A 50/50 split

Thinking about the difference between the public and private sectors, I realized that my professional life is roughly split between the two. I was in my first job, at UC Berkeley, for more than five years. I recently hit the point where my professional life after UCB is longer than the time I spent there.

Thinking about the difference between the public and private sectors, I realized that my professional life is roughly split between the two. I was in my first job, at UC Berkeley, for more than five years, and I’ve only recently hit the point where my professional life after UCB is longer than the time I spent there.

After graduating college I worked in an IT group on the same campus where I went to school, for five and a half years, in three different roles, progressing as my skills grew. I finally left because I needed more of a challenge, and more importantly, I felt the need to be compensated for my skills and accomplishments, something that can be very hard to achieve in a government job.

After Berkeley I worked at Be for three years, at Cymerc for 14 months, and now I’ve been with Persistence for another 14 months. Add in a couple months consulting and contracting, and I’ve now worked in the private sector about five and a half years also, and in three different roles.

From a professional development standpoint, there can be no doubt the private sector has been better for me. The simplest measurement is compensation. In the 5.5 years I worked at Cal my salary increased about 10%. That’s overall, not per year! In spite of excellent performance reviews, university policies put significant constraints on salary increases.

Since leaving Berkeley my compensation has more than doubled. Indeed, I now make more money per year than my first manager’s manager made when she retired from 30+ years of working from the university. Which in a lot of ways is crazy!

But in other ways is not. When I worked at Cal, I worked 40 hours a week. I was in at 8:30am, and out the door at 5:30pm. I lived only a few blocks from campus, so by 6pm my evening was totally mine. Throw in completely open weekends, and my free time was probably more than double what it is today.

I look back on that in wonder. As in “I wonder what I did with all that spare time?” God knows I’d love to have that kind of free time again, especially now that I could share it with Rochelle.

So I frequently fantasize that at some point I’ll make the journey back to the public sector. Someday, maybe, but not soon. There’s more to the private sector than money, I do love the challenges and variety, the unpredictability (which has a downside in uncertainty), and many other things about my current and past (and future) jobs.

Time will tell.

Back From NYC

Rochelle and I just few back from NYC, and boy are our arms tired.

Rochelle and I just returned (on Sunday) from New York City. I went for an Important Company Meeting, and Rochelle came along to torture me and rant at my co-workers. At the end of one evening, on of them said slyly to me, “Note to self: never introduce wife to co-workers…”

The most fun thing we did was go to Les Halles for dinner on Friday night, without a reservation. When we got there it was pretty crowded, but the hostess estimated it would be 35 minutes for a table for two, and suggested we wait in the bar area.

We headed for the bar, where there was one stool available. Rochelle sat down, and then I leaned into her and whispered into her ear, “It’s him.”

“Him” was Anthony Bourdain, the executive chef, and author of Kitchen Confidential, a book Rochelle and I literally fought over while we were reading it, allowing the other to take a turn reading it only with the greatest reluctance. He was sitting on the bar stool to Rochelle’s left.

After a few moments he turned and noticed us, and then offered his seat to me. I protested, not wanting to kick the chef out of his seat, but he insisted: “It’s OK, I work here.”

Upgrades Are Dangerous

At work yesterday our IT department installed a bunch of updates on my computer. I always worry about installing updates for no reason, but they wanted to do it, so I let them. Maybe I shouldn’t have…

At work yesterday our IT department installed a bunch of updates on my computer. I always worry about installing updates for no reason, but they wanted to do it, so I let them.

So far nothing seems amiss. But after reading this guy’s upgrade story, I’m a little worried.

Magic Numbers

For years I’ve lived with hundreds of unanswered e-mail messages sitting in my Inbox at home, which causes me to ignore most of them. With a little motivation from some magic numbers I’m getting ahead of the situation.

For years I’ve lived with hundreds of unanswered e-mail messages sitting in my Inbox at home. Since e-mail is my preferred form of communication this is a real problem, because basically anything “below the fold,” that is, not in the first screen of my Inbox, gets ignored, often indefinitely.

Periodically I would get into a groove and file some, delete more, and answer or act upon others, without ever really getting the situation under control. But recently I’ve been on a roll, hitting magic numbers that provide new motivation. Last weekend it was getting under 300, on Saturday it was 200. After last evening I’m under 150.

My Inbox displays 26 messages in one screen, so theoretically my final magic number should be 25. For now, though, the only number I’m looking at is 100.

Now if only I could make this happen at work…

Shoveling

An ode to a startup, and what it’s like to be inside, shoveling.

One month before our web site went live, and about 10 months before we went bankrupt, one of my co-workers at Cymerc sent this around:

You ever feel like you are in the engine room of a submarine?
And you are shoveling coal into the engine.
And building the ship at the same time.
You are not sure where you are going.
And you haven’t seen the sun for some time.
But you are pretty sure someone is steering
Because you haven’t hit anything yet?

I still love it!

(Note: I don’t know if it’s original, but I’ll credit it to Clark Weber until I hear differently.)

Odd Todd

Odd Todd is probably the funniest of the various “I’m unemployed and have lots of time, so I’m going to document what’s it’s like to be unemployed on the Internet” sites.

OK, here’s another one. Odd Todd is probably the funniest of the various “I’m unemployed and have lots of time, so I’m going to document what’s it’s like to be unemployed on the Internet” sites.

The weirdest thing about this one is that the narration is in a voice that sounds a lot like one of Rochelle’s co-workers, who I met just after viewing the cartoon. It made it very difficult actually hear what he was saying, instead of just marveling at his voice…

Anyway, there’s a couple cartoons, and while the visuals are very stick-figure, the narration and audio is terrific. Recommended.

Unemployed Theo

Unemployed Theo is an amusing little web site that lets those not in the technology industry see what the life of a dot.bomb victim is like.

Unemployed Theo is an amusing little web site that lets those not in the technology industry see what the life of a dot.bomb victim is like.

Rochelle and I were doing this ourselves, about a year ago. Not coincidentally, Rochelle will be getting her Masters in Tequila later today, and mine should come in another month or so. If we’d stayed unemployed, I’m sure we’d be getting ready to receive our doctorates instead…and living in the basement on macaroni and cheese…

Work Hard, Play Hard

Seeking to “narrow the focus of the drug war to the true enemy,” Congress passed a bill legalizing drug use for the gainfully employed Monday.

In an interesting new development in the War On Drugs, Congress has passed a bill legalizing drug use if you are gainfully employed.

“Stockbrokers, lawyers, English professors…you’re not the problem here,” said DEA Administrator Asa Hutchinson at a White House press conference.

“Drugs are addictive, and that’s true whether you’re a ghetto gang member or a Harvard-educated entertainment lawyer. But the cold, hard truth is, if the ghetto kid gets hooked, he isn’t going to clean up in a rehab clinic in Palm Springs and maybe even become president, now, is he? That’s why we need to protect the less fortunate among us with the threat of arrest and incarceration.”

Replacing the File System

A colleague asked me if Microsoft’s initiative to replace their aging file system with database technology was anything like what Be did in BeOS. The answer is no, and the reason is because it’s not a very good idea.

A recent article at CNet, about Microsoft’s futuristic concept of replacing the traditional file system with something more like a database, prompted a co-worker to ask me if this was along the same lines as what Be had done (in BFS, the advanced file system that was part of BeOS).

My answer was no. BeOS provided the 20% of the functionality that gave you 80% of what real people actually want to do.

The file system was fairly Unix-like (i.e., no resource forks or anything like that), with the ability to attach arbitrary attributes to files. Some attributes were system-maintained, others could be maintained by the application software that used the files. The attributes could be simple, like numbers or dates or strings, or complex binary data. There was no practical limit on the size or number of attributes, just as there was no practical limit on the size or number of files (64-bit file system).

Simple data attributes could be indexed, and searched upon by a basic but complete query language. The operating system provided a search panel that let you do some interesting things, like search for all e-mail you received in the “last week” or “today”, or all graphics files of any type that were edited on a particular day, etc. Applications could make use of the query engine, and provide their own customized functionality for, say, searching through your collection of contacts or appointments.

Be experimented for a while with “going all the way” and actually using a real database for the file system. And in our experiments we found that there was tremendous value to the traditional file system, that it does a lot of things very, very well. People discount the value because they take it for granted, and the database thing sure sounds sexier.

And one day we will store stuff in some giant, fully indexed and searchable system, and it’ll look like a database in some ways, and give lots of new power. But it’s so complex to do that right, and well, and completely that it’ll take years of pretty sucky solutions before it’s actually useful in real life. So I hope Microsoft commits to this, because it’ll make Longhorn (the next version of Windows) ship that much later than planned.

Here’s another way to think about it. Take the Internet today and consider it a traditional file system (because in a lot of ways it’s very like a traditional file system). There’s this notion of the Semantic Web being developed right now, which will be a lot like what Microsoft envisions for their new data storage technology.

But today Google works pretty fuckin’ well, using the traditional approach. It doesn’t depend on a lot of central management of the data, where the Semantic Web will require that a whole lot of web pages will have to change. By “a whole lot” I actually mean just about all of them, i.e., billions.

The Semantic Web sounds like a great place to be in 10 years, but it’ll require a lot of ditch digging. And I don’t want to have to do the digging myself, nor do I envy the people who do end up doing it.

On the other hand, those Microsofties probably deserve it.

Neuhaus Chocolates

We’ve tried a lot of others, and Neuhaus chocolates are the world’s best.

One of the great tragedies of my business trip to Europe was that I was in and out of Brussels so fast that I didn’t have time to buy chocolate. Rochelle and I have tried a lot of really good chocolates, and the best — by far — have been Neuhaus. Brought direct from Belgium.

Our tenant introduced us to them, when he brought them back from visiting his parents over Xmas one year. He picked us up a $5 box of chocolates in the airport as a gift. Sort of like Sees candy in SFO, except way, way better.

We tried buying some here in the US, but you can’t get the fresh cream chocolates that way, only if you buy them in Belgium. So we thought that I’d pick up about a dozen boxes while Euro-hopping, except I never got the chance.

Fortunately for me (Rochelle made me open my suitcases at the airport to see what I’d brought her, and decide whether I got a ride home or not), I managed to pick up a kilo of Neuhaus at Harrod’s in London, right before getting on the plane to come home. But they were 3 times as expensive there, so only one box for us, which is nearly exhausted now.

Writing for the Boss

Someday someone I work for will read this. Hopefully they’ll like it, because I’m not stopping.

More of my noodling around, I found a great weblog by a very honest man, who’s boss wanted him to stop writing his weblog.

He said no.

Since someday someone I work for will surely run across this weblog, hopefully they’ll like it, or if not maybe they’ll read Mark’s article, and not ask me to stop writing. This weblog isn’t as interesting, as honest as Mark’s, but I’m working on it. And plan to keep doing so.