Extra Life 2016 – Update

I mentioned a couple of months ago team Light Recoil‘s annual fundraising efforts for Beaumont Children’s Hospital & the Children’s Miracle Network through Extra Life are coming up quickly. Already, thanks to your amazing generosity, we have raised nearly half of our goal of $2,000. Thank you all so very much.

The T-Shirt ($100)

If you donate moellr_2016_2re than $100 to any Light Recoil team member you become an honorary member of Light Recoil and get one of our nifty team shirts. This year’s design, by Blake Farrugia, is probably my favorite of all of the years. The shirts themselves are really high quality; I’ve been wearing ones from past years regularly and they still hold up quite nicely.

The TeamSpeak Server ($58)

If you donate over last-years average donation amount to anybody on our team, you can get access to the TeamSpeak server for the year. Yes, not only can you join in on the “witty” “conversation” during our LAN, but you can partake in all of our “entertaining” “banter” throughout the year.1 Just think of the joy you will derive from being privy to our “thoughts”. That’s got to be worth at least a cup of coffee (not, you know, from Starbucks…maybe from a local diner)?

Punishment Games (microdonations)

If you’ve watched us stream in previous years, you are obviously familiar with our punishment games.  For the uninitiated, throughout the LAN, we will occasionally set aside periods of time during which we track donations and whoever got the most donations gets forced to stream them playing a game as punishment. Such games in the past have included 2-Person Cooperative QWOP:

Or 2-Person Cooperative Surgeon Simulator:

It typically doesn’t take much cash to coerce your favorite (or least favorite) member of Light Recoil to play Enviro-Bear, Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, Turbo Pug, or Shower With Your Dad Simulator.

Tune into our streams throughout the weekend to see the fun and don’t forget to DONATE!

The streams:


1 Caveat: we only have room for one *really* annoying person and that role is already filled, so, if you turn out to just be an annoying troll, we do reserve the right to un-invite you.

Another Year Clean and Sober

When this post goes live, provided nothing completely irrational has happened in the last week or so, I will have been clean and sober for 14 years.1 I have now been absent of drugs and alcohol for as long as I used them.2

This is traditionally where I pat myself on the back and reminisce about how difficult it was3, but instead I just want to say this: today my life is immeasurably better than it was when it was ruled entirely by my addiction. That isn’t to say that it immediately got better—initially my life became a complete shit-show as I took away my crutch—but as I became capable of making smarter decisions, acting more like a person of whom I could be proud, and learning to be an empathetic human being, things improved at a rate that was astonishing. It has been years since I’ve actively desired to use, and that freedom is a weight lifted from my shoulders that I didn’t even know was there.

Today, I find myself happier than I’ve ever been, enjoying a life that is not dictated by booze or drugs, and I rarely miss it even slightly. I assure you, when you get clean, it gets better.


1 Give or take two swallows of an iced tea that turned out to be sangria at an Olive Garden, serving to prove two incontrovertible things: no dinner at an Olive Garden shall go unpunished and the only fruit that should be found in an iced tea is a lemon.

2 Not to say that I used drugs and alcohol continuously at the same rate for 14 years; I doubt highly I would have survived it. At 12, however, the ebb and flow of use that characterized my addiction started its…flow…?


Permission to Take a Break

A few weekends ago, I looked through my stub posts to see which I could finish up to post; they were all a long way from done, and none were really grabbing me in any real way. Ultimately, I got distracted and, by the time Wednesday rolled around, nothing was ready to post, so I missed a week.

This week, as I look at the things available to post, I find myself in the same spot. I have a handful of drafts that are in no way ready to post and a handful of political rants of which I am so weary that I can’t imagine you don’t dread them. (Honestly, after my recent floods of them on Twitter, you can get your fill there.)

At the intersection of a chapter that I really want to get written, a review that I’m having difficulty coalescing into reality, and the flood of new-ness that I’m trying to absorb at work, I’m fairly intellectually exhausted.

So, I’m giving myself permission to take a break. Posts for the next month will potentially be sporadic or unsatisfying updates about life with the new gig. Or not. I don’t know, I’m not the boss of me.

Slow Path to Leadership

I started a new job about a month ago, so I am right on schedule for my typical visit from the Imposter Syndrome fairy. It’s as regular as clockwork: suddenly immersed in a place where everyone in the building has infinitely more knowledge than I—everything from the business domain to work procedures to where to find the bloody conference rooms1—so I have to fight the feelings that I’ve finally taken on too much until I start to get my feet beneath me on something that feels like solid ground.2

It’s simultaneously exhilarating and exhausting.

It was in the midst of this that I got a much needed ego boost in the form of a chance to directly compare how I’m doing against the best frame of reference I can think of: my own ideals.

During a discussion of how things were going at a friend’s work it was observed that a mutual friend—we’ll call him Steve—was struggling to keep his team motivated, on task, and engaged with solving typical work problems. It was clearly frustrating for Steve and having a terrible impact on his team’s productivity and morale. When I asked for specifics, the details shed much light on the problem.

Steve is attempting to streamline the processes by which his department performs work. Some of it is high level and conceptual, but much of it is very basic stuff: things like the layout of the office and the physical placement of the things that are needed to get the job done. Steve astutely observed that significant time was being lost to long trips for frequently used items, poor storage requiring lengthy searches for things that are retrieved often, and teammates getting in each others’ way on a regular basis. His goal became clear: restructure the physical workspace.

This was where things took a negative turn. Steve sat the team down, told them that the layout needed to change, and solicited their feedback as to the reorganization. Everywhere that he disagreed with their assessment, he took the time to explain why their idea would not work and why his concept needs to be followed. Once the plan was explained sufficiently, he turned it over to the team and helped them execute.

If you have experience leading teams, I suspect that you already see many of the same areas for improvement that I did. Rather than give advice, I shared my most recent experience with a similar issue.

After observing my teammates working for a while, it became obvious to me that their workflow had a number of areas that could stand to be improved, and I had distinct ideas as to how they could achieve that improvement. With that, I set up a meeting with the team.

During the meeting, I expressed the pain points that I had observed, and we discussed whether or not they agreed. On most of the major points we were all in agreement, although I was surprised to find that two areas that appeared to me as frustrating churn were actually perceived by my team as an almost luxurious break in what often became a monotonous task.

Interesting. We noted those areas that we agreed needed change and simply ignored those that weren’t perceived as pain.

Next, we discussed what a solution to the problems should look like—what traits it should have—in this case, it should solve the pain points, be simple enough to implement initially that we won’t feel bad about rolling back if we hate it, and that we can show fairly empirically the positive or negative effect it had. With the boundaries in mind, we started casting about for solutions.

For most of the remaining problems, the team quickly arrived at solutions that were either comparable to mine, or different but stood just as good a chance of succeeding in my opinion. For the remainder, we discussed some options with which I had some misgivings (which I expressed as a part of the dialog we were having). The team disagreed with my reservations, and decided to try their concept. We discussed how to implement and test all of the plans, and immediately put them to work.

Let’s examine the difference between these two methods for a moment:

  1. Steve observed problems
  2. Steve developed plans to solve the problems
  3. Steve explained the plans to the team
  4. The team executed Steve’s plans

Compare that to:

  1. I observed problems
  2. I described the problems as I understood them to the team
  3. We discussed the merits of the problems
  4. We discussed the requirements that define viable solutions
  5. We developed plans to solve the problems
  6. The team executed our plans

It should come as no surprise that Steve’s experience was not great; the team did a lackluster job of implementing plans they didn’t agree with to solve problems they didn’t agree they had. They complained regularly about the changes, and some griped publicly about how Steve doesn’t remember how to do their day-to-day—from their perspective, he’s out of touch and leading them poorly as a result.

All of this in response to Steve actively trying to improve the work lives of his team!

Comparatively, my teammates had a much more positive experience. Several of the ideas that we came up with did not pan out3, but the team quickly discussed the flaws and we were able to find a solution quickly. Their feeling of engagement was high and feedback was very positive. The term “empowered” was used to describe the situation more than once. Equally importantly, the team as a whole had an opportunity to learn a bit more about problem-solving in the process domain which will benefit all of us greatly in future decisions.

Finding the moral of the story involves looking at the purpose of Steve’s approach and mine. In both cases, the overt purpose is to solve the team’s problems and to make their jobs better and more productive…but the applied purpose—the purpose that was conveyed to the team—was very different. Steve’s applied purpose was to have the team solve problems he saw his way. My applied purpose was solicit from the team the best ways that I could help to solve their problems.

And that was the source of the ego-boost that I got from this narrative; it wasn’t “look how superior I am to Steve.” No, my pleasure was derived from recognizing that I had practiced servant-leadership without thinking about it. For a decade I have been struggling with setting aside my own ego and my own agenda in favor of trying to be an empathetic leader, and in a particularly challenging time I was able to do just that without backsliding when it mattered most.

And also, look how much better than Steve I am.

If you, like me, struggle with leading rather than managing, make this the template for your next problem solving meeting:

Here are the areas that I see causing you pain: 
(during team discussion, circle those that the team agrees with)
Here is the criteria for a good solution to pain points: 
1. Able to be tested
2. Can be quickly implemented or partially implemented
3. …
Let’s come up with a possible solution to test for each pain point: 
(discuss, don’t dictate)

Try it, see what happens.


1 Seriously, what is it with companies and conference rooms. They all choose cutesy names that make a ton of sense to people around when the names were chosen but do nothing to help folks find them. It would appear that as the number of rooms increases, so too does the distance between the names chosen and a meaningful attachment to the room itself. Oh, you called a perfectly medium-sized conference room “The Big House”? I see you, too, are a fan of prisons and people being lost in your building. (back)

2 Recognizing a pattern is the first step to taking away its power; if Lex Luthor ever figured out that Clark Kent got the flu around Kryptonite all the time, Superman would be screwed. Likewise, your if you suffer from Impostor Syndrome at each new job, remind yourself that this is common (and believe me, it is) and that it will pass. Like a kidney stone. Painfully and with a little *plink* at the end. (back)

3 Some of the ideas that I thought had the greatest chance of succeeding were among those that failed gloriously. Humbling. Nothing like a tangible reminder that I’m very imperfect. Not that I’m imperfect, because I’m not!4 (back)

4 Lessons in humility have a notoriously short shelf-life for me. That’s just part of being awesome. (back)

Presidential Debate #1

Debates happened, in so far as you can call what was televised a “debate.” I think that heated argument would be a fairer characterization, but that might just be needlessly pedantic. Nothing especially surprising took place, that much is certain. While I live-tweeted my reactions to much of the proceedings, I thought I would take a minute to elaborate now, having had a day to process (and having watched it several more times).

In general, the atmosphere was something that I’m more used to seeing in news from foreign countries that are trying to obtain a first democratic election than those I’m used to from our own electoral process. It was painfully obvious that neither candidate either like or have any respect for the other. This resulted in a less satisfying debate for me; I haven’t taken the time to check the actual specific numbers (because, facts, right?), but it certainly felt as though less time was spent discussing legitimate policy than in debates I’ve watched over the last 20 or so years.

How did the candidates fare? I suspect that would depend entirely on who you support. Throughout the day Tuesday social media was filled with Trump supporters declaring his clear victory—strong leadership over Hillary’s smug, condescending insidership. At the exact same time, Hillary’s supporters were crowing over her obvious victory—calm, presidential behavior over dishonesty and erratic behavior.

For what it’s worth, it seems very much that Trump and his camp FEEL that they lost, since he immediately went on the war path claiming that the moderator was unfair, the mic might have been tampered with, and that Hillary was being mean. Folks don’t often make a series of disjointed excuses for their perceived successes.

From my perspective though, nobody really “won” in the classical sense. We did not learn anything new (or, really, anything at all) about Trump’s policies. The only policy that he even slightly intimated was that his plan for preventing company’s from exporting jobs by lowering corporate taxes…full stop, end of plan. Hillary shoved policy point after policy point into her responses, but none were especially new if you were even slightly familiar with her platform.

In the end, the folks that have been supporting Trump all along got more of the same: lack of substance, lack of coherence, tons of volume and bombast, and a dollop of misogyny—perhaps with a skosh less  xenophobia and bigotry than we’re used to seeing, but not so little as to turn off his white supremacist base.

Likewise for Clinton’s supporters. As expected, they received an embattled statesperson who clearly tried to take the high road and failed miserably several times (especially in a particularly unpleasant exchange over NAFTA and a similar one over the TPP) while cramming an unusual number of policy details into an abbreviated time—perhaps more willing to take Trump’s flaws head-on than usual, but generally more of the same.

At the end of the debates, Clinton still leads by a bit over 10% according to FiveThirtyEight, and I don’t see them having much of an impact there. There exists a sharp divide along education lines, as Bloomberg reports that Clinton leads by 25 points among the college-educated while Trump leads by 10 points among those that are not (and he commands a 55 point lead among white men without a college degree). I suspect these debates are going to do nothing to change any of that.

The real question is, what will the impact be on the undecided voters and those that don’t often vote at all. If you are undecided or if you don’t often vote, this might be the election in which you most matter. Know that it is profoundly important that you get out and vote. The deadline for registration in Michigan is coming up soon—October 11! For instructions on registering, click here. If you don’t live in Michigan, Google can help you out. Just select your state and get your deadline and a link to instructions for registering!



You Get What You Measure

Wells Fargo has had to fire over 5,000 employees as it was found that they were making fake accounts on behalf of customers—these terminations took place over the course of a few years, so this has been going on for some time. More recently, however, the bank ended their program of incentives to cross-sell accounts to customers.

To recap: a company started to measure how often its employees were able to cross-sell accounts, applied incentives to that measure, and the employees dialed up their cross-sells to the point of actual fraud.

This is unsurprising, you get exactly what you measure—no more, no less.

I’ve seen this often in software delivery: companies claim to value quality, but what do they measure? Lines of code, features completed, project milestones, deadlines. What do you get in return for that measurement? You get tremendous amounts of low-quality work delivered on time and within budget—then you spend extraordinary amounts of time and money fixing all of the terrible, broken software you’ve created.

A past employer expressed tremendous amounts of frustration with exactly that problem when they brought me onto the team; their projects would be completed reliably on time or very close, but would often be delivered 100% or more late (and with tremendously reduced profit) because of the enormity of the repair tasks.

If you want to receive quality, that is what you have to measure. There are numerous ways to do so; incentivizing first-time delivery quality with zero-defect feature bonuses, tracking defect counts against feature complexity for a team, and turning off incentives for milestones in favor of incentives for active status communication are just a few that I have used with great success.

In the aforementioned company, I lobbied for and eventually succeeded in eliminating milestone measurement on the delivery side of the organization in favor of quality metrics similar to those above, and both profit and timeliness skyrocketed…but what rose the most was customer satisfaction. Suddenly, clients enjoyed our process and software, which was really my goal all along.

Remember that you will always get what you measure, but you will get the letter of it, not the spirit of it. Act accordingly.

Extra Life 2016

Each year, some friends and I form together like a grossly inappropriate Voltron to form team Light Recoil with one purpose: to raise money for the Children’s Miracle Network. This will be our fourth year of fundraising, and each year we’ve managed to up our game some; last year we raised over $1,600. This year I’d love to make it $2,000. If you want to help, donate now!

This is where we sweeten the pot; what’s in it for you?

  • We will stream our gaming sessions for the duration of the November 5th marathon! This is at times funny, sad, or ludicrously boring; but it’s always NSFW. My stream is over here, and we’ll post links to more streams later!
  • If you donate over $100 and message us your size, you get a team shirt! Each year we get together and create a shirt design, get them printed on high quality shirt stock, and order the shit out of them. Donate over $100 and get one of your very own! (Design should be coming soon)
  • You can micro-donate to make us play punishment games! In a nutshell, we have a series of ‘punishment games’ (things that are entertainingly terrible to be stuck playing, like EnviroBear and Winnie the Pooh Baseball) that will be streamed regularly throughout the LAN, and the teammate who gets the most donations for a given game is stuck playing it! Details as to the game schedule and how to donate to follow!
  • Your donation is tax deductible! Need I say more? Help sick kids, reduce your tax burden; you can be both democrat AND republican, all at once.
  • 100% of your donations go to the Children’s Miracle Network! Charity Navigator gives the CMN a 4-star rating and nearly 90% (88.8% to be specific) of the funds you raise go directly to helping sick kids; that’s just over 11% overhead. Your money is being well spent.

In short, this is a great cause and we really want your help, so click here to donate to me or click here to visit the Light Recoil page and select another teammate to donate.

Gig-quest 2016 Edition

I feel like there is scant discussion out there surrounding job searching mid-career. The Internet is full of helpful advice for early-career job seekers describing resume creation, job posting, searching job boards, and the like. What I don’t see very often is what to do when you’ve been in the field for a while; when you have built up a network of contacts, when you’re no longer looking for entry-level or near entry-level work, or when what you’re looking for is very narrow in terms of specificity or of job prospects.

This is probably not going to be that post either, but I would like to take some time to describe my job searching journey this summer.

My need to search began right at the start of summer when my team and I were caught up in a second (or third, depending on how you count it) wave of reductions in force at work. I have made the observation in a joking-yet-not-joking manner several times that if you are going to lay me off, the start of the summer is a pretty opportune time to do so. All humor aside, after spending one frantic week trying to ensure that everyone on my team had a place to land lined up my number one priority was to relax, unwind, and reassess.

But first, to plan!

I worked out a budget with my wife that would allow us to establish a soft and hard deadline for starting a new job. The soft deadline is the date by which I’d really like to start working, the hard deadline is the date by which I absolutely have to start generating income of our financial situation starts to become unmanageable. This set of deadlines was more-or-less entirely dictated by our budgets and our emergency cash on hand—I suppose that’s really the first lesson of all of this.

Lesson 1

Put aside some money first, and keep it set aside. I’m absolutely terrible at this, and I certainly didn’t have as much put away as I should have, but, even the modest amount that we had in savings did an amazing job of blunting the sphincter-tightening panic that can often accompany a layoff. There are about as many rules of thumb about how much to keep in savings as there are smug financial consultants writing blogs, but the guideline that has served me fairly well for a decade is pretty simple: I like to keep track of what my minimum comfortable expenses are, and carry three months of those expenses in savings.

What does that term—”comfortable expenses”—mean? For me, it means that I can pay the essentials (rent, utilities, food) and any bills that are non-trivial to suspend (auto payments, gym membership) as well as keep a couple of quality-of-life items going (Netflix, for example).

Because I’m terrible at emergency savings, we had unfortunately just dipped into that account for some start of summer expenses, but because we had been typically running at fairly close to that three month window, that meant we still had considerable flexibility financially.

Based on our cash on hand and our budget, we were able to plan for a soft deadline of the last week of August with a hard deadline of end-of-September. Despite a laughable severance package, we had socked away enough cash to ensure that we wouldn’t be living off ramen for the duration.

Lesson 2

Use a plan to rid yourself of artificial panic and to help you make good job searching decisions. It is ridiculously easy to slip into negative feelings about being suddenly unemployed. In the US, we have a very unhealthy culture wherein our identities are closely associated with our jobs, so being suddenly bereft of that identity can cause depression and anxiety that are only exacerbated by feelings of worthlessness and laziness. When you add in the anxiety that comes along with a sudden, unplanned reduction in income, you have a recipe for disaster.

A plan can help alleviate this; although I’ll be the first to admit that nothing makes it entirely go away. You’re not alone, that feeling sucks.

With a plan, the situation that you are in switches from feeling thrust upon you to feeling like a conscious decision in which you were an active participant. Believe me when I say that it lifts a huge weight from your chest. Free from that panic and anxiety, you greatly reduce your chances of just taking the first thing that comes along or of going on a series of fruitless “desperation interviews” instead of guiding your job hunt along productively.

Our plan in place, it was time for me to take a break, which brings us to our next lesson…

Lesson 3

Take a break, if at all possible. In a number of important ways, your employment situation isn’t merely similar to a relationship, it really is a relationship that is hopefully built on respect, trust, communication, and mutual benefit. Just like any relationship, skipping merrily from one to the next can really prevent you from taking the time to figure out what it is you want. It is important—especially if you have been involuntarily let go—to take some time between roles to be introspective and to establish what is important to you.

And to kayak. There should definitely be some kayaking.

Immediately before my break I did two things to sort of “set my fishing line” as it were: I posted my resume on some job boards just to get some emails coming in and I sent emails to my network of contacts describing my situation, my goals, and my timing. Once that was done, I spent a lovely month camping, relaxing, reading, catching up with friends, and enjoying the summer.

Oh, and a ludicrous amount of kayaking.

Throughout, I spent a lot of time thinking about what it was that I wanted to do. My ultimate decisions are a topic for a different post, but suffice to say that when I started to actively job seek at the end of my self-imposed break, I had a pretty solid idea of what attributes were essential and were nice to have in whatever role I took on next.

With those in mind, I started looking in earnest.

What does this mean, “looking in earnest?” My initial job search consisted principally of reaching out to my network of colleagues, friends, and peers in the industry as well as posting my resume conspicuously. After weeding through the correspondence that those acts had generated over the prior month, I was able to winnow my pursuits down to just under a dozen that I thought seemed like solid possibilities. Looking in earnest, then, speaks to the activity surrounding trying to obtain on of those jobs to which I’d narrowed my search.

Lesson 4

Narrow your search down and devote your energy to a smaller field of candidates. You simply cannot maintain the appropriate enthusiasm and intensity to an endless series of job prospects, so you have to trim the pool down to the manageable. Recognizing that the entire hiring cycle is moderately time intensive and exhausting, at every level you should be slimming your prospects down to a number that affords you the opportunity to present the best representation of you at all times.

Early on, this might mean that you can work on several each day while you’re simply trying to get to first-steps with an employer. Once you’ve reached the interview stage, however, that number has to be reduced, and reduced again when you are going onsite to interview them for fit.

For me, I had eleven potential roles with whom I’d spoken on the phone, that sounded interested in me, and that sounded as though they’d be a good fit. When it came time to start arranging for in-person interviews, it was time to eliminate some from the equation. Two were fairly easy, as they were not tremendously responsive to communication leading me to feel like I was not an especially strong candidate in their opinion—or worse, that they were terribly disorganized and poor at communication, one of my bugaboos. During a phone call with another, I expressed some of my misgivings with the proposed role and my worst fears were confirmed; another easy option to cut.

Now down to eight, I performed an exercise that I use with difficult decisions often: I make the decision then give myself some time to see if I regret it. As I examined the remaining group, there seemed a clear delineation between prospects for which I was genuinely excited and those that seemed safe, so I eliminated my safety choices and decided to move forward only with the rest—then I went camping and put the entire process out of my head.

Upon my return, I still felt very good about my choice, so I pulled the trigger, expressing my regret and choosing to go a different way to a few and scheduling in-person meetings with the remainder. This brings me to one final lesson to impart.

Lesson 5

Enjoy the process. It will be easy to get lost in everything that is going on. You absolutely will get nervous going to interviews, answering questions, and being evaluated. Remember, though, that this is a series of courtships for you as well. Take the time to enjoy meeting with other people in your industry. You are getting a chance to sit down and speak with people doing professionally the sorts of things you enjoy doing. You are actively conversing with people in order to see if there is a mutual desire for you to do more of those things with and for them. This can and should be a really enjoyable experience at this point. At this point in the hiring process, it’s not about winning or losing a job—it’s about meeting with like-minded individuals to see if you want to start spending forty or fifty hours per week together doing something you love.

That’s pretty awesome, if you think about it.

From there, things moved along very quickly and among my remaining five options, three really stood out as amazing opportunities, each in very different directions. One role was strictly that of an enterprise Agile coach, one strictly managerial, and one a developer role for a highly Agile consultancy—all were amazing opportunities about which I was (and am) profoundly excited. Even more exciting, each made an offer!

Three quickly became two when the job role was suddenly and unexpectedly moved to another state, and after considerable internal turmoil, two became one when I accepted the offer that I started on Monday.

In all, I doubt there is much to learn from my experience of this summer. Even when I refer to several of these ideas as ‘lessons’, I do so with tongue firmly in cheek. If you take anything away from this, I would like to suggest the following: layoffs happen, they’re not the end of the world, and they might just be an opportunity to considerably advance your living situation if you keep a calm and open mind.

It’s either that or “kayak more, work less”…what do I know, I got laid off!

Post-Hugo 2016

The 2016 Hugo Awards are over, winners and non-winners alike are enjoying celebrations of fantastic fiction and fandom, and we all have a lot to be proud of!

Make no mistake though, over the next hours and days, the bad actors that have been struggling to ruin something beautiful for several years now will be revising history to show how much they’ve won, how much they’ve been vindicated, how much the Hugos have been diminished, and how much they really don’t care. Yes, all of these at the same time! Don’t be fooled. For all of their attempts, this year we have done exactly what we must continue to do: nominate works that we love, vote for those we think deserve the honor of a Hugo, and place those that we feel do not below ‘No Award.’

Doing exactly that resulted in an amazing set of wins this year that reflect superb works of fiction. This should be what it is all about, everything else is mere distraction.

The thing that we can do in the immediate future, though, is avoid those very distractions. The narcissists that have been gnashing their teeth and plotting their schemes are currently flailing their way through an extinction-level event…let them. Don’t get sucked in to their lies about the genre, the awards, or any of the rest. My mute button is getting a workout, yours might need one too.

In the meantime, congratulations to winners, nominees, voters, and readers of great fiction. This is truly a great day for all of us!

Panic Managing

It’s quarter after nine in the morning and you’re just getting into the morning groove when it happens. In the very moment that you become aware of how eerily quiet and still the room has become your manager is standing next to you with a look you’ve come to know all too well–wide eyes, knuckles white around the handle of his coffee mug, flushed skin–his voice is just slightly higher pitched than normal as he starts to speak. He conveys to you today’s first emergency.

Just like that, your day is shot.

I call them Panic Monkeys, and if you haven’t had a Panic Monkey manager then you almost certainly have witnessed from the sidelines the devastation they bring with them as they swing from critical-issue vine to critical-issue vine leaving terror and stress in their wake.

Panic Monkeys have made the decision to use the energy that is generated by a catastrophe to spur them and others into working. Unfortunately, the economy of disasters rapidly catches up to them. As I’m fond of telling them, if everything is an emergency, nothing is an emergency. It does not take long for one of several issues to catch up with them.

If they’re lucky, the fact that they are constantly crying wolf about pressing issues leads the team around them to ignore the manufactured urgency. If they are less fortunate, the team around them burns out through prolonged exposure to the sort of stresses that emergencies create. I have witnessed teams flame out to the point of mass quitting over the stresses created by a Panic Monkey.

If you are having difficulty motivating a team without artificial conflict, consider talking to successful managers around you to help you de-escalate the situation. Learning how to earn the effort of your team in an organic, productive, and healthy manner will go a long way toward lowering turnover, maintaining a constructive work environment, and having energy available for handling work’s real emergencies when they arise.

Managing Honesty

In a post several months ago, Seth Godin asks organizations that speak untruths to customers “what else will you lie about?

The question of organizational integrity is one that I wrestle with frequently. I’ve written about it directly or indirectly several times already, and I’m sure I’ll write about it considerably more.

In the same way that Seth describes the slippery slope of institutional lying to its customers and to the public, managers must be wary of choosing to start glibly lying to his or her charges.

And it’s terribly easy to start lying.

Sometimes being honest as a manager means conveying extremely unwelcome news honestly and with candor, and that is profoundly challenging. It is always infinitely more rewarding than the alternative, though. Recently for me it meant stepping down from a managerial role because maintaining the role would have meant forgoing integrity to a degree that I simply couldn’t live with. Even in the messy aftermath of that decision, I’ve never felt that I made the wrong call.

Give some thought to what things might be like if you made being honest with your team your highest priority—somewhere above maintaining your role, somewhere above looking good to your boss. I suspect you’ll find your approach to management to be profoundly more satisfying, and I know that your team will find it refreshingly so.

Kayamping the Au Sable

I will begin with a one sentence summary of paddling down the Au Sable River: I will absolutely be going back for longer trips, probably even this season.

Needless to say, I enjoyed the trip.

Carlisle Canoe Livery
Carlisle Canoe Livery

Carlisle Canoe Livery is absolutely fantastic. They have a program where you drive up, drop your gear, then follow them in your pickup vehicle to your end point so they can shuttle you back. What this means is that, at the end of your trip, you can throw your gear into your own vehicle and take off. No waiting for shuttle service, no double-loading gear. I’ve never seen that setup before, but I adore it.

After placing my Jeep near Parmalee Bridge, I was transported back to Grayling by one of the owners of Carlisle…who happens to have my dream retirement gig in running a livery on the river. Along the way he shared several great points of interest along my trail, some tips about the river, information about the upcoming Au Sable Canoe Marathon, and the correct pronunciation of Au Sable (awe-si-bull). Back at the livery, it was a dock launch onto cool, clean water and away I went.

All along my route, folks that I passed—both on the river and along the bank—had just one question:

“Do you think you’ll beat the storm,” they asked.

It seems that a storm that I was anticipating that evening had pulled itself up a little bit and was looking to hit sometime during the early part of my trip. My new goal became hitting my first break point at Barton’s Landing before the storm hit—especially now that it was upgraded to a severe storm warning with lightning and high winds. It would be ideal, though, if the storm were to be so kind as to miss me entirely.

It didn’t miss, and I didn’t make it.

Jer in the rain
It gets a bit wet in those rain storms…

Because my waypoints along the river were rough estimates at best (oh, you’d better believe that I took the opportunity to improve them on this trip), I really wasn’t sure how far from safety I was when the sky suddenly darkened. Moments later, as the lightning started flashing around me and the rain was coming down in earnest, my goal became simply getting to the first available pull-out point. Fortunately, that just ended up being my planned break point just 5 or so very tense minutes up the river.

Once I was out of immediate danger, I was able to relax and enjoy the weather. The rain was warm, the wind felt nice on such a muggy day, and the lightning itself stayed several miles away according to the space between the light and the sound…and it was awfully pretty.

While I watched the groups I had passed along my morning route come in, Team Alaska, out training for the upcoming marathon, rocketed around the bend seconds after a chest-rumbling peal of thunder accompanied three blindingly bright lightning flashes in rapid succession. As they beached, they pointed out that they didn’t have thunder and lightning like that and we chatted briefly about the prospects for the weather (for once, not mere small talk) before they ducked into their chase Jeep to wait out the storm. For my part, I enjoyed a nice rain that I suspect would probably have been the thing my wife would have enjoyed the most on my adventure so far.

Three-quarters of an hour or so later, the lightning had stopped and the wind had slowed, and I was back on the water under a gentle shower that ended as the sun beat back the clouds.

It might not sound like it, but it was a pretty perfect start to my trip.

 * * *

The sun was shining and warm for the remainder of the day. One nifty feature of the Au Sable River its effect on the temperature around it. The river itself is spring fed, so the water is much cooler than what I’ve been used to on the Huron; it couldn’t have been more than mid-70s. The net result was that weather in the mid-90s felt easily 10 or so degrees cooler around me, perfect weather for paddling.

I hit my camp site, Whitepine Canoe Camp, considerably earlier than I’d expected, which was my first indication that I was likely to not have planned enough river for my trip to run two nights. My 6-8 hours of paddling were done in under 5 even after my unscheduled break. I spent my bonus sunny hours setting up camp, drying my rain-soaked gear, and relaxing in the shade.

Whitepine is a tent-only canoe camp that charges $13 for up to 6 people to spend a night on a first-come, first-served basis. The sites are all immediately alongside the river, and each have shade, a fire pit, a picnic table, and a gorgeous view. The campgrounds also have pit-type toilets and a pump for clean drinking water.

Every single time I camp, I forget at least 1 or 2 moderately important things. When I got ready to crash for the night, I found what I had forgotten: a blanket. Of all of the lucky, low-impact misses, a blanket is pretty much as good as it gets. With overnight lows in the 70s and a cooling breeze coming in off the river overnight, I was still comfortable sleeping with no rain fly in a sleeveless hoodie and sweat pants.

It was a pretty perfect night.

Whitepine canoe camp on the Au Sable river
My campsite alongside the Au Sable

 * * *

The morning began with an odd alarm clock shortly after daybreak. From way down river I could hear a harsh honking noise followed by its dwindling echo. Moments later, the sound repeated, this time closer and more loudly. By the fourth repetition, I could make out that what I was hearing was a duck emitting a single, loud, clear HONK followed by a chorus line of tiny ducks trailing behind trying with varying degrees of success to emulate the noise. The net result was a 5 minute long train of ducks paddling their way upstream, honking merrily away from one end of the range of my hearing to the other.

My only regret was that I didn’t get any video of this; trust me when I say it was ridiculously cute.

Camping hot chocolate on a picnic table
Who even owns camping hot chocolate?

After I woke the real drama started; I found the other thing I’d forgotten. Somehow in my packing and preparing I had managed to mis-pack. I had thrown a bag of what I thought was camping coffee into my sack, and it turned out to be hot chocolate.

Hot…fucking…chocolate. WHY!??

Even starting my day sans coffee couldn’t put a damper on a gorgeous, relaxing morning. My duck-enforced early start allowed me to eat breakfast, break camp, and load up the boat all well before 9 am to start 5-7 hours of paddling.

It became fairly apparent that I was going to have a timing problem when I hit the mid-point of my trip ninety minutes later. I took a brief break and made a decision—if I reached the end of my second day’s travels before noon, I would just paddle to my car and head home instead.

I reached the campsites just before 11:30am.

All in, it was a great 35 miles of travel along a beautiful river. Next time, I think that I’m going to plan on going all the way to Parmalee on day 1 and travel to Mio dam on day 2. Alternately, I have discussed with my wife doing a trip and staying in the cabins located along the way. I can’t wait to get back up there.



You Get What You Pay For

One of the lessons that I find to be simultaneously essential to learn and incredibly difficult to teach is an idea that I refer to by the shorthand “being a consultant”–the notion of saving the customer from themselves.

Paul Sherman’s amazing presentation “The UX Unicorn is Dead” (if you haven’t read it, stop reading this and go read that) highlights an excellent opportunity to save the customer from themselves: customers asking to forgo UX or QA work (or, in some horrifying instances UX and QA work) in exchange for a lower price or faster timeline.

You get what you pay for.

As a veteran developer, I can tell you with absolute certainty that it is exceedingly rare to find a developer of quality that can do testing adequately. It is similarly rare to find a developer of quality that has the ability and the training to perform UX tasks.

During the planning phases of a feature, it is the UX practitioner that I turn to for expertise in creating a unified experience for the user that remains consistent and engaging. Prototyping can certainly aid in this area, but it is in no way a replacement for the skill and knowledge that my UX team brings to the table.

Likewise, speaking with an expert tester (and if you don’t believe testing is a skill that requires expertise, you don’t really deserve a seat at the decision-making table here) is how features end up with sufficient testing coverage–automated and otherwise. If you’ve ever sat in a room where engineers are discussing the feature they’ve puzzled out how to build without a member of the QA team, you’ve almost assuredly gotten to watch that glorious moment when the QA practitioner rattles off a series of “what happens in this case” questions, deflating the room. It’s fun to watch, and it’s entirely avoidable.

So as consultants, it is our job to convince our clients that the decisions they are making out of sensitivity to cost or timeline are going to be infinitely more expensive or time consuming in the future. We have to convince them that they’re getting what they pay for, and that cuts both ways. We have to save them from themselves.

Or we could just deliver mediocre software.

July Kayamping Trip

Next weekend, I’m going on a 3-day, 2 night kayak-camping (kayamping) trip down the Au Sable River near Grayling, MI. The plan:

  • Drive up to Carlisle Canoe Livery in Grayling on Thursday, July 21 and unload gear.
  • Drop my vehicle off at Parmalee Bridge and get shuttled back to Carlisle.
  • Take a leisurely paddle to Whitepine Canoe Campground. Day 1 should include about 7 hours of very casual paddling.
  • On day 2 (Friday, July 22), break camp then take a short 5 hour paddle to Parmalee Bridge Canoe Campground.
  • Day 3 (Saturday, July 23) will be breaking camp, pulling out at the Parmalee launch, loading up the vehicle, grabbing some breakfast, and coming back down to SE Michigan.

All of this, of course, presumes that the weather is going to play ball, but at this time, it certainly looks that way!

If this sounds like the sort of thing you’d find fun (and you have nothing going on very last minute next week), the total cost is going to be south of $50 plus food and whatever gear you’re missing. Carlisle rents boats, so if you don’t have a boat, I believe it costs $70 to rent one for the trip.

In the interim, I’m going to take lots of pictures and post about the trip, as I’ve never done the Au Sable before!

Stepping Down

This post was originally going to be posted once the formal announcement of the change it describes was announced at work. Having been laid off mid-month, that announcement will never come, but I consider the concepts to be important enough to post anyway.

I resigned from my managerial role today.

Actually, it is more accurate to say that at the beginning of this month, I gave notice that I would be stepping down from my managerial role by month’s end. Today, that resignation simply became official. [Edit: Plus or minus a little…]

The fact of the matter is that I’m not especially well disposed to being a ‘manager’, at least in the fashion my job required. I have a particular set of skills1, and I took on management of my team because I saw an opportunity where my specific skill-set could be beneficial for my company, for my team, and for me.

In taking authority over my team, I was able to work with everyone individually to ensure that they were happy, productive, and capable of doing their best work. It was my responsibility to build a safe space, and I had the authority to do it. Our team flourished, and as a result our projects flourished.

In taking authority over our projects, I was able to mentor teams to listen actively to our customers, to learn to be consultants, and to deliver accurate, quality solutions rather than to hastily respond to customer queries. It was a delight watching my team improve while seeing how strong the client reaction became; to the extent that they would lament the loss of our leadership when we were done with their projects. My crowning achievement is in coaching our teams to make our customers miss us.

In taking authority over our process, I was able to help our offering improve and grow. Migrating us from waterfall toward Scrum was an exercise in steady, measurable, reliable progress. After the initial changes, the time I spent coaching dozens of teams to work cooperatively to deliver better was transformative—I can only hope as much for them as it was for me.

Following our company’s acquisition, my role shifted—subtly at first, but with each passing month it changed with increasing rapidity. Gradually, the skills that I excelled in bringing to bear became less important than my ability to deliver bad news and shuffle paper. I became, in a very real and very unfortunate sense of the term, a middle manager.

Years ago, I swore off from management because I refused to be one of those do-nothing, useless appendages whose sole addition to the organization was a layer of bureaucracy. I naively thought that was what management was. In the years since, I’ve had better leaders than that, and I’d like to say that I’ve become a better leader than that. Once I recognized that my role was no longer that of leader—that I was a mere manager—the right thing for me to do became obvious. I stepped down.

Does this mean that I won’t take on a leadership role in the future? Absolutely not! The past couple of years have been among the most rewarding and enjoyable of my career. This has simply cast into sharp relief the attributes of the role that would allow me to be successful. Given the right role with the right organization, I would be delighted to manage another team.

No, this means the opposite of that: I look forward to taking all that I’ve learned during the time that I was allowed to be a leader to my next opportunity to help a team grow. I learned a great deal in the last few years, both good and bad. All of this has contributed to the leader I wish to become.

This was yet another step along the way…


1 I can no longer hear/see/type that phrase without hearing it in Liam Neeson’s voice

Heterosexual Pride Day

It appears that the sort of folks that always have to find a way to make everything about them (AllLivesMatter, anyone? NotAllMen right a bell?) have gotten #HeterosexualPrideDay trending on social media. At this point, it’s hard to muster anything more severe than disappointment in such a predictable set of actions.

Rather than get upset, since my upset is going to accomplish nothing productive, I’m choosing to observe Heterosexual Pride Day in my own way. I invite you to join me.

I choose to recognize that while there are zero states in which I can be fired for being heterosexual, you can still be fired for not being heterosexual in more than half of the states in our country. I take pride that it isn’t 100%, while continuing to do what I can to make it 0%.

I choose to take pride in the fact that while heterosexual people can assume that they will get joint custody of their children when they separate, it is only now becoming a possibility in some states. I recognize that we have a long way to go in order to resolve that disconnect.

I choose to be proud of the fact that there are increasing numbers of non-heterosexual people in the media that are not stereotypes, while still remembering to call it out when I hear someone referred to as “gay” or “faggy” for being different or for enjoying hobbies traditionally associated with the opposite gender.

I choose to recognize the fact that, while I can take pride in the fact that we have come a long way in terms of gay marriage, there are still states in which it is not legal.

This is how I choose to celebrate Heterosexual Pride Day; to take pride in how far things have come while recognizing how terribly far we have to go. #heterosexualprideday

The Valuation of Time

Let’s begin with a basic concept with which we should all be able to agree: time has inherent value. Nobody seriously questions this fact, what we argue is what that value is.

I was thinking about this while I was doing some yard cleanup this week and the lawn folks came by to mow. As the two of them swept in and back out in about 10 or 15 minutes, I found myself pondering the cost of that fraction of an hour in a very intellectual fashion…

“Are you fucking shitting me, that’s $100/hour to mow my lawn!” I thought, intellectually.

And that is certainly one way to apply a value to time; from the perspective of how much you are outlaying in exchange for the difficulty of the job. “Those people are doing such a trivial task for so much money.” You can see that line of thought being applied to all manner of things in politics today: “How dare fast food workers demand so much money for flipping burgers” or “how dare retail clerks demand the same salary as EMTs” for example.

There is another, more accurate way to assign value to time; from the perspective of what it costs to the recipient in exchange for NOT having to do that job. If I were to mow my own lawn at the same level of quality I currently get for $25 per week, I would need to:

  • Obtain a lawn mower and weed whip
  • Supply fuel to said devices
  • Provide maintenance for said devices
  • Actually move those devices around the yard in a meaningful way reliably

Having formerly done this task on this very yard, I can tell you that it takes me close to an hour to do the job; and that ignores the beginning and end of year maintenance and other miscellaneous chores that go along with the job. Is my hour worth $25? Absolutely. As it turns out, this was why my family opted to spend the money rather than do the chore ourselves. As it turns out, once you factor in the costs ownership, maintenance, and the time spent actually doing the mowing job, we were investing considerably more than that $25 in doing a job that we hated.

Those lawn guys aren’t asking ENOUGH. They could probably get $5 or $10 more out of me if that was the only option.

I use this line of thinking when I price my services as well; it matters what I want to pay for the service, but it matters even more what the service is worth to the recipient. When I started factoring that in, I started charging a much higher rate and found myself enjoying the work that I was doing considerably more.

So the next time you find yourself pricing out a job, ask yourself “what would it cost them to do it themselves” and surprise yourself with the actual in-house cost of such thing. And the next time you find yourself cursing under your breath at a drive-through at how much money these “lazy takers” are wanting, ask yourself it is worth the extra $0.50 you might have to pay not to have to obtain ingredients, cook and serve ingredients, and clean up afterward. If it’s not, go make yourself some food.

Idle Hands Are a Good Thing, Right?

Today the majority of my team and I were let go from work. Laid off. Reduced. RIFed. Whatever the right term for that is. This being the third round of layoffs it isn’t entirely surprising anymore, although the degree of commitment represented by the depth of the cuts does take one aback.

This is not the end of the world for me. Truth be told, I’ve been sitting on a blog post describing why I—at the start of the month—stepped down from my position. This is the logical consequence of resigning. I am, however, tremendously concerned for several members of my team, and I’ll be reaching out to many of you in the coming weeks to see if I can find homes for developers and a PM.

For me, I’m going to take some time to figure out what the right next step is. I initially took a managerial role with my current organization not because I desired a managerial role, but because it was the right fit for me at that particular time with that particular organization. That was no longer true post-acquisition, so I would hate to step right into another management role simply because it’s what I last did.

Honestly, lately, I’ve been thinking that the role of Agile Coach is more up my alley. I love doing it, it contains most of the things that I loved in my role as manager, and I am given to understand that I’m pretty good at it. In the year and change that I’ve spent coaching agile teams directly, I have felt like it dovetailed my love of process, my ability to deliver quality, my enjoyment of teaching, and my skill in mentoring teams all together nicely.

As it stands, I have some time to make a decision, and I fully expect to make a fully reasoned, calculated one. This is going to be a good thing, I think.

That or I’ll be posting here in a month or so saying “holy fucking shit, I’m broke, I need a job, someone please help me!!”. One or the other.

Vaccine Schedule: 1960 vs 2016

Fun fact: if your friends and family are sharing this idiotic vaccine schedule comparison on social media, they’re fucking morons.

I know, I know, you’re already shaking your head and clucking your tongue at how mean it is to call these simpletons morons, but bear with me here, because I’m not the only one that must think that the sort of folk likely to share this are not blessed with an over-abundance of brains—the people who MADE the document knew it too. Here’s how I know:

  1. They inflated the 2016 list by adding more than 20 items to the list that aren’t vaccinations or aren’t a part of the vaccination schedule . They aren’t routine vaccinations. (Fucking VITAMIN K is on the list)
  2. They deflated the 1960 list by leaving off at least two vaccinations that I noticed at a glance (smallpox and polio).
  3. Here’s my favorite: they then put the number 70 next to a list that contains less than 60 items knowing that their constituency would run out of fingers and toes before they got anywhere near high enough to call them on it. (for those keeping score, that means the list is actually closer to 10 vs 35ish…but who’s counting)
  4. My second favorite: they included 18 years worth of vaccinations knowing that their core audience’s attention span would only last through about a third of the list before they hit “share” in a blind rage.

The real crime in all of this, though, is the stupidity that underlies the core message…the real message here actually translates to “we knew everything we needed to know about medicine 55 years ago, why change now?” Should we exclude all medications since 1960? Let’s assume that I agree with the wrongheaded notions implied by this empty-headed list; that means we need to lobby to rid ourselves of: heart transplants, Lyme disease treatments, HIV treatments, ultrasounds, cochlear implants, MRIs, CAT scans, PET scans, the entire concept of antivirals, insulin pumps (sorry diabetics), not to mention hundreds or thousands of medicines that are used commonly to both prolong life and improve the quality of that lengthened life.

Let’s remove the decade of life expectancy we’ve gained since 1960, while we’re “fixing” progress.

I get it, many of you grew up in a generation that was told that nobody was smarter than you, nobody was better than you, and you were just as intelligent, athletic, and useful as anybody else in the world. You have a participant trophy from your 10th grade tee-ball team hanging next to your 20th runner up spelling bee ribbon to back it up. Understand, though, that there are people smarter than you, and there are certainly people more educated than you—especially on this topic.

There are people that have studied for years to learn about this shit, and your 8 minutes researching at Google University doesn’t mean shit compared to that. I don’t care how smart you think you are; you’re not…and you’re dooming your already-hamstrung-by-having-a-stupid-fucking-parent offspring to the risk of death due to polio, measles, mumps, etc. You endanger the lives of people with compromised immune systems that can’t get vaccines because your parents were assholes that told you that whatever clever idea you get in your empty head is just as good as a degree.

But sure, continue to spray your ignorance of mercury, aluminum, formaldehyde, and statistics…nothing will show the rest of us just how right your mommies and daddies were like your broadcast ignorance over the sound of your kid’s whooping cough.

Breathe, Jer…breathe.

Anyway, if your family or friends are posting that piece of ignorance, my apologies that they’re so stupid. Here’s hoping you don’t have to do holidays with them!