2009-02-24

Team!

I find it interesting how people like to leave large, established companies for startups. It used to not make sense to me at all, back in the early 2000s when just having a job in this industry was gift. These days, it looks like if you're good enough, you can work for a company of basically any size/complexity. Assuming it's run in a way you're happy with, of course.

I've worked for a teeny weeny company on the breadline, as well as medium-sized companies that grew into large ones. I've worked for a large established megacorp (for an internship, anyway). Some suit, some don't. It depends on the person, where their career is at, where real-life is at (i.e. working in a swallow-your-life startup when you're thinking about having kids might not be the best of ideas, etc).

I'm going to give my impression of various sizes of company, and what I personally thought of them. Opinions may be incongruent, because I recently discovered that I've been doing this crack for 10 years now. That's a large number to be able to plug into recruitment websites, innit? (although apparently in my current position, I've outgrown the lowly recruitment website in favour of handing a couple hundred quid over to an executive placement agency so they can shove wine, cheese and my CV under people's noses).

Small Companies

Small tiny companies (in my experience, your mileage may vary) suffer from a lot of problems that are endemic to small companies that have an OMG EXCITING PRODUCT. These include the most egregious and common examples I've spotted, like...

"Company Focus"

A lot of small companies are far too focussed. You spend all your time doing one thing, working on one goal. On one hand, that's good for building a team, but it's at the expense of the individual. In the startup I worked for, people were making sacrifices for the good of the company. Fuck that. You work in exchange for the experience of it, the skills you might learn, and also money. There are enough startups out there that if it starts taking food off your table because they make it feel like you owe them, then leave. The people who have the personality to run a startup have the personality to sell anything to anyone, including the people who work for them. When I handed in my notice at that job, the CEO called me a traitor. Nice.

The Cult of Personality

This follows over into medium-sized companies (in fact, it often applies to employees of small companies that exist long enough to grow organically).
The basic premise is that if a company is small enough, one person can wreck it. This can take a number of forms -- The Unquestionable Engineering Curmudgeon, the VPs Mate, the dude who takes credit for other people's work. You'd thnk that with fewer employees, they'd be under more scrutiny. The opposite is the case, actually. With fewer employees comes the perception that you can't let people go because you can't do without them. Again, Fuck That. It only takes one person to make a startup a shitty place to work, and it's really, really hard to get rid of them. It's especially hard if the company grows and they become a permanent fixture.

The Bottom Line


Startups run close to the wire, a lot of the time (I'm discounting startups that have no revenue stream on the horizon apart from VC funding, because seriously get out now), and all too often, in the interests of "honesty" and "openness" every employee from the CFO to the receptionist is hearing the gory details of the company's (usually shitty) finances. Fuck That. Go make money, and make sure the company can grow, and make sure the people who need to stay informed stay informed. All you're doing when you tell people you're hoping to hear from your VC that the wire transfer for this month's salaries is coming any day now is worrying people. These people should be worried about the next thing on their product roadmap, or how they can do their jobs properly. If you're worried about who's getting paid this month, then maybe you grew too fast or run a shitty business.

There have been books written on this subject of course, but this is my own experience. Small companies are okay, but they kickstart a career, rather than building one (here's a litmus test : If you work for a small company, go ask your boss what your 5-year career plan is).

I guess this may become a series of posts (since this one was sitting here so long I felt bad about having Yet Another Abandoned Blog).

2009-02-10

Pies are not a Hobby


It's been roughly a year since I started measuring how much I weigh, BMI, and so forth. I'm realising this because I needed to go get a new diary for writing stuff down. There are iPhone apps out there, but most are rubbish. Anyway, this day last year, I weighed 122.8 kg (BMI 37), this morning I weighed 105kg (BMI 33).

That's good, but not amazing, and is mostly down to how egregiousy shite my overal level of activity used to be. People have asked what I did, though, so here's a rough breakdown of stuff I've tried, what has or hasn't worked, etc.

Wii Fit

Step one, and something it was easy to get into, was Wii Fit. I was dubious of its non-gimmickry, but It helped me drop about 5kg in the pace of 4-6 weeks, which was quite good, but was probably mostly water. I think it mostly got me into measuring often, and tracking, which is key.

Exercise (Duh)


I'm fortunate enough to have a Gym I can use in work, which was good. Even if I manage to get 30 minutes in 3 times a week or so, it does make a difference. Muscle definition improved, overall shape changed, it was decent.

Do Not Put Down The Fork

The basic idea of weight loss through eating is that if you eat less, you're taking in fewer calories than you use up, and you lose that weight. That's true, in essence, but there's a level below which you aren't getting enough in, and your body goes a bit nuts and starts burning muscle and retaining water and fat. So starving yourself is actually worse than eating too much, in a way. I was lucky enough to have an instructor in the gym who actually did body composition analysis and recommended a calorific intake that was considerably more than I had thought (If I sit in a chair all day, I need 2700 calories, which is higher than average). Everyone's metabolism is different, so the RDA on most products might be assuming an RDA that's radically different from your own.

Read The Shit on Wrappers

Food wrapers are required by law to have nutritional information. Your average meal is 500-800 calories. A creme egg is 450 calories. That helps to motivate you if you're deciding to have a creme egg, really. Also, food packaging is allowed to contain a load of buzzwords ("organic", "all-natural", "low fat") that essentially mean nothing. Case in point, "whole grain" bread is the best, since it preserves the wheat germ, and is broken down and rendered less good-for-you by milling. So, "whole wheat", "wheat grain" and other permutations are less good for you, and can contain basically anything. So, don't agonise over wrappers, and don't agonise over calories. It's about what you're eating, not how much.

Measure Often

Some people recommend only weighing once a week, since overweighing might discourage or misinform. I went the other way, though. I measured weight, BMI, Fat Percentage, water percentage every morning, and just weight at night. A couple of things that I found out were that I lose 800g-1000g just by sleeping, and I can increase this amount by lowering the temperature in the room. It's possibly my body has to work harder to stay warm or something, but the temperature in the room did have an effect. I also found hat it was a good motivator. Having a large meal or eating too late would show up, and might take a few days to come off again. Only weighing weekly wouldn't give you that feedback. I got a scales that does BMI and other stuff via a small electrical current off ebay for about 20 quid, well worth it.

Chemical Help


I tried a couple of products, which I have varying levels of confidence in. Some were recommended by the gym, some from other sources.

First I tried was Promax, which is basically a meal replacement shake. Exercise basically causes muscle damage, and taking this after exercise is supposed to promote lean muscle growth, rather than your body going "omg something happened, pile on fat". It appeared to work a bit. I'd certainly done a comparable amount of exercise before, but this time I actually saw leg and arm muscle definition improve dramatically.

I also tried CLA1000, which didn't make a discernable difference. In layman's terms, it's supposed to help concentrate fatty deposits in places it's easy to burn them from. So, rather than body fat being stuck away in muscles and such, it encourages it to develop elsewhere. I didn't have a control period or see any discernible difference, so went off this after a month or so.

Last up was Thermobol, which is basically a metabolic enhancer. It's not all that complex, it's just a bunch of caffeine, taurine, hot peppers, orange peel, and other stuff that goes into your belly in convenient pill form, and makes your body go "Madre De Dios!" and increase burn rate. I went off it because it's probably not a good idea to be doing that for ages, but it did make a pretty noticeable difference. I don't drink coffee or have a significant other source of caffeine, so it also helped with the awake.

I'm pretty dubious of the chemical help in losing weight. I'm not going to be taking this stuff forever, so it's better that a weight management regime involves a lifestyle change that's not disruptive at all.

Losing weight and keeping it off needs to not be a pain in the hole, because if it is you'll get tired of it and put the weight back on. Right now I can remain constant with the lifestyle I'm at, and the main thing is I'm an awful lot fitter. I can tear up a couple of flights of stairs without being out of breath, and the Airsoft stuff I've been up to has gotten an awful lot easier. Also, I now have a big box of clothes at home that are too big for me, which is not a complaint I remember having before.

At the end of the day, I did this for me. It's good to be slightly more irresistible then I used to be, but it's also good to do stuff like increase my lifetime, overall level of fitness, ability to escape from predators, and so forth. I guess I'll check back in next year.

2009-02-06

Obvious Somnambulistic Play on Words

I spent a long weekend, amusingly going to the wrong office and visiting June, who appears to have settled in nicely and says hello, I'm sure.

I'm not sure what to make of Seattle, it's a crazy maze of freeways and on/offramps, and its planning appears to have been done by someone who's hacked SimCity to introduce a "whatever the fuck" zoning tile. In the short walk we took with Alex, I saw everything along one street from a big block of condos, to a smart new two-storey house, to a shack.

I don't think I was around long enough to get an idea of its 'Personality' as a city, but it appeared fierce and businesslike. The Boeing plant is a huge presence in it, and as we passed by a small airport there, I doubletaked at seeing a Ryanair plane in full livery being kitted out on tarmac.

I also had the chance to try out Virgin America, which has such wonders as inflight entertainment on short-haul (the flight was about 2 hours from SFO), food ordering from your seatback (they don't do cash, you just swipe your card) and checkin proceures and staff that don't make me want to eat my own face. Highly recommended.

I don't know what it was about this trip to the Bay Area in particular, but it almost felt like a sort of homecoming. I'm not thinking seriously of moving here or anything, but I'm a lot more comfortable about being here, driving, living, where to get stuff. According to my passport, I've been here 15 times, which would mean I've been here for a total of just over eight months in the last five years. It's the cheesy 'home away from home' thing going on, I think.

Tomorrow, of course, I get to do my least favourite commute ever. The possiblity that Dublin Airport might be closed when I get there makes it especially delightful.