Accountant by Day

Private industry after public accounting

I spent about 3.5 years (4 busy seasons) working in public accounting. I was good at it. I worked a ton of hours, and stressed about meeting the ever increasing workload and expectations. They loved me.

So, when I quit and let them know I was taking a job at a private industry company, small enough for me to be the only accountant, a few of my colleagues expressed surprise at my choice of exit plan. I was a bit surprised at their surprise--I deliberately chose to work at a smaller CPA firm upon graduation and when it came time to look at private industry jobs, I was very interested at working at a smaller company. I'm not 100% sure what my colleagues expected, but they probably expected me to look for a job at one of the Fortune 500's in town. The recruiters I worked with sure had a lot of openings for the Home Depot, UPS, and Coca Cola on their radars. Instead, I found an opportunity at a small science-related start up, through LinkedIn, which I felt would be a good fit for me from the moment I read the job description. And so far, seven months in, that is definitely the case.

The biggest concern some of my public accounting coworkers expressed was that they would be way too bored in this kind of position. And to be honest, there are definitely days where I don't have enough work to do, so that can get a bit boring. But the actual work itself? I don't see why entering vendor invoices is any more boring than flipping through 100 invoices that you've selected during an audit, and making a note in your spreadsheet of what price was paid for inventory on that date. And there is a satisfaction to creating a customer invoice and recording a nice chunk of revenue that I never got from doing audit test work. And if I run out of regular, daily accounting work to do, I can always find a project to improve my little department. These projects might not sound like the most exciting thing in the world either (creating an official reimbursement policy, researching an ERP software that will fit our needs, learning about the accounting rules specific to our government grants), but I like working on projects.

I love being the whole accounting department. I know how to do my stuff. If the system isn't working right, I fix it. If I see something that needs doing, I do it. I love having a real manager (the CEO) as a boss, instead of someone who was good at accounting, but maybe never quite learned how to manage people. At a bigger company, I'm pretty sure I would be frustrated by the bureaucracy of the approval process if I wanted to change how we did things. Heck, at the smallish CPA firm I was at, I was frustrated with the bureaucracy that one needed to navigate to make any improvements to our work processes.

There's the pay situation too--I am making more money now than I was in public. It would have taken another 2 raises to get me to this salary level at the public accounting firm (about a year from now, maybe I would have been making the same.) After that, I will probably start to fall behind what I would be earning in public accounting. But I'm also exchanging so much less of my spirit and energy. It would take several more years of raises in public accounting to match my currently "hourly" earnings, since I work a standard 40-hour week now, instead of 50+ hours a week. If I want to push my earnings up a level in a few years, I could probably do it through switching jobs, but I really like working here, you see, so I probably won't do that.

You know who is bored though? Some of my other public accounting friends who switched to internal audit at big brand-name companies. Bored out of their minds, they say. But also unable to self-direct their time. Their tasks are repetitive, but they don't have the freedom to find little projects to work on like I do.

I wouldn't be as qualified as I am today though without the public accounting experience. Public accounting allows you to learn a lot in a relatively short time--you are constantly being presented with new challenges, as you master the old challenges. It also allows you to earn hours and your CPA license. You need to work more industry hours to earn a CPA license, plus you need to work under a CPA who can sign off on those hours.

The other interesting thing I wanted to share with others who might be thinking about leaving public accounting is this: I was nervous that I would make the "wrong" choice, and really throw my career off base. I was anxious that I would choose a second job that would make it really difficult to obtain a third job at some future point. It was also scary looking for a new job, because the last time I had been looking for a job, I was in college, where the firms come looking for you, and your potential employers don't expect you to have any experience. Once I finally made the jump, it's like I can more clearly see the world around me, outside of public accounting. And let me tell you, from here, it looks like there are tons of opportunities for an accountant to find work.

It was also tough finding people to provide recommendations, because all the people I had ever worked with were in the company I was currently working at during the job search! I was lucky in the references in a couple of ways--first, I had an opportunity to work a temporary accounting job right after graduation, before my CPA job was scheduled to begin. I worked really hard there, and my boss from that short three-month stint was happy to provide a recommendation. Secondly, within the CPA firm, I had sought out opportunities to work for people outside of my regular department when I was a first-year, before I was completely swamped with work from my own department. These people were also happy to provide references for me, as my leaving the firm was no great disadvantage to them, as I didn't regularly work for them. But, they could truthfully give a review of my work, since I had done a few jobs with them. I highly recommend trying to do this at your own CPA firm too when you are a first year, as there are plenty of other advantages from this too.

But you know what? Now that I am in my second job, suddenly there are so many more people to ask for recommendations if/when I am looking for a third job! All those people that were my supervisors in my department at the CPA firm, the ones I couldn't tell about my last job search? Now that I don't work for them anymore, they'll be happy to provide recommendations for me in the future. In addition to just "not burning bridges" at the CPA firm, I've made an effort to stay in touch with people that I worked with a lot, even if we were never "outside-of-work friends" in the past. Maintaining this network of past colleagues is significantly easier for me than building new connections with strangers at networking events!

So I would say, I'm glad I worked at the CPA firm for the years that I did, but I'm also glad I exited when I did. In retrospect, it seems like an obvious good choice, but at the time, from the view from inside public accounting, it was not such a clear decision!

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The value of work

Most of us go to work everyday. Some of us might prefer not to go to work, would prefer to work less, or would prefer their work to be in a different field.

We also have ideas about what is "important" work and we have more respect for some jobs than others. From the lamentations we hear today about the loss of manufacturing sector, you'd think working in a factory was the best job of all. People often claim to respect teachers, but in reality, we pay them poorly, relative to other professions with similar education requirements, and many people see teaching (elementary and secondary school) as easy because "school hours" are not such a tough schedule. We pay lawyers a lot, but who likes them?

Jobs allow us, a society, to generate more stuff per person. If no one had jobs, we would each spend most of our days trying to fulfill our own basic needs-hunting for food, building and defending our shelter, farming land. Instead, people specialize, so some people/companies who are really good at farming generate the food, police defend your shelter and safety (when they're not accidentally shooting you, I suppose), and some of us, like accountants and professors, do tasks that help make the whole thing run smoothly (educating the specialists for their jobs, counting the currency we use to exchange all these goods and services.)

So any kind of job there is, the worker can feel good that they're contributing to society. Their work creates a better standard of living for most of us, compared to each of us tending to or own basic needs all day. Or at least, leads to more free time and choice about what you're of tasks to do.

And yet, some of us end up in jobs that aren't valued enough to pay for basic food, shelter, clothing. Many of us work at places that pay well above average, but we don't enjoy our jobs, or we don't feel like our jobs contribute to the good of society. Many people find that they can't stand working for someone else, and may work much harder for the same pay to run their own business instead. Others would hate the responsibility of running the whole show.

There's a lot of talk about finding a job you love, that you're passionate about. I suspect that much of this passion for work may be more dependent on the attitude of the worker than their ability to find the "correct" job. We all know examples of house cleaners/janitors who loved their work. I'm sure there are some zoologists out there who hate their jobs too.

I like my current job a lot. It's a pleasant place to be. But I don't feel that fulfilled by going and doing a hard day's work every day. My father, on the other hand, seems to live for work. He's close to 70 and just uninterested in the idea of retiring. While he is very interested in his field of work, I think he would be happy doing any kind of work, as long as he felt like he was being productive and bringing home a paycheck to support the family.

Do you feel passionate about your field of work? Or do you feel passionate about work itself? What would you do with your time if you could support your family doing anything (including watching movies all day!)? Did you navigate your way from a first job that you didn't really enjoy to one that you really like now?


Life is good

It's been six months since I left public accounting for financial accounting position. You guys--it's so much better.

I am much more in line with the company values and management style in my new workplace. It really feels like we're all pushing towards the same goals. Everyone is open to new ideas and communication.

I do still recommend public accounting as a good starting point. Get your CPA, work the long hours, see how other people run their business. If you find that you don't aspire to make partner, then get out. For me, my three to four years were all I needed to get the next job. Some people argue that if you stay in public accounting for five or six years, you can step directly into a controller position. This is easier if you step into that role at one of your clients. Most of my clients were out of state, so I didn't see that as an option for me. And I'm not sure I could have sold myself as experienced enough to be a controller, even with two more years of public accounting experience, because it's still seems like a completely different job. I do feel like my current job as the whole accounting department IS preparing me to take on a controller role. For me, the inner confidence that I can do the job is very important. I'm not someone who will happily claim I know how to do a job that I don't have the experience for. Of course, hopefully each new job is a step up, so there will always be plenty of new skills to learn.

What have your experiences been like with changing jobs, moving up in Your chosen field, and gaining work experience?


November 2014 Mortgage

Payment: 1,751.83

Principal: 250.97
Prepayment: 575.00 (interest savings generated = 829.30)
Interest: 365.16
Escrow: 560.70

The "interest saved" number is satisfyingly high this early on in the mortgage life.

Escrow is annoyingly high, because I accidentally didn't get the exemption due to me on property taxes last year, so the monthly payment was increased to cover the shortfall. I'm hoping this will go down to under $425 in March when this is readjusted.

PMI is about 120/month. This decreases a dollar or two each year, but I'm not sure how it is calculated. If I keep prepaying $575/month, PMI should be eliminated 3/1/2016, and then monthly escrow should be only 300-ish.

If I increase my monthly payments to $675 until PMI is eliminated, it could finish as early as 12/1/2015. I don't think the extra 3 months will be worth it. To be honest, even with PMI, my interest rate is low enough that investing every extra dollar could be better, in the long run, than prepaying any part of the mortgage. But it feels better mentally to get up to 20% equity, eliminate PMI, and have a lower monthly payment. Together with interest, it does come to a rate of about 4.88% per year, so the return on paying it off is not negligible. And it's nice to have a short term goal to aim for that will have real benefits.

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Happy election day

In the weeks leading up to election day, we were inundated with mailers about voting early. Also, even more mail about how I should vote to reduce to wage gap between men and women.

So, we voted at our early voting station a couple of weekends ago. We spotted for coffee on the way and arrived mid-morning. We were the only ones in the room, where about 5 or 6 voting machines were set up. The women working at the polling station (because they were all women, no men) checked our id's with no mishap, and we had voted and we were out of there in about 10 minutes.

I did enjoy voting on the actual day for the presidential election. The crowd had a bit of a holiday air about it, and everyone was very friendly and tolerant of waiting in line. But the line was massive, and while you can take time off work for voting, I liked voting on a Saturday.

But, chances are we'll have a chance to repeat the experience with a runoff election here!

How was your voting experience this midterm?

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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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