24 March, 2011

New environments (mentally) as it were... (a.k.a. something old, something new)

Since my last update made a little over a month and a half ago, much has changed.  I've accepted a position as Lead Software Engineer for Yorn, LLC located in Conshohocken, PA.  I haven't abandoned my prior position with the publishing house in NYC, merely time-shifted those hours elsewhere.  Taking this new venture (on top of my previous work, plus the other tech-startup of which I'm a co-founder, Ecquire has proven to be a necessity for my sanity.

Working primarily for the past many years as the sole Software Engineer for a half dozen magazines in a Django/Python/Javascript/CSS/HTML/FreeBSD Unix environment whilst also wearing the SysAdmin hat has been...  draining.  This wasn't due to having nothing to do, this was more to do with having very little room for innovation as the end product wasn't the new SaaS website or Outlook plugin, it was simply repetition with the only real variances being that as dictated by wet-behind the ears designers and graphic artists whose concerns about a given site was more about look than UX.  Don't get me wrong, some of the designs have been gorgeous, but not without the pendantic whining common with individuals who only knowing Adobe Photoshop aren't happy when you explain to them that there is a different methodology at work in producing like-layouts im a web framework.

Either way, back on topic.  I feel for the first time in quite a while that not only am I solving real problems that pertain to a large scale of individuals and companies (as opposed to readership by fashion and/or tattooing enthusiasts) but I am finally in a position in which I have a cohort in crime, a partner, a colleague. Best of all, he's brilliant.  A proper individual for the field, something when I've been trying to find for ages.  A PhD in computer science and a quarter century in the field along with all of the traditionally odd hobbies and sense of humour found more commonly in those with very intellectual professions.  Even though we've only met face to face on three occasions, we've shared many phone calls and Skype sessions whilst working out our designs and product development and it has simply been a breath of fresh air for me.  I have someone off of whom I can bounce complex ideas knowing full well that I'm understood, as well as presenting me the opportunity to expand my own learning horizons.

Excitement stirs ones involvement in a given project and considering that this is what has (and is) happening to me, it is paying off in not only a clearer mind and what I believe are more robust ideas emminating from my thoughts but it has reduced my stress allowing me to be more productive all around whether in the publishing work, my own startup and more importantly in my family life.  It all comes back to ensuring that whatever one does, they need to sometimes step of a comfort zone in pursuit of that which provides incentive and drive in ones given interests and/or profession(s).  I was too conservative earlier on in my professional career and I believe I would've benefited greatly had I stepped out of my cocoon years earlier rather than (as most introverted engineering types do) not think highly enough of myself to be worth more than an abysmal income and working environments to which I was subjected for over seven years.

Times have changed and the future is looking brighter and brighter.  Ecquire & Yorn have paved the way to a better future.  I stepped past my initial nervous/worried leanings and jumped into the world of proper tech startups finding that the grass truly has shown to indeed be greener on the other side.  Now, onto another exciting and challenging day of practising my craft.

03 February, 2011

2011 and my prospects...

    Having recently entered the new year, I find it fitting to share some recent happenings and thoughts on how they might apply to not only my situation but those of others with a penchant for software engineering and/or administrative careers.

    The past year has been one of making connections.  I have met some great people including several combinations of Angel Investors, Venture Capitalists, Software Engineers and Computer Scientists.   My experiences with our startup, Ecquire (http://www.ecquire.com) has proven quite enlightening as well as fun.  In fact it was through my co-founders I was introduced to so many others in the field, such as Rick Rasansky and Trip Denton of Yorn (yorn.com), and Gabriel Weinberg of the amazing search engine DuckDuckGo (duckduckgo.com) which protects our privacy.

    What I have come to realise is that while I have been working with software behind the scenes of a considerable number of websites on their various frameworks, the technology doesn't challenge me and has proven to be quite repetitive.  There are still some challenges, but there is far more aesthetic issues than technical ingenuity involved.   The issue of technical seclusion is also an issue at hand.  With my primary client for whom I have a special relationship due to past employment in the earlier half of the previous decade, there is a loneliness on two levels.  

    The first being that I am not only the only Software Engineer, but the only technical person period.  I wear many hats including CTO and Systems admin.  I handle all technical contracts for servers and what not, at least related to any only presence.  I'm more than capable of handling these roles though it can be rather isolated and not because I'm physically in a different location.

    Which leads me to the second reason, that being one of no technical peers with whom I can discuss, debate and/or share views on projects.  The owner of the various entities is more understand on technical issues that many with whom I've dealt over the years but there are still limitations of understanding.  Again, I do highly commend him for intelligence, trust and understanding though there are limits of which no one other than a peer would quite grasp simply because it is something that needs to be experienced for commiserating to be legitimate. 

    As a means of striving for more in not only personal life, but my professional one as the combination of both affect my happiness and general stress levels, I've been partaking a re-design/porting job with a technical group which is more up my alley.  I am still delivering the service and quality to which I have committed myself with my primary clientele, let that be stated for the record.  It is just that I need this to keep my mind from atrophying.  I need to be challenged in my field, not to mention be given the opportunity to innovate without having to wear every hat and focus so much on outward aesthetics.  I like  beautiful design and beautiful code, much so less visuals as that is truly the realm of designers. 

    Where I'm coming to for the sake of others is the following:  Push to keep yourself challenged and happy in your field.  For a long time we allow ourselves (especially as we have more people depending upon us in our personal lives such as our families) to become complacent with the idea of security and daily consistencies in our work.  The problem with this is that we start to stress over the rut in which we find ourselves.  We internalise the urge to snap at others when for the millionth time (exaggeration of course) we painfully banal question or task is asked of us.  Though inside, we die just a little bit more each time, in spirit at least.

    The solution (or at least one solution) is to not let fear or complacency hold a firm grasp on us.  It is one thing to allow for short term bursts of such ideals for the sake of a greater good but to allow it to trap us long term in what is almost definitely a downward spiral is unbecoming of our abilities and intelligences both as individuals and collectively as the technical backbone of our industries respectively. Push to find new challenges and if they are drying up as a lake in a newfound desert, look elsewhere over the horizon as our abilities only go so far when our outlook and prospects of change seemingly whither into nothingness which ultimately leave us a shell of our former glorious selves. 

    I'm not taking this new year lying down.  I'm feeling reinvigorated with new purpose, prospects and challenges not only for the betterment of my familial situation but for my peace of mind now and into the foreseeable future.  I wish the same to all of you whom finding yourself in a similar situation might find my words useful and/or inspirational.