31 December, 2007

Reflections on 2007, Looking forward to 2008

Given that it is nary a few minutes past 22:00 on the east coast of North America, I figure it is time for one of 'those' looking back and looking forward type posts, but with a codedevl slant. This past year has been a rather bizarre one as it marks the first year of my professional career (over 13 years) in which I've been employed by more than two firms/companies. I mean technically I've only been employed by one firm, the time prior and currently I've been self-employed, so does it count?

While this isn't necessarily an issue for many others out there, it was a point of concern for me as I have been traditionally conservative in my career moves and choices. It isn't as if I'd suddenly threw caution to the wind and job hopped. I will say that it was all thanks to the federal government for starting the ball rolling over a year ago when they raided the offices of a previous employer due to nefarious actions of several of their customers (unbeknownst to any of us at the time). The government claims it wasn't a raid but a search and seizure. As far as I know, that is classified as a raid, more so because the agents were wearing bullet proof vests with guns drawn.. all three dozen of them.

I've started to obvious stray from the where I was going. Simply put I found myself working with a skeleton crew at a company for an additional five months while legally being unable to process our normal transactions, hence no hope of future work. The warnings started coming and as such, the few of us which remained knew the end was near so we all started prepping for the day when it would all come crashing to an end, an end to a wonderful half decade as a working family as it were. It took less than a week for me to land a new gig working on a project for Burlington Coat Factory and previously mentioned in a previous entry. I do have to say that I grew more as a software engineer during that first jump into contracting than I had in many of the prior years, including my time as team lead, department lead and CTO.

I brought all of this us because it lead to how I started out the year of 2007. I was finishing up my contract having successfully deployed the new point of sale returned goods system for Burlington's stores nationally. I knew when my last day would be and started to look for interesting jobs, but preferably salaried ones, which I found without trouble, so much to the point that I finished my contract on a Friday and started my next job with Blue Gravity Communications, Inc. the following Monday. As that saga has also come and gone (by my own choice), many things have changed, primarily my outlook on contracting vs. salaried employment, my work environment and my work ethic.

I found that there really isn't a major difference between salaried employment and contract employment, other than the 'false sense' of security in a salaried job. The reality of it is that one can be let-go from a salaried position very easliy, unless you're in Nederland, France, Denmark, Sweden or Norway (and a few others I'm sure I forgot). The overall benefits of being self-employed become clear rather quickly once the newness of contracting fades away. You have more responsibility, and more freedom.

You work harder to prove and build and/or strengthen your reputation, and don't mind it. You have flexible hours (at least in my case and/or other cases where on-site 9-5 is not required, which is a pretty common flexibility. You don't have to deal with as many managers or supervisors. You don't have to stress over working with a certain group of people forever. You are able to work multiple clients simultaneously (as much as you can personally handle), and finally, you truly have more control over yourself and your future than ever afforded in a salaried position.

My environment was always a sticking point throughout my various locales of employment, ranging from a room full of others in a different department, a room full of peers, a room full of subordinates (though I hate the term, being very much an egalitarian), and of course, in a room all by my lonesome. I worked many of my years in a solitary environment, for a full time employer and as such had plenty of human interaction. Yet during those years I yearned for more interaction, a room in which I could openly be around others. I finally got my chance when I became CTO and Development Lead at one company. I was able to secure an open office with no partitions and a relaxed layout.

This proved to be an enjoyable environment, but I found later on that it didn't allow me to produce my best work. Separating myself from the others didn't do much to help either. It was only when I worked as a contractor for my first time that I started to realise what my environmental needs are. I returned into the salaried world and worked side by side with some great people, even entering into the halls of foosball with one of my aforementioned peers. It was only after I re-entered the realm of self-employment contracting for Pinchazo Publishing Group, Inc. (owners of Nylon and Inked magazines most notably), that I setup my home office an came to terms with a new reality.

I work best, in my home office, alone with minimal contact from others with the exception being my request to speak with others over designs or processes changes in order to meet project/structural demands. I do enjoy the company of others but know that I work more diligently, more exacting and am ultimately more focused when in my own space. I did find however that this new environment does have its perks, one of those being flexible time to meet up with peers and past co-workers for quality time.

This leads me to my final point of realisation. My work ethic has changed dramatically for the best. To be honest I found that I was too easily distracted in other environments when a salaried employee. I had far less "in-the-zone" moments when in a workplace, and on someone else's payroll. Again I think this is due to distraction and a certain level of security (a false one at that). I'm not particularly fond of making this public admission, but at least I've recognised it and willingly state it for the record. I know what I need to be the best that I can, producing the best work of which I'm capable. Now that my reputation and future prospects rely mostly upon my current projects and the manner in which they are complete, it makes me stay more focused and on task.

I also must say that due to the lowered stress in my career at this juncture in time, I am able to enjoy my art/trade for more than ever before. When one couples that feeling of relief along with my combined experiences, gained knowledge and wisdom (or lack thereof at times), caring becomes a top priority. I care about my work, and I strive to produce the best that I can. I own the process, the engineering, the schedule and the maintenance and as such demand of myself nothing but my best, and I love every moment of it now. I know what I'm worth now, and I know what my code and expertise are worth and what it takes to ensure that I'm operating at my best.

Finally, this brings me onto my outlook for the upcoming year. Hopefully, much of the same and barring any catastrophes, I see a very promising future ahead with the current outfit for which I'm contracting. The work is exciting, doing things the right way and engineering a whole system is something upon which I thrive. I look forward to learning new technologies, I'm excited about the prospect of new advances and of course, I'm happy that I love coding and truly feel as if I've found my ultimate environment to do what I feel that I do best: Engineer great software.

Happy New Year to all, here's looking forward to a great 2008!