Sick Days or Vacation Days?

July 9, 2009


I came down with a *mild* case of food poisoning this week. Mild, meaning I was more or less useless for only one day as opposed to several days. One thing I didn’t realize growing up is that when people say they have food poisoning they usually just assume it’s something bad they ate because they can’t imagine what else could leave their stomach in such agony. And in pretty much all of my food poisoning cases I’ve been reasonably certain that I could pinpoint just which piece of dietary death led me to it.

The question I’m posing here is this:

How many of you guys actually use sick days because you’re sick?

This question is moot to those of you who have separate vacation and sick days. My sick days and vacation days are all lumped together in the form of PTO, or Paid Time Off. As a result, I hate using my PTO when I’m sick because that’s really just one less vacation day that I get that year. If it’s just a cold or a cough, I’ll try to tough it out, but if it gets much worse than sometimes I just suck it up and take the day off. In case you’re wondering, I went to work every day this week, but I was very close to leaving half way through Wednesday.

So do you actually use sick days when you’re sick, or do you power through them so you can have one more day of vacationing freedom? Or do you have some other sort of ingenious scheme to balance these things out?

Does Information Want To Be Free Or Expensive?

July 1, 2009

If you’re a budding entrepeneur or writer, or you just like knowing about random things going on in the world, then this one’s for you.

Malcolm Gladwell, of Tipping Point, Blink, and Outliers fame has written an article in The New Yorker (online) in which he discusses whether information wants to be free or expensive. He also busts the chops of Wired editor Chris Anderson. Gladwell addresses the increasing marginalization of newspapers, and their future in a society that is getting (and seems to desperately want) its information more and more quickly. How do you change a business model that used to rely on a monopoly of information and attention? Good question. No one has answers, and no one is happy.

Newspapers are beginning to realize the importance of distributing their information through the World Wide Web, but the web is full of people just dying to share everything and anything they know (or hear) out there. There is just too much information! The classic laws of supply and demand dictate that since the supply of information is at an all-time glut, that information should be really cheap, right? But wait, getting legitimate news information is anything but cheap. And herein lies the crux of the newspapers’ problem. Getting reliable and credible news is not cheap, but people think it should be since there’s so much news/information floating around the interwebs, so they don’t want to pay for it.

The fundamental discussion revolves around Stewart Brand’s oft-quoted “Information wants to be free.” pronouncement. Brand also mentioned, in the same breath, that information wants to be expensive, since what you do with it can make it exceedingly valuable.

If you get through Gladwell’s article, you can go ahead and read Chris Anderson’s response too. It’s a fascinating bit of back and forth that contains some important ideas to keep in mind if you want to be a journalist, writer, blogger or any kind of entrepeneur that deals in information (that’s a lot of companies, btw).


P.S. Happy Canada Day =)

Graduate School – A Review

June 16, 2009

I went to college for seven years. Yes, seven years. Five years as an undergraduate and two as a graduate. Those years in graduate school were hard – while my friends were going out nightly and enjoying their new wealth, I spent the better part of my life in the library or grading papers as a TA to barely earn enough to cover tuition and living expenses. After I was finally done, degree in hand, I had thought that completion would mean that the symbolic load would be lifted off my back. Sometimes it feels that way. Sometimes I wonder how I even got past it.

I’m not saying that I didn’t enjoy graduate school. But it was more of an act of perseverance than a pleasurable activity. But maybe I’ve got it all wrong. Maybe I should enjoy studying 12+ hours in the library, deciphering Greek symbols and formulas constructed tens, and sometimes hundreds of years ago. The weekends and late nights spent hunkered over a homework problem, staring blankly at code, or sitting around a table of peers discussing a project.

Going to graduate school in engineering is like that. It teaches you a new way to think – that the formula that was served so elegantly to you as an undergraduate isn’t enough. And there will be many more questions raised than answers. And most of these answers will be expected from you, not given to you by the professor. In fact, it teaches you that what is given to you as fact is not enough – that you should try to understand the underlying details to truly understand.

Let’s not ignore the benefits…exposure to new topics, being around like-minded people, and challenging ideas. The potential for a higher income later in life. And most of all, pushing oneself.

But everyone I’ve talked to in graduate school has asked these questions many, many times: Why am I doing this? Why am I here? So my warning to you considering graduate school is this: be prepared to ask yourself these questions many times as well.


Paying Your Dues

May 26, 2009

Yahoo! via The Wall Street Journal has an interesting article about age discrimination. Against us! From everything I’ve seen and heard from colleagues, present and past, I have to say there seems to be some credibility to this argument. To what degree is questionable, but I’ve definitely heard of older employees with more to lose not getting the axe whilst better performing, younger, employees are thrown by the wayside.

The most important part of the article to me, though, comes at the end where author Dana Mattioli asserts that now is an important time to put in extra work and to make sure everyone knows you’re paying your dues, hard. I have to say that volunteering for extra grunt work (as a stepping stone to asking for more real work) is always a practical idea, but I agree that maybe now is a more important time than usual to do it.

Is your company giving fewer, if any, pay raises? Are they actually handing out salary cuts? This advice doesn’t really just go for 20somethings, but I imagine the older generation who still have jobs already know how to play the game. Remember, office politics is all about relativity. When your performance and salary review comes can you tell your boss with a straight face that you worked that much harder than your peers? How much work did you take on? (Note: at the end of the day, ALL work has to get done, so grunt work may seem like a chore to you, but it is still valuable to the company. Just make sure your boss recognizes that!)

Upon reflection, I think I feel compelled to write about this because of a related section of that story that quotes author Bruce Tulgan as saying, “Twentysomething professionals tend to demand flexibility, responsibility and high pay.” What employer would want that kind of worker these days? But it’s true! Even though I’ve seen a multitude of hard working twentysomething, I’ve seen just as many new grads and young professionals walk around with a sense of entitlement thinking that being offered any position short of manager status is a personal affront. No dues paid, no long hours worked. “I have a college degree, damn it!”

Welcome to the real world, kids.


Be a workafrolic

May 13, 2009

From A self-described average guy who found success doing what he loved, Richard St. John spent more than a decade researching the lessons of success — and distilling them into 8 words, 3 minutes.

Travel now, work later

April 27, 2009

A debate that often comes up within my circle is the use of vacation days. For the intrepid careerist, the thought of appearing lazy so early in their career is a sacrifice they are not willing to take. Or to others, the ability to pay out vacation time is even more enticing. If you’re the type of person that thinks that a weekend trip to Santa Barbara or Las Vegas is enough, then you are in an ideal situation where this advice doesn’t apply. But if a two week jaunt across the globe seems short, travel now before it’s too late!

For the past decade, people have become fixated on retirement. The idea was that people would invest wisely in their Roth IRAs and 401Ks, retire in their mid-40s, and spend the rest of their lives finally doing what they wanted to do.

Let’s look at this best case scenario. You’re in your latter years, fortunate to have enough money to take that once-in-a-lifetime trip to see the Amazon River. But your significant other can’t leave their job for too long and your kids only have two weeks vacation for winter break. So you end up taking a two week package tour that stops by the river, and your dream is disappointingly realized when you look out the window of a luxury ferry while your kids eat cheeseburgers and drink shirley temples. Travel will only become more difficult as you become older and have more familial responsibilities or people you have to cater to.

Now for the second scenario. I went to a business lunch with some of my colleagues and we were discussing an executive who had gone on vacation. He was in his late 50s, and had not taken a vacation in over five years. He was taking ten vacation days to go to Europe, but even this was deemed a career risk. The reason? He was afraid that someone else would fill in to complete some of his tasks, and he would be viewed as expendable. You may be busy now, but assuming you climb the job ladder, your work will only become increasingly important.

Go to Japan and attend an entire Nihon Sumo Kyokai Grans Sumo tournament. Follow a leg of the European tour of one of your favorite bands. Complete the Tour de France with a group of friends in September. Train in Muay Thai kickboxing in Thailand. There isn’t a better time than now.

Cava di Isolla, a beach on Ischia

Cava di Isolla, a beach on Ischia

Baby steps

April 15, 2009

I’ve found that the newly employed are often on the fringe, stuck between devoting themselves to their newfound careers or deciding to go back to school. This period, which I will arbitrarily define as RTSS (Roaring TwentySomething Syndrome) is the byproduct of 1) the reality that you may be doing this for the next 30 years and 2) the hope that you can do something more challenging/inspiring/lucrative. For people with symptoms of RTSS, continued education is often seen as the cure, often in the form of graduate school.

For those who have worked for a few years already, the task seems daunting. Open a book, without pictures of electronics/fashion/cars? And study it? The idea of going back to school is intimidating. Especially since the monotony of easy tasks (see: bitch work) often given to new hires has killed off many brain cells, rendering the brain less effective. Plus the alcohol hasn’t helped either. But there’s a solution for this: go back to school. Like, now.

I don’t mean that you should run to your nearest bookstore and buy a stack of GRE/GMAT/LSAT books. That would be terribly boring. Instead, excite the brain by studying what you want to do, preferably in a field as far away from your current occupation as possible. The best place to do this is at a community college. In addition to the benefits of studying what you enjoy, you can also meet new people, which I’ve found is a challenge as I get older. For instance, a coworker of mine is studying accounting, while a good friend of mine is studying Korean and Vietnamese. Another took a photography class. The cost? At De Anza Community College in San Jose, a measly $13 a unit, and classes are typically 3 units! So in addition to doing what you like, meeting new people, and challenging your brain, you also save money by not doing something more expensive somewhere else (i.e. drinking, eating out, shopping, etc).

But the act of going back to a classroom and listening to a lecture is the most beneficial. Perhaps I don’t know that many gung-ho people, but taking baby steps seems to be the best approach to most things. And this is one way to train and determine if you are ready for the next step.