Archive for the ‘Work’ Category.

Walking in Memphis

Got back from Memphis late Wednesday night, I was at the FedEx head office for a couple days. I’m getting too old for this.

Almost every time I get sent somewhere for work, it’s because something isn’t working properly, and there’s a limited amount of time to diagnose the problem and fix it. This time around it was an 18 hour work day, five hours of sleep, a skipped breakfast, a crappy and expensive late lunch in the FedEx cafeteria, and a late, mediocre dinner.

Think business trips are about dining lavishly and lounging in five star hotels on company coin? Not in my experience. I’ve had to do this kind of thing on and off since my first co-op term, and I find the whole process quite nerve wracking, actually.

The key to thriving in situations like this is to cultivate a tendency to identify faults before strengths. Regular readers of this site (especially the posts with more lengthy comment threads) will have picked up that I have this trait down pat. I tend to focus on the root causes of problems and ways to eliminate them, which is great for my line of work, but can make for some pretty odd human interactions.

On several occasions I’ve caught myself openly assigning blame and fault to people in situations where perhaps I should have been less abrasive. What makes for even more awkward (though funny in retrospect) situations is that the more unreasonable and confrontational the other person is, the more abrasive and verbally abusive I become. “Victims” have ranged from the president of the company, to arrogant customers, to snarky old men in the supermarket.

When someone gets on my bad side I can do some pretty spectacular things that in the worst case are probably career limiting and bad for business, but in the best case make for some pretty amusing anecdotes. I know, it’d probably be better if I just held my tongue, but the fact that most people have never seen this side of me is a testament to how unreasonable a person has to be before I feel the need to bite back.

That’s not what I meant, really!

I work with the technical teams at both NetZero and AOL regularly[1], and it’s surprising how accurately the technical competence of each company’s staff reflect their own user base. NetZero’s team is hard core, whereas AOL’s is usually not on the ball.

Anyway, a guy at NetZero said something today that I didn’t think was accurate, but I consulted my good friend Google to make sure. I didn’t notice the double entendres until the last iteration in my choice of search terms:

  • dirty anon pages
  • dirty anonymous pages
  • dirty private anonymous pages

So all you site owners, don’t always assume the worst when you see search terms like these in your referrer logs. 😛

[1] Both companies use our technology for their accelerated dial-up solutions. NetZero here, AOL here.

Such hard work, part two.

The cover story for this month’s Toronto Life is “What you get for $500,000“. The pictures on the front cover range from a 3000 square foot 4 bedroom monster in Oakville, to a 1 bedroom low-rise Yorkville condo, to a 94-year old towering detached Edwardian in High Park.

Visually, I think it drives home the point that very little of what we buy can actually be considered an asset. It’s definitely not the accountant’s definition, but things I consider assets are those that appreciate in value. Everything else can conceptually be thought of as expenses with differing properties. Some require a large initial outlay that depreciates over time, others are small, recurring payments. Usually it’s some combination of the two.

Almost everyone classifies their house as an asset, but I think that’s a misnomer. A house requires constant maintenance, repairs, and upgrades. Just looking at the individual parts that make up a house, I think it can be pretty clearly seen that the contents either lose value, or stay the same (excepting antiques or other limited, collectible items, which people have very few of anyway). There’s certainly no appreciation going on. The thing that does appreciate is the land the house is built on. This is one of the reasons why a 20 year old high-rise condo apartment is usually worth less than a 20 year old house that both had the same value initially. The condo cannot be torn down and rebuilt, each person only owns a portion of the land that the building sits on. The land underneath a detached house is like gold though – you can always rebuild the aging, “depreciating part” of the land/house combo.

Going down the list, I think at this point most people realize that a car is definitely not an asset. It’s one of the worst offenders in terms of large initial outlay and large recurring payments versus useful lifetime. The strange thing is that even though this is obvious, there are still so many people around my age (plus/minus a few years) spending lavishly on BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Lexus, Infiniti, Acura, etc. cars. Off the top of my head I can name at least 5 people I know or know of who have done something like this. Within 5 years, at least 33-50% of their original purchase price will be lost to depreciation. Add to that the cost of insurance, gas, maintenance, repairs, traffic tickets, etc., and it makes less and less sense.

Now there’s of course something to be said about enjoying your youth, “you’re only young once”, yadda, yadda. And I agree to a certain extent. Given the choice of only one of these two scenarios:

  1. Spending recklessly and enjoying years 18-30, then working like a dog the rest of your life to pay off your debts; or
  2. Working like a dog in years 18-65, saving up enough to spend recklessly in years 65+, but leaving most to your offspring

I’d choose the first one any day. But I think these are two extremes, and most people are scared of the second one because that’s the trap their parents fell into. So they lunge head first into the first scenario instead, vowing not to repeat the mistakes of their elders.

I think there can be a balance between the two though; something along the lines of working hard (though not killing yourself) from 18 to 35 to start yourself off with some sizable seed capital, then “coasting” in the sense of managing your investments wisely. Doing the latter is not likely to be as time consuming as a full time job, and if you do it right, it shouldn’t be as stressful either. That leaves the better part of each day for you to do whatever it is that you want, free of the daily grind.

The trick is to partition your time from 18 to 35 appropriately to maximize your starting capital. Some portion of that will be education, some portion in the workforce. That’s one of the reasons I go bug-eyed when I hear of friends planning to spend the next 5-7 years adding to their education before starting work. Some will even come out tens or hundreds of thousands in debt. I don’t think I could stomach that kind of cost without a large enough payoff. Most will eventually make more than their peers on an annual basis, but in total terms, it pushes their whole timeline forward at least 10 years, much more for those with non-forgivable debts.

I’ve written before about how after graduation last year and starting full time work I became disillusioned. In terms of timeline it was looking more and more like I would follow the path of my parents, albeit owning slightly nicer stuff along the way. Well screw that. This is the new plan, wish me luck.

Wait. Wait. Stay right there. OK, c’mon in. [1]

My work recently closed their second round of financing, to the tune of some $3.5M. Incidentally, this event also reduces the value of my stock options from owning about 1% of the company to 0.5%. Dilution hurts.

Anyway, with this new money, I think management isn’t really sure which direction to go. On our current path we’re already profitable (though our flagship product has a limited life), so obviously this new money is supposed to help push us in another direction that will make even more.

Yesterday we had a company-sponsored brainstorming day. Lunch at East Side Mario’s on King, then a 4 hour session at Willowells Conference Center. First 2.5 hours was just the technical team, then the sales and business people joined us for the remainder. The contrast between the two sessions was interesting to say the least. The technical part was upbeat, some ideas were thrown around that I wouldn’t mind pursuing if this was back in the university lab days. But the reality is that when you’re a small company with a (compartively) large number of customers, ultimately the mandates of business and marketing win out.

Which is fine, I understand the whole greater good thing, but I just wish they didn’t have to be so rude and pushy about it. I guess that’s the thing – you can’t really get rich being nice (kind of like how you can’t win friends with salad). One of my co-workers has this story: The president of our company was in the same Systems Design class at UW with Bill Tatham, founder of Janna Systems, which later sold out to Siebel. Suffice to say, Bill Tatham is loaded [2]. Our president is decidedly… not (well who knows, but he doesn’t look it). So anyway, the story is that my co-worker had a co-op term or two at Janna, and he had these horror stories about Bill Tatham walking around the office and barking orders at random people, attempting to micro-manage daily operations. Stuff like, “WHY THE F*CK IS THIS PLANT IN THIS CORNER?!! IT SHOULD BE OVER THERE!” Contrast that with our mild-mannered president who’s usually quite nice (but has been known to make the occasional snide remark), and it’s quite clear.

If you wanna be rich, you gotta be a mean sonuvabitch.

[1] There’s a tangential story that goes along with the post title. My co-worker has another funny story from when he worked at Janna. There was this manager there, who had his office arranged such that the back of his computer faced the door, so he could see people coming to visit him and they couldn’t see his monitor unless they went in and walked around his desk. The story goes that whenever people would knock on his door, he’d put up his left hand and say “Wait. Wait. Stay right there.”, all the while frantically clicking the mouse with his right hand. Once done, he’d breathe a sigh of relief and welcome the person into his office. Eww.
[2] So loaded that the new UW co-op building is named after him.

New chair

They finally got me a new chair at work. It’s a Herman Miller Ambi, without the forward seat angle option. It’s no Aeron “ass throne”, but at least it’s better than the crappy old Staples chair I was using before.

The rest of the people in the office got new chairs too. Definitely a step up from Staples (and a couple steps up from the chairs that came with the building), but they’re no Ambi. Haha, suckers!

One of the sales guys and the Russian co-op have cats at home. Their old chairs were covered in cat hair when they turned them in. That, or they shed a lot. Or they sleep with some really hairy women.