Half.com Shutting Down (Again) – Farewell Old Friend

On 31 August 2017, eBay's fixed-price marketplace site Half.com will be closing its doors for good. This makes me a little sad, and a lot nostalgic. This site did so much for me over the years, and I tried to do so much for it. It's sad to see it go.

So why am I so emotionally attached to a website? Let me tell you a story.

Once upon a time, when a cable TV subscription was still way out of my budget and before I had heard of Netflix (circa 2000), I used to watch all my TV shows and movies on DVD. I'd wait a year for my shows to come out on DVD, buy them used, and then sell them used. Half.com made the buying and selling insanely easy and I loved the crap out of the site as a user.

A few years later, as the first dot-com bust left me unemployed and a bit desperate for a while, I was able to use Half.com to sell every DVD, book, and CD I owned in order to pay rent for a month or two. With the huge difference is listing speed, this would have been completely uneconomical to do on eBay. I probably would have had to move back to Sacramento with my tail between my legs and would never have found the wonderful career I enjoy today. This was just the first time Half.com saved my career.

In 2003, eBay announced that it was going to close down Half.com some time in the next year. They apparently saw it as a duplicate of existing eBay functionality. I thought they were completely nuts. After a few weeks of going through the Five Stages of Grief over the news, I finally arrived at Stage 6: Defiance. I could accept that it was going away. But that didn't mean its heart had to die with it.

Ok, sure. eBay didn't realize what a gold mine they were sitting on with Half.com. They didn't recognize the power that a catalog-based marketplace could bring. But I did. And I was unemployed, scrappy, and passionate. So why shouldn't I start working on a business plan to build a new solution that took the best lessons from Half.com and built upon them to create something that could bring to life the unrealized potential of a catalog based marketplace.

That obsession of endless research and brainstorming lasted until spring of 2004, when my unemployment was interrupted by a wonderful new job. At eBay. Having been a eBay user since 1999, this was a dream come true (thanks Mike!). And that dream got even better later that year, when eBay decided not to close Half.com after all and I got assigned as one of the lead front end developers on the project to rebuild the entire Half.com site from scratch on eBay's platform.

Apparently, despite eBay's best efforts to duplicate Half.com functionality on eBay and drive users over to the main marketplace, the revenue from textbook sales and intensely loyal Half.com users was enough to justify keeping the site alive. That conversion project was the biggest project I had taken on as a web developer, and was some of the most fulfilling work I've ever done. It was my own personal Mary Ellen Carter.

This was also the project that first got me interested in becoming a product manager, and where I got to write my very first PRD (Product Requirements Document) for the content management system that runs Half's merchandising pages. Without my manager Rashid supporting my interest in switching sides, and Valerie's endless patience in mentoring me in the ways of Product, I'm not sure I would have known how to make the transition from dev to product.

As a self-taught developer who hadn't even had an email address until I was 23, I was never going to be the best coder in the room, next to kids who had been immersed in the internet since high school or college. But understanding the frustrations that normal non-technical people have with technology and finding ways to make that less painful while building a sustainable business? That I could build a career on. Which makes this the second time Half.com saved my career.

Unfortunately, the cost/benefit analysis that made Half worth keeping alive to eBay's management didn't translate to an appreciation of the potential of a catalog-based marketplace. I pitched the idea again and again while I was there and got only lukewarm reception from the Powers That Be. But I never really stopped thinking about that dusty old business plan I had started when they first threatened to close down Half.com.

Thirteen years later, eBay still hasn't done anything significant in the catalog-based marketplace space. They've created catalogs that they use on the back end to make the listing process easier. But the user experience is still all about finding items, not products, which eliminates most of the potential benefits of catalogs. And so, third party marketplaces like BrickLink (Lego bricks and sets), TCGPlayer (Magic and other collectible card games), and others are dominating their niche categories, while eBay continues to concentrate only on the horizontal “you can sell anything pretty well” model, rather than diving into the vertical “you can sell this one kind of thing extremely well” model. And the collectibles market really doesn't look that much different than it did in 2000.

eBay's investment in Half.com, in the past decade, has been effectively close to zero. CSS positioning wasn't quite reliable enough for production when we did that initial rebuild project, so we temporarily used an insane mess of nested tables for the layout, with plans to replace it with CSS later. The "temporary" code I wrote in 2004 will still be 99% the same when the doors close for good next week. Including my lucky charm <!--Keep Flying--> HTML comment at the bottom of the source code.

Now here we are. eBay has announced that it is closing Half.com. Again. This time I'm sad, but not upset. If they haven't taken Half.com seriously in the past decade, maybe it's time to let it go. And hopefully there's someone else out there, just as passionate about catalog-based marketplaces as I am, who will take the opportunity to finally do something about it.

And, if no one has done so by the time my kids are a bit older and my adventures in Fintech have reached their peak, perhaps I'll dust off that old business plan and give it a go myself.

Looking for my next big career move

I'm ready to find the next big step in my career. Somewhere out there is a company with complex, user-centric problems they desperately need someone to fix, and I'm that guy. Now I just need the help of my friends and colleagues in introducing me to my new coworkers. Let the matchmaking begin!

What do I do?

  • I'm a product manager. Different companies use different titles for this, but I'm the guy who works with the business unit, customer support, development, design, etc, and defines a plan on how to meet whatever business objective we're shooting for.

  • I have also done a fair share of project management (coordinating with developers, designers, etc, to execute on a plan that has already been defined), community management, tech writing, and web development. While I'd prefer not to go back to doing any of these full time, I'm more than happy to find a product management position that lets me dabble in these a bit as part of the job.

  • You can find more background info on my LinkedIn profile.

What am I looking for?

  • I am at my best when I'm working on consumer-facing products. Business-to-business would be my next choice, with enterprise coming in lower on the list. I love knowing that what I'm building will be used by millions of people and make their every day lives better, in some way. Give me something I can believe in, and I'll work my ass off for it without ever feeling winded.

  • As a student of economics, I believe that incentives have a more direct correlation to behavior than good intentions. I'm not interested in any environment where the product and the business model don't share the same incentives. Give me a company that makes their money providing something useful to the world and I'll be a happy camper.

  • I have worked for startups, giant corporations, and agencies. I'm open to anything from a small to large company or agency, as long as it has a healthy work-life balance and treats employees like an asset to invest in rather than as a resource to burn through.

  • I live in Fremont, and would like to keep my commute down to about 45 minutes. East Bay would be ideal. Somewhere between San Jose and Mountain View would be great. I'd be willing to commute to the city, if it's a great company and close to BART.

Any help you guys can lend in helping me figure out where my next I want to spend my next decade would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

RIP WebTV – The Internet For The Rest of Us

Today, we mourn the passing of a truly amazing product. After 17 years of faithful service, WebTV (later known as MSNTV) has officially shut down for good. WebTV had a huge impact on my life, both personally and professionally, so I thought I'd take a moment to talk about what I loved about WebTV, what I'll miss, and what I'll never forget.

I also recommend reading Brad Hill's farewell to WebTV article. He experienced a different side of the company's story than I did, and his article is a great read.
An Inside View of the WebTV Revolution That Didn't Happen
- By Brad Hill (no relation)

My Introduction to WebTV

I first discovered WebTV in 1997. I had just gotten my AA, couldn't afford to go on to a four-year university, and wasn't really sure where my career was headed. So when I met a cute redhead who told me about this great customer service gig in the bay area, I called in a favor to couch-surf with a friend for a while, moved down from Sacramento, and took the plunge.

[Aimee and Tash, I will never be able to properly repay you. Thank you!]

I joined the company a few weeks before it was acquired by Microsoft, but the negative impact from that didn't really start to manifest until a year later. That first year, WebTV was the quintessential startup environment. The CS team was housed in the same ratty garage on Alma St in Palo Alto that the company had been founded in. The building was crammed with young, idealistic 20-somethings who had their eyes set on changing the world, one user at a time.

It was a magical time for me. I was surrounded by great people, most fresh out of college and aching to make a dent in the world. We started out answering phones and responding to support emails from extremely passionate users. Within a year, we had outsourced the first-level calls and everyone on the team has chosen a new area of expertise to sink their teeth into. Some began running the Previews beta testing program, some went into data analysis to spot trends and feed the data back to the product side of the business, and some transferred to other teams like Usability or Engineering.

Me? I went into training and documentation. Shortly after starting there, I had camped out in front of my TV for a week and — with just a WebTV, a Laura Lemay book, and a Geocities account — taught myself HTML. So as we began to outsource front-line CS, I built a CS Agents intranet that would let anyone from any of the three call centers get to any of a few hundred support issues (the bulk of which I helped write) within three clicks. I took Andy MacFadden's incredible "Greater Scroll of Dialing Wisdom" document (still the best developer-written documentation I've ever read) and distilled it down to a Lesser Scroll for advanced connections agents, wrote a IRC chat FAQ and a scad of internal documentation, and flew to call centers in Florida, Kentucky and Salt Lake City to train the next wave of customer service agents, who would be the first point of contact with our wonderful users.

I even recreated a vitrual version of the WebTV Classic, Plus and DishPlayer services, using service screenshots tied together via imagemaps, so the CS agents who didn't have a WebTV box at their desk, or had to share one, could still follow along with users while explaining how to get connected. Now that the service itself is going dark, I have posted an archival version of this for posterity.

Those were the days. We would get calls from 70 year old users who were literally crying because they were so frustrated at not understanding how email worked, or how to get into a scrapbooking chat room. With patience and a healthy supply of metaphor, we'd explain it in a way they could grok, and send them on their way. And a few months later we'd get a call from the same user, complaining that the HTML in the website they were hand-coding on Angelfire wasn't working the way the expected it to. If we ever doubted for a moment the potential for a simple user experience to empower normal people to do truly mazing things, WebTV users would quickly set us straight.

WebTV's Original Mission

The original idea behind WebTV was simple. Provide an inexpensive, easy-to-use option for normal, non-technical people to get online. "The Internet for the rest of us" wasn't just a tagline, but a mission statement. If $2,000 for a PC seemed absurd, you could drop as little as $99 on a small device that plugged into your TV and gave you access to email, bulletin boards, IRC chat, and a rudimentary web browser, with as little pain as possible, for just $20/month. Add another $70 to replace the remote control with a wireless keyboard and you were off to the races.

While younger users (like me) might quickly outgrow the system and move on to PCs, the core WebTV users turned out to be the older or less technologically inclined half of the population, who didn't want to over-complicate their lives with too much tech, but still wanted to keep in touch with their out-of-town children, share baby photos through email, and connect through bulletin boards and chat with others who loved the same things they loved. Rarely have I ever met users who were so passionate about a product as WebTV users. To many of them, WebTV was the internet. And the fact that the WebTV service has stayed alive as long as it has is a testament to their devotion.

WebTV Plus, DishPlayer and TiVo

But getting the web to run on a TV was just the start. The bigger long-term bet was on integrating the web with TV, to create a seamless hybrid of the two. WebTV Plus took the integration one step further, allowing you to plug your cable signal into the box, and providing an extremely easy to use interface for searching TV listings, keeping track of your favorites, and even tying the shows you watched to related websites.

WebTV Plus was ahead of its time. Many of the innovations it pioneered (including the ability to click through to purchase or get more info on an item directly from a TV commercial) are things that today's technologists still strive to include in the next generation of set-top boxes.

And with the DishPlayer box (essentially a WebTV Plus built into a DishNetwork satellite box), they took it one step further and included one of the first-ever digital video recorders. DishPlayer and TiVo were in development at the same time, with offices just a few blocks from one another, and launched within a few months of one another. It still kills me that the DVR race played out the way it did.

At launch, DishPlayer had all the same functionality as TiVo, a much more intuitive user interface (most people forget the initial learning curve TiVo users faced), the ability to play games like Doom and You Don't Know Jack (hey, it was the 90s, these games were pretty cool back then), and the entire internet to boot, for essentially the same price. Sadly, Microsoft really didn't understand what they had on their hands, and put almost no money into marketing DishPlayer. Meanwhile, their pluckier startup competitor with a clunkier UI, far less features, and a cute animated mascot marketed the crap out of their product, and now TiVo is a verb and hardly anyone remembers DishPlayer.

Would TiVo be a verb today if WebTV's founders had said no to Microsoft's $425 million offer and run full steam ahead the way TiVo did? And would it have taken another 10 years for set top boxes to start infiltrating the living room like they're finally starting to do now? The world will never know. But I'll always have my suspicions.

How WebTV Fell, but Refused to Die

For the first year after the acquisition, Microsoft mostly left WebTV alone. They knew they had something amazing on their hands, but didn't really understand it, so they let us continue working our way. Besides the obvious flaw of not believing in DishPlayer enough to properly fund its marketing, Microsoft started to dig its teeth into daily operations.

Emily, the CS manager we all loved and adored, left the company and was replaced by a devious, soulless shell of a human being Whose Name Shall Not Be Mentioned. My own manager, Steve Kroll (who I would have gone to hell and back for) finally left the company in frustration, and was replaced by an old-industry manager who literally couldn't even type, much less grok the technology industry. And the two of them proceeded to replace all the passionate, knowledgable startup staff with business types who didn't know the product and didn't care about the users. I was lucky enough to find a new startup gig and left the company the day before our group moved into Microsoft's new Silicon Valley campus. By the time Soulless and Clueless had been fired (a few months after I left), they had already cost the company at least a dozen of its best CS employees and laid waste the the team's morale.

Some of the other organizations might not have ben hit as badly as CS. And indeed, there were a few of the old WebTV crew who spent the next decade of their career quite happily at Microsoft, both moving to the Xbox and Hotmail teams (or to the Seattle mothership) and doing their best to keep the WebTV service alive and kicking for as long as possible.

After the move to the Microsoft campus, the product remained on the shelves and in active development for several more years. They rebranded it MSNTV, upgraded the browser, migrated the email to run on Hotmail servers on the back end, and even came out with a box that supported broadband. Eventually, despite continued demand for the WebTV/MSNTV service, demand for new hardware decreased to the point where they stopped selling it. Despite the lack of new hardware, the service continued to live on for many years beyond.

The fact that today's shut-down is happening 17 years after the acquisition, and 16 years after the Dark Days should stand as a testament, not only to the herculean efforts of Andrew Levin and his team, but of the incredible staying power that was built into WebTV's business right from the start.

Today, we live in a world where most "products" on the web are subsidized by the advertising companies who use them to harvest ad targeting data from their users. No matter how beloved a product is, if it ceases to be sexy or cool, or provide enough ad-targeting intel, it gets the axe. (Google Reader users, you may now rant.) But WebTV was an old-school business. They made a product that served a need, and charged a fair price for the service. This gave them product a much sturdier foundation upon which to stand.

If I recall correctly, WebTV had a base of close to a million users at its peek. This number doubtlessly dropped steadily over the years. But with the majority of the service already up and running, the service could likely be run on a skeleton crew of maybe a dozen people plus server costs. I don't have access to any internal numbers, but by napkin math, at $20 per month per user, you would only need about 10K users to cover costs. Beyond that, you'd be looking at another $2.4 million in revenue for every additional 10K users. So even at only 10% of its peek user base, you'd still be looking at a business unit that generated around $22 million per year in profit.

It's hard to kill a product that refuses to stop generating income. I sincerely wish every entrepreneur today would take this lesson to heart. (Someday I'll write a post on the history of Half.com. It's a very different product from WebTV, but the lesson is identical.)

WebScissors and the Legacy of Jos

I made a lot of friend in my time at WebTV. Easily the friendliest and most prolifically talented of them was Jos Claerbout. He was one of those guys who just radiated friendliness. You couldn't meet him and not instantly adore him. And his brain simply wouldn't stop producing. He thought objecting oriented programming should be easier to learn, so he wrote the funniest, most useful object oriented programming tutorial I've ever seen: Don't Fear the OOP: Why coding Java is just like writing a trashy Western novel. He saw users having trouble making their own websites? He built his own tool, WebScissors, to make it easy for them to import images to their WebTV scrapbooks.

Sadly, he shared so much of his heart with the rest of the world that it gave out on him far too soon. Jos's death had a huge impact on everyone who knew him. His father, Jon, put together a beautiful site on The Life of Jos Claerbout that crystalizes many of our thoughts and memories of him.

Before he died, I had been talking to Jos about working with him to upgrade the user interface for WebScissors, and add the ability to view HTML source code. So I was deeply honored when Jon and Andrew Levin (who was maintaining the site on Jon's behalf) invited me to help maintain WebScissors for posterity, and add the features Jos and I wanted to bring to our users. To this day, WebScissors 2.0 is alive and well, and we have no intention of letting it go any time soon. It will outlive the WebTV service itself, as a testament to Jos's creativity and dedication to his users.

And it may even continue to be useful, as today's tablet users often face similar browser limitations to those that WebScissors necessary in the first place, all those years ago. Time will tell...

The Legacy of WebTV

WebTV was an amazing product that was far ahead of its time. It taught me the importance of usability, and how a simple interface and a few visual/textual metaphors could bridge the gap to make complex technology accessible to the masses. It taught me the importance of community, and how deeply users will love your product if you fight like hell to make it serve their passions. And it gave me the curiosity, inspiration and opportunity to start a career that still gets me excited to this day.

But the true legacy of WebTV is its people. WebTV alumni have gone on to play key roles in creating some of the most ubiquitous technology on the market today. I've lost count of the number of WebTV alumni who have worked behind the scenes at Apple to continue the mission to bring the internet to the rest of us. Andy Rubin, Andy MacFadden and their team are behind the Android smartphones that appeal so well to the masses. And quite a few of alumni have remained with Microsoft, contributing to the Xbox platform and other products within the company.

And let's not forget the users. Never, ever forget the users.

As WebTV fades to #191919,* I will always cherish the people it introduced me to, and the lessons it taught me.

* WebTV Trivia:
It can be really hard on the eyes to read contrasting text on a true-black background. Especially on a low-resolution TV screen.
So all of the "black" screens in the WebTV service actually used the shade #191919 instead of true black for the background color.

Season Premiere: This Monday

As of this coming Monday, I work for George.

More specifically, I'll be the product manager for the upcoming redesign of the Edutopia.org website, which is part of the George Lucas Educational Foundation. It's going to be a pretty challenging project, but a hell of a fun ride! At least for the one year length of the contract. But by then it will hopefully lead to something else for the longer term.

And I'll be working at Big Rock Ranch (see below), which is right next door to Skywalker Ranch (where the cafeteria is). It's going to be an hour and a half commute each way, but I think you'll agree it'll be well worth it.

On the down side, that means I have five days to get as much of my moving done as possible before I lose my life to work for the next few months. Zoooom!

The moment between seasons

It's a strange feeling, being aware of your place in your own story. Your life, played out like a TV series, chapters broken into seasons, one feeding into the next. And the moment of anticipation between the seasons...

Last season was an interesting one. Google, eBay, Solace, loss, maddening growing pains, and that wonderful True Love bit right before the big layoff / family drama finale. Brilliant!

And here I am in the moment between seasons. Rewatching old episodes to squeeze the maximum possible meaning from what has come before. Projecting forward to see what it will mean for the next season. Paying attention to the little hints and teasers, pointing to the exciting things to come. So many new adventures. So much drama - of a very different kind.

It feels like the season premiere is coming fast. I just hope I can get all the set pieces in place in time. It's going to be one hell of a ride!

Free Agent

I am now officially a free agent again.

No, no, Rae and I didn't break up. The separation was between me and eBay. We still love each other, but eBay is going through a lot of emotional issues and isn't coping very well, so it needs some "me time." :-)

I have two weeks to wrap up all of the projects and hand them off to one of the survivors, then I'll be sitting down to concentrate on updating my resume and kicking the networking into high gear. So if you know anyone who's hiring product managers, community managers or (maybe) front end web developers, let me know.

And don't worry. I saw this coming and am not terribly upset about it. The severance is better than I expected, and I see the free time I'll have as an opportunity to explore some of the ideas that have been on the back burner for far too long.

Exciting times!

Chris’s 3 Rules of Dating

At BayCon, Chris revealed his three rules of dating, which contained enough insight and resonance that we later pressed him to post them for posterity. And after reviewing his expanded version, I have come to the conclusion that they're just as relevant to one's work life as one's love life.

Since I think these are pure brilliance and don't want anyone to miss them just because they're too lazy to follow a link, I'll reprint them here:

Chris's 3 Rules of Dating

I developed these some years back and several people asked me to write them down for them so here goes. Will they work for you? Maybe. I am reasonably confident that they worked for me given the beautiful, competent and intelligent woman I wound up marrying (see Poeso)!

Any set of rules/guidelines should be as succinct and unambiguous as possible which necesitates them being broadly worded. It also means that there are clarifications for specific points (in case you didn't catch the obvious intent) I have included a few. Finally, like Asimov's Laws of Robotics, these rules are in an order for a good reason...

Rule #1: Be comfortable with yourself! If you can't be comfortable with yourself then other probably can't be either. Being comfortable includes being comfortable around people you don't know or by yourself. Don't always rely on the opinions of others. In the end, it is your opinion of yourself that matters. Don't mistake Arrogance for Confidence. The Arrogant need other people to be wrong so that they can be right which builds in weakness. The Confident recognize that there are many viewpoints that can be right and refines their viewpoints by allowing them to be challenged.

Rule #2: Meet new people. There are many people in the world who can be "right" for you. The more people you interact with the more likely you are to meet one of them. Just because someone appears to be "right" doesn't mean that they are not already taken or will ever be emotionally available to you. Take heart, enjoy your time with them and LEARN what a "right" person looks like and looks for. The worst that can happen is you get a cool new friend and maybe learn something about yourself. Sometimes meeting new people means expanding upon the relationships you already have. "Friend of a friend" is more likely to have common interests and come to you "pre vetted" by the people you already trust. Make time for the people who make you feel good about yourself. Who knows, one of the cool friends you have may have been waiting for you to become "emotionally available" and you may not have noticed it. Either way, it helps with Rule #1.

Rule #3: Avoid worthless relationships! Admit it, everyone has gotten into or stayed in a relationship that is just not fulfilling and never will be. Sex, routine, emotional security, what ever the reason in the end all you are doing is keeping yourself from growing as a person. Either work to improve the relationship you are in or get out! Grow or leave. Harsh, but this is the biggest trap most people fall in to: staying in a dead end relationship because they lack the confidence to either make it work or end it. If you are not yet in a relationship, remember rule #1, enjoy being with yourself. You don't need to get hooked up just to validate your self image. Flirt, have fun, be daring, but don't date some one unless you see in them the qualities that make you say "wow, I'd be really happy to tell my friends I am dating this person"

A new year. A new chapter.

New Year's Eve has always been my favorite holiday. There's just something inherently satisfying about taking a moment to recognize the passing of time, and to reflect on the things you have accomplished, the changes you have gone though, and the challenges that remain to be faced. For the past month, I have been trying to figure out what I wanted to say about this past year, and what I see for the year to come. Several aspects of my life were very much in flux throughout December and January, and I hadn't gotten a chance to completely internalize them yet. Finally, though, I am beginning to rise above the confusion.

The story so far, a look forward, and resolutions...

Back in the High Life Again

I'm usually pretty good at foreseeing the major events in my life. And I've always looked forward to my 30th birthday as one of the biggest transitional phases and door-opening events of my life. Now I'm beginning to understand why. Almost every aspect of my life that has been giving me grief over the past year or so is suddenly coming up roses.

The biggest thing, of course, is the job. I've already told y'all about the contract job I got at Google. But what most people didn't hear (thankfully!) was ho much drama went on behind the scenes as I tried to keep the job a secret for the first few weeks. The main reason behind this was that I was secretly ashamed of the job. Don't get me wrong. Google is one hell of a cool company! And everyone I met there was great. But the job I was hired for was a low paying support job that was akin to where my career was five years ago. And the fact that this was the only job Google was willing to give me, out of the several that I was qualified for, really made it feel like I was being seriously undervalued - like the entire past five years had been a waste, and all I was really capable of was an entry level support position.

Logically, I know that's not what was going on. But subconsciously, those were the sore spots that this particular position was hitting. So it made it very difficult to really get motivated. Especially when I was sitting just a few cubes from a team full of really smart, creative UI designers who were working on a really cool project, and with whom I would have loved to work as a colleague. I just felt like Tantalus, mere inches away from what I most desired, but always just barely out of reach.

I also realized something fascinating about Google while I was there. It's not really a company. At least, not in the traditional sense. Sure, they produce products, make money off of them, and use those profits to fund additional products and keep their employees well taken care of. But they also have a culture of open communication, camaraderie, and creative experimentation that it really is more of a research lab than a company. It just happens to be a research lab that is exceptionally good at wrapping its research projects into clean, user friendly UIs (with the notable exception of Orkut) and presenting them in a scalable, profitable format. And I don't think I'm really ready to work in a research lab environment just yet. Perhaps in another few years, when I have finished my degree and gotten my Ethos project up and running smoothly. But not yet.

Anyway, that all became a moot point yesterday. Several months ago, I had applied for an XSL Developer position at eBay that my Evil twin Mike had referred me for. I only got as far as the phone screening before the position was filled by someone else. But when another similar position opened up last week, they called me back for an in-person interview. Since I was working the contract gig for Google, they split the interview into to hour and a half sessions after work on Monday and Tuesday to meet with the technical recruiter and the team members. Wednesday, they called me back in the afternoon to see if I could come in for an additional hour that night to meet with the team managers. Thursday they called to let me know that they were doing reference checks but expected to be getting an offer letter to me within the next few days. And Tuesday afternoon they called me over to pick up and sign the offer letter.

So I got a job at eBay. And it's in my field and pays a hell of a lot more than the contract support gig did. So that kicks ass, right? Well, yeah. But that's not enough to explain why I'm bouncing off the friggin' walls with excitement right now! The simple fact of the matter is that this particular job, and the way in which it was given to me, has counteracted almost every career related anxiety that I've built up over the last five years, and then some.

One of the first things the technical recruiter told me, after looking at my salary history, was that it looked like it was going in the wrong direction. Which was definitely true! When I was at WebTV, they kept me at my original tech support salary a year and a half after I had been doing web development, so I was getting screwed (as were most of the people who were still contractors when the Evil Empire bought the company). So it was not surprising that my salary more than doubled when I moved to OpenGrid. But it went down considerably when I moved to Informative, because their HR department realized I was unemployed and desperate, and low-balled me on my salary. And, of course, I was desperate enough to take a support job after my most recent stint on unemployment, so my salary went way down that time.

I've never been good at negotiating salaries. I'm just not in this career for the money. I'm in it to make a difference, working on projects that will use the web to improve people's lives. So I'm far too passionate to be able to turn down the opportunity to work on an interesting project, and far too humble to play hard ball with HR departments. So when eBay came back with an offer that was not only going back in the right direction, but actually topping my highest salary yet, I was shocked.

This guy knew how desperate I was, and how much I wanted to work on the project to begin with, and he didn't try to low ball me. He even managed to get me a salary that is slightly higher than what my humble opinion thinks I'm worth. Which means that I'll be subconsciously working that much harder to prove that they made the right decision, and if I perform to *my* expectations rather than theirs, I'm sure to continue to impress them and be rewarded accordingly. Which is, of course, great from a financial perspective. But it's even better from a self esteem perspective. eBay, one of the most respected companies in the industry, has an incredible amount of faith in me and in my ability to deliver. And they're willing to invest in me for the long haul instead of just work me hard and fast until I burn out, like OpenGrid and Informative did. Which means that they have earned my loyalty. And as anyone who worked with me at WebTV will tell you, that can be more valuable than gold if it's applied properly.

Also, the project itself is ideal. I'll be working as a front end XSL developer for their Catalogs and Attributes group. That's the group that maintains both the category hierarchy and the attributes on static items (like books, CDs, movies, etc). Which means that I'll most likely be playing a sizable role in the transition of half.com (which is all attribute items) into the main eBay site. And as anyone who knows me well is likely to find out, I'm an absolute fiend when it comes to half.com, and am terrified of what would be lost if the transition is done poorly. So now that I'll be involved in the process, I can do everything in my power to insure that the things I'm terrified of do not happen, and that all of the most important features remain intact (if not improved upon) after the transition.

And it also means that no matter how long the hours get or how stressful any particular project gets, I'll still be working on something that is vitally tied to my driving passion for helping individuals and small businesses harness the power of the web to help their businesses succeed. That reserve of passion is not likely to run out any time soon. And even if it starts to run low, a weekend trip to a flea market or a visit to a local comic book store or any sort of Mom & Pop shop is usually all it takes to get me re-energized on the concept again, since I can see first hand how these businesses can better compete with the multi-national conglomerates using the tools that I'm helping to provide.

Yup. It looks like I've finally found my niche. I'm fairly confident that eBay is going to break my two year limit on working for the same company, and possibly even turn into a company to eventually retire from. The only thing I can possibly see interfering with my eBay career would be going back to school (which I'll probably try to do in the evenings while working here, instead of full time), or if I do eventually decide to start my own business around Ethos. But even then, I don't really see that happening in the next five years. And if it did, there's a possibility that I could still do it as just a side gig while continuing to work at eBay as my main gig. We'll have to wait and see about that.

And now that I'm financially solid again, I can finally afford to move out and get my own place. I've done some preliminary apartment hunting in Campbell, and found that there are a ton of really nice apartments within a mile of the eBay campus. The average price for a one bedroom place is $900, and the average price for a two bedroom is $1100. So I'll most likely be getting myself a two bedroom place and either using the second bedroom as an office, getting a roommate only if I find someone I'd really be a good match with, or possibly having the option of shacking up with someone, if that situation were to present itself (remember, I'm planning on staying in this apartment for as long as the eBay job lasts, so I'm looking at this as a possibility within the next five years, not in the next few months - I'm not that crazy!). One place in particular is surrounded by trees, is exactly a mile away (close enough to ride my bike to work, but far enough that it's actually a decent workout), right across the street from a grocery store, has tons of street parking (in case I start up the weekly TV night again!), and the available apartment is right above the pool, which would be great in the summers.

So my professional life is going great, my money problems are much less immediate (I'm even considering splurging for a lawyer for this whole legal battle thing), and my housing situation is about to improve immensely. Plus, by riding my bike to work every day and hopefully going dancing more often, I'll finally be able to get back in shape again, which in itself would make me happier in a pretty crucial way. And if I get a temporary roommate for a few months (which is a possibility) and can convince her to cook once in a while if I foot the grocery bill, I could even match that with a slight improvement in my diet. Heaven forbid!

My love life is still a bit of a question mark. But that question mark is a hell of a lot better than the definite null that it usually is, so even there I'm doing pretty damn well. Especially since I'm so distracted by everything else that I really don't care about the love life thing very much right now. Which is always the best frame of mind to be in where such things are concerned.

Innumerable times, over the past few years, I've bitched about my luck and wondered when I was going to be able to cash in all those karma points I've been saving over the years. Well, I don't want to get to cocky (since the gods have a way of smiting us when they see us getting too uppity), but it looks like that time is finally here.

Bring it on! :)

[PS: If you see a job listing on eBay's site that you think you'd be a good match for you, send me your resume. The more referral bonuses I get, the faster my unemployment debt will disappear. hehe]