Rusty Divine

Live, Love, Learn, Teach

Insider Trading

As a consultant, I am sometimes privy to non-public information about a client's company that may affect their stock price in my estimation.
Acting on that information is insider trading, as described over atWikipedia.
I'm not much of a stock trader myself, I stick to the index funds or pick a mutual fund from my 401K provider that has the appropriate level of risk for my age. I've never been tempted to act on any of the information I've seen; mainly because I'm not egotistical enough to believe I really have some good dirt on a company.
Today, however, I think I do. I was at a client's office working out the details of a new project. This client has a significant asset base and they recently decided to start leveraging their assets in a new way that will likely make a fortune for them without having to sacrifice much in the way of management, overhead, or liquidation. That is, they'll keep all their assets, but just put them to work making money in new ways. These new ways, besides management costs (part of which is the cost of the application I'm developing to help them manage these uses), are entirely profit.
Just for fun I might buy 10 shares (currently around $33) and just watch what happens. Does this violate my personal integrity? Maybe; but I don't think I'll loose any sleep over it.


Paid Time Off (PTO) is the answer to employee time administrators' dreams - one bank of hours accrued at a set rate for each employee to use for any reason they need to be out of the office.
The alternative, which is still quite common at many companies, is to track leave for each employee in separate accounts. One bank of vacation hours, one of sick leave, and one of personal leave - all accrued at different rates and with different rules for when an employee can use them.
Even with the simpler PTO account, the one excuse fits all, companies still manage to introduce arcane rules governing how an employee can use those hours. Few things shine a light into a company's bureaucracy brighter than examining their employee time off program; or better yet, living inside of it.
At the last company I worked for, there was a, frankly, terrible leave policy. Each employee had to accrue a bank of 40 hours of sick leave before any vacation was accrued, and upon using sick time, it had to be replaced first. To use vacation time, a form had to be filled out in advance explaining the reason for the time off, and had to be approved by the office manager. To use any sick leave, you had to actually get a note from your doctor!!
"Excuse me, Dr., could you tell me when you think I can go back to work? Oh, and could you put that in writing?"
The company granted 3 days off without pay for bereavement of a close relative (no going to your best friend's funeral! how dare you!) Maternity leave meant going on short term disability, and you can just forget about paternity leave.
And that was just the structure; living in it was another story. The only time I ever saw someone try to take sick time, it failed miserably. We'll call my friend JD, because, well, that's his, actually his name is James Dale, but everyone called him JD. Anywho, JD had some medical emergency and had to go to the doctor (I think it was strep throat?). He had to ask the doctor when he could go back to work, and get that in writing. That week, he put the time on his timecard and made a photocopy of the note to fax to corporate. The next week the president of the company called JD himself and told him to change that time to vacation time! JD tried to explain that he had a doctors note, but the president just bullied over his protests and insisted that JD correct his timecard.
How much more demoralizing and demeaning can you get? Really; does anyone have a good story of a company ramrodding its employees over time off?
Fast forward to my new job. The leave policy is a PTO account, but the company still fails to get it right. For some unexplained reason, employees are only allowed to take PTO in 8 hour increments! No leaving 2 hours early on a Friday and billing those hours to your PTO account!
Insisting the time is taken in 8 hour chuncks is a bad idea for several reasons. It is counter productive because rather than taking those last two hours on a Friday afternoon off, an employee is forced to stay at work most likely while zombified staring at the monitor without accomplishing anything. It is demoralizing because it implies that the company does not trust its employees to manage their time off professionally. Finally, it leads to integrity problems because in all likelihood you take off those two hours on Friday anyway and charge it to some job or report on your timecard that you worked two extra hours on the previous day.
When employees have to sacrifice their integrity to work with in the system, everyone loses.

Over there, over there

I've been at my new job for a month and a half! That's hard to believe; the time really went by quickly.
I remember talking to my old supervisor, and good friend, soon after taking this new position. I bragged, "I'm making more money here, and I have less responsibility! People are just handing me Word documents and I convert them into HTML." He intoned, "Just wait, it won't take them long."
Well, he was correct. I just sent an email to my new supervisor today that laid out the amount of work I have scheduled through September; it was enough for 2 people.
It wasn't long before converting Word docs to HTML was handed off to a more junior developer (or, I should say The More Junior Developer since there's only one). I was whisked off to Boise to help sell a document management/collaboration solution, sent over to another client to consult on consolidating their spreadsheets into Excel, and just last week went to an interview and won a job adding a user interface to an existing access database (as well as converting it to SQL).
Today my HR supervisor was in town from Portland. She stopped by my desk a little before 8 and we talked about how I was the only one there (brownie points!). She said that I should think about whether I want to become a part time employee or a full time employee - currently I am a flexible time employee.
Let me digress to explain the essential differences.

  • Flex = I work when I want, however much I want. I don't get any medical, paid time off, or perks. If there is no work to do, I go home. Anything over 40 is 1.5.
  • Part Time = I have to work at least 20 hours a week. I get 5 hrs/month of PTO, medical is mostly paid (I pay $12/month), and anything over 40 is 1.5.
  • Full Time = I have to work 40 hours a week, even if there is nothing to do. I get 8 hrs/month of PTO, medical is completely covered, and anything over 40 is typically evaporated - no overtime, rarely compensatory time.

I asked Dana what I should do. She replied, "If you want to make a career out of this company, go for full time; otherwise, go for part time. Or, you could always go for part time and go full time later."

She's right, of course. It's really a toss-up. If I take the part time position, I may be vulnerable to people who get hired after me climbing the career ladder ahead of me. Arguably, I may be less vulnerable to lay offs as a part timer, since I could probably find 20 hours of work a week in the driest times and a full timer may be laid off or have their status changed. I definitely don't want to stay as a flex employee because I am working more than 20 hours a week anyway, so I might as well be getting medical pay and PTO.

I am a career guy; I'm not content to just do my job and get a pay check. I want to excel, to participate in something bigger than me. I still have a life outside of work, and practically refuse to work more than 40 hours a week. I am driven to lead, to be creative, to be in a position that can make decisions.

I have been quite comfortable with my flex position. Like I mentioned, I've flown out on business trips, gone on sales calls, consulted with clients, brought in work. I haven't been a project manager yet though; and I'm pretty sure I'd have to be full time in order to marshal my own project.

Going full time may mean that I am requested to work more than I want to - some of my coworkers are working 40+ regularly. Becoming a part timer would mean that I'd be available to work 40+, but I'd also get paid for it, too.

I think I'll take the stepping stone approach and request a part time position. I'll wait to push for full time until the day I want to manage my own project. I like the fact that I can leave an hour early on Friday and just not charge for it! (The company has a policy that PTO must be taken in 8 hour increments)

Con + Insult = Consult

The great thing about consulting, besides getting paid to con and insult people, is that when you start a new project you get to learn a new business process, take on a new role; it's almost like changing professions.
I've worked on facility management applications, landlord-tenant management systems, environmental permitting, port construction project management, medical monitoring tracking databases, et al. Each new project brought a new challenge of learning how the client did their job, followed by helping them to streamline their process and automate what was possible.
This week was something new - I am learning the ropes of a very specific area of real estate development. Our client owns more land than most countries, and most of it is sheltered from taxes as long as they manage it, and even often when they sell it. But if they want to rezone the land and develop it for another use to sell for more money, then they have to transfer the land out of their parent entity (which is restricted by tax law from anything but managing or selling undeveloped land) to a subsidiary that was set up explicitly to handle the transaction.
Every year they scan their parcels by creating GIS filters that reveal property within X miles of a city, a beach, a river, etc. to find land that may be worth more to sell than to manage for its resources.
Identifying these premium parcels is about all they can do without violating tax law. The next step is to put the parcel under "option" to another entity (typically their subsidiary), which gives them 90 days to try to get the land rezoned and platted for development. If any of paperwork is rejected, then they can let the option expire and keep the land without paying any taxes since the land never changed hands. If everything goes well, they can sell it to the other entity who will then develop the land (put in roads/utilities) and sell it off in lots. Hidden within the process are countless business rules governing how long each entity has to hold the property in order to move to the next phase, the valuation of the property with tax considerations, and others.
Our client currently tracks data points in various spreadsheets, some of the data overlaps and is inconsistent. The current system is becoming a nightmare - in department meetings they are spending more time arguing about the data inconsistencies than tracking the milestones and deadlines, both of which have very real legal and tax implications!
The solution will be to combine the data tracking systems into an Access database application for now. The different departments will have their own UI database (done in Access), all of which talk to the central data store. We will be doing some design specification work and flow charting up front, but as is typical in consulting it will be on the light side. We will instead build this Access application as our prototype, throw-away, lessons to be learned program. When we get the business rules hammered out through actual use of the application, we will then (hopefully) be given more money to develop the system into an enterprise application with more work flow automation and project management tools.

Help this, jerk

I have collected enough empirical data to conclude that corporate IT departments are bunk. If you are reading this blog, then chances are I'm preaching to the choir, so instead of listing a plethora of past grievances, allow me to just tell you about today's.
We, the programmers, are developing a website for a client who is a local governmental department. We're hosting the site on our company server for now because the department doesn't have it's own server and is mired in its own politics so it can't use it's brother department's server.
The client needs to be able to upload new versions of the documents linked to on the website; and add new documents from time to time. Instead of paying us to implement a programmatic solution, the client hired someone who is supposed to manage shuffling documents full time. In order to do her job, she will need FTP access to the web site so that she can change the existing documents and add new links in the HTML pages where needed.
Ok, enough background; sorry about that. So, our IT Group has this nifty web application where we can set up new project websites and FTP sites; but it doesn't allow you to make a web site folder _also_ an FTP folder. You can either have a web site folder that you have to access via the intranet, or an FTP folder that you can access anywhere, but not both.
So, I called up TAC (Total Assistance Center - Ha!) and first asked about the open ticket I had from earlier in the week that was supposed to be responded to by yesterday. After I was stonewalled on that, I brought up the new issue. 'ticity-takity-tic-tic-click-clack' a new ticket was electronically opened for my new problem (one more problem this week and my name will go up on a black list, I'm sure, and no one will talk to me). I explained that I needed a web site that I could FTP into.
BOY. You'd think that a help desk guy would know something about this. WRONG!
After 15 minutes of explaining, re-explaining, diagramming, and having him go to the website and then telling him to just try to upload a file or change a link, he put me on hold for 5 minutes. Then, he said he'd talk to someone from corporate.
My phone rang about 10 minutes later; and Mr. Help Desk was exited - a solution in his grasp! Corporate asked him to ask me if I had tried to right-click on the web page and select "Edit" to make a change to the file?
I said, "No, but I don't think that will work. Maybe you mean having front page extensions installed or something, but that's not what I need."
Then he said, "Oh, I hit File >> Edit in VS and it worked! You should see a '$' down by the search."
Me: "Uh, no, you changed the file on your local computer."
Him: "Oh, really?"
Me: "Yup."
Well, he said he'd go back and tell the guy that it didn't work. He said, "I told him that I didn't think you could do that."
And there's the problem with bad IT guys - they never admit any possibility that they could be or were wrong. They bluster through problems and give outrageous excuses (how many times have you heard, "No, it's not our network that's the problem, it's theirs" from both sides?).
IT helpers play a dual role; 1) Adversarial - like testers who are out to find bugs to protect end users, IT Guys are out to save the company and protect it's servers; 2) They are supposed to help those in need; their _customers_.
In conclusion, when you work at a big bureaucracy, don't depend on your IT helpers to help you, they don't server you, they serve the company. Instead, you should outsource your hosting needs where possible to a company that is dedicated to its customers. I'd recommend or