Saturday, May 8, 2021

Job and Career Advice

A connection on LinkedIn asked me for help deciding between job offers. I can't provide personalize advice, but here are my thoughts in general.

You must accept personal ownership for choosing what you want to do with at least the next few years of your life. Nobody can do this for you.

Your time is a scarce, non-renewable resource so spend care in deciding. On the other hand it is difficult to make a choice because as they say: it is difficult to make predictions, especially if they're about the future. It's even harder to foresee consequences, especially on your first couple jobs when you are learning how everything works.  But if you end up making a choice that works out poorly, then figure out the lesson to learn and switch to something else.

Take a look at how the job fulfills or supports your needs on Maslow's Hierarchy (  Some of us live to work; some work to live.  There is no one right answer, but at least this gives you a simple checklist of what you want to be provided by the job -- and what you don't.  If you're signing up for a 12 hour x 7 day type job, it had better go a long way to filling up that pyramid in an acceptable, non-destructive way while you're at work, because you'll always be at work.
Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs []

All organizations have dysfunction. Figure out if this organization's dysfunctions are going to be irritating to you or get in the way of satisfying your needs (see previous item).  Most people can stand an irritating environment less well than they think they can.

When you're young there is a lot to be said for working in a structured, mature organization. You learn a lot. Later on you might want less structure.  Skipping right to an unstructured job at an immature company will teach you a lot of bad habits that it can take a lifetime to unlearn and leave many holes in your practical education. (Some jump right to a startup company with no "graybeards". Some skip college. Some get rich by winning the lottery. Some don't. I can only tell you how to stack the odds in your favor.) Consider availability of mentors.

Ask if the level of responsibility & authority is a fit both in terms of scope and structure.  My experience has ranged from military office (highly structure) to consultant (freedom but few safety nets).  Where you want to be likely changes as your career progresses.

Read the general job hunting advice for things such as the realities of accepting a low paying first job and trying to get raises later.  The classic is "what color is your parachute" but no doubt there are others, keeping in mind that highly skilled workers are a bit different than the general work force.  It helps to have a realistic understanding of what you are worth, and to get some objective advice from someone you trust on whether you're getting taken advantage of in a job offer.

After you've considered the above, IMHO only then should you worry about the more common philosophical areas you see mentioned on this topic.  (And really, most of them end up on the upper levels of Maslow's Hierarchy.)  My personal preferences are:
  • Surround yourself with the smartest, most capable people you can (but stopping short of jerks, noting that any company with a "no jerks" policy is making a relative statement to their existing staff, not an absolute measurement).
  • Work for good leaders that support and empower those who work with them.
  • Take advantage of any opportunity you can get to improve your communication skills and soft skills.
  • If you're taking a job purely for the money, go into that situation with an exit plan and target exit date.  And make sure that is really how you want to spend a part of your life.
  • If you're stressed out, it's time to find a new job.  (Or re-invent your job.)
  • If you're stressed out about your career, it's time to reinvent yourself and find a new career.
  • If you strive to be the absolute best at what you do, opportunities will find you.
  • If most days you wake up and are eager to get to work, reflect on how fortunate you are to have that.
Don't forget the part that you own your choice. Your preferences will probably differ.

Please do not contact me with questions about your particular individual situation. The hours in my day are already too few to accomplish what I'd like for my personal goals.  I took some time to write this to help as many people as I can (one of my goals), but I lack the time to provide individual responses.  So if I don't respond to a personal query, please understand (and better yet, send the personal query to a trusted friend instead).

I hope this is helpful, and wish you the best of luck in your job choices and your career!

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Better Embedded System Software e-Book & Paperback

There are only a handful of hardcover books left of the first edition, so I spend some time converting things over to an eBook & Paperback edition.

This is not a 2nd edition, but more like version 1.1.  The changes are:

  • Some minor rewording and cleanup.
  • A few small sections rewritten to reflect lessons I've learned about how to better explain things from teaching courses.  However, scope remains the same and the hardcover book is still serviceable if you already have that.
  • A new summary list of high-level takeaways in the conclusions chapter.
  • Publication support for everywhere KDP reaches, with local distribution in all supported markets.
The paperback is probably what you'd expect given the above, and is Print-On-Demand with production handled directly by Amazon.  There is no index due to publication platform issues. However, the table of contents is pretty well structured and in most cases that will get you where you need to go.  The price is significantly lower than the hardcover, and non-US readers can get it printed and shipped from someplace much closer to home since KDP has local POD for markets in Europe and Asia.

Amazon indicates they will print-on-demand for the following markets: US, DE, ES, FR, IT, UK, JP and CA.  Some readers report availability in other markets as well (for example, AU). So try your usual Amazon marketplace first, then one of the others close to you to minimize shipping cost.

The eBook is reflowable text for the body text (authored in EPUB format, but Amazon changes formats I believe).  Bitmaps are used for figures and equations, so it should look fine on most viewing devices without symbol font issues.  The price is significantly lower than the paperback since production and distribution costs are much lower.

Amazon has worldwide distribution rights for the eBook, but availability varies based on which country your device is set up for.  If your kindle is set up as being in the US market then you should have no troubles purchasing.  Many other markets (especially in Europe) should be fine as well.  Amazon promises e-boook availability in these specific markets: US (.com), IN, UK, DE, FR, ES, IT, NL, JP, BR, CA, MZ, AU.

The book is published via KDP, but Digital Rights Management (DRM) is OFF.  That should help folks with non-Amazon viewers (but I'm not able to provide support for how to side-load onto whatever platform).  If you have Kindle or a machine that runs the Kindle App then it should be seamless as with any other Kindle book.

I really appreciate the support of the thousands of readers of the hardcover edition over the past years. I hope that this makes the material more broadly available!

Saturday, January 9, 2021

The Y2038 Problem. Sooner than you think.

In the coming years, there will be other time rollovers beyond Y2K. The next big one isn't all that far away.

Contrary to what you might have heard, the reason more computers didn't break on Jan 1st 2000 wasn't because it was a false alarm. It was because massive resources were poured into avoiding many of the problems.  And many things did in fact break, but backup plans were in place.  (I recall not getting financial reports for most of 2000 for my spending accounts at work.  So I had to keep my own books and hope I didn't overspend -- because the old accounting system expired at the end of 1999 and the new one wasn't on-line until Fall 2000.)

In January 2021 we saw some aftershocks when a 2-year time digit window hack ran out of steam from Y2K patches.  But the world didn't come to an end.

The next potentially huge time problem will be January 2038 when the 32-bit signed Unix time in seconds rolls over.  

Plenty of embedded systems last 20+ years (already we are closer than that to 2038).  Plenty of embedded systems are using 32-bit Unix, since 64-bit CPUs just cost too much for the proverbial toaster oven.  An increasing number of systems are updatable, but many require manual intervention.   Updating your DVD player (if we still have them in 2038) won't be so bad.  Updating a natural gas pipeline valve in the middle of nowhere -- not as fun.   Updating all your smart light bulbs will range from tedious to buying all new lightbulbs. And so on.

This is a good time for embedded system designers to decide what their game plan is for Y2038.  As your expected product life starts overlapping with that (as I write this, it's only 17 years away), you're accumulating technical debt that will come due in a big chunk that year.  Better to have a plan now than a panic later.  Later has a way of sneaking up on you when you're not looking.

For a more detailed list of timer rollover issues, see:

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

62 Software Experience Lessons by Karl Weigers

Karl Weigers has an essay about lessons he's learned from a long career in software development. You should benefit from his experience. The essay covers requirements, project management, quality, process improvement, and other insights.

A good example from the article is:

"You don’t have time to make every mistake that every software practitioner before you has already made. Read and respect the literature. Learn from your colleagues. Share your knowledge freely with others." 

Job and Career Advice

A connection on LinkedIn asked me for help deciding between job offers. I can't provide personalize advice, but here are my thoughts in ...