So what’s new with me?

I’ve reverted to my natural state, a self-absorbed hermit geek trying to force myself to grow a bigger brain. See, I’ve got this anxiety problem ever since childhood. It’s rooted in the mantra, “I have to, but I can’t,” and it can be applied to many situations in life. It’s the thought pattern that stresses me out more than any other.

Our company has five websites for the six organizations–some of the for profit, others non-profit–that we run out of this office with fewer than ten employees. (My boss redefines the term “workaholic.”) I’m the IT guy. Just me. Anything more technical than browsing the web and accessing your email? That’s my job. I’m also the maintenance man, tightening screws, fixing doorknobs, and changing light bulbs because I’m also the tallest. I also get to haul out the heavy garbage.

Did I mention all our websites are also bilingual English/Japanese? That’s an extra challenge, and a big one, because there’s a technical aspect to it in addition to the comparatively simple task of keeping the contents in each language in sync with each other.

Is the stress getting through to you? Can you tell I’m stressed? I’m not done yet.

Our three main sites need to be overhauled. Site #1 was developed in 2000 in Java by the guy who had this job before me. I don’t know dick about Java, which means I can barely understand the concepts behind servlets, containers, Jakarta Struts, Tomcat configuration files… Whenever something has to get tweaked under the hood, I get that, “I have to, but I can’t” feeling, and it stresses me out. Our business model has changed since the site was developed, so the way the site fundamentally works has to be changed. Overhauled.

Site #2 is the ugliest website I’ve ever seen. It was written in Perl sometime in the mid to late 90’s. It’s my duty to humanity to tear that eyesore down and start over from scratch.

Site #3 consists of completely static HTML pages, but should be database driven with an easy-to-use backend so our non-technical staff can update it. In both Japanese and English, remember.

So the boss wants this all done like, two months ago. Oh, and site #1 (and possibly #2 and #3 also) needs a mobile interface so people can read it on their cell phones in Japanese, which means the view for phones has to be in Shift-JIS while the web version should be in UTF-8. Do you understand that? I’m the only one here who does. It’s a lonely job. Whenever I try to explain something technical to my boss or coworkers, it takes half an hour of excruciating patience on both sides.

So that’s the gist of the situation, and here’s the problem: I suck at programming. I can tweak already written code or write little snippets of code that work, but God forbid I’d ever have to figure out what they do six months later, or even worse, have to make any major changes or additions. The temptation to do things the quick and dirty way is strong–like I said, the boss wants stuff done when he tells me to do it, not half a year later. That’s reasonable, and I really do feel for him. He’s a great guy and works harder than anyone I’ve ever met. He’s got real guts. He gets things done.

Here’s my major personal issue: I feel like I’m the albatross around his neck because I want to do things right. I don’t want to paint myself into a corner or get tangled up and tied to a solution I hacked together in a rush. But I also have to deliver. I don’t get paid to just think and do research.

But that’s exactly what I’ve been doing the past few weeks (and over Golden Week), learning the very basics of Java Servlets, object oriented programming in PHP, XHTML, CSS, and researching the multitude of PHP frameworks available.

I gotta get back to work now. But I’m leaning towards using Zend Framework to redevelop our websites. I discovered it at 3am this morning (slept on the office couch) and at first glance it looks good because it has support for internationalization and localization built in instead of being an afterthought hack someone hobbled together with gettext and spit.

I wish I could use Ruby on Rails. It’s an awesome language and the available documentation is superb. But deployment of Rails a application to the web is a huge, huge, fickle bitch I wasn’t expecting to have to cross swords with. PHP on the other hand is industry standard and supported by default on 99.9% of web servers. So I’ve got to learn some serious PHP kung-fu from now just to be able to do my goddamn job. It’s not all bad, seeing as how I’m being forced to learn stuff I should already know.

So if you don’t hear from me for a while longer, at least now you know why.

P.S. I’m also the audio-visual guy. The skills I acquire in audio and video editing here get applied to work when the need arises. My boss also wants to get into multimedia in a big way, and I’m the one who has to do it, and do it right.

P.P.S. My wife resents me for not doing more to help her around the house.

Rich Pav

Richard has been living in Japan since 1990 with his wife and two teenage sons, Tony and Andy.

21 thoughts to “So what’s new with me?”

  1. You can do it! Keep your head up. I’ve been doing quite a bit of computer work lately…it’s under-appreciated work. And some people expect you to know everything. So I understand somewhat how you feel.

    It’s good to hear from you…I was having withdrawals. That didn’t sound creepy at all.

    I’m coming to Japan in August. I’ll be in Okinawa until September 15 or so. Then I will be attending Ryukoku University in Kyoto for the academic year. Should be fun.

    Apologies for the lengthy comment.

  2. Rich Pav, professional superman?

    More like 21st century maintenance worker. At least I get to be creative once in a while, and more than anything I like sharing what I learn with others.

  3. Talk your boss into hiring an assistant for you. Seriously.

    I finally have a part timer who’s helping me with translation and upkeep of one of the sites–the one that requires constant maintenance and updating. (http://www.virtfair.com) But what I really need is a mentor or equal partner to help with the technical stuff. Unfortunately we don’t have the money to hire someone like that.

  4. The working world is tough for people who want to do things right/thoroughly! And there isn’t enough time in the day to learn all these things that would make it easier. Bummer. Seems like you’re doing a sterling job though! Keep it up for a little while longer and something should “click”. Otherwise, you could talk to your boss for that assistant someone mentioned. Maybe you could just get the assistant for a set time to take some of the heat off?

  5. “I’ve reverted to my natural state, a self-absorbed hermit geek trying to force myself to grow a bigger brain.”
    Thats what EVERY computer geek wants and what most people are doing the opposite of. I’m currently learning XHTML and that hard, we have had about two terms of it and then we are going on to Java… we haven’t even gone over the stuff… What I’d recommend would be trying to get onto any one of the teachers (who teach Internet programing) at any of the school that would be willing give you some help, or idea. God… I just looked at some of the script from the (http://www.virtfair.com) and I can ‘UNDERSTAND’ some of it ONLY because I have done C++, which would mean bugger all to some one that hasn’. Do you use formatted pages? because having one basic one HELPS HEAPS! I LOVE CSS styles and I tend to apply a diffent CSS styl to every single page I have made (but all the main one have the same one, its only really the background picture and the colours that change in all of them.) Its much easier do do that and then worry about the details later. AND RICH,DO NOT, DO NOT, stress out about it all. Just think, in the time it would have taken for you to learn all this stuff earlier, it probably would have changed heaps and you would have had to learn it ALL again, ‘acuse computers go threw stuff like tissue paper.

  6. God… I just looked at some of the script from the (http://www.virtfair.com) and I can ‘UNDERSTAND’ some of it ONLY because I have done C++,

    You mean you looked at the HTML? Then you saw some Javascript that was automatically generated by Dreamweaver. The site itself is programmed in Ruby on Rails, and the HTML is mostly old school with a little CSS thrown in. One of my brain-enhancing projects now is to finally learn how to design pages in pure XHTML and CSS and stop relying on using tables. I’ve put it off long enough, plus now that I have to start thinking about developing web apps for mobile phones, I really have no choice but to totally separate the content from its presentation.

    Just think, in the time it would have taken for you to learn all this stuff earlier, it probably would have changed heaps

    Nope, I should have been studying instead of playing Nintindo DS and napping on weekends. I’d be in much better shape. I’m just thankful I have a very patient and understanding boss.

  7. Man, it sounds like you have a tough job, but I can tell you’re interested in the programming and stuff, which is sweet. I’ve never really been into programming much, so to me it is pretty amazing stuff. Your blog is pretty darn good looking, so I wouldn’t worry about your web design skills. Meanwhile here in Amerika, the stone keeps on rolling.

  8. Oh yeah, I know this is a lame question, but of all programming languages, what should I learn for some light web design stuff? Cheers!

  9. If they don’t have the money to hire another person, shouldn’t you at least get a raise or something?

    Anyway, good to see you’re still alive (sort of). 頑張ってね!

  10. If they don’t have the money to hire another person, shouldn’t you at least get a raise or something?

    It’s a small company, and we’re working hard to make ends meet. The hope is eventually we’ll hit paydirt on one of our projects and we’ll all get raises. I’m just trying hard to do my share of the work, and since there’s a lot of work and only a few people, there’s much I have to do.

  11. @Darren: Wow, what a gold mine. I’ll definitely look at the PHP section. Last night I went through a really good tutorial here, and learned about a lot of the cool stuff PHP 5 can do.

    http://devzone.zend.com/node/view/id/627

    I wish I could take the w3schools site and dump it directly into my brain, like The Matrix.

    What I really need are good tutorials that explain practical, intermediate level code.

    Sometimes I envy blissfully stupid people who can run a cash register or pump gas for a living and not expect anything more of themselves.

  12. Yea I just looked up the code source, have you used Dreamweaver? thats what we have been learning on (it has some really helpful side bars (CSS, behaviors, file(so you can see all your files), and support both XHTML and HTML stuff (as along as you haven’t go it on Strict…)
    /* Currently going threw the Css style on this sheet.. page..*/
    And from this I learnt, You did it in a program(to make it easier on yourself) and you know that to make things easier for your self you put in comments so that its easier to understand what you where doing… Rich Your on the right lines here,

    uses blockquote tag wants to find out what this does

    hee hee hee… I’m looking at making a page on my computer using dreamweaver using your css style!!! Its so easy to enter divs!!!
    Just realizes HOW MUCH I have learnt this year about this stuff… find out what blockquote tag does using Dreamweaver… (You can get a LEGAL trial version of Dreamweaver from its website somewhere…) ANd I just learn some thing just then from you, you put h1 to h4 tags on the css on one line, using ‘,’ to separate them… I probable didn’t know this before because the teacher probably teachers it so that it is easier to read… or they just skiped over those parts…

  13. If there isn’t the money to hire adequate staff to complete work that needs to be done, the business model for the company is incorrect.

    That’s your boss’s problem, and all his workaholism isn’t going to change it. In fact, I’d be very careful about working for a workaholic boss; he’ll give too much of himself, and expect you to do the same.

    Sounds like he already is.

    Perhaps its far too western a viewpoint, but if you’re not getting paid for it, or he’s not prepared to train you on it, why should you do it? The “when we hit the goldmine everyone will get a raise” line or “we don’t have the money to pay you more right now” is the oldest trick in the book to keep skilled staff earning less than they really deserve.

    How much is your workaholic boss taking home?

    Seriously, get your CV in circulation, before you end up sleeping on the office couch for good.

  14. @Victoria: He realized the buisness model has to change, and he needs my help to change it. To be able to help him–and my coworkers–I need to learn like hell. The learning is good for me, it’ll help me either get another job or go into business by myself if the boss gets hit by a truck or drops dead of a heart attack.

    I believe in loyalty and so does my boss. In my last job at a huge, multinational company, I was making a lot more money but my boss was intolerable. I’ve found the right guy this time and I’m sticking with him until the very end, or at least until I’m able to get the job done.

    I think having a boss and a job is a lot like being married. In the US, divorce and job-hopping are common. It’s not that way here. Even though he’s Canadian and I’m American, we tend to do things the Japanese way.

    Honestly, until I learn what I need to know to do my current job right, nobody’s going to hire me to do the same thing. Plus, it’s very hard to change jobs after you’re over 35. Age discrimination, or any discrimination for that matter, isn’t illegal at all here. It’s the norm.

  15. Deployment of Rails doesn’t have to be that hard anymore. It’s nowhere near as easy as PHP, but not much is 🙂

    Check out Deprec – makes it a total breeze. Well, almost.

    Sounds like a good chance to pimp my book (which shows how to use deprec)

    Hope life gets a little less stressful for you soon (and excited about the prospect for a video from the toy fair! 😀 )

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