Tuesday, November 27, 2007


I had a great holiday. My mom and I drove up to good old Crawfordsville, Indiana, to spend the holiday with my grandparents. My grandfather hasn't been doing so great lately, so it was really good to see him again. We had a nice quiet turkey day where everyone ate a lot and then napped. My cousin came into town on Friday from Illinois. It was great to see him. On Saturday, we helped my grandparents celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary. To understand how incredible this is, let me give you a rundown on average life expectancy in some select nations:

United States: 77.1
United Kingdom: 77.7
Peru: 70.0
Mexico: 71.5
Canada: 79.5
France 78.8

So this means that my grandparents have been married for almost as long as most people can reasonably expect to live. Wow. Each day, the mail carrier came with a giant stack of cards from all over the country. Their local newspaper carried a small story about them (on the heels of a much longer story about their 65th anniversary), and the local radio guy gave them a quick shout-out! A nice thing about living in a small town. The flower man showed up Friday and had to make three trips to the van to bring in all the goodies. It's so nice to see such an outpouring of love and support for people who have spent their whole life spreading love and kindness to their family, friends, and community.

While I was there, I got a chance to do some reading. I took in another book by George Pelecanos, Drama City. It's another story based in the underbelly of Washington DC. This time it's about people and whether or not they can change. If you get past the grit, it's an interesting and thought provoking plot. Can people change? If they think they can't, is it because they are scared to change, or just that they really are "born a certain way". It's an interesting way of looking at the nature vs. nurture debate in the context of a crime novel. The other book I got through last week was 1812, The War That Forged A Nation, by Walter Borneman. This was a fast paced read about the War of 1812, a conflict that is really underserved by traditional history classes as taught in high school and college. I learned a lot about the causes of the war, the major players, and the incredible ineptitude on both sides that marked much of the battlefield 'strategy'. To be sure, the leaders of the early 19th century can certainly be seen in their early careers - Winfield Scott, the leader of the military campaign against Mexico, Andrew Jackson, who later ascended to the presidency, William Henry Harrison. Pretty impressive group. It was a decent book - I would recommend it.

Now I have moved on to reading Manhunt, The 12-day Chase For Lincoln's Killer, by James Swanson. I kept on seeing it in the bookstore, and coming off of reading Team of Rivals, I was drawn to it as a natural sequel. That, and still trudging through Alexander Hamilton. It's a great book so far, but still a long way to go before I can give my final report.

When To Take A New Job

Whenever you read about the "most stressful life events", you always hear about deaths of a family member or friend, marriage, divorce, sickness, moving and changing jobs. All are about change. Change stresses us out. Change makes our hair fall out, eat ice cream, drink, bite our nails. Change makes you work. Change means learning new tricks, not perfecting old ones. Change means new people, new places, and new patterns. It's hard. Status quo is easy. Doing what you have been doing is comfortable. In some cases, the status quo is good. Healthy family and a great marriage, a nice place to live - these are things that you would like to continue as is. Those are things that only appreciate - they don't always depreciate.

A new job is different. First of all, let's be clear about what working is. It is renting your skills to someone for pay. You are selling your ability to perform a given set of tasks for a rate that you and your employer determine. In economic terms, you are not only selling your skills and work ethic, but also paying an opportunity cost that can be defined as "what you would be doing, learning, or earning somewhere else". When considering a job switch, you have to think of it as an investment. You are making an investment in your place of employment every bit as much as they are investing in you. As in other investments, you have to ask yourself "Am I earning as much on my principal here as I could be somewhere else?". Also up for debate are the risks presented by the unknown of another position. Now, sometimes you are at a place in your professional career where you can honestly say to yourself "I know it's time to go, things can't possibly get much worse." That's easy - get a new job. As long as you don't take a job that pays so much less that your peace of mind gained isn't equal to money lost, you always win. It's when you aren't miserable, when you aren't terribly paid, when you are challenged to an extent, when you are growing that you have to ask yourself the following questions:

1) Am I growing faster than I could grow elsewhere? Is the knowledge I can gain here available anywhere else?
2) Am I making significantly less than I could or should given my background and the positions available elsewhere?
3) What are my real goals for working? Money? Prestige? Titles? Personal growth? Pride? Societal impact?
4) What is it that I really don't like about my current situation, and would be it better or worse elsewhere?
5) Am I thinking about leaving because there is a problem that I don't want to face?

If you can answer these questions honestly, and you find yourself saying things like "I have learned a lot here, but haven't learned a lot lately", or, "Man, I had no idea someone with my experience level could make xxxx", or "I like what I am doing, but my boss causes me so much stress that I can't see myself here in the long term", then you can probably begin your job search in earnest.

The key in technical jobs is keep yourself on the right part of the skills to market expectations continuum. Essentially, it's your responsibility to keep your skills ahead of the market - you have to have the skills that are current, but also display the ability and initiative to stay ahead. Some jobs give you that for free. When they don't, either you do it yourself, or find someone else who can let you do it for pay.

In the end, if you keep yourself current, and you work hard and smart, you can move and even if it doesn't work out, you can just move again. Obviously you don't want to be a job hopper, but if you are clear and honest with yourself with respect to your goals and reasons for moving, you won't have an issue with that. So, I guess what I am saying is, move if you really should move, but otherwise look at your situation and figure out why you are moving.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Veterans Day Should Be Called Traffic Nightmare Day

So yesterday Jena says to me, hey it's Veterans Day. We should drive to work. There won't be any traffic. This makes sense to me. I agree with her. We drive. Here's the catch. Veterans Day is probably the most 'unobserved' holiday in the private sector. So there are still lots of folks going to work. The DC government thought it would be a good day to observe weekend parking laws. 4 lane roads became 2 lane roads. Some 3 lane roads became 2 or 1 lane roads. Did I mention it was trash day? So the trash trucks are one lane over from the parked cars, and all the other traffic is stuck in the ONE OPEN LANE. It took me 40 minutes to go .5 miles. Not awesome. Note to self: Always take metro.

Just started reading Alexander Hamilton, by Ron Chernow. Big book. Good so far. More on this later. It's 720 pages long, so the complete writeup could take a while =)

Friday, November 9, 2007

Lots to talk about

Since I just started this blog, it never really occurs to me to write. So as to avoid the untimely and premature death of my blog, I better get on the horse. To that end:

I have been all over the past few months. Jena and I visited my grandparents in Indiana, which is always fun. I have an amazing pair of grandparents. They are 91 and 89, and still live at home by themselves, no problem. They are a great source of inspiration. They are both so sharp and love each other so much. They live in a little town between Indianapolis and Lafayette, surrounded by a bunch of really nice people who take care of them, taking them to the grocery store, to church, to doctor's appointments, and so on. Nobody lets them do yard work. I guess that's the difference between living in the Midwest and living on the East Coast. Anyway, we had a great time. Like everyone else I know, they LOVE Jena, and Jena loves them, so it's great to get her out there to spend time with them. My grandmother taught Jena how to crochet, and we took them out on rides (they can't drive anymore). Every time I go out there, I come back more aware of just how lucky I am to have special people like that in my life.

After returning from Indiana, it was back to work, then off to New York City to do some recruiting at Columbia University. I hadn't done a career fair before, so it was fun to get out there and do some selling (hopefully I can get some help for our team too). I also, as an added bonus, got to take the train (always nice) and see my college roommate and great friend Billy, his new wife, and my friends Tyran and Kareem in Brooklyn. That was fun, although I wasn't feeling great. The career fair went well, although my feet were definitely killing me after 9 hrs of standing. The campus is beautiful, and the ride there along Central Park West was definitely enjoyable. Of course, I forgot my camera, so no pictures. Then back on the train and back to DC.

The next morning, time to drive to Hilton Head for a week of R&R with Jena and my mom. The drive was uneventful, if a little long. Once we were there, it was vacation time. We did the traditional things that you do at the beach. Sit at the pool, sit at the beach, play putt-putt (I won, extending my dominant winning streak to 3 ), eat yummy seafood (if in Hilton Head, DO NOT leave without eating at Redfish ), relax, sleep a lot. We took day trips to Savannah and Charleston, such cool cities with that old Southern charm and nifty historic districts. It was a good time had by all, and a nice way to recharge.

So, what have I been reading lately? A LOT, thankfully. My schedule has finally opened up, and while the act of traveling can be stressful and time consuming, it also affords me with a lot of downtime where I can get some reading done. So what have I read?

Free to Choose - Milton and Rose Friedman - This is Milton Friedman's 1980 rant about the pernicious nature of government's attempt to 'protect you'. It's an assault that reeks of libertarianism, while toeing the line with reality. When I was in school, I really really wish that this had been required reading. I took a couple classes in Public Economics and this would have tied together a lot of the concepts we were looking into without getting buried in graphs. Sometimes real world examples are required to make complex things clear. What I really enjoyed about this book was the discussion of government regulation, and how the only people who actually win are big business special interest groups. Ahhh, so true. It's definitely an infuriating book to read for all the silliness that it exposes. The prescient discussion of the privatization of social security is obviously very relevant 27 years later. Just sad that a paternalistic government that has failed to educate its citizens uses that same excuse when telling us that people can't handle their own money because they don't know enough. Ahhh. Anyway, it's a fantastic book. You don't need a background in economics to get the concepts in it, as it's written in a very lucid non-academic manner. Bravo, Mr. Friedman.

I also finally got around to reading Band of Brothers by Stephen Ambrose. By now, lots and lots of people have seen the HBO miniseries by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, which was amazing. I have been meaning to check out the book, and I finally got around to it. Amazing stuff. I am something of a military history buff, and a history buff in general, but this book took you further. The amazing camaraderie and fearlessness that these men displayed during a war that wasn't driven by smart bombs and unmanned drones is absolutely striking. I simply can't imagine jumping out of an airplane, much less into a firefight behind enemy lines, then having to fight your way back to your reinforcements. Now imagine doing it repeatedly. Incredible. A very easy book to read and a great view of what it took to be a soldier in those days.

Dogs of God - James Reston - Ever read a book that made you think "Man, that was a lot of great information but who the hell was the editor?"? That was how I felt when I was reading this one. It was a book filled with interesting facts about Spain during the inquisition and the age of Columbus. All the right information was there, but instead of choosing to follow a timeline or a theme (Columbus, the exile or forced conversion of Jews, and the final showdown with the Moors), Reston skips around in time and in theme. It made the book far more confusing and far less satisfying than it could/should have been. Ah well, you can't win em all.

I also read a few guilty pleasure-type books, none of which are really worth discussing here (I was at the beach!).