Looking back and dusting my keyboard

Reflecting on 2008, I really appreciate all the opportunities and blessings that I have been a part of. Last year was a special one for my family and me; we were expecting our second son. This easily put everything else that happened in perspective.

Employment-wise, I had a very nice job were my efforts made a difference. I had nice colleagues and felt very comfortable in the skillset required to serve my employer well. Lastly, I had enough free time to tinker with emerging technologies and explore different interests. I was happily chugging away at both a technical book and a vocation/career book constantly and applying the ideas grasped from them.

Personal favorites from these sets where, on the technical level, exploring collective intelligent systems, studying the nature of (no laughing please) ants as an organized problem solving collective. Plenty to still be learned here… On the vocational/career side, I really enjoyed and was influenced by the book My Job Went to India by Chad Fowler. For me, this book falls in line with the first Joel on Software Book. Like that book, this book encouraged me to focus and align a bit my career. Not that I believed to be hitting a glass ceiling but careers and skills do need fine tuning and sharpening often. I highly recommend either of those two books to my two regular readers to examine their professional path and inspect whether their day to day actions lead to fulfillment of their goals.

A side effect of getting caught up in these ‘grow in your trade’ type of book is that one tends to grow out of the current employment situation one is in. Learning from books related to one’s trade is a great complement to traditional education and great peers. Something shared on these books (and other books like these) is the encouragement to expand ones horizons and competency, learn new things and, drum-roll please, step out of our comfort zone.

For the second time in my life, I found myself looking for a ‘bigger’ job, outside of my comfort zone that I could grow into. I still remember the last time this happened and it has been long enough that I can talk about it. The situation was lots simpler then: I became obsessed with raising our, back then, development shop’s Spolsky score. I believe we where in the bottom at a two or a three.

At first, this was the best thing I could do with my time, most notably – implementing a versioning system (CVS), attempting to separate SQL code from coldfusion code… store procedures for all! I started an initiative (with mild success) of branding our applications instead of replicating and re-deploying the same application over and over again… I got up to three or four sites on one code base, as opposed to the ‘old school’ 7 copies of the same application with different application.cfm files. I implemented localization for all these applications and it was all fun.

For a while, I was happily doing my work and my best to improve the team’s environment. Our development team went up to a 6 on the test and I was happy, for a while. Sadly, implementing great ideas and practices does not guarantee adoption of these… As time went by, some of my work would become stale for lack of participation or momentum. To be fair, since there is not a definite right way of doing things, holding your colleagues up to some, perhaps silly, test on a book may not be the best idea… Developers tend to follow along with these things as long as it doesn’t affect them too much unless they have a sincere interest in them. Disillusionment set in for me and I found myself in a situation where I wanted to practice things learned but had nowhere to. Naturally, this left me wanting to work at a different place; one where all these things I read about where the norm not the exception.

In no time and with great luck, I found myself happily employed at a different place. For two years I happily served my employer doing the best I could and growing as a developer at the same time. This team easily scored way higher and I learned a lot from them. Most importantly, I met a few very clever people I am grateful to still keep in touch with. Which places me into the beginning of last year… right about when I picked up the book My Job Went to India. This book is way better than the Spolsky’s. In all fairness, how good I think these books are totally depends on my own ‘stage’ in my career. The same argument can be made for the The Pragmatic Programmer. If you can see how this story ends by now, by all means but, take heed when picking one of these books out… You may be setting yourself up for upcoming changes in your life/career. Try not ot have a baby at the same time…

Early last year, I was presented the best employment opportunity I could hope for. I landed a job in the Flex Team at Highwinds, a Content Delivery Network that kicks serious butt. I am in the company of the sharpest, most competent team of I have ever been part of. I’ve been here for 6-7 months now and the challenges never seem to end. I have been fortunate to dabble in more different technologies than I thought I could… I’ve been exposed to Java, Google Analytics, Google Maps, Adobe BlazeDS, Flash and, nicest of all, Flex. Adobe Flex is a product I had been trying to convince my (two previous) supervisors is the best tool/tech to creating web applications that matter. Throughout this experience, I have been fortunate to be surrounded by great peers that are a great technical resource to me. This is indispensable for me since my ambition seems to be a step ahead of my abilities…

I think the biggest challenges on this last job transition has been moving from a procedural language (Coldfusion) to object oriented languages like Java and ActionScript and how ‘unimportant’ the database tier is for these… at least in the development environment I find myself in. These are good challenges mind you, but not trivial for me. This is the biggest career stretch for me yet.

Another great thing about this new job is that my wonderful wife can stay at home, if only for a good bit, to care for our kids like no one else would/could. I get to come home every night exhausted but grateful to have two boys to play with. Not having to deal with daycare, sick babies (as much), doctors and emergency doctor visits is priceless.

Currently, it feels like its time to pick a few new goals for 2009. As always, there are way more interesting things that I could squeeze in what free time I may have so choosing is going to be very interesting… I’ll be doing a better job of relating these experiences in here; hoping it helps me gauge progress. Maybe even benefit the few who can use these.

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