End of an Era


Today was my last day at HBK Engineering, LLC.

I started four and a half years ago, after moving several hundred miles away from where my entire life had been. Over the years of my tenure there, I saw a company quadruple in size, open new offices, and even acquire another company. I also saw a company grow and mature, sometimes in good ways, sometimes in not so good ways.

I had the experience of creating something from nothing – “greenfielding”, as it’s often called – and then rebuilding it several times until the tech stack was just right. I witnessed something I had created being used by people all around the company. I felt the pain of seeing something not work for a user after I’d tried to perfect it, and I felt the happiness of seeing surprised when someone realized I’d “already thought of that”.

I also grew tremendously as a leader. When I started, it was just me; the oft-unpleasant role of Sole Software Engineer. As time and demands went on, I was able to form a team around myself, experiencing many aspects of the hiring cycle: writing job descriptions, performing interviews, reviewing performance, and encouraging people to grow. At times, I’ve had to handle difficult situations with other coworkers, and I’ve also felt the pride of seeing people take real ownership of their projects and their team.

Leaving today felt like a graduation. I’m leaving behind people I’ve just started to get to know, and I’m leaving behind a leadership position to “reset” into an individual contributor role. There are a number of reasons why I needed to leave, but I know that I helped start something that is capable of continuing on without me, and that’s one of the best things a leader can do.

I start my next software engineering role at StyleSeat on Monday. I’m excited to be back in the startup world, and I’m looking forward to working with more amazing people and seeing what’s in store for this next stage of my career.

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Change in the Air

It’s been almost a year since I’ve added anything to this blog. I look back on my many travel-related entries and a few random opinion pieces and am reminded of the many corners of the world I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to explore. And those opinions have largely been formed by encounters with people of many persuasions, sometimes intentionally, sometimes not.

I’ve called Chicago my home for four years now, and as long as I’m allowed to stay, I’ll dig in and build a life here. Earlier today, though, I felt a feeling I haven’t felt in a while – the feeling that I’d be okay picking up my life and digging into another place. Maybe I’ll start celebrating the local barbecue, or the local art scene. Maybe I’ll fall in love with a new park or the landscape of where I end up. Right now, though, I’m content celebrating deep-dish pizza and the rail capitol of the country.

The difficulty with staying, though, is that things change around you. Last fall, I had to say “good-bye” to a few friends leaving for their next season of life, and in the next few months, I’ll have to say “good-bye” to a few more. It’s not that they’re dropping off the face of the Earth, but, as much as we try to counter it with technology, relationships take a different form when there are many miles separating you.

I have to experience the sadness of saying, “good-bye”, but I also get to experience the joy of saying, “hello”. Soon, I will get to greet my fiancée as my wife. I get to see a new church home, one we’ve been hoping for, collectively, for years. I’m likely on the verge of another zip code change in the city, and I’ll get to learn about a new place. I’m continuing to learn as I progress towards my Master’s degree in Computer Science. And I might be leading a small group over the summer, walking with other men through their growth from “boyfriends” to “husbands”. Things are coming to an end, but other things are beginning.

Change was a fact during my Semester at Sea, still an experience I think about every single day. Be it the mood of the sea or the flag on the mast, things were always changing. And although it’s often scary to move past the change; we hold on to those things that are comfortable and safe, it’s impossible to grow without moving forward. Taking that bold step. You have to step off the ship at some point.

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Google, Women, Manhood

This is going to be one of my more brief blog posts, but I thought that just a Facebook post wasn’t the right medium, because I’m pretty sure all of my friends agree with me.

I tend not to react much to current events, because it’s all largely the same nonsense: this person said something stupid, this male is posturing against that male, this person won an award, etc.

But women in the workplace is something that’s near and dear to my heart. Respect of women, generally, is something near and dear to my heart. And then this boy who works at Google decides that for some reason, it’s important to tell everyone his opinion about women in the workplace: that they’re biologically disinclined for intellectual work. That the rigor is too “stressful”.

So let me get this straight: dealing with a leadership issue or a technical problem is more stressful than pushing a very large human out of a very small orifice? Trying to determine the most effective algorithm for a process is more daunting than facing a predatory world every day and still choosing to take part in it?

The reason there aren’t as many women in STEM or in leadership positions is because of a highly patriarchal culture that brands women with leadership skills as “bossy” or “bitchy”. A culture where there are few role models for women to look up to because men tend to promote other men. A culture where women are marginalized because boys say things like that. A culture where men joke about pornography and prostitution and brag to others about going to strip clubs, all of these institutions that objectify and exploit women so that boys can continue objectifying and exploiting women.

Yes. There are differences between men and women; Indeed, I see more courage and boldness in the women in my life than in the men.

Our role as men, not boys but men, is to support the women we know in their fight against this silly, outdated, fearful mentality that continually relegates women to peripheral roles. And to raise our boys to continue to show that support. And, as a man, I will always try (and probably fail many times) to cultivate a professional environment where men and women are treated as equals.

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Eurotour – Day 22 – 23

The relaxation ramped up even more for our last day in Vienna. Again, we got moving pretty late in the day, and I really had no other goals than to get some souvenirs and to take my dad to the Mozart museum, which is located in one of his previous residences.

Oh yeah, we were in a city where some of the greatest classical composers lived. There is so much history in Vienna, thousands of years of it, and it’s such a vibrant city in the present, yet I scarcely hear about it like I hear about other “popular” European areas. I decided pretty early on that I wanted to spend some more time visiting Vienna at some point.

My dad and I walked through the Mozart museum, which had three floors, each detailing a specific aspect of Mozart’s life: Vienna at the time, his musical career, and how he had his dwelling-place arranged. Evidently he had quiet the entrepreneurial spirit, and this helped his talents spread far and wide. I also realized how little I knew of what Mozart had been involved with.

Having collected our souvenirs and learned a little bit about Mozart, Dad and I decided we were ready to be home in the US. So we went to a movie at an English cinema at a commercial district about fifteen minutes by foot from our apartment. We came back to the apartment after the movie, had a quick dinner consisting of the remaining sausages I hadn’t cooked, got our bags packed, and left for the train station.

For this last overnight train trip, Dad got to experience the final type of sleeper compartment available – the six-person economy class. We roomed with an older man and another young adult (who may have been the man’s son) as well as a French couple. I studied some aviation facts as the train began its journey, but after an hour or so, I decided it was time to get to bed.

And that’s when chaos ensued. My dad was banging around early in the morning, so I (and likely everyone else in the compartment) woke up, and I realized that the train wasn’t moving. And it continued to stay put for a really long time. I didn’t know if this was factored into the schedule or not. Given that we pulled into Frankfurt station a whole three hours late, it was clear that it was not, and instead was the result of an accident on the rail line.

This three hour delay threw the rest of the day and much of our return journey to the US into utter, frustrating, expensive chaos. First, because we were three hours late, we had to take a different train to Paris, and of course the tickets I’d bought weren’t the flexible kind, so I had to pay full price for the train that left a whole four minutes after we got on it, and arrived in Paris far too late for us to make the 2p flight to Iceland. During the three and a half hour purgatory on the train, I called several parties trying to figure out how to handle the situation.

At long last, I bought a couple of WOWAir tickets to the same airport in Iceland, which were conveniently inexpensive. The flight was leaving much later at a closer airport, so we had plenty of time to make it. An intimidating amount of time to spend at an airport, to be honest. So I was content with that. But then, when we got out of the airport tram to our terminal where we’d be spending the rest of the day, I got a text that was basically informing me we no longer had tickets back to Chicago from Iceland!

So then, I went into the terminal and tried to track down the Icelandair kiosk, but when I finally found it, I was told it closed right after the flight departed. So that didn’t help. I sent a message to Icelandair on Facebook and got a very unhelpful response given my situation, so I connected to the airport’s conveniently-free WiFi so that I could do free calling (thanks T-Mobile), stood right under a WiFi router to make sure the call didn’t get dropped, and waited to get patched through to an Icelandair representative. I explained to her everything that had happened (basically, the accident was likely caused by some committing suicide), and she helped me get the Iceland to Chicago tickets reinstated for much less than I would have paid for brand new tickets. (Though they could easily have comp’d the tickets but whatever.)

Once I’d gotten that situation handled, my dad and I worked our way through security, only to find out that some of our souvenirs weren’t allowed in our carryons (even though there weren’t any specific regulations about them that I could tell). I was ready for this, having packed a collapsible bag for this exact purpose. So I stuck all of the contraband in there with the help of a very cooperative security agent, then headed back to check the bag.

Problem 1: I exited into the arrivals area with all of the baggage reclamation conveyors, and I had no idea how to get back to the departures area where I’d be able to check the bag. I asked a helpful airport employee who directed me to some random elevator. I found the elevator, went down to the departure area, learned after some effort that I wouldn’t be able to check the bag for another few hours, and decided to figure out where I could put the bag so I could get back to my dad.

The answer was left luggage, which was in a terminal on the other end of the airport tram line. I got there just fine and asked the person at the information booth where the left luggage place was and if she knew where I might find some packaging material for the more fragile souvenirs. She told me, in a friendly manner, to look to my left to find the left baggage place and to ask them about packaging material.

So I went into the baggage place and the attendant graciously gave me some bubble wrap and tape they had in their back room for me to package things up with, and I didn’t pay for anything but the regular storage fee. I went back to the other end of the tram line, back through security (the agents recognized me), found my dad, had some dinner, went back to the other end of the tram line, picked up the bag, waited an hour or so for the flight checkin to open up, checked the bag, headed through security for the third time (with a new shift of agents – “Do you have any coins in your pockets?” – “This is my third time through security today; we’re good.”) and sat and waited for the flight to Iceland to start boarding. Except there was a different plane, one to Warsaw, at the gate we were supposed to board at when boarding was supposed to start.

So we waited for that plane to board and two flights, including the previous flight for our aircraft, to deboard, and we were finally on the plane to Iceland! Several hours and maybe a REM phase or two later, we were descending through some thick cloud layers to the Keflavik airport in Iceland. The terrain was definitely different: flat, wet, without a tree in sight. And so much cloud cover. Oh and it was still pretty light at 11p.

Safe on the ground, we walked what felt like a mile from the airplane (including going down stairs to walk on the tarmac into the airport in the rain?) to the luggage pickup area, retrieved the tiny bag of souvenirs, and paid far too much for a rental car. Of course it was super far from the building and at the end of the row, so I got a little damp. Then I couldn’t figure out how to get back to get my dad and almost headed into town before making a really awkward maneuver to a short term parking lot next to the building. We got our bags into the car, including some dinner from the adjacent convenience store, and left for our Airbnb, which was about forty-five minutes away.

Hungry, tired, and wet, I got all the luggage inside, microwaved our dinner, chowed down on the ham and cheese sandwich until one of the sauces (mayo?) made me almost gag, threw the rest in the garbage, shut the lights off, and crawled into a luxurious memory foam mattress for a much-needed night of sleep.

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Eurotour – Day 21

We didn’t get moving until around noon for our only full day in Vienna. We were both exhausted from all the traveling we’d been doing, so some rest was much needed. I did a little work in the morning as well as some writing, and then we set out for the day. My goal was to walk along the river a little bit and maybe go on this ferris wheel that an Austrian friend of mine had mentioned.

We exited the metro near the ferris wheel to an entire amusement park. Yes, that’s right; in Vienna, you can take the metro to the roller coasters. How cool is that?! My dad and I walked around the amusement park for a while, occasionally stopping to watch people on some of the more extreme rides. (Related: humans do strange things for entertainment.) There were roller coasters and obstacle courses and other fun rides. Instead of having a ticket for the park, you just paid individually at each ride, which seemed to work pretty well.

Eventually, we started getting hungry for lunch. I’d heard of this cool robot-themed restaurant via Facebook, and I’d decided I wanted to check it out while I was in Vienna. Conveniently, their location was in the amusement park, so that was an easy sell! So we went in, got a table, and ordered a burger and some sausages, as well as some soft drinks. And then watched as our food arrived on little rolling platforms sent to us by robots. They even had live feeds running of the robots sorting orders!

After lunch, we left the amusement park and headed toward the river, which was a lot larger than I had anticipated. I was thinking something like the Chicago river, but no, the Danube is much wider than that. It took ten or fifteen minutes to walk to a small island in the middle of the river, and the other side was even farther away. My dad found the walk to be challenging, so I left him to relax in the grass on the first island (after resting a bit myself).

I, on the other hand, had a goal in mind. There is a tower visible from much of the river area, which is much taller than the ferris wheel, and I wanted to go up and see what the view was like. So I started walking towards it, which is when I realized just how massive the riverwalk park was. The strip my dad and I stopped on took a long time to walk across itself, and I still had to go up to a different bridge and cross the rest of the river.

Since it was Saturday, there were people everywhere. Couples, friends, families. (It also became clear that tops were optional along the water…) I really enjoyed walking around, even though it was a little warm for what I was wearing. At long last, I made it to a bridge across the water, from which you could see bits of what seemed like an abandoned water park.

On the other side, it was still quite a bit of a walk to get to the tower. A few euros later, I was at the top of the tower, on which there is also a bungee jumping platform. I decided that that would not be an appropriate time to go bungee jumping, given that I was already doing things on borrowed cash (something something Dave Ramsey), but there were plenty of other people in line to do it.

I paused for some pictures of the city and surrounding area, then headed back down to the ground to go find my dad. On the way, I walked along an area of the riverfront that was home to a bunch of swans having dinner and a bunch of humans walking around and also having dinner. This area had all these restaurants and tiki bars and such, and honestly seemed a lot nicer than Chicago’s North Avenue Beach area. There was a floating bridge across a portion of the river, which included a raised area for the people paddle-boating and canoeing to transit under. I walked across the bridge, past some more tiki bars, to where my dad was.

He and I went to the nearby metro station and headed back downtown to the place I wanted to go for dinner, the restaurant I’d seen on our walk the previous day called “…said the butcher to the cow“. I got a (very large) cheeseburger, a gin and tonic (I don’t think I like gin and tonic), and an oreo cheesecake. The burger was gigantic, too big for either of us to finish, but the cheesecake was delicious and small enough to eat in one sitting.

After dinner, we headed back to our airbnb for the night. I worked, had a flat mimosa, chatted with my girlfriend, and went to bed.

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Eurotour – Day 20

My day started with a loud banging on the door of the train compartment at around 4a. At first I thought it was a conductor or inspector wanting to see our passports or something like that. But I was on the top bunk, so it was difficult for me to get down to open the door. So I yelled for my dad to open the door, but when nothing happened, I looked at his bunk and saw no one there. At that point, I climbed down and unlocked the door for my dad.

Now, we did have a key that should have alleviated that situation, but I don’t think my dad was listening when the conductor pointed it out. So when he left the room super early in the morning to use the bathroom, the door locked behind him. He stood outside the door for half an hour or so, thinking he shouldn’t leave the coach, but then he decided it would be prudent to go find the conductor.

My dad walked the length of the train and couldn’t find anyone, so he decided to return to our coach. Except when he returned to where our coach should have been, he came to a dead end. Evidently the coach I was in had been disconnected from the rest of the train during some sort of early morning shuffling of cars. Then I guess my dad came across some Austrian police officers who were checking for passports. He was walking around in his socks with no passport. But one of the officers was helpful and pointed him in the right direction to get to where our coach had ended up.

And that’s why he was knocking so ferociously on the door to get back in.

A couple hours later, I woke up for real and had the continental breakfast, which was just a roll, some ham, and some juice. My dad gladly left the train with me when we pulled into Vienna central station. We were now in a place where we knew even fewer words and grammar rules! I know how to say “with” in German, and that’s pretty much it, which isn’t terribly helpful.

Fortunately, (European) train stations are pretty easy to navigate even when you don’t speak the language, and there were English translations of some things. I’m always really self-conscious when I don’t speak the language, though. It makes me feel rude or unappreciative of culture or something along those lines. Anyway, we were able to find a place to put our luggage for the day and get metro tickets to head to the city center.

It was a pretty quick metro journey downtown, and we came out of the metro in view of the central cathedral. We walked in and were lucky to be able to observe the tail-ending of a choral rehearsal. I wished I knew when the performance would be, as they sounded pretty good. My dad and I sat on a bench in the cathedral and chatted for a little bit, mostly about his experience the previous night. I did a little reading about Vienna, then decided we should go check out the natural history museum.

On the way to the museum, we walked around the inner ring road, which, along with the Danube canal, encircles the city center. We walked along the median, which has a shared space for bicycles and pedestrians (although in other areas of the city, there are separate paths for each) as well as occasional tram stops. Along the perimeter of the city center were restaurants and other shops. One of these restaurants, called “…said the butcher to the cow” specialized in “burgers, gin, and cheesecakes”. This sparked my curiosity.

After passing several museums, we arrived at a large park outside the natural history museum. Here, we relaxed for a while, as we had some time to kill before we could check into our Airbnb. We had second breakfast, as bread and ham wasn’t really very sustaining. Then we proceeded into the museum.

On the way to the entrance, though, we saw some people dressed in Enlightenment attire selling tickets to an orchestral concert. A friend had told me about this, so we got tickets to the concert that night. And then we went into the museum.

It took us three hours to see half of the museum. The floor we were on had this really cool progression from what I think is the largest rock collection in the world, to early organisms, to dinosaurs, to hominids, to modern humans (one of their relics, a feminine carving, is from around 30,000 years ago), to some trippy outer space stuff. It was like traveling through time while walking through a museum, and my dad and I were really impressed.

After that, we retrieved our luggage and headed to check into our place, which was something of an odd process, but we made it in safely. This time, my dad and I got separate bedrooms! Somehow, my plans to get a late lunch turned into plans for an early dinner. I went to the store for some sausage (because we were in Vienna), got what looked like a sampler back with a few different types in it, then made some of it for lunch/dinner. I’ve never cooked that style sausage before, so I didn’t really know what I was doing, but it turned out pretty well.

After dinner, it was time to head to our concert. On the walk there from the metro station, we passed through a plaza filled with activity: couples and friends hanging out around a large pool, people with little picnic sets sipping wine, kids playing in the playground. It seemed so vibrant.

Following a few wrong turns, we made it to the concert hall, which wasn’t nearly as massive of a venue as the one we’d been to in London. I think the show was mostly for tourists, but pretty good quality, nonetheless. In addition to the classical music by Mozart and Strauss, there was some dancing and opera and even a funny skit. My dad really enjoyed the experience.

Two hours later, we walked through the same vibrant plaza, back to the metro station. I worked a little bit, had a mixture of white wine from the train and apricot juice, called my girlfriend, and went to bed.

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Eurotour – Day 19

Dad and I woke up fairly early for our first and only morning in Venice. I did some writing as he took a shower and packed up, then I got ready for the day. Evidently, I’d been paying zero attention when I set down one of my luggage locks, because it took me about ten minutes to find the silly thing (inside my larger bag). We checked out of that hotel, which simply entailed leaving the keys behind.

We had a simple breakfast in the original hotel’s garden, which was full of flowers and old outdoor tables and cats. I spent some time that morning reading up on Venice. That small archipelago of 60,000 residents receives tens of millions of visitors per year. The island portion is the only fully walking city in the world, which really enhances the relaxation effect.

My dad wanted to go over to the Murano island where all the crazy glass stuff is made. So we bought vaporetto (“bus” tickets) at one stop, then realized (thanks in part to Google Maps) that the stop for the boats to Murano were on the outside of the city rather than the inside. On the way to the outside of the city, we walked through a quieter portion of Venice which was still getting started with its day. We passed a bridge where several artists sat painting the scene in front of them, walked past a number of little cafes, and even saw the local garbage man lifting empty bins out of his boat with a small hydraulic arm.

At the edge of the city, we found the “station” we were looking for, and boarded a vaporetta to what seemed like a main station for the outside of the city; it consisted of four docks to which large bus-style boats would quickly tie up, drop off and pickup passengers, and make way again. I was pretty comfortable with this system of public transit :-).

We made it to Murano, a smaller set of islands of just 5,000 residents. At this point, it was very tourism-oriented. The glass stores along the roads we walked were either very high-end shops geared toward people with much more money than either of us or stores selling mass-produced knock-offs from China. We got some “French fries” and headed back to the mainland.

From the dock, we walked to the southern section of Venice, across the Realto Bridge, in search of the San Polo district of Venice which, according to a vague and outdated forum post online, supposedly contained a legitimate Murano glass store. We rested on several benches in beautiful, large plazas during our journey, and I finally decided to look up a vetreria (glass store) nearby. Fortunately, there was one fairly close!

My dad and I headed up there, and I saw the fine Murano glass on display as I rounded the corner to the front of the store which hosted a sign declaring that it was closed for the next two days. That was disappointing, and Google didn’t have record of anything else in Venice proper. As Dad and I turned to leave, I spotted some glass artifacts across the street. We walked into the store, and it quickly became clear that this was the right choice. It was run by a woman who lived on Murano and had glass-making equipment and supplies sitting right in the store.

I still had my own shopping to do once we left that store, in the shape of wine, and we’d passed a nice wine store on the way to the vaporettos that morning, which I’d promptly marked on my map. So we made our way there. It was in the northern portion of Venice, close to our hotel, and since we were so far into the interior of Venice, it made the most sense to just continue the rest of the way forward rather than turning around.

As we passed the main northern bridge, I high-fived my dad, congratulating him on successfully walking across the city. I did my shopping at the wine store, then we sat down and chatted for a while before returning to the hotel to retrieve our bags. We made the obnoxious journey back to the train station with our bags, and got tickets to the next train to the mainland. Backstory: I’d realized over lunch that our sleeper train was not leaving from the island station but from the mainland station. I was worried that it would be obnoxiously expensive to make the journey, but it cost a whole 3.50 euro for the two of us.

The ticket we got wasn’t marked for any particular train, which was confusing, but the one I’d originally chosen was leaving at 6:11p, so we went to that one. And then waited 90 minutes for it to actually leave the station; evidently there’d been an unfortunate accident farther up the line. We got to Venice Mestre later than I’d anticipated, so I just had enough time to do a little work and get a quick drink before we left to get on our sleeper train which was also super late. Scheduled for 9:16p, it didn’t show up until around 9:40p.

Dad and I were luckily in the closest car, with a compartment to ourselves and breakfast included in our ticket. I was alright with this, and I do enjoy falling asleep to the sound and feeling of rail rolling past.

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