Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Hottest Latest Stuff (2/27/08 edition)

Well it's t-minus one day until it's time to move on to my new job. The transfer has been relatively painless thus far, and I have turned over pretty much all of my projects. Here's what I gather from my turnover process:

1) I didn't document enough
2) If I had documented enough, I would never have finished half the things I did.
3) Trying to condense two and a half years of hard and sometimes inspired work into two and half weeks of turnover is an impossible task.

So I will have to leave it as it is. Hopefully things will not completely fall apart when I go. I would have to think that they won't. People are never irreplaceable. Sometimes it takes longer than other times to replace someone, but whatever knowledge they take with them is probably going to be offset by the wealth of experience that the replacement can bring to the team.

Today's job market is completely different from the market of 20 years ago. Today, turnover is a reality. No matter how 'great' a job is, people leave it. People go elsewhere to do new things, different things, more interesting things, to meet new people, see new places. Back in the good old days, people would get a job, then work there until their gold watch and pension kicked in. People might switch once or twice, but certainly not every couple of years. Before the internet, it wasn't clear necessarily clear what jobs were even available, as the only way to post a position was by using the newspaper. Think about how many jobs were listed in the Washington Post "super jobs edition" that used to come out, and compare it to the number of jobs that are available on a quick search of,,, or Heck, even Craigslist has a ton of job postings. The flow of information, the ability to email resumes or store them online for searching - this has completely changed the nature of the game. I had an interview with a company recently, and they remarked that I had been at my current position for "a long time". Two and a half years doesn't seem like that long to me, and I said as much, to which the interviewer replied that 18 months was the average in my field.

Anyway, I guess I feel bad for leaving without "turning everything over", but not too bad, because if I had been able to turn everything over in two and a half weeks, it would mean that I sucked at my job all that time. Hopefully, if/when I leave the next job, I won't be able to turn everything over in two and a half weeks.

By the way, I am really excited to get somewhere new. My current position has been all about breaking down and finding old stuff that wasn't good, and not so much about coming up with new stuff, so it will be refreshing. My creativity will hopefully be cultivated a little more actively. Plus, it's sports! So much more fun than e-learning. And theoretically it will help me in my quest to start a software company. We can dream...

What else is happening? Well the save-the-dates are on the way around the country. Jena put in a lot of time and effort to make them, and I helped a little bit, (but mostly messed up), and they look amazing. I hope people actually look at them and don't just throw them away. We also booked the church and had our first meeting with the priest, so that's exciting. That was the LAST BIG THING that we had been stressing about. Next up, things that are way more fun and exciting, like registries, and honeymoon planning. Awesome!

Now added to the list of books I am reading is Made To Stick, by Dan and Chip Heath. So far so good, although they seem to think that The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell was a really good book. I tend to be a little less enthusiastic about it than they are, but they are published authors, and I am just, well, a guy who reads books, so I will have to defer to their judgement. Making good progress on Midnight In Sicily, which has rebounded despite an incredibly murky writing style, to be a really fascinating read about the mafias reach in Sicily and mainland Italy post WWII.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Social InterWeb 2.0

DISCLAIMER: This stuff seems really cool and profound to me, but I may be talking about things that are pretty inane and problems that have already been solved, so forgive me if this post is really stupid.

Well, it's almost here. In a little over a week, I will be fully immersed in the social web. As someone who isn't probably the hippest dude when it comes to the new Internet, I have some boning up to do on how people use the web, what makes a site both 'cool' and (more importantly in my humble opinion) 'useful'. I see (younger) people today who route almost all their interaction through some form of social web component. I usually think in terms of just emailing my buddy, or *gasp*, calling them to see what they are up to next weekend. For that matter, my buddy was someone who I had known for a while, or at the very least, had actually met. Now there is whole dynamic whereby you can have 'friends' who you have no interaction with outside of 'poking' or posts on a wall, or a comment in a myspace page. This is all weird, but this is what I need to start to grasp.

See, I am the guy who doesn't answer his cell phone half the time that it rings. It's a tool of my convenience, not a direct line to me wherever I may be. I have IM, but I don't have a big friend list. I have a myspace page, but it has the same 51 friends that it had after about 2 wks of having the page. I have a facebook page that I put up to do development, and something like 9 people found it and did friend requests. I have one post on my 'wall' (thanks Zahra!).

I do participate in the social web - I provide recommendations, feedback, and ratings about things that I have done, places I have visited, books I have read, music I have listened to. I get recommendations for things to buy from others who participate. I think it's fascinating to examine the science of the social web - to understand how social networks actually work. I have been thumbing through Programming Collective Intelligence, by Toby Segaran, which gives a primer on the algorithms behind so many of the Web 2.0 sites. Fascinating to think about how the people are connected, and how someone can take these connections and find a way to monetize them. Things like the Small World Phenomenon are pretty incredible. I wonder (and I am sure this happens a lot more than I know), but I wonder if there is some sort of mathematical formula you can use to see:

a) How much is a given profile worth? (social networking potential)
b) How can you say what features have more social reach (how many degrees of connection do they span and how quickly)
c) How vital is a given member to a group (structural cohesion)

Are companies like facebook and myspace already utilizing these kinds of models to apply value to their users? Is this possible? Does it work? Such cool stuff.

As someone who comes from a business background, and who is interested in sociology, I think that my new job will provide me with an avenue to explore the intersection of technology, marketing, sociology, and sales. It makes what is an exciting move that much more fascinating to me, and I can't wait to dive in headfirst. I'll be letting you know how it goes, and hopefully writing a lot more about this as I start to figure more of it out.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Sail On...

Well, it's finally come. I am moving on from Blackboard. It might seem like a crazy move, considering I just got promoted, and have a team under me, and a high profile position doing some pretty cool work, but it's true. I am sailing on. For reasons that I don't really need to discuss, I am just ready to go. I have learned a lot, and grown my skill set and confidence level enough that I am ready to move.

I am headed to a startup called Sportsvite. It's a social networking site (yes another social networking site), but one that actually serves a purpose - to connect recreational athletes with leagues, games, and each other. I will be part of a small team doing all kinds of Java web application development. I am extremely excited to get going, and I already have a lot of ideas about how to make the product even cooler than it already is. I think there is a lot of potential there, and it will be refreshing to get into a smaller more dynamic place where process and 'best practices' don't overrule common sense and client needs.

So the turnover at Blackboard will pretty much envelop the remainder of the month. Hopefully once March comes around, things will start settling down as I get into the new job. In other news, I went skiing this weekend. I did pretty well for my third time out, despite the rough conditions. Slopes alternated between closed, slushy, and icy. Not ideal, but still a lot of fun, and always great to get away. While there, I managed to knock through The Second Horseman by Kyle Mills. It was good like all his books. Nothing earth-shattering. Now, I have moved on to a few books. I am still working on Music and the Brain, which is really fascinating, but not light reading by any stretch. I am also tackling 'The Career Programmer', by Christopher Duncan, about how to work as a programmer and not go crazy. I have to say that after finishing part one of three on the train this week, I can't say I have experienced much of what the author describes. He comes off as so cynical that it's hard to take anything he says seriously, even though there is valuable wisdom sprinkled thoughout. I am also reading Midnight in Sicily by Peter Robb, but it's off to such a slow start, it may not make the cut. I will provide an update in the next installment.