiritual support. But in terms of a Dun and Bradstreet verifed P&L, CodingSlave.com does not have the type of P/E ratio that puts it up there with the heavyweights of eCommerce and commercial publishing, which is probably just as well. I mean, if we (and me) had an operating budget of millions, then we (and me) would have this huge payroll and an HR Department and you know where that leads: to the land of Job Titles, Job Numbers and Class Action Suits. So, in this regard I guess being a no profit is a blessing in disguise.

However, this is not to say that we (and me) do not have plans. We (and me) do. We have more books to write, blogs to publish and trouble to make. We (and me) have to get Dr, Phil's Tech Tips on line. (Dr. Phil is THE Phil Haack.) There's a collection of famous guest writers in the wings waiting for some dough. We (and me) have a mole or two in the bowels of the Redmondian Empire that need some new spy equipment and of course, we (and me) need to have enough cash around so that The Guy who wrote Coding Slave can be a bit more selective about the type of coding weirdness that he wants to let into his life. Remember, the Guy who wrote Coding Slave does get fired once in a while. But then again, in the current climate of global software development, most of us will get fired once in a while.

Also, the pin-up girls need to get paid. (Think it's easy getting beautiful women to take off their clothes for free?).

So, we (and me) need your ( and your's) help. Give a buck or a hundred to the Bobby Fund, the fundraising apparatus of CodingSlave.com. At the mundane least, just imagine that you have called an RPC function that turns money into food for the Guy that wrote Coding Slave. At the sublime best, you can support a voice that says, “Hey, we're tired of the acidic grind of tight budgets in search of cheap labor, blurry specs intended to be tight applications, burnt out managers two steps from the 401K afterlife and Big Time Wannabes trying to go public on ideas funded by Visa and MasterCard at 17.45% APR. There has got to be a better way!”

And maybe the first, better way is to give to the Bobby Fund. Do it. You'll be glad that you did.

Oh yeah, your contribution is in no way tax deductible, so don't even try it.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Q: What is the Perfect Boss?

A: Dunno, but Jim and Michele McCarthy have some ideas.

This is a guest blog, written by Jim and Michele McCarthy. (I like the part about the Boss not playing the parent.)

The Perfect Boss
Jim and Michele McCarthy

A perfect boss doesn’t take care of those who work for him. He is much more effective than that. Some bosses act on the impulse to play the parent to subordinates. They cannot resist the temptation to respond to childishness with “parentness.” When the perfect boss encounters immature behaviors among his subordinates - behavior that simply begs for a parent’s touch from his boss’s hand - he just will not give in. He understands a simple, sad truth: a parent’s touch will forever stay missing if it was missing when it was originally needed. A boss’s touch won’t help.

So, wisely, he declines to provide that which will never satisfy.

Instead, he pretends that only the adults come to work. He views his relationship with his subordinates as one of respect. Securing the services on which he depends is far too important to be left to the needs of the unsatisfied children lurking within his staff. He must discharge his responsibilities after all, and it is this which ultimately provides the livelihood of all the team. To do this most effectively, he has found it best not to reward the childish aspects of our nature with attention of any kind. He acts as if the dark aspects of the children within us don’t even work for him!

What he does do is conduct business. The perfect boss treats those who work for him as if they were his most important suppliers. Which, of course, they are. Their supply of services is his biggest personal dependency. In addition to the timely pay for acceptable services he offers, there are a few additional conditions that he imposes on you, if you are one of his subordinates. These are:

A. What actions you take, you believe in.
B. What commitments you make, you keep,
C. What resources you have, you use.
D. What words you say, you believe to be true.
E. What you create, you intend to be great.

He occasionally gives you written assignments. These are your purchase orders, really. A good thing. And, if indicated, he helps the team secure resources. He also seeks accurate status from them frequently and efficiently, and he stays out of the team’s content. He knows that if you buy something from an expert, you are wise to let them to deliver it on their own. That way, it will be to the experts’ standards and he cannot be blamed for it, if it is not.

He requires that the team credibly believe itself to be doing something great, and also insists that all involved relentlessly pursue - and always adopt - what they think is the best available idea.

He requires that his team members accept their assignments explicitly, believing them to be the best possible assignments. Of course, they have the chance to improve the assignments, if possible, in collaboration with him, before they accept them.

The perfect boss always refuses to serve as a parent/judge among immature subordinates in conflict. He also knows that no good ever came of listening to one person complain about another who is not in the room, so he won’t allow that.

He never allows people to say, “People say…” If unidentified “people” have something to say, they can come say it. He listens. He just doesn’t believe in the self-appointed representation of selves not one’s own. And if people think they ought to report to him what, “people think…” they will be dismissed out of hand for not thinking.

The perfect boss pays vastly more attention to insuring the productivity, managing the satisfaction and tending to the well-being of those subordinates who get the best results than he does to those who are dramatically inclined, results-poor and/or costly to employ. He pays the most attention to those who behave the best.

The perfect boss is compassionate and wise. One sure sign that this is so is that, one way or another, people who are mostly pained about their job, (and this is especially true of any whose pain spills over onto others), will not suffer long in his domain.

When review time comes, the perfect boss assesses his satisfaction with your work. Then he summarizes it with an unambiguous grade. Plus, he says what you did to earn that grade, and tells you precisely what you would have to do additionally to gain the maximum grade. He adjusts your pay, states any new requirements regarding your future results, and does both directly in relation to the grade he has decided on for you.

The good thing about this process is it is perfectly subjective and fair. Since your boss as an individual is clearly your most important customer, fairness and your desire for truth ultimately require his naked, subjective judgment.

And, of course, the one task that the perfect boss never overlooks is to regularly and without interruption arrange that the agreed sums of money be paid to you for the services you choose to render him.

And that is all the perfect boss does.

Q: What is the Guy that wrote Coding Slave going to do next?

A: Go to Hollywood

In last week's episode I was fired from a coding gig. I did the obligatory shock, sadness and fretting and blogged hard on the topic. Seems that whenever I blog hard on something, friends and fairies gather 'round. The readership was pretty unanimous in their response: “Don't worry, you're the guy that wrote Coding Slave. You'll be fine.”

Gotta have friends and fairies.

So, I took the week to pretend that I was sitting on top of the world. I slept until it was time to get up, no alarm necessary, sat in the sun and drank caffeinated beverages. Also, since I haven't read a thing that was not attached to a piece of code in close to a year, I decided to read a book. I am reading Scott Peck's The Road Less Traveled.

It's a book about love, psychoanalysis and psychotherapy. I figured that recently my psyche had been taking a beating, mostly self-inflicted, so a little new information couldn't hurt. Peck goes over a lot of things and for the most part I like what he writes. Today I read about grace. ( Not George Burns' wife). Peck's position is that that just about all of us have had bad childhood experiences and that many people have had some atrocious experiences, yet for the most part we grow up, don't become ax murders and learn to live through things. According to Peck, what's weird is not that there are neurotic people in the world, but that there are not more neurotic people in the world. And to this end, Peck chalks it up to grace.

There just seems to something out there that helps most of us get through things for the best.

Today before I made my way up to Whole Foods to buy some coffee, sit in the sun and read, I made a call to some people in Hollywood who had wanted me to do some work for them about a year ago. They called me back in about an hour. Turns out that there was work to be done and they wanted me to do it.

So tomorrow the Guy that wrote Coding Slave is going to Hollywood to code... for two months, anyway.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Q: What do you call a tired, middle aged programmer with an attitude?

A: Fired.

Let's cut to the chase. I got fired last week. That's right, the guy that wrote Coding Slave, Mr. 15 Years Experience in the woe and sublime of software development got fired-- your services are no longer needed, the company is changing strategy and direction, and oh yes, you have been missing your dates.

To say that I was shocked and subsequently saddened would be an understatement. After all, I thought that this would be The Gig: Heaven, Nirvana, all of the oysters and shellfish that you can eat at Balthazar, cute girls at the Playboy mansion, a long running series on HBO, never having to say that you are sorry, the lucrative gig with no musical compromise.

But, it wasn't.

It was a coding gig pretty much like the ones that I describe in my book: make a product with varying degrees of specificity, to be developed under tremendous deadline pressure, subject to the approval to a variety of people with whom I had no direct contact. Just the type of work I like: NOT!

And yet, I took the gig, eyes wide open.

I figured, this was advanced code, up to the abilities of Mr. Know-It-All. The money was all right, the new Boss was a skilled developer and this was an organization that could “get” the guy that wrote Coding Slave.

And then the development cycle began. Code, code, code... all the time, 10, 12, 16 hours a day, weekends from home. Gotta meet the date. If we don't meet the date, bad things will happen. The company is relying on us.

And so I code, like a hero at first. Then as the fatigue sets in, I get grouchy, I make mistakes, I get an attitude. I wonder, who are these people? Why do I need to be working like a dog for all right money? Don't these people know who I am? I am the guy that wrote Coding Slave. I make fun of situations like this. I don't do situations like this.

And yet I did.

I try to hide my dissatisfaction, I try to go along, to have faith, to keep the faith. I can't keep up. My Boss distances from me. Work that is assigned to me is being reassigned to others. The warning signs that I have read about in the “How to Tell You are About to be Fired” articles that pop up every so often in On The Job Lifestyle magazines appear as road signs on the way to the inevitable. I do not see them.

The product ships, somehow.

I go away for a long weekend.

I come back. I ask my Boss for an update on the work at hand. We agree to meet in the conference room. I go into the conference room with my Boss and another person.

“We want to thank you for all that you have done.”

(I thought I was getting an atta boy for working all that time)

“But we are letting you go. Do you have any questions.”

(I take a second to regroup, to understand that I am being fired.)

I asked why.

“The company is moving in a different direction and we will not need your services.”

I asked if there was anything in my behavior that warranted my dismissal.

“There has been concern for a while. You've been missing your dates.”

I asked if there was any severance. (Maslow was right.) At that point the other person who was sitting directly across from me at the end of a long conference table pulled out a manila folder. (my Boss was at the head of the table to my right). In the folder was one check for two weeks severance, another for four days vacation and two papers to sign. One piece of paper was a written agreement that in exchange for the severance I would not bring legal action against them. The other was an acknowledgment of the final payout.

I signed both pieces of paper and took the money.

“We understand that you have some stuff at your desk, you have an hour to collect your stuff.”

I had worked for The Company for about 90 days. Shortest coding gig that I have ever had.

There is a saying: Once you turn a cucumber into a pickle, it can never, ever go back to being a cucumber.

I wonder if the guy that wrote Coding Slave, knowing what he knows, professing what he professes, can ever be paid to write code again. I have no regrets about writing Coding Slave. I mean, if I didn't do it, who would? As I say in the preface:

All characters depicted in this book are purely fictional; the situations, less so.

Still, there are some days though that I wonder if it would have been easier if I had just remained a cucumber.

Oh yeah, feel free to:

at the Coding Slave site. Make believe that you are doing an iTune download. And, as always, you can download the novel for free.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Q: What's the easiest way to get rich?

A: Steal or claim land in the name of the King

Given the big money to be made in California real estate, lately I have been thinking about property rights. I mean, you buy a house, you get a deed and what does that mean? It means that some government somewhere is giving you a piece of paper that says you own the land upon which your house sits and that it is yours to sell or leave to your progeny upon your demise, which happens to be well and good if the government that is guaranteeing your right to the property is stable and has a good size army or police force to back up the words on the piece of paper. Buying a house in California: good. Buying a house in the Sudan: bad.

But, let's reflect a minute as we walk back through the chain of homeownership: I own a house, which I bought from a previous owner, who in turn bought it from a previous owner who ..... bought it from a previous owner .... back through to a time when it was built on land settled during some sort of homesteading thing ....or if we go further back, land that that was "granted” by favor of some monarch somewhere. I mean, Columbus “claimed” his real estate in the name of the Queen and King of Spain. Henry Hudson and John Cabot weighed in on the side of England. That people were living on the land prior to claim was of marginal interest to the claimant. After all, finders keepers, losers weepers.

Now as many of us know, the rules that make the world go 'round are different for Big Business and Big Government than the rules for us little common folks trying to make sure that there's enough money in the 401k so that we can have enough hot dogs and oatmeal in our old age. But even so, out here on the terrain every kid in Sunday School is taught that taking that which is not your is stealing. So it seems to me that in this country, each and everyone of us is living on stolen land or to be more Newspeak-like, claimed land.

No big deal really. You can't change the past and there really is honor among thieves. Regardless of the crimes of the government(s) of our ancestors, house owners tend to keep the yard tidy, the fences mended and pay their 30 year mortgages on time, unless you live in California and need a 40 year mortgage to cover your $400,000, 1300 sq. ft condo. House ownership is good for society. It promotes stability, responsibility and a line of equity credit that you can use to pay off your 13% Visa cards. That the primary benefactors in this financial house of cards that we call home refinancing are a few Big Banks is incidental. After all, how can you argue that we seem to be a society gripped at the balls in revolving credit, when your revolving credit allows you to sleep in a master bedroom with two baths and eat in a dining room with a 17 ft. vaulted ceiling? Besides, without these few Big Banks, we would not have the technological infrastructure in place to fork over $10 a month via plastic to listen to hours and hours of Grateful Dead music via Rhapsody.

But, I'll share a secret with you. I am a little irked. It still bothers me more than a tad that with all the stealing that went on the past and all the money that's been made in the present, we would have at least figured out how to make it so that the Average Joe could earn a good living working at any job thirty hours work week and a health system that would allow every American to see a quality doctor at least once a year just for the price of a tax return.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Q: What might kill free speech on the Internet?

A: Blog Spammers!

This blog is being comment spammed. The first day I enjoyed the attention, albeit algorithmic attention.

Now seeing those little marketing messages for free income and larger penises have become more annoying than amusing, regardless of the fact that I always need more income and might need a bigger penis. So, I am turning off commenting.

If you really want to comment on the stuff here, send an email to bob@CodingSlave.com and I will post if for you on your behalf.