Justin du Coeur (jducoeur) wrote,
Justin du Coeur
jducoeur

Signs and Portents; or All Zung Out

I haven't been talking much lately. Sorry about that -- work has been sucking my brain, and a lot of it has been stuff I couldn't talk about. In general, saying publically, "I have a nasty feeling we may be going out of business" is a fine way to ensure that you do, so I've simply kept quiet. Today was the end, and it has been really kinda fascinating. This is long, but I need a good diary entry now.

Just before Thanksgiving, it became clear that Zingdom per se was at its end: the investors, quite reasonably, wanted out. We had a fabulous team, and (IMO) an idea with major promise, but it just wasn't what they had signed on for. There was a potential suitor for us to talk to; if that didn't happen promptly, we were probably heading for shutdown.

Yesterday was The Big Conversations -- the CTO of the unnamed suitor came over, and spent a good long time talking individually with me, Tony and Alex. We were really the only people left: Onur (the fourth engineer) was on his way out the door. So we spent over an hour each talking about us, and them, and what each company was like, and all of our expectations. We came out of it none too sanguine: while they didn't look like a terrible company, the fit wasn't great -- Tony felt that the technology didn't fit, Alex felt the processes didn't, and I felt that the strategies didn't. At the end of the day, Chris (our CTO and effectively the head of the company as we saw it) sent an email around saying that we would be talking about "next steps" in the morning. It wasn't clear whether the "next steps" were talking more deeply with the suitors, or arranging a shutdown.

Well, I got up this morning, went to exercise as usual -- and the episode that was up next to watch was The Inner Light. That pretty much answered my question: I can recognize a Portent when it slaps me in the face. For those who don't know ST:TNG, this is one of the best episodes of the series, but also one of the most melancholy. It's a story about the inevitability of fate, the need to both defy it as much as you can and face up to it when you must, and the fact that a bit of our essence can live on after a fashion, if we remember the lessons of life and pass them on. Beautiful stuff, but by the end of the episode I was pretty clear on what I was going to hear when I got in.

The meeting went as expected: Chris told us that the Board had decided to shut things down, effective today. The company won't formally go out of business for months yet, since we still have affairs to unwind, but nearly everybody was getting laid off. Disappointing, but not surprising to anyone. The complex question, particularly for me, is whether the project we've been on for the past two months -- code-named Salon, and Spark, and a bunch of other things depending on who you ask -- can continue. I'm quite passionate about it, and interested in either finding a buyer for the IP (so we can keep going), or starting anew and doing it myself.

The day was something of a whirlwind after that: all of us packing up, me making one or two last tweaks to the product (because there is still something to demo there, and I want to be able to do that), Tony putting it up on the public server, all of us negotiating prices for our laptops with the CFO, me writing up a prospectus for those lovely infrastructure libraries we've been writing, and of course, everyone swapping contact information. I wound up working a full day, getting out at about 5:30 with a full car.

And then I went to pick up my comics, down at Outer Limits. I've been buying my comics from Steve forever -- something like 20 years now -- so I mentioned that I had lost my job. I then mentioned that I was thinking of going it on my own, and how scary it was, and Steve agreed. I started to talk more about the scariness -- I have *always* worked for other people, and the idea of creating my own company for my own vision is slightly terrifying -- when I realized that Steve wasn't actually agreeing with me about *what* was scary. He's always run his own shop, and from his point of view the scary thing is working for others, who can lay you off for their own reasons. Bless him, it was exactly the perspective I needed at that moment: the realization that what I was contemplating isn't necessarily all that much scarier than what I've always done.

So the high points:
  • Yes, I'm now unemployed.

  • Yes, they gave us some severance -- not vast amounts, but enough to provide some continuity.

  • No, I'm not really looking for random programming jobs right now. I appreciate the requests for resumes and offers of leads, but honestly: if it's not in the social-networking-ish space, it's not what I'm looking for this month.
The thing is, I've been focused on social tools for, what, a dozen years now? I was using the term "social tools" long before it was fashionable. I've been doing socially-oriented programming since about '93, and doing it exclusively since '95. Heck, I wrote a patent (fortunately never submitted) on social networking back in 2000. So from my POV, the world has finally caught up with me -- the stuff that I love most, and am so passionate about, is suddenly hot. So I need to see what I can do there.

I'm going to talk to a few companies: it's possible that the right alignment might happen. But for now, I'm assuming that I'll probably need to create something myself this time. And the emphasis is on "need". Honestly, I'm a little burned out on coding for people who I don't think understand this space quite as well as I do: most of them have been smart, but most have been viewing all this social stuff as an interesting way to make money, not as a passion. They don't *care* about it so much, and they haven't really studied it.

So I think it's time to put my money where my mouth is, at least a bit -- time to follow my vision, and try to create something. It's a pain in the ass losing the Zingdom IP: besides the six weeks we put into the application, the Ea libraries are truly a thing of beauty, and I'll miss them, because they make app development so much faster and smoother. Overall, it'll probably cost me two months, and the market windows are probably tight. But I've got an idea between my teeth, and I have to chew on it.

Perhaps the most important high point -- no, I'm really not down about this. I'm annoyed at losing our headstart, but at least we now have resolution: more than anything, the uncertainty was making me bugfuck, swinging between elation at how fast we were making progress and depression that it could end at any moment. Well, now it's ended, but I still have that flute in my hand, and by God I *do* know how to play it.

There'll be self-doubt tomorrow: worries about whether I'm right, whether I can afford this, whether I'm just being self-indulgent. But for tonight, having a new direction actually feels pretty damned good...
Tags: diary, work
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