I have a thing about which I would love to get advice, but I don't know if I even know anyone in an analogous position. One of my current goals at work is something that should be simple, but isn't: figure out what my title should be. What is what I do even called, and what's the path of advancement from there?

I was hired to be in charge of a departmental training program, so a big part of what I do is design curricula and develop training materials; but, like at my previous job, I told them I also wanted to do software development. As a result, I'm also the developer and maintainer of one of the most frequently used tools in our NOCC. So basically, I multiclass.

That's really cool, and I'm super proud of the breadth of accomplishments I've had, both here an along similar lines at Red Hat, but multiclassing also presents problems. Case in point: My group at work has been getting bigger, which means they're adding a layer of middle management for each of the many "buckets" in which the team works. Being the most senior (but not the only) instructional designer on the team, I was an obvious choice for being put in charge of the training bucket, but after discussing this with management, we concluded that that wouldn't be the best way to use me. My time is already split between instructional design and software development, and this would split my time a third way by adding people management (something in which I'm only partially interested anyway), almost certainly at the expense of my software work. In effect, the fact that I am doing valuable stuff in two unrelated contexts is a disincentive to advancing me too far in either one. At Red Hat this was less of a problem because my whole department was all about training, so the software projects I did were directly relevant even as I advanced, but while I do have training-related software projects, it's less the case here.

And therein lies the crux of the issue. In effect, multiclassing is (arguably) causing me to level up more slowly. In a lot of ways I'm ok with that, but I do worry about the future. If my path of advancement isn't being in charge of one area or another, what is it? Is vertical advancement even that important? On the one hand I have this gut worry that even if I continue getting raises and whatnot, I'm losing out in the long-run if I'm not moving "upward" in some way. But on the other hand, I... think that's just me being silly? Typical "up up up the zigurat lickety split" conditioning?

So I guess the question comes down to: is it practical to make a career out of being "guy who does a bunch of stuff that's interesting to him and useful to the company", or does a long-term plan need to involve picking a focus?

If anyone's been in or has observed similar situations and has advice, I'd love to hear it.
Last Friday I tweeted about the fact that I'd spent most of my workday designing a single SQL query. I'm pretty happy with what I ended up with, but while I'm good with SQL I'm not an expert by DBA standards. Then it occurred to me that, for once, nothing about what I was doing was proprietary or anything, and I should be able to freely share it, so, database folks, whatchathink of this...

Suppose you've got a table with a bunch of logs kept by a training content server (Moodle). Each log record has a timestamp and keys that reference tables with related information like user details, course details, etc.

You need to design a single MySQL query (multiple queries, temporary tables, etc are not an option) that gets the following...
  • For each user who...
    • Has accessed a course in the last 30 days...
    • ...but only counting courses of a certain type (type information is in the related course record)
  • Get aggregated for details from that subset of records for that user (total logged events, unique courses, unique dates, etc)
  • AND certain non-aggregated details for the most recent event only from the subset for that user (date of visit, course visited, etc)
  • BUT, there can be multiple records for the same user/timestamp combo, in which case you only want to produce one record, by just taking any one of the matching records for the non-aggregated details.
The combination of aggregated and non-aggregated fields in a single query, based on aggregated and non-aggregated criteria, and the fact that I couldn't count on having a unique key to work with proved particularly tricky.

The solution I ended up with is under the cut-- I wonder if others can think of a better way... )
I would like to see how many people out there feel that the following describes them:

Imagine a balloon.

The balloon represents your ability to concentrate on a problem.

The less trivial and longer the task, the more puffs of "concentration" are required.

Of course, everyone has a finite amount of lung capacity for blowing up the balloon, but normally, everyday distractions aside, when one has a task to perform, one dumps a few hearty lungfulls of effort into the balloon and can eventually tie a knot at the end of a completed task.

For me, on a bad day the balloon has a tensile strength of practically zero.

*puff* *puff* *POP!*.

And when the balloon pops, it's... kind of freaky really. Often with no conscious thought, my mind just throws an exception (sorry, was trying to avoid tech analogies, but this one works too well) that is handled by a process that automatically finds another task, sometimes seemingly at random, that is within the balloon's estimated capacity. Sometimes I literally find myself starting on the new task with no conscious thought of what I'm doing, only to "wake up" just in time to say "damn it, I did it again!". On a really bad day this means I often find myself skimming some random, pointless web page, not reading anything over a paragraph long (*POP!*), all the while thinking to myself "Why am I doing this? This is not what I want to be doing right now!"). Other times, like right now, interest in what I was trying to do is replaced by a compulsion to do something else: "You should go write up that balloon analogy that's been kicking around in your head! Yeah, go do that!". If I stick to tasks within the balloon's capacity I can do them, but when the capacity is near zero, or when the things I really need to be doing are above the balloon's capacity, I have some hard decisions to make.

Do I medicate? I already took a (very small) dose of my ADHD prescription this morning, but it either did nothing or made the balloon strong enough to write this post, but not to debug the code I really, really need to debug today, and I'm hesitant to start messing with taking more (though my doc has said that at the doses I'm talking about it should be fine).

Do I go for a non-prescription stimulant like caffeine? I've been drinking a lot of tea lately, and the more I intake, the more the positive side effects seem to lessen while the negative side effects remain. This is one reason I've never bothered upgrading to coffee.

Naps are very helpful when I can get them, but it's a crapshoot whether I will actually be able to sleep. My body as a whole can be exhausted, but my brain can still be running a mile-a-minute in all directions, and/or my limbs will be full of this low-level buzzing energy that doesn't contribute to my energy level in a meaningful way, but does keep me from sleeping (or staying asleep).

Note to self: I should probably use this as an excuse to exercise and see if that helps. I recently invested in some dumbells so I can do curls and things when I feel this way. These seem to help. Finishing the post first, though, because dammit I'm going to finish *something* today.

I'm not one to downplay the importance of discipline and self-care, but days like this make it really clear to me that there's something operating sub-optimally in me.

...or is there? I'm curious to what extent this analogy rings true with others reading this, and if so, whether there's a correlation with ADHD diagnoses. If you've an opinion one way or the other, please comment.

It was finally getting fed up with wasted *POP!* days that led me to go in for the testing that led to my own diagnosis of ADHD, but I still half expect the majority of responses to this post to be "nope, pretty much everyone works like that sometimes, especially when one doesn't take care of one's self (e.g. sleep)" or something. And, frankly, I'm quite prepared to hear that answer, so don't hold back if that's how it is for you.

I know I'm hyperactive in a way that keeps me from sleeping as much as I should (I type as my leg bounces uncontrollably under my desk, like it was this morning in bed), and I know this contributes to the balloon problem. Whether the "ADHD" is a cause or a symptom is only relevant to me inasmuch as it has a bearing on what solutions are most likely to work.

In case anyone suggests it, I have an appointment for a sleep study-- or rather, an appointment for a preliminary meeting that will hopefully lead to a sleep study. The earliest they could make that appointment is mid-October. Sigh.

Ok. There. I've indulged my muse. I'm going to go exercise maybe try to nap, and pray I have time left to get my workstuff done before I have to start getting ready for PiCon.
Changing teams at work and learning a bunch of new software (a bunch of internal stuff, plus Plone-- because apparently I need as many python webapp frameworks in my life as possible ;) to get on-board with that, plus multiple ongoing discussions with other Serendipity Station players as we sort out character ties, story-so-far, etc, plus Second Shift (hopefully releasing 2.12 (which is almost 1.5 hrs long!!) on Sunday), plus needing to record lines for another Doctor Who fan audio I'm going to be in, plus having been asked to help out with a fun-sounding recording project tonight...

Suffice it to say I haven't been on lj/twitter much lately and probably won't be for the next coupla days. If anything goes on what I should know about, please send me an IM/email. ;)

...and just for the record, this is a good kind of busy. Still having fun with everything. :)

...oh, and one other random thing: Strange Brew is playing at the Brattle next Weds evening. I have never seen it. Should I? If so, is it the kind of movie that's worth paying extra for the theater experience?

...Ok fine, one other other thing, because it amuses me: I am drinking tea from a pint mug. I believe this may be the most concentratedly British thing ever.
You know one of those apps that puts up a good front, provides you an interface and seems to work ok for basic functionality, but then dumps core whenever its given anything non-trivial to do?

My brain is like that today.

Actually, to make the analogy more dense but also more accurate, it doesn't dump core, it just throws an exception. Fortunately, they all get caught. Unfortunately the default handler seems to be oooh_look_a_webpage().

Grr.. I have too much crap to do today to have to deal with this. =:(
I think I may have a job interview as a trainer for RedHat!!!

Red. Hat.

Like, *the* Linux company. Historically I've used other distributions more, but I've done most of my freelance teaching with their stuff and like it. This job would ROCK.

Woooooooooooooooooo!!!!! =:)

What's more, they say that they're specifically looking for someone living in the Florida area!

Both the lady who talked to me and her boss are going to be out of town for a few days, but she's going to try and get me an in-person interview while I'm in Phoenix.

/me can't freakin' wait!



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