Tuesday, July 31, 2007

What do you love to get paid to do?

I’ve found at least three things. Only one though that paid what I thought the job was actually worth.

Fixing, building, welding and/or painting vehicles was definitely the first thing I loved getting paid to do. . . and I did that with great enthusiasm until about 1979. I loved (and still do) the way a project car just 'comes to life' as the last nuts and bolts are tightend.

After that I found I loved getting paid to teach, and it really didn’t matter what the subject was, what mattered was seeing that ‘light’ go off in a students head. . . and knowing I got paid, was earning a living, to get the joy and satisfaction of seeing that happen.

While I loved both of those jobs, neither paid close to what I felt the skills were worth.

My teaching career lasted until 1985, when with the computer business booming, I got hired to bring my computer skills (I'd become quite interested in all thing computer while teaching) to teaching customers how to use computers, and more specifically to use things like WordStar, Lotus 123, Wordperfect and dBaseII. . . That very quickly morphed into building systems, from simple Lotus 'macros' to full on accounting applications.

For the next 20+ years I’ve loved the work of being in the computer business. I’ve been in, and out of virtually every aspect of it. Most of the things I got involved in however were simply to help me keep doing the one thing I really loved, designing, and then building, business software applications.

From the moment I delivered that first business system to Bill Beck, my future was cast. That look of surprise on the office manager’s face, the smile on Bill’s face, told me all I needed to know. This was not only something I was good at, enjoyed doing and found challenging, it was also something that paid pretty well, and that customers were (almost) happy to pay for.

This was not a ‘luxury’ like a custom paint job, these were mission critical business tools. Not only were they less likely to be ‘cut’ if times were a bit lean, there was actually a real possibility projects like theses would be stepped up to build competitive advantage in lean times.

So what made it ‘Ok’ with me, made it seem reasonable to alter this seemingly wonderful career path I’ve been on?

I think there are a lot of small, yet contributing, reasons, but, the one that keeps coming back to me is the ‘design’ aspect of development.

It’s always been the design piece I really loved, building something in my mind, writing it up, drawing it out and conveying that dream to someone else as we set about to build it.

So, today, in my new role as a business analyst, drawing up those business needs, drafting that requirements document, and then conveying not only the words but the spirit’ of those words to a development team *is* my job. I’m responsible for seeing that the application becomes a useful tool, ties into the overall vision of related applications, and the over all business plans of the company. All of this while still meeting the very real business needs of an entire industry. . .

Pretty cool stuff the more I think about it.

The more I think about it, the more I realize I’ve just made a natural transition.

Back in the day, there wasn’t ‘specialization’ we were all generalists. We had to do a little bit of everything as there was not enough work (or enough people) for someone doing ‘just one thing’. I watched many startups come and go who claimed they were going to alter the business model, stick to strictly development, or only do the design work. I modeled my operations more like a ‘Design/Build’ construction business. (I’m sure it helped that I had a half dozen or so customers in exactly that business).

Today, with ‘offshoring’ and now (can you believe it?) ‘OnShoring’ becoming such a large part of the development environment, there’s less and less opportunity for the ‘design/build’ generalist. We’re in an age of specialists when it comes to things computer…

I had a choice I guess, continue to try and find those few projects that required a generalist who could do a little bit of it all, or, find another way to stay gainfully employed for the next decade or so…

When this chance came along, I’m not sure I really saw it for what it is. It’s a chance to continue to design software, design it in a way that makes a difference to the company, the user and the industry. I’ve always been a ‘business guy’, I just wore the “puter guy” hat because it let me do something I loved, and get paid to do so.

That’s what I’ve been doing, the real difference is, that now, once I’m done with the design, I can watch it being built, and make necessary adjustments (hopefully small ones) in the process as the product materializes.

Maybe it’s true… do what you love, everything else will fall into place… any thoughts?

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Life after Coding. . .

There is indeed, life after coding, for me at least.

If you had asked me five years ago if I would ever let go of my ‘developer’ hat, move beyond coding and into another career line I know what my answer would have been. I would have told anyone who asked, “No thanks!” in no uncertain terms.

I’d centered my ‘worth’ in what people were willing to pay me to do, those of you who know me, know that’s been a common theme in my career… I reveled in jobs that had been deemed impossible, the proverbial “It can’t be done” scenario.

I made a nice living in the 80’s and into the mid-90’s doing exactly that for anyone willing to pay me to deliver what others had said couldn’t be done. I only stopped contracting, and that life, because a client had hired me to continue to build the impossible, and in the process get some job “stability”. (Which we now know was certainly a false sense of ‘stability’)

When that gig ended, I jumped back into contracting, eventually ending up where I am now as a result.

However, this time when they decided to make me a job offer, it wasn’t my programming, design or development skills they wanted. Nope, they were actually interested in my analysis skills. Those same skills I’ve been using to spot trends in data for 15 years or more, and to prove, or disprove what was often just a ‘gut feel’ of mine for the data.

I’ve been at it now for about six months, and the jury is in, I *like* not being a developer!

That revelation has been on my mind a lot lately... How can *I*, the guy who loved development, who lived to build things no one else would tackle, suddenly find myself on the outside, looking in, and not missing the development work?

How does that work exactly? How are we (or more specifically, am I) able to shift our primary feedback mechanism, alter our professional “raison d’ĂȘtre” without so much as a second thought?

I never really contemplated the change; I just knew I wanted to make a difference in this project so I accepted the challenge knowing it was a departure from what I’d known for the last 20+ years. Stepping firmly over the line, one I’d straddled fairly well I might add, that divides the ‘business’ folks, from the IT folks, onto the business side of the line.

So, here I sit, a coder, who’s no longer a coder, and what once was the reason I got out of bed in the morning, is no longer any real part of my day. Yet, I still get out of bed, and I still (maybe even more than ever) look forward to going to work… I can’t remember the last time that happened.

Wait, yes I can, it was December of 1994, then again in August of 1998... Then not again until October of 2004... in the interim, I hated the job... but I loved the work... and the people who developed with me... but, then again, it’s always been about the work, for me.

The life I loved was making software with my friends. . . .

More on all of this as my thoughts gel, I think I’m still to close in to the change to fairly observe what’s going on with me.

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Monday, July 30, 2007

Now this could get me interested. . .

In electric power!! No, nothing has changed, I still don’t really care about global warming, Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth” (which all too convenient for Mr. Gore and far too short on truth for my taste), or alcohol replacing fossil fuels…

I care about horsepower.. raw, unadulterated ass-whoopin horsepower… and this two wheeled rocket has it in spades… This is the kind of stuff that gets a new generation interested in ‘go fast’ stuff.

While the technology is a long way from making it to your driveway… it shows what a few folks, some money (about $13K/year for the racing), a little ingenuity and some elbow grease can get done!

Electric Motorcycle drag strip video...

YouTube Link: KillACycle

Here's a link to their website... http://www.killacycle.com/

I’m really pretty excited over what I’ve read about this stuff.

Here I am, mid-50’s and a died in the wool, gimme cubic inches, and gimme lots of horsepower… fossil fuels… loud, ear splitting V8 thunder and all of that…

Watching this video has me thinking about a whole new plan…

I mean 350 horsepower, from batteries that can be recharged in 5 minutes? I think these folks may just be on to something here.

If they’re not… hell it’s still fun to watch the video!!

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Sunday, July 29, 2007

It occurs to me. . .

That this journey we call life was never meant to be easy.

I’ve had a number of people remark that Maryan and I have had a “rough go” of it over the past four, or five, years. It’s true, we’d had as many challenges in the past few years as many folks have in an entire lifetime. On the other hand, I also know there are at least as many folks who’ve had it much “rougher” than we have.

There have been many days where I just wanted to scream: “Enough! It’s enough already!!”, and just as many days where I did scream it, at least mentally.

The truth is though, somehow, we’ve gotten through it all. The career setbacks, uncertainty and changes, the medical problems, surgeries, and, at times, inept medical care….

One day at a time, one problem at a time, we just kept living, walking the journey, and believing. Believing; that somehow we’d eventually emerge from the other side of the trouble, and finally be able to get on with “our lives” once again.

Of course, by “our lives” we meant the life we had before any of these things occurred.

The reality is though, that we are living “our lives”, everyday. These are the days, the times, we’ll tell stories about, remember, and almost wear as one of our life achievements. Wanting to remember the struggles and the victories, to remind ourselves what we’re capable of doing when faced with adversity.

There’s no doubt, we both miss the long motorcycle trips, meeting all sorts of strange, yet interesting people as we traveled. We both loved the freedom of the road, the anticipation of the next new place we’d see, finding that next new restaurant and the local specialty… Maybe we’ll get to experience that again, maybe not. Either way we have the memories. It’s possible that was just a chapter in our lives, and it’s over. It’s also possible that it’s a long novel, and all that’s happened is a plot shift and we’ll experience it all again, but in a somehow different way.

Life it occurs to me is in the day to day living, not in the past, or in the future. But, right here, right now, and making the absolute most of every moment we have, in the best way we can.

Maryan is home from the surgery now, and as I type this she’s actually sleeping peacefully, possibly for the first time on almost two years.

She’s still in considerable pain, but, and this might sound strange, this is a different pain, focused in the surgical sight and not radiating down her legs… I’m hopeful they might have actually gotten it right this time.

She’s an inspiration to me as you all know by now. Despite pain that has her near tears, and medications that have her emotions in an uproar… she still finds ways to make me laugh… still presses forward, pushes herself against the pain… refuses to give up, or let any of this “win”… determined to get as much of “her life” back as is humanly possible.

I wonder, often actually, what it is that separates us. Those of us who just can’t, or won’t, ever give up, from those that simply just say I can’t take it, and give up.

I’ve been fortunate to have been surrounded for most of my life, by folks who just didn’t know how to quit. It didn’t matter what life tossed at them, they just kept getting up, brushing the dust off, and then just started in again. Sometimes a lot the worse for wear, at others, once the dust settled they were in a much better situation.

As hard as it is for some folks to understand, hell it’s hard for me to understand sometimes, I continue to believe we’re in a better situation now, than we were 5 years ago, and we’ll be in an even better situation three months from now, than we are today.

It is a journey after all, isn’t it?

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Saturday, July 28, 2007

A week ago I was focused…

On entirely different ‘stuff’.

Last Saturday I was trying to mow the lawn, spread some mulch, trim a little here, a little there. Put away a few of those tools that seem to collect on the work bench… Check in on the Application monitoring at work; make sure nothing’s gone wrong….

Looking into better ways to invest my 401K (paltry as it may be)… getting pissed off that I’ve still got a leak in one of the skylights… why does the dryer ‘smell’ funny when it’s running? Is that a knock in the motor of the truck? When can I get the oil changed in the car?

Those, and probably a thousand other, thoughts filled my mind all last weekend.

Today however, there’s but one thought on my mind. Having Maryan home from the hospital, and making sure she’s comfortable and has everything she needs.

What a difference a week makes ‘eh?

She had her back surgery on Wednesday, while the procedure went well, she was in a ton of pain after surgery. That intense, nothing takes it away pain… They eventually put her on a dilaudid IV pump, late Wednesday night and she was able to at least get some relief.

For those of you who don’t know dilaudid is the next step up from morphine, and the last rung on the painkiller ladder. Even with that, she still didn’t sleep until Thursday night, and then only 10, or 15, minutes at a time.

Now it’s Saturday, the pain is pretty much under control, and she’s home and resting, sleeping actually, as I type.

I want to be pissed off at what this doctor found… I want to call a lawyer, somebody, make someone “pay” for all she’s been put through… but, for the moment, I’m staying focused on doing what I can to help her heal up.

It’s frustrating though, as there isn’t really much I can do… get her a sandwich, something cold to drink, an extra pillow, pick up her prescription… but, other than those few things, not much.

This is one of those things where a person is pretty much on their own… not much they can do either, just ‘cowboy up’ and tough their way through it… one moment at a time.

I’m hoping, that by next Saturday, I can go back to worrying about 300 unimportant things!!

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Thank you all...

This is just a short post to thank you all for the kind words, thought and prayers for Bill and his family..

Bill was definitely a great guy, and his niece Sue sent me two great photos of Bill enjoying some family time that she’s told me I could share with you all.

Unfortunately I’ve got to scan them and such before I post them, and with work as busy as it’s been, it will be the weekend before I get time to do that.

I’m also working on a reflective post as I’ve been thinking about my life and how meeting Bill really helped me forge a new direction for myself. I’m hoping to have that done by the weekend as well.

There is life after coding it seems. I’ve been working on a post about that too, but as I’m still very much in the middle of that transition, it’s been difficult for me to put my thoughts clearly into words.

I’m touched that you all still stop in, and I’m trying to carve out time for blogging again. Maryan has her next surgery (hopefully the last) on her back next week. I know I’ll have some time to write then, either while I’m home alone, or waiting there at the hospital. Either way you’re likely to be seeing some more words from me soon!

I hope you’re all doing well… it’s strange… I feel as though we’re all friends and I’ve never actually met any of you. The fact is though, we probably know more about each other, and out lives, than we (or at least I) do about many of the folks we see every day and consider friends.

Thank you.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

An update on yesterday's Post....

I received a phone call this evening from Bill’s niece Sue. I hadn’t expected a call, but it was wonderful to have a chance to talk with her as she obviously cared deeply for him.

We laughed, cried a bit and in general ‘told a few tales’ of our memories of the man.

It was so great to hear from one of his family members that he was every bit the same guy, day in, day out, whether he was working, spending time with family or friends, or talking with someone he just met.

She told me about the past few years, and that despite everything, anything else, he cared for his sister (Sue’s mom) and for every one, and everything around him.

Folks, I believe, if you’re lucky, really lucky, you too will have the chance to meet and learn from a man like this. He was one of those people who led by example, he walked the walk, and rarely ever talked about himself, or what he had done.

Every time I think about him starting a long way from ‘home’, with next to nothing and building a company with 48 Tractor Trailers, a dozen or so dump trucks and employing in excess of 50 people, in a fairly short period of time, I’m impressed all over again.

Sue has promised to send me a picture, when she does, I’ll put a copy up so you can all put a face to these words.

Sue also placed another notice about Bill’s passing in the Berkshire Eagle, I thought I’d share that here as it adds a little more of his human side than the one I posted yesterday.

William H. Beck

BECKET -- William H. Beck, 77, of Fulton, N.Y., died Saturday at Vassar Brothers Medical Center in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. after a short illness. Mr. Beck was a former resident of Becket.

Born on June 10, 1930, in the town of Hyde Park, N.Y., he was the son of William G. and Matilda W. Beck.

Mr. Beck graduated from FDR High School in Hyde Park, N.Y. in 1947.

Mr. Beck was the owner of William H. Beck Inc., a trucking company based in Fulton, N.Y., and from 1997 until his death, he worked for the Hitchcock Press in Holyoke.

He enjoyed traveling throughout the country and abroad. He attended many county fairs and enjoyed working outdoors. He loved to cook, and brought much joy to others with his specialty soups.

Mr. Beck leaves a sister, Mathilde B. Hohl of Plainfield, Mass.; a brother, Edwin Beck of Hyde Park, N.Y.; two former wives, Ellen Murphy of South Hadley, Mass.; and Merle Coy of Poughkeepsie, N.Y.; four stepchildren, Scott Nelson of Staatsburg, N.Y.; Wayne Nelson of Centennial, Col.; Brian Denegar of Chicopee; and Debra Leavitt of Simsbury, Conn. His first wife Beulah Budd predeceased him.

FUNERAL NOTICE -- Graveside services for William H. Beck, who died Saturday, July 7, 2007, will be on Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. at the Poughkeepsie Rural Cemetery. Arrangements are by SUTTON FUNERAL HOMES, 1 Woodside Place, Highland, N.Y. There are no calling hours. A memorial service to celebrate the life of Bill Beck will be held at a later date at the convenience of the family. Survivors also include niece's children Heather Snider of Beverly, Mass.; Brent Snider of New Haven, Conn.; Ashley Sykes and Colin Sykes of Lenox; Jen Coffin of Nobleboro, Me.; and Julie Souicie of Hartland, Me. To send online condolences: www.suttonfuneralhomes.com. His presence at family gatherings was always a priority. He will be fondly remembered for his work ethic, generosity, thoughtfulness, and love for family and friends. Bill loved animals, so in lieu of flowers, please donate to your local animal shelter.

Published in The Berkshire Eagle from 7/10/2007 - 7/11/2007.


Thanks, as always for stopping by.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Obituary Read. . .

William H. Beck

July 7, 2007

William H. Beck, 77, of Fulton, NY, passed away July 7, 2007, at Vassar Hospital in Poughkeepsie, New York. Mr. Beck was born June 10, 1930, the son of William G. and Matilda Wassenmuller Beck. Until his retirement, he was the owner of William H. Beck, Inc., a trucking firm in Fulton.

Before moving to Fulton, he was a longtime dairy farmer in Dutchess County, as was his father. He is survived by a son, Wayne, and his wife, Sandra Nelson, and their children, Olivia and Erin of Centennial, CO; a stepson, Scott, and his wife, Penny Nelson, of Staatsburg, NY; a stepdaughter, Debbie, and her husband, Adam Leavitt, of CT; a brother, Edwin Beck of Poughkeepsie; a sister, Matilda Hohl of Plainfield, MA; longtime friend, Merle Coy; also several nieces, nephews and cousins.

Graveside services will be on Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. at Poughkeepsie Rural Cemetery. Memorial services will be held in Becket, MA, at a later date. Friends will be notified by the family as to time.

Arrangements by the Sutton Funeral Homes, One Woodside Place, Highland, NY.

To send online condolences, please visit www.suttonfuneralhomes.com


My longtime friend Ken Sheldon forwarded that notice to me this morning. Ken, as you long time readers know has worked with me for many years and Ken was the only person besides me; Bill Beck would allow me to have working on his projects. Getting Bill to agree to let Ken be involved, was almost as hard as ‘letting go’ of those applications was for me.

I mentioned Bill Beck a year or so ago (in March of 2006), in this post, and again in this one.

I talked about what *I* did, how that first project came together, and how it pretty much got me started.

The truth is, Bill didn’t ‘kinda’ get me started, he not only got me started, he got me rolling and by continuing to provide me with steady work, gave me the courage to forge ahead with my first successful consulting venture. No, that’s exactly not right either; he was the cornerstone of my first business venture that actually ever made a profit.

More than that though, he was a good man. He was honest, if he made you a promise, you could absolutely count on, that whatever he promised you, he would make good on that promise.

He was also a generous man, I have vivid memories of times I’d be in his offices, stopping in as I passed by for one reason or another and he’d see me there and say:

“Glenda, write Bill a check for $500!”

I’d always say something to the effect of “Bill, you don’t owe me any money.”

Every time, he’d reply “I know, but I will.”

I always took it as a sign of his faith in me, and the work I’d done… Maybe it was just his way; I prefer to think it was something more personal though.

He was also a demanding man. He held no quarter for broken promises, missed deadlines or less than accurate work. He also knew he was the customer, and when he needed something, he wanted it right now, not tomorrow, or next week, but right now.

If he was upset, he made no politically correct attempt to explain his view of the situation. He’d let you know, often ‘colorfully’, just exactly what was on his mind.

I still have a vivid, near picture perfect recollection of the conversation we had the first time he felt I didn’t deliver exactly what I’d promised him. He must have yelled at me for 45 minutes. I remember thinking at the time, that, “Well, I guess that’s the end of the road here.”

About 20 minutes later, as I was finishing up installing the new equipment I’d brought in, Bill walked back in to the room and said: “Hey, have you got plans for lunch?”

Just like that, it was over… We went to lunch, where he laid out the plans he had for the business, and a whole new piece of software he wanted me to design and write.

Eventually, during lunch, I asked him why he was telling me this, as I thought after what he’d said earlier, I was going to lose his business. He went on to explain that when he’s upset, he just had to get it off his chest, and then, once he’s done that, he’s done with it all.

Bill went on over the years to ‘christen’ every person who ever worked for me. They all knew his company, and how important it was to me, for many reasons. Eventually they’d answer the phone when he called, and he’d let them know, in no uncertain terms, why I needed to call him, and for me to call sooner, rather than later.

I’d always ask them to sit with me when I made that return phone call, in each and every case he thanked me for getting back to him so quickly, and then let me know what he needed and when, we then went on to do just that.

I also stole a "line" from Bill. When I first asked him how he ended up in Fulton, NY from his place in Massachusetts, he said:

“I came here with a 90 day contract to haul grain; I’ve been here ever since.”

He grew that business from one truck to around 40 Tractor Trailers, and a number of dump trucks as well, employing in excess of 40 or 50 drivers, and several folks on his office team as well. As far as I know he was still running all of the software I developed for him when he retired.

These days, when folks ask me how I came to be living in North Carolina I say:

“I came here in ’93 on a 90 day programming contract; I’ve been here ever since.”

I’ve also come to realize I’ve spent the vast majority of my professional life developing software for the transportation business. At first, for Bill Beck’s trucking company, later for an insurance company who specialized in insuring trucking companies, and now for the Railroad industry. I doubt any of that would have ever happened, had I not met Bill Beck.

Life is funny, almost spooky, sometimes, I was thinking back a bit on Saturday, and got to thinking about those days, and Bill Beck, and found myself wondering just how he was doing. I had no idea where he was, or that I would see that notice today.

I went by the funeral home website, and left a little note for his family. I have no idea if they even knew who I was, but I certainly knew and respected him.

I know my life has been better, and followed a particular path, simply because our paths crossed.

I also know that I’m a better man for having known him.

God Speed Bill, you’ll be greatly missed.

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