July 7, 2016

Thanks URS! (and AECOM)

Today is my last day at AECOM (formerly URS). It’s been a wonderful 2 years and I’m thankful and grateful I made the leap. I’ve repeated this story many times but for the first few months after leaving ASU I thought I made the second biggest mistake of my working life (first being . . . well, ask me about that later). Looking back I can’t remember what it was that made me feel that way but I’ll never forget that sense of dread.

Now, 2 years later, I’m a better programmer, a better co-worker, and probably a better person. On a technical level, I know Javascript/node better, I understand far more about MongoDB, GIS, PostGIS, Jenkins/CI and the list goes on and on. I also finally worked on a big budget/big project where we had several programmers (and even divisions between front-end and back-end), several designers, testers, documenters, deployment/IT engineeris, etc. It was the biggest project I’ve ever worked on and it was a joy to get to learn what goes into this kind of work from Alex and James.

No job is a utopia but URS/AECOM was very close. Sure, it was annoying that I didn’t get time for training or to go to conferences (even when I was speaking at a conference by request I still had to use my own PTO time and work as much as possible). And when I moved to a new location in the building my cube rattled and monitors shook whenever someone came by. But those are small since I had plenty of PTO and had a flexible schedule so that I could work four 10 hour days to take a Friday off for a conference and could work from anywhere and didn’t have to go into the office, etc.

When I explain my AECOM/URS love people ask “then why are you leaving?” and it’s a good question because I do like it here. Sure, the new job is more money . . . but it’s not THAT much more. I think the main reason for leaving is that so many others have left and I not sure there is going to be another big contract to continue the work I was doing and I wanted to be able to leave on my terms not when suddenly there was no more work.

Another thing I get after working here 2 years are some great connections and dare I say . . . friendships? Chris Hogan left not long after I started (and he worked out of the Germantown office so I never met him in person) but he was the first real connection I made and we still chat from time to time to this day and even met up at a conference and will do so again someday. James Fee is the main reason I left and went to URS (he did that “do you want to sell sugar water the rest of your life” speech but relevant to what I was doing) and I’m glad he convinced me to go and then went on to patiently explain GIS and what it means to work on a big project. . . . I think we have forged a friendship that will last as long as he can stand my . . . loudness?. Rachel Wagner was a great boss and I learned a ton about the company culture from her even as I made fun of the company culture. She was patient and was a great communicator (i.e. she listened!). Alex Bostic . . . I can’t say enough about this guy . . . he’s an amazing developer/architect and I learned a ton but besides that he’s just “good at life” . . . things that would be so irritating to me were put into perspective thanks to Alex. Thanks!

I worked with so many others on projects big and small but I don’t have time to write about every one of them. Huge thanks to Lauren, JP, Darla, Bose, Bing, Asa, Manuel, Robert, Jason, Bill, Patty, John, and finally, Robin, who I never really worked with but knew her because she happened to be close to my cube and always very personable.

On to the next! I start my new adventure Monday and after few months I’ll let you know if it was a big mistake! 🙂


P.S. This is what I sent to my colleagues at AECOM:


As most of you know today is my last day at AECOM. It was an amazing 2 years and I’m so glad I listened to James and decided to make the leap. I really am sad to be leaving and enjoyed my time here. I learned a ton, met many amazing people, and am immensely grateful for the opportunity. 

When your biggest complaint is that your new cube desk shakes when people walk by you know you have it good. Thanks AECOM! I hope you’ll have me back someday!

Feel free to reach out anytime at sheldon.mcgee@gmail or on twitter @tooshel. 



August 25, 2013

#phxmobi 2013

I’m writing this down now so I don’t forget. It’s mostly for me but it also serves as a review of the Phoenix Mobile Festival 2013.

The most important point: the event was well organized. There were ALL KINDS of sponsors from all over in the mobile space many that I had no idea had a presence in the metro area. The venue was SPACIOUS. I never had to wait to go to the bathroom. The food was plentiful and good and included a wide variety (including cans of cold Diet Coke which I always appreciate). I only went to a few talks (I was REALLY nervous and spent some time talking to sponsors to get my mind of my presentation) but the ones I went too were informative and interesting.  They didn’t have a shirt in my size . . . and when your only complaint is about your FREE shirt not being the right size you know everything else must have been amazing.

I didn’t get a chance to talk to every sponsor but the ones I got too were great.  And there was a flurry of activity around all the booths (even the Blackberry guy had me mesmerized) . . . all good signs.

phxmobi  emails

Here is just one more point to make about how well organized they were. I was a speaker and a part of that is communicating what your talk is and getting in a bio and all that. I think I was a bit high maintenance . . . the image to the left is the thread of emails between me at the organizing team. But they answered anything I threw at them and did it incredibly fast. So thanks to Pranil, Kiran and Anjali . . . can’t wait for next year! Talk title: Google Glass: Why it’s failing in the marketplace.

Okay, the rest of this is just a reminder to me and it’s mostly rambling.

I got a message from Luis late on Monday the 19th.

Luis: Any interest in doing a glass talk at phxmobi?
me: from me?? You and Blaine are the experts. I guess I could just read his blog post and see if I can replicate it with Legos. 🙂

luis interest in a talk

I was planning on going to the event but thought it was in a few weeks. Turns out it was 5 days away.

I really didn’t feel qualified to give a talk. I read about the Mirror API and kept up with the community as best I could but I hadn’t really done anything. For glass I was just a user and usually at these kinds of things the target audience is a bunch of developers (and they’re going to ask tough questions!). But I told Luis I was willing to do it and he shared my contact info with the phxmobi team. Luis and I continued to chat about it via google chat and he gave me some ideas and shared what he had (he did a talk that included glass at another conference). Thanks for thinking of me Luis! And thanks for helping out.

By the end of Monday night I got an email from one of the organizing team asking for my bio and a “catchy title” that included the words “Google Glass”. They PREFERED it be aimed at developers and developing on Glass but were happy with whatever I wanted to talk about (as long as it was about glass).

The next day I was in a panic. Every free moment I was reading about glass development. I watched the videos from Google I/O that I should have watched ages ago (they connected Glass to a bluetooth keyboard! . . . installed and ran any APK!). I started up the github repo that would hold my presentation and hopefully a project I could show off. Every chance I got I talked to people about a Glass presentation and what they’d want to see.

By Thursday I had a structure of a presentation and some topics I wanted to cover but still didn’t have a title. I had to call in the big guns . . . Jim. He’s quick witted and I know just TALKING to him about titles would lead me to a great one. He suggested I “go with what you know” and, sure, talk about development if possible but that also many people just don’t know what glass is and pretty much whatever I had to say about it would be fine. He suggested a couple of great titles that were long versions of “Fact and Fiction”. We settled on one after he rejected a few of my ideas. I called him back and said “what about fact and fiction from a fanboy” and he said he didn’t hate it. He said “you gotta be you . . not sure if it should be fanboy or zealot”. I loved zealot and even had a theme now . . . STARCRAFT. Thanks Jim!

Jim didn’t just help with the title . . . he also helped with making a demo. We talked about what was POSSIBLE given the time and keeping the scope in check is valuable when you have to deliver in 5 days. Really appreciate that.

I mentioned the presentation and sent the link to the speaker section of the website (scroll all the way down. . . I’m at the bottom) to my boss, Bryan, at ASU. Before I could ask to take Friday off he was telling me to. I can’t thank him enough. Without that time there is no way the presentation would have went as well as it did. It gave me the freedom to stay up to 3am on Thursday working on the presentation and getting the Mirror API demo working and then work ALL DAY on Friday on putting the presentation together (had an outline of topics and talking points but I needed to transform it all to actual slides and speaker notes about what to say) as well as figure out how to get what was on glass to show up on my computer.

My wife, Sarah, also helped . She made sure I had time to work throughout the week by keep my daughter Embrie happy (who melts me and can steal my attention from just about anything). She knew I needed the time on Friday so she headed up to Grandma’s early Friday so I didn’t have any distractions. Without that help I never would have gotten it done. Thanks my love!

Friday at about 11pm I was running out of ideas for the presentation (“I gave all I can give!”) but I still needed to setup my PC for the presentation. Mac’s are HORRIBLE at being presenting machines (I need full screen chrome on projector and another window on the laptop and it just doesn’t work). And, additionally, my Macbook Air never works when I connect a dongle to a projector VGA, HDMI, DVI . . . all fail. I hadn’t used the PC laptop in a long time so I had to get Windows update going and needed to download all the tools I needed so I could connect Glass to show it on the projector. At midnight the machine crashed and I had to hard reset it. By 1am it still wasn’t ready but I figured I had all day the next day. At 2am I was still sleepless so I went back too it. By 3am I gave up and took a couple pink pills (Benadryl) to get to sleep.

Steve, a friend from Dessert Code Camp, was there early and he helped me get the screencasting working on my laptop. He’s a sysadmin, programmer, designer, woodworker and he even dances . . . all that and he can’t have a drink because he’s not old enough. Insane amount of talent. Thanks for the encouragement!

I was nervous all day Saturday. Everyone was reassuring and said I would do fine but I just couldn’t hear it. This was a BIG CROWD. Way bigger than the user groups I’ve spoken to before.

Memorable moments from the presentation:


I mentioned a guy there I KINDA know that works at Microsoft saying something like ” . . . and it’s all hosted on Azure . . . how do you like that Palermo?” And Palermo wasn’t in the crowd. Later on I got a text message (on Glass) from Jim saying “Palermo has arrived. No more Palermo jokes.” . . . so I put that on the presentation screen. And at the very end someone asked a question and I said “well, glass does mean that people start conversations with me and I know it doesn’t seem like it but I’m shy and just don’t know how to engage people . . . like, ‘hey man cool ‘I heart windows phone’ shirt'” which is the shirt that Palermo was wearing.

Showing off Frogger app and jumping around and jerking my head and a guy yells out “it is like the SNL sketch!”

Showing the Lander demo FOR THE FIRST TIME. It was great seeing it up on the big screen like that. And it was fun to explain to the audience that the lag wasn’t in the serial communication between Glass and my computer and that it looked the same in Glass as on the projector. And then Jim’s unbiased opinion that it was THE BEST LOOKING GAME.

At the end Palermo gave a tablet to the youngest developer in the room (which was wonderful . . . and I really need to learn more adjectives) and he said “I gotta take a picture of that” so while he was getting out his phone I walked up behind and took a picture with Glass and said “I got it.” Palermo: “Nice one!” . . . “or Nicely done”. I forget. Glad I’m getting this down now.

“The Mirror API is cool because you don’t need Java…I hate Java…unless you are a recruiter in which case I’m a Java expert!”

People mentioned me in a tweet I got notified on Glass and could show it to everyone else, live, during a talk. A few timely tweets and my funny reaction to them and the crowd loved it. I can say I was funny with confidence since at the after party a guy told me it was funny and I said “really?” and he said “Yes, when you say things and the whole crowd laughs that means you’re funny.” It was surreal how well those live demos worked out. Google would kill for it to go that well during a keynote.

I showed the video of Embrie walking. Just seeing it again made me a bit emotional.

Jim asked a question that basically asked me to predict the future . . . I went back a couple of slides and flashed the “NO IDEA” text about 20 times. Jim: “So what are you trying to say?”

Any other memorable moments? If you’ve read this far I know you must have one. @tooshel on twitter or email anytime and I’ll add it.


I talked to Palermo after the presentation and he said he enjoyed it and was glad that I could be funny and honest. He’s a good natured guy and even though I don’t know him well I knew he would appreciate my sense of humor (and, though he wasn’t there when I said it I really did use and continue to use Azure!).

After the presentation several people said it was great. THANKS for that! I appreciate it. I worked really hard on the presentation but honestly, presenting on something that is mostly loved is so much easier than what many of the people there have to do. For example, Blackberry Q10 an Z10 look like wonderful products but it’s such a battle. Guys like Jarvis (he was the rep from Blackberry that did a WONDERFUL job talking about those phone) really have to work for it.


P.S. Here is my tweet stream from tonight . . . and one of my favorite tweets. Oh, and did I mention I won an iPad mini in a raffle? Insane day.

Twitter - phxmobifestival- Embrie first walk was captured cropped Twitter - Interactions phxmobi today


June 21, 2013

Protected: Book Club Non-Fiction

This content is password protected. To view it please enter your password below:

March 3, 2010

Getting on Google

I’m a web developer.  I take ideas and use the tool I know best (the web) to make those ideas into a product. Sometimes that means I write a custom app in C# using ASP.NET MVC to help manage a business process and sometimes that means I set up WordPress and customize a template.

Everyone wants a website . . . from the CEO of a big advertising company to the soccer mom who wants to share a story and some pictures.  Some want a site as a forum to express something they NEED to say.  That kind of site has no goal of attracting readers or revenue from adwords.  Other sites are set up with a specific goal: marketing tool.

Inevitably the “marketing tool” sites are going to ask about Google, specifically, “How do I get on the google?”.  Here is my advice (in terms everyone can understand).

Google (and by “Google” I mean every search engine) looks at every site it can and and tries to figure out the ones that users will find interesting.  How it does and the order sites show up is magic and no one knows the how and why.  Google is always changing the rules to thwart those who think they figured it out.  If you want your site to show up when people search for something you need to have valuable content.  If you are a bike repair shop, create articles about DIY repair. Sure, some users are going to see your site and do their own repair but the vast majority are going to bring their bike in to you because they found you with Google.

So here it is . . . Sheldon’s Rule: To show up on Google add content to your site that reveals how you do what you do.  Tell all your secrets. Over time all those articles will add up to valuable content people want.  The more you reveal about how you do what you do the higher in Google’s ranking you’ll be.


September 15, 2009

LoseIt with Diet Coke

My sister and I are both using LoseIt for the iPhone to track our calories.  You tell it what you eat,  it tells you how many calories you have left.   We’ve decided to spot-check each other to stay honest, and I found this exchange particularly amusing.

A humorous exchange w/ my sister about dieting.

A humorous exchange w/ my sister about dieting.

August 28, 2009

Scott Adams: believer, philosophist, cartoonist

Man, this guy cracks me up:

“First, if you are American, and you believe the deficit means certain doom, you should cash in all of your investments and move into some sort of survivalist encampment, or to a country that has less of a budget problem. You don’t want to pay your share of the $19 trillion. So if you aren’t already packing to leave, maybe you are just saying you think the ballooning national debt is the end of us all, but you really think we’ll figure a way out of it. This might be similar to saying you believe in Jesus but for some reason you refuse to give most of your money to the needy. There’s a difference between real believing and whatever the heck the other thing is.”

I’m always amazed at people who are so sure of themselves when it come to politics, religion, etc and yet when someone trys to point out their failed logic they still somehow have a way to justify their belief.  I was no fan of Bush (mostly the later as I was a kid when the former was president) but I do think he had the interest of America at heart even as he was allowing our soldiers to die for a war he should have never started.  And if Bush later changes his mind and says that MAYBE, just maybe he was wrong, well, that just can’t happen and it’s too bad.

August 21, 2009

I accept!

Not sure if this came after www.stackoverflow.com but it’s horrible!


No mention that you have to pay to get an answer. And, just out of curiosity I decided to go ahead and offer $9 for an answer to my question (it was about my garage door and how it won’t close at around 5pm because the sunlight hits the censor at just the right angle) and the answer was useless (“How about shading the sensor”). Below is the dialog box for my reply. If I press accept then my $9 “deposit” is used up and I accepted the answer. Whack! I can’t wait for stackoverflow for home improvement!

Reply screen from the JustAnswer.com website

Reply screen from the JustAnswer.com website

May 29, 2009

San Francisco scams

Okay, so I really like Frisco (I don’t care what it means that I say “Frisco” instead of “San Franshutthefup” . . . Frisco is shorter) and have visited a few times and it’s always been fun.  But on this short trip (for Google I/O, more about that later) my time is the city sucked.

I don’t know if it’s the economy or what but for every block that you walk you’ll have *at least* two people ask you for money.  That’s annoying in itself but usually I usually feel kind of bad for them in that they have to ask.  But it’s no exaggeration that on the 5 block walk from my hotel to the conference center there must have been 10 people asking for money . . . each way!  After a while it’s just plain annoying and I don’t feel bad for anyone and I just want them to go away and I start thinking about ways the city should try to fix this problem.

But it gets worse!  I’m at the BART station trying to get a ticket to get on the train.  I have my wallet out pulling out a $5 to put in the machine and a guy walks up and has a BART ticket and a few dollars in his hand all spread out perfectly and says something like “I only need 75 cents so I can get home” and I look up and say “okay” and hand him a dollar.  Before I can even finish getting my $5 in the machine another person walks up to the people next to me and says the same thing.  I look over and at that point I didn’t know what was going on and the people there didn’t give him anything.  Then I finish my transaction and turn around and the same guy that asked me for 75 cents is consulting with the new guy and is looking at me as if to say “No, you get the money from that chump over there”.  I just look at the guy blankly in disbelief and he says “Seriously, thank you”.

It gets worse.

The BART incident happened on my way home . . . the night before I’m walking up California street . . . a street that’s not at all crowded like Market Street but isn’t exactly deserted . . . and I’m stopped by a frazzled (but not homeless looking) woman who looked like she was lost:

Frazzled: Are you from the city?

Me: You mean from here? No, I’m just visiting.

Frazzled: Oh okay, well, can I ask you a question anyway?

Me: Sure, maybe I can look it up on my phone.

Frazzled: Oh, um well, I ran out of gas and my car is over there I can pay you back just give me your information . . .

Me: How much do you need?

Frazzled: Twenty dollars but I already have five.

Me: <pulls out wallet and hands her a $20>

Frazzled: Thank you so much!

In hindsight, I think that transaction was a scam.  I’m not sure I like Frisco as much anymore.

April 3, 2009

Gmail is awesome

Gmail is 5 years old this month (April 1st, 2004!) and I just went back to my oldest email to see how long I’ve been a user . . . and my oldest message is the original one from “Gmail Team” saying that Gmail is different.  It was dated 5/3/2004.  I think I got an invite from Google really early because I was a Blogger user (well, I had a Blogger account but never used it).  Anyway, after using it for a few hours I was hooked and haven’t looked back.  All my other email accounts forward to my GMail account.  And I’ve been talking about it to anyone who would listen ever since.  It changed email for me forever.  And now it’s been so long that some new email users would be confused if they had to set up “Outlook” to check their email.


June 17, 2008

At Google, the limitations are as limited as possible.

Jim and I were talking about “Google Code Jam” and he assumed the language we both know really well, VBScript, wouldn’t be an acceptable language.  I just happened to have read the rules and here is how I sumarized it to him:

“You can use whatever language/tools you want.  You can solve the problem with paper and fax it in if you want.  Want to solve it with Excel with macros, go ahead?  What about MathCAD . . . sure.  ANYTHING.  At Google, the limitations are as limited as possible.  I’m amazed that we even have to register to see the examples.”

Having been to Google I/O and 3D Basecamp and I can vouch that Google tries it’s best to give people every possible option.  Everyone knows about the food selection (but no matter what you’ve read to experience it is to be amazed) but at 3D Basecamp on Google’s main campus, as an attendee, you walk from room to room or building to building following the signs that tell you where to go.  You walk about the halls of Google and, sure, security is watching your every move but there are no signs that say “DON’T GO HERE” or “FORBIDDEN” or “Google Empoyees Only”.  If you happen to wander to an area you shouldn’t be in I imagine those blue shirted security guys and gals will pounce but there is the illusion of freedom as you walk about the campus and it’s refreshing.