Life Changes #2

Three years ago, I quit my programming job, took a summer off to teach and work in open source, and then moved to Boston to work for Exa doing proprietary development again. It’s been a good two and half years, but I’m excited to announce that I’ll be joining Canonical, starting May 13th.

I’ll be a UI and Application Engineer in their Mobile Solutions Group. This group is a consulting arm of Canonical that customizes Ubuntu for small devices like netbooks. I’m super pumped about it; I’ll finally be getting paid to do what I’m most passionate about.

In other super-pumped-about news, Elaine and I will move in together in August. We found a neat apartment complex right in Arlington Center: The Legacy. Which sounds like a retirement home, so that’s a bonus. It’s very nice, although our apartment is one of two handicap-friendly apartments in the complex, and I feel a bit guilty for sucking that up. But on the plus side, the bathtub has hand rails.

Move Debriefing

Well, I’m now officially all settled in my new apartment. I just got Internet access again today. I haven’t had it since the 1st, and I am information-starved.

I now have a cell phone, which I have needed for a few years now, and am pretty happy with it.

My new job at Exa is boss. It is definitely different from working at EBS in one room with a few other engineers. I have a cubicle, and there are all the earmarks of a big company. Or at least, one becoming large. There are definite signs of growing from a startup mentality to an established company mentality.

One thing that has really impressed me are the human resources and operations departments. I’m not used to having my employer have whole departments dedicated to making sure my work goes smoothly. I was happy to be shown the supply room and told to take whatever I want. Free soda/tea/coffee throughout the day. Little things that seem to just be part of doing business, but make me feel facilitated. The people are nice too, which is always good.


Ugh. I feel like I’ve lost about 2 years of my life from the stress of the last week. I was going through the process of getting a job, getting an apartment, and hosting my two little brothers for a weekend. Result: I now have a job, an apartment, and two happy younger brothers. It all came together pretty much today.

The job is with Exa Corporation, as a UI Engineer. I will help maintain one of their products, written in Qt. I’ve been impressed with what I’ve seen there. One of their conference rooms had a TV on wheels with a VHS of Top Secret!. That’s a good sign, if ever I’ve seen one. Also, they got back to me the day I sent in a resume, and I interviewed the very next day. Fast moving.

The apartment is a fabulous one right in Davis Square. Nick and I had lots of false starts getting an apartment, but this looks like it will go through. It is across the street from a comic store, one house down from Your Move Games, and right next to Davis Square itself. Amazing location and good space. A little pricey, but I now have a job, so whatever.

Update: Sigh… I knew that if I mentioned it before the blood had dried, something would end up going wrong. We lost the apartment to someone who was willing to pay yet more. So we’re now looking at a second option not nearly so close to Davis Square.

Cybercamps Debriefing

My time at Cybercamps ended this past Friday, and I can’t say I’m sorry to see it go. I liked the actual work and the kids, but I had some real problems with my coworkers.

I think the lesson here is to be very leery of an employer that will hire you based on just a phone interview. Not only will neither side have enough information, but it won’t give you much confidence in their other hires. That’s true in general, I guess: beware of getting a job too easily. You’ll never know what fools you’ll be working beside.

Hiring someone must be so difficult, at least for entry level jobs. Interviews are set up to get a feel for someone, but there is this whole culture built around fooling an interviewer. That’s why it’s so nice to have past experience as proof of competence. But for your first job, it seems difficult to convince someone your are awesome.

For programmers, that is where open source is great. I would definitely recommend to you computer science majors that you get involved in some project. It really shows that you are both capable and interested in programming and gives you exposure to a lot of technology.

Dirty Hands

At Cybercamps, we sometimes have a group of younger kids called Cyber Explorers for the week. They range from 6 to 9 years-old and generally learn the basics of how to cut and paste, draw pictures, etc. Interestingly, the female/male ratio is much higher with this group. Girls! Computers are cool even when you have breasts! I assume…

Anyway, one of the girls made an interesting comment today. Several of the girls seems to be into Hillary Duff and were listening to some of her music and looking at her website. This one girl made a picture of Hillary Duff’s name written in an interesting font and started adding some sort of stamp all over the picture.

I looked closer and saw that she was stamping lots of little purple handprints. I asked why, and she said, This is how famous she is. ‘Cause they all want to touch her with their dirty hands. So many people in the world.

The Game That Wouldn’t Die

The campers at Cybercamp are given a lot of down time to play on the computers. Naturally, this is mostly spent playing various games. This last week, there was a smattering of recent titles like Jedi Academy and Call of Duty with one notable exception.

I was floored to see how heavily StarCraft was played. Every day, they would get an eight-player game or two going. This game is half as old as they are; they must have been playing it ever since they knew how.

StarCraft has amazing tenacity. It has to be frustrating as a game developer to still have to compete with games from 1998, let alone your contemporaries. The game is still being patched, for goodness sake. I was in EB earlier today and saw boxed copies of the original StarCraft for sale! The game is still played by the entire population of South Korea. One of the campers showed me this mod for Warcraft III whose goal was to perfectly emulate StarCraft.

I don’t understand this. I like StarCraft too, but I’d like to think it’s not humanity’s last word on games. Surely we can do better. I know I’m looking forward to the new Frogger games

Cybercamps First Impressions

So, I’ve been working at camp for a few days now. Long story short, it is way more work than the pay warrants. Which isn’t a complete surprise, though it still saps my motivation.

The kids are cool, and I do get to do some neat stuff with them. Today, I taught some of them Magic.

On Cool

I’m pumped about starting work for Cybercamps pretty soon. I’ve done lots of training for it, so I’ll be glad to actually be getting paid for the time I spend on this job. 🙂

The training has been interesting in its own right, though. One of the training manuals described the following scenario: you arrive at a party before the other guests. As guests start to show up, you have two choices: you can jump up and introduce yourself or stand back in the corner and watch. As time goes on, it becomes more and more difficult to jump into the crowd and become part of it because it would seem more and more artificial and forced. The longer you wait to enter a social situation, the less likely it is that you will. For that reason, you should start off with guns blazing.

In a similar vein, one thing they are big into is losing your cool, which basically means being goofy. We play lots of icebreakers to help the campers lose their cool. The idea is that kids, and people in general, are all closed off behind layers of social mannerisms. These mannerisms are designed to let one be cool. Or, at least, be like the cool kids. In that sense, they are largely preventative behaviors that make one more likely to follow the cool kids than do one’s own thing.

The ironic thing is that the cool kids are largely considered cool because they have the chutzpah to do their own thing. Naturally, this extends to adults as well. I think we tend to worry too much about how other people perceive us. If you aren’t afraid of looking goofy, you won’t look goofy, you’ll look cool (or, at least, interesting). It’s the people that look like they know they are silly who get mocked. They give permission to mock them by expecting it.

In fact, that is true for all sorts of things. Shame is a foolish emotion. By being ashamed, you are selling out, giving the OK for others to despise you as well as yourself. You preemptively cede the cool ground. At the very least, wait to be challenged. 🙂

Obviously these social tips are easier said than done, but take it from the guy who almost had the nickname butt-in-the-air Mike: worrying about what other people think is for chumps.

Teaching Debriefing

So, I don’t think I’ll do any more subbing this year. It’s almost over anyway, and the Cybercamp job is coming up.

All in all, I’m definitely glad I did it, since I’ve discovered that teaching really isn’t my thing. At least, not at so young an age, as I ended up only teaching first through fifth grade. There was way too much mothering for my tastes: it’s hard to get used to people asking you if they can go to the bathroom.

I’m not the most assertive guy, and you really have to be in charge with these kids. You can’t be soft because teachers need to provide a unified front; if you don’t enforce every other teacher’s rules, you’re fucking up discipline.

Perhaps what really did me in was chasing a problem kid down the hall, grabbing him, and then carrying his gone-limp body to the principal’s office. That really isn’t worth $55 a day. Not that I didn’t believe it before, but I can now say with a little more confidence that teachers are underpaid.