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My “Seeking Success” Speech

So I gave a speech today to the students at Upward Bound for their Career Day. They wanted me to talk about my career, what I do, and how I got there.

Well, what I do probably isn’t exciting for anyone besides myself… but I thought the story of how I came to my current position might have some elements the students could relate to. I know exactly how boring I can be, and let’s face it, not many people are interested in software development. My journey though… maybe they would listen to that.

So I typed out my story. I highlighted a few key life-lessons that I wanted to deliver as take-aways for the students, and I related my experiences to those points.

 

You know, I never really thought my life was terribly difficult. I never thought my story was moving in any significant way. My story is about working hard to get what you want – simple as that.

I read my speech out loud last night a dozen times without any issues. But as I was standing there in front of the students, I saw them seeing me. Really seeing me. Not just a person giving a speech. Not just a teacher trying to impart knowledge. I could see them seeing me. The real me. Listening to my story, and taking it to heart.

It was overwhelming, and I had to compose myself more than once. I consider myself a good public speaker, but I discovered today that I’m not very good when talking about myself. But they were patient me. And they listened.

 

It was a powerful experience for me, and I think it was for them too (there were other speakers as well with truly inspiring stories). By the end of it, I was exhausted. Mentally, emotionally, even physically exhausted. When the students were excused, I grabbed my phone to see who I could call to get a hug. I’m fortunate to have several friends who are ALWAYS good for a hug.

I don’t think I was broadcasting my needs, but it must’ve been obvious. By the time I had my phone opened, I looked up to find a line of students waiting to give me hugs. I couldn’t believe it – there was literally a line of people there offering exactly what I needed.

 

I love my life. My heart is so full right now! Hakuna Matata :)

Dom giving a thumbs up

Why NOT to travel for work

I had an interesting day recently… and I hadn’t realized how terrible it really was until I told the story start to finish. Definitely blog-worthy and a good segue into what my next post was going to be anyways.

My story starts with loud, obnoxious noises…


KNOCK… KNOCK… KNOCK… KNOCK… KNOCK….
“grumble, grumble, zzzzzzzzzzzz”

KNOCK… KNOCK… KNOCK… KNOCK… KNOCK….
“grumble, moan, grumble,  zzzzzzzzzz”
The knocking at my door was slow, steady, and piercing. I slept hard.

KNOCK… KNOCK… KNOCK… KNOCK… KNOCK….I stirred briefly, but did not rise.

KNOCK… KNOCK… KNOCK… KNOCK… KNOCK….Exhausted and annoyed, my mind settled on the first reasonable explanation it could imagine: road work. I hope it stops soon…

KNOCK… KNOCK… KNOCK… KNOCK… KNOCK….
Alright, that’s too close to be road work. I spill out of bed and stumble in the darkness, pausing briefly to lean against the wall. Through the peephole of my hotel door, I can see the security guard growing impatient.

KNOCK… KNOCK… KNOCK… KNOCK… KNOCK….As I open the door, a barely recognizable “hello?” escapes my throat. Dry-mouthed and still asleep, even I’m not sure what I just said.

“They said I should wake you,” he answers.
“What?”
“They said I should wake you.”
“What? Who?”
“The power is out, and they said I should wake you.”

Confused, annoyed, tired… I’m silent.

“The front desk said I should wake you because the power is out.”

In my mind, he’s clearly mistaken – I should be sleeping. I reach to flip the light switch, as if I would prove him wrong. As if the light would shame him for waking me… but the light doesn’t shine. Apparently, the power is out.

“The power is out,” he explains again, obviously ready to move on. “Ok. Thanks.”

I shut the door and stand in the darkness for a moment as my mind catches up. Suddenly I remember my 5:30 flight. I asked for a 3am wake up call the night before, and their automated system must not have been working. Oh no, am I late? I feel around frantically for my phone on the desk next to the bed. I wake the screen, but it doesn’t light up. Dead. Apparently the power is out.

Thankfully, I find my watch and the backup lights in the hallway are on – it’s 2:50am. I prop the door open and brush my teeth. I finish packing in the dark and leave the hotel, and as I do, I notice that the whole block is out. “What happened”, I wonder but don’t care – I’m finally heading home after 10 straight days of 13+ hour long shifts.

I arrive to the airport earlier than planned – a good sign. The rental car agent is very slow, and there’s another renter ahead of me, but I don’t care – I’m going home. I dig into my breakfast – a leftover, cold, sandwich from the night before. I had actually purchased it for a homeless man outside of Quiznos, but by the time they finished making it, he was no longer loitering around. It isn’t a very good sandwich, but I don’t care – I’m going home.

The wait at the gate is uneventful, but I do manage to charge my phone a bit. I walk onto the plane and take my window seat. I pull the shade down and ready my headphones, but the plug won’t fit into the jack on the armrest. Something was jammed in there, and I wouldn’t get to sleep with music – but I don’t care, I’m going home.

The rest of the passengers board as normal. A flight attendant closes the door and they make their announcements, but the plane doesn’t leave the gate. Eventually, the captain tells us about an issue with the computer, but we should be able to leave soon. An hour later, “soon” turns into an “indefinite”, and we’re invited to leave the plane, as long as we stay close. I try to sleep. It’s noisy with chatter and complaints, but I don’t care, I’m going home.

Apparently, United was experiencing a system-wide outage. ALL of their flights were grounded. There was no use in trying to re-book or get on any standby lists, as the whole system was down. All we could do is wait. Our flight finally departs 3 hours late. We’re told not to fret, as the system-wide outage would have delayed connecting flights as well. It’s out of my control, so I don’t care – besides, I’m going home.

20 minutes before we land, the pilot tells us they don’t have any specific connecting flight information. However, he does tell us that if our connecting flight was scheduled to leave after 11:30, the plane would be waiting. Apparently, I would miss mine. Suddenly, I care.

As soon as we land in Denver, I check the flight status on my phone: Delayed, estimated departure 12:05pm. It’s 12:04. I rush to the gate anyways, hoping for good fortune, but the plane is gone. I call customer service, and they tell me the first available flight is tomorrow afternoon. I could get on standby for a flight today, but I’d have to do it at the customer service desk. I tried to take a picture of the line at customer service, but even a panorama wouldn’t cover it. As much fun as waiting in line is, I decide to pass.

I call my girlfriend to tell her what’s up. She checks other airlines, but nobody has flights. Even flying to KC or OKC would have me home later than driving the entire way. It’s clear what I need to do.

Only 2 of the rental car desks have agents, and neither of them have drops in Wichita. I walk to the Hertz desk where a lonely phone waits for me. The voice on the other end is chipper, and surprisingly, so am I. Neither of us are excited that a car will cost $245. I ask her if there is anything she could do to make my day better. She speaks with her manager tells me that if I’d be willing to drive a minivan, it would only be $65 and they’d waive the drop fee. Brilliant.

The drive is long but calm. Hertz gave me a cell phone charger so I wouldn’t have to stop to buy one, so I manage a couple of phone calls on the way. I sing to the radio or to myself, but mostly, I let my mind drift into thoughtless autopilot.

I had very little sleep, was rudely woken, and lost an entire day to travel. I needed a shower too. Everything I had planned for that day would have to be done tomorrow. And this all came on the tail end of 10 very long, consecutive work days far from home. I didn’t even get to have a real birthday… but in the end, you can’t get upset over the things you can’t control. I had more than enough stress over the past two weeks, so this day was just a match on an already burnt-out fire.

 

Besides, I was finally home.

Adventures in Corporate Whining

WARNING: This is probably a very boring blog. You will probably enjoy this more: http://domstyle.net/portfolio/tetris/Tetris.jnlp

WARNING: I have no formal training whatsoever in project management.

Corporate IT is probably not so different from other areas of the corporate world. One of the most frustrating components, for me, is project management. Everybody has different ideas and opinions about how to do things, what follows is my philosophy, based on my experiences.

In general, managers and executives want good project plans so they can report progress metrics to THEIR superiors. They see the project plan as a tool to make them look good, but fear the power it has to make them look bad. I understand and appreciate that this kind of information is important, and can be very helpful on all levels of the food chain.

Ideally, a good project manager is well-organized, comfortable delegating, and NOT close to the project implementation. That last part may seem backwards, but it’s important that the project manager keep a good eye on the “big picture” and avoid the devil-in-the-details, sees the forest through the trees, etc, etc.

Unfortunately, the person managing the project is often SO FAR removed from the details of the implementation that they are simply unaware of tasks, milestones, resources, etc. So they rely on the worker bees to supply this information. There’s nothing wrong with consulting the people who have the knowledge – just don’t ask them to do a project manager’s tasks. IMO, a LOT of worker bees would benefit from a completely transparent project plan. Supply them with a list of tasks, and ask them for a progress report at the end of the week. The end.

Of course, that won’t work in all cases, and usually isn’t the best model. Many people are very capable of managing their own time well, and they should be allowed to do so. In that case, let them have the project plan. Make sure you agree on the priorities, and just let them work. Don’t ask them to fill out hours and keep track of every minute of their work day. Let them do their jobs for 39.5 hours a week, and IF you must have metrics, take no more than a few minutes of their week.

Furthermore, asking people to report on their time will inevitably create a sense of implied expectation. Managers ask employees to track their hours so that they can keep track of the progress of the project. But employees often feel that it’s a tool being used to monitor their productivity. So what happens? People stress over their hours and end up inflating their time – providing invalid metric data to the people trying to manage resources. Instead of doing actual work, they’re staring at their timesheet trying to figure out where the day went. Pointless.

It’s also pointless to ask people to estimate hours BEFORE doing a task – especially when it’s work that they’ve never done before and/or with a product or software package they’ve never used before. I’ve never been part of a project where somebody didn’t say, “oh, we’ll just pad the time. Just in case.” “It’s always better to overestimate than underestimate,” they’ll argue. I completely disagree. What’s the point in estimating AT ALL if you accept that your estimate is not only inaccurate, but INTENTIONALLY so. If you’re not going to adopt and follow SOME time cost estimation convention (there are several!), then don’t bother at all.

SO, here are some key points of my project management philosophy (which is still being developed):

If you’re a project manager, DON’T ask your employees to manage a project. At all. Ask them for what they KNOW and take as LITTLE of their time for that as possible. Unless they’ve actually done a task in the past, don’t ask them to estimate hours. People are terrible at it, so there is no point. If you don’t know, and they don’t know, just put down 16 hours and move on with your life. Yeah, I know it’s wrong, but it doesn’t matter what you put down, it’ll be wrong too. Get over that, and just move on with your life.

Don’t ask employees to track their time. The only purpose it serves is to give YOU (or your superiors) some false sense of progress. Unless one is being compensated hourly, I see NO POINT, whatsoever, in filling out a timesheet. Ask your employees for progress, and keep them connected to the big picture. Trust that your employees are diligent people, and if you’re worried about accountability and deadlines, just make sure you’ve got a GOOD channel for communication. Make sure everybody understands what the priorities are, and just let them do their jobs! If you NEED numbers, then take what they say and make up your own numbers. You may as well – the estimated hours were made up in the first place and most of their tracked time would be made up too!

The past few weeks have been very frustrating. I have absolutely no interest in meta-work (like project management), but I’ve been seriously thinking about looking into certifications (such as PMP). If I’m going to have to do project management, I may as well learn how to do it correctly.

 

Sorry for the rant.

Another weekend down

I guess I didn’t get everything accomplished this weekend, but I did manage to fit a lot in.

I spent all day Friday working. Literally, all day, and night, and it was very productive. I estimated 3 weeks to do everything for that project, and I got most of it done on Friday. I should have very little to do next weekend with it, and as long as they don’t ask for more, I don’t think I’ll even need that third weekend!

On Saturday, the nephew and I had pictures at baseball, followed by a game. He seems less interested every week, but he does like to get out and play catch. I think he enjoys our warm-ups more than the games. He probably just needs something a little more stimulating.

Following the game was an introduction to the Ruby programming language. Overall, the talk was good, but it was difficult to determine who the target audience was. It seemed too basic (except for some points) for experienced programmers, and too technical for the not-yet-programmers. Josh (the guy running the show) surprised everyone with books (Eloquent Ruby), which was nice. I think a better supplement may have been an Intro to Ruby book. BUT, I’m betting he’s hoping to provide people with everything that they need, and that self-study won’t be necessary outside of the materials he’s providing (and has obviously put a lot of effort into).

After Ruby I got to play some doubles tennis, which is always nice. Seriously, anytime, call me, I’m down for some tennis. I’m terrible, but I love to play. Tennis was followed by some Yogurt Explosion (not bad, but not great), and shopping at Bed Bath & Beyond (where I saved $110 w/ a single %20 off coupon. Rock) and searching for a copy of the latest to-video Pirates movie (more on that later).

I spent most of the evening working on the control panel for Travis’s (my brother-in-law) arcade cabinet. I bought some $5 gamepads (with shipping) from the internets, and am attaching 2 RJ45 jacks to each. This will allow the arcade panel to easily plug into the controller, without compromising the functionality/usability of the controller. It will allow players to choose between the traditional arcade controls, or the gamepad – which is especially nice, because the panel only has 4 game buttons, while the gamepads are like playstation controllers. Sometime between midnight and 1am, I opted for a break and more social activities  / good times.

Some photos from the projects gallery:

As soon as I woke up Sunday, I started mowing the backyard. I didn’t get to it last week, so it had gotten pretty tall. I love my reel mower, but it doesn’t perform well on very tall grass. Sadly, I only got half of the lawn done, it’ll have to wait another week :-/

Last week I had cut down some branches, and was grateful for help. Dylan came outside, and after a while I asked if he wanted to help. He said yes immediately, and seemed happy to do it. Audrey helped too, and the three of us managed to get things done quickly. I wanted to say thanks, so I took them to see the new Pirates movie. Of course, I had to re-watch the previous movie first, because frankly, I didn’t remember what happened or how it ended. We got there in time for decent seats, and Audrey bought dessert.

Another weekend down. It wasn’t as terrible as I thought (mostly because of Friday’s diligence).

I just checked my email, and it seems there’s more work from my Cleveland client for me to do during the evening hours this week… Oy.

When it rains, it pours (but never where you want it)

It’s almost 8, which means my “weekend” is about to start. It’s dreary outside, and I just want to get back under the covers. Although I haven’t checked the forecast, I expected this kind of weather…


I’m underwhelmed in California, and overwhelmed in Wichita. How does that make sense? I’m supposed to be relaxing on the weekends, right? You know, enjoying myself, my family, my friends…

The project at work has yet to really kick off. I still worry that once it does, I’ll still feel underwhelmed.

Of course, that’s not the case on the weekends. When it comes to the weekends, there simply aren’t enough hours in the day. Normally my weekends are filled with family adventures, activities, and hobbies. But the next couple of weekends will be filled with work. Lame.

In 2008, I developed a project for a mental health firm in Wichita, and continued to support it and write minor changes/enhancements through 2009.

At some point they stopped using the system. A couple of weeks ago, I received an email stating that they wanted to use it again, but couldn’t connect (it’s a web-based application). The server was hosted on site, so I told them where to find it and make sure it was turned on (and to restart it if it was running). They couldn’t find the machine, so I met with them last Friday to discover that they had sold the hardware (with all of the software on it (not that anyone else would really want it))!

I’ve purchased new hardware (assembled) from Cybertron PC. I’ll pick it up, install the LAMP stack this weekend. After I finish making some of the requested changes, I’ll load my software on the box and bring it back. With any luck, I’ll have it done this weekend, but we’ll see… I really despise dragging out old code :-/

Oh, and to make things just a little bit better, United has altered some of their flight times. I’ll leave Wichita a little bit EARLIER and get in a little bit LATER, shaving even more time off my weekends and increasing my layovers. Awesome.

On the brightside, it’s good to be working. Plenty of Americans out there who are still looking for work. And at least I get to come home on the weekends (unlike my poor dad who’s stuck in Seattle, where I’m sure the weather is dreary). He called when I was mid-flight today and left a 40-second voicemail of silence. Dad, if you’re reading this, turn your freakin’ phone on so I can call you back!

What’s gonna work? Teeeaaamwork!

I’m pretty lucky that I get to travel and work with someone I know well, and have a good work history with. She and I managed to get positions with the same consulting firm. While that is mostly coincidental, it is probably no coincidence that we are now both assigned to the same client in San Leandro, California. It seems our mutual employer believes that we are probably a good team, and I have to agree. I think the other consultants are a little jealous of our dynamic.

Apparently, Oakland is the 5th most dangerous city in the US. So far, I’ve managed to avoid the goings-on of the Oakland underworld. However, that might change when we move from the Fairmont Hospital to the Highland Hospital. Apparently there’s a liquor store on the corner, where you can sometimes spot patients making purchases… still hooked up to their IV’s…

The weather has been pretty agreeable, the landscape is BEAUTIFUL, and we found a great Thai place! For whatever reason (American media), I expected people in California to be… prettier. With the little exposure to the Bay area I’ve had so far, I have to say that people in Kansas are prettier, on the average, than people around here. But they Bay area is MUCH, MUCH more diverse.

The work here so far has been slow. This client is implementing a full install of their Clinical and Financial systems… hence the 13-month assignment. The project is still VERY young (I have yet to see a project plan…) and somewhat unorganized. This is the third hospital system I’ve worked with, and it’s interesting to see some of the differences and similarities. One big difference here is that it’s a public hospital system, and there is  significantly less funding…

Something else I’m not quite used to is that this client is looking for a “vanilla” install… Which is sorta the opposite of what I do. I specialize in specialization (I should put that on my business card!). I don’t think the project will be overwhelmingly boring, but I do worry that my skills may atrophy.

I haven’t said anything yet, because it’s still very early in the project, and anything can happen. However, I made this career choice so that I could make better use of my skills and abilities… I haven’t been able to do that so far with the Alameda County Medical Center, and I wonder if I ever will…

I did have the pleasure of giving a webcast for the Midwest Workflow Users Group. The rest of the group met in Ohio at 9am. I had the luxury of dialing in at 6am via the-worlds-slowest-internet-connection in my hotel room (I wonder… does anybody regulate the term “high speed internet”?). Despite being rushed and still a little sleepy, I think my presentations went well-enough, and I was shown a lot of gratitude, so that was nice :)

The “35 hour work week” and “3 day weekends” are much more exhausting than they seem…

So far, I LOVE being able to check out new stuff. I’ve managed to find something fun to do every week that I’ve been in Cleveland. It’s been a lot of fun, and there’s still more to see and do! This week, I’m planning on going to the NASA Research Center or the Great Lakes Science Center, and possibly the I-X Center next week if there’s something fun :)

Of course, the reason I’m actually out here is to work… which is significantly less fun.

They call it a “35 hour work week” and tell you that you get “3 day weekends”, every week, but it isn’t as fun and glamorous as they sell it. “35 hours” is how much they want me to bill for every week, and trying to squeeze 35 billable hours into a 4-day work week is tough. Throw in travel time, phone time, reporting time (expense reports, status reports, etc), and you can bet that I’m spending more than 40 hours a week on my job. Consider for a moment that I get to the airport at 6am (CDT) on Mondays but don’t get to the hospital until 2pm (EDT). That’s a 7-hour commute before I’ve even started working (aka: billing).

I’ve started flying back on Fridays now, instead of Thursdays, which gives me a 3 full days of work and almost a half day on Monday. This gets me closer to my 35 billable hours, but it’s still tough… and exhausting. I constantly feel like I’m just playing catch-up.

I think the most disappointing part is that I’ve had a phone call about my billable hours, but not a single mention about the quality of my work (from my employer). I’m not the kind of person who needs validation or constant recognition, but it seems that they are interested in QUANTITY, while my clients are interested in QUALITY. Of course, my bonus is based on the former, which creates a negative incentive. Fortunately, the people with whom I work most-closely appreciate my talent :)

I’m extended in Cleveland through the week of the 18th (assuming they can keep me busy), then it’s off to Oakland, California on the 25th!

New life, new dom, new blog…

It’s been a long time since I’ve blogged, but I remember finding it to be very therapeutic. As I adjust to an entirely new lifestyle, I thought it would be interesting chronicle my adventures.

I started a new career one week ago as an IT consultant for the healthcare industry, and it has me traveling every week. I enjoy traveling, new places, and new faces. Starting a new job is always difficult at first, but I’m also adjusting to regular air travel, hotel life, and living out of a carry-on.

Being away from home will undoubtedly affect my social life as well. The weekends were always very hectic, but now its the only time I have to spend with my family and friends back home. I try to make the most of my time, but there just aren’t enough hours in the day.

My first week at the new job went about as well as could be expected. It felt as if the client had a solution, and were searching for a problem. Part of the difficulty is that this assignment is for just a few weeks, and hospitals are often slow to adopt technology changes. I have found a project, and will hopefully identify more this week.

I’m going to try to do this regularly, so stay tuned dear readers. Expect to read more about my travels, my social life, my work, nerd ramblings, and other adventures :)