Thinking About Some Of My Jobs

Rain. Rain. And more rain. We are starting to load the ark and could start floating away in the next few weeks. Nicole’s been sick the past few days so we hung around this weekend. Two weekends in a row we’ve stuck around. Last Sunday went for a good 24 mile run through Annadel with Bob and pushed Dylan on a couple night runs this week. Today had a very good 22 mile run through Annadel. It rained from beginning to end and I saw only a couple mountain bikers. Last week, Bob and I passed the site where Randy Nash died of cardiac arrest while he mountain biked with some friends. There is a small wooden cross and some flowers next to the trail. I passed it again today. It’s hard not to have a “What if” thought when you are out there and alone. There are times I might not see anybody for hours and thinking about all the scenarios can drive you crazy. It’s better to focus and work on the task at hand. Sir Edmund Hilary summitted Everest and lived until he was 88 years old. He had the courage to do something others failed or passed on. These days, why even try when we can watch the whole thing on TV and from the comfort of our living room? Not that I want to climb Everest but I don’t want to be one to watch the world go by and be afraid to live. We are capable of experiencing more than we think. Work and its experience in my life has been on my mind during these runs lately.

When I was in high school, I worked as a bagger at Safeway. For 7th period, I took work experience and walked the couple miles from my high school to Safeway and would sometimes work until 10 PM, which was the latest we could work as high school students. As part of our duties, we were required to retrieve carts from the parking lot and were usually assigned to cart duty for at least one or two hours out of a shift. This meant for an hour or two, any excess carts congregating in the parking lot were my responsibility. I remember one afternoon, when the temperature tipped the scales, it was my cart hour. One of the perks of being a bagger was that once a day the store manager had to make a run to the bank for a deposit and took a bagger with them. These 20 minutes were always a nice getaway from the store, a good break to chat with the manager. This one day, I was running around the parking lot, pushing carts back to the store. Some clerks would take their time in the parking lot, but some of us ran and worked up a sweat. For a minute, sweat forming on my forehead, I slowed down to catch my breath and up drove the store manager in his truck on his way back from a deposit and rolled down his window and made a comment that it doesn’t look like I’m working hard enough, something to the fact that I’m not giving the right impression if I’m not hustling after the carts. I couldn’t believe it, the minute I slowed down to catch my breath, the manager took notice. I felt completely deflated. A couple years later, one of the managers mentioned that I could work my way into an assistant manager position, but around that time I realized I needed to go to college and soon after left Safeway to the disappointment of my father. At Safeway, we had the union, great benefits and a steady job. What more was there to want.

I’ve had a lot of jobs that aren’t necessarily ideal. I’ve scrubbed the Safeway floors from midnight until 7:30 AM for nearly a year. I’ve crawled under the darkest and dirtiest houses to install cable. Some of my jobs didn’t even feel like work. During college in Colorado, I loaded and unloaded planes for FedEx. Dan and I would make the hour plus drive from Fort Collins to the Denver airport late in the afternoon then work until about 11 PM and then drive back home. FedEx operated at a fast pace and getting the cargo unloaded when the plane landed then loaded before the plane left was critical. We usually had only a couple hours to turn these planes (737’s and DC-10’s and small feeder planes) around, in all types of conditions. FedEx pilots would fly in and through conditions other pilots would avoid. And in Colorado we would have severe weather.

A bonus of working at FedEx was we could fly free in the planes in one of the few jump seats. The 737’s had a jump seat right behind the captain, so this meant a great seat for take-offs and landings. During the summer, I tried to take advantage of these free flights and took some fun trips. The only disadvantage of the flights was they were always red-eye flights. I could jump on the last flight leaving Denver to Memphis at the end of my shift, fly to the FedEx hub in Memphis and sit for a couple hours then take another flight to my destination. I did a day trip to Chicago and did a Ferris Bueller’s day off: breakfast along the shores of Lake Michigan, climbed the stairs to the top of the Sears Tower then caught an afternoon game at Wrigley field. I did another day trip to Hawaii and the Hawaii flight was special because the entire first class upper deck was reserved as jump seats. I made a lot of other trips out to California and Reno to visit Nicole and friends. Two flights I will never forget. One was from Salt Lake to Denver, As we taxied onto the runway in Salt Lake, the pilot told us to strap in and hang on because this was going to be a rough flight. We were going right through some intense storms. FedEx pilots will fly right through turbulence whereas passenger planes will do their best to fly around the bumps. For over an hour, I thought the wings were going to fall off at any time. Rain and hail pelted the cockpit. It was like we were flying through flak while people were trying to shoot us out of the sky. Manuals were falling off the shelves. The cargo kept banging and I kept thinking the plane couldn’t handle it. Another flight was from Sante Fe to Colorado Spring in the middle of huge snowstorm late in the evening. We’d been stuck in Santa Fe since the morning due to weather. These pilots were set on having their cargo reach its destination. The captain asked the other co-pilot and engineer if they were OK with trying to land. They were good. My vote didn’t count. In fact they never even asked me. But I didn’t feel very good about it when the pilot took out his flashlight and looked out the cockpit window for ice on the plane. Is that good or bad? Did I really want to know? I could hear all the updates. Planes were being diverted to Denver as there was no visibility until about 200 feet above the runway and the runway was probably frozen. As we descended closer and closer to Colorado Springs, I didn’t feel very good. One of the pilots kept calling out the distance above the runway’s altitude. 400 feet! 300 feet! I had a perfect view right over the pilot’s shoulder and all we could see were the lights of the plane shinning into the falling snow. No city. No airport. No runway lights. 200 feet! Nothing. Finally, “PULL UP! PULL UP!” The captain shouts and we abort the attempt. I think I’m going to be sick. This is crazy. The plane pulls up and we level at about 10,000 feet. Someone finally realizes they didn’t pull up the landing gear so they retract the gear and then decide what to do. Let’s give it one more shot they say. Some of these pilots have military experience and they’ve got balls. So here we go again. Same thing. 400 feet! 300 feet! 200 feet! Nothing. All I can see is white snow flying past us as we are well over 100 miles per hour. Then suddenly lights appear. There it is, the faint outline of a runway is in front of us and then we touch down and the plane slowly comes to a stop. Next I had to drive my little 1976 Datsun 280Z about 120 miles from Colorado Springs to Fort Collins in the middle of this snow storm. Nothing like what those pilots had to do but it was my own little adventure.

My first job was with the local paper when I was in 5th grade. At that time we delivered the paper in the afternoon, except on the weekends when I would fold papers early in the morning then be delivering by 7 AM. During the week, the papers would be dropped off at my house in the afternoon and I would fold them, load the sacks onto my bike or shoulders then ride my bike a couple miles to the other side of Windsor and toss papers onto porches. In 9th grade, the paper switched to a morning delivery and I was able to switch to a closer route that was in my neighborhood. After my first year in high school, I quit delivering papers and went to work at Safeway.

Other jobs have come and gone and I’ve come away with something from each of them. What’s unique about what I’ve been doing the past 13 years at Hann’s On Software, well really the past 9 years because the first 4 were spent in support, is that it is 100% mental and it is design and development. Coding is one thing, but having to architect and design and code can consume lots of time. Developing something new is exciting, but there are times you go down a path that looks like the right direction only to find it is not the best way. Hours can be shot figuring out a solution. Sometimes in the end the answer is obvious. Other times there is no viable solution and you need to rethink the question. Right now, we are cutting our own path through this jungle of software. There is no manual to follow. Imagine standing on this vacant lot with an image of some fantastic building you want to build. You have a tool belt and a small pile of materials and someone shouts “Go”. Frantically you start building and building and building. There is no one to say do it this way because we are doing something that no one has done before. The technology of the development language, combining inpatient and outpatient software, giant databases, interfaces, reports makes what we are trying to do unique. So much of software is code and what’s under the hood. Hours and hours are spent fiddling with code that the end user will never even notice. Hours and hours are spent on making sure a function works exactly as it is supposed to 100% of the time. Others don’t understand why it took so long to code something and can’t appreciate the complexity of code until it fails the time they are using that one function. You may read through a novel in a couple days but I bet it took a lot longer for the author to write the book than it took you to read it. It may have taken years but after reading it, you might think “I could write something like that. It’s not that hard.” But could’ve and doing are two very different things. Hearing the answer to a tough question makes the question seem a lot easier than it is. I think software is a lot like writing a book. There are tons and tons of revisions and edits. Few people know what’s really involved in completing a book. You have to have a vision (storyline) and stick with it or you will lose your audience. Unlike a book, software usually has to be constantly updated as the users evolve. In essence it will never be done. Sort of like all those writers chasing their manuscripts to the printer for last second edits. Or imagine artists that keep revisiting their paintings and updating them with enhancements. Mona Lisa version 2.34b, fixes slight blemish below left eye and color adjustment to lower lip.

Here’s Dylan 4 month report:

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