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Do Only Sad People Write Letters to Themselves?

So, for only the second time in my life, I'm officially unemployed. The first time was when I nineteen and working as a tractor driver on a farm. The winter came, and I was out of work. That was a few years ago (suffice to say that I was around in the days before home computers), but here I am again wandering aimlessly around the house looking for jobs that don't involve paint, a power drill, or the vacuum cleaner.

The reality is, of course, more complicated than that. Some ten years ago I set up a Limited Company to offer training, documentation, and bespoke software development services. In the last few years I've been working mainly for the Microsoft patterns & practices division producing guidance on a range of exciting topics and software releases. However, Microsoft don't contract work out to just anybody, even less some guy sitting in a spare bedroom in the wild and windswept countryside of England, so I worked through another company that specializes in documentation and guidance.

The result is that I was actually an employee of my own company, which signed an associate agreement with the content producer. My company then contracted me to the agreement, and the content producer contracted to Microsoft under a separate agreement. It's no wonder I ended up completing most of the projects before the official order actually arrived.

Still, that's all water under the bridge now. In a few weeks time I start work for Microsoft as a "blue badge" full-time employee, which should make the whole thing considerably simpler (no laughing at the back please...) Of course, Microsoft weren't keen on employing me when I was already employed by someone else, even though the someone else was me, so I had to resign as an employee from my own company. You'd think that should be easy. I just need to sit one side of the kitchen table and say "I resign", then run round to the other side and say "OK, bye".

Ah, but Microsoft needs to see my resignation letter. So I phoned my accountant and asked him what the correct procedure was. "Easy", he said, "just write to yourself as the company from yourself as an employee telling yourself that you've resigned". "Right", said I, "and do I need to confirm it by writing to myself as an employee from myself as the company accepting my resignation?" His reply? "No, that would be silly...!" In the end, I addressed the letter to "the directors", so it wasn't quite as daft as it first seemed, though it did seem to cause some amusement amongst my new work colleagues who demanded to see a copy of the letter.

Still, it's given me a few days spare to do all those odd jobs like backing up the servers, cleaning out the old files, and installing all the latest fixes and patches. I often complain to my wife about how much junk she manages to store in the various cupboards, wardrobes, spare room, and the "bit under the stairs", but it's amazing how much junk I have stored on the various computers scattered around our house.

Mind you, when you see how much "stuff" it takes to create what seems to be a simple Help file for Visual Studio's Document Explorer, it's no wonder I have to keep buying bigger hard disks. It doesn't help that I'm paranoid about losing data. I found 38 copies of the source Word documents folder for the latest Enterprise Library release, complete with all the images and Visio diagrams, scattered across four machines.

And then there's the generated HTML files - I bet you didn't realize that there are 14,596 HTML pages, 54 images, and nearly 300 other assorted resources and icons in the Enterprise Library Help file. OK, so a lot are auto-generated API Reference files, but it does indicate just how complex modern Help files really are. In comparison, there are only around 5,000 code source files in Enterprise Library. So the job of the documentation team is actually three times harder than writing the software in the first place. Though I'm not sure our colleagues in the dev team would actually agree with that...

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