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What kind of manager do you prefer?

November 13, 2015

Officially, I’ve had one manager in each job I’ve worked since college, and that adds up to 4 managers.

Most of my jobs have had matrix organizations, which means you report to someone day-to-day that isn’t your manager who runs your project.  They have a huge impact on your career, can “fire” you from the project, but they are not officially your manager.  With that into consideration, I’ve had at least 20 people in various leadership positions directly above me, who I looked to for guidance, input, feedback, and leadership.  Almost all have been men.  There were 2-3 women depending on how I define leadership – nly one of the women was a manager by title.

Unlike Save, Spend, Splurge, I can’t draw any conclusions based on gender.

For general good management techniques, there are better blogs to read than this (Ask a Manager is my personal fav). Management 101: Set clear expectations, address performance problems frankly, hold people accountable, delegate appropriately, don’t micromanage, etc.  The list isn’t that hard to come up with, but the execution is crucial and hard to do well.

Aside from being basically good managers, the leaders I’ve thrived under share a few qualities.

  • Logical, extremely competent, quick thinkers.  This is by far the number one priority. I don’t have innate respect for hierarchy, and will only follow my manager if I respect them.  I can’t respect someone whose thought process is muddled and unclear.
  • Big picture thinkers.  They can listen to someone talk details for five minutes, then they can summarize the main points that were made in a sentence or two.  (My project manager on my last job could not give succinct answers to ANYTHING.)
  • Straightforward and honest.  I don’t have to guess at their motives or what they are thinking.  They share as much information as they can.
  • They inherently trusted me to be competent and expect me to figure out solutions. I have no patience for people who underestimate me or seem unsure whether I can do the job.  I expect to have to prove myself to a certain degree, but if my leader doesn’t start from a place of assuming competence, it’s an uphill battle to have a good relationship.
  • Bonus points for fun/humorous and inspiring people, but I’m most inspired by people who are simply spectacular at their job, which is captured above.

Basically, they they are what I aspire to be.  This also pretty much applies to coworkers, but I give coworkers (slightly) more leeway than someone I report to.

In my first job, I had one leader who mostly fit this bill.  At my LA job, I had two leads that were amazing in my six years there. At my last job, no one I worked directly with fit this (but there was some in the company that I expect could have).  At my current job, I’ve already met three people that fit this bill (two in leadership roles, one more of a senior coworker) – and it has only been 11 months. This is why I like it here.

2015 Goal Progress

November 10, 2015

The year is getting close to coming in on a close.  I wanted to take a look at what I set out as my 2015 goals.


  • Save $18,000 each in our retirement plans. On track.   I misunderstood the way my benefits work, and was forced to save another ~$10k in pension contributions from my paychecks (my employer contributes a larger share separately).  These go into an account in my name and earn interest, although I still don’t really understand the point of pensions in this day and age.
  • Reduce food and discretionary spending by 10% over 2015 (excluding travel, house).  Have not evaluated this yet…. Need to look at my spending in detail.
  • $25,000 mortgage prepayment OR equivalent mortgage prepayment + cash saved.  We haven’t pulled the trigger on this yet.  I think we’ll likely have “only” $20k that we could possibly put towards this, and likely will only actually allocate $10k – $15k this year.  The rest will come when we get our tax refund, since we way overpaid in taxes.
  • $9,500 in targeted savings.  Right now this is at $7000.  This should happen.
  • April property tax bill saved by December.  Yes!  I have the December & April money set aside.
  • Consider rolling over old 401ks into IRA or consolidating.  Done!  Well, at least for my last job.  I don’t see a benefit to moving my other one.
  • Consider a back-door Roth for T.  We could do this in T’s name (I think) with no tax implications.  Not a priority this year.

Self care

  • Run (or hike/backpack) 1000 miles.  I kind of lost interest in running this year.  We’ll see if I pick it up again.  
  • Find a local yoga studio. Ditto on this.
  • Eat more vegetables.  Maybe?
  • Establish a weekly & daily routine/habits.  My life is more structured than 2014, but I could improve.

Knowledge, Learning, Education, Career Development

  • Read 35 books.  Unlikely.  My reading plummeted when we got the puppy.  I’m only at 11?!?!
  • Take a class.  I still want to learn Python.  Hmm…  Probably not going to happen by the end of the year.
  • Take a knife skills class.  OK, I need to schedule this!
  • Come up with a list of fun local activities We didn’t do a lot of this either, unless it involved a dog.
  • Be awesome at my new job.  This one, at least, I think I managed to do! As much of a rollercoaster as it has been the past few months, I’ve learned a lot.

Travel Plans

  • Hong Kong + ?:   I skipped this one due to puppy, but T went.
  • Toronto: We didn’t make this trip either, for a variety of reasons.
  • Home:  Yes!  I went home in January (to celebrate christmas 2014), then again this summer, and am going again for Christmas this year.
  • Portland:  Yes!  This was a run-cation with a friend.

House Plans & Budget:

  • Improve Drainage.  Yes.  This was about $12k.
  • Blinds:  Yes.  This was about $300 for some pretty basic blinds for 3 large windows in the office, the guest/spare room, and our bedroom.
  • Desk:  Yes!  We bought a large desk from a surplus store for $100.
  • Repaint bathroom stall.  We didn’t do this yet.
  • Paint ceiling.  We didn’t do this either
  • Replace light fixtures in main living area.  No, we still have these these ones, which I hate.  

So financially, things were pretty good.  A lot of other things slipped through the cracks. I would credit two things for this.  The first is the dog, who was planned but not totally assessed. He took up tons of time (and brought lots of fun too!).  The second is the chaos at work, which drove my anxiety sky high for several weeks and was a huge distraction for several months. Despite transitioning to a different role, I think next year might be stable enough that we can start to build a more normal pace of life.

Moving on

November 7, 2015

I’ve mentioned several times this fall that there has been some major uncertainty in my primary project at work, to which my job (that I LOVE) is somewhat tied. It is finally done, and we failed (although this was almost predetermined.)

It has been dying a slow and painful death for months.  The last hope I had vanished late last month when it was confirmed what the prime institution had been cooking up on their side.  I’ve been playing along, completely willing to do the job I am still being paid to do.  Yet, it is something of a relief to just have this settled. I’m implementing my back-up plans and pretty confident it will work out.

The politics of how things work internally at my job are atypical, and it was ultimately up to a few of my colleagues to make the final call (although I doubt they could have made any other decision that would have done anything but delay the inevitable).  It was clear they had talked about me in their meeting, in a “but what is SP going to do?” sense. Which, of course they would, as decent humans, but I still found it sweet and considerate. I still really appreciated it.  They also kindly passed on that the prime institution really liked me and would love to hire me (if I wanted to move out of state, which of course, I don’t). Unrealistic, but a nice thing to say, to let me know that I had done a good job.  It probably made it easier on them to know I had back-up plans.  I had mentioned plans previously, and had told them not to fight for this on my behalf.  I mean, even if I had no back-up plans, we can’t do a project for the sake of me.

Anyway, it looks like another new year, another new role. Assuming things go to plan, I still have a role at my office, which was my priority.  The job is is kind of a different job, not what I was hired to do, but it still should be interesting. It still should be a job I love.


A few Tuesday links and thoughts

November 3, 2015


A really well done Barbie add – its about time.

What is an elevator pitch really for?  I admit I hate the idea of an elevator pitch to the level that I don’t bother trying to come up with interesting ways to describe the (actually quite interesting!) things that I do.  That is probably NOT the right approach, but I agree with Allison:  “If the other person is thinking, ‘oh, I’m hearing an elevator pitch,’ that’s a failure.”

Not my circus, not my monkeys.  I’ve seen this saying a few places lately, and wish it applied to my work situation!  Unfortunately, these ARE my monkeys, at least some of them. Maybe I can trade them in for some other, more well-trained monkeys eventually.  Until then, I’m responsible for the bananas! (Am I taking this saying too far?) Despite all the chaos and uncertainty, I have found it pretty easy to motivate myself to try to solve a problem and win, until someone declares “game over.”  It isn’t over until it is over.

Like it or not…

I have hardly baked in months, but tried out these pumpkin cheesecake snickerdoodles to celebrate fall. YUM.

Life Updates

Life is not too unchanged from my last update.  Work is still in the same crazy state, but I’m having fun. I think. The husband is also busy, but things are good.  The weather is getting colder and the holidays are coming.

Dog:  The dog is still ridiculously cute, and getting easier. We have several options for holiday care for him, so I’m feeling a bit relieved. I was really panicked, because as of 3 days ago, we hadn’t really gotten our act together.  Things left undone make me itchy.

Home:  We haven’t made much progress on house projects.  T has only added to the list of potential projects! Our landscaping situation probably requires professional help, at least to get us started, but we’ve hesitated. Being a homeowner is kind of a drag!  Except when it comes to my next topic…

Taxes:  I am working a quick tax estimate to make sure I don’t need to do any last minute changes and to confirm my plan to pay only the first installment of property taxes.  I calculated a rather enormous refund. I am pretty sure I’m not wrong.  Better than the alternative, although my target is a $3k-$5k refund, and we overshot.  This is our first year with 12 months of mortgage interest. The other factor is that we actually saved a fair amount more in retirement than original planned… like, double… So, we need to think about whether that is really sensible to continue doing.  The good news is, no AGI this year!

Dream Interpretation Request:  I had a dream the other night that we had a baby, and we forgot to name it. Or we named the baby, then kept forgetting what we had named it and forgetting to care for it. “Where is that baby whats-her-name right now? Is she here? Did we name her? If not, maybe we should name her Jane? Or does she already have a name? What was her name again?!?  Where is she?!”   What does this say about my life?!? It is like a parent version of that dream where you realize it is finals day for that class that you forgot to go to all semester!

Life Lately

October 22, 2015

Good stuff:

I got to spend some time with my parents this month.  We played  tourist in the city, went to a really a great concert, and at so so so much great food. My mom had some health issues this year, but seems to be doing well for the time being.  I’m impressed with how well she handled everything this year.

I’ve been going on lots and lots of walks with the cutest dog and nicest husband.  Sometimes it is a pain in the butt, but we usually all are happier after a walk on the local trails.

Work stuff:  

My main project is still nuts.  I still am loving my job for the reasons it is great (the people, the projects, the commute).  However, I’ll be happy when this chaos is over and we either move forward full speed ahead – or (the most likely case) not.  My second project also blew up for a completely unrelated reason (that was in the national news), but it seems to be on track for a reasonable recovery. My involvement is still minimal.

My third project is going well and is a lot of fun – but is by definition short term and basically unfunded.  I’ve laughed a lot on this project, and learned so much already. Basically, it is fun, frustrating, and a really welcome diversion from all of the chaos on my main project.

My back-up plan still seems feasible.  I might get a fine deal in all of this, although the politics of why things happened the way they did make me rage-y.  I hope the reasons I love my job would hold in a new incarnation of it – I think they should, but the people aspect does worry me.  My potential new boss is a bit more of a perfectionist than the boss I have now.  As not-detail-loving INTJ, that worries me a little.  The upside is he is extremely smart and good, so at least I won’t struggle with the issues I had in my last job.

Personal Finance Stuff:

Well, I really haven’t been doing a lot in this area.

We bought a large monitor for our office, now we can work at home more effectively!  After being spoiled at work, it was really difficult to get anything done on a tiny screen.  However, shopping is not personal finance.

Hmm.  We are fortunate that we can skate by without paying close attention.  It isn’t the optimal solution, but it is a solution.  T just got some raises, so apparently there is more money coming in.  Our accounts are flush from summer salary and cash hoarding due to job worries, so eventually I want to figure out what to do with that.  Most likely we’ll do a modest mortgage pre-payment.  We have some modest house stuff we should take care of soon (gutter replacement on the porch, earthquake retrofitting).  Then we’ll probably hoard a bit more cash than originally planned.

That’s it for today.  I wanted to end with some good link love, but I don’t have anything bookmarked anymore.



October 5, 2015

Here is how I feel right now. Which dot? I have no idea.


Work is still nuts, but I should have some closure soon.

I’m putting myself out there a bit farther than I’m naturally inclined to.  I’m speaking first, despite having the least experience in some (most?) of the technical details. I’m an engineer, not a salesman – but I did work in a very corporate environment for years. I know how to talk to executives and customers to a degree some of my coworkers don’t. I have an opinion on how we present things and frame the conversations.  I desperately need the others on my team to help me, but I’m willing to speak first. I’m willing to be a little bit wrong.

Honestly, I have no idea if I’m doing the right things, and that is causing me to be mildly panicked. I’m trying to keep my exterior calm (and doing a much better job than I was 3 weeks ago!).  There is a not-insignifcant part of me that wants to jump up and down and create a panic.  I won’t. I’m striving for equanimity.

This is how I will grow.

When I think about my most interesting career experiences, they arose when I was offered opportunities, and I said yes.  Other times I saw an opportunity within my grasp, and asked about it. I took some calculated risks.

I very often felt under qualified, and wondered why anyone was letting me do any of the things I was doing. But I still said yes, I still was eager to take it on.

A slightly easier way I’ve got to do something new and fun was to look up from I was already doing, see how it fits into a bigger picture, and start filling any cracks that it seems like no one else is planning on filling. It is easier to see if anyone tells you to stop doing something you think might be useful than to wait for someone to tell you what to do.

Today is the day. If we pull off today, well, that is the first step of a long journey.  If, in the end, we pull everything off (the BIG everything with the team beyond my team), it will be pretty amazing. If we are successful, I will know that I played a big part in it. If we fail, well, same story, I guess.

I’m mentally prepared for any outcome. I wasn’t the first time, during the first terrible meeting.  Nor was I mentally prepared for the fallout. I won’t be so knocked off my feet this time, no matter what. I will react with equanimity. (Right?)

What is the point of this post?

Be opportunistic. Say yes to others. Say yes to yourself, even if you have some doubts. If you don’t have doubts, you are probably erring on the Dunning-Kruger side of things.  If you listen too much to your doubts, you may be erring on the imposter syndrome side.

And send good vibes my way!

(Some personal finance stuff coming this weekend I think!)


Why I love my job

October 2, 2015

In the midst of explaining my recent job chaos to a friend, she asked me what it was about my job that I liked so much.

It took a job that I really hated in order for me to really understand what was important to me in a job.  I always secretly figured that as a positive, motivated, hardworking and talented person, I could figure out how to enjoy almost any job.  Boy, was I wrong about that! Here is what I posted 2013 after accepting a job I ended up hating:

I like solving interesting problems with smart people.  I like working with customers.  I prefer face-to-face interaction.  I like variety in my work.  I enjoy big picture thinking over details, but I can get lost in an analysis once I dig in.  I like to continually learn new things.  I wanted to combine technical with the business side.  I need a fast pace.

My criteria when searching for that job were not wrong, just incomplete.  More critically, the most important one that I expected to be met generally wasn’t: solving interesting problems with smart people.  (The bulk of the time, I was working on a stupid problem with an adequate person.)

Anyway, here is what I love most about this job.  Here is what makes a job a great job.


This is the most important.  In general, they are simply my kind of people – scientists and engineers.  They make rational arguments for things, they are funny in these clever and smart ways, and lots of them are a little crazy – but still good natured.  Having spent most of my career and education around these sorts, it is an extremely comfortable environment for me.

Everyone is ridiculously smart, many with PhDs.  I’ve pretty much always worked jobs with highly intelligent people, but this is a whole new level of genius. My colleagues’ brilliance combined with their ability to communicate their ideas astounds me on a regular basis.

But it goes beyond that.

I feel I can simply take everyone at face value, which is absolutely refreshing. People have personalties and they are individuals. I don’t feel they are presenting images. There isn’t grandstanding or self-promotion (this was SO grating in my consulting job). There are just simply nice, sometimes quirky, people who are really good at what they do.

The Work

My day to day tasks vary, and but they are mostly interesting.

The biggest thing is that the projects are crazy interesting with goals that are personally meaningful to me.  I don’t know how to say more than that without saying everything, but connecting my work to a meaningful goal matters so much more than I imagined.  I believe in what I’m doing.  I don’t feel like I’m simply trying to make (or save) money for a business, I feel like I’m contributing some small part of something to the world.

I also have learned a lot, and am learning a lot every day, and feel like there is always more to learn.


It is an extremely informal culture, and very independent, and very respectful.

It is very flat.  There is almost no top-down management. Staffing basically works like this: If you can convince someone to work on your project, then they work your project.  This has pros and cons, but it allows me to get my hands in a few things and lets me have ownership of my job at an unprecedented level.

It is male dominated, but I’ve met zero people at my workplace who have made me wonder if they would treat me differently if I was a guy.  Maybe I’ve stumbled into some weird progressive utopia, but gender has been a non-issue, and I’m moderately sensitive to this.

The job just fits in a way that even my LA job didn’t, and I can’t quite put my finger on why.  Part of that is that I’m more open about my life and more mature, and in general more comfortable with who I am and what I contribute.  But part of it really is the culture itself.  It is wonderful for someone with my personality type.

Work-Life Balance

This is a bit of a case of “choose your own adventure.”  It is reasonable in general, but you have to manage it yourself.  Job roles and responsibilities are flexible enough that no one is going to define exactly what you have to do and what your box is.  People will ask if you have time for something, and you can say yes or you can say no.  Also, I have seen babies brought to the office for a day in a pinch twice – both by men (one my manager).  The guys on my team regularly comment on kid pick-up drop-off and scheduling issues around that.

I can tell you what time the parking lot fills up, and what time it empties, and it is clear most people do not put in long hours in the office.  My e-mail is rarely active on nights & weekends.  There are exceptions to this.  There are crunch times.  There is an expectation that certain types of work gets done in people’s “free time”.  I’m doing that right now, because the problem is interesting, the people are inspiring, it helps with a back up plan, and it is short term.  But plenty of people do  not do this.  I’m really happy with this.

I honestly don’t have any complaints about my job.  I haven’t met a single person who drives me nuts (isn’t there always at least one?), I have had bad (even very terrible) days, but it is the best job I’ve had.

Is there anything that is important to you in a job that I didn’t mention?


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