programming, tech, hobbies and grief

31. May 2013 16:30
by Paul Apostolos

I'm rebooting my career

31. May 2013 16:30 by Paul Apostolos | 0 Comments

When I started working at the National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA) nearly 18 years ago, I was relieved any company would hire a college dropout with an admittedly sketchy backstory. So, their offer of the position of Customer Relations Assistant (answer phone calls and ship customer orders) was just fine with me, little did I know what a great opportunity it would be.

The NRCA years

I am grateful to NRCA for the many opportunities I was given over my employment including: promotions, increased responsibility, education assistance and flexibility.  In my 18 years, I moved through the ranks and held a long list of titles:

  • Customer relations assistant
  • Risk management coordinator
  • Customer relations assistant manager
  • Customer relations manager
  • Web site manager
  • Director of Internet Development
  • Associate Executive Director of Information Technology / Chief Information Officer

Not only did I move through the ranks, I moved through the office too. I moved desks or offices 10 times finally ending up in (seemingly) the coldest but cleanest office in the building. But not only did NRCA provide me with opportunities to grow within the company, it also provided me with the thing I am most grateful for, my education.

I decided eleven years ago that I needed to do something about that college dropout moniker I was carrying around. I went back to school, full time, and NRCA allowed me to have a flexible work schedule and also helped with my tuition bills. I graduated from DePaul with a B.S. in computer science in 2005 and then graduated from Northwestern with a M.S. in computer information systems in 2007. Now when I yell at my kids about going to college they won't be able to respond, "you didn't even finish"...Instead, I can say, "I went to school full time, worked full time and had a family. It was hard so, you should go while you don't have those demands"...Boom!

Being a freelancer

Some time around 2002 I started doing freelance work here and there for various clients. Mostly small projects in the beginning but the requests began to grow in both size and volume. For the last few years it seems like I have done nothing but work. Every day, every night, every weekend and every "day off" have been spent working and I finally reached the tipping point. I decided about a year ago I needed to come up with a better way to manage my work/life balance. 

The real problem I was having was there were only so many hours I could work. I needed help but I was too afraid to hire someone for fear of having to let them go if the work dried up. I was also reluctant to leave NRCA because of loyalty and, not to mention, the benefits; with three kids, health insurance is fairly important.  Thankfully, my wife decided to go back to work full time, and in March she took a job that came with benefits, namely health insurance. That whole change has been interesting, but overall better for everyone, I think.

Starting my own company

I created a corporation two years ago in anticipation that this day would eventually be a reality. The company, Stack Solutions (, provides IT consulting services including custom software, website and mobile development. In addition, Stack manages IT infrastructure for small to medium businesses.

June 1, 2013 Stack Solutions will go from my side project to my full-time endeavor. Initially there will be a total of three employees with plans to add a project manager within the first month. 

I'm excited, nervous and optimistic. Thanks to all of Stack's clients, the future of the company looks promising but I couldn't have done any of it without (Stack's newest client) NRCA.

19. February 2013 06:50
by Paul Apostolos

Don't live your life by default

19. February 2013 06:50 by Paul Apostolos | 0 Comments

On a recent podcast by Scott Hanselman, he said something very enlightening. I'm paraphrasing here, but essentially it was:

Teach your children to make life choices rather than just let life happen to them.

The phrase he used was, "Don't live your life by default." I know many people that have lived their life by default. In many instances I see unhappy folks that are stuck in dead-end jobs they don't enjoy but "it pays the bills". Letting life affect you instead of determining your own fate is a bad way to live.

In my early years, I was all about living my life by default. I took jobs that had little room for advancement and offered little enjoyment other than the minimal checks I received weekly. And, I believe, through high school, I lived my academic career by default; I only graduated because all my friends were smarties and being a dropout would have left me out of the group. But, when I started driving the car of life for myself things got much, much better. I made decisions that shaped my future instead of just letting things happen.  

Most people, me included, find change and life decisions difficult and avoid them for three prime reasons:

1. Fear - If you make the choice to change professions, you may fear that the money won't be there to support your family.  Or, you fear you may hate the new job and the current job is okay enough. To this I say, it's okay to be afraid, but don't let it cripple you.  There is an optimistic way to view everything. Just like the old joke - We have shit for dinner, but there is lots of it. So, even if the job doesn't work out, there will be a silver lining...The most obvious is, at least you gave it a shot.

2. Life disruption - Going back to school, for example, will likely be a huge life disruption. It was for me at least. Three days a week for four hours after work, plus homework and studying...And in my case for six years. But, you need to decide what is more important; making it home to watch Big Brother or changing your life for the better. It's your choice.

3. "I don't have the means" - I hear people give up before trying all the time and the excuse is often, "I don't have a..." What ever the ... is, (car, money, time, grades, skill...) they are all just excuses. If you REALLY wanted to go to MIT, complaining that you don't have the money is not going to get you there.  There is ALWAYS a way. That way may be tough, but there is a way.  Don't give up before you start.

So, the real question is, how do you teach someone to not live their life by default. My children are young, but I have already started instilling this edict into their tiny little brains. I have two overriding philosophies that I believe are leading them to a life != default.

1. Expect they can do something and help them when they can't - There is a first time for everything, making their own meals, cleaning up their toys, warming up the car, researching a school project, getting themselves dressed and taking care of their pets all seem simple, but if you start early, expecting these things can just be handled by your children, they will surprise you with how much they can actually accomplish on their own (without you even telling them what to do). This fosters confidence and builds character.  

2. Solicit feedback in the decisions you make about their lives - My boys play hockey, so I'll use that as an example...I ask them what they want to do for each season. Whether it is what team to tryout for, camps to go to or equipment to use...In my mind, that choice is ultimately theirs, and so I ask them to make those decisions.  Also, let's just say they are to be punished for something. It happens, right? Really, six and eleven are like oil and water in terms of brother ages. So if there is fighting or other disciplinary offenses, sometimes I'll ask what they would do if they were me. It allows them to have a say in the punishment, but it also teaches them not to just blanketly (<- might not be a word) accept others affecting their lives with out trying to have a say.

One more bit, we went video game free on those little guys more than a year ago and they have never been happier.

So, thanks Scott for putting a phrase to a philosophy I have been living for quite some time.