Day 30: It Ain’t Over

It’s tiring. I get it. Dealing with the pandemic is exhausting: wondering if any time you touch something that you’re picking up the virus, or if that person is walking by a little to close, or if it’s worth the risk to pick up some fresh vegetables from the store. It’s been months!

And it’s going to be many months more, thanks to the completely inept handing of things by the Republicans in this country. I single them out because they took common-sense safety precautions and politicized them. How is wearing a mask to limit the spreading of the virus a political question?

But thanks to Governor Abbott here in Texas, the number of new cases of COVID-19 infection is climbing rapidly. Here in San Antonio we had the biggest number of new cases (311) on Tuesday, and the most significant increase in the number of people on ventilators. Houston has the world’s largest medical center, but is so overwhelmed by COVID-19 cases that its Children’s Hospital has started admitting adult patients. Back in April Abbott issued an order that forbids localities from enforcing rules requiring face masks, in an effort “open Texas back up”. There was no evidence that the risk of contagion was gone; in fact, everything said the exact opposite. But in keeping with the Republican strategy of pretending it’s gone, he kept lifting the restrictions that had kept the infection rates low. Now the infection rates are spiking, and they’re acting surprised. The same pattern is happening in Florida, where Governor DeSantis is likewise pretending that things are normal.

And this isn’t a case of “how could we have known?”. Every epidemiologist was saying that re-opening was the wrong thing to do. Every medical authority was saying that we needed more testing to understand the extent of the disease, and that we needed stricter precautions: masks that cover the nose and mouth, full social distancing, and banning public gatherings. We have the evidence from the last global pandemic from 100 years ago: relaxing the precautions led to a second wave of infections. This may be the first time any of us have experienced a pandemic, but it isn’t the first time it’s happened, so we have historical data.

But instead the Republicans, following Trump’s lead, ignored that advice in the hope of giving a boost to the economy.

Priorities!

How is this anything but criminal? If I kill someone so that I can get some money, that’s murder. But if I kill someone to boost the economy (and, by extension, help myself get re-elected), that’s just politics?

Nobody could have prevented this pandemic. I’m certainly not blaming Trump, Abbott, DeSantis, or anyone else for it. But it could have been handled in a way to minimize the suffering and death, as we’ve seen in other countries that treat this like the medical issue it is, rather than political football.

Day 11: Spreading Racism

Mass protests in a time of the COVID-19 pandemic: are they foolish gatherings that will only result in spreading the disease?

In an editorial in today’s NY Daily News, the authors make the case that even though protests in response to the execution of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and far too many others, are important because “racism is a deadly virus, too”.

I agree with the sentiment: racism is deadly, and we cannot just sit back and ignore it. But it is the analogy to a virus that really bothers me.

Viruses spread without intent. They do not choose their hosts. They are opportunistic: if a virus lands on a cell that it can infect, it does so. If it doesn’t, it dies. It does not have the capacity to choose.

Racism, however, is not randomly spread. Instead, it is actively taught to each generation. Children listen to their parents, and largely follow the values that they are taught.

When my kids were young and in day care, one of the other kids there called another kid a derogatory racial name. The woman who ran the day care handled it calmly, explaining to the boy why he shouldn’t call people those names. I talked with her about it afterwards, and she said that her grandmother had a phrase she used when she heard kids say ignorant things: “Well, he didn’t just lick that up off the floor!”

In other words, it wasn’t an accident; it wasn’t randomly spread. Instead, someone spoon-fed that to the child.

The only way to combat racism is education. For years most white people thought that the reports of police misconduct and brutality towards blacks was probably just “a few bad apples”, but that most were fair and respectful. Since the advent of ubiquitous video recording, though, those same white people are getting educated about the reality that POC have known for far too long.

And I hope that children growing up today see these protests, with people of all colors coming together to demand that things improve, and take away from this at the very least the concept that Black Lives Matter. They will be better equipped to deal with a racist relative, and refuse to be spoon-fed that bigotry.

Day 10: Missed Opportunity

It’s been a little over 2 months since I became one of the 40 million people in the US who lost their job as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In that time I’ve been reaching out to people in my network, tracking LinkedIn regularly, and keeping an eye out for a new opportunity.

I’ve applied to over a dozen companies, and out of all of those, only one even bothered to write back that they didn’t think I was a good fit for them. For the rest, it was as if my application had been sucked into a black hole.

Until yesterday. I got an email from a well-know tech company saying that they were impressed by my experience, and so we arranged for a video interview with the hiring manager. Finally, it seemed, the world of employment wasn’t looking so bleak!

For the record, it is not my intention to embarrass this company, so I shall not name them. They seemed genuinely interested, and the people I dealt with were both professional and pleasant.

The interview yesterday went well. I was impressed with the hiring manager, who seemed very sharp. I got the impression he was likewise impressed with me, since he told me he would refer me forward to the next phase of the interview process.

A couple of hours later, though, I got a call from someone in HR at this company. The hiring manager had mentioned to him that I was looking for remote work, which I always state clearly up front. It turns out that even though their entire company is working remotely now due to the pandemic, once that’s over they expect everyone to work from one of their offices. In other words, though working remotely has kept the company running, they will not hire anyone who isn’t located where their offices are. As I am not in a position to relocate now (and besides, I love San Antonio!), I politely declined to continue the hiring process. The HR person mentioned that there is talk of opening up the company to hiring remote workers, so I told them that if that ever happens and I’m still available, I would be glad to help them transition to a remote-friendly culture, as I do have a bit of experience with it.

Before the pandemic, it had been very difficult for me to understand why so many tech companies resisted remote work. I suppose its the old “if I can’t see you, how do I know that you’re working?” attitude. But now that they have been forced to do it by circumstances, you’d think that they’d realize that there is no reason not to embrace it, and many reasons to do so:

  • You now have access to a much wider pool of talent
  • Relocation expenses are eliminated for most hires
  • The amount of office space you need to run your business is kept low
  • Processes are documented better
  • Workers are generally happier

One of the supposed advantages of working in an office is the spontaneous conversations that happen – the proverbial “water cooler” discussions. Sure, these can be helpful, but all too often the fruit of those discussions is never recorded. When you work with a distributed team, it forces you to document these things, usually in email or a Google doc. Such documentation is helpful for preventing misunderstandings down the road.

Unfortunately, it seems that many companies are cutting edge of tech, but very slow learners when it comes to hiring remote workers. So I’m back to looking for openings and filling out applications. And that company is back to looking for the talent they need to grow.

Day 3: Sheltering In Place

It’s been about 3 months since we began to limit our travel due to the pandemic, and while it’s been trying, I have to say that it hasn’t been as bad for me as it has for many others.

For one, I have been working from home for most of my career. I have a dedicated work area, and am completely used to the lack of everyday interaction with others (some might say that I prefer it!). Having been laid off from work due to the pandemic was tough, but I still spend much of my time at my keyboard, either working on projects that I’ve put off for lack of time, or for exploring new skills or tools, or ranting on Twitter. The one positive thing about the pandemic is that it makes it easy to keep a perspective: my wife and I, as well as our kids and their families, are healthy. I wouldn’t trade that for any job.

The change is harder for my wife, who works in the local school district. Before this, everything was done face-to-face at the office or various campuses around town. She and everyone else had to learn and adjust to the new ways of working remotely, which is stressful. She is also much more outgoing than I, and as wonderful as I may be 😜 , she does miss interacting with co-workers and family.

So many of the people I interact with, though, are much younger, and many have small children who need to be kept busy, which can be exhausting without being confined to home. I am grateful that our kids are all grown and out on their own!

We also have a house. It’s small, but still – I can’t imagine being confined to an apartment. I can go outside to the yard, tend to the garden, clean up fallen tree debris from last night’s storm, or just sit and watch the birds. That helps maintain sanity.

I’ve also gotten into baking, as many others have. I have developed a great sourdough starter, and really enjoy mastering that process. But that will be fodder for a different post.

So all in all, I think we have it pretty good overall. I can’t wait until the pandemic is over, but until then, we’ll manage.

Writing Again

Today marks 2 months since I was laid off from my job at DataRobot. It was part of a 25% reduction that was made in anticipation of the business slump from the COVID-19 pandemic, and having just been there for 6 months, I was one of the ones let go.

I have spent the last two months like most of you largely confined to my home, with only an occasional trip to the grocery store. Since I was home with all this newfound free time on my hands, I decided to work on a lot of projects that I’ve had to put off. Now that those are largely complete, I need to find a new outlet to occupy my time. So today I’m going to start on a program of writing every day; you’re reading the first entry.

Not to brag, but I’ve always been pretty good writer. The biggest problem that I have is perfectionism: I want to edit/rewrite until it can’t be tweaked any more. As an example, I was stuck for 10 minutes just coming up with a title for this post! I mentioned this tendency in the very first post of this blog: I was about to travel to Australia, and wanted to have a way to record my impressions. I had hardly ever traveled outside the US, so this was a really big deal for me.

I kept it up for a short while, but soon fell back into my old ways: starting a post, and then abandoning it because it didn’t feel good enough. When I joined IBM in 2014 as an OpenStack developer, part of my role was to be outspoken, and writing blog posts was one way to do that. So for a while I was posting fairly regularly. This time, though, it was the blowback from those posts that caused me to lose interest in writing. You see, the OpenStack developer hierarchy is designed to discourage change and alternate approaches, both of which were the frequent topics of my posts. It discouraged me because I was publicly criticized by many of the “core” developers, who seemed to take my ideas as threats to the way they were doing things. It was even more discouraging that I received at least as much private thanks and praise from others, all of whom were not comfortable expressing support publicly, less they lose political capital with the core developers. I have a post I started and never finished on this toxic atmosphere; maybe one of these days I’ll finish it as part of this new effort.

So I’m now going to reiterate my initial pledge: I will limit myself to a one edit rule: after the post is written, I’ll go over it once for typos, etc., and then publish it. I’m also setting a minimum of 30 minutes per day to write, and to publish it no matter how good I feel it is. There will be no set topic; one day it may be my thoughts on photographic composition, the next may be a tirade about the latest Trump atrocity. But I do hope that what I write is as interesting for you to read as it is for me to go through the process of writing.