Celebrating success

Today was our annual awards ceremony for work. In the past this ceremony was held at various venues, including the Marriott hotel, in grand fashion with lots of fanfare and hoopla. Sometimes these events would span days as salespeople and administrators would come together before and after the ceremony to set goals for the future and compare milestones form the year.

But economic times being what they are it was no wonder that this year our annual awards ceremony was held at the Oakland Scottish Rite Center near Lake Merritt. Not to say that this year’s meeting was any worse than any other year, but it certainly was different.

In years past the company would put on a nice breakfast spread and have the hall set up to handle the entire company (about 650 people) all in one banquet/meeting hall. After breakfast the ceremony would start followed up by a nice lunch after which we would be allowed to leave for the day. We would also almost always be treated to some little knick knack (or swag, as it were) as we entered the building or left the building.

But this year it was different. This year there was no swag. There was no breakfast. There were donuts, and a box lunch, but not all the hoopla and craziness that usually went along with this event.

And you know what? It was nice. I could probably have done without the bus ride in and out of the event but even that was not that bad. It saved me gas and the stress of trying to find parking. And it kept me out of the headache of fighting the nasty rainy morning traffic that our poor bus driver had to endure.

So considering the times in which we live and the freefall our economy is in right now I have to say that my company did a great job putting on a kick butt ceremony. To those that planned it, well done. I enjoyed it.

Am I keeping my options open?

From time to time (almost every day, sometimes more than once a day) I get contacted either by email or by phone from recruiters that all seem to be asking the same question: Robert Gonzalez, are you keeping your employment options open? Well, rather than repeat myself I think it would be best to write it down for all to see.

In order for me to even consider a change right now a prospective employer would have to meet, at a minimum, these criteria:

  • Salary: $110K per year base, not including bonuses
  • Bonus: 10% of base, preferably quarterly
  • Full health insurance for me and my dependents
  • At least two weeks of vacation per year

NOTE: If the job is in San Francisco and it is not within a few blocks from a BART station I will be asking for more salary.

Things that would sweeten the deal:

  • Any kind of a signing bonus, but cash and Macbooks speak the loudest 😉
  • Telecommuting options

Please understand that I am putting this out here not to try to be an arrogant ass or to try to pump you for money. I ask for these things because A) I am very spoiled in my current position and it would take something this significant to lure me away; and B) the current job market will bear these criteria.

The need for seasoned PHP developers is growing daily as just about every startup is looking toward the LAMP stack for cost savings, scalability and transportability. More and more companies are looking for PHP developers (or programmers that can learn quick) to fill these roles.

Unfortunately developers in Silicon Valley have appeared to either not taken an interest in PHP as a language or have abandoned it in favor of Python or Ruby. The pool from which to scout PHP talent is ever dwindling. There are plenty of good programmers in our area (think Java, C++, C#, .net, etc) that can learn the language fast enough. But there aren’t nearly enough developers that have well rounded, solid experience with the language. I do. So I can ask for more.

That said, if you are not totally frightened but what you see here in terms of my requirements feel free to send me your requirements or those of your client. I am open to looking at just about anything. But rest assured I am not jumping ship for just anything.

Back to work (and public transportation)

Dude, I have no idea why but for some reason today was just not a day that I even wanted to get out of bed. The Zend Conference is over but I seriously had a lot to take in and wanted to spend some time going over that with my coworker today. No such luck.

Instead I was forced to come in to the office and try to manage my way through a day (yes, this reads way more dramatic that it actually was). At the end of the day the only thing I could honestly say was…

I HATE PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION.

If it wasn’t for the fact that you have to get from the train station to your place of residence/business then taking the train would be choice. But there always lies that little extra that makes the train ride suck and that little extra is the fact that I need to bum rides off of people in both directions.

Now these people are more than happy to help me out, but I hate to take advantage of my wife and coworker like that. They do have better things to do than to make sure I make my train on time. Of course being on the train means I get to get a lot more work done because it is just me and my computer for over an hour. But that is about the only benefit I find in the whole thing.

Which leads me to think that it might be time to call my sister and ask to borrow a car from her since I have literally no other outlet at all by which to handle this public transportation/no engine having/broke as a joke condition I am in.

Wish me luck. This is just one more person that I am putting out to make my life easier. God I hate being in this place. And I hate working on a Friday after a four day conference.

One of those (working on a non-workday) days

I really don’t like starting a Saturday working on work stuff at home. Especially when I am not supposed to be working on a Saturday. I don’t mind working when I am supposed to be working, but when I am supposed to be making breakfast for my family or taking care of stuff at home I get a little testy that I have to interrupt that so that I can tend to things at work.

So it went this morning, when by 8:45 I was getting called on my home phone and cell phone that there were things breaking left and right and why was this happening and what is going on? Huh?

It started with a frequent background job failing but not notifying. It then led to a series of other issues including an intranet that went down, an account management app that went down and our core site that went down. Coupled with that were all of the background jobs and middleware apps that were not transferring data as expected. Things were not working so me and a few fellow co-workers were.

The cause of the situation ended up being a few other nightly jobs running, killing something and never bringing those somethings back up. Then another job decided to reboot a server but not bring it back up properly. This in effect made all of the other servers that talk to the one that was reboot to stop talking to it. It happens. Anyone that has ever worked in an IT environment knows things like this happen.

But when handled properly it only happens the same way once. A second time means you didn’t learn from the first. Screwing up is inevitable and should be handled with grace and understanding the first time it happens. Any subsequent (and by that I mean the second time only… after that more than one person is to blame for these issues) instances of failure like this indicates an inability to learn from your own mistakes and should not, in my opinion, be handled with the same amount of grace and understanding as the first time. I know that may sound harsh, but that is the reality of living in a real-time environment in which money transacts and businesses serve.

The incident this morning was a case in point. Nothing that took place this morning should have taken place this morning. In fact, a remedy for this situation was put in place, for a different identical server, just a few days ago. So it begs the question, if an identical machine bought at the same time experienced something like this and was fixed, why would it’s twin not be fixed? You get my point.

What ended up happening is that three people, one of whom was me, ended up spending non-work time working because of an error on the part of another teammate of ours didn’t learn from the last time something like this happened. Yes, I am complaining about a teammate. We all are, or at least should be, held to the same level of accountability in everything we do as a unit. And this does not just hold true for work. It can easily be applied to sports, families, friendships and businesses.

I love my job. If I come across in a way that indicates anything otherwise please don’t hesitate to call me out on that. I actually look forward to coming into the office and taking care of business everyday with the team I work with. I appreciate their knowledge, their expertise and their experience. This is very much like my family, and more specifically my wife, whose experience and knowledge provides a wealth of protection to me and my family. My team at work provides a similar level of protection to our team at work.

That is the nature of a team environment. We protect us. We advance us. We are us. Every person on the team should take the responsibility for the success of the team and do whatever it takes to maintain a high level of accountability to the team to see to it that the team succeeds. If that is done then Saturdays can be spent as a normal Saturday and my blog post for today could have been about something entirely more pleasant than this.

How to make sure your customers will hate you forever

This morning I was faced with an extraordinary issue when I got to work. We had no network services to our domain name. And apparently I was the one that was supposed to know why this was.

After looking closely at what was happening, and realizing that emails had not been received to our mail server for a time, and that none of our web sites were running, and that users of our VPN were calling complaining that they could not connect to the network for some reason it dawned on my that it was time to check our domain name servers.

A quick look as it was pretty apparent that our name servers zones were completely missing. After a little more time trying to figure out what was happening, and at the same time trying to vindicate myself from savage disciplinary action due to a recent domain name transfer request that has gone horribly awry, I finally came to the conclusion that our domain name provider (and our bandwidth provider) must have gone out of business last night. They have been on their last leg for quite some time and their services have tanked considerably. I figured this was the last leg of their journey into the toilet of despair.

I was wrong.

After following their horrible excuse of a menu system on their call-in support system I got to their new domain name providers (they have sold off every one of their divisions to other companies so I was actually talking to another company). At the same time I decided to call the guy that has been not helping transfer our corporate domain. While on hold with the new company I actually made contact with our current guy. And I found out something interesting: our zone files in their DNS server were removed because of failure to pay a bill.

Under normal circumstances I would say that this would make perfect sense from a business standpoint. Except for a few points:

  • The amount we owed was $225. Our normal monthly bill is about $2,500.
  • The last invoice they sent us was in May. For about $2,500.
  • The last invoice was for bandwidth and domain name management services.
  • Our DNS services were terminated because of an outstanding bandwidth invoice. Bandwidth remained online.
  • They never sent a bill for the outstanding amount.
  • They never attempted to contact us for the outstanding amount.
  • They have been providers of our for more than 10 years.
  • We are their biggest account.

That said I would say their handling of this case was an epic FAIL. Worse yet, the one guy that any answers for us (one of four remaining employees with the company) had no access to their systems, billing or otherwise, and was only able to add our zone files back. He was not able to transfer calls, take payments or offer any other insight into what was happening. He couldn’t even give us the phone number of their account person so we could contact her to straighten this out.

Once my director of IT was able to actually traverse their phone support system and get in touch with the woman that handles their billing and accounting it came to light that they never did send us an invoice and that we were apparently supposed to be mind readers when it came to paying for stuff we may or may not have used.

Ultimately the situation ended with my boss receiving confirmation that he would indeed receive an invoice that he could send to the AP department here so they could pay it and get us out of hock. And after a few minutes of downtime we were back on the air.

Now I know there are lessons to learn from all of this. But I think it would have been more useful and helpful if our service providers had taken to learning those lessons before shutting down a US$100M company for a stupid $225 invoice that was, get this, only 45 days late.

Wanna keep your customers happy? Try communicating with them. It would have made all the difference in this case.

Big beefy BBQ ribs – Nom nom

Just about every my company sponsors a huge Beef VS. Pork rib cook off between two of the longer standing employees of my company. It is a beautiful rivalry that sparks the most creative of imaginations into delving into areas that most folks should not go. It gets bold, it get bloody. It gets personal. And it gets delicious.

This year the fella in my department that cooks the beef ribs ordered up 120 pounds of beef ribs. I am not sure how much the lady from the other side ordered. All I know is that when it came time to eat we ate. All of us from our corporate office plus some from the branch office next door. I even heard that there would be enough to feed those employees that are night shift. Wow. That must be a lot of food.

To put it into perspective, this image shows beef ribs that were eaten at our lunch time celebration. This was one of three full grill sets of beef ribs cooked for us.

Big beef ribs a la Royce.

There were three other backyard type grills that were in effect for the pork team as well. And both sides of the house were cooking when I got to work at 8:30. It was insane. And delicious. And very fun.

So thos that spent the best part of their day on their feet preparing, cooking, cleaning, serving and generally taking care of the rest of the spoiled lot of us, thank you. Your efforts did not go unnoticed.

A bit of irony in the PHP world

According to an article today by TechCrunch, Zend Technologies, The PHP company, is cutting 25% of their PHP developer staff, perhaps with an eye towards selling the company.

Israeli startup Zend Technologies has fired 25 percent of its R&D team (at least ten people), as well as others across the company, in an attempt to become cash flow positive, says a source close to the company. A spokesperson from the company’s PR firm says: “Yes, I can confirm that Zend made the layoffs, but we cannot comment on the numbers or reasons for the action.”

Read the complete TechCrunch article here.

As I read the brief article I began to think that this is not really anything that should be too newsworthy. Many companies in the USA, and around the world in general, are feeling the pinch of a down economy. Companies have to do what they can to reduce cost while maintaining competitive prices for goods and services. What Zend is doing is not really that out of the ordinary.

And I am not sure that Zend, as a company, is really worth a huge amount of money like the Sun Microsystems acquisition of MySQL was. It might be tasty to some of the players in the industry right now like Oracle, IBM or even a Sun. But really, other than the Zend engine and the Zend IDE what exactly does Zend have to offer?

Whatever happens to Zend from all of this one thing is very important to remember. Many a PHP developer now has the opportunity to seek gainful employment from other companies that are seeking, heavily, PHP talent. Many Silicon Valley companies, including many companies in the social networking space, are looking for top tier PHP talent right now. Companies like Ning, Digg, Facebook, Technorati, Yahoo and Google are constantly hiring PHP developers.

Times are good for being a PHP developer. Maybe not so much if you worked for Zend. Nonetheless, now is a great time to know a great deal about PHP.