Monday, March 3, 2008

Sounds like a tale of two cities

It was the worst of times, and it was the best of times... I have bad news, worse news, neutral news, good news, and great news...

Bad news:
On Thursday I was informed that the funding for my project had been cut. I was laid off. Which meant that I had to find a new job fast! I had a funny feeling about the whole thing. I guess what happened is that during the 1 1/2 month hiring process, they spent way more money than the company had budgeted for that project. They started looking for people to fill the position in January (when I applied) and didn't hire anyone until last week. During that entire time, the project was spending money in an incomplete state. The whole thing was a mess from day one. I actually found it to be quite remarkable how much I was able to get done in one week, compared to what they had trouble doing in 2 months, and I was slowed down because I was learning how to do this stuff. So, the rest of their budget was spent on training me.

Worse news:
To make everything just worse, Pooky died on Saturday morning. We haven't heard back from the vet exactly what happened, but it is just such a shame that such a cute little dog had to pass on so soon. I already miss Pooky, and Evelyn is still crying herself to sleep at night. All I can really do is try to comfort her a little, and help her deal with her pain. Apparently, she let Pooky out on Saturday night, and he went over behind the bushes to "do his business," when she heard him cry out a scream! she rushed to the door, and called him; he came running and screaming the whole way. She couldn't get him to stop crying, eat, or drink anything, and he just kept drooling. She called the vet, and the vet said it sounded like he was just scared by something, and he should be fine to bring in the next morning. The next day, while she was waiting for a ride to the vet, Pooky died in her arms.
It has just been devastating for her. She felt like Pooky was completely hers, and nobody would be able to take her away, but then he passed on. I am sad to see the little guy go, and it is hard for me to keep my composure when she is so upset about the whole thing; I am trying to just be a good supportive person.

Neutral news:
Saturday, while Jaani and I were at the Beach in Point Reyes National Seashore, a bigger dog attacked him! I was so worried, and I had to fight the other dog off of him. He went after Jaani, and I grabbed his harness, but he had gotten Jaani by the back of the neck! I was so scared! I grabbed the dog's lower jaw, and squeezed right behind the dog's back teeth; this action actually forces the dog to bite it's own lip. The dog yelped shortly, and then let go of Jaani. Then I pulled hard on the dogs harness, and I must have thrown that dog a good five feet away from me. The other dog was fine, and today after taking Jaani for a check up at the vet, all of my fears were gone. I called the lady who had the dog, and I told her that my dog was OK; I also cautioned her that it is really hard to have to put a dog down, and if that happened to someone else, they might want to press charges. She felt horrible about the ordeal, and she sent me the cost of my vet bill to have Jaani checked out via pay pal today. She also told me that she was going to take her dog to some sort of aggressive animal training class that the state usually sends problem dogs to. I guess the point is to figure out what caused the aggression. So, everything is good, and I hope that if nothing else, this won't happen to anyone else.

Good news:
My pilgrimage to Mountain View California has been officially made for the first time! I was very happy to see the Google campus with my own eyes. I have more details about the evening down below, but the short story is that we got down there a little late, Matt and Jordan wanted to turn the entire trip into something about this whole cell phone business that Matt wants to get going, and I was a little disappointed that I didn't get to really code as much as I intended the entire time, but I'll get more into that after I tell about the best news yet... Here begins the story that starts on Thursday after I loose my job at Medtronic.



Best news:
So, when I was leaving Medtronic on Thursday after being laid off, which turned into my quitting shortly after, I got a call from Volt. Volt recruiters started calling me earlier in the week because I was eligible to work a complete year at Microsoft because I had finished my 100 day break. Plus, just for kicks, I completed a pre-screening questionnaire sent to me via email the night before. It turns out it was a recruiter looking to fill a build engineer position for Microsoft SQL Server. I really wasn't sure if I wanted to become a build engineer, however I decided I was in the area, and already dressed appropriately to go to an interview. So, I arranged for Volt to print a couple copies of my resume at the office on the Microsoft Campus, and I would also use that opportunity to park my car, and have a Microsoft Shuttle take me around campus.
Right when I was ready to pick up my resume, I got a call from a different recruiter, who had another interview, and a phone screening set up; both of which were for Microsoft Zune. The interview was for a Software Test Engineer Level 2 for the Zune Social team, while the phone screening was the same position, but for the Zune Marketplace team.
After completing my interview with SQL, I was sure that I got the job. I actually know I got the job, but I still wanted to see what other options I had open over at Zune. Especially seeing how all the positions payed the same, and I was already familiar with the Zune team (and I really loved it!) I took the shuttle over to the new Zune building, which I think is a little less flashy than the Bear Creek building was, actually it was a warehouse that is only half complete, but it was the same team.
I got a call on my cell phone while I was enjoying the sun, sitting on a bench between buildings 86 and 87 on the Microsoft campus, it was my phone screening for the Zune marketplace. I recognized the voice immediately, and it was one of the people who helped co-ordinate my team at the bear creek building. I told him how building 87 does not hold a candle to the bear creek building, and he laughed, and asked if I had been there, I informed him that I was sitting outside; we decided we may as well meet face to face. We talked for about an hour about how the project was when I worked on it before, and I suggested things that I would like to change. He said that's exactly what they wanted, someone to come in and fix what was wrong with the product with new and innovative ideas. I felt right back at home.
I knew that I was not going to take the SQL job, but at the same time I know that as an SQL build engineer at Microsoft, you can do what ever you want (career wise) after you work there for even a few months. Anyone can be a STE, but it really takes a unique skill set to be a build engineer. However, it is really hard to get in with the Zune team because everyone wants that job. Plus, it looks really good on my resume for me to work somewhere for a one month contract, then for them to hire me back for another contract. It shows that even though I left once, I did a good enough job for them to take me back. I now had to go to my second interview, which would set my opinion for sure.
I walk out to the lobby to wait for my new manager to come out. A small Indian woman about half my size comes walking out. I greet her, and we proceed (back) into the office space. She said that she needed to find a conference room that was unoccupied, and I told her I was able to direct her to the room I was just in. She said that I seemed to know the building better than her already, and I laughed and said I just seem to have a way with directions.
After talking for a while, I was able to analyse a coffee mug in ways nobody else had ever looked at a cup before. I thought of non-typical uses for the cup as a generic container, and ways to test the cup for durability and endurance to prove worthy of my strict coffee cup standards. We then started talking about what I actually knew about social networking sites, and what I knew about Zune Social. I told her that most of my Zune knowledge was focused on Marketplace, but we had to use Zune Social sometimes to find artist IDs in the database; I also told her about my experiences with Myspace, Facebook, LinkedIn, Launchpad, Orkut, Blogger, Plaxo, Live Journal, Photo bucket, mug, picasa... there are a lot of social networking sites, in fact they come a dime a dozen... Everything I talked about boiled down to one thing: Integrating Open Social to allow your social networking site to communicate with applications people have on other sites, and allow the user to maintain one profile that would be propagated to all sites (ei. Let this site just copy their facebook or myspace site). This makes it easier to market your product to someone who is already familiar with another social networking site.
By the end of the day, I had 3 job offers. I chose the Zune Social team, because I have been obsessing over Open Social for months now, and if I can combine my new contacts from Google with my influence on Zune Social, then I can finally make a popular product I am truly proud to have my name on. Maybe I can't change the world, but I can bug the hell out of (as in write a lot of bug reports about) whatever I don't want to be realeased.

Scrambling time!!!!!!! This is the point where I realize that the time I had already planned for packing to go to Mountain View, was spent in my interviews. It was about 4PM, and traffic was heavy. I needed to get to my apartment, then get out to Renton to get the guys. I thought hard on the way home about what I would need for my trip. I packed light, putting everything I needed in one backpack. I then packed all of Jaani's things in his little bag. Finally, I packed my computer stuff into another backpack. I grabbed a couple of cans of soup, a small sauce pan, snack bars, and five or six bottles of water on my way out the door.

We hit the road at about 7PM Thursday night. We drove until about 1AM when we started to get into the mountains of Southern Oregon. We found a Motel 6, which seemed to be the best bet because they were cheap, gave a AAA discount, allow pets, and there are a lot of them. I was dead tired because I had woken up at 7AM that morning. The next day we got a later start than we expected, and we woke up at 9am. We planned to leave the hotel at 7AM, which meant we were running late. The construction zones, and the fact that it was the last day of the month seemed to slow us down because all the cops were out to fill ther quotas, and Oregon has a lot of "constructions zones" even though there is never any equipment or people working in said zones.

We got down to Moutain View at about 5PM on Friday, which meant we had completely missed the 2PM session, but we were early for the 6PM session. We talked to the people, and I talked to Jordan about programming, even though I really wanted to be making a program rather than explain to him how to do stuff. I found that I was able to talk to every Google employee there, and have questions for them to answer. I talked to someone about: Android, Gears, Search API, AJAX, Maps, GMail, Blogger API, Reader, Adsense, Adwords, Notebook, Page Creator, Webmaster Tools, Base, Checkout, Custom Search, Labs, and Products. I must have talked to at least 20 people at Google, and seven or eight people who worked in the area for Google's ecosystem of corporations. It was an inspiring event for me. When all was said and done, I got a bar of caffeinated soap because I drove all the way down there, and asked so many questions that just made the Googlers think about how people learn and interpret there projects.
We then got a tour around the campus, but they didn't let us bring a camera, so I have a picture of this sculpture on the campus. The Googleplex is such a welcoming environment. I would move down to Mountain View in a heart beat for the opportunity to work in those buildings. Just looking around at the architecture you can hardly even find a right angle, a wall without a curve in it, or if there is no curve, lines that are parallel to anything around them. Just the buildings alone make you think outside the box. That is if the employee built and maintained Zen, vegetable, or flower gardens don't help you think. Maybe the 20% free time on the job to pursue any project you think Google needs; perhaps you are inspired by the sports park or mazes. Perhaps if you are tired all you need is an hour or two of sleep in one of the dorms; Heck, you can even bring your laundry to work and have the housecleaning staff take care of your laundry while you are at work. Yes, I will work here one day.

I do like to put a huge emphasis on how great the Googleplex is, however, Saturday was also an exciting day.

To Be Continued...

Later,
SteveO