Five People and Their Thoughts (Part 8)

Sharing a new batch of engaging videos from people I follow, which I hope you’ll come to like as I do:

  • Workarounds (by Alan Richardson, about workarounds, how you can use them in testing, custom-using tools, moving boilerplate to the appendix, bypassing processes that gets in the way, understanding risks and value, technical skills, and taking control of your career)
  • 100% Coverage is Too High for Apps! (by Kent Dodds, on code coverage, what it tells you, as well as what it does not tell you)
  • Open Water Swimming (by Timothy Ferriss, about fears, habits, total immersion swimming, Terry Laughlin, compressing months of conventional training into just a few days, and the power of micro-successes)
  • How To Stop Hating Your Tests (by Justin Searls, representing Test Double, on doing only three things for tests, avoiding conditionals, consistency, apparent test purpose, redundant test coverage, optimizing feedback loops, false negatives, and building better workflows)
  • Meaning of Life (by Derek Sivers, about a classic unsolvable problem, using time wisely, making good choices, making memories, the growth mindset, inherent meaning, and a blank slate)
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Takeaways from Derek Sivers’s “Anything You Want”

Derek Sivers, in his book titled “Anything You Want“, shares tales and lessons he’s learned when he started, built, and sold CD Baby, a global music distribution platform, for $22M (which will return to musicians after he dies). He’s an entrepreneur, but a divergent kind of entrepreneur from the ones I’m accustomed to, and I’ve grown fond of his philosophies in both business and in life. Perhaps it’s because of Seth Godin‘s influence, perhaps it’s because he’s a very slow thinker, perhaps it’s because the things he says just sounds about right.

Some favorite lines from the book:

  • Most people don’t know why they’re doing what they’re doing. They imitate others, go with the flow, and follow paths without making their own. They spend decades in pursuit of something that someone convinced them they should want, without realizing that it won’t make them happy. Don’t be on your deathbed someday, having squandered your one chance at life, full of regret because you pursued little distractions instead of big dreams. You need to know your personal philosophy of what makes you happy and what’s worth doing.
  • The key point is that I wasn’t trying to make a big business. I was just daydreaming about how one little thing would look in a perfect world. When you make a business, you get to make a little universe where you control all the laws. This is your utopia. When you make it a dream come true for yourself, it’ll be a dream come true for someone else, too.
  • Success comes from persistently improving and inventing, not from persistently doing what’s not working. We all have lots of ideas, creations, and projects. When you present one to the world and it’s not a hit, don’t keep pushing it as is. Instead, get back to improving and inventing. Present each new idea or improvement to the world. If multiple people are saying, “Wow! Yes! I need this! I’d be happy to pay you to do this!” then you should probably do it. But if the response is anything less, don’t pursue it.
  • If you’re not saying “Hell yeah!” about something, say no. When deciding whether to do something, if you feel anything less than “Wow! That would be amazing! Absolutely! Hell yeah!” then say no. When you say no to most things, you leave room in your life to throw yourself completely into that rare thing that makes you say, “Hell yeah!” We’re all busy. We’ve all taken on too much. Saying yes to less is the way out.
  • Never forget that absolutely everything you do is for your customers. Make every decision – even decisions about whether to expand the business, raise money, or promote someone – according to what’s best for your customers. If you’re ever unsure what to prioritize, just ask your customers the open-ended question, “How can I best help you now?” Then focus on  satisfying those requests. None of your customers will ask you to turn your attention to expanding. They want you to keep your attention focused on them. It’s counter-intuitive, but the way to grow your business is to focus entirely on your existing customers. Just thrill them, and they’ll tell everyone.
  • Watch out when anyone (including you) says he wants to do something big, but can’t until he raises money. It usually means the person is more in love with the idea of being big-big-big than with actually doing something useful. For an idea to get big-big-big, it has to be useful. And being useful doesn’t need funding. If you want to be useful, you can always start now, with only 1 percent of what you have in your grand vision. It’ll be a humble prototype version of your grand vision, but you’ll be in the game. You’ll be ahead of the rest, because you actually started, while others are waiting for the finish line to magically appear at the starting line.
  • Never forget why you’re really doing what you’re doing. Are you helping people? Are they happy? Are you happy? Are you profitable? Isn’t that enough?
  • We all grade ourselves by different measures:
    • For some people, it’s as simple as how much money they make. When their net worth is going up, they know they’re doing well.
    • For others, it’s how much money they give.
    • For some, it’s how many people’s lives they can influence for the better.
    • For others, it’s how deeply they can influence just a few people’s lives.
    • For me, it’s how many useful things I create, whether songs, companies, articles, websites, or anything else. If I create something that is not useful to others, it doesn’t count. But I’m also not interested in doing something useful unless it needs my creative input.
  • When you want to learn how to do something yourself, most people won’t understand. They’ll assume the only reason we do anything is to get it done, and doing it yourself is not the most efficient way. But that’s forgetting about the joy of learning and doing. Yes, it may take longer. Yes, it may be inefficient. Yes, it may even cost you millions of dollars in lost opportunities because your business is growing slower because you’re insisting on doing something yourself. But the whole point of doing anything is because it makes you happy! That’s it! You might get bigger faster and make millions if you outsource everything to the experts. But what’s the point of getting bigger and making millions? To be happy, right? In the end, it’s about what you want to be, not what you want to have. To have something (a finished recording, a business, or millions of dollars) is the means, not the end. To be something (a good singer, a skilled entrepreneur, or just plain happy) is the real point. When you sign up to run a marathon, you don’t want a taxi to take you to the finish line.

Takeaways from Kim Scott’s “Radical Candor”

There’s a lot I don’t know about being a kick-ass boss, or being a great manager. I’m pretty much still a work-in-progress in that area. Thankfully, Kim Scott’s “Radical Candor” points me to the questions I need to ask myself about it, and suggests steps I should consider taking in order to do better.

Some memorable lines from the book:

  • Relationships don’t scale. But the relationships you have with the handful of people who report directly to you will have an enormous impact on the results your team achieves.
  • You strengthen your relationships by learning the best ways to get, give, and encourage guidance; by putting the right people in the right roles on your team; and by achieving results collectively that you couldn’t dream of individually. When you fail to give people the guidance they need to succeed in their work, or put people into roles they don’t want or aren’t well-suited for, or push people to achieve results that are unrealistic, you erode trust.
  • It turns out that when people trust you and believe you care about them, they are much more likely to 1) accept and act on your praise and criticism; 2) tell you what they really think about what you are doing well and, more importantly, not doing so well; 3) engage in this same behavior with one another, meaning less pushing the rock up the hill again and again; 4) embrace their role on the team; and 5) focus on getting results.
  • We are all human beings, with human feelings, and, even at work, we need to be seen as such. When that doesn’t happen, when we feel we must repress who we really are to earn a living, we become alienated. That makes us hate going to work. To most bosses, being professional means: show up at work on time, do your job, don’t show feelings unless engaged in motivation or some such end-driven effort. The results is that nobody feels comfortable being who they really are at work.
  • It’s about finding time for real conversations; about getting to know each other at a human level; about learning what’s important to people, about sharing with one another what makes us want to get out of bed in the morning and go to work – and what has the opposite effect.
  • Challenging others and encouraging them to challenge you helps build trusting relationships because it shows 1) you care enough to point out both the things that aren’t going well and those that are and that 2) you are willing to admit when you’re wrong and that you are committed to fixing mistakes that you or otherwise have made. But challenging people directly takes real energy – not only from the people you’re challenging but from you as well – so do it only for things that really matter.
  • If nobody is ever mad at you, you probably aren’t challenging your team enough. The key, as in any relationship, is how you handle the anger. When what you say hurts, acknowledge the other person’s pain. Don’t pretend it doesn’t hurt or say it shouldn’t hurt – just show that you care. Eliminate the phrase “don’t take it personally” from your vocabulary – it’s insulting. Instead, offer to help fix the problem. But don’t pretend it isn’t a problem just to try to make somebody feel better.
  • If we have the data about what works, let’s look at the data, but if all we have are opinions, let’s use yours.
  • What growth trajectory does each person on my team want to be on right now? or Have I given everybody opportunities that re in line with what they really want? or What growth trajectory do my direct reports believe they are on? Do I agree? And if I don’t, why don’t I? Sometimes people really want to grow and are capable of contributing more than they have allowed to; at other times, they simply want more money or recognition but don’t really want to change the way they work or contribute any more than they do already. As the boss, you’re the one who’s going to have to know your direct reports well enough to make these distinctions and then have some radically candid conversations when you see things differently.
  • There’s nothing wrong with working hard to earn a pay check that supports the life you want to lead. That has plenty of meaning. Only about 5% of people have a real vocation in life, and they confuse the hell out of the rest of us. Your job is not to provide purpose but instead to get to know each of your direct reports well enough to understand how each one derives meaning from their work.
  • You don’t want to be the absentee manager any more than you want to be a micro-manager. Instead, you want to be a partner – that is, you must take the time to help the people doing the best work overcome obstacles and make their good work even better. This is time-consuming because it requires that you know enough about the details of the person’s work to understand the nuances. It often requires you to help do the work, rather than just advising. It requires that you ask a lot of questions and challenge people – that you roll up your own sleeves.
  • It won’t get better all by itself. So stop and ask yourself, how exactly, will it get better? What are you going to do differently? What will the person in question do differently? How might circumstances change? Even if things have gotten a little better, have they improved enough? If you don’t have a pretty precise answer to those questions, it probably won’t get better.
  • If you never ask a single question about a person’s life, it’s hard to move up on the “care personally” axis. probably the most important thing you can do to build trust is to spend a little time alone with each of your direct reports on a  regular basis. Holding regular 1:1s in which your direct report sets the agenda and you ask questions is a good way to begin building trust.
  • The platinum rule says, figure out what makes the other person comfortable, and do that.

Five People and Their Thoughts (Part 7)

Today, here’s a new batch of compelling videos I’d like to share, for the curious:

  • What is Shift Left Testing? (by Alan Richardson, about shifting left and its meaning, consultancy speak, testing at all points of the software development process, and finding ways to improve our testing without resorting to consultancy speak)
  • How We Work #4: Known and Unknowns (by Basecamp, on creative work, known and unknown tasks and why it’s more important to track them rather than estimates, and using the hill chart)
  • A Better Technical Interview: 2018 (by Josh Greenwood, representing Test Double, about the binary hiring process existing in most industries, setting job and interview expectations, thinking about making the life of candidates better including the ones we don’t end up hiring, saying ‘Not Yet’ and providing constructive feedback, and the Bridge Agent)
  • How Open Source has Made Me and the Stuff I Make Better (by Kent Dodds, on open source software, remote work, improving technical and interpersonal skills, documentation, and asking better questions and learning from other people)
  • Office Politics for the Thin-Skinned Developer (by Justin Searls, about politics in the workplace, crazy organizational growth, building awareness, targeted empathy, being in the same page, how to make a difference, and allowing others to fail)

Notes from Rolf Potts’ “Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel”

I’m not inherently a person who likes to travel a lot, although I have been to a few places within the country in recent years because there were specific experiences I’ve never done before and wanted to try, like going on an airplane ride, visiting an interesting museum, or learning how to surf. I enjoyed those experiences, even though those were mostly brief getaways with friends. Rolf Potts, however, in his book titled “Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel“, wants us to consider travelling in the long-term rather than living for hurried weekend trips and why.

Some favorite lines from the book:

  • Travel isn’t just for changing what’s outside, it’s for reinventing what’s inside.
  • For some reason, we see long-term travel to faraway lands as a recurring dream or an exotic temptation, but not something that applies to the here and now. Instead – out of our insane duty to fear, fashion, and monthly payments on things we don’t really need – we quarantine our travels to short, frenzied bursts. In this way, as we throw our wealth at an abstract notion called lifestyle, travel becomes just another accessory – a smooth-edged, encapsulated experience that we purchase the same way we buy clothing and furniture.
  • The more we associate experience with cash value, the more we think that money is what we need to live. And the more we associate money with life, the more we convince ourselves that we’re too poor to buy our freedom.
  • No combination of one-week or ten-day vacations will truly take you away from the life you lead at home. Vagabonding involves taking an extended time-out from your normal life – six weeks, four months, two years – travel the world on your own terms.
  • Wanting to travel reflects a positive attitude. You want to see, to grow in experience, and presumably to become more whole as a human being. Vagabonding takes this a step further: it promotes the chances of sustaining and strengthening this positive attitude. As a vagabond, you begin to face your fears now and then instead of continuously sidestepping them in the name of convenience. You build an attitude that makes life more rewarding, which in turn makes it easier to keep doing it.
  • Vagabonding is not like bulk shopping: the value of your travels does not hinge on how many stamps you have in your passport when you get home – and the slow, nuanced  experience of a single country is always better than the hurried, superficial experience of forty countries.
  • If there’s one key concept to remember amid the excitement of your first days on the road, it’s this: slow down. You must keep in mind that the whole point of long-term travel is having the time to move deliberately through the world. Vagabonding is about not merely re-allotting a portion of your life for travel but rediscovering the entire concept of time. At home, you’re conditioned to get to the point and get things done, to favor goals and efficiency over moment-by-moment distinction. On the road, you learn to improvise your days, take a second look at everything you see, and not obsess over your schedule.
  • When you want to hurry something, that means you no longer care about it and want to get on to other things.
  • Shortly after arriving at your initial destination, find a beachhead (be it an actual beach, an urban travelers’ ghetto, or an out-of-the-way town) and spend a few days relaxing ad acclimating yourself. Don’t strike off to hit all the sights or actualize all your travel fantasies from the get-go. Stay organized and interested, but don’t keep a things to do list. Watch and listen to your environment. Take pleasure in small details and differences. Look more and analyze less; take things as they come. Practice your flexibility and patience – and don’t decide in advance how long you’ll stay in one place or another.
  • Don’t set limits on what you can or can’t do. Don’t set limits on what is or isn’t worthy of your time. Dare yourself to play games with your day: watch, wait, listen; allow things to happen. Wherever you are, be it the Vatican gift shop, a jungle village in Panama, or downtown Ouagadougou – keep aware of the tiniest tics and details that surround you. Anything that is remarked, even little flowers or leaves picked up off the ground and shown to a child, even a shoeshine or gravel pit, anything is potentially an attraction.
  • The greater value is not in what you’ve seen and checked off the list, but in what you’ve learned deeply, the hard way.
  • Once you have learned the basics, it becomes clear that having less work is easy. It’s filling the void with more life that is hard. Finding excitement, as it turns out, takes more thought than simple workaholism. But don’t fret. That’s where all the rewards are.
  • What I find is that you can do almost anything or go almost anywhere, if you’re not in a hurry.

Choosing Variables

We consider a lot of things when we build and test software.

Who are our customers? On which browsers or platforms do we target to deploy our application? Does our software load fast enough for a considerable number of users? Are we vulnerable for SQL injection and cross-site scripts? What happens when two or more people use a specific feature at the same time? Is our API stable and structured well enough for its purpose? How easy is it to set up our apps from scratch? Do we handle rollbacks? What metrics should we monitor on production? Do we feel happy about our happy paths and other not-so-happy paths? What actual problem is our app trying to solve?

There’s a fair amount of room for making mistakes. Bugs can creep in where there are gaps. Some errors are likely to occur while we are building and testing stuff because there’s just so many variables involved.

That’s how things are. There’s not one but several moving parts. It’s up to us to decide whether to be overwhelmed at the complexity or decide to get better at finding out which things to look out for and learn those.

The same is true in building and testing the life we choose to live.

Lessons Learned from Scott Adams’ “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big”

Last week I had a lovely time reading “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big” by cartoonist Scott Adams. His views on success and happiness, and his formula for increasing the odds of success through failures are intriguing, based on his life experiences. He shares ideas about goals and systems, skills, happiness, priorities, and personal energy, which provides a guide for living well. Some of those ideas are ones I already exercise, while others have provided answers to goals that have failed me in the past as well as reasons to why I’ve acted a certain way before. It’s refreshing to learn something new about existing patterns of behavior.

Here are some favorite quotes from the book:

  • A goal is a specific objective that you either achieve or don’t sometime in the future. A system is something you do on a regular basis that increases your odds of happiness in the long run. If you do something every day, it’s a system. If you’re waiting to achieve it someday in the future, it’s a goal. Goal-oriented people exist in a state of continuous pre-success failure at best, and permanent failure at worst if things never work out. Systems people succeed every time they apply their systems, in the sense that they did what they intended to do. The goals people are fighting the feeling of discouragement at each turn. The systems people are feeling good every time they apply their system. That’s a big difference in terms of maintaining your personal energy. Goals only make sense if you also have a system that moves you in the right direction.
  • One of the most important tricks for maximizing your productivity involves matching your mental state to the task. For example, when I first wake up, my brain is relaxed and creative. The thought of writing a comic is fun, and it’s relatively easy because my brain is in exactly the right mode for that task. I know from experience that trying to be creative in the mid-afternoon is a waste of time. By 2:00 PM all I can do is regurgitate the ideas I’ve seen elsewhere. At 6:00 AM I’m a creator, and by 2:00 PM I’m a copier.
  • The way I approach the problem of multiple priorities is by focusing on just one main metric: my energy. I make choices that maximize my personal energy because that makes it easier to manage all of the other priorities. Maximizing my personal energy means eating right, exercising, avoiding unnecessary stress, getting enough sleep, and all of the obvious steps. But it also means having something in my life that makes me excited to wake up.
  • It’s useful to think of your priorities in terms of concentric circles, like an archery target. In the center is your highest priority: you. If you ruin yourself, you won’t be able to work on any other  priorities. So taking care of your own health is job one. The next ring – and your second-biggest priority is economics. That includes your job, your investments, and even your house. You might wince at the fact that I put economics ahead of your family, your friends, and the rest of the world, but there’s a reason. If you don’t get your personal financial engine working right, you place a burden on everyone from your family to the country. Once you are both healthy and financially sound, it’s time for the third ring: family, friends, and lovers. Good health and sufficient money are necessary for a base level of happiness, but you need to be right with your family, friends, and romantic partners to truly enjoy life.
  • There’s a formula for success. You can manipulate your odds of success by how you choose to fill out the variables in the formula. The formula, roughly speaking, is that every skill you acquire doubles your odds of success. Good + Good > Excellent. If you think extraordinary talent and a maniacal pursuit of excellence are necessary for success, I say that’s just one approach, and probably the hardest. When it comes to skills, quantity often beats quality.
  • I find it helpful to see the world as a slot machine that doesn’t ask you to put money in. All it asks is your time, focus, and energy to pull the handle over and over. A normal slot machine that requires money will bankrupt any player in the long run. But the machine that has rare yet certain payoffs, and asks for no money up front, is a guaranteed winner if you have what it takes yo keep yanking until you get lucky. In that environment, you can fail 99% of the time, while knowing success is guaranteed. All you need to do is stay in the game long enough.
  • The single biggest trick for manipulating your happiness chemistry is being able to do what you want, when you want. I’m contrasting that with the more common situation, in which you might be able to do all the things you want, but you can’t often do them when you want. The timing of things can be more important than the intrinsic value of the things. It’s hard to become rich enough to buy your own private island, but, relatively speaking, it’s easier to find a job with flexible hours. A person with a flexible schedule and average resources will be happier than a rich person who has everything except a flexible schedule. Step one in your search for happiness is to continually work toward having control of your schedule.
  • No one wants to believe that the formula for happiness is as simple as daydreaming, controlling your schedule, napping, eating right, and being active every day. You’d feel like an idiot for suffering so many unhappy days while not knowing the cure was so accessible.
  • The happiness formula:
    • Eat right
    • Exercise
    • Get enough sleep
    • Imagine an incredible future (even if you don’t believe it)
    • Work toward a flexible schedule
    • Do things you can steadily improve at
    • Help others (if you’ve already helped yourself)
    • Reduce daily decisions to routine
  • Always remember that failure is your friend. It is the raw material of success. Invite it in. Learn from it. And don’t let it leave until you pick its pocket.