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My Year in Review – 2017

Truth is, I tried to title this post about three times before writing it, and blogging is hard – but I read somewhere that you should just do it, and learn. That’s been my whole deal this year, just do it and learn! So, without further bantering on my indecision, here’s my year in review!

One of the hardest things I’ve learned thus far, is living without parents. My last parent ( father ) passed away in September of last year. Needless to say, Christmas was hard — add to that other holidays following, the kids had to get used to not seeing pawpaw. Even typing this I get somewhat emotional thinking of the past, wondering what could have been, what I would’ve changed. Truth is, I’m not sure I would’ve changed much — aside from keeping the house cleaner — most of it was out of my control.

Late 2016 one of our lead developers left the company of his own accord — this guy had busted his ass so much for months on end, and you could tell he was getting burned out. Burnout happens to the best of us! Admittedly I’m still irked by his departure, though it did ultimately result in my promotion to a Lead Back-End Developer – so thanks… I guess?

I can’t say enough nice things about him; he’s a pretty chill dude, loves what he does, and is really passionate about bash scripts. I remember multiple paired-programming sessions with him – and admittedly he’s very assertive, but still pretty open to change, if not to at least amuse my assumptions at times. However, his departure taught me one valuable lesson – don’t put in time after work just because you think you should – your mental health is more important!

Adaptation isn’t easy!

Going into 2017 as a Lead, looking back, I feel like I was thrown to the wolves! I’m like, “What the fuck were you thinking?” Fact is, I knew NOTHING about leading a team – luckily the client we were working with at the time, which I had already been working with for awhile, was pretty awesome. The initial transition into Lead felt like it was pretty instant, “boom you’re a lead” is what I think of. Admittedly it wasn’t that abrupt, there were discussions prior, other leads had asked me if I wanted the promotion – it definitely wasn’t instant, time just seems to have passed by at super sonic speed.

Going into this I had drive, as I always have, I wanted to learn what it meant to be a Lead – what I thought I knew, turned out to be not enough. I had so many questions, felt like I had been given god powers, but didn’t know my limitations.┬áMy management expertise was limited to K-Mart – yea, honestly – and managing a team of developers to ensure the client gets what they’re expecting, is nothing like fixing registers and doing lunch scheduling on holidays!

With my lead’s departure during some seasonal client work, and my promotion, this meant I was in charge of code reviews. Add to that, the code reviews were backed up for some time, it felt like I was reviewing code for months ( and I probably was ). I had grown a hate for code reviews, but I could see the light at the end of the tunnel, so I kept at it. I looked at every CR as a challenge, but most of all as an education for the developers – if not at least a discussion/learning experience for me.

Pretty much the first quarter of 2017 was me wrapping my head around how exactly to manage the team AND the client expectations. I’m the kind of guy I want to please everyone, even at my own peril. I want to make sure they’re happy, no matter what happens to me! However, one of the things that is forever etched in my head is “Stop that shit!” – I won’t drop names here… haha, but to say the least, it’ll stick with me forever.

While our main project was cooling down, early 2017, a new one with the same client was starting up, with the prospect of a third from the same client. So, this now meant I was managing teams on three projects up until I want to say May? I can’t remember really, but overall I learned the hard way to just say no sometimes. The irony is that the company exec had asked me beforehand if I could handle it, and I remember saying, “We’ve known this client for awhile, I can handle anything they throw at me…”, haha, boy was I wrong!

Emotional Toll

Between January and June-ish I had two emotional breakdowns, I was still learning to deal with my fathers death, and trying to make everyone happy at the same time, at my own expense. I distinctly remember crying while on a call with our account manager, just trying to get shit figured out, I was pissed over the stupidest little things. So many changes within a short period is not a good thing for the mind, there are those who can adapt, and I’m not one of those people apparently. Client requirements forced process changes internally, and being a new lead, I just didn’t know how to stop them, how to say no, and who I could say no to… if at all!

We eventually snagged a senior developer for my team – I was stoked! Someone to help with code reviews – someone who had the power to help manage the team. This guy was absolutely fucking brilliant! His drive and energy to get shit done, and done right was amazing! An innovator in his craft, thinking of new ways to do things, but still get it done on time. It would honestly be an honor to recommend him, in…. anything! Fast forward a month or so, and it came he decided to move on to a more native programming language.

Losing a member of your team, especially as a new lead, was heartbreaking. I felt personally responsible for him, I felt like I could’ve done something different; I blamed our processes for his departure, but in fact, it was no one’s fault. Sometimes people make up their minds, without a second thought, and go for it! Shoot for the stars, and let nothing stop you, something you’ll learn eventually! It was at this time I went back to my exec to vent, and had my second breakdown… I just didn’t know what to do… but this was important for me – it was then I realized what I could do.

The Level Months

Between June and August of this year, I’ve managed a few projects here and there, people have come and gone, and I’ve learned a ton. I spent the better part of these months adapting to some new team members and getting more insight into the processes we have in place. As a lead I get in-depth insight into project planning, and get to help make decisions on the project’s direction. For me, this education is priceless, I get to see what we send to clients, when, why, and even how we triage issues at the lead level.

As a back-end lead, I now also help manage the development server for our entire company. For a month straight, I was given the opportunity to find a deployment solution for the company, which lead me to Jenkins, and down a LONG road of learning. I learned a ton of bash scripting, yet another language to add to my resume! Most of all, I learned from yet more mistakes, failed deployments lead to pipelines, which led to my quest for simplicity – and stability!

Moving to North Carolina!

In October of this year, I made the decision to move to North Carolina. In September ( a month before ), my wife had pointed out the fact that the lower apartment in our current home had a significant amount of mold. The kids and I were keeping stuffy noses as well as respiratory issues, and it wasn’t until I seen it, that I made the one-off decision to move.

I left a home I grew up in. A home in which my mother catered to me when I almost died! Literally – I was diagnosed with a spinal virus at a pre-teen age, where my brain was swollen, and if I hadn’t went to the hospital when I did, I wouldn’t be typing this blog post today. I grew up in that house, I had so many memories – but like my uncle always said, “Jay you gotta do what’s best for your family, no one else”.

Add to that, drugs were getting really bad in our neighborhood. I no longer trusted my kids to even play in the church yard in front of the house anymore, a place I grew up playing in. There was so much distrust and drama around the house, we just kept to ourselves, and let what happened just happen. I kept a shotgun behind the bedroom door, and a long-rifle under the bed, if for some reason anyone felt the need to enter the home. That’s just no way to live!

I gotta say, we moved to a really nice neighborhood, I was fortunate enough to find an old friend to rent the place to; and he was willing to fix the place up at a decreased rental cost. So it was a win-win. In our neighborhood, we’re pretty much surrounded by Marines, no drama, and no drugs ( that I can tell ).

I took the interview!

WHAT? Yes, I took the interview! In October, I updated my LinkedIn profile. Not because I was looking for a job, but purely to put myself in the professional space a bit more. I’ve been with WebDevStudios 3 years since July – I had no need to look for a job. I was absolutely surprised when I was approached by a recruiter.

At this time, it had been 3 years since I had even done an interview, so I figured, why not? We had a brief chat over DMs, and it was on, I had the initial interview scheduled with her a few days later. Why? Yea I know, a lot of people may wonder, but truth is, I wanted to see what else was out there – what other people were doing, and most of all, I wanted to learn; as I always do!

The initial interview with the recruiter I thought went well. During this time, I still chose not to reveal this to my exec, because I didn’t want to create a false negative — I had no immediate intention of leaving WDS ( nor do I still ) — I was fearful of the response I would’ve received, especially if I was like, “I have an interview, I’ll let ya know” then “it went bad” and a week later I was let go or something… where that fear came from I’m not sure, but it was completely unwarranted.

During the interview, the recruiter had asked my requested salary – so I have this life goal of $100k a year, yes, that’s 6 figures per year – so instead of giving her an exact number, my response was “I have a goal of 100,000 per year, how close can you get me to that” – her response floored me! Coming from WV where people aspire to make just 40K a year, 100K is supremely out of reach for most… The interview concluded with a possible second interview later, obviously!

It was a week later, and I heard back from the recruiter that a director ( a lead ) wanted to meet with me…. my first thought was … “SHIT! What do I do? I have no intentions of leaving, but 100k sounds SWEET…” So I did the honest thing! I called up my boss and let him know! I did not want to be one of those guys who just leaves… I had no intention of leaving, 100k is an arbitrary number for me… but I threw out the line, and they bit! I had to answer the call…

To my surprise, he was pretty chill, and actually thanked me for letting him know that I was going to take the interview. I did explain that I still had no intention of leaving, but that I would let him know the outcome, as well as if they wanted me or not.

The second interview was an eye opener. Knowing I hadn’t had an interview in three years, I went in prepared, made up a list of questions I wanted to ask, as well as prepping on question that I thought would be asked ( what do you do, how long, etc… ). I rehearsed every tech answer I knew of… but was completely unprepared for one – “What new feature in PHP 7 do you like?”… this made me realize that I had just been coding to code. I failed SO HARD on this question…

After the interview, I knew I had bombed it so hard… but I didn’t feel too bad, it was a learning experience, and that’s why I took the first one anyhow. I digested my feelings for a few days, waiting on the call. Based on the answers to my questions, I new the company just wasn’t going to be a good fit for me. Things the recruiter had told me turned out to be partially true, and other things were just getting started. I ping’d my exec and let him know. It just wasn’t a thing I was interested in, despite the possible salary. I would have to leave a family of people I’ve been with for three years to learn something new, and ‘hopefully’ get to do what we’re already doing – devops.

Losing an old friend!

In November of this year, an old friend of mine decided to end his life. I’m not sure there is a nice way to say that, I don’t think there is one really. I remember times when I would go down his house to play 21 on the hoops ( basketball ) – or to play an oil-rig game on an old Tandy computer on a 5″ floppy. He was always a pretty chill dude, his dad is who got me into computers really.

I remember being a sophomore in high school, admiring him because he was in computer tech class, which is where I wanted to be. Eventually, he ended up hooking up with one of my friends, and they had some awesome kiddo’s together. You see him in pics, he seemed like the happiest guy ever. We both grew up, had kids, etc… life went on.

I seen him in passing from time to time, and we’d stop and have a long chat occasionally. It was just hard knowing he chose to end it all, personally I felt like there was something I could’ve done, maybe if I had reached out just to maybe go get a beer, or bring the kids over for a play-date or something, maybe… just maybe I could’ve helped. At this point I’ll never know…

If you have suicidal thoughts, even once, it’s not the answer! There are so many options in life, you don’t have to call a hotline… just call someone, anyone, and talk to them!

Year End – lessons learned

I know this post is written in November, there’s still more to come, who knows, maybe some amazing stuff? I’ve learned a TON of lessons this year, but one of the most powerful of all, is to just say NO when your gut tells you to. It doesn’t matter who you piss off, you need to be aware of your limitations, and I’ve found a few this year.

  • Too much change in a short time span – no bueno!
  • Three projects… is a lot, for anyone! I’m not a project manager!
  • Stop that shit! – Don’t always say yes, analyze it like you have never seen it before.

I’ve learned a few more things this year about myself as well:

  • I don’t know everything – I tell this to my devs constantly, but it has never been more apparent until after the interview!
  • Stay up to date on PHP releases – I really should read these more! I read WordPress change logs more often.
  • Stop sacrificing your mental health for others!
  • Take the interview, if not at least for personal growth!
  • Use Blue Ocean when messing with Jenkins pipelines… they’re SO much better than custom projects.

If you’ve read this far, thanks! I can’t honestly expect people to read this, but if you did, I’d appreciate a like on the social network of your choosing, or, if you’d like to leave a comment that’d be great too. I don’t blog much – but I plan to do it more in the coming months. – Jay

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