21 August 2016

I'm on the move (again) (still)

Left my help desk/software dev position on the 12th, just shy of seven years there. Someone got me a card and had a few people sign it, which was really nice. I was able to say goodbye to a few of the people I'd worked with (and particularly enjoyed working with). Other than that, my second to last night (the 11th) was my last working on software there, and still nothing about anything I'd been working on (and fighting over disability accommodations to work on).

So that story is over.

I'd had nearly all of my stuff moved out of my apartment a couple of weeks before, but I got the rest out and got checked out/turned in the keys on the 15th so I wouldn't have to deal with the stupidity that is moving day in Madison. Checkout was done by 1030, and after a trip to the laundromat (which is deserted on moving day) I got on a bus to Mom's house.

So that story is over, too.

Mom is retired, and lives in the woods in northern Wisconsin where the internet reaches, but you occasionally have to look for it. My phone says it's connected to 4G, but fast it ain't.

I'm sitting in a coffee shop where they don't take credit cards for purchases under $5.00 (wtf?) and you need to ask for a password for the wifi-- which really isn't that big an issue, it's just that after being around a university where few people use cash ever and even the gas stations have free open wifi, it just seems silly. (Honestly it's been sort of nice not being connected all of the time, but only to a point.)

Life here (Mom's place) is a lot different from mine-- it's almost as if there's an unwritten rule that "we're retired so we have to to retired people things". She lives on a lake and has a boat but doesn't fish (or in fact ever use the boat), lives in the woods but doesn't do outdoors things. Keeping up appearances. Look at how good things are here. If you've ever read Gaiman's American Gods some of the small towns here bear some resemblance to Lakeside. I feel a bit like Shadow, laying low and out of sight. (It's a good town.) *sigh*

Sitting on the pier that sticks out into the lake, it feels odd. Here's all of this nature-- national forest, a lake that only has a few houses on it, fish, berries, etc-- and a huge house and a barn where everyone stays inside and watches TV and ignores that there's all these good things right outside. It seems like such a waste of resources. I'm reminded of that public service ad from the 1970's, where the native American guy sheds a tear at what "modern" civilization has done to the land and water. It's not that it's polluted here-- it's just ignored, which is perhaps worse. Nature gives you all of this, you work for most of your life to be able to move here, and then you spend most of your time in a bingo hall.

Case in point, I'm sitting in a coffee shop a few miles away because there's nothing to do but watch TV at the house that's on the lake. 

There's been some discussion of when I'm leaving-- consensus is on the bus tomorrow morning. It's one of those "well you could stay longer if you wanted to" things where it's implied that you won't. Don't get me wrong, I love my Mom. Right now I'm a drifting hacker/veteran/student who isn't due in class until October, and she's got a schedule of things that doesn't involve worrying about me. Historically I haven't gotten along well with the yayhoo she married after my Dad, and while we've reached some sort of detente over the years it's a peace that can wear thin if pushed too far. So leaving tomorrow is probably pretty reasonable.

It's beautiful up here, but I like it best when I'm alone in the middle of the national forest, camping and hiking and being bitten by bugs as opposed to sitting in a coffee shop. So I'm ready to get on the road again.


What's next? Still working on it. I've applied for a few new gigs. My experience asking for, fighting for, and dealing with ADA accommodations at UW-Madison really changed my outlook on things. It's really important that I find a job slinging code, but it's also really important that I find the right job (and employer).

After leaving here I'm headed back to Madison to transfer buses then to Milwaukee for an undetermined number of days. I've been basically on vacation since the 15th, so I'll need to start keeping known-only-to-me office hours again and finish getting some things organized. September is going to be busy, and then classes start up again for me in late October.

Not sure of the exact date yet (first week of September sometime) but heading to Florida to help my sister move in a week or so. She has an entire house of stuff so a truck plus towing a car; I get to help load the truck, but that means I also get to help drive the truck-- across Florida, the long way, and likely through Atlanta. Which also means we'll have lots of time to talk about lots of things (I haven't actually seen her for quite some time).

After that it's back north to Chicago, to get on a plane to Hack the North at the University of Waterloo-- then back to Chicago to get on a bus to Madison again. I'll finally get all of my stuff out of storage and into a UHaul (meaning it will rain whatever day that is), and from there I'll be in the mid-Midwest where I'll have a temporary roof over my head (and a place to unpack my stuff and figure out what I'm throwing away) while I look for a new job, new school, and more or less permanent new home.

Ultimately, stability is something that's still a work in progress, but that's okay right now. I've seen enough people lately that have everything laid out-- this is what will happen now, this is what will happen tomorrow, this is the way things will be twenty years from now. That's not how nature works, and that's especially not now PTSD works. Change is constant. What works today likely won't work tomorrow. It's taken me a long time to realize (and learn) that.

12 August 2016

kthxbye. wtf.

Tonight was the last night that I'll be on scheduled software development hours at my current job-- when I first took on being a software developer here, this wasn't what I imagined my last day would be like. Not. At. All.

I've been working on one project for several months now, all of 2016 plus some. It has been a challenge, one that I've had to use a lot of CS fundamentals on plus a few new things I've learned. I have actually, honestly, enjoyed working on it even with all of the trouble that's come up related to ADA accommodations. That I was able to keep working on the same project while overcoming my disability has been a positive feedback loop.

It's pretty clear to me now that my (soon to be ex-) employer either doesn't understand the importance of the ADA accommodations, doesn't believe they are valid, or just figures I'll eventually leave and and the problem will go away. Maybe it's a combination of all of the above or maybe there are other factors that because I'm not a management person I just cannot see. It is important to note that while someone from human resources contacted me to see how the accommodations were working, no one from the shop I work in has ever even asked. If I hadn't been making a fuss over the past month, nothing would have been said.

My experience in dealing with PTSD in general is that when I ask for something that's an accommodation is that it is usually ignorance (and not malice) that gets in the way. If it's not ignorance, it's that people are inconsiderate and/or just don't care. They don't see the problem so there isn't one. It is rare that someone has an active bias, but it happens. Again, I don't know what the case is here. The way things are structured here I don't ever see my supervisors much less sit down and have meaningful conversations with them.


When I gave two weeks notice, the reply I received didn't mention anything at all about my project. Since then no one at work has mentioned it (actually no one has asked me anything substantial about what I've been doing all summer).

You can tell me my code sucks because _____. Pick on me because I use vim when everyone else here uses an IDE. Call me Grampaw. Cancel my project and put me on something really stupid instead. Laugh because I like Nickleback. Be cautious around me because you've heard I'm a vetran and have pee tee ess dee like that one guy. I have, at various times and places, encountered all of those things and I generally know how to handle them without (too) much fuss or bother.

I have been underemployed and unappreciated doing different jobs in my life, but I've never been so completely and effectively ignored at the end of a job. Which tells me that it really is the right time to leave.

11 August 2016


I'm back from a trip to a hackathon in Holmden, NJ this past weekend. There's a lot going on in my life right now, but it was a very welcome chance to get out of town for a bit, dedicate 24 hours to hacking, and even relax a little.

The actual hackathon was Saturday morning to Sunday afternoon, but I left Madison at zero dark early on a bus to catch a plane in Milwaukee on Friday morning. After several hours delay (thanks United!) I landed in Newark NJ, found the AirTrain, found the right stop, found the right hotel shuttle, and eventually stopped moving at a hotel near the airport. I'm fortunate that my parents taught me how things like airports, buses, and trains work when I was still young; I was flying alone on commercial flights when I was eight years old. (Not such a big deal now but in the mid-1970's being an unaccompanied minor was a very big deal.) With apps and websites and push notifications (all of which I know something about as a software developer), I can get from point A to point B pretty easily.

I like to travel, especially by air, but I'm fine with trains or buses or whatever.  Flights and airports, trains and stations, buses and stops-- these are all systems. They have rules, and they have variables. Once you know the rules and understand the variables, you reach a certain efficiency level and the next thing you know you're in another city without really thinking about it. As a hacker, I see modern transportation is a series of interlocking systems.

Which often means that I sort of look like I know where I'm going, and so I have people ask me directions fairly often. It happened in San Francisco, where people asked me questions about BART. This weekend it happened at the NJTransit station at Newark Liberty, where someone asked me about getting to Asbury Park by train and about how to buy tickets. I often get a nod from the people working the TSA checkpoints, when I've got all of my stuff from my pockets in my hat and my shoes off and my laptop out, and have my ID and my boarding pass ready. Sometimes they'll ask "So... fly often?" and I'll just smirk. Yeah, actually.

Newark Liberty (EWR), for the record, is one of those airports where shit just works. It's not huge and the layout isn't complicated, there are a ton of guest services people around to answer questions and give directions, and it's easy to get to/from the gates and to/from places like the AirTrain and parking and such. It's crowded, there are a lot of people coming and going, but there's a constant flow-- perhaps vibe is a better word-- that suggests that someone has actually thought about the best way to get the most number of people in and out the fastest.


It felt a little odd, being in Milwaukee-- my hometown. There are many good memories of the city I'm from, there are plenty of bad ones too. I've never really wanted to move back; I figure I've left twice, that should about cover it. Even so, while sitting at MKE last Friday, I thought about possibly living in Milwaukee again for just a moment. It wasn't until I was staring out the window of my hotel room in Newark, watching the traffic on the freeway headed towards New York, and then again  out the window of my hotel room in Milwaukee again on Monday night, that it started to make sense.

It didn't really feel any different in Milwaukee than it did in Newark. Now, I know Milwaukee. On the bus, when I woke up a few miles before the airport on Friday morning it took less than a second to figure out exactly where the bus was. In Newark I had to check my phone to see which direction was which, and make sure I was getting on a southbound train towards Hazlet and not a northbound train (which would have put me in NYC).

An airport is an airport, an airport hotel is an airport hotel, a train station is a train station. Each one is different but they each work essentially the same way, they each intersect in predictable ways. I am, in a way, more comfortable when I'm in transit than when I'm home-- I grok travel in a way that I don't grok "home sweet home". Growing up "my home" was never stable, and since then I've always been in motion, so perhaps it just makes sense that I'm more at home on the road than when I'm sitting still.

You'd think that my PTSD would be at least a little worse, in transit-- but I'm not so sure that's true. It's certainly a factor. I routinely carry a set of foam earplugs in one pocket for noisy public places, and I wore them for a majority of the time I was at both EWR and at MKE. I made it a point to sit where I wouldn't be snuck up on when I sat, and I got up and wandered around often enough to keep track of who was doing what where. The symptoms were certainly there, but perhaps not to the same extent as they've been while I've been around Madison lately.

There are of course a lot of things that are triggering for me in Madison. They start with my apartment, follow me to and from work, exist at work/on campus, etc. Being away from those things can't help but help.

I want to imagine a situation where I have a home, a base to work from, something stable-- and I'm in fact working on that, with help from friends, a place that's not perfect but at least is solid and isn't going to disappear. The truth is that I'm leaving Madison on Sunday and I'm not sure exactly which direction I'm going. There's family that I haven't seen for a while, both in northern Wisconsin and farther away in Florida, so I'm going to do some traveling to get to those places.

There's a place that I might be actually moving to, a place that's probably more off the beaten path than I'd like but that is also pretty quiet (and cheap), and I really do need some quiet time (in a place that's cheap). It's farther away from everything that I really would rather be closer to, to travel to other places. So it isn't perfect, but at this point that's really okay. I need some time to open up all of the boxes that I filled up and taped shut two years ago, to sort through the stuff in them. I need to see what I have that I've forgotten that I have. Probably, there's a lot that I need to throw away. I need/want to be more mobile. Being more mobile means having less crap to move when I want, or need, to move again.

Quiet is a really big factor. Madison isn't a large city, but it's really a noisy place. Granted, I live downtown where there's a lot of people and cars and trucks and things moving around-- but people don't care how much noise they make, or when or where. Loud music at 0300? A carpet cleaning crew in the apartment below at 0800? People standing outside my apartment window talking on phones, loud enough that I hear both sides of the conversation? All of these have happened this week. I'm from Milwaukee, a much bigger city, and I think Madison is too loud. (Honestly, unless I'm walking somewhere where I have to have hearing, I'm either wearing noise-limiting earbuds or foam earplugs.)

So the plan is: move to temporary digs. Get settled and unpacked. Walk down some quiet country roads. Stare up at the stars at night. Drink some coffee. R&R, essentially. Then back into school, online. Back into self-training, working on some of the hackathon projects that I've started but not finished. Digging back into algorithms and data structures, some re-learning and some new learning. A big bag of infosec related learning and work that I've not had the change to dig into yet. Catching up on some of the learning and training and experience that I expected to get at my current job but didn't.

Yeah, I'll probably sleep in once or twice or maybe more. I'm tired, the kind of tired that you don't erase just by sleeping in one day. Where I think I'm headed, I've already let people know that I'm going to need some space the first few days until I realize (and accept) that the stress and triggers that have been causing me problems are gone. (There will of course be new ones, but I'm hopeful that being away from where I am right now I'll have more control over them.)

There are some specific job opportunities I'm going to explore, some of which involve travel and all of which involve hacking. I'm certainly not going to be on R&R forever (or for very long).

It is strange to be leaving a place where I've spent so much time and effort and emotion. In one sense, I failed to do the things I wanted to do here-- but in another sense, I finally realized that what I really want from life, I can't find here.

Maybe, somewhere in my future, exists a specific place that is stable, someplace that is "home". Maybe it's actually that "home" is "wherever I happen to be this week"?

(Hit "play" on Freebird now.)

29 July 2016

Post #500 & Johnny Paycheck

This is, depending on whether or not you count unpublished drafts, my 500th post here. Blogger counts them, and the dashboard that loads when I log in says this is number 500. Perhaps sometime I'll print all of those (these) posts just to see how many pages it all adds up to.


ADA accommodations at work: the meeting that was proposed, which I turned down because it was a violation (maybe there's a better word) of one of my already approved accommodations didn't happen. The accommodation is that on days when I work project hours (aka software development) my department isn't allowed to schedule meetings or training, or pull me off of software development, because doing so breaks my concentration to the point that I can't get anything done. I don't task switch well. It takes time to get the PTSD settled down enough that I can actually focus on programming. So no meetings (although I do make one exception for the software development team weekly staff meeting.)

Person who wants to meet with me (a team lead) talked to the disability resource person in HR for clarification-- team lead wants to "accommodate me" by having me come in early (just before my scheduled software development time). All of a sudden, meeting face to face is of the utmost importance. I've already explained to this person that it's not that simple.

It matters a great deal that I know what I'm in for when I get to work to code. Over the past couple of years I've done a lot of work on my own to figure out how to get from in bed sleeping to sitting at a desk at work producing code that does something useful. It is a process, a routine, a sequence of events-- a boot process. It takes a certain amount of time, and talking to myself, and pacing around my apartment. It also takes checking my backpack to make sure I have everything in it, checking to make sure the stove is off, checking to make sure the window is closed and locked, and a few other PTSD related things. When I leave my apartment, I'm in a particular frame of mind. While I walk to work I'm in another. When I walk in the door at work, I'm ready to hack. My brain is thinking in code.

This is a 2-3 hour process, including stuff like showering and getting dressed. It's not trivial, at all, but it is very fragile.

If I have to go to a meeting when I arrive at work that's note related to code or coding, I have to turn off the hacking part of my brain. If it's about accommodations I'm going to be instantly triggered, not just when I arrive at work but at home when I'm getting dressed. Accommodations not in place means I can't concentrate, which means I can't code. Anything that factors down to something that includes "can't code" shorts out the entire system. Starting a night of coding out with a meeting talking about the accommodations that a) have already been approved, b) are not always available even though Federal law says they have to be and c) are either ignored or fought by the very same management people triggers me, and that factors down to "can't code".

This is why there's an ADA accommodation with my name on it that says "no meetings or training" on days when I'm supposed to be coding. Duh.

So now, even after talking to the disability person in HR, team lead still wants to have a face to face meeting to talk about how s/he can better meet my needs right before I start coding.

Simple. Go back a step and look at why I had to contact the disability person in HR in the first place.

I emailed HR because one evening, a couple of weeks ago now, I came to work and someone was sitting at the workstation that had been reserved for me as one of my other accommodations. It's on the perimeter of the room, out of traffic flow, as far away from the major noise sources in the room as possible, and I have both my left and rear flanks covered by walls. If I'm sitting at that workstation, someone has to try really hard to distract me.

The "reservation" system is that there was a printed note taped to one of the monitors saying the workstation was reserved. Because it had been flipped over where it wasn't visible, someone sat there not knowing it was reserved for me. When I brought it to the attention of the student team leads, no one did anything about the problem until I pitched a fit. So my suggestion was that someone be assigned to check to make sure that that workstation is available before I get to work.  

Weeks later there's no resolution. Now we're talking about an entirely different accommodation (meetings/task switching) and on top of that now the team lead wants the proposed face to face meeting agenda to include talking about my plans for fall semester-- which has nothing to do with the original thing I wrote to complain about, which was an approved accommodation being unavailable when it needed to be.

A sub-rant: If you're a manager and you have someone working for you that has ADA accommodations, please please please don't play these kinds of games with your people. Whatever the accommodations say, make it happen. You might not know the details of why the accommodations are necessary, and that might be weird for you, but it's not a ding on your skills as a manager. Understand and accept that the person with accommodations asked for changes because they want to work for you and because they want to do their job well for you. Follow the accommodations to the letter and bring down hell on anyone who keeps those accommodations from being available to the people that need them. Follow up and make sure the accommodations are working. Your company/organization will be better for it.

Where do things go from here?

I haven't replied to the latest email; in one sense, none of this matters because I'm going to be leaving anyway. I haven't kept that a secret at work-- people know I'm a short timer, it's just a matter of exactly when. Maybe they're just stalling until I, and the accommodations problem, go away. I hope not, because that's just really cheap and I'd like to think better of a place I've worked at for seven years-- especially when during two of those years, I slept on the street outside the same building I work in to keep working there.  Maybe I just don't want to admit that I spent too much time and too much effort on a place and on people who didn't deserve it.

Because of my experience over the past couple of months dealing with the formal request process through the ADA, and getting medical documentation, and appealing denials, and even after that having to fight to make sure my accommodations still exist-- because of all of that, it's a lot more difficult to picture myself in a company that's all open office and that doesn't likely have many other employees with disabilities. Am I going to have to fight these battles everywhere I work?

I sound like such a cynic, but I can't help but claim that some of my cynicism is justified by experience. Anyway, the next chapter in my life isn't written yet. It's a work in progress, so how much of a cynic I am is subject to change.

I'm leaving this job; by the time you read this I'll have given two weeks notice that I'm leaving. When fall semester starts, if I were to stay I'd be limited to 25 hours a week at work (with only 10 of that for software development). My primary motivation is not money, but when I'm putting this much effort and emotion into just being able to do my job, it's not worth what I'm getting paid.

Even without the accommodations circus, I'm not being given new work to do, and it's miserable. The project I've been working through all of this? No one even asks about it. There's no professional development going on, beyond what I read and learn and do on my own. No mentors, no team work, no challenges. Not what I signed up for. I'm a hacker. I'm better than this.

My apartment's nearly empty. Today I moved all but one suitcase worth of stuff, and of course my backpack, to my storage unit. Effectively, right now I'm a nomad, but that's not really that different than this time last week (or last month). Here hasn't been home, it's just been here. I'm headed west, but where exactly I don't know. Since I wasn't able to work as much as I'd planned on over the summer, I don't have as much funding as I'd like-- so that changes what I can do and where I can go. It doesn't make sense to go straight to Silicon Valley if I just end up homeless when I get there. Sometimes, you can't get there from here.

Next week I'm going to a hackathon, MLH Prime in New Jersey, at which I'm going to try to make some find-a-new-job magic happen. After that I'm going to travel a little more, see some family I haven't seen for a while, spend some time staring out windows while the country goes by. I'll probably find a quiet place to rest for a bit, catch up on some reading and studying and coding projects that have been on hold. There will be some R&R.

Tentatively, I'll be in classes this fall. We'll see. Signed up, but some things have to be worked out.

And, surprisingly, I'm okay with all of this. It will be really weird to be somewhere else, but there are so many places and people and events here that have bad memories attached. Being somewhere unfamiliar will be all right.

As long as there's net, of course.

19 July 2016

Really, part 3?

Really, part 3? Yes, really. Sigh.

Previously: and then

A quick summary: one of the ADA accommodations I was granted where I work is having a particular workstation reserved for me when I'm doing software development. (I work in an open office.) A couple of weeks ago now, that workstation had a person in (at?) it when I arrived for work and I raised a fuss about it. It's still unresolved. My suggestion to management is that they assign a student lead (or someone) who's here in the office during the afternoon to check and make sure that if anyone is sitting at that workstation and ask them to move before I arrive at 1700.


The latest response was that having someone assigned to make sure that this particular approved ADA accommodation (emphasis added on purpose) is available is a work in process that affects the entire office. So a meeting was proposed for this afternoon (Monday). Except that I have a different approved ADA accommodation that makes it so I'm not asked to task switch on the days I do software development work-- on those days, no switching back and forth between jobs and no meetings. So that meeting today didn't happen.

My argument here is that it doesn't really take any extra effort on anyone's part to look over, or walk over to, a workstation that's in the corner of the room at the end of the afternoon and make sure that there's no one sitting there. It's sort of the whole point of accommodations that an employer makes sure that whatever the accommodation is, it's available for the employee. In this case, it's about a two minute long task-- shorter if there's no one sitting at the workstation that needs to be chased out. There's really no legitimate reason that this can't happen.

I've tried to put myself in the position of a supervisor, who has to "deal with" a veteran with PTSD that has requested ADA accommodations and had them approved. In the first place, what's the value in arguing against accommodations (as my employer did for me having a reserved workstation when it was first requested)? Spending money from the budget is one-- if providing the accommodation is beyond the reach of an organization's budget, that's a reason it can't be done. If it's physically impossible-- let's say a person has immobilizing vertigo, there's not much you can do with accommodations to make a person able to be a high-rise crane operator. There are likely other reasons depending on where you are. "Here" is an open office in a campus building. It's a big open room with all new furniture. No money needs to be spent. Nothing needs to physically change in the office. Other than posting a sign in a visible place and having someone check to make sure no one else is sitting at that workstation when said employee is working, I don't see anything extra as a supervisor I'd need to do.

Which is my point. As a veteran with PTSD-- or, an employee with a disability-- all I really want from accommodations is to be left alone in a calm environment so I can concentrate on my work and get shit done. It's not a game that I'm trying to "win". 

My previous employer thought it was a game to win. I didn't have accommodations there, because I didn't know at the time that there was such a thing as the ADA or accommodations. This was right after I was first diagnosed with PTSD. I was in the 12-week cognitive processing therapy program at the VA hospital, which required an appointment every week. I had sick leave there, but I still had to invoke the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to get time off for my appointments. Then they changed the rules so that to take paid sick leave, you had to be sick for three consecutive work days and see a doctor. So for most of those 12 weeks, while I was allowed time off (only) because of FMLA it was unpaid time off.

I'm including this because I've slowly been realizing that where I work now (where I mostly like working) is gradually becoming the suck in much the same way that my last job was. It's funny-- when I mention the company where I worked before I worked here, if it's someone that's worked there the universal response is "damn, didn't that place suck?" If it's someone that didn't work there, the universal response is "damn, I heard that place sucks!"

And it sucks here that weeks after an incident where an approved accommodation wasn't available, and after I let the appropriate people know about it, that this is still a problem. Okay, fine, don't accept my suggested solution-- but at least do something.

The alternative, if as a supervisor or as an employer someone chooses (and it is certainly a choice) to fight ADA accommodations, or to just simply ignore them, is that as a company or an organization they end up losing good people. I'm not saying that my disability makes me a better programmer than someone else, but I've put a lot of work into learning what parts of PTSD can be good things when writing software. I've learned ways to cope and actually be productive in an environment that's not at all suited to being a software developer with PTSD.

One can only imagine if I had a quiet place to work and didn't need accommodations in the first place.

There is a point (which is very rapidly approaching) where this fight isn't going to be worth it any longer-- I'm leaving soon, which has been the plan for a good long while now-- but even if I were staying at this university, I'd be leaving this job soon. It's been a very good thing in terms of me being able to take time to figure out how programming for money intertwines with PTSD, and I'm convinced that if I'd been at a traditional internship over the past year it wouldn't have gone altogether smoothly either.

This job has also not turned out to be as much experience, or as much challenge, as I'm looking for. I really don't know what to do with having finished a months long project and having no one ask anything about it. The amount of work (the number of paid hours) available here isn't what I thought it was going to be over the summer, so there are other projects that I wanted to work on that I just don't have time for. Once fall semester starts, there will be even less paid hours available that I'm working now. All things considered, is working here worth the fight?

No, it isn't. kthxbye.


More on what's next coming soon.