Yes, It Was The Right Choice

Five months ago I accepted a new job with Sur La Table. I had spent nine years at Expedia doing a variety of things, and learning a tremendous lot, but it was definitely time to move on and be the “fresh blood” somewhere else. As I gleefully told my family, friends, and professional associates of my move, I got mainly 3 reactions:

1. That’s great… what do they do again?

2. That’s great… wait, you’re moving from Director to Manager?

3. That’s great… are you making more money?

I can sort of see the first reaction, if you’re talking to someone who’s not in one of the 27 states that SLT operates in, and/or you don’t cook. (I am not judging.  Yours truly has a few friends who know an awful lot about food but you shan’t let them in the kitchen). The other two have been reiterated so often that I figured I’d just answer them here, and then point people to it.

1. Sur La Table (www.surlatable.com) is a store, and site, for cook’s tools and entertaining. That’s it. You are not going to find beekeeping outfits, a large selection of scented candles, ironing boards, etc. You are going to find a wide selection of knives and people who can tell you how to use and care for them, because they know. You are going to find a variety of stove top cookware, in a variety of materials and colors, and any one of the people wearing a Sur La Table apron can tell you, depending on YOUR cooking style and YOUR stove what will work for YOU. In more than half of the locations you will find a roster of classes you can take that will teach you everything from how to use your knife properly to how to make homemade pasta to how to do five recipes on one grill for six people.

2. Yes, I moved from a Director to a Manager. Specifically the course was Director of Business Development to Director of Content to Applications Development Manager. And here’s your first clue why “different” does not mean “downward”: I went from what was essentially inflated project management (with a bit of ability to direct the change that instantiated the project) to Operations management to development management. With each step the skill set gets broader, and deeper. Project management is about managing people you don’t technically manage, Operations management is about managing people you manage and managing by proxy.  Development management is all of the above and now you get to speak two languages: business and technology.

I could go on: development offers a chance to actually BUILD THINGS, the reality that a Director at Expedia is not equivalent to a Director at Microsoft is not equivalent to a Director at Sur La Table, in either breadth of responsibility or in terms of compensation. And frankly, I’m mercenary enough to be happily titled the Hobgoblin of Object Oriented Programming if they pay me enough, which leads us to…

3. Yes. I mean, I can offer the logic that benefit packages from Company A to Company B require careful weighing and measuring, and that there are quality of life trade-offs with commuting time, etc.  But any way you slice it, frankly, the answer is yes. Anyone who tells you that “Retail” is this or “Technology” is that is at best over-generalizing and at worst missing opportunities.

None of this answers the question, four (working) months later, of “Are you enjoying it” and the answer is an unqualified YES. Do not get me wrong, there have been seriously frustrating times. Sur La Table has been around since the 70’s but its growth pattern is such that it *feels* like a start-up, with all that that entails. Development has to run quickly and there is enormous demand for my department, which leads to both the wonderful sensation that “we can DO this” combined with “OMG how are we gonna do this??” There’s a bit of “hey let’s go down this path… no wait that path… no let’s go down the first path” that you see in nascent organizations, and for someone who was at a company that went from start-up (well, close to, it was about 4 years in) to Mature Large Company in my tenure, there’s the urge to be much farther along the development path than we are.

Then again, it affords me (us, really) the opportunity to be there to make the changes that need to be made, and build the cool, fun stuff that needs to be built. That, by far, is the best reason.

Plus One To Awareness

Yesterday 10pm local time ended my 24-hour vacation from any sort of connectivity (including the ability to “google” anything, text anyone, etc.) If you think it’s simple, try it in a place as connectivity-savvy as the Magic Kingdom. There’s an app to navigate the kingdom that includes line times, parade routes and hidden Mickeys. I couldn’t download or use that, no phone. There’s free wi-fi in the hotel and in the parks. Nope. In a line for Space Mountain where every 3rd person is lit from beneath (thanks to their iPhones and in a couple of cases, iPads), connectivity sure would provide an answer to the waiting game.

When I turned my phone off I made an analog list (pen, paper) of all the things I’d use connectivity for if I had the ability to, and the time.

  • At 11pm that night, finding it difficult to fall asleep and devoid of reading material (I had finished it), I really wanted to read my twitter feed to fall asleep, but I didn’t.
  • At 3am I wanted to look up the symptoms of food poisoning (yes, it was), but I didn’t.
  • At 9am the male child asked if he could bring his DS into the park to keep him occupied, and when I incredulously turned to him to explain the whole park was designed to keep him occupied, and discovered that he was teasing me, I really wanted to tweet it. But I didn’t.

And on it went. In the line for Space Mountain I wanted to share the statistical correlation between a person with an iPhone and a lag in line continuity, I wanted to look up the name/number of the restaurant we are to eat at tonight, I wanted to check the terms of the Disney Visa and see if it really was the good deal it was purported to be.

But the thing that really got me was pictures. I couldn’t take pictures.

Pictures of the male child when he finally got his sword (it’s impressive), of the lush greenery that would exist just fine here without the careful maintenance it gets, but would die in two weeks outside in Washington, of the attention to detail this park gives to its art and architecture. “The floors here are *really clean*,” the male person said, as we trotted along in line at Space Mountain. (This was fortunate for the teenager in front of us who, when the line stopped, would sit down on them. Just plopped right down. Even if the line moved again, and then she’d try to scoot along on her ass. Ridiculous, naturally.) It became a challenge to find something out-of-place anywhere.

Therefore, today, fully connected, app-in-hand, there will be pictures, and tweeting, and tweeting of pictures, and Foursquare check-ins, and more pictures.

PS  – for those wondering, my personal email for a 24-hour period counted 74 including advertisements, and 2 for legitimate communications. My work email counted 14, of which 8 were things that were not about me and completely resolved before I got online, 2 were social (one going away notice, one lunch notice), a meeting change notification, and 3 legitimate to the project I was working on.

PPS — Grog the Luddite would like to mention he’s really a sensitive, un-macho, really into stopping and smelling the roses guy and likes technology just fine and even knows a thing or to about it, he just wanted me to realize that there was life outside of it. Point taken.

Floating Along

I am, once again, at the airport. Can I just say how refreshing it was to NOT have an instant sense of direction once clearing security? I have a whole new world opened to me, and it’s a weird one. Item one: I checked email two hours after leaving on vacation and no work urgency or email had appeared! (What is this alternate universe I have travelled to?).

No, this is a welcome weird; I am semi-secure in the knowledge that nothing really truly awfully bad can happen, that my company can survive without me, and yet my (brief) absence will not convince them they should get rid of me. Nonetheless I am travelling with two laptops, which means I’ll be totally buff when I return.

Like every vacation, I have a laundry list of things I’m going to do (that I probably will not complete). Like every vacation, I have forgotten something (although the kindly Editor dropped by work earlier today and delivered my knitting, which was the item forgotten). Like every vacation, the boychild and I went to Anthony’s for pre-flight. Like every vacation, I am looking forward to in-flight WiFi.

I cannot sit still. I really can’t. I noticed it a few years back, and it was again brought to my attention when the Brit was in a meeting with me a year back. It has peaked since: hour-long meetings in conference rooms either must include my laptop so I can multitask *or* folks need to suspend their seismographs, because the leg or the hand or the pencil or the anything else will be rhythmically moving to the sound of whatever song is in the head.  So sitting on a plane for three hours is going to be less than pleasant. For those of you recommending wine: thought of that. But I’m going to 110-degree weather, and so dehydrating myself on purpose seems a bit stupid.

In four days I will return, and will have to text my PT and tell him about signing up for Tough Mudder, and will have to acclimatize myself to the notion that in 3 months I need to train myself to 1. withstand electric shocks, or at least grit my teeth over them, and 2. be able to pull myself up (all of myself) (by my own hands) (several times). Up until now the directive for the trainer has been much more mellow, much more “hey can you make sure you don’t re-break the parts of me that are broken?” and more “I have this specific set of criteria I must meet in 12 weeks.”

But until then I’m on vacation. Leave a message!

Typing

It’s my “me” night — the boy is with his father, the man is with his brother, and I am home watching a James Bond movie. It’s “Thunderball”, released in 1965; at this time in history my father had been in the country 1 year, I do not believe he had as yet met my mother, and I was -8 years old.

All of the women are decorative, deadly, or both. Any one of them who was competent and even remotely personable was a secretary. The only two remainders were a deadly assassin (ultimately, and inevitably, poor in her job) and the clueless, innocent heroine.

When I was in 8th grade, typing was a requirement for everyone, but you had to do it on an IBM Selectric that was only slightly quieter than a beehive. Typing had time-tests as well as visual tests — you could NOT type the volume in the time if you hesitated to look at the keyboard. I had managed to multi-task and eyeball the keyboard through the first quarter, so my second quarter C’s were not welcome at home. (In point of fact, C’s were never welcome at home, but A’s that went to C’s were very much not ok). My grades came home and my parents acted.

My stepmother grabbed a sheet of blue, circle-shaped stickers. And covered every key in the keyboard of the computer my brother and I used. It was torturous. But I learned to type.

Not to become a secretary.

Seventeen years ago I took a couple of classes at the local community college to learn how to program websites — I was a “web developer” when everybody was, it founded a slightly profitable side business. In 2000 I took classes in DB development, by 2003 I had argued my way into a dev job. In 2004 I got the dream job, at Expedia, to do development in their Reporting group. By 2010 the good jobs had moved to Geneva and I had to find other pursuit. By 2013, I had tired of “other pursuit”.

Today I find myself with two keyboards, two machines, a multitude of projects and lots of things to build. I type a lot these days. But I’m not a secretary.

Sur La Awesome

My resolution to blog more often has gone by the wayside courtesy of a new job. I started working at Sur La Table about 10 (calendar) days ago (officially) and I’m having a bit of a hard time.

I’m having a hard time separating reality from all of the awesome.

Any time you start a new job, you’re going to be in a “honeymoon” period. Everything is new, and different. It’s a bit like the 4-week rule I had when I was dating. It went something like this:

Week 1: Dating again. Ok, this is cool, this is normal, everyone dates. Cool.

Week 2: He can do no wrong! He’s going to be a Doctor or Lawyer or Artist or Trashman and this totally meets with my life plans because of X/Y/Z contrived plan.

Week 3: He has a fault. It’s not a big fault, it’s a fault; everyone has faults! I’m totally not judging!

Week 4: The fault… has spawned. It has morphed into one giant gelatinous blob of fault-ness, and I can’t stand it.

(At the end of week 4 I’d dump him. He was still on week 1.)

Fully aware that I’m in week two at my new job, I’ve been doing my damnedest to be diligently down on the novelty, and… it’s just not working.

I get to *build* things again. My professional experience with C# is very, very little and very, very old, but I’m almost done building a nifty little widget complete with error handling. I’ve reaffirmed my faith in Stack Overflow, my lack of faith in MSDN, and re-verified that “Dummies” books are anything but. Half of my day is spent “managing” (two rock stars in their field, incidentally) and the other half is spent “creating”. There are two good coffee sources (NOT including those directly in-office) nearby, two Subways, and my desk has a view of Mount Rainier.

Don’t get me wrong: we’re a small shop. There’s a lot of cross-functional, “ok-you-don’t-know-it-so-can-you-build-that-into-your-estimate” expectations, a lot of last-minute, “oh by the way”. But… I get to *build* things again.

And… there are no more 5am meetings (or 6am, or 7am, or 8am). My earliest meeting is 9, most people don’t set one past 5. People show up, they work balls out, they go home. A tremendous lot gets done and while the shortcomings of the vendor/system/funding/etc. are all publicly, and explicitly, acknowledged, this somehow does not diminish the drive of the people who are involved.

We are selling kitchen supplies for the devoted chef. We are not saving lives, we are not universally accessible. But we are providing you the very best that you can get, at the very best value you can get it, with the very best, real advice you can get it with. We are trying lots of things, and we are experimenting, and we are innovating. And yes, my first paycheck will likely be contributing to my future Le Creuset collection. The real value, however, is that I get to build things again.

Even if it means I hit Stack Overflow six times a day.

Taking Back Travel

Sitting on a plane that until recently held a screaming baby (the baby was not jettisoned, the baby stopped screaming) I realized that I no longer will be traveling for work, or not nearly as much, and this is, I think, a good thing.

While I love to travel — specifically to see new things, eat new things, to take pictures of the new things I’m eating so others can see it (tweet tweet) — traveling for work is much different from traveling for pleasure. When you travel for work, your time is NOT your own; your arrival is usually timed for *right before* your first meeting, your departure is usually timed for *right after*. There is no sleeping in, you rarely use that fitness center you wanted to be certain was in the hotel, you frequently discover you packed the wrong shoes. Airports become a game of “who has free wi-fi?” (NB: in Heathrow and Fiumicino you need to pay for it, I recommend the business traveller get a Boingo pass; in Phoenix and SeaTac it’s free) Your fellow passengers, even at their most charming, are merely cogs in the system and a hinderance to getting through the security line, or to the restaurant, or to the gate, or to your seat. You become a connoisseur of airlines for their coffee service, for their in-flight magazine, for their leg room. The trip isn’t fun anymore, in short.

As we drove in our rental car to the airport today (fun fact: Phoenix airport has an offsite car rental facility — 20 minutes’ drive offsite. If you follow the freeway signs, you’ll be treated to the full driving tour of all 4 terminals of PHX before being sent down a variety of roads for 15 minutes to get to where the facility actually *is*, only to get bussed *back* to the terminal), I realized that my son and I had “time” at the airport — time that wasn’t going to be spent playing “catch up on email before 9 hours in flight”, or “see who can get the freshest sandwich out of the vending machine”. I was not flying at an odd time, the restaurants in the terminal were open, we even looked at overpriced souvenirs. (We chose a hot sauce that may or may not have a swear word in the name).

I will miss team dinners in foreign lands where the currency is colored and the food is graciously unhealthy, I will miss someone else paying for my in-flight wi-fi. I will miss the welcoming of my team and the ferrying duties of bringing treats to, and from, “home”. (Tip for Americans traveling to teams abroad: bring Girl Scout Cookies. Just do it.)

I am, however, ready to travel for fun again.

In Defense of Marissa Mayer

Speaking as a working mother who has an extremely flexible schedule I realize it’s going to be a bit odd that I believe Marissa Mayer is doing exactly what needs to be done in removing work-from-home privileges in her organization.

Marissa Mayer’s job is not to be nice to people, her job is to turn around the behemoth that is Yahoo!. By its very function Yahoo! wants to compete with Google, and in its present state it is not able to do so. For big change you need big projects, for big projects you need lots of people working together, and as many of us recall from our formative developer years that means hallway meetings and late night in the office and pizza and early morning scrum sessions. While your work from home days may make *you* more productive, how more productive does it make *your team* — or your project? How many things get held up for “the next time you’re in office”? It’s interesting to note that the interviewee about this issue in this morning’s NPR story was a work-from-home lawyer mother, who spent the first 2 minutes describing how close the washer and dryer were to her desk, and how working from home was more convenient because she could get laundry done and walk the dog. How exactly does this further the company she works for?

It should be noted that the memo indicated people would still be able to take time to “stay at home for the cable guy”. This is not a draconian “you must be at your desk from 9am-5pm every day” mandate, this is good common business sense: work gets done in the office — please be in the office to do it.

Much has been made of the fact that Mayer, as a new mother, built a nursery in her executive suite, which some choose to point to as a double-standard. I disagree. Mayer paid for the nursery with her own money and it means she herself as a working mother will be in-office. Most of us don’t have office (or cubicle) space big enough to install a nursery in, but that (office space) is a function of title and position, and not of preferential treatment. You want to bring your kid to work? Fork up the money to install a nursery in your cube, or, more practically, don’t bring your kid to work. Mayer is using her own funds, of which we can assume she has plenty (relative to her title), to bring her kid to work. For *her* this decision is likely as practical as it is practicable: having made the declaration people need to be in-office, she’s doing so as well. The fact that she can pay to have her kid be there with her (presumably attended to by a nanny or other caregiver) is irrelevant.

Then there is the point that this declaration will harm Yahoo!’s chances in hiring new talent. There’s an inverse to this, too: those working remotely or from home for Yahoo! can choose to work elsewhere. If you’re that good, make a case for an exception, or get a job with a company that will let you work from home. If you’re not that good, you don’t really have a leg to stand on; work to get to be that good. And one of the perks in working for Google (ostensibly Yahoo!’s competitor model) is that there are all sorts of services and amenities *on site*, designed to keep you on campus. Google does not seem to have difficulty recruiting talent; so the rationale is that this ban on permanent work from home will not harm Yahoo!’s chances of getting quality staffers — Yahoo!’s reputation for innovation (or lack of it) will.

As further opinions weigh in, many ex-Yahoo!ians are coming forward to indicate Mayer is making the right decision, because there’s credible evidence that the work-from-home policy was abused, and oftentimes there were people still being paid and essentially not doing anything. It should also be noted that free food and iPhones (and other Google-esque amenities) were offered to in-house employees. Yahoo! has a managerial problem, not a problem with its CEO. As a manager of nearly 200 people and 4 levels, I know that you need to be able to tell via metrics or deliverables if work is getting done. And if it isn’t, you advise, you re-advise, you warn, you re-warn, and then you fire. It’s called “employment”, not “charity”.

Many are worried about “what this means” for other companies. Dire forebodings about how we’re going back to “the dark ages” and the images of Office Space and 9 to 5 come to mind. While it may be true that other companies follow suit, they will have to make the same trade-offs and analysis Yahoo! did: do we need to institute dramatic change, at a potential morale hit and/or dip in prospective employee attractiveness, in order to survive? If the answer is yes then the move is logical. The notion that a company would voluntarily undergo these hits for the benefit of “following the lead of Yahoo!” however is asinine: companies make decisions based on what they need for their company.

Full disclosure: quite a few people on my teams work from home. Many have flexible schedules. I don’t eyeball when people are in the office and indeed if you walk by mine you’ll often see I’m not there (I’m in about 36 meetings in a given week, too). That said, I have a pretty robust framework of reporting and can point easily to the productivity of each person on the team, as well as the quality of the production and the timeliness of it. I don’t need to institute a “Mayer Policy”, because I do not have the same problems Marissa Mayer does.

Here We Go Again…

Greetings from South Satellite at SeaTac! Yes, I’m actually writing BEFORE I get on the plane, which has no WiFi. More awesome is my pre-planning on this, so I am the smug owner of both the most recent issue of Discovery and the most recent issue of the Economist. That plus hopefully some decent sleep will aid in the 9 hour flight to Heathrow, and the 2 hours down to Rome.

The verdict on the back/neck was essentially I’ve got degeneration in a joint and in a disc — so, um, I’m old. And apparently we fight age with muscle relaxants (which suck, because if I take one, I have to plan on not doing anything for 12 hours), anti-inflammatories (which suck less but the digestive tract does not like), and lots of Physical Therapy (which sucks because it means the nice PT dude pokes all the owie spots and makes them more owie).

I know I promised more on the Legal Fun, but since it turns out getting a Summer Schedule in place ran a tab of about $850, I think it’s safe to say I’m still in it, and won’t be out of it for a while, so maybe those blog posts can come in October or November. Hey, just in time to scare people for Halloween!

At the rate time is flying, though, that’s not long. The major milestones of the summer are flying by, Kevin and Margaret got married, STP has come and gone, our Leadership Summit has passed (short: YAY US! And… there’s a lot more to do); there’s this trip and then the next trip (fun trip!) and then camp and back to school and PTA and aaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh.

Net-net (and I say that because it makes the Editor cringe, and that looks almost like a smile on his face, so it’s nearly the same thing) this has brought me to the Big Decision to… Not get chickens. I just added on a running routine (to replace the cycling one), a knitting class, I still have a quilt, and I keep having to remember that in about a month I’ll be back in school, too. I think chickens may drive me nuts, as fun as they sound. In a way this feels like giving up, or maybe it’s just streamlining. The male person is not secretly relieved.

So. If you’re in Seattle and you’ve got chickens, I’d like to come help out once in a while, and buy some eggs off of you. The same way I like to occasionally go to the dog park to pet the pups but do not foresee another puppy for some time (Bulimikitty, I’m looking at you).

With that I sign off… as the long metal tube of the jetway beckons to the OTHER long metal tube that will take me to Olympic-land, and then to the land of caprese and carbonara. I can’t complain, try as I might :).

I Find This Lack of Internets Disturbing

[Editor’s note: written in Word while on the last leg of 3 legs to London. I was a bit ranty…]

Well, United Airlines (now with Continental!) is spending slightly over one half of one billion (yes, B, not M) dollars on improving its airline interiors, including seat upgrades and satellite Wi-Fi.

This really can’t happen soon enough.

For the business traveler, especially one going from Seattle to Europe, a transatlantic flight represents a minimum of 9 hours where if you SLEEP you’re SCREWED when it comes to jet lag; the best thing to do is tough it out and slog through it. Except if there’s no Wi-Fi, there’s only so much you can do.

For example, I just “kicked off” seven emails. These emails will sit, rotting in my outbox, until I get into my room, acquire Wi-Fi, and they get sent out. By then they will be about 7 hours old. Instead of receiving 7 hours worth of action on them (oh, who am I kidding, but call it 7 MINUTES, fine) I will have zippo on them in the ensuing time. The brain is full of ideas but they have no external avenue!

Likewise I can’t do non-work things that I have in place to keep me non-work busy. Planning the training rides for the STP? Already done for me, but I can’t send emails to discuss/’negotiate” the rides because no internets. I can’t get quotes for balloons for the science fair because no internets.  I can’t get the STOCK MARKET quotes because of no internets, and this is a sad thing.

Am I addicted? Possibly. Have I built a life around me that requires this tethering? I’ll buy that. But the technology exists, it’s not even that EXPENSIVE, we just don’t seem to have it in the places we really need it.

Rome in a Day (and a half)

This post is unfairly titled, because most of my time was spent in a (rather nice) office building. The perks of said office building include the Best! Espresso! Machine! Ever! And the fact that everyone is bilingual – at least – and kind.  I’m here to meet my team, and other teams that I/they work with; hopefully next time I can stay longer than two nights.

Outside of the office building is Rome, Italy.

Several things I suspected and now know:

  1. Roman food is good. Like really, really good. I had gnocchi twice one day. Pasta. Cheese. Saltimbocca. Chicoria. Baba. So glad I lost a pound before I left…
  2. House wine is good. For 4 Euro you get half a liter of something drinkable and amongst two of us we couldn’t finish it, because you ALSO get a big huge bottle of sparkling water.
  3. Bidets do exist here and they are a wacky piece of swank.
  4. My phone doesn’t work here without adding on international services, which the procurement area of my work completely failed to do, and so I ITCH without the ability to get email or make calls on my phone.
  5. The gym at my hotel is serviceable but not stellar. Having had gnocchi twice, though, I used the hell out of it.
  6. It’s completely safe to walk alone, at night, by myself, on the side of the road (Sunday night = everything dead in Rome (at least where I’m at, on the ‘way north end), so I had to walk a couple of miles to get dinner).
  7. Everybody likes the new government, and no one thinks it will last, because it’s too “reasonable”.

Things I did not suspect and now know:

  1. Coffee is WAY stronger than the strongest stuff Starbucks puts out. Two teeny coffees and I was literally zinging around.
  2. Italians have AMAZING depth perception. I will never again fear sitting in the male person’s Awesomely Huge Truck, because I have seen an Italian park 0.2cms away from the nearest car, back and front.
  3. There are no traffic rules here, particularly for pedestrians. Crossing the street means you make eye contact with oncoming traffic, and once you do, you walk into the street.
  4. Dinner is at 9 because no one leaves the office until 7 and no one gets in before 9. Commutes range from ½ to 2 hours to/from home, and people go to bed at midnight.
  5. Italian women can run, in stiletto-heeled boots, down an icy, cobblestone street, after the bus, and not kill themselves.
  6. There is a high percentage of home ownership here, which drives home prices UP as real estate is more often handed down than sold. An 80sqm apartment with no parking (call it 725 square feet) in the area I’m in goes for about half of a million Euro at lowest. Hence the commutes. People have to move out to own a home.
  7. I am a total princess and cannot handle staying in a hotel where the internet is dodgy at best. They handed me an Ethernet cable. It works some of the time. This plus my brick-of-a-phone makes me sad.

This trip I didn’t get much time to go out and about but I did manage to eat everything in sight and meet with people I needed (and wanted) to see. Later today I head via 3-hour flight to London, where I will have a completely new hotel and social experience. I am definitely coming back to Rome!