Posts tagged ‘purpose’

Refusing the Call

Thanks to SPARK I have the opportunity to get involved in Code Mountain. Now comes the difficult part of birthing a company, under very unusual circumstances.

As a SPARK team we had eight people working together. All that effort made it easier for us to put on a good show and win the competition. But for a startup with no income, all those people cause a bit of difficulty. The standard advice is to found a company with two, maybe three people. If two, you’ve got the business side (customer development) and the product side. Our team ended up being heavy on product side, so on paper we’ve got one master networker with a large stake, and everyone else splitting the rest. While I understand that some people are prepared to put in grueling hours, does that translate to a fifteen-times interest? Perhaps there is a sort of exponential price of time commitment – certainly I’ve avoided going off the high end, both because of reduced performance, and the utter blackout of everything else.

In truth I don’t know what to even ask for. The process of doing this all up front seems strangely out of place in an environment that is otherwise gung-ho agile. There are of course some provision for changes – “four year vest with one year cliff” in startup jargon, but it only addresses departures, not variance of contribution.

The other related issue (which actually came up sooner) is the CTO (Chief Technology Officer) position. This would be the entire product side in a two person startup. The investors of course want a big name that’s done it before, but we are seriously considering bootstrapping (no investment) In the world of by-the-book startups (who’s book, anyway?) the CTO is a more-than-full-time position. In the SPARK team, developers were myself, and another who has some relevant experience, but is’t available even full time.

Probably, all it would have taken for me to be that person would have been to step forward and confidently say “I’m your man”. That moment, of course, has passed. The consequences of that decision would be staggering. No more martial arts, no more condo board, no more walks in the woods, no more user groups, no more personal projects. and no more idle distractions. I’d certainly have to move downtown, at least on a trail basis, which would mean finding a place, dispositioning all my stuff, moving, and probably hiring someone to rent out my property. It would be a kind of death and resurrection – I’d be sorely tempted to throw a wake for the person I was.

I’ve lived my life mostly taking things pretty easy, sometimes enjoying moments of total effort. Since this is all I’ve known it might have been interesting to try for a little while, but this could easily become a many-years marathon. Having lived my whole life with the philosophy that it’s about more than money, it would seem a shame to just give in at the first real challenge. (Of course creating something is about more than money, but it would be a very stressful time all the same.) The fact that I don’t have the experience the advisors want doesn’t embolden me either.

Standing at the precipice with nowhere to fall.

I’ve been taking some time out for fast and reflection. I try to do this every few months, although most of time I get lost in trivialities. Into this fell a transcript of a speech by Steve Jobs

‘[...] for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?”‘

My answer isn’t very often ‘yes’.

The job I took out of college programming games has turned into a lot of other things. Much of it is IT work, where things could break at any time, often break in the same boring way twice, and you spend half your time waiting for computers. The programming projects I do work on are a smattering of subjects, which are only interesting in their technical execution. Some are actually starting to turn me off.

If we get anything related to games, it’s redemption games, aka kiddie slot machines. Simple economics require that games be short and dead simple – game length places limits on the amount of money that can be earned. Operators want known payouts, which implies that the player’s performance has little or no impact on the ticket payout. I’ve come to the opinion that this is teaching our children the wrong things. There may be equal opportunity, but results should depend on talent and effort, not on the target payout percentage.

Our company is also making a number of products for the gaming (gambling) industry. I’m am independent minded person. If people want to place their fortunes on a die (card, slot, etc) I might recommend against it, if asked, but I won’t disallow it. However, I’ve gotten uneasy with supporting it in my professional work.

I think our paths have been divergent for a while now, but staying put has been the easy way. For years there was the progression from school to school and then to the workplace, but the free change has run out, and I’m feeling somewhat stagnate. I’ve tried to reason that it was only a matter of perception. I’ve tried to reason that I should fix things instead of running away, but obvious fixes don’t present themselves. I tried cutting back to four days; inquired on three and got no response. And while I’ve got things to run away from, I don’t have anything to run towards.

There would be a certain attraction to striking out on my own, but at present I don’t have any ideas that I count to pay the bills. I’m also an anti-social lout, and don’t have any readily available co-founders, which I’ve heard is a very good idea.

There is contract work, but I’m back to building other men’s dreams, and from what I’ve heard it’s it a tough life of scraping by, especially now, when I assume a lot of the recently laid-off have similar plans.

I’ve run across the idea of journeyman. I’ve spent the entire time since college working alone or with few other programmers. I could go off to a well regarded company (and hope they are hiring instead of downsizing) to try and learn from some masters for a few years.

I could go back to school. It would be a shame to throw away a paid off house (the dangers of coming to such paths later in life) I’m not entirely sure that I would be better off going to school than I would be by dropping out of work and focusing on my attention on learning for the same time. The main reason to pursue academics seems to be a career in teaching, but I’ve little precedent that I would enjoy it.

Software is only the best sort of profession I’ve found so far. I recall enjoying the design of Harmony cards, imagining the interplay of mechanics and coming with appropriate quotes or verse for each card. But from what I’ve heard games are a terrible way to pay to bills. A similar reputation surrounds the martial arts. I seem to enjoy writing a little on occasion, but I can hardly imagine how I’d keep the lights on doing that. msphat thinks I should go to seminary, but it’s something that has never occurred to me on it’s own, nor does it seem especially attractive.

Many possibilities would involve moving. Disappointing what communities I’ve become involved in. There is a certain degree of seductive comfort in the place where I am, easy biking to work and grocery store, a paid off house that keeps my continuous expense relatively low, and simply not having to think about a lot of things that have settled in. I pine for a greater ability to work on dreams, but rocking the boat would be a huge effort in making new arrangements, packing, moving, unpacking, etc.

Whine, whine, whine. And then I come back to the ultimate judge. In the end of days, am I more likely to regret taking a chance or staying put. But which way to fall?

My Creed

A few months ago, someone asked me to write a mission statement of sorts. Since I often take some time for reflection every few months, it was a good excuse to put it off. This is what I came up with. (Like, over a week ago; I’ve been a bit preoccupied.)

To tease order from disorder. To make right what is wrong and make a visible difference in the lives of people I care about. To apply my analytical talents where they have maximum effect, addressing the root cause to resolve each situation once and forever.

The first thing will probably do is show me up as a hypocrite. It also subsumes or omits a lot of detail.

- Analytical carries the fact that programming is the most joyful and productive activity I’ve found.
- My interest in learning could be seen as part of the quest for the best solution.
- My fascination with big ideas may be explicable by viewing them as tools that can bring order to large amounts of disjoint information.
- I prefer honesty because lies create multiple conflicting versions of events and sow confusion, preventing an appreciation of the true order.
- I have an independent aspect; compulsion creates additional concerns for the person compelled, and creates a dissonance between what one wants to do (i.e., as stated above) and has to do.
- It doesn’t cover rapid feedback, and doesn’t seem as though it could be easily added.



I’ve been strangely attracted to several of the Gallup books. I started with First, Break All the Rules, which just had a really good title. Basically, they attempted to figure out what makes managers effective and employee’s satisfied by polling and surveys, which is about as scientific as you can get when studying people. One of the ideas is to focus on strengths instead of weaknesses. They make some vague references to system of strengths, but don’t go into any detail.

The next book, Now, Discover Your Strengths addressed that area. Of course beyond the list of strengths and a code for the web based survey, it is largely exposition. Anyway, the survey results (the free-with-purchase version is pretty sparse on details):

  1. Input
  2. Restorative
  3. Intellection
  4. Ideation
  5. Analytical

Which is almost suspect for being so monotonously about information. But that doesn’t really surprise me much either. Of course there are lots of theories about identifying the difference in people. I take some confidence from the survey backing, as opposed to one person’s ‘professional opinion.’ Like scientific theories, one of the main tests is explanatory power, and this does explain a few things.

When reading the book, I picked up on Responsibility and Harmony (i.e., ‘can’t we all just get along?’) as two that might explain some of my recent doings. Since the cheap versoin doesn’t show the ranking beyond the top five I don’t know where they ranked. But Restorative (likes fixing problems) explains both.

It’s not so much that I like taking on responsibility; I usually don’t offer until it’s obvious nobody else is stepping forward – the most direct way to solve the problem is to do it myself. Of course, I’m probably not the best person to do most of these things, which is a nice clarification – if I can find someone better suited to the task, I will have better solved the problem, and can get on with my life.

Harmony is a simple matter of fixing discordant social situations.

Now I’m just left with the problem that work best with ideas and logic, whereas most of the activities I’m involved in, well, don’t.

The Explorer

I got a little closer to my own nature. I spent most of the day figuring out how to enter information into our new ERP system. All and all, despite how it may sound, not an unenjoyable experience.

I’ve known for some time that I’ve been tending towards generalist – programming turned into game design turned into patterns, digital publishing, and now music. Somewhere, I started martial arts. Often after a certain depth, I start to lose interest- writing C doesn’t excite me, though some other language might be more interesting. Where I get ‘flow’ is digging into some new problem – related enough to previous experience so I have some place to stand, but still outside of that experience. I think the fascination with video games has something to do with this – each one is a brand new uncharged world to explore. To some extent I think my avoidance of mental puzzles has more to do with a recognition of time spent to no direct benefit, than real disinterest. I am the problem solver – I’ve been thinking that an ideal environment would be where I rove from project to project unsticking the othe people wherever they got stuck.

Burning Bridges?

I set two mailing list to no-mail; I’m still a member of the group, to avoid any new member stuff if I ever change my mind, but I wasn’t really all that interested in the messages these days. The victims are piecepack, which sometimes turned up some interesting game design material but generally bored me, and Everway-L. I’ve been on the Everway list for probably like five years, but I haven’t played Everway in ages, and I’ve been losing interest in role playing in general. The net result is that pretty nothing on the list interests me anymore.

Of the remaining ones that produce noticeable traffic, BoardGameDesign still has a high enough signal to noise ratio (but there is a lot of noise) and CnGAlums is starting to look noisy to me, but I’m still afraid of missing something.

When I made a list of ongoing things, there was a lot of stuff, most of it not getting done – for instance I’m desperately in need of new shoes, which has started trickling over to create sock shortage. Of course my standards have been changing such that no ordinary items will do – get me some organically grown cotton and responsibly made materials, and make sure it fits too. Should I give up? I only need to worry about shoes every couple of years – whenever time gets tight, it’s the day to day things that come under scrutiny. Should I stop using e-mail (two lists just got axed) Leave LiveJournal? (but I’d be out of touch) Quit martial arts? (But I really should get some exercise) Stop Thursday night gaming? (How can I aspire to game design if I don’t play games?) Eat fast food? (If you haven’t got your health you haven’t got anything) Then there is the biggest time sink: paid employment (I need shelter. I need food.) Perhaps I should I should set out doing my own games or programs (But there is that 800/mo mortgage payment, which makes for an awfully imminent deadline.)

No real bridges smoking yet. Still, sometimes I wonder if I should can the nice guy act and set out to change the world.