All posts by Liene Verzemnieks

34: One thing at a time

30: Be the conductor
31: Follow the fear
32: Plant the seeds
33: Completion is freedom
34: One thing at a time

My birthday is somehow already here again, and as I realized just yesterday, that means it’s time for a yearly review!

(Past years’ entries all have this tag.)

A LOT happened this year, and I’m going to try to keep it short, because while our whole house is currently in a time warp, we’re still striving to get to bed at something resembling a decent hour (and it’s already past that, as I’m starting this…so I’m going to try to not push it too far).

We did manage to get an offer accepted on a house last summer, and while it was a bit of an adventure getting everything sorted (including but not limited to “buying the house a new roof before we closed, because the appraiser wouldn’t sign off on our mortgage until we did”), everything basically worked out in the end. So we have a house! And we live in it! And the house is full of deferred maintenance, so there are lots of things we CAN do, and will eventually want to take care of, but nothing is really urgent anymore. One step at a time.

We’re within walking distance of a bunch of friends, we host a monthly Quiet Reading Night modeled after a friend’s erstwhile Dinner For Tired People (a Friday night dinner wherein the expectations were that 1) you might eat soup, 2) you were okay with the presence of cats), we have gardening space, we have a zillion roses blooming right now, and I have my own office (a big win for me in terms of thriving as a remote worker).

Still lifting, and the gym’s just moved to its own new location (not subleasing any space anymore!). I’ve had some really good months recently of practicing moderation and being extra attentive to my form. Although I’m taking a short break at the moment, because also…

We had a baby! Like, real recently. She is 16 days old today. If you follow me on any kind of social media, you haven’t seen anything about this, and that’s been intentional. It’s been nice to share the news with people one-on-one, as we talk to them…although I think we’re at the point where that won’t really last much longer unless we keep deliberately editing her out of everything we post. (Unlikely! We’re big fans of this kid.) She’s been (knock on wood) a blessedly easy baby so far, even though the road to get here was a mess. And we are extraordinarily fortunate to (BOTH!) get several months’ paid parental leave, which is giving us a bunch of focused time as a family of three, and means we won’t need any kind of childcare until the fall. I cannot believe how lucky we are to get that much support from our employers in this country.

I don’t feel like I was as serious about completion as I’d have liked to have been this past year, but the house and baby projects have been percolating for a while now, and it’s kind of amazing to have had them both work out at about the same time.

And then I entirely forgot about the practice of writing this post until yesterday. Very unusual for me at this point, and means I haven’t been mulling over (or fretting over) possible themes for this year. (Another opportunity for completion, not perfection.)

I know I want to be especially intentional about being present this year; the parents we know all stress that these early days go so fast, even if it can seem so slow at times. I know I’d like to spend more time practicing focusing on a single thing at a time (I already know “multitasking” is a crock, but I still split my attention most of the time, especially during work). That goes for work and home, and I’m actually a bit excited to have to work harder to maintain both, because I think it’s likely to focus my attention in a different way.

I could probably say this in a million different clever ways, but keeping it simple seems like an excellent idea.

On to the next thing!

33: Completion is freedom

30: Be the conductor
31: Follow the fear
32: Plant the seeds
33: Completion is freedom

It’s my birthday, which means it’s time for a yearly review and a new theme to carry me forward!

(For previous years’ iterations, see this tag.)

I did indeed plant a lot this last year. Nathan and I got married (it was amazing, I’m so glad we did it, I have no desire to ever do it again, and we still haven’t exactly finished our thank-yous…). I love being married this time, which I expected, but which was also a relief. We went to Iceland for our honeymoon, which I have been describing as “like the moon, with flowers.” We still live in the same wonderful apartment with the same wonderful cat, who got a few teeth out this year, and is a single-fang kitty now.

I started a new role with a new company, and while I am pretty constantly overwhelmed by it, it’s my favorite job ever. I have a supportive team (who are extremely distributed around the globe), and I have the most amazing manager ever. What did it take to get here? It took getting totally fed up, writing a blog post, and sharing it. I mean, I had to do some other things, too, but it was kind of amazing how putting that out in the world really did exactly what I was hoping it’d do. I heard from three people I didn’t know, from companies I hadn’t heard of, and one of them is now my manager. It’s my first remote role, which is part of the overwhelmingness, but I keep finding myself grateful for all the lessons about remote work I learned at my last job. (I had tons of remote coworkers, and we improved our process greatly over time.)

We’re looking for a house (again), which is a bit terrifying in the current market, but unless everything (economically) comes crashing down, this might be our last opportunity to afford something in our neighborhood in Portland (all our close homeowning friends are in this neighborhood, and as a side note/reminder, “homeowner” has the word “meow” in the middle). We have a couple neighbors down the street who bought their houses four and six years ago; the market value on both their homes has about doubled since then. We’ve put in a couple offers which weren’t accepted; one, which was $60+k over asking, was in the middle of a pack of 18. Yipes. And yet. We feel pretty ridiculously fortunate to still be able to chase this dream.

I’ve been having what can most easily be summarized as “health adventures” this year (nothing scary, just frustrating), and my wonderful nurse practitioner suggested I might try seeing a Chinese medicine practitioner. (She’d kind of run out of ideas, and a western specialist she referred me to, after a lot of tests, said the best thing for now is just time.) Said Chinese medicine doctor is the first person who has looked at me without an ounce of surprise through this particular journey. Last week, I summarized this to someone as “western medicine said huh, and eastern medicine said mmm.” I’m taking two herb blends, one in tiny spherical tea pills, one in a foul-tasting powder whose flavor I described as “wrong chocolate,” and getting weekly acupuncture. It is the most positive I’ve felt about my health in a long time.

We’ve continued going to the powerlifting gym (though there was a gym divorce, and we had to pick a gym parent). Newly-split gym is a lot better in most ways, but it’s been much harder for me to track my progress over time. I’m probably better? I certainly have a bunch of muscles I couldn’t see before, which is awesome. I can pick pretty heavy things up. I can give really good piggyback rides to 7 year olds, even up hills or stairs.

I’ve continued building my 750words streak back up (1120 days today!), which feels good. I haven’t been great about writing them in the morning in a while, but I’m still doing them. It continues to be the proof I sometimes need that I can actually stick with things for a long time, even if they require regular effort. I am more likely to write my words than brush my teeth on any given day (and I brush my teeth every day!).

In short, it seems I have, indeed, planted a lot of seeds this year.

There are a lot of spaces in my life right now where I’m disappointed by my own performance, too. I’m not in trouble with anyone, but I know I could do better. I also find myself deeply irritated by the idea that it’s “just impostor syndrome,” and when I hear it, I take it as a signal that someone isn’t actually aware of both my capabilities and my performance. (To be clear, I think there’s a good dose of impostor syndrome going on, too — I just don’t think that’s all.)

In the long interminable space of unemployment, I got a lot better at many things — avoiding cabin fever, setting my own schedule, remembering to eat independent of an outside structure — but since I started my job, a lot of this feels like it’s slipping. I’m respected by my team, but not by myself. My partner’s deeply fond of me, but I’ve been slacking on my end of the bargain. I’m late for everything. I don’t tend to finish projects. I commit to things, then don’t follow through on them. I’m going through the motions, but I’m not pushing things forward. I feel like if I don’t turn my ship around somehow, it’s all going to catch up with me.

I’ve been thinking a lot, too, of how delicately I walk the line between introvert and extrovert. Having all my social contact be up to me (e.g. I have no local coworkers!) has accentuated this in a bigger way than ever before. I cannot be alone all the time — it’s awful — but I get profoundly worn out by being around people constantly for hours (or days, or weeks) on end — it’s awful. May has been social time for weeks on end.

And it’s been hard trying to settle on a theme for the year! I am intrigued by the idea of cultivating a comfort with discomfort. I want to flip “the journey is the destination” on its head, inside out. I am perpetually bothered by the idea of giving 110% percent (or even 100%), but I think I’d be thrilled with 80% or 90%. (Lately it feels more like 30%.)

Ultimately, it feels important right now to be uncomfortable. (I hear a strong echo of 31’s motto here.) I can do that because I’m coming from a place of strength and security. It’s not a dangerous discomfort I’m after — just the willingness to put myself in situations where I might make mistakes or fail (which is still a horrifying thought to me).

There are probably just a lot of ways to get there.

It would make me really uncomfortable to commit to finishing things. That seems valuable. I’m also kind of curious to see what happens.

Let’s do this.

Learning Objective-C in 2017 sucks

Recently, I’ve been trying to learn Objective-C as a work-related “gosh that sounds fun” project. I have excellent resources available in the form of my coworkers, and I’m generally quite confident with my ability to find what I need through careful googling, so usually my biggest blocker is myself.

Not so with Objective-C! With the release of the Swift language nearly three years ago, it seems that a lot of folks have jumped ship. And to be honest, living in a city with a spectacular swift-related yearly phenomena (Vaux’s Swifts come to Chapman Elementary and swirl into the chimney each night), I am charmed by even the name of it.

But I hear there’s still plenty of legacy Objective-C code out there, and there will be for some time. I also hear that there are still reasons to use it sometimes. (For me, one of those is “our customers still use it, and I can better help them if I understand this.”) So in I dove.

There are plenty of existing Objective-C tutorials and getting-started guides, which were once regularly updated, but that seems to have ground to a halt a few years ago. Lots of dead links. Lots of “actually just learn Swift.” Lots of “newly updated for Xcode 6!”, which was released in September 2014, or Xcode 5, released in September 2013. Ouch. We’re on Xcode 8.x now.

My discoveries, though much more extensive, went roughly like this:

  • There’s the Ray Wenderlich “archive of tutorials that we are no longer supporting.” This seems to be the gold standard. It is fine, except for much of the information is almost four years old at this point. Eep. Do you know how much XCode has changed since then?
  • There’s another site which suggests that you don’t even need to have your own environment set up to learn it (they suggest you can use Linux or Windows, which is going to be a bad time for something that’s clearly Apple’s domain).
  • I emailed the author of one site (who has created a ton of tutorials, previously in Objective-C, now in Swift) and asked if he had any recommendations. He told me he didn’t teach Objective-C anymore and suggested checking out the Wenderlich resources.

I talked to one coworker, then another (a member of the CocoaPods core team, so I figured she’d have access to more information). She checked with her people. Wenderlich again.

I was beginning to feel a bit of despair — as much as I love the idea of finally becoming the self-sufficient reverse-engineering hacker that I am probably, as the child of engineers, supposed to be, I also really love having clear information when it comes to learning a new skillset. It is easier to learn good habits than to unlearn bad ones. It is also easier to learn from current information than from something that’s four versions out of date.

First lesson: tell people about your problems. I’d complained to my manager about this paucity of resources a few times, but last week he said, “hey, look what I found,” and sent me a link to Coursera’s Objective-C course. I don’t even know how he found it (I think it was an accident), but it’s great. It is gently out of date — I have had to google one setting in XCode so far (the size classes checkbox is now “trait variations”). But it’s got an excellent tone, good pacing, and the option to care about it with money if you want. (I’m happy auditing it.)

I’m going to continue on with that for now: I have at least one app I really want to exist, and I’d rather make it myself. Finally.

In some number of weeks or months, I’d love to add a subtitle to this post’s title: “but it’s worth it.” Time will tell! In the meantime, I intend to keep writing about this quest. Surely, someone else out there is right there along with me.

[inactive] Looking for work: let’s work together!

Hey there! As of September 2016, I’ve accepted a position that I’m really excited about, but as an “archive, not delete” kind of person, I’m leaving this up. I found a lot of encouragement in other people’s similar posts. Maybe I can light the way for someone else, too.


Hello! I’m in the market for a new programming-related job, and I wanted to take this downtime to articulate who I am, what I’m looking for, and what I’m hoping to find.

About me

I have a work history that’s been zooming in on more tech-related companies and roles over time. Previously, I’ve been everything from an au pair in France to a support person in English, French, and Québecois (which may or may not be French, depending on who you ask and where they’re from).

Support roles ranged from tech support for a photo-uploading website to being a founding member of a pre-launch startup’s customer relations team. At the latter, I ended up getting to do a ton of different things under the banner of one title. At one point, I developed the training schedule for new hires; at another, I created a peer-review-focused system for customer messaging QA (I got a lot of practice giving compassionate, actionable feedback to people). I’m really looking forward to bringing those perspectives to a new role.

While I was at the Recurse Center last year, I primarily focused on Python, though I learned some more SQL and dabbled a bit in C. Git is a significant part of my workflow, and I’m plenty comfortable using what I know and adding to my knowledge over time.

Less tangibly, during my RC batch, I got a lot of grief-inspired practice in resiliency. It is difficult to quantify this in a resume or cover letter or interview without breaking people’s hearts (a practice best avoided, when possible), but let’s put it this way: even when the going gets tough, I know how to take a break, and I know how to get going again. I know what I can do on my own, and I know when I need to ask for help. Put very plainly, I have yet to come up against a programming problem that was worse than losing two friends in a month. There are solutions to almost every work problem, and we can find them together.

I make a clear distinction between working independently and working in isolation; I love the former and find the latter pretty tough. At the same time, being accountable to a team is highly motivating for me, and I love the intersection between independent work and team accountability. I’m grateful to my last company for building such a strong remote-friendliness into their culture over time, and as such, I’m confident that I communicate well with geographically distributed teams. (It’s an art and a science!)

Send me an email if you’d like to see my resume! I have much of the same information on LinkedIn, too, if that’s your bag (it’s certainly valuable as a professional Rolodex), and there are a few extra details for fun. (What’s your best Muppet face?)

Outside of work, I’m an avid person-on-bike (my partner and I are officially car-free, at least for now, as of a month ago) and a regular writer. I write three pages every day on 750words.com, where my longest writing streak was 1533 days in a row (as of this post, I’ve just re-crossed 800 days). I am really proud of this! I find it helps clarify my thinking and writing in general, which is immensely valuable. As a bonus, it gives me an extraordinary view into my history and thoughts over time. I’m itching to learn some NLTK and dive into that history programmatically, too.

I like good coffee and bad wordplay, though I know how to say no to both. I’m a relatively newly minted gym person (at a small gym full of nerds), because six months ago, I decided I wanted to get stronger and I wanted to practice being terrible at something until I got good at it (and beyond). I cannot yet deadlift my body weight. Working on it! edit: As of 27 July, turns out I can deadlift at least 175 lbs. Yuss. Onward and upward.

What I’m looking for

Company-wise:
  • Location-wise, based in Portland, OR, or open to (and experienced with) remote work. For the right company, New York City would definitely be an option, too.
  • Small- to medium-size. That’s a subjective measure, but mostly what I mean is that I am happiest in non-huge companies. For the purposes of this search, “huge” is probably in the thousands (one or more).
  • Good people. To be honest, I’ve worked with terrific people at pretty much every job I’ve had. I aim to continue this. If, when you think of your company, you think fondly of your coworkers, I’m interested in hearing more. I’m especially interested in teams which are diverse across several axes (i.e. not just gender, though that’s a great start).
  • Working on interesting problems. There are so many of them! I was raised by a couple of thoughtful engineers and I’m prone to happily air-punching when I solve something. I’m most interested in solving problems that ultimately help people, whether or not my work is a step or two removed from the actual humans.
  • Long-term potential. I’ve had a few people tell me to aim to leave companies regularly during this part of my career; I would rather not. I like getting to build relationships and mastery over time, and if possible, I’d be thrilled to do that in one place. Maybe it’s that you’re a young company. Maybe it’s that you’re a stable company. Both are super attractive to me.
  • Bonus points if you’re a Recurse Center company. RC was what helped me discover that I really do love working with people and computers all day long, and while that was a huge part of its value to me, it also gave me space to breathe and spread my wings. That experience means I get to be part of an extraordinary community of learners and terrific people, too. I never would have been able to take the time to learn so much about programming, myself, and what I need to succeed if RC weren’t free, and RC is free because companies hire incredible alums through them.
Role-wise:
  • I am primarily looking for (junior-level) programming/development roles. There is exactly one company I’ve found where I’d be overjoyed with a support-focused job (hi!), because there’s genuine space for programming and a really strong, positive culture, and they’ll be receiving my application shortly.
  • I have broad interests, and I’m open to suggestion as to where to focus my energies. I’d especially appreciate some form of mentorship and loose guidance — if some formal structure exists at your company, all the better. Past experience suggests that backend or ops work will probably interest me most, but that’s not an exhaustive list. (I suspect frontend work would be difficult for me, so that’s what I plan to learn next. After all, I might be wrong!)
  • I am open to internships, especially if you’ve got experience with non-college interns, and especially if the role may lead to a full-time opportunity after the internship ends.

Have questions? Think we might be a fit? I’d love to hear from you, especially if:

  • you work for the company in question
  • you’re actively hiring right now (or will be very soon)

Please send me an email (liene.v+jobs@gmail.com) and let me know a little about the company, why you think we might be a good match, and any other information you think is relevant. If you’ve got any questions, I’d love to answer them, too!

Your co-conspirator in the search for excellence,
Liene Verzemnieks


Special thanks to Julie Pagano for her inspiring reverse job listing and general encouragement!

32: Plant the seeds

30: Be the conductor
31: Follow the fear
32: Plant the seeds

For the last couple years, I have written a birthday post that goes over the year a bit, looks forward to the future, and sets a theme. I started doing this thanks to one of my birthday twins, Buster Benson, who’s been doing this for years. I started doing it at 30 and rather like the opportunity to reflect on what’s behind and anticipate what’s ahead. At 30, my theme was Be the conductor. At 31, my theme was Follow the fear, inspired by my sister Inara.

And this year? I have not really been thinking about themes, because I’ve been busy planning a wedding with my partner. This has been pretty awesome, and it has been an interesting thing to have as my primary focus.

I can’t remember what the big three scary things were last year, except for that one of them was applying to the Recurse Center.  I was convinced I wouldn’t get in, but I decided to let them make the decision, and I was awesomely wrong. Aside from my partner Nathan, nothing has changed my life in the past year as much as RC. Well, as long as we’re looking at positive changes.

I lost a lot and I shed a lot in the last year. Two friends in their early 30s died last summer, one quite suddenly and unexpectedly, and one from stage IV breast cancer. 30 and 34. I am smack in between how old they were, how old they somehow still are. They were differently important people in my life, and I am still not totally sure that the world has kept spinning without them.

Going to RC gave me the boost I needed to be sure that I really do enjoy programming. It is something that I will do all day if given the opportunity. It is something I even want to do when I am learning to live with a new layer of grief in my life. I practiced a hell of a lot of resiliency last year, and while I wish that life weren’t ripe with opportunities to do so, that’s not the way things go.

I came back to Portland, interviewed at my old company for a role on the engineering team, and was told I wasn’t a fit. It stung, but I think I’d already grieved most of the loss over the course of the summer. I turned my personal leave into an actual closing of the door, having satisfied my curiosity as to what would happen if I really went for it. It wouldn’t work out, is what would happen. And now I know. Sometimes I can make peace with not being enough, or not being the right fit, even if it’s something I really wanted at the time. I am not sure if this is one of those times, but I’m working on it.

And then we made space for life in those gaps. We got engaged under a tree in Central Park, and we exchanged engagement things (neither is a ring). We came back to Portland. We started going to an amazing little gym, something I’ve been meaning to do for years. We got a niece (I guess legally, Nathan will be Uncle Nathan in three weeks, but I’ve just been calling him that anyway. He’s got a knack with little kids and it’s a joy to see him in that role).

In three weeks, we’ll be married. I have a small amount of complicated feelings about this being my second wedding, but mostly this whole process is affirming to me that this is a terrifically good choice this time. I am engaged with my life, I am engaged with this process, I am doing something big (which I don’t know how to do) with my partner, and we’re having a really good time with it. People keep asking me if it’s stressful, if it’s the worst. Making a guest list was the worst — it taps every stressy part of me (“just rate all the people you know by how much you care about them!!”). Every other part of the process has been a joy.

What’s this year about? Oh boy, if I only knew. It’s about filling in space. It’s about building things where there’s been necessary demolition. It’s about planting seeds and watering the garden. I am seeing a theme here, despite my total belief that there wasn’t one yet.

How shall we put that, then? Plant the seeds. Yes.

PyCon Portland: vegan food!

It’s almost PyCon! And if you’re vegan, you know what that means: the mystery of conference food (and a ton of enthusiastic Pythonistas). Will there be good options available to help you remain your sharpest for learning and socializing? Maybe!

PyCon definitely tries, but a prepared vegan is a happier vegan. My experience with most conferences (that aren’t Open Source Bridge) varies widely: lots of “here’s a plate of raw vegetables! and some fruit salad,” or my favorite, “it’s pasta; I’m sure it’s fine.” Sometimes I want more than a risky bet or spending lunch asking questions of half a dozen people.

Below is a curated, opinionated list of local restaurants, with a priority on places that are easily accessible from the convention center (or too awesome to not include). (TriMet is a great resource. The PDX Bus app is great if you’re on iOS.)

Generally speaking, HappyCow.net and VegGuide.org are solid for finding options, though the info is sometimes a bit out of date, so a quick visit to a place’s website/an actual telephone call is prudent. Yelp is totally hit or miss for me. Let’s dig in.

General notes:

If you want a quieter walking street, avoid Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd or Grand Ave.

We don’t have sales tax here. Really!

Jaywalking is uncommon here. Like, really uncommon. If you must, please especially keep an eye out for the MAX trains. And people on bikes.

Something to add? Something to correct? Hit me up on Twitter (@li3n3), or leave a comment here.

Anti-recommendations:

Don’t go to Robo Taco. They are ostensibly vegan-friendly but I’ve lost track of how many times a friend has been served “surprise” meat or cheese in a “vegan” burrito, and no one there seems to care. There are too many other good options.

It’s complicated

Voodoo Doughnut is a Portland thing that outsiders get really excited about. They do have a lot of vegan donuts (such as apple fritters!!!). And that’s cool. They are not fancy.  If you want a really exciting/delicious vegan donut, go to Blue Star earlier in the day (several locations; several vegan donuts — just ask), or go to Sweetpea Saturday morning.


 Actually near the Convention Center (within a 20 minute walk or transit, ordered by walking distance)

Sizzle Pie (vegan-friendly pizza)

Where: 624 E. Burnside St. (google maps link)

Hours:  Sunday – Thursday: 11 AM – 3 AM, Friday -Saturday: 11 AM – 4 AM (very unusually late for Portland)

How far to walk, from the Convention Center: 10 minutes

How far with transit: 4-5 minutes, on the streetcar ($2), or the bus ($2.50)

What have they got? Three vegan slice options daily, or whole pies.

Anything else? The Rabbits salad (with the vegan ranch) is particularly great. They also deliver! And they’ve got brunch pizza on the weekend (or any day, if you order a whole pie). You probably DO need hash browns on your pizza.

Nicholas Restaurant (vegan-friendly Lebanese/Middle Eastern food)

Where: 318 SE Grand Ave

Hours: Mon-Sat: 11:00–21:00. Sun: Noon–21:00.

How far to walk: 12 minutes

How far with transit: 4-5 minutes on the bus or streetcar

What have they got? Tons of well-marked vegan options. The Vegan Mezza is an easy option and great for sharing.

Anything else? If you’ve never had toum, it’s whipped garlic dip, and it’s magical. You will probably get a ton of food — it’s not too hard to turn it into a couple meals. There was a spate of gossipy posts on one of the local Facebook groups about ostensibly un-vegan food; I still trust them but it’s okay if you don’t.

Prasad East (mostly-vegan vegetarian health food)

Where: 21 NE 12th Ave (inside the Portland Rock Gym)

Hours:  Mon – Fri: 7:30 to 21:30, Saturday: 9:00 to 20:30, Sunday: 9:00 to 17:30

How far to walk: 16 minutes

How far with transit: 8-13 minutes (two buses, or a bus and a streetcar)

What have they got? Lots of healthy stuff: bowls, wraps, juices, smoothies.

Anything else? This is a newer location of a place that’s been downtown for a few years now. Haven’t been to this location yet! I assume they also have a ton of steamed unseasoned kale (bleh) and really good juice (yum).

Black Water Bar (all-vegan bar/food)

Where: 835 NE Broadway

Hours: 18:00 – 1:00 AM, every day

How far to walk: 17 minutes

How far with transit: 14 minutes, using the streetcar ($2)

What have they got? Delicious trashy bar food and punk music.

Anything else? Not open for lunch, but great for that “I need black walls and a stiff drink” feeling.

Hungry Tiger (vegan-friendly dive-y bar food)

Where: 207 SE 12th Ave

Hours:  Monday – Friday 15:00 – 2:30 am, Saturday – Sunday: 11:00 am – 2:30 am (brunch until 15:00)

How far to walk: 18 minutes

How far with transit: 10-15 minutes, a bus or two or maybe a bus and a streetcar

What have they got? Vegan and non-vegan bar food, mostly. Vegan options are prepared on dedicated equipment. Trashy-ish if you want. Salads if you don’t.

Anything else? I haven’t been here for years, but my friend Ann, who lives in San Francisco, swears by this place. They DO have tot-chos (nachos made with tater tots instead of chips), though, so…maybe she’s got a point.


A little further afield

Sweetpea Baking Company (all-vegan bakery/sandwiches)

Where: 1205 SE Stark St.

Hours: Mon-Sat: 8:00 – 18:00, Sunday: 9:00 – 17:00

How far to walk: 21 minutes

How far with transit: 12 minutes, bus or streetcar

What have they got? Pretty much what it says on the tin. It’s a vegan bakery. Also they have killer sandwiches.

Anything else? This is arguably my least favorite vegan bakery in Portland, but I have high standards, so even my least favorite is still probably great. (This is the aforementioned Ann’s favorite Portland bakery.) Their sandwiches are also generally excellent, but I had a super meh one a few weeks ago.

Side note: Sweetpea is part of the “vegan mini-mall,” along with Herbivore (cookbooks, vegan swag, terrific cards, socks, so much more), Scapegoat (tattoo shop), and Food Fight! (see below). All of them rule and are doing good work.
Food Fight! (vegan grocery)

Where: 1217 SE Stark St.

Hours: 9:00 – 18:00, “every f’ing day”

How far to walk: 21 minutes

How far with transit: 12 minutes, bus or streetcar

What have they got? Sandwiches, chips, jerky, vegetables, more junk food than you can shake a stick at, lip balm, a whole fridge full of vegan cheese, and more. And sass. Plenty of sass.

Anything else? Their tips go directly to charity! Check out the bucket for the current one.

Rabbits Cafe (all-vegan cafe)

Where: 111 SW 5th Ave (downtown, across the river), in Big Pink, the big pink skyscraper

Hours: Mon-Fri: 08:00 – 15:00

How far to walk: 22 minutes (across a bridge!)

How far with transit: 9 minutes on the MAX Green Line light rail

What have they got? Bowls, wraps, salads, smoothies!

Anything else? This is the indoor rebirth of one of my favorite food carts ever, Sonny Bowl. Sonny Bowl made me believe that salad-hating me could genuinely love a bowl, or even a kale salad.

Fire on the Mountain (vegan-friendly wings)

Where: three locations; closest one to the Convention Center is at 1708 E Burnside St. The one further out east has way more space; the one further up north is a wee hole in the wall. This one isn’t huge, but it’ll do.

Hours: 11 am to midnight, every day

How far to walk: 22 minutes

How far with transit: 15-22 minutes (ugh), two buses or a streetcar & bus

What have they got? A crapton of meat, yes, but also two vegan wing options and tater tots and salads.

Anything else? I LOVE the vegan drumsticks (they’re on a sugarcane stick), especially with the Jamaican Jerk sauce (moderately spicy). I love them so much. My partner hates them, but loves the Portland Wings, if I remember correctly. Don’t roll your eyes too hard when they ask if you want ranch or bleu cheese on the side.

 Blossoming Lotus (vegan restaurant, Portland-classy)

Where: 1713 NE 15th Ave. (just north of Broadway)

Hours: Mon-Fri: lunch 11:00-15:00, dinner 17:00 – 21:00, except Fri & Sat dinner is 17:00 – 22:00. Weekend Brunch 9:30-15:00.

How far to walk: 23 minutes

How far with transit: 10-20 minutes (a bus or two)

What have they got? Lots of raw and non-raw food. An ever-changing menu of healthy food that does and doesn’t taste Super Healthy.

Anything else? This place is so dang good. They have ace cocktails and mocktails, too.


Good options if you’ve got more time to spare

Vtopia Cheese Shop and Deli (…vegan cheese shop. and sit-down cafe)

Where: 1628 SW Jefferson St.

Hours: (are you ready for this; I didn’t even 24-hour-ify these) Mon. & Tue.: Closed.

Wed & Thu: Lunch 12 p.m. – 3 p.m.; Dinner 5 p.m. – 8 p.m.

Fri.: Lunch 12 p.m. – 3 p.m.; Dinner 5 p.m. – 9 p.m.

Sat.: Lunch 11 p.m. to 5 p.m., Dinner 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Sun.: Lunch 12 p.m. to 5 p.m., Dinner 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

How far to walk: ~45 minutes (urban hike!)

How far with transit: 17 minutes (one bus)

What have they got? More vegan cheese than you can shake a stick at (both their own, and guest cheeses from other companies), and a fun happy hour. Sandwiches, mac ‘n’ cheese, other food.

Anything else? The caprese disappointed the hell out of me; everything else I have had here has been super good. Pick up a wedge of something fun to take home!

Homegrown Smokehouse and Deli (vegan barbecue)

Where: 1628 SW Jefferson St. (same building as Vtopia; the door on the far left)

Hours:  Closed Monday/Tuesday. Wed- Sat 12 noon-19:00. Sunday 12 noon-17:00.

How far to walk: ~45 minutes

How far with transit: 17 minutes, one bus

What have they got? A TON of vegan barbecue. Long story short, the owner used to do meat barbecue, wanted to open a cart, and his kids convinced him to go vegan and do that instead. (There’s a cart up in North Portland, too!)

Anything else? The Macnocheeto is something I sometimes believe I could live off of (it is delicious and huge). There’s mac ‘n’ cheese in a burrito. Why not?

Back to Eden Bakery (vegan bakery; also happens to be gluten-free)

Where: 2217 NE Alberta St. (there’s also a cart down on SE Division)

Hours: 8:00 am to 22:00, daily

How far to walk: ~a little over an hour

How far with transit: 25-40 minutes, one or two buses

What have they got? A ton of savory and sweet baked goods. Cake, pie, muffins, donuts, soft serve, salads, wraps, cashew tarts, sundaes…

Anything else? I love this place. Hands-down my favorite Portland vegan bakery, and that remained true when they dropped the gluten a couple years ago (it is the only gluten-free stuff I happily eat; I generally love my gluten). Really creative, fun flavors, and really simple ones, too. Everyone here is SO DANG KIND. There’s an evening sundae happy hour (at least I think there still is).

Job stories: Simple

I recently got dinner with a rad friend who I used to work with at Simple. (Rachel is a skilled wordsmith and a sharp wit — she’s recently launched her new business, Gimme The Lute, and if you might need help with your brand, you should get in touch with her! She’s also an excellent florist, because of course she is. But I have more experience with her writing, and she is masterful. She was the one who did the majority of my initial training, and her blend of directness and compassion made a huge impact on me.)

We talked about resumes and how to distill several years of experience into a few bullet points. I’d really been struggling with this, so she suggested I write down the good-parts-only version of my time at Simple. It was just the push I needed, and I ended up with two pages of things I’m really proud of, which surprised me a little!

It’s occurred to me that this might be fun to share, so I’ve copied it below. If you’re wondering what I did in my last role, this covers a lot of it!


I found out about Simple (then BankSimple) at a networking event in the summer of 2011. I met Al3x, the CTO, and was impressed with his energy and his complete lack of ego. I went to Simple’s site to see what they were hiring for, figuring it would be “lots of programmers,” and was really excited to see that they were hiring for support.

Simple was about two dozen people at that point. I was the second customer relations (CR) hire; the first [Rachel!] had been there for almost a year and made the move with the company from Brooklyn to Portland, OR. We were pre-launch by an undetermined amount of time (it ended up being about seven months more), and all our customers (~100-200) were friends or family. Our accounts were so lightly featured that we gave every new account holder some spending money right off the bat, because depositing money was a particular pain point. (There was no check deposit, no Simple-initiated bank transfer, and we couldn’t accept electronic debits.) We had a nascent Rails app for managing customer interactions, coupled with external partners’ well-developed and kinda creaky old systems. Our whole phone system was two iPhones that rang with the wee-ooo space-robot noise. At that point, they often didn’t ring for days; that ringtone is still a good way to get my attention.

My training was shadowing the person who had been doing all (potential) customer interaction [also Rachel], plus having several meetings with the founders and a few other key people. I got occasional programming help from my boss as I worked through Chris Pine’s “Learn to Program” book (which uses Ruby), following a summer Ruby/Rails workshop with Stumptown Syndicate (through their Portland Tech Workshops, which may someday see a second workshop!).

When the VP of engineering found out I was learning to program, he told me that the best way to learn was to look at other people’s code, and so he set up an internal GitHub (GH:E) account for me. The CFO walked by in the middle of this, said “you can’t do that,” and the reply was “yes I can,” so I got my GitHub account, the first for someone in a not-technically-technical role.

We hired a few new support folks the next month. None of them had previously worked in a customer relations role (one was a bank branch manager, one was a lawyer, and one was a civil engineer). We talked about what had worked well in previous jobs, what might be transferable, and what our big dreams for the team were.

Customer Relations instituted a lightweight scrum-inspired daily standup, where we reported on what we’d accomplished the previous day, what we concretely hoped to accomplish that day, and any potential blockers. I later began recording all our daily goals/accomplishments (in handcrafted JSON!), with an eye towards building out a small web app. The web app, alas, never came to full fruition, but did make me very good at handcrafting JSON, and as a bonus I started learning to use different text editors.

I interviewed candidates. I joined the Twitter team as it grew from a single person’s responsibility to a shared one, and later mentored new members. I jumped right in when our internal Code Club started up, where engineers volunteered to teach some programming to anyone who wanted to learn. (There were a few iterations of this over time!) I suggested hand signals to our now-weekly CR standup meetings, which dramatically reduced interruptions and are still in use several years later. I ran CR’s new-hire education program for a while. I taught the culture class in new-hire education for a much longer while, and cultivated a space where we talked about fears, hesitations, and how to be successful even if you’re not perfect (mistakes are okay! Responding well is key to getting through them). I joined our off-hours PagerDuty team to help customers with urgent needs in off-hours, whether they were in Los Angeles or India.

I noticed that a lot of coworkers said nice things about each other behind their backs. Suspecting that it was at least partly due to shyness, I started a “Box o’ Compliments” form for sharing compliments with coworkers (anonymously or not), and regularly sent out the incredible results from this project. (It impacted people enough that it’s still in use, and its administration has been adopted by someone new. I am absolutely delighted by this.)

I pioneered a stats-inclusive, human-focused, peer-review-driven QA process for CR messages. I sent regular reports to each member of the CR team, and I worked with certain teammates one-on-one to improve particular problem spots. (Sometimes you need someone to understand where you’re coming from and figure out a game plan with you; sometimes you can use TextExpander to ensure you never send “withdrawl” again!) After an illuminating conversation with our Communications Lead in marketing, I learned how to strike the word “but” from my vocabulary almost entirely, especially when giving potentially difficult feedback, and saw strikingly positive returns.

Our customer numbers grew ever higher. We were acquired by a big Spanish bank. Our employee ranks soared into the triple digits.

I worked with our amazing, supportive engineering leadership to pilot a half-day weekly collaboration (tiny internship?) with our ops team. I paired for about half the time, and hacked on my own the rest of the time. I learned to use vim, and I made multiple PRs and contributions to our internal continuous integration tool, written primarily in Python. Ultimately, a large infrastructure upgrade (and the resulting complications) pulled the plug on this pilot after a few months, but if I hadn’t caught the programming bug before, this cemented it. The bug, that is. The bug was cemented. But not in a “sad butterfly in concrete” way. In an “I’m excited and I air-punch with happiness way more than I used to” way.

A few months later, I worked with one of our data engineers to try to implement something similar, with the ultimate goal of joining the data team. We started meeting one-on-one twice a week, before work, to teach/study Python (and a bit of SQL). For a while, we shifted focus to data structures and algorithms, and invited a few members of the data team to join us.

I was really hungry for the opportunity to learn programming for more sustained periods of time (an hour here and there is hard!), so I applied to the Recurse Center in NYC, which describes itself as “a writer’s retreat for programmers.” I was accepted, took a leave of absence, and moved across the country for three months. I loved the RC community, loved the supportive environment, loved the space to be joyfully intellectually curious. There’s much more to say about that, of course.

And now? Now, I’m more certain than ever that I’m on the right path. I like being intellectually tired at the end of the day. I love the challenge of a good problem. I thrive around kind, hardworking people. And I can’t wait to join my support experience with something more technical.

2016 resolutions

Send at least birthday cards, and maybe presents, to all family members. On time. (I already slipped on this, with my mom’s birthday on the 4th. In my defense, I planned to drive up and surprise her, and then we had an ice storm.)

Learn the names of the service people I regularly interact with

Together with Nathan, maintain our so-far flawless streak of leaving the country at least once a year. (PyCon being in Montréal the past couple years made this dead simple; we’re going to have to do more planning this time.)

Start working somewhere new in a role that feels sustainable.

Practice French as regularly as possible (maybe even daily!). I’m way out of practice but already have a new seven-day streak on Duolingo. Waffling on whether to start a class at the Alliance Française; it would be fun to have the structure and the community again. (edit before posting: I did it! I’m taking an advanced class, and we’re gonna talk about wine, and the teacher is an excellent one I’ve had before.)

I would say go chill in nature all the dang time, but honestly I don’t know how we’d NOT camp and hike a bunch more this year. We’ve already been hiking this year, and it was a blast.

Yay!

It’s December!

When we last left our protagonist, she was in the midst of wrestling intergalactic warrior beasts figuring out how best to write the next chapter, given the tools at hand. It’s tempting to say the choices came without drawbacks; they didn’t. It’s tempting to say there was a lot of handwringing; there wasn’t.

I worked with HR at Simple to extend my leave, which gave me the space to investigate a few last things before ultimately deciding to…well, leave. That’s the short version. A long version can be acquired with approximately one (1) cup of coffee or similar; just be like, “you wanna get coffee on this particular weekday?”.

With some confidence, I can also now say that (if you’re in this situation anyway) getting bad news while you’re already sick is actually kind of terrific. You’re already listlessly petting the cat and watching Netflix, but since you’re sick, no one’s interested in telling you to “just get outside” or to “chin up” — they offer you tea and soup and encourage you to do whatever you want. So I had a weekend full of malaise, had honest talks about The Near Future with my partner, and then (largely at his urging) committed to taking some active semi-vacation, maintaining my “you still need to leave the house every day” requirement.

What I have been doing since this pivot?

  • I helped Carye Bye with Hidden Portland‘s library organization project! I got excellent mentorship in choosing the good bits (and keeping them useful — dates matter!) and joyfully recycling the rest.
  • I’ve had coffee/tea/resume-help rendez-vous with four former coworkers, all people I respect in different ways, and am meeting a fellow Portland Recurser on Friday.
  • I took a day trip up to Tacoma to visit my almost-two-month-old niece (she’s two months old today!), and I brought homemade vegan chocolate chip cookies. Little Veera reminds me to breathe. We breathed in the lovely scent of their Christmas tree while her dad fixed the fence outside. We breathed at wildly different rates, with our wildly disparate lung sizes, while my sister caught a nap. I narrowly missed the complete shutdown of I-5 North.
  • I helped an amazing friend move back somewhere that might have been home all along, and returned to my home with a new Dischidia ruscifolia (a Million Hearts plant).
  • I accidentally found a posting for a job I’m really excited about (!), which put a wrench in my “don’t look at jobs just yet” plan.
  • I am going to take a mid-week hike, now that the extremely torrential rainfall and landslides seem to have calmed down a bit.

And, following the really excellent advice of one of my former coworkers, I wrote out the good-parts-only story of my ~three and a half years at Simple. I ended up with two pages; I am a little shocked at how proud I am of what I DID do there. There’s a lot!

Now it just needs to get distilled into resume-sized tidbits. Onward!