A Few Key Posts

For those who feel 2+ years of a blog qualifies as TL;DR.

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Pillar of My Perception

ilitch.jpg

It is quite possible I would have been content or even happy for the last nine years if not for Mike Ilitch and people like him. Like most organizations, Little Caesar’s had various documents like the Founding Principles, Founding Philosophies (I can’t remember their exact titles but I remember they were two very different lists), Stakeholder Operating Principles, and so on but the #1 rule at the top of whichever was the most common (it’s been a while, cut me some slack) was,

“Little Caesar’s must be a fun place to work.”

It was. I grew a lot. I learned a lot. A great many people who I respected and admired encouraged me and help me along. I miss them.

Little Caesar’s and New Horizons Computer Learning Centers of Michigan (as superior to franchises in other states as you may have heard) are the firm foundation of my very high standards for co-workers and employers. I worked with people that loved what they did, wanted to be, if not the best, then at least great at what they did. They were role models. I miss them.

I am continually disappointed and frustrated with anything less. I’ve spent the nine years since I left Detroit baffled at the Bizarro World that is, apparently, corporate life everywhere else. Thanks, Mr. Ilitch — you ruined me for everyplace else. Though I worked around him, I never worked directly with him so have but one story and I’d like to share it with you so you’ll know what a cool guy and gentleman he was.

Rebecca*, a co-worker, and I walked into the Fox Theatre (current world headquarters of Little Caesar’s, across the street from Comerica Tiger Park which he also owns) at the same time as Mr. Ilitch one day after lunch. After stopping to show the security guard our IDs, we caught up with him in the lobby at the (world’s slowest) elevator.

The doors finally opened and he walked in but we stayed where we were because our boss (the one bad apple in an otherwise orchard of excellence and professionalism) warned us to never get on the elevator with an Ilitch because it was disrespectful or something to make them stop on another floor on their way to the top. Our boss wasn’t the only one who tried to instill fear of the sixth floor in people and, obviously Mr. Ilitch was aware of such nonsense because he waved us on.

We, of course, were like, “No that’s totally cool” but Mr. Ilitch rolled his eyes, waved again and said, “Come on.”

On the elevator, I felt obliged to return this courtesy by trying — for once in my life — to make small talk so I wouldn’t, you know, be ignoring him. I couldn’t think of anything else to say so, still irritated about the security guard asking me to show my badge every single time I entered the building for three years, I asked, “So, do they, uh, make you show your badge, too?”

“No,” he said in a deadpan way that would intimidate those smarter than me into shutting up, “No, we’re past that.”

Too nervous or stupid to leave it at that, I kinda blurted (at a reasonable volume), “So, how are ya?”

Full disclosure: I can’t remember if he said “good” or “fine.”

“Fine,” he deadpanned again, “A bit hung over, but fine.”

He paused for just the perfect amount of time and said, “Kidding. I’m kidding.” just in time for the elevator doors to open on our floor.

Not only was he a gentleman and let us on the elevator but he was genuinely friendly and very, very funny.

And he let us play baseball on the field across the street. And had ice-skating company Christmas parties at Joe Louis Arena. And they paid for me to go to film school so I could make great training and motivational videos for them. And they let me use the recording equipment to make a short film that got shown at Cinema D, the Detroit film festival.

A couple years ago, I interviewed at the headquarters of a Florida furniture company. They asked me some questions about my experience, specifically Little Caesar’s, corporate culture, what I liked about it and so on. I got a little choked up talking about how awesome the Ilitches were and how they treated their employees. The recruiter told me I didn’t get the job (despite getting through 2-3 interviews) because I “got emotional” during the interview. I have one thing to say about Badcock and that interviewer: [potty word] them. Mr. Ilitch’s passing is a great loss–not just to Detroit but to leaders and stewards of outstanding workplace values–and I get emotional about [another potty word] like that.

Epilogue

*While learning to use the new camera equipment they bought me, I went around to various desks and offices asking people to say nice things about me …

That’s Rebecca who sat next to me. She loved it when I’d play it on repeat which I did often (the first part of this sentence is a lie).

It was a fun place to work. Mr. Ilitch’s values live on.

Reminder to Self:

Sometimes Oftentimes, I get really depressed and down on myself. Increasingly. One of the many themes to my frequent pity-parties is, “I’ve never been offered a job–I always have to interview and beg and hope they deem me worthy.”

Just now, while getting coffee, I realized that isn’t true. Twice, in fact, I’ve been offered a job and, as it turns out, they both had the same title.

Sometime in the mid-90s, I walked into the office of The Student Voice at Washtenaw Community College just to see if they’d let me be reporter. I interrupted a volatile staff meeting during a coup (right place, right time) and was almost crowned Editor of All Things but the staff advisor provide the voice of reason and made the current editor and I co-Managing Editors. Coolest part: instead of making us split the journalism scholarship, they added a second one so each of us got the full amount!

You might not think a “student paper” is a real job but it came with tons of experience, a paycheck, and travel/trips paid for by the school. I can’t express how much more valuable than even the money that all was.

Just over twenty years later, after moving to Florida (please don’t judge, I’m very sensitive about this) with no job or prospects, I applied to be a typist at Cruisin’ Style magazine. During the interview, the publisher kept focusing on my experience in graphics, writing, layout, and so on and I was terrified he was going to pull the “over-qualified” card so I kept trying to convince him I could type & transcribe whatever he wanted. Finally, he offered me a Managing Editor position.

And, I must remind myself–this isn’t me bragging but truly reminding myself–he tried very hard to keep me by continually giving me raises. I wasn’t happy in the job (through, honestly, no fault of his nor mine) so there was, really, no amount he could give me, but, nonetheless, he saw value in me and considered it worth paying for.

So, maybe, in 2030, somebody else will offer me another job. Which would make sense, I should be quite the awesome coder by then!

Choose Your Battles

I was thrilled, at first, when HSN offered to pay me $50/hr. That was at least $15-20/hr more than most of my gigs for the twelve years.

It was sold to me as:

  • 20 hours worth of work
  • Four weeks to complete the work
  • Content finalized and available–design work only
  • No required “office hours” (totally flexible schedule)

I had just enough room in my schedule to spread out that twenty hours over four weeks at which time I’d be finishing an obnoxiously rebellious project for Verizon under deadline then start a new, full-time permanent gig. At least two weeks flew by like a rapid page-a-day calendar animation stressing me out.

I completed the project on time and it was crunch time for Verizon but HSN requested out-of-scope content changes. I was, it’s worth noting, in the interview process at HSN and considering choosing them over my current employer should they be interested so I agreed with a smile. And, you know, it was $50/hr which I thought compensated me for working severe overtime (after long, frustrating days for Verizon).

Then more changes–I said if I had time between Verizon and the next job. And more–this time I said no.

Being in a position to reject and/or fire clients is a nice place to be. Especially if they’re well-paying clients. Some jobs aren’t worth $50. It should be noted I’ve worked under far worse conditions for far less money during desperate times. And, yes, in those times I’m grateful to be working at all.

But what battles am I willing to fight? What stands am I willing to take? Once upon a time, I wrote anything for anyone at any price–until I could be more selective.

Writing and training jobs seem to be a thing in my past. Flash and quality eLearning are in everyone’s past. So, I’m building a new portfolio (Yeah, I know. Shut up.) with new skills built on the solid foundation of my existing skills. This means begging for spec work and volunteer opportunities. I wrote, relatively recently, about the beautifully designed apps I want to make, but, to get there, I have to do quality work that includes Responsive Design. I find this distracting–I think creating two separate sites is better and easier than one site that’s supposed to be pretty and friendly in any environment. While that’s in the back of my mind when working on my two current “escape pod” projects, I see these on DevHumor.com:

responsive design animation

That’s even better (more realistic and accurate) than the first, more “artistic” one:

responsive design is like fitting a cat into tight spaces

It’s not a stand I’m going to take because I am going to create my own library and/or standards for Responsive Design in sites I create. Nothing automatic like what WordPress or Bootstrap does. That’s my battle: manual, hand-crafted, artisan responsive design.

Bootstrap is, however, really educational and invaluable when it comes to learning what we can now do with CSS. Bootstrap, like Virgil in Dante’s Divine Comedy, held my hand and led me out of a dark wood that looked like this:

Learning CSS is like fighting with window blinds

I know you’re laughing just like I did because it’s so true for newbies.

Hardest Work in 20 Years

career

Over the last six months, I’ve worked harder than I have in 20 years–since the last time I dedicated a few years to learning as much as I could and gaining as much experience as I could, often working for free.

It’s paying off now just like it did then.

  • Red = Career
  • Green = Pay
  • Blue = Marriage

Learning from Media (sort of)

Lots of hype about how “realistic” Mr. Robot is. The other day, I went old school and watched The Social Network (one of my all-time favorite movies). I mention this because two things stood out to me, due to my ever-expanding knowledge-base, during Zuckerberg‘s opening drink-n-hack FaceMash session. I felt so cool because I knew what he was talking about.

  • “I just gotta break out emacs and modify the perl script”
  • He mentioned Apache a few times

I’ve known about Perl for almost fifteen years but only spent a few minutes with it almost fifteen years ago.

I first heard of Apache (and, maybe, mySQL) when I bought my very first Mac of my very own (thank goodness for that employee purchase plan deducted from my paycheck!) but, at the time, I didn’t know what to do with it.

Soon after, I paid the $100+ to upgrade from OS9 to OSX and discovered UNIX and Ye Olde Terminal with which I truly geeked out for the first time.

Why Am I Doing This?

I love code. I find it mysterious, cool, and romantic. Writing code and have it become something on a web page or in a Flash piece rocks my world.

I taught basic HTML, CSS, and JavaScript many years ago and loved it. Once I got into Instructional Design the practical reasons to learn as well as the time (I got married and had kids) all but disappeared. I still love learning new things–it’s just hard to find the time. Limited time and competing priorities = yuck.

However, I am committing myself to really mastering “advanced” HTML, CSS, and JavaScript because I so want a career change. I want to make things again. The challenge just isn’t there in designing and developing eLearning. Standards are too low, Flash has been exiled, and it’s all quite frankly too easy. I feel like all “instructional designers” are overpaid because what our customers ask for is stuff any junior high or high school kid would do in an unpaid internship and be grateful for the experience. I’m not saying ID takes no talent or that IDs don’t have skills–I’m saying they are, increasingly, not encouraged or allowed to use them. People are too easily pleased and satisfied with glorified Powerpoint presentations using tools like Storyline and Captivate instead of demanding the effectiveness of video and awesome experiences we used to make in Flash.

In short (TL;DR, as they say), I am re-becoming the hardcore student/geek I used to be until I have some knowledge & skills and some great new stuff on my website to show for it. My portfolio seemed so … old … increasingly so over time. The samples I was proud of just kept getting older. It was the same stuff for ten years because people just stopped allowing me to make anything worthwhile. Yes, “allowing.” I’m done with saying I peaked years ago and my glory days are behind me.

I am going to learn like never before. My best days are ahead of me. Just watch.

TIL: Reddit has an awesome Learn JavaScript subreddit “maintained by Hack Reactor” and I’m going to live there as well as an IRC somebody in the group posted. At least I’ll live in the IRC if my wife ever lets me back on my Mac.

For the record: I’d love to stay and do all this for my current employer. I love where I work–I just need something more challenging to do.