Monday, February 16, 2015

The lies I tell myself

When I was younger (now a great deal younger than I care to admit) I went to school in the Radnor School district in Pennsylvania. Radnor Township is one of the richest (in terms of per capita dollars) areas in all of Pennsylvania, my family and I however - were not on the same scale. I started my school experience with 1st grade @ Ithan Elementary.

I was socially different than most of my peers. This was not immediately obvious to me in school till I got to be in 4th and 5th grade. I tended to keep to myself finding it difficult to relate to those around me. I was tall - freakishly so for my age, which made it difficult to keep me in clothes that fit. I almost always had flood waters for pants as I would sometimes shoot through two or three sizes in days or weeks. This contented with my desire to just blend in because it was easy to see, and by extension make fun of, that fact that my clothes didn't fit. Not to mention that I wasn't at all interested in the word 'style' as it portended to what I wore unless it was possible to prevent additional ridicule. The problem with that was our family often was not able to purchase the 'stylish' things due to their cost. I still have memory of having one of those one piece snow suits and not being able to put it on completely during winter recess and the boy that punched me in my gut that same day because I decided to stand my ground that one time that one day.

My years in the Radnor school district left me with the jaded point of view that I shouldn't really care what other people think about me. I made a point of attempting to look past what people were whispering (or so I thought) or even pointing or saying directly to my face. I convinced myself that despite the fact that I see these people almost every single day, that at some point none of them will really be a part of my life and that their thoughts and opinions didn't matter because none of them were taking the time to get to know who I was, what I liked or disliked or even what I stood for. This idea permeated how I went about living my life. I didn't care much about my appearance - I was barely kempt by most male teenage standards.

So - why is all that back story important?

I realized something for myself the other day, I actually do care quite a bit about what people think about me - that I was lying to myself and others that I didn't care what other people thought about me. You see - I am amazingly empathetic and I connect with the thoughts and feelings of others easily. So easily in fact that it is somewhat like slipping on a shoe, or a comfy pair of socks. There are cases where that empathetic ability doesn't work as well - but for most cases, it works all too well.

Over the years I have come to think of this empathetic ability as a super power, because so many people don't seem able to connect with others the same way. The problem is that this connection, the empathy with others, drives a level of caring that in a great many ways I wish didn't exist. My empathy makes it hard to separate my feelings from those of others around me as a result I find it amazingly difficult to be around large crowds, public speaking is really hard, walking around in large cities like NYC are a drain to me. I know how to close some parts of my ability and myself down to try to prevent from getting drained - but it is difficult. I have a strong desire to be valued by those people around me, those I have chosen to be with at any given point in time.

I also find that my level of caring can be adjusted - caring more for those closer to me, that I can discriminate a bit, generating higher trust with those that are closer to me. I have learned that it hurts enormously when I misspeak, or misstep with someone that I care about, because trust is hard to rebuild, and I don't have a time machine to go back and say things differently than I did even if I want to. I have also discovered that words chosen un-carefully are a wonderful betrayer of intent just like a poorly timed or written email, txt, or tweet. I try to make those missteps and other events be learning events for me because no one is perfect and I am certainly no exception.

I said when I was a kid - that I leave my heart open, my being open, so that others can see and be involved with who I am and that by doing so I was also open to an enormous amount of hurt. This is still true today, the difference is that because of the history above, I am more discerning about how I care about being hurt. It hurts more when I screw things up with people I WANT to have in my circle and less with those I can keep further outside - but my lack of caring isn't an absolute like I thought it was as a kid. I am still learning how to deal with the ebb and flow of trust as a result of my caring. Still learning about the ebb and flow of value that comes from the people I chose to be with and those that chose to be with me.

Here there be Dragons - take care, step lively and be ready for the good and the bad. Still trying to figure it all out at age 41.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Generativity, an open door policy

So, I have had some time to sit and consider what it is about software projects in my work a day world that make for successes and what things make for interesting types of failure. Here is where my thinking landed me:

1) Being open, and inviting is a benefit not to be undersold

It sounds so tantalizingly simple when you type it out like that, so much so that you might read that line above as "...If you build it, they will come..." but that isn't quite what that line means.

When teams develop new software, the software being developed is sometimes about a new feature or a new thing that BigCo. wants to have as a product and sometimes is to scratch an itch that the team has. In either case, this new software is likely to be able to assist a whole bunch of people which same or similar needs (it is unusual for software to actually be built 100% single purpose). Because most software can actually serve many 'close knit' needs, once you or your team has taken the time to build, you should also take the time to advertise and allow other teams to make use of what you have built. Being open, means no matter what you develop that you essentially open the door to others to build, manage or deploy with you.  Let other groups make use of the things you built, with as few a number of restrictions, provisos, caveats as humanly possible.

2) Protect the system, but keep the number of rules as low as you can

This is somewhat self explanatory - try to only put in place those rules that help you to make sure that the system is up, available, and working correctly.

3) Trust people to do whats right

When you open the door - you are opening your system up to whatever may come. To that point, you have to be able to trust that peoples self interest will also align with you and yours to some degree. Try to keep a light touch and trust that people will not go out of their way to screw you - or the system you built - that they are now using. If those who have been invited in through the open door do take advantage, know in advance how you would like to react to those coming to seek your new hot thing. Describe your "open door" so that people know what they are signing up for in advance.

4) Don't fall into the trap of N.I.H.

Part of doing work this way, with this mind set, is preventing yourself from going off into a corner and building it yourself because:

   * You believe that building it yourself is the only way to control your own destiny
   * Your team can't possibly be successful because your success is dependent on another team

It will always be simpler to modify something that is already built than it will be to go from scratch no matter how good your developers are. Work already done can trump work to be done in a great number of occasions.

5) Command and control will squash peoples desire to use what you build

Don't try to control the software and how its used too must - exercise just enough control to manage and maintain the quality of the system. I have seen plenty of people that believe that becoming the manager, exec, vp, director or what have you is all about being able to do it JUST the way they want. Nothing really could be further from the truth. The farther up the chain you go, the less desire to control you should have and the more trust you have to have that things will head in the right direction. If you attempt to stringently control things, no one will want to come be a part of the thing that was built and like holding a fist full of sand, the harder you squeeze the more sand you will lose, no way to hold it all.

Be open, be inviting, be willing to negotiate and understand how people will want to use your software. Be generative - providing space for people to get the most amount of benefit out of the building blocks you have already put together. It will eventually help the bottom line because everything being built will start to move faster, eventually.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

A world of change

There are about a gazillion reasons we can come up with, all of which sound logical and justifiable, to avoid change. The #1 reason change gets avoided? People would prefer not to deal with a necessary change until they absolutely have to. As long as life is basically functioning, most people are happy to just not stir the pot. Everyone grows slightly complacent and they settle into a routine which they can wrap around themselves like a warm blanket. I am as guilty of this as the next person. I find ways to focus on work, focus on side projects, focus on anything other than those big blinky, claxon-y, signals that are trying to tell me to break from my routine and pay attention. The world is an interesting place - it is difficult to have the presence of mind and body to focus. If I am the only thing I have control over in the world however (which is true of everyone) then it is 100% up to me to break the trend, remove the blanket and attempt to change, hopefully for the better and hopefully in as much truth and honesty as I can muster.

Thank you world, forever grateful.