Accountant by Day

Work vs. School

Some musings on the difference between work and school (specifically, higher educations)--expectations, what behavior you're rewarded for, the type of rewards you get.

How does 85% sound?

If you're like me, 85% wasn't what I wanted to get in a class--I wanted an A! But 85% was a good grade for the majority of students. Chime in here professors, but typically, at least 70% of students received an A or B in classes. Some students were happy with a C, because it meant they didn't need to retake the course, and could move ahead in their education.

But if I had someone working for me who only completed 85% of each assignment I gave them, they wouldn't be moving ahead in the organization. At least not if I had anything to say about it. Of course, in the work world, every assignment is an open-book test--so you can use the various tools at your disposal to figure out the correct answer. The truly terrible employees are those that just say "I don't know," and ask you how to do everything, instead of figuring it out under their own steam.

But you don't know the score anyway

You don't know if you're getting a 95% or an 85% or a 50% at work though, because your assignments are not returned neatly graded. You're not told the class average. Well, some Big 4 accounting firms will rank you each year (and then fire you if you're in some bottom percentile), but that feedback is neither as frequent as quiz and test scores, and nor is it necessarily based on a transparent rubric.

I worked with a junior employee whose performance was shockingly bad. Senior employees would have graded him at 25% or below if they were scoring his work. But he worked with us for months before it was explained to him in a review that his performance was terrible. He was utterly surprised. He thought he was showing up, working hard, and doing a great job.

Another junior employee did fantastic work. It was hard to find any corrections in her work, but of course, she was new to the job and didn't know everything. There is always something that can be improved. I learned that this employee had no idea that she was miles ahead of the other employees at the same level as her. I, and another senior staff, began to make every effort to let her know that her work for us was stellar. But she still didn't feel like she was doing well, because she did not get feedback from anyone else.

What should your score be anyway?

At my university, a 94% or above earned you an A. There was no difference between 100% and 94% on your transcript. You're not going to get things 100% right at work--but what % correct should you be achieving? This is a difficult transition for a high achiever. You made a mistake--how serious is it? The manager sits you down to point it out. It seems like a big failure. You mention it to other people--this particular manager makes every mistake seems like a huge failure. No one gets fired for it. Salaries and bonuses are secret, so no one knows if this is reflected there (it's not.) On a test, you get a question wrong, you can see that it corresponds to 1% off your final score. You got a 99% instead of a 100%. Clearly no big deal. At work, it's harder to tell if your mistakes are a big deal, or just an expected level of human error.

Your work is great! But they just don't like you

In class, completing the assignments correctly and studying hard for the test will earn you an A almost every time. At work, you may be producing the best work, but if people don't like to work with you, you may not be seen as an A+ employee by your coworkers.

In my example above, the junior who gave me such excellent work had a personality that reflected her conscientiousness. I found her to be a lovely person to be around. Less conscientious people found her to be "too uptight," and preferred not to work with her on their jobs. (Those people were jerks.)

Or they like you and put up with your less-than-great work.

You have to keep your own record of your success

After a successful semester at college, your top grades are all posted to your transcript. You can request a sealed certified copy of this to prove to anyone who wants to know exactly how good you are.

At work, when your annual review rolls around, the upper-level manager reviewing you probably doesn't remember any of your triumphs from the past year. Heck, maybe they've never worked with you before, and are just basing their feedback on hastily filled-out evaluations from your seniors. Who also probably don't recall your small successes throughout the year with great clarity.

So--keep notes of what you did well. If they don't remember what you did badly, well, no need to bring it up yourself!

No more professors, and the introduction of Lumosity

Learning from a good professor is my favorite way to learn. I love having assignments that force me to do the work I need to do to learn a new subject.

You'll learn plenty at work, but more often by trial and error. The training courses won't help you learn a topic truly and deeply the way a university course would. If you want to learn more than your peers are learning, you'll have to make the effort to do so. Ask to be on more challenging assignments, where you'll gain new experience. Read the original language of the tax rule in the internal revenue code (or your career's equivalent) and ask a senior person questions about it.

Lumosity, a program to help you exercise your brain, was popular among my colleagues who had been working for four or five years, and felt their brain muscles beginning to atrophy. They were starting to master the type of work we did--not every new assignment was a learning experience anymore. Work stopped being fun for these people. Lumosity didn't fix that. (Work stopped being fun for me too, but that was because I had too much of it, which is a different issue--I still found each job to be satisfying in the level of learning I was getting out of it.)

On the other hand

Work can be way easier than school--and you can see yourself getting better and more efficient at your tasks. At school, a new semester is always around the corner, bringing a struggle through new subjects.

You might be the only one

Depending on the type of job you take, you may find that you're the only one at your company who knows what you're doing. This can be a bit lonely after university classes full of other students with a very similar level of knowledge in your chosen field. Who can you bounce ideas off of? Keep in touch with your classmates--getting together and being able to talk about your specialty with others will bore your spouses to death, but can be super satisfying. Like finding someone to speak your native English with when you've been living in Mexico speaking Spanish for six months. (Or vice versa.)

How does your experience with work compare to college/training? I bet many of you will have a completely different point of view on this.


Mortgage update – August 2014

I wrote a draft mortgage update post in March, summarizing total payoff since I bought my house 2 years ago in March 2012. I was so depressed by how little I have paid off that I never ended up posting it.

I have increased my prepayments even more since then, so maybe it's time to take a quick look back now.

My balance started at 133,039 in March 2012. I paid only 3.5% down, which means in addition to interest, I pay about 125/month in PMI, until I have paid off 22% of the loan.

At the end of March 2013, the loan balance was 130,645. So only 2,394 paid down the first year. Part of the reason for lower-than-desired payment is that I was still paying off some student loans during that first year.

In May 2013, the PMI charge dropped to 123/month.

At the end of March 2014, the mortgage balance was at 122,436. Total pay down in the second year: 8,209.

PMI was lowered to 120/month in May 2014.

Since March, I've paid off another 3,941. I'm hoping to pay off about 10,000 in year 3.

Once the balance reaches about 103,000, and I get rid of the PMI, I may start just paying the minimum monthly payment, and enjoying the low interest rate of 3.75%--but that's a decision for 2016.

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Republic Wireless review

So, I have had my Republic Wireless plan for a little over a year now, and I'm currently in the process of canceling the service. I signed up for the plan because I was on a voice-only plan with Verizon Wireless (about $30/month on the family plan) and I wanted a phone I could get my e-mail on when traveling for work. Instead of upgrading my Verizon plan to a data plan, I decided to try Republic Wireless, which offered (at the time) plans as low as $25/month for unlimited voice and data. My plan was to try out this cheap new option, and then cancel my Verizon plan once I assured myself that it was worth it.

Poor voice service

Unfortunately, despite positive reviews from other sources, I found Republic Wireless to have utterly unacceptable voice service. People on the other end of the call frequently complained of echo problems, and every time I dialed my mother, it would immediately drop the first call when she picked up, and I would have to call a second time to get through. Every time. When I began trying to apply for jobs last autumn, the people on the other end of the call frequently complained that they could not hear me, due to poor reception on my end. So I couldn't get rid of the Verizon phone as long as I needed consistent, quality phone calls.

Poor text messaging service

It was good for internet use and text messaging--I thought. But then I realized that people were sending me text messages that I wasn't getting. Sometimes I never received them. Sometimes I received them two weeks later. Once, my friend texted me to let me know she was going on a blind date with a guy from the internet, so that I would know to check up on her later. It wasn't helpful to get that text message five days after the date occurred!

The second unacceptable issue related to text messaging was that the phone cannot receive text messages from short numbers. This means it cannot receive that additional layer of verification you might get asked for when logging into your bank for example, where they text you the security code.

Decent internet, but not worth it for just an internet connection

And the internet, while it served its purpose generally quite well (which is why I have kept the phone for a year), wouldn't work almost my entire vacation on the west coast, because it was supposedly out of range. It also frequently crashed while in the middle of navigating around cities I had to drive in for work.

In the end, the cost to add a data plan to my voice plan on Verizon is only $30/month in addition to the voice plan I was already paying for, whereas the Republic Wireless fee for me to use an inferior device with internet is $35/month. It's just not worth it.

Poor device

At the time I bought into Republic Wireless, the only phone available was the Motorola Defy. I do like that this phone is pretty rugged, and I've dropped it several times with no ill effects. However, I have about 3 apps installed on it, and it's constantly saying its out of memory. The battery life is dismal. When using the phone at home or in an office, this isn't such an issue since you can always charge it. But short battery life is a struggle when you're traveling. I wouldn't use any apps or make any calls, but by the time I arrived at my destination, there wouldn't be enough battery left to use navigation to get to my hotel.

In addition, the phone takes terrible photos. When choosing my new phone, I went for the device that would take good photos, so I can (like everyone else has been doing with their iPhones for years now) easily upload good quality photos to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media sites.

Sticking with Verizon

I can only think that all of those people with positive experiences are living in a different place where the call quality is better. But I live in Atlanta, GA, which is by no means a small city! So today I finally went through the hassle of upgrading my Verizon phone to a smartphone with a data plan, and I am excited to say goodbye to my Republic Wireless days! And I'm excited to get started using a "real" cell phone -- the HTC One (M8).



I totally forgot this huge issue -- a couple of months ago, Republic Wireless accidentally changed the voice mail phone number dialed when you click the "retrieve voice mail" option. Somehow they couldn't not change everyone back, so users had to manually follow steps to repair this. How unprofessional! Of course, I'm far too lazy to go and fix this, since most of my calls don't come to this phone, but I haven't been able access voice messages on this device for months. Quel domage!


What do you value in a job?

When I was job hunting, I realized that I really don't have a good sense of my own values. That is to say - I was motivated to switch careers in order to have a better work life balance, or at least less stress. However, I would hear about jobs at the big companies - Verizon, Home Depot, Coca Cola, and suddenly I'd be thinking "Maybe I should be working there, really getting something recognizable on my resume, really getting some good work experience..." even though to have big "success" at big companies, I expect you would need to work long hours, really make career the central focus of your life, to the detriment of other parts of your life. Maybe this is a misconception on my part, but I'm competitive enough that I'd spend all my time competing my way to the top at a bigger firm, rather than just enjoying the job.

I very much like the job I ended up choosing, which is at an early-growth stage company. There are lots of opportunities for me to shape the department that I work within. Being a smaller company, I also get to do a wide variety of tasks, and I'm pretty good at finding new projects that need to get done, if I ever run out of things to do!

But ten years from now, this company is going to be a very different place. It might even get sold to new owners somewhere along the way! It's probably a safe bet that this will not be the company I work at for the rest of my career. And next time I'm looking for work, I don't want to feel so conflicted and confused about what I'm looking for in a job.

I've signed up for an interesting looking MOOC, called "Enhance Your Career and Employability Skills" from the University of London. Yesterday was Day 1 of the course, which seems like it will consist of lots of tools to use to help one think more critically about careers. It will also address topics such as networking and self-presentation -- I'm interested to see what they have to teach in these areas, since this isn't something that is traditionally "taught" at university, but also doesn't feel like the kind of thing that can be taught.

I always love to hear about how peoples' careers progressed from their first job to their current job - most people seem to end up in jobs they never could have predicted having when they were a fresh new graduate from college!



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Memorial day photo stroll

Turns out that it's a bit tricky taking photos while walking the dog on a holiday. People kept sneaking up behind us. Not too happy with the set of shots today, but here they are:

Shady sidewalkShady sidewalks are a must-have during the summer. Above, some dogwoods keep the sun off this patch of sidewalk.

Flower and rock   A little weed growing in the community garden.

LettuceA head of green lettuce in the community garden. Our own lettuce at home is not nearly this far along. Maybe next year will be when we finally plant them early enough!

LettuceAnother lettuce (I think).

Power linesPower lines.

Taking the camera out to get shots of the same area of the neighborhood is probably a good experience in itself - trying not to get the same shot every time. I'm focusing on composition more than anything else, but also trying to get a better handle on the effects of adjusting the F-stop etc, etc.

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Recommendations 05-18-2014

"In A World . . . "
Movie written and directed by Lake Bell (also the lead actress) about voice over actors. Also has an adorable love story. I know, this came out in 2013, but I hadn't heard of it before my boyfriend suggested it, so if you haven't seen it yet, it's a good one.

"Champion Rose"
Fantasy novel by Andrea K Host. Strong story line about a King and his Champion, who are more controlled by their country's enchanted magical defenses than they would like to be. Also, the writer is pretty heavy into emphasizing alternative relationships being the norm, and making sure characters which would typically be men are played by women.

"Children of the Desert"
Fantasy series set in a desert culture by Leona Wisoker. I read books one and two ("Secrets of the Sand" and "Guardians of the Desert") a couple of years ago, and remember thinking that they were awesome. I have a soft spot for fantasy set in desert cultures (like The Hero and the Crown). Last week, I realized that it had been quite a while since I read the first books in the series, and decided to check Amazon to see if another book had come out in the series. It turns out that the 3rd and 4th books are both out, however, not currently carried in most book stores, as unfortunately the original publisher has gone out of business. In the meantime, you can find the books at a reasonable price at The Scribbling Lion.

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Quick poll: Who likes flow charts?

I've been making myself some flow charts at work to make sure I know all the steps in some key processes. The thing is, I find the process of making flow charts to be very helpful, but I don't actually find reading flow charts made by other people to be helpful. The process of setting every step out in the chart helps me realize when there's a step I'm skipping - how exactly does the invoice go from the mail to being matched up with the P.O. and shipping documents, before getting handed to me? But a diagram created by someone else is hard for my brain to follow.

So, are there people out there who do find it helpful to see a flowchart of a process, even if that chart was created by someone else?

I ask because I would like to create a really strong set of procedural documents for my new position, because:

  • in case I were to leave the company, it would be a helpful reference for my successor, as well as a nice guide for me to use when training them (so I wouldn't forget to explain key points)
  • as the company grows, we will eventually hire another accountant or two to work under me, and I think having a clear set of processes will really help see what the duties of the new accountants can and should be, and again, help me training them, and help them as a reference guide.

Weekend photo stroll

I'm working on learning how to take better shots with our camera, so I'm trying to fit little photo shoots into my schedule more often. (Otherwise, if I only get the camera out a couple of times a year on vacation, I forget how to use it well!) This time of year - with everything green and growing - is so great after being cooped up inside for a long busy season. Here are some shots I took walking around the neighborhood yesterday:

Knock-out roses - not my favorite kind of rose, but they love the weather here.












Phlox is one of my favorites - my yard is too shady for it, sadly, but there's plenty of it around to enjoy in the neighbors' yards!









Spirea (I think?)












Iris - Very pretty - also, very hardy and easy to grow in the area.



Things 2014-04-10

Something cool:

Speaking with Dolphins - I was fascinated by Denise Herzing's Ted talk on her research team's attempt to speak with dolphins. They explain in the linked article that they think they were able to teach one "human" word to the dolphins.

Something sad:

Professors more likely to respond to white male student emails - or at least, students who have a typical white male name.


This photographer's project is to show how beautiful all shapes of women are - this series focuses on recent mothers (contains nudity!)

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Changing of the guard

For anyone who has been reading along the last couple of months, it may come as no surprise that I've decided to move out of public accounting and into industry. I have less than a week before my last day in public and my first day at the new place.

Unfortunately for the firm, in addition to the two manager-level people who left right before busy season, and the one who left at the end of March, we had yet another announce their departure at the same time as mine. I'm not quite at that level yet, but the vacuum left in their wake would have meant a lot of opportunities for me. This also almost convinced me to stay, but by the time I knew about it, I had already made my decision.

The folks at the CPA firm have really put forth an effort to convince me to stay, which leads to moments of me wondering if I should regret the move, or if things would be different if I had stayed longer. But to be honest, currently it's hard to maintain a regretful mindset - it just feels like the right thing to do. Even if it turns out I hate the new place, I think the whole process of going out, finding a new job, seeing what a different company is like to work for will give me a valuable life experience -- and the work experience I'll gain is substantial as well.

I'm looking forward to the opportunity to use the financial accounting which is what you really learn about in an accounting degree, and I hope to see other areas where I can step up and develop new skills.