DaedTech

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DaedTech Digest: How Did You Start with Slow Travel?

Happy Friday, everyone.  And time for yet another DaedTech digest.  Last week, I talked about what it’s like to settle into a home as a slow traveler.  This week, on the other hand, I’m going slightly more existential.  At least, from my personal perspective.

I’m going to talk about what gave me this idea and how it got started.  People ask me about this with some frequency.

What Put the Idea of Slow Travel into My Head?

If you exist anywhere near the union of slow travelers, entrepreneurs, freelancers, and lifestyle designers, this is going to sound incredibly trite.  Nevertheless, it’s what happened.  I got the idea from the Four Hour Work Week.  For those of you not among the set of people I’m talking about, this is trite because it’s so expected.

This book covers a lot of ground, but the salient part here is that it asks why you can’t secure some kind of remote work arrangement and then just travel for months or years at a time.  At the time I heard it (audio book), I was in the middle of some years of non-stop commuter travel as a consultant.  I was listening on flights, in rental cars, and sprawled out on hotel room beds.

And I started thinking, “hey, yeah, I could do that!”

I mean, I was already traveling all the time.  It had been over a year since I’d spent more than 4 consecutive days at home, so it wasn’t exactly a reach to be on the road.  And, it occurred to me that it didn’t really matter where my flights originated.

How Did You First Pull It Off?

The biggest barrier, at the outset, was my wife’s job.  I presented this idea to her in the summer of 2015, saying that, if she could figure out how to work remotely, we could both travel and work from anywhere we wanted (with me doing some commuter travel).

By mid-fall of that year, the idea had firmly taken root.  She quit her job, boomeranged her erstwhile employer as her initial freelance client, and became a freelance editor, working remotely.  And, just like that, it didn’t matter where we were.

A few months later, in January, a brutal chill hit the midwest, and we’d had enough.  We opened AirBNB, started meandering around the southern parts of the country, where it was warm, and then just kinda picked a place.  The location?  Covington, Louisiana, a sorta-suburb of New Orleans (it’s across Lake Pontchartrain).

We bundled up, packed up a U-haul, and headed south for 3 months.  And we’ve never looked back.

These days, I don’t do commuter travel anymore.  And these days, when we hit the road, we pack a lot lighter and are generally a lot more efficient at this whole game.  But heading out with that U-haul in tow on our first foray is an incredibly liberating and important memory for us.  And we wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Picks

  • We’ve set up a 401K for Hit Subscribe through a company called Guideline.  I haven’t done anything with it just yet, but the onboarding was really simple and painless.  Definitely worth a look for small businesses.
  • I’ll throw Marriott a pick.  It’s been a while since I’ve booked hotels, but I had occasion to do so yesterday.  Since my last visit, they’ve made some definite UX improvements to the logged-in experience.
  • I’ve spent a lot of time at our fire pit this week, since the weather cooled off a bit.  And we have these awesome Adirondack chairs, which we’ve had for several years.  They’re the right combination of durable and comfortable for just this type of use.

The Digest

And, as always, please have yourselves a great weekend.  It’s a holiday in the US, so enjoy 50% more weekend on the house.

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Transmuting Low-Value Programmer Cred into High-Value Status Illegibility

Not long ago, I wrote a post about that one, “top” software engineer role that companies don’t hire directly into.  I’m going to pick up where I left off there.

For a quick recap, recall the diagram I made (and my wife kindly GIF-ified for me).  In red, you have the positions that a company will hire into, and in white, you have that one position that they won’t.  It’s usually “Principal Engineer” or something like that.

A Recap of The Surface Narrative and the Real Motivation for This

In the last post, I talked about the surface explanation for this, accepted by idealists and pragmatists.

This role represents the most valuable software developers in the group to the company.  These developers combine technical skill with a certain je ne sais quoi that combines experience, domain knowledge, inside company baseball, and embodying the company’s values and training.

But I also talked about how that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.  I talked about how if you picked the brains of leadership, you’d probably hear something like this.  (Assuming you also gave them truth serum.)

It seems like a win for everyone.  It rewards people for staying, makes us seem more prestigious, and it’s a non-monetary reward.  They love it, and it doesn’t cost the company anything to do.

Significantly, that top role that requires hanging around the company for years, serves a very pragmatic purpose.  It creates a position whose salary can creep up, unbounded, without dragging up the salary for the rest of the group.

In other words, create a bucket, put your lifers in that bucket, and give them 2% increases a year forever.  Without that bucket, you’d either (1) have to stop giving them increases or (2) potentially have to pay new hires a lot more.

So you create this policy to keep labor costs down.  And then you stand aside while the pragmatists and idealists manufacture and believe a merit-driven narrative.  Easy-peasy.

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DaedTech Digest: How Does Settling into a Home Go for Slow Travelers?

Well, I sure didn’t do any blog posts last week, digests or otherwise.  We were hosting some family and, frankly, my life has been pretty busy.  So I’m picking back up from two weeks ago, when I answered the question of whether we’re currently vagabonding, or what.

Today, I’ll answer a question that someone recently asked me in passing while we made small talk.  It’s a subject that I hadn’t really considered, but probably makes sense to talk about.

When You’re Slow Traveling, How Do Furniture and Settling into a New Place Work?

When most people move, it’s probably for a period of a at least a year, given standard leasing practices.  On average, it’s probably a lot longer than that.  So you pack up all of your stuff, emptying out the previous domicile.  And then you take all of that stuff and put it into your new place, which someone else emptied prior to your arrival.

So how does it work for slow travelers?  And how much stuff do we bring with?

Well, as I’ve mentioned previously on this blog, we really don’t bring much stuff with us.  For me, it’s my computers, some clothes, and some odds and ends, like Alexa devices.  Oh, and our cats.  So, to start with, we’re not taking much with us.

Every place we book (through AirBNB or VRBO) is fully furnished, which makes sense, since we aren’t bringing much.  But the place being fully furnished doesn’t mean that it’s perfectly suited for us.

Therefore, when we arrive, the first thing we do is take pictures of all furniture, rugs, decorations, etc.  We want to record how the place was when we came.  Then, since we’re going to be staying for weeks or months, we’ll move things around to our taste, to put them back only upon departure.

The only other thing worth mentioning here is that sometimes we’ll buy stuff on the spot.  A lot of places don’t have a desk adequate for my purposes, so I’ll go buy a foldable table at Walmart.  So to really make it home-away-from-home, we often have a budget of a few hundred bucks per place.

But that’s really all there is to it.

Photos like this aren’t the most fun, but they do show us where everything started:

Picks

The Digest

And, as always, have yourselves a great weekend.

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The Curious Case of Not Hiring Directly into Software Engineer V (Or Whatever)

“What about the principal consultant role?”

“Oh, we don’t hire into that position.”

This exchange occurred over 6 years ago.  At the time, I was interviewing for a role with a consulting agency (or something calling itself that, anyway).  They had four salary bands for their developer/consultants, and shooting for the top wasn’t out of bounds with my experience level.  So I asked.  And then they told me about this policy by way of dismissing the question.

I’m not exactly sure why this instance stands out so much in my mind.  Perhaps because it occurred so explicitly.  But when I think about it, I think every salaried gig I ever had featured some kind of unique role like this at the top of the individual contributor set of software people.  In other words, at every job I ever had, there was always exactly one titular band — Senior Software Engineer II or Principal Developer or whatever — reserved only for the company’s dues-payers.

Not having been a wage worker for a long time, I hadn’t thought about this for years.  But I heard someone mention a corporate policy like this in passing the other day, and it got me thinking.

I dunno.  Call it nostalgia or whatever, but given my recent opting for whimsy with the blog, I figured I’d riff on this.

The Curious Case of “We Don’t Hire for X”

Stop for a moment, at this point, and think about how deeply weird this little corporate quirk is.  I mean, you’re probably used to it, so it might be a little hard to do this mental exercise.  Like the job interview, fundamentally nonsensical practices can create a sort of Stockholm Syndrome in corporate denizens.

So let’s blast away the cobwebs with a helpful graphic.  Below is the skeleton of what some org chart might look like.  As the GIF flashes, you’ll see color coordination.  In red, you have the positions that the company will staff from the outside.  Remaining clear, you’ll see all of the positions that the company has a policy to staff only via promotion.

Interesting, eh?  Trickling down from CEO to C-suite to VPs to directors to managers, you have positions that a company will staff from outside, if need be.  Sure, sometimes they may want to promote from within, and often they’ll do exactly that.  But companies will bring in outsiders for leadership roles.

They’ll also typically look for outsiders to fill any of the roles at the individual contributor level, from Software Engineer I through Software Engineer XVI, or whatever, depending on the richness and thickness of the HR matrix.

But then you’ve got that one… it’s always an impressive sounding title, and it’s always where individual contributors go to max out, collecting COLAs and generally demurring against nudges to management.

Strange, huh?

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DaedTech Digest: So Are You, Like, Vagabonding Right Now

Hello all, and happy Friday.  As always on a Friday, it’s time for a DaedTech digest.

Last week, I answered a question lots of people ask me: how do you go for months with almost none of your stuff?   This week, though, I’ll answer a simpler question.

So, You’re in Michigan…. Do You Like, Live There, or, Is that Another Place You Travel, or, What?

In the open kimono spirit of these posts, let me talk a little bit about our living arrangements, pre-vagabonding.  In 2007, I bought a townhouse in the Chicago suburbs, which immediately proceeded to become almost worthless.  At the time of purchase, I intended to live there for maybe 3-4 years, but due to the vagaries of the real estate market, we still own that place.

While waiting for it to come back, we bought a lake house in Michigan in 2013.  We reasoned that 2013 was a great time to be a buyer and a bad time to be a seller so we, well, bought.  It was actually around this same time that I left the wage world and become a management consulting doing 100% travel.  So I stopped living in Illinois or, really, much of anywhere permanent.

My wife and I love the lake house and bought it with the intent to own it forever.  The Illinois townhouse is a thing we would prefer to sell (and have on the market, currently).  In that spirit, about a year ago, we actually changed residence and mostly vacated our possessions from Illinois.  So, in the end, we view ourselves as having a lake house and no primary residence.

And we like to spend summers at the lake house.

So, to answer the question, “are we vagabonding or do we live here or what,” it’s kind of complicated.  We’re choosing to reside somewhere because it’s fun, and it just so happens that we own the place.  But we don’t really look at it as a primary residence.

Clear as mud?  If you know us well, you now understand why it’s hard to explain our summer arrangement.  But you’d also know that this is why we love the place:

Picks

  • I’ve got to do it again this week.  Come write for us at Hit Subscribe.  We’ve just signed a bunch of new clients, including some that I’ll make public soon that are .NET TDD fan favorites.  So, if you want to write for some awesome dev tools companies, fill out the form.  No blogging experience necessary — we’ll teach you.
  • Speaking of Hit Subscribe, we’ve got a Facebook page, on which we’re kind of video-recording our vagabonding and Hit Subscribe-ing adventures.
  • I’ve got a new tax prep/consulting firm, and they’re great.  They’re based in Michigan, but can help you anywhere in the US, as evidenced by them helping me with tax obligations in Illinois and Michigan in 2017.  Franskoviak Tax Solutions, they’re called, and they can help with tax prep for individuals and businesses as well as offering tax planning and consulting services.
  • I’ve honestly been buried in work this week, doing 16 hour days.  So anything that I’ve enjoyed is a bit of a blur up until right this moment, when I’m relaxing with this tasty Lagunitas beer.

The Digest

And, as always, have a good weekend.