I've never been so alone, and I've never been so alive

Traveling for work is an unusual challenge. Much of my business is done on the west coast, which means that while most of my co-workers have 2-3 hour flights to meetings, I have a whole day of travel.
Last week I was in Redmond, at HQ. The facility is amazing, the people were incredible, and the trip was well worth it. The best word I can use to describe it would be “intense.”
There was a moment, while I was at SEA-TAC airport for my trip home, waiting for a taxi to deliver my passport (which I had carefully hidden in my hotel room, then forgot to bring with me, but didn’t realise until after I’d returned my rental car) so I could get through customs, equipped with only a smart phone and a pad of paper, talking to partners while wheeling my luggage through the terminal, with a maxed-out personal credit card and an empty bank account from traveling across the continent, temporarily at my own expense, after 3 weeks of not being paid, when I told God that maybe this was too much for me to handle on my own. But then He reminded me that I’m never on my own, and by the way: ISN’T THIS A BLAST?!
And it is! This company is huge, their pockets are deep, their products are generally world-class, and my partners are some of the coolest companies in their space. Now that my first pay check has hit the bank account and my corporate credit card has arrived, this is officially the best job ever.
Of course, there’s some down-sides. Nicole and the kids picked me up at the airport when I returned home, and Ben practically jumped out of the stroller to see me. The conversation went like this…
Ben: DADDY! Daddy, WHERE DID YOU GO?!
Me: I was on an airplane, buddy
Ben: W-W-Why did you do THAT?!
Me: I had to go to work
Ben: OHHH!
It’s great to come home and see them. Its even better when I don’t have to leave them at all. Obviously its an additional challenge for Nicole too, having two toddlers by herself. Fortunately, when I’m home, I’m really home. My work day has even more flexibility than my last job. Because my co-workers are in a different time zone, its actually helpful to carve out a chunk of work time and move it until after the kids are in bed. And because I’m a mobile worker, when they’re napping, I can go work at Starbucks and not miss a beat.
Old Job New Job
Old job (3 computers) vs. New Job (3 phones)

I joked with Nicole that my old job gave me 3 computers, my new one has given me 3 phones. And that fairly accurately illustrates the role-change: before it was about code, now its about relationships.
I just gotta figure out how to balance those work relationships with the ones important to me at home…

West coast family and friends

So this week was Redmond, the company HQ, for most of the week. More on that later, maybe. But before my sister gets her knickers in a bunch, I have to get up this post about the people I got to see along the way.
We’ve never really found the west coast all that aluring, but a lot of people head that way. On our own dime, we can’t really afford to go visit those we know who’ve gone westward, but when someone else is paying, its a real treat to connect with friends and family!
I realised, at the last minute, that I had a 5 hour stop-over in Calgary en-route to Washington state. Coincidentally, that’s where my brother and sister live. Dave picked me up from the airport and we met Liz and her boyfriend for a nice lunch, and a visit at her apartment.
The Kids
The boyfriend
My old friend, Jon Bates, currently a submariner with the U.S. Navy, lives in Washington, so he popped over for a little tour of the MS campus. We had lunch, did some shopping, and he kicked my butt at checkers on a Surface computer.
Bates at Commons
Surface Checkers
Surface Checkers
I might have chance to reflect on this trip some more… but there are 3 more trips coming up, so I might not.

Things I did today that I've never done before

Today I strolled through the Commons at the MS corporate campus. The atmosphere there is comparable to academia. We have a couple friends who are PHD students, and probably life-long scholars, and when you reach that level of academic pursuit, there’s a great deal of freedom and resources available to you. The campus here is very much the same: if you’ve made it here, then many of this massive company’s resources are at your finger tips. The people walking through the commons with you are some of the best in their fields, and the organization has no issues with making sure they are comfortable and well cared-for.
I shopped at the employee store, and bought cheap swag. I even bought Ben and Abi shirts that say “I’m a PC” on them!
I purchased a Windows Mobile phone. Its an HTC Touch Pro 2 — possibly the best Windows phone out there right now. I don’t think I should disclose employee pricing, so I’ll just say that I bought it for 7 times less than anyone else could have. This will be my company phone, and has a U.S. phone number. Its a very good phone, and it may actually supplant my iPhone.
I spent $30 on a movie!
But you don’t understand, this was one of those things you should do once. The theater’s shtick was that it provides a “gold class” experience. Each theater seats no more than 40 people — each in an individual reclining chair. You have your own personal waiter who pads silently into the room at the touch of a button to bring drinks (you get unlimited free soda in the price), and meals off their 4-star restaurant menu (not free), or a pillow and blanket to make you more comfortable.
I didn’t really know what I was getting into — I just wanted to catch a flick to get out of the hotel — but when you walk into the place there are leather chairs around a stylish fireplace, and a polished mahogony bar… it just looks so classy and unique that I decided to splurg and try it — since the meal portion, at least, was covered.
It’d be incorrect to classify this as an easy trip: there’s a lot of people to meet, a lot of things to learn, and I’m still so new that most of the equipment and resources my co-workers take for granted aren’t yet available to me — I’m typing this on the oldest, heaviest, bulkiest TabletPC you’ve ever seen (my own, much sleaker, PC is still on-order.) But its incredibly fun to be here, and what I’ve learned so far has been encouraging and affirming. Things only get more fun from here!

On The Road

Well I talked about how much I love to travel, and how I didn’t get to do it very often with my old job. I guess you should be careful what you wish for!
In the next 4-5 weeks I’m going to be in Seattle, San Francisco, somewhere in Europe and in Los Angeles!
When I was told this, it was with almost a tone of apology. Perhaps they thought the sound I made was one of disappointment — actually it was a squelched squeal of excitement! I’m going all these places, and someone else is paying for it! Could my new job BE any better?!

Thanksgiving Weekend

So Friday was my last day of my old job, and Tuesday is the first day of my new job. That means that for 3 blissful days, I am unemployed — “between jobs”, if you will. We’re trying to make the most of it.
Yesterday we enjoyed our annual family fall walk and photoshoot in the park, evidence in the Flickr feed to the right. Then we dropped the kids off with Nana and Papa, and set to work on the house. See I’ve been itching to move for the last couple months, as we’ve now rolled past our 1-year mark in this place. Instead of that, however, we decided it would just be cheaper to re-arrange the place…
When Abi and Ben get home from Nana and Papa’s house on Monday, they’ll find that they’re sharing a bedroom. We decided to make Abi’s room into a playroom, so that we can somewhat re-claim our living room for more adult company, as well as have another option for dealing with our toddler’s somewhat loud and exuberant play time — which happens to run parallel to their dad’s work day, and which previously took place directly above his desk area.
We’re not sure how well this co-habitation will work out, but they shared a room in our hotel in New York last weekend, and didn’t seem to bother each other, so hopefully this will go OK.
I also shoveled out the last remnants of my previous work environment, so I can start fresh with a clean desk on Tuesday.
Today we were honored and delighted to have a small part in a baptism service, reading a blessing for a young lady who’s family has become very special to us. The McLeod’s are becoming mentors to Nicole and I, their 4 daughters seem to think we have some good advice to offer every once-in-awhile, and their youngest two are Ben and Abi’s favorite babysitters. It was a real joy and a privilege to be a part of Tatum’s step of obedience today. We’re looking forward to adding another generation to this list next summer, as Tatum explores missions in Asia where my parents are!
Two turkey dinners are to follow, and we can’t even begin to list all the things we have to be thankful for this Thanksgiving…
Ben and Abi Fall 2009

Sideblog Archive – October, 2009

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind.
This is the first and most important commandment.
The second most important commandment is like this one. And it is:
Love others as much as you love yourself.
But the wisdom from above is first pure,
then peaceable,
gentle,
open to reason,
full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere

A New Job – Conclusion

So here the previously written blog posts are done. Once the interviews were over, I had too much to think about to be doing much blogging. I’ll try to pick up where I left off, but now that I have the job, there’s obviously some confidentially issues to respect.
The flight to and from Seattle were uneventful, although I did accept a bump to another flight in exchange for a free ticket anywhere in the U.S. My plan was to use that ticket to take Nicole with me out West — if I got the job.
It was not an easy trip. Due to the bump, I arrived fairly late at night, and got stuck with the only car the rental agency had left: a hot pink PT Cruiser with a remarkably feminine interior. With the three hour time change, I was too tired to care. I found my hotel, checked-in, drove to the campus to make sure I could find it, then picked up some breakfast food for the morning.
The hotel room was one of the nicest I’ve been in. I figure I was there for about 6 hours — most of which were sleeping. I was up on time the next morning, did my stretches, and was at the campus a whole half an hour early. Then I realised I had to pee — bad. Not wanting their first impression of me being “Hiwhere’sthebathroom?!” I decided to use my extra half an hour to find a coffee shop. And I got lost…
By the time I found my way back to the campus, I was half an hour late, and had missed my first interview. Not a good start! Fortunately, the other 6 — yes, six — interviews went well. I met some interesting people, not a one of them was difficult to talk to. Some interviews were challenging, some were much more casual (some seemed casual, but were actually very challenging!) By the last interview I was pretty exhausted, but happy with how the rest of the day had gone.
When I left the building where I’d spent most of my day, it was 5:30pm their time — which felt like 8:30pm to me. I got in my hot pink car and drove to downtown Seattle to see the sights. I walked through Pike Place Market, got a Starbucks and visited the original Starbucks location, and drove and looked at the Space Needle (which is dwarfed by the CN Tower, sorry Seattle.) Then it was back to the airport for a red-eye home to be at work the next morning!
What they rarely tell you, but you figure out after a few anyway, is that job interviews should be as much about you checking out the potential employer as it is about them checking out you. Obviously MS is thorough in their hiring process, and you want to present yourself well, but you can’t just be there to try to get the job — you also have to determine if the job is right for you. When I left, it was with some assurance of both.
What happened over the next month was in fits and starts. There was proceeding with the hiring process, proceeding with the offer process, dealing with cross-border issues, the verbal offer, the soft acceptance, the written offer, the official acceptance, resigning my current post, and wrestling with the counter offer — a new step for me. Had that all happened in a week it would have been exciting. Instead those steps happened with a fair bit of time between each one, lasting almost the whole month of September. When people asked me if I got the job, the best I could say was “it looks like things are going that way!”
But, as usual, God’s timing was best and I was able to get to a point with my current employer where my departure mid-project will hopefully still leave them positioned for success. We drove to Albany last weekend to say good bye and honor some of my co-workers who have taught me a lot. I had hoped it would be a mutually respectful visit, but a few people outside my normal sphere of interaction were unable to see it that way. That hurt a bit, and it was another grueling trip, with the kids in tow, but I felt it was the right thing to do, and I’m glad we went.
This week has been my last, and its been spent very thoroughly in meetings, demos, pair programming sessions, presentations, and tutorials handing-off 3.5+ years of work to others — smart guys from Wisconsin to India. If I ever think I’ll miss the engineering part of my career, I’ll only need to think back to how tiring this week has been! It’s been a little humbling as well, to review code I wrote 3 years ago, that I thought at the time was brilliant, and realise how much I needed to learn then — and still need to learn!
Fortunately, I won’t be short of things to learn at my new job. And I’ll get to go new and interesting places to do it — something I rarely got to do when I was strapped to a desk. In November I’ll probably be going to the Professional Developer’s Conference in Los Angeles… Los Angeles!
The bottom line of all of this is that this new job offers a whole new world to grow in. In general, there seems to be a lot of confidence from others that I have the skills necessary to get started, and that’s reassuring. But this is the beginning of a new career direction, and I know I have a lot to learn.
But I want to. And I can’t wait to get started…

A New Job – Part 3

Originally written August 27, 2009
48 hours, almost to the minute, the call came in. Could I fly out next Monday for a full day of interviews on Tuesday?
Well, that’s a fine question to ask me on a Wednesday! We have a church camping trip this weekend — leaving Friday morning, returning Sunday night. Giving me exactly one business day to book my travel, fill out the required paperwork, arrange transportation to and from the airport, re-arrange our family’s schedules, call my references, and get the time off work!
Fortunately, MS has an incredible team of professionals who’s job it is to facilitate this kind of thing, so I had lots of help — I filled out some forms online and within a couple hours flights, hotel, and rental car were all taken care of for me. I worked the phones for a few hours Wednesday night and in the morning, and then everything was set.
I’ve had moments of nervousness, and moments when excitement bursts out of me. Mercifully, all of this is happening so fast that I haven’t had too much time to over-analyze. I’ve done a some research online about the job, and found out what I could about my interviewers — the two I know about anyway. But the reality is that there isn’t much prep I can really do. Either my experience and skills are what they’re looking for, or they’re not. It’s not like there’s some chapter in the book of my 10-year professional career that I skipped over. I’ve worked my way here, with the guidance of some great mentors, and either had God’s blessing so far… or a horse-shoe up my butt. So, we’ll find out if what I’ve learned over those years, and what I have to offer now, is what they’re looking for.
And I guess I’m confident. Not confident that I’m definitely going to get the job. But confident that if I can speak about my experience without putting my foot in my mouth too often, then it’ll have been worth the trip — regardless of the outcome. In a few short days, I’ll be driving into a massive 40+ building campus as a potential employee of probably the largest, best known software company in the world — and I’m not even 30 yet. How cool is that?

A New Job – Part 2

Originally written August 24, 2009
From what I’ve understood so far, having had only one phone call with my potential new boss, where I suspect he wanted to get to know me as much as I wanted to get to know the job, the position with MS is one where technical skills are important — but where soft skills are just as much so. The job title is Developer and Platform Evangelist, and it involves a lot of communicating. Programmers aren’t typically stereotyped as good communicators: good thinkers, good problem solvers, good implementers, sure. But us computer engineering types aren’t often thought of as being smooth operators or slick sales people.
Fortunately the job is not exactly sales. I don’t think I’m built for hard driving sales, but I do enjoy communicating. Especially about technology. I love presenting to an audience. I love walking into a room full of smart people, and talking about ideas and strategies. I just don’t want a job where I’m expected to pressure people into buying things they don’t need.
Which is good, because this position is working with existing relationships. There’s no cold calling, or high pressure sales. These are existing partners looking to find the best supporting technologies for the products or solutions they develop. And they’re all solid companies who are already technology leaders in their marketplaces. From what I understand, the DPE position is about aligning the strategies of MS and their partners. Exchanging ideas, positioning solutions and timing, and figuring out what’s best for their users — who are, in turn, MS’ users as well.
The challenge then is, as I said before, to get out from behind the desk and focus less on the code and more on the people making decisions. I’ve had a number of opportunities to try that out, having presented to, and interacted with, customers a lot during my career. I believe that I’m capable of things aside from coding, and I think that God gave me other skills that He intends for me to develop and learn.
I’m aware that if I get this job, I’ll be somewhat starting fresh. This isn’t like previous jobs, which were logical next steps in my growth as a developer, and where my previously developed solutions and ideas were directly applicable to a new team or product. I would need to be more teachable, more humble, and more willing to push myself in new directions than I have since I first started my professional career a decade ago. But its what I want. I don’t want to be too comfortable in a job, I don’t want to reach the Peter Principle point where I can’t grow any more.
So yesterday MS contacted me to ask for 5 dates that I’d be available to fly out to the Seattle area — Head Quarters — for a day full of interviews. Nicole and I talked them out, and I replied back. They promised that within about 48 hours I’d hear back about which of those days will be my date with destiny.
Whether I get the job or not is up to God and the team there. I think I’m being realistic in my confidence that my technical skills are sufficient for the task, and I’m somewhat confident that my soft skills, although probably in need of growth and refining, make me a good candidate for the position. My resume is no slouch, and I have some great references. So I’m going to show up in a sharp new suit, appreciative of the opportunity and excited to be there, and speak honestly about my experience and passions, and hopefully find out if I’ve found a new place to grow…