In the past 3 days I’ve had a tour of Local Garden from Donovan Woollard, heard a talk by Ken Lyotier founder of United We Can, and hung out with our Fresh Roots CSA gardeners at a soup swap. All of them are inspiring entrepreneurs who are doing great work in Vancouver.
The tour of Local Garden was really interesting. They’ve built a fancy, mechanized, vertical garden system to pump out fresh greens. Their focus is on reducing the carbon footprint of traditional salad mixes, which are often shipped from California. Their Vancouver greenhouse sits on the top floor of an unused parkade in downtown Vancouver (next door to Pulse Energy), uses 1/10 of the water of traditional farming, and they ship their greens to restaurants and grocery stores by bike. How cool is that?
Last night we hung out with the Fresh Roots gardeners, who hosted a soup swap that ended up being more of a dinner party with board games afterwards (awesome!). Ilana and her crew are the coolest, hippest farmers I know. We’ve been getting a CSA share from them for the past two years and are looking forward to another season this year. Fresh Roots grows a lot of their veggies on school grounds in Vancouver, partnering with the teachers and students to pass on their farming knowledge to the next generation.
Ken Lyotier started United We Can, a bottle depot in the downtown east side, in 1995 after years of dumpster diving on his own. Binners are now a fixture in Vancouver, collecting refundable bottles throughout the city. The social enterprise Ken started provides an important revenue stream for them. It was interesting hearing about Ken’s own personal struggles with addiction and how United We Can has grown from a small outfit run by a rag tag group from the DTES to one of the largest bottle depots in the province, employing hundreds of people.
Hearing from these amazing people helps puts the work I do at Pulse Energy into perspective. And speaking of which, you can recognize the awesomeness of our company by voting for Pulse Energy for a Smart Grid Superstar of 2013 award.
We got married in March in Banff. We kept the wedding small, inviting 18 of our closest family and friends for a weekend adventure in the Rocky Mountains. In between snowshoeing, cooking, and relaxing in the cabin, we managed to find time to have a small wedding ceremony. We really cherished the quality time we were able to spend with everyone who came to Banff to celebrate with us.
In July, Emily started a new job managing grants for the Vancity Community Foundation. She’s enjoying the challenging but rewarding work that builds on a lot of her past experience.
I’m still working at Pulse Energy – 4 years on, a new record for me. My team is awesome and I like that every day brings new technical challenges and learning experiences. My work in the past year has focused on integrating a Cassandra database to store our massive amounts of data.
Emily celebrated her 30th birthday in December by “Putting a Bird on It“, and I’ll be entering my 4th decade in a few months. Early in the year we decided to push our vegetarian diet one step further and go completely vegan. Our bodies seem to be enjoying the lack of dairy (mine especially). Our transition has been made easier by several new veggie restaurants that have opened in Vancouver in the past year. The Acorn is our new favourite. We also cook a lot and enjoy discovering new vegan recipes and opportunities to use all of the veggies we’re getting from our garden and CSA share.
Travel continues to be a big part of our lives. We started the year surrounded by strangers in sweltering Vietnam and ended it freezing our butts off with family in chilly Manitoba. In between, we found time to visit relatives in Toronto and attended weddings in Seattle and New York. We also drove down the Oregon Coast and enjoyed hiking and camping in British Columbia.
Back in Vancouver, we’ve really settled into our new apartment in the Olympic Village. I’ve taken on the role of community garden coordinator for our building, even though I’m only figuring out how to grow things myself. Luckily, I have generations of gardeners to call on for advice (thanks Mom and Baba). I must have inherited green thumbs, because we had a great harvest this year, with arugula, kale, radishes, beets, carrots, green onions, peas, tomatoes, and a lot more veggies than we could handle on our own. More significantly, the garden has been a great way to meet our neighbours and we now have a great community of friends in our building. We also met a lot of our neighbours from the work Emily did coordinating a composting program for the Olympic Village.
We’re looking forward to more adventures in 2013. I’ve signed up to run my first full marathon in May and we’re planning trips to Hawaii in the spring and Newfoundland in the summer.
On Saturday I participated in my first hackathon – the Vancouver Cleanweb Hackathon. It was a 12-hour coding marathon, or at least it was for our team from Pulse Energy. While most participants spent the first 2 hours brainstorming, pitching ideas, and recruiting team members, we locked ourselves in a board room and started coding with barely any breaks for eating or peeing. We weren’t necessarily serious or competitive. We just had an ambitious plan and only 12 hours to make it work, so there was no time for socializing.
Earlier in the week, we spent two lunches brainstorming about ideas and planning how we would build our favourite idea, a building manager sim game. We knew we were in over our heads, but we hoped the extra prep work would make up for our lack of game development experience.
Below you can see the evolution of our game as we slowly added functionality, content, and graphics. I’m impressed with how polished it looked after only 12 hours. A lot of the credit goes to our graphic designer, Tyler.
Our biggest challenges were making the game realistic (we used real data as much as possible), fitting in all the functionality we wanted (sadly, a lot of cool features got cut), and hardest of all, keeping it fun. At 6 pm, with 2 hours left, we stopped coding and did a play-through of our game and realized it was horribly boring. At that point, we stopped adding new features and prioritized fun. We added quirky comments from grumpy tenants, a scoring system, a tweet button, and animations to make it seem more like a game and less like a budgeting exercise.
I encourage everyone to check out and play Epic Energy III, and tweet your high score. The goal is to save as much energy as possible while keeping your tenants happy (which should be explained on an intro screen, but that feature got cut). So far, my best score is 20,308. If you’re interested in the code, you can see all the commits on GitHub. Don’t worry, even if you can read the code, it’s not obvious what the best strategy is to get a high score.
We’re still planning on making some improvements to the game in the coming weeks even though the Hackathon is over. It’s good marketing for Pulse Energy and fun to work on.
I’m overjoyed to report that I no longer work in West Vancouver. As of November 1, Pulse Energy has shiny new offices in downtown Vancouver. Having more space for our growing company is great, as is the central location and the short commute. Although I appreciated how fit I became biking close to 40 km a day, I’m much happier now with my 15 minute bike ride to work (especially with all the rain). And Emily is working a few blocks away.
The food options are so much better in downtown Vancouver. I’ve been to Nuba twice already, met the Business Objects crew at VCC, and discovered an amazing Mexican taco shop, called La Taqueria. There are so many new restaurants to try and review on my Urbanspoon account.
The company is also more social now that everyone isn’t rushing back to Vancouver at the end of the day. Last Friday a bunch of us went to the Railway Club for after-work drinks, and this Friday we had our first Board Game Night – a great success. Who knew there were so many board game geeks at a tech company?
Ok, I think I’ve waited long enough. It’s been 5 weeks, the honeymoon period should be over, and I still love my new job.
There is no shortage of challenging interesting projects to work on, the development team is stacked with smart people, I’m learning a lot and contributing to a great product, and our small company is starting to take off. In short, I’m happy and proud of my work. In a lot of ways, work reminds me of university, and that’s a good thing.
The commute to work has its moments. I usually bike to work 3 days a week and bus the other 2 days. The bike ride is a scenic 35 minute trek along the sea wall in Vancouver, through Stanley Park, across the Lions Gate Bridge, and along the shoreline in West Vancouver until Dundarave Beach. As far as bike commutes go, it’s pretty enjoyable. I don’t have to fight with cars and it’s faster then driving the same route, as traffic really backs up going over the bridge. It’s just a bit too long. After a long day at work, when it’s dark outside and raining, the 35 minute bike ride home isn’t thrilling.
The bus ride only takes a bit longer then biking. From downtown to work I usually get a seat and read a book along the way. The only problem is getting down to Georgia Street to catch a bus to West Vancouver. If I’m at my place, I have to try catching a bus coming over the bridge from Kits, which are often rammed with people and pass my stop with a “SORRY, BUS FULL” sign lit up. From Emily’s house, it’s similar, but instead of buses there are jammed SkyTrain cattle cars.
There are no offices or even cubicles at work – just two rooms with desks and large tables in them. Some people have dedicated desks, but for the development team (there are 8 of us now), we move around between the few big tables. Our laptops make it easy to rearrange ourselves so people working on the same tasks can easily collaborate.
I think the worst part of work is the location. The commute is annoying, and there really isn’t much around the office. For lunch there’s a cheap sushi restaurant, a pub, and a cafe that have decent food. However, often people buy groceries at the local IGA and just cook in the work kitchen.
I’m continually impressed with the calibre of people at work. Every company I’ve worked at has had smart people, but the team we have at Small Energy Group is really impressive. There’s a good mix of bright young hires and experienced veterans with impressive resumes. Everyone is super competent, and I think they have to be to survive in the environment we have right now – fast moving and without the processes that prevent dumb check-ins.
There is a real sense at work that’s we’re riding the wave of something big. The only fear is we’re going to be a second too late and miss it. There is so much to do right now, so many features we want to add, and so many potential clients that want to get integrated, it often seems overwhelming. We’re definitely understaffed. We are hiring and I am supposed to help recruit people I think would be a good fit. So, if you’re interested in working in Vancouver for an amazing start-up, let me know. If you want to take a look at what we have so far, I can give you a demo account.
I quit my job. On Thursday I accepted a position at Small Energy Group and on Friday I gave my two weeks notice at Business Objects.
It wasn’t an easy decision, and a lot of factors played into it. The biggest is a chance to work on something that will have a positive influence in the world. Small Energy develops energy monitoring software that helps businesses reduce their energy consumption and lessen their environmental impact.
The other big factor is a chance to try something new. I’ve been at Business Objects now for just over 2 years – I’ve learned a lot, but I feel like I’ve been stagnating lately. It’s been a while since I worked on anything challenging and cool, and most of my time and effort seems to go into fighting inertia. You know the stuff that any large company with multiple software releases needs to deal with – bug fixes, integration work, build system organization, reverse compatibility issues, etc.. There’s also all the crud involved in the integration with SAP that hasn’t been entirely positive.
I’m looking forward to working at a start-up company, on something new and fresh with all the challenges that entails. I’m not looking forward to the long hours, but I think I’ll be able to find a good compromise.
My commute is set to change from a 10 minute bike ride to a 11 km, 35-minute bike ride over the Lions Gate Bridge and into West Vancouver. Small Energy has showers and facilities for biking – I was impressed to see a lot of their employees are avid bikers, including the CEO.
I’ll have a week or two off before I start work at Small Energy. I haven’t decided if I’ll go home to visit the family, or take the train down to Portland for a few days. I’m leaning towards Portland, but only because I want to avoid another flight this year.
Special thanks to Ben who provided an amazing reference for me! And to Graeme and Greg who first told me that Ian had moved to Vancouver to work for an environmental start-up. And to Ian, for providing that initial reference to the people at Small Energy.
It’s official. I’m an SAP employee. Time to start learning German. I think there are still some legal details, but I have an SAP email address, so that’s enough for me.
We had our Day 1 introduction to SAP yesterday morning. A lot of buzzwords were tossed around, speeches were given, and important questions asked. It looks like business as usual, for the next year at least. From my perspective, not much is set to change. There will probably be some extra integration work, but they’re not changing compensation or benefits for a year (bummer) and my job is safe.
Speaking of SAP, the former chief architect has just made big news for planning an electric car network in Israel. It’s an ambitious project: 10,000-20,000 cars sold a year, 500,000 recharging points, and it should be up and running by 2011. I hope it succeeds.
In other tech news, MDA (which is probably the next biggest tech employer in Vancouver after Business Objects) has been losing employees due to its controversial decision to sell of its space division to an American weapons maker famous for making cluster bombs, depleted uranium rounds and landmines (CBC story). I’d be right pissed if I worked in that department, and would probably quit too.
I received two company wide emails at work today notifying us that we’re being sued by different companies for patent infringement. It might sound serious, until you realize the ridiculous state of software patent laws. I don’t want to get into the finer points of the debate, only to say I think software patents are stupid – they don’t encourage innovation, and only force software companies to spend millions of dollars on lawyers (money that could otherwise go to pay developers like me to create cool stuff).
The latest lawsuits are ridiculous. One by a “software” company for infringing on a patent for “System for transforming and exchanging data between distributed heterogeneous computer systems”. Maybe I’m missing something, but this is a fundamental part of any distributed system. This isn’t groundbreaking. Maybe there’s more to their patent, but considering they’re suing Business Objects, IBM, Microsoft, Sybase, and about every other major software company in the world, I doubt it. From Enterprise Backoffice Blogs “JuxtaComm are a subsidiary of Teilhard Technologies, a 10+ year old company that reinvented itself from a software firm to a patent revenue firm.”
The other lawsuit is from a subsidiary of Acacia, another patent trolling company who previously sued us (and the rest of the software world) for using hyperlinks on CDs. This latest lawsuit is for “Apparatus for applying rules to data sets”. Another ridiculously vague patent that probably never should have been awarded.
Even though the software patents are vague and never should have been awarded, that doesn’t stop trolling companies from using them for suing legitimate software companies for millions of dollars. Usually they don’t win the lawsuits, but often enough they’ll get out of court settlements (like Acacia got last time they sued BOBJ) because fighting lawsuits are expensive and can affect sales.
What irks me almost as much as the dumb patent lawsuits, is that software companies don’t band together to demand patent reform. Instead they support it and give big bonuses to employees who file patents. [/rant] I’m going to be in a moral dilemma when I get an opportunity to stick my name on a patent and collect the $1000 reward for my efforts.