Monday, September 05, 2005

Work in the USA
There is no technical content here at all, so I hope you're not expecting any. Hey, these are my notes, so I can write about whatever interests me, right? :-)

After my last day with NGC, I still had some things to do before I went home.

Some months ago, Herzum Software from Chicago got in touch with me about doing some work with them. They'd previously been doing business with Tucana, and were interested in Kowari and the inferencing work I've been doing. After several phone calls, etc, these discussions turned into an offer of work, based in Chicago.

I thought about this for a while. There were a lot of reasons to turn them down. Things have been going really well for me this year, and I've been enjoying the opportunity to work for myself, and concentrate on those areas of interest to me. I've also been looking forward to working with Andrae on full time Kowari work. I love the lifestyle in Brisbane, and I've been earning enough that we have been living quite comfortably. Considering this, it seemed like an unnecessary move, particularly with a second baby on the way. In Brisbane we have friends and relatives nearby who can help out.

On the other hand, contracting has its downsides. There is always the concern of finding the next job, and the bank being unwilling the finance the move to a bigger house (no more expensive than what we have, but Australian banks won't talk to someone without a guaranteed income).

I've also wanted the experience of permanent work overseas, and it would be much better to do it while the children are young. The requirement of a visa means that I've have to work for someone else, no matter how much I like my current independence. So it seemed that it would be worthwhile considering their offer.

There were also a couple of opportunities on the east coast of the US. I was interested in these, partly because of proximity to other large companies involved in semantic web technologies, MINDSWAP, friends like DavidW, and quick trips to Europe. However, Anne liked the idea of an architectural city like Chicago, and everyone we spoke to had great things to say about the place (except for the cold in winter).

After swinging back on forth on the idea, I decided to visit Herzum at the end of my trip to help me work out what I wanted to do.

This time I flew out of BWI (I couldn't have handled another trip to Dulles during peak hour). I killed a few hours in the bar there with one of the guys from NGC (thanks Clay!), before catching my flight to Midway. As usual, the plane was delayed through bad weather.

Herzum keep their own apartment very close to their office (both are located in the "Loop" in the city), and they'd offered to put me up there while I visited. This was my first opportunity to meet the CTO, Bill, whom I'd been conversing with for some time. He was every bit as hospitable as our conversations had led me to believe.

I spent the Friday talking with the developers, discussing what it is that they do, while also discussing aspects of RDF and semantics that may be of benefit to them. In general, I was impressed with everything I heard.

There did appear to be a singular focus on the design paradigms set out in the book written by the company founder Peter Herzum (who was travelling at the time, and not available to meet, unfortunately). However, it also made sense that this would be the case.

I got an opportunity to have lunch with everyone there, and a few of them took me out to dinner nearby as well. Afterwards I was taken on a quick walk up to the Tribune building (quite a famous landmark, and the inspiration for many scenes from "Batman" comics), and got to see some of the other architecture on the way back to the apartment. So far I was having fun. :-)

After a slow start on Saturday, I met with one of the guys to visit "Bodyworks" at the museum, though the tickets were sold out. I still enjoyed getting to see a lot of the sights as we drove about, and we finally went back into town to see the John Hancock building. We had a drink at the bar while admiring the view, and then met another developer to have a late lunch. We then caught a movie and finally headed on home.

I'm glossing over all of this, but I had a great time. More importantly, I quite enjoyed the conversation of the people I was with. They all seemed quite intelligent, and demonstrated a great knowledge of their field. I could definitely learn something from each of them. It is important to me for my co-workers to have these qualities, and it is the reason I enjoyed working at Tucana so much. This reason alone was enough for me to give greater consideration to the position.

Wandering Sunday
I got back to the apartment reasonably early on Saturday evening. Bill had left that day to fly home to California, so I was on my own. I was missing my family and didn't want to be on my own, so I decided to go out to find a bar. I did my best to speak with people in the hope that my accent would land me in some interesting company. :-) This worked out OK, and I met up with quite a few people. I even stopped in at a McDonalds late at night for a snack on the way home (I was already gaining weight on this trip, so why fight it?) ;-) That mightn't seem like a big deal, but I don't normally eat at places like that, and Anne would have roused on me. As a point of trivia, I discovered later that this McDonalds was one of the largest in the world (It did sort of seem large at the time!)

Sunday morning I was supposed to meet up with Luigi, the VP at Herzum, who had just arrived back in town. He had to catch up with family, so he suggested that I go up to Lincoln Park to look around at a potential place to stay if we move over (I don't know if we can afford it, but it was worth a look anyway). I walked down to "State and Lake" to catch a train north, and then walked east towards the park.

I tried dropping into a general store for a light snack for lunch, but I was disappointed to discover nothing more nutritious than Twinkies and crisps. I really hope that place wasn't indicative of the general standard of snack food in the States!

I started with the Conservatory at the park, and then moved into the zoo. It was an enjoyable walk, but warmer than I expected Chicago to be. Not as hot as Brisbane gets, but still uncomfortably warm (why did I go into the Conservatory on a day like that? I must have been slightly crazy from walking in the heat!).

Walking along the lake back down to the city I saw just how many people go to the "beach" on a hot day in Chicago. It looked quite inviting, despite the lack of surf. I've never seen anything like the great lakes before, and this more than anything else made Lake Michigan look to me like an "inland sea".

That night I got to meet Luigi for the first time as we went to a nearby tapas bar for dinner.

Home Stretch
Monday was a little quieter. After packing, I went down to Herzum's office where I spent my morning talking with some of the staff and looking at Peter's book. Luigi went through some of the details of the offer, but at this stage I wasn't sure that it looked all that good. Besides, I was tired and missing my family, so I didn't trust myself to make a decision (though any decision to take the job would need agreement from Anne!).

Steve, the CFO, took me to lunch, and then I was off to the airport to get home (thanks to Dan for making sure I caught the right train to get to Midway on time).

I met some nice people on both flights home. On the Midway-LA flight I met an Ironman triathlete (I look up to these guys) who told me about the XTerra series, one of which she had just competed in. And crossing the Pacific I met a Melbourne lady I've now become friends with who's husband is about to take a job in the triangle are in North Carolina (one of the few places in America that I've been to).

Since getting home I've spent quite a bit of time just trying to get over jet lag and spending time with Luc. This is one of the reasons why my blogging has been so sporadic recently.

After some further talks with Luigi, Anne and I decided that I should take the job. This is a big deal, and has us both a little intimidated!

To start with, I'm a contractor working remotely with Herzum until I can get a visa to become a full time employee. Fortuitously, Australians are now eligible for an E3 visa, instead of the old H1-B, which should make things a little easier for us (it will let Anne return to work eventually). All the same, the visa application will take a little while, so we have to wait while that comes through.

Part of my agreeing to the position was that we wouldn't have to move until January. This is just because the baby is due on the 3rd of November. For reasons of both cost and family support we definitely want to have it here in Brisbane. We're told that we shouldn't be making a major move with a newborn for at least 6 weeks, which takes us right into Christmas. Even if we wanted to move then (which we don't), it would be insane to try it during the peak travelling season. So we'll spend a couple of weeks seeing each of our families over Christmas (they will want to spend time with the grandchildren before we go overseas) and then move to Chicago in the first week of January. What a wonderful time of year to move to Chicago! :-)

In the meantime, I'm learning as much about Herzum as I can, and also looking into some of the software I may be working with. I'll continue to blog, but since I'll be working with commercial systems I may have to narrate in generalities. I don't expect things to be a real problem, as part of my work will be on open source systems (such as Kowari, or Lucene) so I should still be able to make comment on what I find.

I already have a few things to say about what I've been reading lately, but given the current late hour, I'll leave that for another time.

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