Wants and shoulds


I'm back to the uncomfortable balance of wants and shoulds in life.

I know I should be working on work work. I know I want to be working on personal work. I know I should fix this one feature in a client's site. Then, I can bill them, and make money to keep me in the plants I've grown accustomed to having around.

But I keep thinking about my projects and I really don't want to be working on the billable work work.

Maybe just ten minutes on the fun work. Then the work work won't seem so unbearable.

Well, well, well, look at that


Even the suburbs has entertainment on some days.

Doyle and I were talking about something at work, when he perked up, pointed at me and said, "Hey! Look at that!" I took a moment's pause before I realized he was pointing over my shoulder and out the office window. That pause was longer than the one I took to grab my camera and start taking photos.

First work proposal


I finished my first work proposal today.

I started working on it Tuesday afternoon, after talking to the client. I had two proposals Mike had written for previous projects as examples / outlines, but I definitely felt like I was fumbling around somewhat ignorant of what I needed to do.

Which isn't to say I can't figure it out. I'm good at making lists, at breaking down tasks into smaller and smaller pieces. My index cards can certainly attest to that ability.

What I'm not so good at, however, is estimating time. A friend once suggested I estimate a task, and multiply by three, because that seems to be how long a task will really take. Given how cynical and pessimistic I can be about life and the human condition, the optimism I have when estimating time is incongruous.

Of course, that inability to accurately estimate how long a task will take could easily explain why I'm frequently late.

This time, however, I had Mike to help me out. He reviewed my numbers, reviewed the task list, added items and such. I look at the total and think, wow, that total is a lot of money, but each step is justified.

Writing here, I can be satisfied with my words. I can edit and adjust and, when I hit the submit button, be done. With a proposal though, it's my writing going to someone else. I can't help but wonder, did I explain everything? Was I succinct? Was I clear? Did I estimate too high? Did I estimate too low? Is the guy going to think I'm an idiot with this quote?

After a few moments of nervousness, I gave up on the internal torture, the need to be perfect and the urge to make everyone else happy. I sent the proposal off with the realization that, yes, the process will take as long as I estimated, and, yes, my time is worth the money I quoted.

If the quote is too high, well, I have internal projects to work on, too.

Snap! = bitch


I snapped at Mike today.

I snapped at him, and I'm angry with myself for having done so. One of several of my goals/tasks/areas of improvement upon returning from vacation (or, maybe I should say, "vacation") has been to remain calm at work, and in general. I know that Mike and Doyle know my buttons and can easily push them, sending me into a fury of anger - awareness of this should help me avoid the fury, but hasn't quite so far.

And it's annoying me. Not that I should expect miracles, instant personality fixes, just decide to change and done. If it were that easy, I'd be perfect and life would be boring.

But at least I wouldn't be snapping at Mike.

Mike was talking about his parent-teacher conference he and Kate went to this morning. The previous one had high marks for Liza, with a subnote that she can be bossy at times. I asked for an update on that "blemish" in Liza's A+ record, and tossed an empty Gatorade bottle in the side trash next to our desks.

Mike immediately stopped talking about Liza and her bossy ways, to boss me, ordering me to, "Throw that away in the recycling!"

Now, there are several things wrong with this order, including,

  1. I'm the one that moves the trash from that trash can to the big one in the other room, and cleans out the recycling from the little can to the big can. If I do it now, or I do it in two days matters little to me. I don't recall when I last saw Mike empty that trash can.
  2. The cleaners will separate out the trash on the twice a month when they clean the office. If they see the recycling, they'll pull it out and put it in the proper place.
  3. The City of Sunnyvale will separate the recycling from the trash, and recycle what they can. Sure, it's easier for the city residents to each separate out the known recycling, but the job is still done before items end up in the landfill

When I refused to remove the empty bottle from the trashcan, knowing full well I'll be the one moving the trash anyway, and can remove it then, Mike and Doyle started cajoling, annoying and picking on me. "Oh, do you hate the environment?" "Master Gardener but environmental hater," and "Not such a big environmentalist afterall, are we?"

Images of Mike's coffee-a-day paper cups danced in my head. I immediately began calculating the number of miles each of us drives daily. I recalled full trash cans overflowing in front of his house, and the once a month trash cans we'd put out.

I managed all of maybe two minutes of this before I let loose a fury of, "Look at the amount of trash your household has produced and compare it to the amount of trash my house has produced and you'll see which of the two of us has a greater environmental impact. THEN you can call me a hater, because I assure you even with that bottle in the trash, my footprint is significantly less than yours."

Mike and Doyle looked at each other. Clearly I'm not able to handle this harrassment. I thought I was doing well, accepting ribbing from friends and teasing from teammates. That I snapped indicates that no, I'm still sensitive to it.

And it annoys me.

I clearly need a thicker hide. Just not sure where to get one...

Without a billion problems


Just once, I'd like to have a project that's not full of a billion problems. A project that starts and ends on time. A project where the client and the developer are happy. Where I don't have to wrestle with arcane IE CSS rendering bugs. Where I don't have to beat down MySQL databases or Apache aliases or PHP casting bugs. Where I don't spend more of my time fixing problems, but rather I spend it creating things.

A project where I'm not up until 2:00 am two nights in a row because I'm trying to solve the problem before everyone gets into the office in the morning.

Just once. Is that really too much to ask for?

Might be.

It might be the world's most boring project.

Lesson one? Check!


Mike received a phone call yesterday at work. From the conversation, I gathered the person on the other end of the line was looking for Drupal developers, and had been referred to our company.

The first call Mike pushed off: our time was booked, we couldn't take on another client at the moment. The second call was more insistent, but Mike still pushed them off. The third call started causing Mike stress. He looked at me and asked me if I wanted to take on another client.

I've been pushing off adding clients, in favor of actively reducing my client load. I've found the optimal number of clients for me is two. Any more than two and I start thrashing, spinning my wheels and accomplishing nothing. With my new insistence on transparency, my work on my own projects and on me, my time seems pretty full, but I thought, sure, I could help a bit.

I called the original recruiter. I talked to the company's CTO. I chatted with the company's lead developer, whom I had met a month ago for a different reason. The work sounds interesting.


Always a but.

I don't really have time to take on more work. I could help them out. I could work for them for a week, a month, a few months. And after those weeks, months, I'd be a bit richer. Given the recent money issues, taking the work was tempting. Very tempting.

In the end, I couldn't do it. I'm saddened by the fact I'll be missing out on working with a lead Drupal developer (which was the biggest draw to the project, actually). But, I couldn't go into a project where it feels like everyone is already stressed, and pressed for time and in a near panic. I'm finally down to two clients, why add the stress by adding another one?



Leaving VA over two years ago was hard for reasons that should have never existed. Leaving was the correct thing to do, and working with Mike was best outcome of that decision. He has a good amount of experience running a company (which I lacked), a good amount of rock (term I use to describe Kris for his ability to not worry, not become emotional and not freak when things are scary) and a good amount of technical ability.

He also have more experience in the cash flow, money part of the business. Experience I sorely lack.

I was used to working forty hours a week, sometimes more, sometimes less, sometimes hard, sometimes hardly. Every week or two of that working, I'd receive a piece of paper which I could either exchange for yuppie food coupons or view that my bank account had been credited with the appropriate number of coupons. Once a year or so, I'd write up how I did in the previous year, also be too hard on myself (ah, yes, my own worst critic by a lot), and receive a few more coupons in my subsequent (bi-)weekly ticket receipt.

Owning a business means that doesn't happen any more. There are more things you need to do, like invoices, and deposits, and payroll, and forms, and paperwork, and fees, and taxes, and rent, and more forms, and, oh crap, do we need to hire another person, or have we hit famine?

I treated much of my first year working with Mike as I had my previous decade of working: a paycheck whenever is great. Here are my hours, let me know when you get the check from the client.

But, that doesn't really cut it. There isn't someone telling me, "Do the work this way." There isn't someone saying, "This is the project, we think it'll earn this much money, yes, you'll get paid at the end." There isn't someone that has all the answers anymore.

There really never was that someone, I just wanted to believe there was. I wanted to believe that I just needed to work hard and I'd be rewarded, that someone had the answer, I just needed to look hard enough to find it.

Sometimes I wish life were as simple as it seemed in 3rd grade.

We hired Katie a few months ago when it was obvious that my completely hands-off approach to "running" a business was putting too much stress on Mike on the invoicing/cash flow part of the day-to-day work. Katie's been absolutely wonderful, and I'm so happy she's working with us. She's recently run a few outstanding invoices reports for us to see what's going on with cashflow.

And here's where I learn another lesson in why it can suck to own your own business.

One client hasn't paid in over 90 days and it's unlikely we'll see that money. One client we had to discount a lot for various reasons. And another client is disputing one of our invoices. The total for all of these discounts and disputes is near the amount I've earned this year. If people paid, I'd be twice as rich as I am now.

I can't help but think, man, this just sucks. The amount of stress associated with this work just isn't worth it. The thought of going to work for another company feels like giving up, but, geez, does this need to be so hard?

I've changed the way I work with one client in response to the invoice issues. We have daily calls, which help with communication a lot: no surprises on what I'm working on, no arguments about what's the most important task of the day. I think we currently invoice every two weeks, I'll probably switch that to every week.

Kragen once asked me, how much stress would be reduced by a transparent task list? Based on my short experience with the new way of working with this client, I'd have to say about 95% of the stress.

I just wish I'd learned transparency two years ago.



Mike's back! Mike's back! Oh, praise whatever deity you think may exist, Mike's back!

And now that he's back, changes are going to be made!

All of them good.

I somehow convinced him that daily walks to discuss daily progresses are a good thing. So, we discussed the current business status while running through the Sunnyvale parking lot maze at Evelyn, just north of Murphy. Mike looked at the progress of the maze, and skipped over lines, walking to the center, then back out, following the maze with his eyes. I, on the other hand, ran along the entire maze, giggling the whole time.

Mike, once again, had some brilliant insights. He commented that I always seem to have a stone around my neck, that I'm weighed down by some project that prevents me from doing the work I want to be doing. It frustrates me, it frustrates Mike, and it makes Doyle just laugh at the both of us.

He made the comment, and I had to wonder if I do this on purpose. I've been in the same position for two years now. Is it a defense mechanism? If I never work on my projects, they can't fail, right? What a horrible, horrible thought: that a fear of failing stops me from trying.

We talked and walked and talked and walked, and decided that half of our hours will be internal project hours. That's forty hours a week working on our own projects, 160 hours a month. We also agreed to increase our hourly rates so that we don't have as much work, giving us the time to work on our projects. Both of these are suggestions Wook suggested, and Mike whole-hearted agreed with them, so I'm happy and excited about the changes.

This time, the changes are going to stick. I'm beyond determined about this. Things have to change, and this feels like the right way to go.

So much for that attempt


And, after all that work, I managed to lose the client anyway.

If I had known in the end that I was going to lose the client, I wouldn't have worked the 100+ hours on the project. Nor would I have missed half the July 4th festivities at Adam's, the after wedding fun, the various ultimate practices, the extra time at communal dinner, the runs and the sleep. I would have said, screw it, the grapes are sour anyway, and enjoyed the last two weeks.

Though, probably feeling guilty the whole time.

The day started off crappy, with my staying up until 6 in the morning trying to finish a site feature that later in the day I found out wasn't actually in the original statement of work. Essentially, I was done on Monday, but the client confused two projects, and insisted a feature be added. I didn't realize it shouldn't be, and spent the last four days trying to put it in. Nothing like finding out Monday at 9:30 PM that a feature needs to be in by, oh, that day's morning to add stress to a project.

Yesterday, I had sent a note to the client letting them know I couldn't work Thursday or Friday on the current project that's been sucking up all my time, but that I'd be working on the client's other projects. Instead of being thankful for the heads up, they completely freaked, called up Mike on his vacation, demanded he contact me.

Because, you know, Mike is my dad and he tells me what to do.

The worse part is that I ended up spending all of Thursday working on the same project anyway.

I give up. I'm done with clients. As soon as I finish up the current projects for current clients, I'm not planning on taking on any more. If some amazing client project comes along, I'll probably take it. But I'm not seeking any new clients out.

Instead, I'm going to work on our projects, build our products up. Finally, finally, finally. Our work.

Because you're supposed to be nice


Today was supposed to be a vacation day for Kris.

Having worked ungodly hours for the last month and a half (the last three weeks where he went to work at 6:30 am and arrived home after 9 at night, usually 10), Kris was finally able to take a day off. Four in fact: the weekend, today as a floating holiday and tomorrow as a real holiday.

Didn't happen.

Someone from his work called my cell phone, Kris' not working yet, and left a message to the effect that there have been site errors, mostly memory problems, and that the head honchos were cancelling the holiday and asking everyone to return to work. I listened to the message, and, annoying, tragically, did the right thing: I called home, had Heather wake up Kris at 11 in the morning, and told him he had to go to work. I then played the voice message for him. His response was a muted, "You have to be kidding me."

At least he got 7 hours of sleep last night.

An hour later, I received another phone call from the same coworker. I answered, and he asked for Kris. I told him that Kris wasn't here, he was on his way into work.

Apparently this was the best news this guy could have ever heard. He went off on oh, how wonderful that is, and after a few minutes, started saying how sorry he was that he had to call everyone into work, there were such problems.

As he went off on his apologies, my anger started rising. My husband has been effectively working for less than minimum wages for this company, and they're calling him in on his day off, the first in six weeks. Kris has missed half the ultimate practices in the last month, hasn't spent a weekend with me for two, and I can count the number of times his hasn't been too exhausted in the last month for sex because of work on one hand.

Right, this guy is sorry. So sorry that the site that isn't making any money has to fix itself right now.

I hung up on the guy.

I have no desire to be nice to the person who is clearly not as sorry as he is claiming to be. If he were that sorry, he wouldn't have called in the first place.