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Livelihood Update

by dave

I’ve noted a couple times this year that one of my goals for 2017 was a new role in my career. I have news on that front. Kind of. It isn’t as simple an answer as laying out a new role, it is more of the first steps on a new path…

  • First — my wrist problems that were causing me to be unable to perform well as a coder are corrected. Short end to a long, drawn out painful episode. It is now over and I can code all day without pain.
  • Second — The discussions with my work about getting a new role because of the aforementioned inability to code are over. The decision came down to keep me where I am. Of course, because that decision came down after 6+ months of talking about a new role, and BEFORE I told them that my wrist was corrected, it was a huge breach of trust, so I’m pretty much done with being an “engaged employee” at my job.
  • Third — Despite not caring about my job anymore, I do still have a work ethic, and I can perform my job appropriately. It does bring in the paychecks. And I know this tech and this codebase. I can write a book about the problems with this job, but I know it, and despite the events of 2017, there is good history prior to 2017, so if I stay here despite the problems, it gives me an opportunity to slowly set myself up to do something completely different. And it gives them a chance to fix problems. If they want to.

So the question I have to ask myself is the same question I have asked multiple friends who have found themselves laid off, as an older tech worker, not quite sure what their next move in life should be. There are certainly tech jobs around. But… my post from a while back explains why just going out and getting a job isn’t an exciting answer. So the question is a cliche, but… where do I want to be in 5 years? I don’t mean in a narrow sense of what job do I want to be in, but as someone with a large chunk of life behind me, and also hopefully ahead of me, and a family partly raised, but also with a ways to go… in 5 years, what do I want that family and career life to look like, if I could really draw my ideal life?

I’ve been thinking about that question ever since that start of this year, and if I throw out all preconceived notions, and really look at what I love to do… what activities have I truly enjoyed during my life, what do I still love, what do I want to share with my family, and how could I make a living doing those things? And I have answers to those questions which lead me down a path that is not going to be simple and easy, and might not be as lucrative as a software engineering job, but might make a happier and healthier life for me and my family in the long run.

Lets start with what activities I have truly enjoyed — hiking, exploring, spending time with friends/family, and making things. That is really it. Nothing else I have done really matters to me. I couldn’t care less about any software I have written or career accomplishments, but the artwork I’ve done means something to me, the mountains I have climbed are great memories, and my time with the people in my life matters to me.

So I want to continue those things. Get out in the world, explore it, make things, and spend time with people. And believe it or not, the last few years of exploring Utah may have opened up a way for us to do that. Because I’ve recently started to explore rock carving. I’ve always loved sculpture, but never had the time, space, or energy to really build out a sculpture studio. I’ve wanted to for most of my adult life, but just never did. Now that I am carving rocks, I am realizing that maybe this small-scale sculptural medium is the answer to everything… I can explore the Rockies and deserts to collect material, and bring my family with me. I can carve that material into new objects, and sell them.  There are trade shows all over to buy other materials for carving, or to sell my finished works. And I can make jewelry and other such things from the scraps of the materials that I don’t using in my carvings.  And in my travels to shows and exploring for new materials, I can visit friends and family, and we can do road trips with my own family.

Now, clearly drawing that picture in my mind and making it happen in real life with enough success to support the family are two different things. But that is why I am still working my job. In short, if they want me to sit and write code for them for a couple years until the VC firm at the top of all this flips us, fine. They get their code, I get paychecks while I level up my carving skills and work on building up a non-tech business as a small-scale carver/sculptor.

This is my plan. I don’t know if it will succeed. If we have another round of layoffs at my job, maybe I’ll have to get another job which won’t give me the flexibility to do this, or maybe I just won’t be good enough, or maybe I won’t find buyers… anything can go wrong. But I definitely won’t get to that ideal vision if I do not try. So, I’m going to let my employer fund my efforts to change my career path. And hopefully in a year or so, it will end up working out well for everyone involved, and we all go our own ways, happy for the end result…

Legal Tips from a Software Professional

by dave

I am not a lawyer. This is just my personal approach to the legal quagmires of working in the software world. But it does work for me. YMMV and make your own decisions. Also, the legal field is inherently adversarial. So this post approaches it that way, too — that you are in conflict with the people who are giving you contracts. But I also have good friends who are attorneys, and they have an uncanny ability to turn that adversarial switch on and off like a light. It is just part of their work. This is often just a game to them, and maybe that is why they do this job to begin with. So play it, but treat them like people, and don’t take things personally.

  1. When in doubt, seek professional help — The key to success is often knowing your own limitations. This is especially true in the legal arena. If you are unsure, ask. Better to get a clear answer than make a bad guess and get burned in the future.
  2. Read contracts carefully — The fine print does matter. But despite being complicated, legal language is still just English. Read it slowly, and carefully. Match up all the phrases in a sentence to be sure you understand which clause is attached to which, and it will make sense. The context of how it is applied in your jurisdiction and your specific circumstances is where you might need legal advice, but don’t buy into the myth that “legalese” is a different language. If you can structure a software app, you can break down a sentence in a contract and understand it.
  3. Contracts are two-sided — All contracts require “consideration”. This is a basic principle of contract law. If they do not give you something, they cannot demand anything of you.  Often, this means money in exchange for services or other agreements. The value of the two sides of the contract to not have to be equal, but there does have to be a give and take from both sides. If you don’t like a particular contract, but have a business need to make it happen anyway, this is the area in which to focus your negotiations — ask for more consideration. And if someone asks you to sign a contract where they do not give you anything… just say no. Even though it wouldn’t be a valid contract anyway, see the next point…
  4. Don’t follow the advice that “It is OK to sign a contract if it won’t hold up in court.” — I hear this more often than I would expect. There is this idea that if part of a contact won’t hold up in court, than you can just ignore it. This isn’t good thinking. First of all, you would have to fight it in court to get to that conclusion, which is both time-consuming and expensive. So if you believe that part of a contract is not enforceable, just ask it to be removed. Odds are, the lawyers will remove it if it really is that flimsy. And if they do not, well… you have something you need to negotiate with them.  Because litigation rarely ends up getting resolved at trial anymore anyway — it gets settled. So your potential future conflict is being negotiated right now. Settle the differences right now, not years down the road when this contract can be wielded against you, with legal fees and courts attached. Argue your points before signing.
  5. All contracts are negotiable — People say they won’t negotiate, but it is all about power. They want something from you, or you would not be in the position of looking at a contract in the first place. The question is how much they need you vs. how much you need them. If you are signing a contract for an entry level job with 100 other applicants, sure, maybe you have no room for negotiation. But if you are an expert in your field who get thrown a new contract after working at a company for years, asking to change your working relationship, and told sign it or lose your job, trust me — they’ll negotiate.
  6. Negotiation means compromise — I’ve heard it said, and repeated it myself, that you know a negotiation was fair when both sides walk away a little bit unhappy. You need to pick your battles in all areas of life, and contract negotiation is no different. Pick the areas that truly bother you, and fight for those. Don’t get bent out of shape over a couple points, and then nitpick everything in the contract just to be spiteful. Know what you care about. Know what you are willing to accept. Know what you are not willing to accept. And be willing to let the other side win some points.
  7. Negotiations are part of the interview process — Suppose you get a job offer, accept, and are just finishing out paperwork to start, when you find a few gotchas in an employment contract and negotiations get heated. In my mind, this is still the interview process. Not for whether they want you, but for whether you want to work for them. Are they being reasonable towards you in what they are asking in the contract? Are they kind in their approach to you in negotiations? Are they explaining why they need certain clauses, and working with you to find common ground to reach a resolution? Or are they just telling you to sign it, no questions asked? However they are treating you during this process, is that how you want to be treated by your employer?
  8. Do not be afraid to get sued — lawsuits are a mechanism of conflict resolution. If the lawsuit has no merit, just work the mechanisms to fight it, and counter-sue for legal costs. And take it as a compliment that you are doing enough things right that a competitor is threatened by you. Because if you run a successful business, someone eventually will sue you. Consider it a right of passage. Hire a good lawyer. Deal with it. And move on. Don’t run your business in fear of it, or you will stifle yourself. (And if their suit does have merit, take the hit, learn your lessons, recover, and still move on.) Also, lawsuits are the most expensive and painful way to resolve a conflict. If someone went this far, they really are just desperate to resolve a problem. You have an opportunity to seek a better resolution, and I’d take it.
  9. Do not let lawyers bully you — lawyers are not scary. They simply wield knowledge and threats as a weapon within their profession. But patience, research, reading, and your own attorney will solve all things. And nothing a lawyer sends you demands an immediate response. Look things over carefully. Get help if needed, and respond appropriately. Do not let corporate lawyers tell you that you must sign contracts to keep your job. In some places, that is not legal. (Utah, for example.) In others, it may be legal, but you still need to see if the contract is acceptable. No job is worth signing a bad contract. Not if you are a software professional, not in today’s market.
  10. Cease and Desist letters have no authority over you — They are a warning shot over your bow. They may be followed by a lawsuit. You may want to cease and desist, depending on circumstances. Or you may not. You are your own person, and the decision is yours. Just because someone got a degree, passed an exam, and sent you a letter, does not give them any authority to tell you what to do. Of course, the lawsuit that comes next, if they win it, could have authority. So be as bold as you want, but don’t be stupid.


Write like a 3rd Grader

by dave

The ability to communicate effectively has been a hot topic at work the past few months. Mostly because, frankly, people are doing it badly. Usually it is just minor stuff. Nothing to get too worked up about. But this past week, it was a train wreck. I’m sorely tempted to share details, but I’ll refrain. Instead, I’ll focus on the positive.

I need to first give credit where it is due — when I worked in Denver, I ran our internal collaboration systems, which included the intranet portals, and therefore I was involved whenever company-wide emails and announcements were made. Often, I simply posted them, but over time I started authoring some of them. And at first, I did it poorly. But our Communications Director would edit my announcements and emails, and help me become a better communicator, and by the time that job ended, I could just about write a corporate announcement that would pass her critiques without needing changes. It was a valuable experience, which may not have improve my writing on these blog posts, or even in my day-to-day emails, but does make me capable of keeping a team or an entire company informed of what is going on.

And it really is not rocket science. You need to write just like an elementary school student completing a writing assignment. Answer basic questions — What? When? Who? Why?

What is going on? When is it going to occur? Who will it affect? How will it impact me, my job, my team, etc? Why is it being done? And where do I get more information or ask questions? If your announcement answers those questions, it is good communications. If it does not, it is going to be a failure. It is really that simple.