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It was a brutally tough decision, but after a lot of deliberation, consultation with trusted friends, and a bit of heated debate, I’ve decided with great enthusiasm to accept iLike’s offer. I start April 2nd, and I couldn’t be more excited.

Time to learn me some Rails

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Opportunity Cost

This coming summer will mark 7 years that Cheryl and I have lived in Seattle. We moved out here from St. Louis in July of 2000. I was a year out of grad school and enamored with the attention I was given by a fairly small startup called Avogadro. It was founded by a bunch of incredibly smart and charismatic ex-Microsoft executives, and they had built around them a high-energy and focused team to work on a cool problem. And when they decided they wanted to hire me, they poured on the love.

Despite the attention and the exciting opportunity, it was a tough decision. I myself had been born and raised in the midwest, and had never been west of the Rockies. I originally had considered my interview at Avogadro as a free trip to see Seattle. But after they flew both of us out here again so that Cheryl could meet them and see where we would be making our new home, it became pretty clear that this was where we were meant to be.

Part of our reasoning was that as a software developer, I would likely never be without interesting work in a town like Seattle. Despite its many charms, St. Louis wasn’t exactly a hotbed for cutting-edge software companies. But with institutions like Microsoft and Amazon making their headquarters here, there is a healthy talent pool being replenished all the time. As such, this town seems to have no shortage of interesting companies hiring software developers.

That reasoning seems to have paid off again. As the tenure at my current company soon expires, I am faced with a couple of very exciting job offers to choose between.

One is with a year-old company called iLike, which specializes in music recommendations for the myspace crowd. Their main competitor is last.fm, which I’ve been using for the past few months. A comparison of their traffic shows that while last.fm has about 3 times iLike’s traffic, iLike has seen far more significant growth over the past 6 months. One of the things that excites me about this company is that it feels a lot like Avogadro in many ways: smart, charismatic ex-Microsofties that have built a high energy team to solve a fascinating problem. And, again, they make candidates they want to hire feel loved. I know I would not be making a mistake by accepting this position.

The other offer, however, has plenty of its own appeal. Unfortunately, I can’t talk about it much at the moment. I’ve been asked to join two others as part of an early-stage startup. They are just now wrapping up their angel investment round, and if all goes well, I should receive their final offer sometime this week. I would be the sole (initial) technical person on the team, which simultaneously scares and excites me. I would be responsible for nearly all major technical decisions on the product, and would carry with it all the rewards and risks inherent with such responsibility. If this venture succeeds, the payoff would be great. And even if it fails, I would have gained tremendous experience in building a company from scratch.

In college I took a few economics classes, but only a handful of concepts have really stuck with me since then. I do remember this, though: right now, I’m facing an “opportunity cost”. I can only accept one offer, and doing so means giving up on the benefits of the opportunity I leave behind.

We moved out to Seattle precisely so I would have the benefit of facing such “opportunity costs”. I just hope I’ve learned enough since those economics classes to assess the costs accurately.

I’ll keep you, dear reader, informed as to my decisions…

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Lost Hedgehog

I quit my job Friday.

I’ve been working at Jobster for nearly 3 years. I was hoping to make it 4, at least when I started out. I was under the delusion that I had gotten into an academic work cycle, with 4 years as the ideal milestone to make sure all systems were go and all motivations were in place. I made it 4 years at Avogadro/Openwave before deciding my time was up. This time I didn’t last 3.

There are plenty of reasons why I decided to end my tenure at Jobster, some of which I will reserve for a later date when my perspective is tempered by time. Certainly, my recent eye issues haven’t helped. And the resignations of Patrick and Ray this past week, with whom I started at Jobster back in July ‘04, weren’t exactly motivating me to stay on board. In the end, I think I lost track of exactly what problem we were trying to solve. I was pretty sure I understood it when I started: we were building an enterprise-quality application to help employers find better prospects with less effort. And I thought we were doing a pretty good job of that, at least for awhile.

Pretty soon after I started, our CEO told us the parable of the hedgehog and the fox.

The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.

The theory was that great companies all had a hedgehog; they were very good at one thing. Over time, I think we lost track of that ideal, at least in the way I understood it. These days, Jobster does a lot of things. It still sells an enterprise sourcing app to big employers like Starbucks and Nike. But it also is a job search engine, a career site for small companies, a social networking site for jobseekers, and a free job board. I may have missed a few things. I don’t think anyone could claim that Jobster is really good at any one of these things. At least not today.

I’m sure there’s a new hedgehog in place that encompasses all of this functionality, and I’m sure there’s a strong plan in place to execute on it. But I think I got hung up on what I thought Jobster tried to be in the first place, not what it evolved in to. I fully admit I’m at fault for not keeping up-to-date on our changing vision. I think I got lost in the features.

That said, I’m pretty proud of what I accomplished during that time. Patrick, Ray, and I laid a foundation for the product that I think will remain for some time. I contributed to all aspects of the product, from build scripts to architectural design. I learned a ton during this time, both about the recruiting industry and about web application development. I made a lot of new friends, and I was able to work with many old ones.

But it’s time to move on.

In a subsequent post, I’ll talk about what opportunities I’m considering now. I’ve done enough ranting for tonight.

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RubyGems and Perl?

So, I’m installing ruby on my laptop, and when I get to the step to install rb-rubygems, MacPorts installs perl5 as a dependency.

Why would a ruby tool require perl? My initial googling provided nothing damning. Certainly, it’s not because gems is written in perl… Nope, just checked the gems file to be sure, and it’s bonafide ruby.

What gives?

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My latest malady

So, that last bit of navel-gazing was all just a lead-in to this post: I was diagnosed today with central serous retinopathy. Practically speaking, I’m suffering from blurring in the central vision of my right eye. The vision distortion is fairly mild, but my ability to read text on a computer screen is severely hampered if I cover my left eye. The condition is supposed to be temporary, lasting only a month or two.

I noticed it for the first time this weekend. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t happening when I left work on Friday, given the difficulty I have focusing on text now. There’s no actual discomfort or any outward sign that my vision is impaired. CSR is characterized by fluid leakage in the central macula, but thankfully that leakage hasn’t made its way outside my actual eyeball.

What’s most frustrating about this malady is that it’s almost certainly stress-induced. While I fret about global warming and the trade deficit as much as the next man, I’m pretty sure my job is the high-order bit in my stress stack these days. And problematic vision isn’t going to make dealing with that stress any easier.

There’s no real treatment for the disease. I’m supposed to just wait it out. I’ve been reading up on others’ experiences with CSR on the web, and there’s plenty of folks advocating cutting out caffeine in all its forms to help reduce both the longevity and recurrence of the symptoms. I’ve never tried writing code without a constant flow of caffeine to my system, so that will be an interesting endeavor to undertake. However, I value my sight more than I do heightened alertness, at least at this stage of my life.

I grow weary of my health being compromised because I take my work too seriously. I mean, I know I have a pretty sweet gig compared to most. My hours are flexible, my pay is good, I can wear shorts year round, I like who I work with, and I like the technology I’m working on. But what’s that all worth if I keep getting sick?

[tags]health, csr, work[/tags]

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5 Years of Breathing 2.0

5 years ago this month I endured one of the more dramatic events in my life. I came down with pneumonia in both lungs, and was thisclose to being on a respirator. My doctor at the time said, aside from the elderly folks he sees, I was the sickest patient he ever had. I spent a week in the ICU, a week in “regular” hospital, then two more weeks at home recuperating. During this ordeal, I dropped down in weight such that I was the thinnest I had ever been in my adult life (195 lbs), and I looked positively skeletal.

During that week in the ICU, I was doped up on so much morphine (good stuff!), I can recall only a scant few details of my time in the hospital. I am told I was pretty hi-larious, all things considered. When my nurse told me her name was Glenda, I apparently asked her if she was a good witch or a bad witch. When asked by a rather assertive nurse to move out of my bed into a chair so she could change the sheets, I serenaded her with “I’d Do Anything” from the musical “Oliver!”. I’m told I even wondered aloud who owned the pumpkin, without ever clarifying which pumpkin.

Despite my chipper attitude towards this grave situation, Cheryl could find no such levity, at least not at the time. She rarely left my side during the whole endeavor. While I was riding the morphine high, she was crashing hard with the realization that I was likely going to get worse before I got better. This strain was only amplified by the fact that my time in the hospital spanned two normally very festive days for us: her birthday and Valentine’s day. Time and hindsight have lessened the memory of the agony she went through during this time, but I try hard not to forget all that she did for me then (and to this day).

I don’t mark this anniversary out of idle remembrance. I got sick then because I was choosing to live a poor lifestyle. I was working too many hours, eating a poor diet, struggling with an awful commute, not exercising, and generally stressing about a project that was all but dead anyway. When a bug made its way through the office, my immune system was too compromised to put up much of a fight. I vowed afterwards that I would not let this experience be for naught, and I’ve worked hard to not work so hard. And while I’ve been able to keep up a healthier lifestyle in general (I joined a gym, I try to eat better, I’m never at work after 6PM, etc), I still find myself allowing the stress of my job to dominate my thoughts. Jobster’s recent woes certainly haven’t helped matters, but that’s still no reason I should allow it to affect my physical and mental health.

I have this crazy theory that writing about these issues will help reduce their pressure on my life. Let’s hope it’s not too late.

Good Lord! What a cheesy, melodramatic way to end a blog post. My apologies.

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… It would help if I enabled the markdown plugin first. And if my theme didn’t suck so hard.

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Back from vacation

This is my first week back after a 3 week vacation from Jobster.

A lot happened in those 3 weeks.

The time off encompassed both Christmas and New Years, and included the full week before and after each holiday. My wife and I had originally considered trying to travel during this period, but decided the cost to travel to either Denver or Chicago (the respective locations of my wife’s and my parents) was prohibitive. We opted instead to just stay home and enjoy each other’s company, without the stress of travel. That opted to be a wise move, given all the snow storms in Denver that played havoc with flight schedules.

While I didn’t score a Wii Christmas day, I was able to pick one up the following Wednesday at my local Fred Meyer. I’ll see if I can devote a post to that experience in the near future. Suffice it to say, this has been the big hit of the holiday season for both of us.

I had a few goals for the vacation, and while I didn’t accomplish all of them, I did make headway on most. One of those goals was to blog more. I pretty much failed that one (as I pretty much fail at all my blogging-related goals), but the fact that you’re reading this post suggests I at least deserve partial credit. I’m also experimenting on cleaning up the blog itself. It’s an eyesore at the moment, and I want to take more advantage of the amount of my life that’s available online (e.g., delicious links, shared Google Reader stories, etc). I’m slowly making headway here, too.

Another goal was to upload more of our photos to Flickr. I spent the money for a shiny Flickr Pro account months ago, but had been fairly lax in getting any of our photos on it of late. I did make progress on this front over my vacation, and even added a ‘Flickr Badge’ (visible in the sidebar) which provides a fancy overview of my most recent Flickr uploads.

Oh, and Jobster laid off 40% of its staff (over 60 people) while I was gone. This is well-covered in the news and other blogs, but I hope to provide my thoughts on the matter in the near future.

More soon. I promise…

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Meet Your Future

meet your futureThat’s Jobster’s new tagline (replacing the longstanding “Great people know great people”), part of a complete rebranding of the site and service. Personally, I find this new slogan just a tad bit morbid, along the lines of the “Visit Alaska Before You Die” ad campaign. But I’m no marketer, so what do I know? Well, I’ll tell you. I know software. And we just shipped a ton of it. This rebrand was part of a pretty significant rollout of new features to the Jobster site. Chief among them is brand-spanking new “social networking” functionality for people to share experiences about what it’s like working at their current and previous jobs. This is a major initiative for us, and an integral part of the overall Jobster story — providing career matches for both employers and jobseekers. We even got a bit of lovin’ from the WSJ on this front.

Unfortunately, even after weeks of bugfixing, a late-night rollout, and some minor firefighting, there’s no rest for the weary. I’m currently pushing hard for our next version, which is humorously being identified as a minor release. It will include one of the most significant feature additions to the Jobster employer service since we launched. I won’t talk too much about it here, but I’m sure you can find a hint or three about it perusing my CEO’s blog.

Update: Phil Bogle, Jobster CTO, has a great overview of the new site features on his blog.

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I couldn’t tell you who gave my commencement address, and not just because it happened 9 years ago. But I imagine the 2006 graduates of Knox College won’t quickly forget theirs. I hope the sentiments of that address stick with them as well.

Now will saying “yes” get you in trouble at times? Will saying “yes” lead you to doing some foolish things? Yes it will. But don’t be afraid to be a fool. Remember, you cannot be both young and wise. Young people who pretend to be wise to the ways of the world are mostly just cynics. Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is the farthest thing from it. Because cynics don’t learn anything. Because cynicism is a self-imposed blindness, a rejection of the world because we are afraid it will hurt us or disappoint us. Cynics always say no. But saying “yes” begins things. Saying “yes” is how things grow. Saying “yes” leads to knowledge. “Yes” is for young people. So for as long as you have the strength to, say “yes.”

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