2011: Back to Work

Funemployment is over.  I have work to do.

I made the decision last summer, when I was starting to look at new jobs, that I no longer wanted a full-time, all-consuming job.  I made a list of what I wanted, and it looked like this:

– Time to work on my own projects (2 days a week)
– Time to continue my graduate course work in computational linguistics and data visualisation (1 day a week)
– Working from home
– Working with smart people from whom I can learn loads
– The opportunity to teach others
– Cutting-edge technology
– Work in areas I’m passionate about: media, publishing, mobile, news
– Ability to continue to travel
– Complete ownership of my schedule
– Last but not least: stay in Ireland (at least until my visa runs out!)

I might be the luckiest person I know – things are working out great so far.  Here’s what I’m working on:

National College of Ireland

LECTURING: I have accepted a part-time lecturing position at the National College of Ireland for the Advanced Rich Internet Applications piece of their new MSc in Web Technologies program.  I start at the end of January, and I can’t express how much I’m looking forward to it.  During my time at Microsoft Ireland, my absolute favourite part of my job was being able to take small groups of developers and teach programming concepts and new technology designs.  I love teaching, so I can’t wait to get started.

PERSONAL PROJECTS: I’m continuing to work on my own projects, which are small prototypes that I will probably blog about later. 

Nomad Editions

NEW TECHNOLOGY: And lastly but most exciting, I’ve joined the team at Nomad Editions as their tech lead.  I can’t think of an area I’m more passionate about right now than digital magazines.  I’ve been a magazine junkie my whole life, and what magazines are doing with their digital versions is absolutely breaking my heart.  Nomad Editions is a mobile-focused start-up based in New York doing the right thing for magazine and news readers as well as anyone who loves narratives and storytelling.  Nomad Editions are small, focused weekly magazines downloaded to your desktop/laptop/phone/tablet/device that look amazing, no matter how you’re reading them. 

If you are a foodie, a surfer or a film buff, you can sign up for the free beta trials now at http://nomadeditions.com.  Or follow us on Twitter at http://twitter.com/readnomad (each magazine has its own feed as well which I’ve listed here: http://twitter.com/martharotter/nomadeditions-15).  Working with fantastically smart people like Petr van Blokland, Roger Black, Filipe Fortes and the superstar Nomad team means I’m learning all the time from the best of the best, which is an unbelievable opportunity.

Nomad Editions Magazines 

Nomad Editions runs on top of Treesaver technology, designed and built by Filipe Fortes.  Treesaver is what makes Nomad work cross-browser/cross-platform/cross-device and look amazing the whole time.  To learn more about Treesaver, you can follow @trsvr on Twitter.  This video interview with Robert Scoble gives an excellent overview of Treesaver’s origins and how it works: Treesaver Shows HTML5 Can Hold its Own Against Flipboard-style Design.


So that’s what I’m up to for the next few months.  I’ll be in New York city next week for some new Nomad Editions developments and I’ll definitely have some news to blog about after that.


Funemployment [fuhn-em-ploi-mənt] –noun :
     The art of making unemployment fun.

Funemployment took me from my return from Nepal and Tibet through the holiday season & new year.  I can’t recommend it enough.  Up until this break, I haven’t ever not worked since I was about 16.

You know those projects that build up?  Sometimes they’re silly things like organize my desk, get rid of books I don’t read anymore, de-clutter the cupboards, redesign my blog. 

Everyone has these. 

For me, they’re more often than not along the lines of, “What if my Lego Mindstorms robot could place a beer on my Roomba, and the Roomba could drive it over to me?”  or “What if my refrigerator were smart about its inventory and could let me know what I needed to buy and when?” or “What if I could correlate eating certain things to feeling a certain way?”  They’re not lifelong quests, usually just short projects.  But they are things that a) pile up over time and b) I never have had time for due to having a time-consuming job.

Funemployment, as it turns out, is a great time to take care of those things.

I travelled to Nepal and Tibet, which I’ve already written about, but also to Spain, Paris, New York and home to St. Louis to celebrate Thanksgiving with my family.  I worked on three mobile applications I have wanted to build for a long time.  I starting creating my own company for contract and consulting work.  I streamlined my home office and picked up some new tech and gadgets.  I began learning new styles of cooking including Mexican, Southern American, Japanese and slow-cooking.  I reorganized closets, recipes, books, CDs, the whole kitchen, and basically the entire house.  I went out a lot.  I stayed home a lot, too.  I spent lots of quality time with family and friends.  I became obsessed with my Xbox Kinect and the opportunities it presents.  I tried new restaurants and new cafes.  I stitched up all my socks with holes in them (I’m very proud of this one).

And I read.  A lot.  I constantly tear through magazines, and I found some new ones to fall in love with.  During Funemployment I read mostly technology books, but also non-fiction and some good fiction as well.  I have a few books I will review on the blog later, but  I want to call out one specifically here: Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink.  Having led technology teams before, I was already well aware that money is a poor motivator and that autonomy, trust and respect are much more useful in helping someone develop and produce great work.  However, this book goes beyond that, with fascinating real-life examples and insightful ideas to consider in terms of motivating both yourself and your team.  A great summary video of the book was done by RSA Animate and can be found here.

image of Drive book

But my favourite takeaway from Drive is a concept called “The Sagmeister.”  Pink named the concept after designer Stefan Sagmeister who closes his shop every seven years and takes a 365-day sabbatical.  The idea is that since retirement is very far away, wouldn’t it be great to intersperse it with our normal life?  Pink writes about Sagmeisters and Stefan’s TED talk here on his blog.  I read this book during a day-long bus ride from Kathmandu to Pokhara, where we were going to start our trek.  At the time, Sagmeisters seemed like a luxurious and frivolous idea.  Definitely something that would be impossible to do if you had a career in a fast-paced field like technology.  After several long days of hiking and loads of time to think, I concluded it was completely reasonable and probably highly useful.  I even calculated how much I’d need to save per month to make this happen five years from now.

Mostly, it made me realize that I, not Stefan Sagmeister, was the crazy one for waiting until now to take some time off.  I really treasured those couple of months and highly recommend it to anyone.

Who Turned off Teh Interwebs?

I knew that various parts of the web are blocked inside of China, but I didn’t realize how much it would actually affect me during my five days there.  Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, TwitPic, Tumblr, Dropbox, Foursquare, Vimeo, various Google services (Calendar, Reader), certain news sites, podcast downloads.  All of these things were inaccessible while I was there.  I of course tried loads of VPN services and proxy clients but couldn’t get any to connect.

It didn’t stop at the web, though.  SMS messages to my family were garbled (this happened to both my friend Karen and me, and we were on different networks: MaxRoam (me) and O2 (Karen), so it didn’t seem to be a carrier issue) or just didn’t make it.  I missed loads of incoming SMS messages as well.  I can’t explain how frustrating it is to feel completely cut off from your friends and family. 

At the Lhasa airport on the way back to Kathmandu, I used Maxroam to call my family and it worked great.  I couldn’t wait to get back to Nepal and catch up more with folks.  It made me realize that even though I can go weeks without using the web when I want to disconnect, I do miss them when I know they’re there and I can’t get to them. 

It felt silly, because how much do you really miss when you don’t read Twitter or Facebook for a few days?  Usually not terribly much.  In fact I rarely use them or any of the other blocked sites I mentioned above when I’m on holidays.  But I returned to Kathmandu feeling like I had been in outer space for a year.  It’s a very strange feeling.