Working Remotely

I have to admit to being pretty surprised that I’m posting here within a couple of days of my last post, but, uh, hey. When you’re inspired, you’re inspired, right? Right.

So first, new theme. Libretto. It’s pretty and I like it and I didn’t much like the other one. Hopefully, this convinces me to gasp blog even more frequently.

The real reason I wanted to write tonight, though, is that I’ve been thinking a lot about remote work. I’ve been thinking about it a lot over the last year and a half or so, but most especially over the last three months since I’ve been, well, working remotely.

I’ve been really lucky in life (and I recognize that!) in a lot of ways and I’ve been especially lucky when it comes to work situations. I became the Chatting Online Guide at About.com back in September of 1997 — when it was still The Mining Company — and was in that position for four years. It was a remote position and I not only learned a lot about business (and stocks and shares and options and IPOs) but I learned a lot about how I work best.

For most of those four years (not counting the first 6-8 months or so), I made a great living while working remotely. Of course, the compensation structure was such that I got paid for site traffic, including people chatting in my chatrooms, which is where the vast majority of my compensation came from. It took a lot of effort to moderate and manage those communities, including giving moderation privileges to up to ten volunteers, all of whom took shifts during a given week. Plus I was putting out content on a weekly (and eventually biweekly) basis, along with newsletters, answering emails and making attempts to get people to discuss things in our forums.

Due to the fact that my compensation was based on traffic, every bit of effort I put into my site and my communities translated into actual dollars. (Well, fractions of a penny, to be honest — but you’d be surprised how quickly all of those fractions can add up!) As such, I cannot say I attacked this job in a healthy way.

And this is where I realized, probably for the first time in my adult life, that I am an all-or-nothing person. I rarely go halfway on anything and, if I do, I feel oogy about it, for lack of a better word. I go into a situation and, if I decide to commit to it, I commit to it. I don’t always choose to commit, though. Sometimes I don’t. Heck, most of the time, I don’t. But if something catches my attention, ignites a spark, gets me passionate… I’m all in.

So it was with About.com. Not just because of the money, because that definitely started coming in later on.
(My first paycheque for About.com was $6.53 US.) It was writing! It was sharing knowledge! It was answering questions! It was building a real community. I was — I am — passionate about these things.

Due to my silly passion (and, okay, eventually the money), I poured a lot of time into the site. That doesn’t mean I worked 100 hour weeks regularly, but it meant that sometimes I did. It meant that I’d regularly be up until 3-4 in the morning, sometimes later if I had a deadline, then sleep like the dead for a few hours and then get right back to it. It literally paid off. Every day I wasn’t doing something with my site meant a dip in my revenue, meant that people weren’t going to my site (except to chat) because there wasn’t anything new. I would regularly work on weekends and holidays.

Now, let me tell you a secret: I have never been good at consistent effort. Never. It’s pretty much my Achilles’ heel. I can pull all-nighters with the best of them and I can make my deadlines with little sleep and lots of caffeine. That is a lot easier, to me, than doing a little bit every single week or every single day. So I would definitely take days off of working on my site and do nothing (although I’d think about it a lot, usually) and I would spend days (and nights) working my ass off to try to “catch up”. Like, 10am-4am with an hour break, total, sometimes.

Either I was 100% on (always working on the site throughout the day and into the night) or I was 100% off (though, like I said, thinking about the site) and occasionally, I would be on overdrive at 200%.

Yeah, like I said, not healthy.

I was happy, though. Some of the best times of my entire life happened in the four years I worked remotely. Some of the worst, too, to be fair. More good than bad, though. And, over the years, I’ve done other stuff remotely. I’ve been a paid moderator, I’ve been a website developer/freelancer… And I really enjoyed working in my own space, on my own schedule, doing my own thing.

So when I got laid off in late October of 2016, I knew I wanted to work remotely for my next job, if it was at all possible. I’d been applying to various places who hired remotely for a few months by the time I got laid off: Stripe, GitHub, Buffer, HelpScout and more. I got through a few interviews with some and others didn’t even respond to my application. (Which, by the way, is so ridiculously commonplace but so rude! When I was hiring direct reports, I always responded to people in the initial waves of applications, since I always preferred to know rather than be kept in limbo.)

As the weeks (and months!) passed, the thought of going into another office just depressed me. I was sitting there, writing applications for jobs I didn’t want, where I’d have to get up at like, 7, go to work, come home around 6 and then start the whole cycle again. I really didn’t want that. My soul just couldn’t take it. And yet, I applied, because apparently I’m not someone my landlady thinks is cool enough to not need to pay rent. And the utility companies, they insist I pay them as well. And so on.

And then, I got my current job doing customer support — remotely. It was an extensive interview process with coding exercises as part of it! And three phone calls. And through it all, I was like “is this happening? Am I going to get it?”

When I got it, I was still shocked. Stunned. I still am, really. I absolutely delight in the fact that I don’t have a commute anymore. I love that I can do my laundry in the middle of a day when there isn’t a soul in the tiny laundry room of my building. (As opposed to deathmatches on the weekends.) I love that I’m here for deliveries. I love that I can buy groceries and not have to decide what’s for lunch until I want to have lunch, as opposed to making it the night before or the morning of. I love that I don’t have to pay for a monthly transit pass. I love that my company trusts me (and the other employees — we’re all remote!) to do our work and that it’ll get done, whether or not I had lunch with a friend from out of town and took that afternoon off. (Which I did a couple of weeks ago, by the way.) I love that I can leave work at four so I can get to class on time, even if I only showed up for work at 10am, because the other couple of hours will be made up sometime.

It’s that trust that makes me absolutely gleeful.

When I’d occasionally work from home at my last position, I felt like everyone thought I was goofing off. I mean, I wasn’t. Other people did so when they worked from home and I was worried I’d get painted with the same brush, so I really didn’t do it terribly often. But I was always, always so productive at home. I don’t know how people are expected to put in a good day of work when people are always talking to them. At my last job, I was in a big room with five other people at one point (at times up to 9) and it was just impossible to get stuff done. There was always a conversation going. Even with headphones on. It wasn’t rare for me to stay late, ’till 7 or 8. Once, I stayed at work — working — ’till ten at night. It was peaceful once everyone left.

At the same time, working remotely does have its challenges. You do want to be there for your team and you do want to put in the time and get the work done. But the temptation to Work More is always there. That’s why I’ve now turned my spare room into my office. I am in there when I’m working and rarely when I’m not. I try not to log in to work stuff elsewhere — not on my phone, not on my desktop computer, not anywhere. It’s an extremely conscious decision on my part to just … leave work in the office, really. And it’s hard, because part of me wants to go all in and work 15 hours a day sometimes.

The main challenge, then, for me, when it comes to remote work is that I am constantly feeling as though I should do more. There’s no reason for me to do so. It’s not like other people work much more than the 40 hours expected of them. (I’m certain there are exceptions.) But I would work too much at my last job and got burnt out. I worked too hard at About.com and, while I didn’t get burnt out, I’m sure it was just a matter of time before I did. Hell, I work too hard on my classes and am totally burnt out there. Thank God I have three weeks before PHP II starts.

My point is that it’s hard for me to not constantly work when I’m in a remote position. So far, I’ve been very good at setting limits. Having other things to do with my time is also helpful (like class stuff, family stuff, friends, writing, etc) because otherwise that time could easily be filled with work.

Still, the draw is always there.

That said, I gotta say, I break the rules of remote work and I work in my pajamas, at least during the mornings, most days. That is definitely a nice perk!

All right, I’ve rambled for nearly 2000 words. That ought to suffice. More thoughts on remote work at some point in the future.

Heck of a few months…

Well, I finished Java by pulling more almost-all-nighters than I’d care to think about. I was also in the midst of, you know, working, so I couldn’t do actual all-nighters. But I survived on something like five nights in a row of under four hours of sleep. And then did it again for three (?) more nights.

But I passed, in the end.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have any kind of break between Java and PHP I.

So, PHP is kind of the reason I wanted to take these classes in the first place. My previous workplace had a web app built in PHP, so I thought to myself, “Self, you should learn PHP so you can actually sort of kind of understand what people are talking about.” Essentially, I was just so tired of always telling my clients “I’m sorry, I’m not a technical contact”, and I was tired of not fully grasping what the devs at work were talking about.

However, in order to take PHP I (and then PHP II), I had to take:

  • HTML 5/CSS 3
  • SQL Essentials
  • Fundamentals of Java Programming

So I did all those. I did HTML/CSS (which was a nice refresher, but I learned all about media queries! HOORAY!) and I did SQL Essentials (I can create database tables! And query them! And stuff!) and then I suffered through Java, but, ultimately, I emerged victorious.

And finally, PHP.

I don’t know what I was really expecting. I’d known of PHP for years. I’d edited old PHP scripts, used PHP includes. It wasn’t a complete black box to me.

And yet, that was a hell of a difficult course. Not sure how I passed my final exam because it was pretty rough. Still, I passed the exam, did well on my assignments… well, the two of the three that I know of, anyway. The third assignment is due in less than half an hour as I write this, but I finished it 90 minutes ago or so and that completes my obligations for PHP I. I didn’t even really need to do the assignment, but it got personal. Stupid databases and displaying them as tables in HTML using PHP. Still, I learned a lot of stuff. Database stuff, especially, but also things like foreach loops and all about arrays and sticky forms! Note to self: redo your personal website (not this one) and incorporate not just pretty forms like you learned in HTML/CSS, but sticky forms.

I gotta say, it’s come in handy. Work, which is going well, supports some stuff built in PHP, so a customer asked me why a subscribe button wouldn’t display on her site. So I went and it was displaying for me. And then I realized that she must be subscribed to her own list. So I checked the code and, yep, right there — if user is already subscribed or if the third-party site is unreachable, don’t display the subscribe button. Of course, it was in PHP and not basic English, but I understood it just fine!

So that was exciting.

As to work, I’m getting into the swing of things. Still learning, but I don’t feel completely idiotic anymore, which is nice. I’m heading to Seattle in October for a conference, so that should be fun, especially because I’m finally going to get to meet Sandra, who I first met online in late 1994 — and we still haven’t met. She is the oldest online friend I have whom I’ve not yet met. Well, not old in that sense, but the person I’ve known the longest, consider a friend and yet haven’t met. I won’t have a ton of time due to work conference stuff, but should be able to steal a couple of hours to meet up.

So I work from home and that is such a lovely thing. I decided I would redo my spare room into a home office. I remember from working at About.com that it was important to have a workspace and a living space, so I, uh, might have potentially gone a little bit overboard with the home office thing. To begin, I got my parents to take me to IKEA… All we could fit in the car was the Alex Riser so I assembled that on the Friday night before my delivery was due.

building
Me, about to start building things.
Alex Riser from IKEA
Building the Alex riser.

Then, on Saturday, the desk arrived and so I started building that stuff. It’s not an actual desk, per se, it’s two sets of drawers and then a countertop, basically. It’s the Linnmon/Alex “desk” from IKEA.

Alex drawers
Gotta start somewhere, right?
Drawer building
The outer shell.
Drawers.
And drawers to go inside!
Completed drawers.
Voila. One set of drawers done. That was enough for Saturday.

On Sunday, I started anew with the other set of drawers.

More Alex drawers
Drawer set number two.
Doodads.
Inventory of the pieces. Yep, everything’s there.
The shell
The shell.
Desk
Completed desk.

So once I’d finished constructing everything, I screwed in the middle leg and added the riser. Looks pretty great, right?

BUT WE’RE JUST GETTING STARTED.

Backlit desk
Lights!

Why yes, that is a blue-coloured light coming from behind my desk. Why Julie, how did you achieve this? Simple, the Philips Hue Light Strip Plus. I MAY have gone a little nuts and spent, oh, a few hundred bucks on smart lights I can control with my phone. I have two in the living room (soon to add another three) and I’ve got four bulbs and the light strip in the office. The light strip is actually stuck on the back of my desk. It’s great.

desk
Desk, with monitor and computer.

So this is what my desk started out as. Oh, yeah, did I mention the Light Strip Plus has sixteen million colours? Because it does. 🙂

The monitor is an ASUS VC279 (27″) and it’s perfect for me with its large desktop, allowing me to put less important applications on my work laptop. The large grey pad is a Corsair Gaming Mouse Mat and I have a Fellowes wrist support I got at Staples with a Logitech USB wireless mouse. The keyboard is an older version of the Apple Magic Keyboard,

The lamp is also from IKEA — a Klabb. It needed an adapter to be able to take the Philips Hue bulb I had bought for it, so it’s not lit here.

Computer workspace
The adapter did arrive.

What you see under the monitor, under the riser, is my Sony bluetooth speaker. It’s not great — I usually let it hook up to my iPad when I’m in the kitchen — but it works nicely here. Still, it’s a temporary solution. I’m planning to get actual speakers. Also a riser for the laptop.

Desk
Oh yeah, the lamp bulb is also 16 million colours!

I stole my own floor lamp from the living room and put in three Philips Hue Ambiance/White light bulbs in there. So they don’t change colour, really, but they can be one of 50,000 shades of white. Bright white, blue white, yellow white, etc. It’s very cool. I actually went out and bought an identical floor lamp to put back in my living room and I’ll purchase another three bulbs to place in it. Mwahahaha.

Of course, there are all these icky cables everywhere.

Cable management
So I decided to do something about it.

I bought ALL KINDS OF SHIT, yo. And I put a lot of it to good use!

Power bar stuck on to the back of one of my drawers.

The desk is a little further out from the wall than I’d orginally wanted, but there’s just no way to keep it closer if you want things to appear clean.

Cable management
See the hooks? They carry the power cable to the OTHER side, where I have another power bar hooked up, which is the one that actually plugs into the wall.

It’s not perfect. I probably should spend some time re-doing parts of it, but it’ll do for now. Just gotta get those speakers and the laptop riser and I should be good to go.

I like the setup so much that I want to get a second one for my PC desktop computer. I kind of want to put it on the opposite wall as the work computer and just have that be The Computer Room, but I do think it’s smart to keep business and pleasure far away from each other. Or, at least one room away.

I definitely need a new main desk for my desktop, though. We’ll see, we’ll see. 🙂

So that’s what’s been up with me. PHP II starts in about three weeks, so we’ll see if I manage to do anything with my personal website before then. 😉

Oh, and my eldest nephew, Henry, turned three on Sunday! Here’s a selfie of me with the birthday boy.

Henry and me on his third birthday.

Of nephews and jobs and classes and migrations

So, the important thing first: my sister-in-law had the baby on May 30 and so I now have two amazing nephews, Henry (the eldest) and Louis (who, in case you didn’t figure it out, is the newborn.)

nephews

Freaking adorable.

Apart from that, my search for a job has been somewhat fruitful. I start a trial period for a remote job on June 12th, so that’s exciting. Working remote! It’s what I did for four years in the late 90s and I’ve been trying desperately to get back to that for the last, uh, 15+ years. Relatedly, I just did up my budget for June. OUCH. Since I got laid off from my last position, I’m receiving EI, so losing those payments and then having to invoice my new client (for now — hopefully my employer!) at the end of the month is going to mean that June is gonna be tight. I went through a spreadsheet, organized all my payments and expenses and stuff and was like “huh, this isn’t going to be too bad,” when I then came to the startling realization that I had forgotten to factor in things like groceries. Eesh. To think I didn’t want the credit line my bank offered me a couple of years ago…!? I guess there will be no impromptu visit to Ottawa for Canada Day, which is a bit sad-making because it’s Canada’s 150th! I’ve only ever been to Ottawa once on Canada Day and that was in 2010 when my mom and I (yes — my mother. And me. Together. In a car. For two hours there, two hours back and several hours in Ottawa) went because the Queen and Prince Philip were there. (As was Barenaked Ladies, unbeknownst to me. When One Week started playing and I started sinigng along, my mom was like “you KNOW this music?!?!”) Anyway, it’s a shame I’ll miss Alanis, who’s performing this year, and BNL again, but hey. Gotta be responsible, right? Right.

As to class, class is getting… better? I understand how to connect to an SQL database with Java! And we’re starting to play with the GUI, which is all CSS-based, so that’s outstanding. I did skip class to go meet Louis on Tuesday night, though. No regrets! It was, however, the first time I skipped a class out of the 10 weeks of HTML, the 5 weeks of SQL and the 8 previous weeks of Java. Go me.

Finally, all the migrations got done last weekend. Every last site I have (that I’m going to keep) has been migrated to my new host and I couldn’t be happier that it’s all over with. Overall, it went well. Working at my last place of employment taught me a lot about migrations and DNS in general, so it was nice to be able to use some of that knowledge when it came to my own projects. What a giant relief it is that it’s all done, though. Whew!

The next week is gonna be rough:

  • Finish Java Assignment 2 ASAFP
  • Study for Java final exam which is on Thursday
  • Start Java Assignment 3, due within the two weeks following the final exam
  • Get up to speed on stuff for work!
  • Probably see parents, once they’ve returned from their shitstorm of a cruise (delayed in dock at the start, missing two stops, then a fire on board that caused a delay, so they’ll miss another port)
  • Hopefully get to see the nephews again
  • Start work on Monday the 12th!

I’m supposed to see the nephews tomorrow, actually. Well. Today. It’s almost 5am and I’m supposed to probably be picked up at 10:30am? But I’m not sure? I might have to go steal my mom’s car and drive out on my own. The things I do to see my nephew. Well, nephews, now, I guess. 🙂 It’s just that Henry is so damn delightful and says the CUTEST THINGS that are so incongruous coming from him, as opposed to from any adult. “Be right back, guys!” he’ll exclaim, for example. It’s adorable.

Anyway. If I want to be at all conscious, I should head to bed.

Bonne nuit.

Feeling Productive

I’m feeling productive. This weekend, I did the two biggest migrations from my old webhost to my new webhost. One was rough. Copying a phpBB (ughhhhhhhhhh) forum and its database and its settings etc etc and copying a WP install I couldn’t even access any longer? Both difficult. It was over 24 hours from the moment I put the forum into maintenance ’till when I took it out at the new host.

I mean, I slept. But it was still rough.

The other one, was my dear old GoodChatting.com. I’ve run the IRC server there since, uh, February of 2001. It’s still running. The website had not been touched since, uh, like, 2003? 2004? So, rather than migrate it, I redid the whole damn thing. Of course, I downloaded everything to my hard drive first and I threw in a ton of 301 redirects for various chatroom links, etc, that would have died otherwise. I should probably run Google Webmaster Tools on it, too. Oh, and insert my analytics code. Crap.

Anyway. GoodChatting is moved and that’s one less headache.

Coming up on two weeks until the old host goes away, so I’m really pleased with the efforts of the weekend.

Also, really pleased that my MySQL skillz came in handy! I was able to edit stuff in the MySQL shell and also in phpMyAdmin AND I KNEW WHAT IT MEANT. I was able to query stuff! I felt pretty awesome.

Speaking of skillzzzzz, class is okay. I’m in the midst of Fundamentals of Java Programming and it is kind of kicking my ass. I understand most of the concepts, but the code still looks weirdly foreign to me. It makes me miss MySQL. MySQL made sense! Logical sense! To me! Still, doing Java has helped me in at least one job application, so there’s that.

In other news, my parents are going to Europe for a couple of weeks this coming Sunday. Due in just under two weeks is my second nephew. My sister-in-law gave birth to my first nephew five weeks early and this little guy is apparently quite content right where he is. We missed out on being birthday twins, alas. Maybe the next one?

And on that note, I need to finish getting ready for Mother’s Day dinner with the family. I cherish time with my nephew. He’s such a cute little stinker.

Thinking About Old Thoughts

I’ve been tidying up today and was specifically cleaning my desk, because, uh, it was a disaster.

In so doing, I found one of my old notebooks. For a period of years, I’d carry a small, ringed notebook to write in while on the bus or metro, but also to write down quotable things my friends would say. Here are a few, names removed.

Don’t worry, it’s worse than you thought.

There are people who are home. There are people who smell like home.

You ever feel REALLY smart?
– Only around you!

I have a way with logic. Don’t get in my way.

He can’t be crazy batshit insane. She still has all her fingers!

I’m glad I’ve got some of these, still. Most of these made me howl with laughter. Some of them made me stop and think. And still others made me look at people very oddly.

Do zebras turn you on or something?

(Case in point.)

It’s a nice way to remember certain people, certain events, certain moments, lest they be lost to the fog of time. Instantly, I’m transported back in time by more than a decade. It’s amazing how just a small collection of words can do that for us. Or, at least, for me. 🙂

Hello World.

Ah, new beginnings.

It has been years since I’ve posted on this domain. Actual years. I was running WordPress 2.0.5 and there wasn’t any auto-update or export function, so we’re starting from scratch. No great loss; there were only eleven entries on the previous incarnation of this site.

I’m hoping I’ll actually post on this thing. It’s certainly my intent. I just don’t know if I’ll stick to it. I definitely need an outlet, though.

So what’s new with me? I’m looking for work and, while I do so, I’m taking classes at one of the local universities, working towards a diploma in web programming. I’ve already taken the HTML/CSS class (I was conversant with HTML and CSS up to versions 3 and 1 respectively and now am nicely up to date — I can make responsive websites! All hail media queries.) and the SQL class and am now somewhat suffering through Fundamentals of Java Programming.

As geeky as I’ve always been, I’ve never learned a formal programming language. This shit is hard, yo. I mean, it’s slowly coming together, but it’s still hard. Methods, classes, user input and keyboard buffers… Some of it is just like “wtf am I actually doing??” and some of it is “oh, well that makes sense”. Week four of my ten week class is now done and I’ve got about a week to finish up my first assignment. At least I feel that I’ve made some progress on it. I think I understand all the parts of it separately. Now I just need to incorporate them all together. Should be fine, right? … right?

In the meantime, I’m migrating all kinds of crap over to a new host, this blog included. I might actually try to post some photos and such, but in the meantime, you can check out my Instagram. (All of that gets cross-posted to my Flickr and Twitter, too.)

So yeah, I host something like 20ish sites and I’ve moved four of them entirely, two of them partially and another is sort of in limbo because I don’t want to go backup the database, but I’m going to have to force myself to do so at some point. I’m glad I gave myself a full month to do all this.

Hilariously, I actually had given myself six weeks to do it, but my new webhost was inaccessible from my home ISP. Worked fine on my cell network. Worked fine at school. Anyone I asked was able to access it, unless they were using the same ISP as I am. My brother? No luck, either on his home wifi or his cell network (both using my ISP). After two weeks of lots of phone calls, trying to discern what the issue was, the webhost and I figured out that my ISP is blocking the specific IP address my webhost had assigned to my account. This after my ISP was insistent it was an issue with my host, of course.

I swear, as soon as fibre is available in my neighbourhood, I’m switching from my current ISP. Of course, I’m not certain it’ll ever be available here. Every six months, a rep from the company who offers fibre calls me and is like “hey, you should come back to us!”

And I’m like “so do you have fibre in my area yet?”

“We should.”

“I’m betting you don’t. Can you double-check?”

“Oh, but I’m almost certain we do offer it there.”

“No, seriously. Go check.”

The invariably go to check and then come back and apologize.

I guess there’s just not enough demand in the area, which is ridiculous, but I do acknowledge I live in an area where there are a lot of older people, so that might have something to do with it.

Well, I think that’s a sufficient amount of ranting for the first blog post here since, uh, December of 2007.

Feel free to say hi. 🙂