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12 Weeks and no cubicle

I was doing the math and realized that it’s been 12 weeks since Circuit City folded and I’ve been unemployed. At first, the thought is a little frightening - that I could be out of work for 3 months. However, I’ve been struck by how much I’ve adjusted. I no longer work in a cube; I have a home office with a view of downtown. I no longer make the daily trip out I-64 to Gaskins road; when I went out to Short Pump Town Center this week, I passed that exit and realized how long it had been since I took that exit. The week is full of little events rather than a constant routine.

I wouldn’t call the past 3 months a vacation. Job hunting keeps me busy. I’ve been trying to study some new languages and also catch up on my volunteer work at the radio station. Keeping busy and staying in the moment seem to make the time go by more easily, but the uncertainty of when I’ll get a job can make some days stressful.

I just know that I don’t miss sitting in a cubicle.

Cruel Ironies of the Unemployed Web Programmer

Being unemployed for the last 6 weeks has it’s variety of low points. One of the sad ironies that I run into is web sites that don’t work.

Now, I won’t say that Circuit City’s website was flawless. We always had one or two issues in production. However, it rankled me whenever something wasn’t right. I could never turn around a fix fast enough to satisfy myself and the release schedule was never quick enough to suit my tastes. I took a lot of pride in the fact that anyone could use circuitcity.com to find and buy the best electronics for their needs.

So, I cringe almost daily going to sites that are broken. Bad JavaScript, wonky markup and lots of exceptions abound out there. I can fix those things; just hire me.

Just this morning, I was trying to apply for short term insurance on Anthem’s website and it just gave me an error message when I tried to login. Repeatedly. Now, I did get an email confirming my registration. I just get stuck trying to apply. I’m an interested customer, I want to do business with them and their website is stopping me.

Interestingly, Anthem is hiring for Java Web Application developers - to wit, people like me.

For all I know, there is a manager standing outside some programmer’s cube near Staple’s Mill Road asking about an ETA on a fix (I’ve been that programmer - not fun). That programmer’s probably been overworked with a pile of change requests. That manager would probably like to get back to the office to read resumes for openings (and deal with their own growing pile of changes and projects).

And here I am - the guy who could dive into that pile of work, fix the bugs and knock out those projects - trying to apply for insurance while I’m unemployed. Ain’t life funny?

Update - 12:40pm
I was able to finish my application and as far as insurance paperwork goes, it wasn’t bad (no further cringe moments).

Studying for the SCJP

Between job leads, I’ve been studying for the Sun Certified Java Programmer test. The test seems fairly straightforward though I’m only up to chapter two of the Bates/Sierra book.

What’s been most appalling so far are the code examples. A lot of the test (as well as a Java aptitude test I took at a recruiters) seems to be looking at crazy Java code and determining if it will compile. Of course, if you use an IDE (and you’d be crazy not to), you don’t generally have to worry if something will compile. If your IDE won’t tell you, javac will certainly let you know.

Still, it’s been nice to finally get a chance to read up on enums; circuitcity.com never used them since we didn’t upgrade the JVM until the middle of last year. It’s also nice to spend the time thinking about software development. Writing crazy inheritance relations is a somewhat fun way to pass a snowy day.

The Pragmatic Programmer - The Preface

After sending several resumes since the middle of January, I decided to rethink my usually cover letter. Resumes are adequate for communicating what you’ve done, but not how. So, I may try to convey what’s qualitatively different about how I work as a developer. To help me, I’ve decided to re-read The Pragmatic Programmer and how it relates to the software development that I’ve done and how I try to work as a programmer.

Early in the preface Thomas and Hunt discuss what makes a programmer pragmatic. They identify five characteristics - early adoption of technology, inquisitiveness, critical thought, realism and flexibility (”Jack of All Trades” as they put it). When I think of the better developers that I’ve worked with, most have had at least four of those five traits. All of them add up to a certain degree of receptiveness - are you willing to consider a problem from a different angle or to try something new? That receptiveness opens you up to constant improvement; you always try to look deeper and think harder about the next project.

The opposite of this is to run on auto-pilot, solving the same problems the same way day after day. For many developers, that kind of repetition is actually their comfort zone. However, i don’t think I am happy working that way. I need to be doing some different or better every day.

Back from the long gone

With my former employer Circuit City fading into retail history, I thought I would try to resurrect this blog. Before, this was where I wrote about music (which I still love) and whatever current events tickled my interest. Now that I’m unemployed, I thought I’d spend some time thinking about the last decade I’ve spent in web development. I still love working as a programmer and miss not coding every day or at least every other month.

So, to kick things off, I’m going to work on three regular features.

  1. A weekly music article There are so many excellent music blogs that I’m not inclined to duplicate them. However, there’s typically something out there every week folks should check out.
  2. A technology link a week For my last job at Circuit City, I was on the team that would drove the architectural direction of the website. One of our jobs was to have a weekly “show and tell” of some neat development or web technology. I still make the rounds of the tech sites, so I may as well do my show and tell here.
  3. A reflection on a chapter of The Pragmatic Programmer I’m not sure when I bought Hunt and Thomas’s The Pragramatic Programmer, but it reshaped how I think of software development - both in terms of how I code and how I work with colleagues. As I think about what I have to offer future employers, I thought I’d reread a chapter a week and jot down some thoughts. I’ve been stumped on a cover letter this afternoon and the preface alone has helped me out.

Looking for work over the past five weeks has been like pushing a rock bigger than me up a hill. I can look behind me and see where I’ve been, but all I can see in front of me is the rock. I can’t take my hands off of it and I won’t know when I’m done pushing it until I hit the top of my hill.

Talking Turkey

Global-A-Go-Go is featuring a bunch or rare Turkish CDs this week. Be sure to tune in this Friday from 5-7pm. If you can’t tune in, Bill usually posts the tracks from his show on Radio4All.

Until tomorrow evening, check out the final 10 minutes of this Turkish adaptation of Star Wars. Definitely one of the best foreign language, kung-fu, science fiction adaptations ever.

Geek Rock

I’ve been going through some new releases and have found some nice example of geek rock. Need some tunes to listen to while sorting your Magic The Gathering cards or debugging your app? Try these out.

Witch’s Hat - Huzzah!

I originally got this CD from a friend and promptly ignored it. However, after a post about this track on I Rock Cleveland, I checked it out. Suddenly, I couldn’t stop playing this dragon slayer of a song over and over again.

Dan Deacon - Crystal Cat
Dan Deacon has gotten numerous kudos for his latest record Spiderman Of The Rings. However, this video takes the danceable single from that record to a new level. Warning - may cause seizures.

For more Dan Deacon goodness, check out this early performance that was done on a morning program in Savannah, Georgia. If you look in the lower corner of the screen, you can see the time (5:54 am). While it’s not as compelling a song as Crystal Cat, I enjoy the idea of early morning TV viewers giving a collective “WTF?”

And check out the cables on that rig! Respect!

May was New Zealand Music Month

I was reading about Sir. Edmund Hillary’s birthday on Wired, when I stumbled on a New Zealand History site. Along with articles on Sir Edmund and Radiant Living, there was a fantastic series on New Zealand Music Month. I’m a sucker for all things from New Zealand, so I cruised around for articles on New Zealand’s pop music.

There’s tons of information on New Zealand Music, but my two favorites have to be Poi-E and Ray Columbus’s Invaders.

Poi-E
In the early 80’s a linguist came up with the idea of writing a song promoting the Maori language. The fruit of this concept was a song with a dance beat sung by a Maori chorus. There’s something very charming about the Polynesian singing set to synths and Linn drums - the song just makes me happy.

She’s A Mod

This other song was a number one hit in New Zealand not once but three times. The original hit number one in the 60’s and 80’s while a hip-hop version also hit number one in the Kiwi charts. With groovy lyrics and infectious beat what could top this song? Why, the dancing of course. But whatever is the bass player doing up there?

It’s good to be back….I think

After a few sessions of snarling at MySQL and my service provider, the site is back and healthy with the latest version of WordPress and considerably more capacity. There are still a few snags - I’m not positive that the database upgrade took. My categories are a little Katty-Wumpus. No problem though - I’ve picked up some very nice Wordpress books from APress. They had a very nice table at the AJAX conference that I went to last fall.

When Network News Attacks

I’ve been following the Columbia Journalism Review’s blog recently and picked up some good articles from them. This week is a doozy about fear mongering on morning news shows called Could You Spontaneously Combust During Sex? Not sure, but you could be burned during a surgery! Well, your chances of being burned while in an operating theater are 1 in 2.25 million - about one eighth your chance of being struck by lightning. The article then goes on to list actual stories from morning news shows including “Danger at the Wheel: How Safe is Your Carpool?” and “Addiction to Psychics”. Now, I cannot watch network news without a strong desire to either turn the channel or gnaw off my own arm. With all of the potentially useful things people could learn from television, it’s pathetic that this is what the networks run.