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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 task varies, 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?

Links and thoughts from SP

September 26, 2015

Being a realist should mean having hope, not being pessimistic.  My new response to “I guess I’m just a realist” is going to be  “I guess I’ve discovered that a positive attitude, a generous posture and a bit of persistence makes things better than most people expect.”

This has been out a while, but if you haven’t read How and Why SpaceX Will Colonize Mars, you don’t have to – you can listen to the audio version instead!

Speaking of space, I’m intriguged about NASA’s announcement that they solved an open mystery on Mars, and I’m excited to hear what it is.  And the images of Pluto from New Horizons are stunning.  And there is a supermoon lunar eclipse this weekend!

Hey, remember how I got a car, brand-new, in 2011?  We were devastated to hear the news that we didn’t get what we paid for, and are awaiting the fallout.  It is likely the car will be recalled and updated to meet standards (impacting performance), and some sort of compensation will be due.

I had a chat with my manager the other day, and we jointly discovered that I was not eligible for this year’s pay increase cycle since I started 1 week after the cutoff date.  I was expecting as much.  He then said, “Well, you negotiated quite well when you started, so it isn’t likely there would have been much increase anyway.”  I smiled.  I know I’m making more than a lot of long-time employees, and I’m almost certainly the highest paid person with my title right now.  I knew raises would be hard to get, so I asked for every single penny (even though I had expected the offer to be 15-20% lower than it was).  So, negotiate hard (H/T Spend, Save, Splurge).  It is the only time you have all the power.

It is bad enough that women actresses get asked inane questions about balancing work with kids when men with children don’t.  But at a tech conference, it is shocking that one of Silicon Valley’s most powerful women was asked if all her children had the same father.  I expect better than “grandstanding dog and pony shows, designed to trot out successful women and demean them by asking them, “How do you do it all?” as if they are crazy for pursuing their careers as their male cohorts would.”  Cringing.  Why is Gayle King the moderator???

I almost never share anything serious on my Facebook, but I shared to a post about one father’s plan to set up a fund for his daughter and not his son in an effort to combat unequal pay.  The first comment was from a guy who said the pay gap exits but was overstated and largely due a lot to women having children (which the article discusses in detail, but I doubt he read it).  OK, thanks for the man-splanation!!!  (I wish I said that.  I really said that the article talked about that, and that the birth itself is only 3-4 months off work thanks to our terrible maternity policies, and it is impossible to separate “lifestyle choices” from societal pressures and expectations that the woman is the primary caregiver, career or not.  Now I remember why I don’t share things on Facebook.

And now, another photo of my dog, all tuckered out after our backpacking trip earlier this month.


Fall Update

September 22, 2015

I was doing monthly updates, but have they now become seasonal?

Money is less interesting to me than it was when I started this blog (in 2007).  It feels less urgent.  It is no longer this big unsolved problem.  There are things I should know more about, things I should spend more time on, things I should care more about.  Yet, I have enough money to feel reasonably secure, and there is no amount of money (that I’m likely to ever have) that will improve my level of security significantly.

Work has been chaotic, to put it mildly.  It has been emotional.  I take my work personally, and I can’t help it.  A lot of things happened that were no one’s fault (at least no one in my company) and were pretty difficult for our team to handle.  People we work with external to our company have made our jobs really hard, and we’re bearing the brunt of it.  Our key technical lead (who is also one of my favorites) quit the project for reasons that I respect, agree with, and support – yet I could barely look him in the eye when this was discussed, for fear that I would burst into tears.  Because the project might fall apart, and with him gone, the chances of that happening are higher.

Since the existence of my job is tied to the existence of my project, I was understandably anxious about all of this.  In bigger companies, I had the security of thinking “I’m good, they like me, they will try very hard to find a place for me.” This is a smaller place with almost no centralized staffing, and I’ve only been here 8 months.  It is harder to find places for people, and I don’t know so many people outside my team yet.  Still, I started looking at internal backup plans, and I managed to line a solid one up. Which is amazing, because I want nothing more than to do this job for a very very long time.   Anyway, the project has not fallen apart yet, but there are still a lot of unknowns on it.  At least the “can I still work here?” factor is off the table for the time being.

All of that is to point out that I never actually sat down with my spreadsheets to confirm how long we would be OK without my income.  I think the answer is indefinitely, although I have to admit I’m not sure the exact sacrifices that would require.  The answer is certainly “more than long enough”, and I’m confident enough that I could figure out a path forward if plan A didn’t work out.  I’m not saying I slept soundly each night, comfortable in this knowledge, I’m just saying that when I was feeling anxious, I could talk myself down from it.

I was anxious about the idea of looking for new job, because I love this job.  And I’m so ridiculously spoiled on my commute, and I come home (almost) every day to play with my dog, and life really just is exactly what I want.  But I was not at all worried about money or survival.  I wasn’t worried about paying bills.  I knew we could do it.  And that makes me really really grateful.

Also, dog update!   He went backpacking with us!


Summer Money Update

July 28, 2015

Mortgage pre-payment:  I am having a (likely irrational) moment of job security anxiety, so we are waiting to send in this year’s big chunk of mortgage prepayment in for a few months.  Just because the cost of small delay it is worth humoring my anxiety.

Real Estate:  Judging by the market, I can say buying last year was better than buying this year.  I can’t really say anything beyond that, but I’m glad we have a place to call home for the next many years.  I hope it turns out well financially.  My calculations said it would, but there are assumptions built in.

Retirement:  I finally rolled over my 401k from my last job. I decided to put it into my new retirement plan rather than a rollover IRA, just in case we ever decide to pursue back-door Roth.  (That is unlikely because I already have a rollover IRA from my first job, which I rolled over before I’d heard of a backdoor Roth.  It has something like $20k in it..)  My new retirement plan has OK options in terms of low-cost funds, but my previous employer’s plan had higher costs.

The most significant chunk of my retirement money is still in the 401k account from my LA job.   It is in low cost funds, I don’t see extra fees, and I don’t see a compelling reason to move it.

Vacations/Travel:  It’s July, so it is time to start thinking about options for traveling home for Christmas! I really hate being this far from our families, yet I can’t imagine ever moving back, so here we are.  I have enough miles (CC points + normal miles) to book us both, and I think we’ll use them for holiday travel.

Also booked with miles, I’m going home for a week pretty soon, but T isn’t joining.  Spending a week at home is not something I typically do in the summer.  It is possible this year because we didn’t take any other vacations and my current job has a more human vacation policy (> 3 weeks) than my LA job (which had 2 weeks for the first 5 years, then 2 weeks + 2 days for the next 10 years.  Or something terrible like that.)

My job last year had fairly flexible vacation (it was all about total billable hours in the year), but since I was new I didn’t take advantage of it.  So, we basically went on no vacations last year, aside from some long weekends here and there.  This means I haven’t been on a big international vacation since just as we moved at the end of 2013 – but to be honest, I’m kind of OK with that for now.  I still enjoy travel, but I’m not as obsessed with it as I was when I was younger.

But I might add a side trip onto my fall work trip.  T can’t join, so it is less tempting…

Job:  I really like my job, still.  I was just telling my husband how there is no one at my new job that drives me crazy, and how pleasant that is.  Even more, there are several of the people who are really impressive to me… and I am the first to admit that I’m not easily impressed and have little patience for self-promotion and BS.  On the negative side, the culture is much more laid-back than I’m used to, and roles & responsibilities are quite fluid.  I’m trying to adapt, but it does make me anxious – am I doing everything I need to be doing?  Am I butting in where I don’t need to?  It makes me nervous.

Puppy:  He’s growing up, and finally much easier to handle!  He still needs lots of exercise and attention, but that is as expected.  We no longer have to keep our eyes glued to him 100% of the time to make sure he doesn’t eat/chew things he’s not supposed to and he has started greeting me in bed in the morning without trying to leap up into the covers with me.  His monthly costs have dwindled to food/toys, although we might do another training class this fall now that he is older.

What do you know about your joint finances?

July 15, 2015

Mrs. POP posted a link to a study by fidileity that found that “more than four in 10 (43%) failed to correctly identify how much their partner makes—and of that, 10% got it wrong by $25,000 or more. There were other important disconnects between couples including: 36% of couples disagreed on the amount of the household’s investible assets.  When asked how much they will need to save to maintain their current lifestyle in retirement, nearly half (48%) have “no idea”—and 47% are in disagreement about the amount needed.”

Personally, I’m surprised that so many couples (64%) agreed on the amount of investible assets.  Were they allowed to check their accounts before answering?  I always thought T & I communicate well about money.  However, we are not counting down to retirement, so these numbers aren’t what we communicate about most often.  We could answer how much we are saving this year for retirement/investments, but knowing how much we need to have saved in ~20 years is more nebulous.

For fun, I gave us Fidelity’s survey to see how we would do.

How much will SP make this year (gross)?
T:  $X
S:  $X
Yay!  We both know this because I recently negotiated it, its a round number, and bonuses aren’t part of my compensation anymore (predictable!).

How much will T make this year (gross)?
S:  Y minus $3k?
T:  “I don’t know, $Y?”
Correct answer:  Somewhere around Y is correct, but I can’t tell you without doing more calculations than I feel like doing right now.  We’re within $5k.  He gets these small raises at odd points in the year that I find mysterious, but they are surely predictable.

How much do we have in investible assets?  This should include retirement, investment accounts and cash, but definitely not home equity.
My answer:  About X.
His answer:  About X + $100k
Correct Answer:  About X + $40k.    I was surprised I was off by so much, but I tend to look at net worth rather than investible assets.

How much we will need to save to maintain our current lifestyle in retirement?
My answer:  “This is a dumb question, because there are way too many assumptions that go into this.”
His answer:  “Yeah”
Correct answer:  I’m right that it isn’t a good question when framed so vaguely.  Still,  we get to define our own parameters and assumptions, and we should have a rough answer.  Unfortunately, I don’t.  The calculation I tried in December assumed a few things incorrectly, and I want to live in our home for a year before trying to estimate this.   I know we are saving enough and neither of us has a goal to retire early (at least not extremely early).  I will revisit this calculation at the end of the year based on this year’s spending.

T is also right, because he agreed with me.  :)

What do you estimate your Social Security payout in retirement will be?
My answer:  “Whatever the max payout is at the time, unless they make it need-based, but it is not factored into our retirement plans for now.”
His answer:  “No idea, probably not a lot.”
Correct answer:  I think we are both right.

A few links and thoughts

July 11, 2015

This gif that illustrates housing prices by county shows how property values are concentrated in the USA.  It would be interesting see how this looks if divided by the population density….

I pay my credit cards monthly on payday out of convenience.  I like to get the money out of my account since it is spoken for. I don’t worry about taking advantage of the float.  I don’t reconcile charges monthly, but do eventually look through them and found a double charge from Amazon recently.  This is the first time I’ve ever noted an error!  (I was refunded.)  I used to look at spending monthly, but I haven’t had the interest to look at that level of detail lately.

I posted my own DIY success last week, but I definitely agree that DIY can be overrated. We’ve had a lot of success with small projects, but I have to admit that my husband is a lot more adept than I am (so far?).  We’ve also hired several big projects.  It is possible to do your own drainage work, and probably not even that technically complex – but it is a LOT of labor, especially if you don’t have the right tools.  I mean, step one is to dig a giant ditch.  No thanks.  However, I don’t believe in the “don’t do it unless you know what you’re doing” philosophy, because most of us don’t know how to do much before we take the time to learn.  Research the project, estimate how much cash it will cost you to try it yourself, and make a judgement call on whether you are likely to get the results you want.  You can learn a lot from the internet these days (or from friends/family).

Ask A Manager is always interesting, but I found the comments on this post about who “covers” while someone is on vacation when you don’t have direct reports really interesting.  A lot of people are expected to clear their plate as much as possible, then check in on anything critical themselves.  The norm for my LA job was typically that I would clear my plate, and most things could wait.  My out-of-office would direct people to my manager if they needed immediate help.  (I had some roles where there was no remote access, so this helped.)  It is similar at my job, but I’ve yet to see anyone use out-of-office responses.  The norm is to make sure concerned parties know you’ll be out, and things can generally wait until you are back. People on the project will already know who to ask if they don’t get a quick response, and we don’t generally deal with external people that have urgent needs.

Related bad manager rant:  My last manager went on a 2+ week vacation to Europe and clearly didn’t trust me to handle the things he delegated to me.  He had me set up 2 or 3 times weekly meetings early-morning my time, evenings his time.  Before the first one, I sent a detailed summary of the past few days and we walked through that.  I did the same thing before the second call, but he never showed up. Nor did he cancel.  Nor did I hear from him until he returned!  I totally get checking out while on vacation – but be realistic and don’t make me schedule meetings that you aren’t committed to making.  I kept sending summaries, but by the time he got back they were mostly old news as I had to move forward either way.

Who covers your work when you are out?  What is your favorite bad manager rant?  Do you have any DIY success stories?

DIY Success Story: UV Film on Windows

July 8, 2015

Why we chose it:

We loved the light and open look of the living room with naked windows.  The way the house is set meant we didn’t need window coverings for privacy reasons.  However, we did care about keeping the sun off the wood floors and furniture.. and us, I guess.

We debated what we should do to solve this.  The options for window treatments for the two big slider glass doors on either side of the room were either things I didn’t particularly like and very expensive.  Rugs were a partial solution for the hardest hit areas, but there would still be furniture to worry about.

We decided on UV film to keep the harmful rays off our stuff but maintain the open feel.  Our goal wasn’t so much to keep the place cool in the summers but I did notice this helped a bit.  (So, if you count on sunlight to keep it warm in the winter, not a good option.)  Note that adding window film may violate any warranties for windows, so this isn’t a good option if you are worried about that.  Our windows in this room are old, maybe original to the house, so I’m pretty sure that ship has sailed.  You can also get new windows that already block out some UV rays, but I’m sure they are expensive.

DIY Install:

To be honest, I would have never done this project on my own, even with a similarly competent helper.  I’m not meticulous enough.  I’m not patient enough. But, I’m also kind of cheap, so… I’m glad that my husband is more meticulous and patient than I am.

The first step was to clean the window really well using windex and razor blade scrapers.  Any smudge not cleaned off will be there for the rest of eternity.  Then, we wet the window with baby shampoo / water mixture (with towels on the ground below to catch drips).  Then, very carefully, we unrolled a piece of film from the giant roll.  One set of windows is about 8′ high, so I would stand on a chair with my arms above my head holding the top of the film as we pulled it off the roll.  T sprayed the film with the same solution, front and back, to help keep it from sticking to itself as we worked – it is very clingy film.  He stuck a piece of scotch tape went in each corner to peel back the protective backing and reveal the sticky side of the film.  As the backing was pulled off, he sprayed even more as I whined that my arms might fall off any second now. (Obviously, don’t drop the sheet.)  Finally,  very carefully, we moved the film near the window and touched the center to the window.  The film grabbed the window from the center,  and sort of flowed out to the edge.  Finally, T squeegeed out all the excess water, working from the middle.  If you screw up the squeegee stop, you’ll end up with creases and have to start over (or live with crappy looking film).

The first window pane we did had 2 failures before we had a success.  This made me nervous, because we didn’t have enough excess film for a 33% yield.  Luckily, we had minimal failures after that, and we have plenty of film left over.


We got a 48″ x 100′ roll. since we needed the 48″ dimension for some of the windows and we paid about $220 for more than we could use.  We didn’t want one that filtered out light, but we wanted UV blocking.  We settled on this one by Gila.   There was maybe another $20 or so in squeegees and other supplies – not much additional cost, really.


We completed a large 3-pane floor to ceiling sliding glass door,  and a smaller 2-pane door, as well as two other normal windows.  We might do our bedroom slider later, and just did a kitchen door last weekend.  We wouldn’t have done it if we didn’t have the film on hand, but we wanted to reduce the heat hitting our wine fridge.

It looks really good, if I don’t say so myself.  I don’t think it could have looked better professionally installed.  It does distort the view a little bit, and it is definitely a bit reflective at night.  This would bother some people, but it doesn’t bother me.  (The puppy, however, isn’t a big fan of that other dog that shows up but won’t come play.)


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