What I Learned in 2005

It's been quite an eventful year in 2005 as I reflect from my family's home in New York. The last twelve months have further established my future in Pittsburgh and have taught me a great deal about responsibility and attitude -- namely that I should have less of both.

I'm a Veteran Now

Earlier this year a friend showed me the PTO (Paid Time Off) accrual schedule for her company. Her company offered two weeks of PTO for each of the first five years of employment, three weeks for each of years 6-14, and so forth up to six weeks for employees with at least 30 years' experience. That frightened me, because next month I'll celebrate thethird anniversary of joining my first and so far only full-time employer.

I must be crazy. I've been told that now is the time for me to be taking risks, to jump fearlessly from job to job in pursuit of ever-increasing success, to ruthlessly network and to turn my back on any company because it's me I should be worried about. Is it a sign of weakness to say that I actually like what I do?

Upon graduation I chose to take a risk and join a small startup company with fewer than 30 employees. Since then the company has tripled in size and I feel like I've grown with it. I went from a "baptism of fire" on my first project to a leadership role on products today. I derive satisfaction from what I do, and when I don't feel happy, I can talk to someone about it. That's why I'm staying put.

It's pretty frightening to already be a veteran with about three years' experience. More and more people ask me questions that begin with "Who's ourresident expert on…," and my only response is an awkward "I suppose it's me." I hope not to be the only resident expert at my company on any given topic when the first urgent 2:00 AM phone call comes.


It was with great fanfare and joy that I closed on a little carriage house in Highland Park which I called Blank Slate at the end of this past April. This year I learned that real estate is a dangerous, treacherous, expensive proposition. Real estate agents live a dual life: one minute they're casually schmoozing with the neighbors or their fellow agents, and the next they're on the phone hammering out a deal. I looked at some 50 houses before, in the span of nine hours, I went from seeing Blank Slate for the first time to having an offer accepted on it.

Sometimes I regret buying a home. Sometimes I think I jumped in too soon. Living by myself, I have to deal with any sort of repair or renovation personally. I've lost time from work waiting for installers and repairmen but everything is in good working order for the winter ahead. The school district already appealed my 2005 property assessment and got it increased more than 100% from its previous value; there's already an appeal from the district for the 2006 year.

In any case my home is still perfect and I'm happy with it. It, as a former tenant told me, is "straight pimp as a bachelor pad." Despite that factI've never had occasion to use the hot tub… yet.

Whither Gaming?

There's been an Xbox 360 sitting under my TV all month and I couldn't care less about it.

It's not my Xbox, of course -- I wouldn't dream of paying $400 on that when I could buy better things like four tenths of a door. I'm hanging onto it for a friend for now. It's just oneof a few new consoles that have come out in the past year-plus that haven't interested me in the least.

Between work, the gym, the house, and time with friends, I don't really have time to finish the games I have, let alone buy new ones. The Nintendo DS and Sony PSP are interesting little gizmos, but I don't spend nearly enough time on the road to enjoy them. The only gadget I take the time to use is the iPod with Video on which I watch TV shows while using the exercise bike or elliptical machine. This year for the first time I found myself preferring a real treadmill to a leveling treadmill.

JavaScript is the Future

Ten years ago there wasn't much love in this world for people who considered themselves "JavaScript programmers." They were derided by "real" programmers who wrote software for real-mode machines. JavaScript only works in a web browser; C works everywhere. I felt the same way about Perl programmers during the first dot-com boom: why are all these people hacking away at inefficient interpreted code that's so narrowly-focused? Now I write Perl for a living and JavaScript is hailed as the second coming of the web as an application platform.

"Web 2.0" means that the computer as we know it will exist as an object model manipulated entirely within the context of a web browser. It's about taking practices and models that have existed in the PC world for 25 years and reimplementing them inside a much more restrictive environment. Years ago only Microsoft put so much "non-standard" cruft into the web browser, transforming HTML into Dynamic HTML; more recently Mozilla and Google got on board and things took a turn. Now there's a coordinated network of JavaScript development called JSAN and enough new-fangled buzzwords to get the next generation of venture capitalists chomping at the bit.

I've worked on web applications for nearly three years now and I still have the same love-hate relationship with them as I did at the outset. On the plus side there's no clearing software with clients' IT departments, but on the minus side every task has to go through the network. Services like social bookmarking and web mail are great, but they go down and there's nothing you can do about them. When del.icio.us went down this year, scoresof my bookmarks dropped out of sight. Should Hotmail or Gmail suffer another security breach or outage, how many millions of users will have to live without their mail for a while? I'd rather trust a server I either run myself or that holds itself to a higher standard of availability. Of course in the real world, Hotmail and Gmail are pretty reliable and my provider, Fastmail, experienced a multiple-day outage in November.

Plans For 2006

Give More Away

I live alone and don't have too many big expenses ahead of me. Next year I won't spend nearly as much on my home as I did in 2005. Meanwhile there are neighborhood organizations like the Union Project and national organizations that I ought to support as much as I can. That's why next year I plan to donate at least 5% of my salary in cash, goods, and services to charitable organizations both local and national. Realistically I think I can even give 10%.

Travel More

I wanted to travel internationally this year but it didn't happen. Next year I already have domestic trips planned that will take me to Providence and Austin to meet friends I haven't seen in years or ever. I'd also like to take a week to tour Israel meeting up with a friend and my relatives who live near Tel Aviv. My parents spent a week there this past year and were amazed by the hospitality and the sights they saw in such a short period of time.

Be Nicer

With more responsibility comes more pressure at work. I realize that I've been very stressed at times and, like my predecessor, started detaching myself a bit to try to get more work done in the same amount of time. Findinga balance between my own work and helping co-workers takes a lot of time and dedication and I'd like to invest both next year.

Be Selfless

Just a few paragraphs into this update I noticed how much I use the word "I" in my writing. That's no good. A personal web site is nothing if not narcissistic, but really I'm getting tired of just writing about myself all the time. That's why starting next year I'll start writing about other things in a more freeform format. I'm also going to be retiring the content management system (CMS) I wrote myself in 2001 in favor of a server-side, database-backed system like WordPress or Mambo/Joomla. That way I can enjoy more of the newer more-connected Web by jumping onto every bandwagon and trying every trend. Hey, some of them can't be all bad.

It's been a fun year in 2005. Here's to another.