Saturday, May 17, 2014

Pushing Strings: First Week Back To Work

A local spider, pushing strings.
Well, this was my first week back to work after just over 4 months off. I took the time off to help out my kids, especially my youngest with his schooling. He was falling behind and he needed some directed attention. He has gotten to a point where he was doing great in school and we were lucky enough to find a great Nanny/Tutor to help him for the last 6 weeks of school. So, that allowed me to get back into the workforce and get back to one of my loves, programming.

This time around I decided to try something different and give contracting a try. For those not from around Redmond, here is how Microsoft and many big technology companies operate in the USA. They use contingent staffing, contractors (more correctly, vendors, the politically correct term), to help them build new products, features, or releases. This allows companies to keep staff levels lower, reduce costs from benefits, 401K, severance packages, etc in the inevitable up/down staffing cycles that occur. Wall Street likes this and so do investors.

For those that choose to contract, it can mean a higher salary if you have health benefits from another source, such as our spouse. It also means you can move from project to project and always work on something new. I am used to being a full-time employee and owning the code into the maintenance phase, so this is a first for me. I am being paid to deliver features and once the project ships my contract is over and I then find another project to work on. That's worth a try for a while I figure.

For the first week back to work, we have done a lot of planning. We have our kids in a morning program at school that includes gym and open play time. Like us they now start their day earlier. They get up at 6:30am to be to school at 7:30am. I start my day at 5:45am so I can take the bus at 6am. I jump off at the gym, near work, get a workout in, shower, change, and walk to work. Then at 4 I commute home with my wife. That's for 3 days a week, for the other 2 I drive, one day I pick up the kids early and the other my wife picks up the kids early.

The week went well, for a first week. Starting at a new place is always difficult as you have to get up to speed on the project and start delivering. As a contractor I feel some additional pressure to be productive since I can be let go at any time if my work is not up to par. So, there are less pressures in some senses but additional pressures in other areas. I did not expect that feeling.

Anyways, it was a good first week. I miss being with the kids and I miss them a ton. The last 4+ months with them have been a fun experience. Not easy (laundry, tutoring, activities) but worth it for all the extra fun times we spent together. While off I also had the house always stocked with groceries. Something ran out and I would go grab it. Now, things are missing, and it is only one week back. Now we will be back to the single trip a week since we don't have time to run to the grocery store on a whim to pick up a hand full of things.

As a family with two working parents, it is hard to stay on top of all the demands made of us each day. Work, tutoring our kids, cooking, house chores; the list goes on. Such is life.

So, though it's good to be back to working on a new project, it is bittersweet since home life is much more manageable with one of us home with the kids, laundry, cooking, temper tantrums and all. I have deep respect for those that choose to have one parent home keeping while the other works to support their family.

Oh ya and work? How is it? It's a job. It's new code and new problems to solve. But in the end they are the same old problems to solve. Push strings here. Get strings from there. Display strings.

I once joked in Computer Science class that all we do is figure out ways of manipulating strings. Concatenating, truncating, sending them, receiving them, displaying them, and not overrunning any buffers. Some days programming feels just like that day back in University. Pushing Strings.

Maybe that could be the name of an album some day or a band, The String Pushers.

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