POSTS

So, I'm Not Working

I thought it would be worth recording that for the first time since 2000 I’m taking some time off from working — well, not working for a paycheck, anyway. I’m taking some time to deplete my life’s savings at the half-way point of my life. I’m put to recall Dante:

Virgil and Dante enter the Inferno

Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost.

– Canto I, “Inferno”

Over the last few years I have had a whole host of technical projects, books, movies, and home projects mount up. On top of that I’ve also had a wedding to plan and have just concluded a home redecoration project. My workaholic nature and my and Lauren’s peripatetic tendencies have often lead to several holidays or vacations including moving or relocation. I’m taking a moment to pay down some personal-life debt.

In part, due to the ruthless cost and pace of living in the Bay Area / NYC, I never felt like I could pause and take a breath. But, for once, I have some savings and a severance that, put together, are going to give me some time.

End of Work at Devbootcamp

What occasioned this hiatus was the announcement of my employer, Devbootcamp, that it would close down permanently in December. Curriculum is inherently future-looking: “What can we improve next round? etc.” When the future became bounded and the operational focus shifted to delivery stability over curriculum adaptation, I decided to conclude work as Director of Curriculum. I left August 18th.

There’s already been a lot of ink spilled over the concepts of bootcamp-style education and whether it ever had a chance. There’s been some chauvinism on behalf of the Computer Science degree holders (some “I told you so, they weren’t like us.“) and some sighs of relief from The University system (some “I told you so, they couldn’t replace us.“). Many of the salient opinions are captured in this Hacker News thread comment thread.

To be honest, that was the part I was most dreading as the internal-only communication moved to external: the uninformed, speculative think-pieces. I feel like I have a take that I want to give on this, but I’m not sure that my personal blog is the right location. Maybe a self-published book or a new Medium blog is the right, uh, medium.

Anyway, I don’t believe bootcamp-style learning is over. I think the right product-market fit has yet to be discovered now that the market has accepted that bootcamp-style education exists and can produce results. Someone’s going to win that space because Americans need to accept that “education” is no longer something you do until 18 or 22 or 25 but something we have to continuously do in the globalized world.

Aside: Also location counts, that’s another reality Americans should start waking up to that is accepted in most parts of the world. Go to where the opportunities are. Horace Greely wasn’t crowing about some new discovery.

I’d also like to tell the story but make proper recognition of the extraordinarily talented and risk-embracing students I met. Not all were going to change their lives with the bootcamp experience, but some were and did and I am humbled for having been part of those kinds of journeys.

And what of the company? What of the business itself? It was a business like most major endeavors: full of successes, challenges, missed opportunities, leadership, models, and spreadsheets. There are some insights I got on those matters that I’d like to share, but I suppose they’re largely too-specific or too “inside” to make much sense to be shared with the rest of the world. Regardless of the “business,” that emergent thing that comes about from people doing things, the individual people were some of the most committed and brightest I’ve ever worked with. Every teacher gave so much of themselves away — often to their personal detriment. I don’t know how to reconcile a story of wonderful people with a decision end operations though. I’m still working it out. This post is a part of that.

Preliminary Interviews

I’ve now done 6 preliminary interviews:

  • 2 for engineering manager roles in NYC
  • 3 for a director of education: one in NYC, one outside
  • 1 developer advocacy role

The education roles are largely re-dos or new approaches to the boot-camp idea in new industries / new markets. Some of them sound very interesting, but I just don’t feel ready to re-attack a space that feels so similar to what I was doing just yet. If (when?) I (were to?) do so, something I’d come in at my side is a suite of technology to make hoizontal scaling easier. At any rate, of these new schools, one of the most interesting factors for these is that they all happen over longer time-spans: one of the big pains I had at DBC was that every change had become zero-sum: to do more X, we had to do less Y. Many of these offers are expanding out their time-frame to look less like boot-camp and more like college-style time spans. This is an interesting development.

I was a bit chagrined at the director of engineering roles. It seems as though the expectation is that an engineering manager be as good at being a technical leader as being a manager and, to my mind, based on the great engineering managers I’ve had, those seem to be overlapping, but distinct, skill sets. This topic certainly merits a post on its own, but probably not today.

The advocacy role was very interesting, but someone earlier in the pipeline accepted the offers, so I don’t have many insights on the matter.

Finding My Way Home

I think that the essential abstract component behind all of these projects and time away is that I’m finding myself searching closer to home: what is the essential thing I’ve always loved doing, and where can I do it.

  • I love Unix
  • I love vi
  • I love editors
  • I love tools
  • I love green engineering paper
  • I love fountain pens
  • I love art
  • I love vinyl recordings
  • I love how late 19th century textbooks use a series of propositions as a means for cataloging the learning concepts. Thus a book of mathematics has the same structure as a book on Latin grammar
  • I love my Papermate PhD red mechanical pencil

I’m trying to figure out what those all add up to. I’m hoping to espy my future somewhere in the gaps.

Conclusion

It’s been nice to be out and about with Byron and spend more time with Lauren. I’ve been able to enjoy the end of summer here and watch the transition to Fall.