Monday, July 11, 2011

Conversation highlights with a fellow computer scientist

My buddy is in town from California and we spent some time out last night. It's always a good time when he visits because it's an absolute nerd chat for hours. We are both computer science graduates from Kent State. Afterwards, he went on to bigger things, doing his masters at Carnegie Mellon in HCI, going to work for VMWare, and now Google. All while I remain local to Cleveland.

We chatted for awhile last night and it's always interesting to hear his point of view from Silicon Valley against mine here in Cleveland. He is also a designer, where I mostly write code. He's worked on products, I've been in consulting and at a bank. These are some highlights of our conversation:

Engineers

I guess in Silicon valley, developers are engineers. My buddy kept saying "engineers" and I didn't understand. I remember hearing that the engineer title is somewhat formal, meaning you've achieved the title through specific training or certification. My buddy was surprised and asked how I refer to myself. I said I "make shit work". Some links about being an "engineer":
What's up with the hair?

"What's up with the hair? You kind of look like an engineer.", he says. Yeah my hair is a bit out of control, but it's not so I can look like a crazy developer. But if that's what people assume, even better for me I guess. The stranger you look, the better code you write I:
Google UI Changes

My buddy is on his way to Google from VMWare and will be doing interaction / design work. I asked him how he felt about the recent Google changes, he turned it back on me saying, "you are the user, how do you feel about it?". Here is what I said:
  • I haven't used it too much, so I don't want to hate on it too bad but...
  • Everything is very soft 
  • Page elements are not pronounced meaning I have trouble seeing where something starts and stops
  • The search box takes up too much of the page, there is too much space around the element, everything else is pushed down and right
  • Page elements like the search take up too much page space
Consulting verses product work

We chatted a bit about me doing consulting work and why I do it and why I like it. As we spoke, I realized my perspective was very different than his, basically given the types of work we do. I explained that I couldn't see myself doing internal company work, I like the web and the front lines. I also explained that in many cases, the talent I see at the companies I consult for is less impressive and I wouldn't want to work in an environment where talent and innovation is sparse. He made me realize that the very reason I am consulting for a company is why I wouldn't want to work in such a place, and not to let that skew my outlook on doing internal company work.

We also talked about work break down. The last few years of my like in consulting has been all about tickets, tickets and tickets. Unless I have a prioritized ticket, with proper details and schedule, I don't work on anything. Even exploratory, innovation and design need tickets. When I log time, I do it per ticket, per project. He's never had to do this.

How's the Cleveland market? 

Having left Cleveland, my buddy wanted to hear, and usually asks, how things look in Cleveland for technology people. In Silicon valley, it's easy, there are jobs everywhere, big companies to start ups are hiring. He always said he can walk across the street and find a new job if needed.

It's not so simple in Cleveland as walking across the street, but I think there is plenty of work here and everywhere. People and companies are always going to need work done. So I think its good for consulting, or service oriented jobs. For a HCI / designer / usability guy who purely wants to do that work, I think it is very difficult here in Cleveland (although I have no data). I would guess there are maybe 5 total places that might take this role as serious as Silicon Valley companies. It's globally understood as vitally important to any technical deliverable, but more excusable when budget it tight.

He knows this I think, but always likes to ask because he likely will never move back to Cleveland, and likes to hear how I maintain.

What's next?

My buddy is going to Google, I recently changed jobs, what's next we both asked each other? We both talked about having our own companies, or keep working for something smaller. Getting involved in something from the beginner, etc.

For me, like I said about the Cleveland market, people need work done. Any company I would start on my own would be a simple services company with some specialization if needed. Unless I have some blow out idea or can think of how to compete in a hot space, then I might change my approach.

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