three months!

It’s weird — it seems almost like yesterday that I started my new job. I keep meaning to talk about it a little, and now I’m sitting here three months (and a bit more) in — and way overdue at posting here about things.

It’s a nice, quiet, bachelor weekend. Laurie’s up in Yosemite on a photo and hiking trip, taking a few days off. I’ll probably go up in late march, maybe early april, after her last surgery and when she’s recovered. This gave her a chance to get some R&R in before the next round (and honestly, with the hassles of kennelling the cats and birds, it seems hard to justify long weekends away together — although in this case, I’m in the middle of a few things where being home is useful.

For those who are complaining that it’s been too long since the last volume of this series, I can only answer guilty, and like George R.R. Martin, start this volume with a recap. It’s hard to believe it’s been almost six months since I left Apple. At this time last year, I was still convinced I was a lifer.

I left Apple in Mid-september, and Laurie and I took off on a couple of weeks of real, uncompromised vacation up to the pacific northwest and back down the coast. Got back the start of October and started interviewing. I ended up deciding on going to StrongMail. Since Laurie and I both realized that once I started it’d be a while before we could do much travelling again, we agreed that she’d take off on a trip to Lassen before the weather closed it down, and then I’d take the week before starting at Yosemite. Laurie had a nice trip doing photo work in Lassen, came home, and then her appendix filed for divorce the next Saturday afternoon — and divorce was finally granted about 5AM on sunday. This obviously changed plans and complicated things. Fortunately, I was not working during her time in hospital and for her first week or so at home, which helped a lot for both of us.

And that was the situation when I started StrongMail. In retrospect, I should have listened to myself and delayed starting another couple of weeks. There was enough going on that I feel like I didn’t have my A game right away, and it frustrated me. A couple of weeks in, things started to click better, and now, I’m really happy with how things are going (and so are they, they tell me).

Who is StrongMail? It’s a startup, about 70-80 people, funded by Sequoia, which is building email appliances. I work in professional services as their architect, helping companies figure out how to integrate the beast into their IT infrastructure and business practices — or how to create them and become an effective email sender. One of the things I’m working on these days is a soup to nuts best practices on how to create various email systems from scratch. To a good degree, I’ve traded in my compiler and copy of vi for word, visio and powerpoint, and if I’m not doing much coding these days, I’m spending a lot of time helping people understand how to code things well.

One thing they’ve asked me to do, but we’re still figuring out how best to do it, is to get involved with MAAWG. I’ve agreed, and I’m looking forward to it, because one of the things I came to realize was a negative at Apple was that my old organizations preferred keeping a low profile, so there weren’t many opportunities for me to get involved in the groups that help set policy in the field. MAAWG’s doing good work at helping mail senders and receivers understand each other and work out common standards to fix the tower of babel that is email these days.

A side effect of the MAAWG stuff is that I now have, much to my amusement, something I never had or could have had at Apple: a formal corporate bio, which we spent a few days working on and discussing just how many times we could put StrongMail in (we settled on 2). Since this is simply too much fun to keep to myself, here it is:

Chuq Von Rospach serves as a professional services architect at

StrongMail, where he helps customers integrate its appliance into

their existing environment and design new state of the art digital

messaging solutions based on the StrongMail platform. Previously, Chuq

spent 18 years at Apple computer, where he designed, implemented and

operated their marketing newsletter system, along with several other

core projects. At the end of his tenure, Chuq served as senior

architect for Apple’s in-house direct marketing email systems. His

career prior to Apple includes stops at both Sun Microsystems and

National Semiconductor. He has more than 20 of years experience in

operating and managing online communities based on email, web and NNTP

protocols.

When I decided to leave Apple and start looking for a job, I more or less did so because I felt I needed to cut the stress and simplify my work life to let me better balance work with the rest of my life (and, he says as a deep subtext, give himself a decent chance of losing weight, which I simply wasn’t able to do at Apple because of the demands of my old job. Now, let’s keep it real: I loved Apple, I loved my job, I loved the people I worked with — but it’s also real that when I handed in my badge and headed for Canada, I was pretty heavily worn out; nobody can claim I didn’t give my all for the cause — and that’s something I’m proud of. But I figured I was going to find a nice job coding somewhere, take a step back, go to a larger, stable company (hint: I fully expected to go to work for Yahoo somewhere, somehow — and came close a couple of times) and go do something other than email.

Which is how I ended up at a small startup doing email systems in a role that’s really a step up for me and making me grow and stretch in new and interesting ways…. And, believe it or not, the stress IS down, my enjoyment of the job and the people I work with is equal to Apple, and I’m having a ball.

And in that, there’s a learning experience to share with others: I made the assumption (and it’s probably not a bad one, but it clearly isn’t the ONLY option) that to simplify my work I’d need to go to a less challenging job, or at best, a sideways lateral into doing something similar. Because of that, early on I was focussing less on positions like engineering manager or architect, and more on IC type positions — and that was in retrospect a mistake, probably what kept me out of Yahoo at the time. On the other hand, I made no assumptions that it was ONLY yahoo I’d go to, and I interviewed pretty widely and considered every option I could dig up — and I came around to what I really found interesting instead of what I thought I’d find interesting, and I ran with it. the key here was a brutal self-analysis of every interview I did; being really honest with myself on how I did, how I felt, how I reacted and whether it was something I felt like pursuing.

I found myself, much to my surprise, a lot more motivated and interviewing well when talking to VP and CxO level people than programmers; when talking policy and strategy instead of arrays and hashes. I was probably THE most surprised person to find that out of the bunch — although there were a number of serious geek jobs that tickled my fancy, too (hi, Ryan; hey, Igor) — and I still really would love to work for Tim some day, but the logistics of living down here simply made that not work this time…

It turns out that (at least for me) getting the life balance back was more about not being the point man for everything — and working with fewer timezones — than it was simplifying the work itself. And for me, now, it’s not so much about what’s next, but taking what I taught myself and learned from my cohorts at Apple — and having a chance to maybe influence and improve many companies through improvements in our product and services, and through my consulting as a PS person, and whatever happens with my involvement with MAAWG and others.

And that, I gotta say, sends me to work every morning with a smile on my face…