Forward and to the side

A little over four months ago, I started a new job. My first, in fact, where I wasn’t employed by myself or a family member, where I was a member of a team, not just a lone programmer writing code, running tech support, designing web pages, and handling the books in the meantime. It was a big jump, and I still find myself off balance some days. I wonder when I’m going to be exposed for the impostor I surely must be. I fret about letting everyone down.

Well, those fears are about to get worse.

From the beginning, my boss said I would be “transitioning” to full-time after 90 days. This would be a kind of grace period for me, a chance to show what I was capable of, while minimizing risk for the company. Understandable, from a business perspective, and I was honestly just happy to be hired in the first place, so I wasn’t going to complain.

Now, the grace period is over. The transition is done. Next week will be like starting over, in one sense. In another, it’s like jumping off a cliff, because I’m not going to be the full-stack developer I expected.

I’m going to be the CTO.

When he said that in the call where we discussed it, I think my heart stopped for a second. Sure, as he was quick to point out, a company that’s effectively a startup in size and revenue doesn’t have a lot of “prestige” in its titles. I’m not a C-level executive at Amazon or Microsoft or some other Big Tech corporation. I’ll effectively be running the tech department of a B2B company that…doesn’t really have much but the tech they (we) use and the sales it allows.

But that is a huge shift. It’s a major jump in responsibility. It turns me into not just a developer, but a manager. I had my first strategy meeting today—just an hour-long talk with the CEO-who-hates-that-title about next steps, but still. This is like nothing I’ve ever done. Or even imagined doing, except in my wildest dreams.

For so long, I’ve written about my depression and anxiety, and I lamented the fact that there just doesn’t seem to be anywhere I belong. I felt powerless, silenced by a world that didn’t want to listen to what I had to say. Now, someone does want to hear that. Someone does value my opinion and my perspective. And it’s overwhelming.

I know I’m not executive material. I don’t have an MBA. I never took any classes in business management. I barely understand half the industry-specific terms my boss throws around.

On the other hand, I do know programming. Almost 30 years ago, I wrote my first lines of code. Three decades spent trying to get somebody to see what I had created, to understand why I feel such joy in doing this job well. Now, I’m being thrust into a position where, paradoxically, I may be doing less actual coding.

I should hate that. Management is a running joke in the development community, much like how military non-coms look down on their commanding officers, and the reasons are the same: moving up the chain of command means getting farther away from the action. Oddly, however, I’m okay with it. Oh, I’m well aware that I’m in over my head, but…I am not alone in that. If anything, the only thing I fear now is letting down the team. I don’t want to be the one everything falls on. I don’t want to be the single point of failure. But then I’m grateful that I’m trusted enough to be given that responsibility, and there’s really only one thing I can say.

It’s about time.

Summer Reading List 2021: The second

Here we go again. I finished this one a couple of weeks ago, and it is by far the oldest and weirdest book I’ve ever read outside a classroom. I thought I was crazy when I tried The New Atlantis a few years back, but this one takes the cake. It did have a purpose, however.

Philosophy (non-fiction)

Title: Meditations Author: Marcus Aurelius (tr. Gregory Hays) Genre: Philosophy/Self-Help Year: c. 179 AD (translated edition 2003)

That year is not a typo. I actually read a book that’s over 1800 years old. As I don’t know Greek (I have only a rudimentary understanding of Latin; Greek would be my next target), I’m reading Meditations in the translation by Gregory Hays, which is a little unconventional compared to its predecessors. But it’s one of the newest and most accessible, so I gave it a shot.

Okay, so that explains the book itself, but not why I chose it. I’ve been interested in Stoicism for a couple of years, as I recall reading sometime in 2018 that some had found comfort in it, using the philosophy to alleviate their depression. Well, that didn’t work for me then, and reading what’s effectively one testament of the Stoic Bible didn’t help matters. I do think Stoicism has some merit, and there are a lot of good ideas in there, but…it’s not for me. It’s too fatalistic, in my opinion.

Considering I’m reading the words of a Roman emperor, you’d think I would have more good things to say. I really don’t, though. Marcus Aurelius wasn’t intending these words to be read, and that shows. Meditations consists of 12 books full of what look like “note to self” reminders. There’s little organization, a lot of repetition, and far too much emphasis on death. (This is a guy who assumes he’s about to die, after all.) Throughout the work, we see the same theme arising time and time again: do not fear death, because it is merely the end of your allotted time.

That fits with the Stoic tradition. Death, to them, is the end of life in the physical sense only. Which is essentially one of the defining statements of a religion, come to think of it. But theirs is a simple and almost banal religion, a worship of fate and rationality above all. I’m on board with the rational part, sure. Fate? Not for me. The way I see it, if everything in our lives was already determined, there would be no reason to live.

There was a reason to read this book, however. It does have a few gems buried in the dirt of the grave. I guess you could say Meditations is the oldest example of the self-help book, the kind that’s mostly full of author narrative and pithy maxims, but with the occasional nugget of true wisdom. And reading it makes you take a closer look at yourself.

In my case, I found something I didn’t like to see, and now I’m working on removing it.

Summer Reading List 2021: First one

Despite the two-week delay, I have been reading. Despite the new job, I have been reading. Despite the rocky road that is my relationship, I have been reading. So here we go.

Science (non-fiction)

Title: Caveman Chemistry
Author: Kevin M. Dunn
Genre: Popular science
Year: 2008

What originally gave me the seed of the idea that would become “After the After” was a book I read a few years ago: The Knowledge, by Lewis Dartnell. In fact, that book was also a huge influence on the reboot of Otherworld I did in 2015, and it’s the only work I’ve called out by name in the 30+ stories of that series. But The Knowledge was itself inspired. It has a very extensive bibliography, and one of the hardest entries to track down was this one, Caveman Chemistry.

I’m glad I finally did, because this book was worth every minute. Divided into 28 chapters, each focusing (more or less) on a single invention, Caveman Chemistry takes the reader through the entire history and prehistory of chemistry. Experiments throughout the book encourage you to get your hands dirty—I didn’t, but that’s a temporary state of affairs. Charcoal, soap, dyes, homebrewing…Dunn has done the world a great service just by compiling this text.

That’s not to say there aren’t problems. One, the writing style makes one think of mad scientists from ages past, and I have to wonder if the author had huffed a few too many fumes before he sat down at the computer. The text itself is loaded with quotations, including some from quack sources such as the Hermetic alchemy treatises. Introductions in each chapter are done by “figments” supposedly representing the four elements (or masters thereof), but more likely belonging to the individual voices in the head of a schizophrenic.

Two, though Dunn doesn’t shy away from giving the formulas and preparation methods for some very dangerous chemicals, he wimps out when the time comes to talk about gunpowder, cowardly disguising the proper ratios. (For reference, the simplest to remember is a 6:1:1 mix of saltpeter, charcoal, and sulfur, respectively.) Making a batch of ethanol potentially tainted by poisonous methanol? Fine. Supporting the 2nd Amendment? Apparently that’s a no-go. Add in the constant remarks about “sexism” in older chemistry texts and stuffing women into what has historically been a masculine pursuit, and it’s clear where the author falls on the political spectrum.

Fortunately, that doesn’t detract from what is otherwise a very useful, very enlightening, and very fun book. Caveman Chemistry is not only worth a read, it’s worth trying for yourself. Even if you aren’t planning on creating a post-apocalyptic DIY video series.