Thursday, March 5, 2015

Meetings are not my favorite

We'll make this quick

No, you won't.  You'll drag me into a room, you'll hook up your computer to the AirPlay. You'll answer 'one quick email' before the presentation starts. Someone will go get coffee.  We'll sit there. What was a 10:00am meeting is now a 10:07am meeting.  10:12am. Okay great we're getting started. I think.  Right?  Okay yes it's ten fifteen and we're all here and now the meeting is starting.  Awesome.

One of my favorite things to do while I'm at work is to actually work.  I like it.  I'm good at it.  I enjoy using my hands (yeah, I'm a prick, I'm not doing anything particularly manly, I know) to actually build something.  In my case it's web applications.  Whatever it may be, I like to sit there, nose to the grindstone, and put my mind through it's paces. I get off on that.  It's my favorite.

My least favorite thing is a day when I don't feel like I've gotten anything accomplished.  A day when I feel like 'Damn it, I could have done so much more today' is a terrible day to me.  It's a loss.  As that repetitive ad on NPR keeps telling me every morning 'Steve Jobs said our most precious resource is obviously time,' I don't want to waste it.  I want to be able to sit down at the end of every day and have meaningful accomplishments I can look at.  Problems I solved.  Shit I got done.

Meeting Monsters

When the inevitable Meeting Monster sneaks up, he threatens to take that away from me.  Is this meeting critical to my job function?  Is this meeting going to improve what I'm doing?  And maybe this isn't all about me: maybe you need my help.  Is this meeting going to help you do your job better through something I can offer you?  Will I feel like I accomplished something by aiding you?  If the answer to these questions is 'Yes' then okay.  Swell.  Let me grab my mug and we'll do the damn thing.

If the answer to these questions is 'Well...' or 'I think so?' or 'Shut the hell up!'' then can I please, pretty please, skip this meeting? You don't need me, I don't need this meeting, let me do what I'm getting paid to do.

If I am sitting at my desk being productive, really killing it, pushing out work that would make Da Vinci cry tears of joy, then I don't want to get pulled into a meeting to discuss paperwork formatting or whether or not the copy is correct on the About Us page.  Someone just make a decision on that and we'll implement.  Never in the history of websites has there needed to be an All Hands meeting on which headshots we should use.

My John Mantra. Or Johntra.

On my team I try to keep my meeting style to this simple concept: "Is this meeting moving the business forward?" There can be no wheel-spinning, no jawing, no contemplating theoreticals. Are we making concrete important decisions or solving important problems? That's the goal. We should walk out of a meeting energized and smarter and ready to crush our next task.

Now, don't get me wrong.  Sometimes we just need to sit down and shoot the shit and chat about whatever.  Open forum-style.  The brain can't run at 100% for 8 hours a day every day.  It will literally, and I mean this in a very scientific way, melt out of your ears.  You need breaks in the monotony.  You need to hit the reset button.

But in my opinion and in my experience, scheduled meetings are almost never the way to do this.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Read books. Feel like shit. Repeat.

They are those things made out of sheets of paper

I've been reading a hell of a lot lately and it made me want to write. I guess much in the same way that you watch people play sports on TV and so you go outside and throw a ball around. Except in this case it can be done from the comfort of a chair I bought at Ikea.

This reading tear I've been on has run the gauntlet from Oscar Wilde to Charles Bukowski to Jhumpa Lahiri.  One of which is one of the most important thinkers of the late 1800's (according to me) and one of them is the filthy version of Kurt Vonnegut and one of them is named Jhumpa.  It's always a good idea in my opinion to get your paws on whatever you can and read it.  50 Shades of Grey? Fine, whatever.  Hamlet?  Go get 'em, tiger.

When I'm reading, one thing that I love to do involuntarily is to assume that the writer is speaking directly to me or about me.  Oscar Wilde is talking about how when we're young we are beautiful and incorruptible and have the world by the balls.  That's great! That's me!  Bukowski is telling me that no matter how much of a miserable asshole I am, as long as I'm pretty good at something people will always be drawn to me. Excellent! Carte blanche!

Say goodbye to your ability to think

I think my generation and younger are losing our attention spans.  Especially for books.  We read tweets that are 140 characters or less (no exceptions!).  Facebook posts are often no more than Instagram posts: photos of something with a little blurb.  We have our faces glued to our cell phones.  Trivia Crack.  Candy Crush.  Goddam Snapchat.  How often do you see people on the bus or on the bench reading a book?  You actually probably remember those people because of how subtly out-of-place they seem.  Who the hell is this nerd reading a book?  Ding! You've been invited to play FarmVille!

When you're reading something interesting you're experiencing something interesting.  You're learning what it's like to be an older, alcoholic writer who is terrible with women but makes it to bed fairly often.  You're learning what it's like to be a spoiled dilettante in 1891 London.  When you're playing Trivia Crack you're learning that the Broncos won the Superbowl in 1999.  Neat.

So what?

So you want, if you've read this far, for me to give you a moral of the story.  The moral of the story is - predictably - pick up a book.  Shut off your television.  Give Netflix a break.  Take a breather.  Let your mind do some of the work for you.  You'll thank me later.

Here, read these:

  1. Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson
  2. The sun also rises by Ernest Hemingway
  3. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
  4. Women by Charles Bukowski - Don't tell your mom you read this
  5. The Godfather by Mario Puzo - It's better than the movie(s)
Read two books and call me in the morning.  I personally am going to go watch Season 3 of House of Cards. Peace.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Alarm Clocks

An article about alarm clocks and my need to post an article about any topic right about now

The alarm clock. The mortal enemy of all that is good in the world.  The worst thing to happen yet, every single day of the week. The thing about alarm clocks is that if you're 'doing it right' you don't even need one. But we all do. Everyone.  It's terrible.

I digress.  Which, if you think about it, is a term used way too loosely.  I didn't actually digress.  What did I even digress from? Nothing, at all.  I started talking about alarm clocks and ended talking about alarm clocks. There was no digression there. Well, I did start talking about 'doing it right', which I guess could be considered a vague digression, but not really. Maybe I just say things.

Maybe this entire piece is me just saying things for the sake of saying things. Who knows? Not this guy.

An actual digression, I think

I always thought that people who really knew wine were kind of pretentious when they talked about it. I mean, it is pretty pretentious. I don't know a situation where you can talk about wine and not sound like a dick. Unless you really are just obsessed with wine and you really want to bore people with the details. Then it seems like you just love the hell out of it and you're just a little kooky. That's not disingenuous.  That's cool with me. But still, be careful about it. You don't want to be a dick.

Same thing with beer. I always thought it was a bit clownish to get into it like that. Now, shameless plug, brewing beer has really opened my eyes (and nose and mouth) to beer in a new way. I was in love with beer before, but now I'm really into beer. You know? You begin to really be able to pick out the smells and flavors and feelings in your mouth that matter. It's very strange the first time you taste a beer and say 'this is way too grainy'.  And you know what the hell you're talking about.  It's still a 'good' beer, but there's an aspect of it that drives you a little crazy. Like, how did they not realize this was so unbalanced before they shipped a billion bottles of it?  See, this is me sounding like a dick.

This article has absolutely no cohesive elements, and I think that's why I'm going to post it.

Obama bless us, everyone.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

I just gotta be me

Intro that I added later on

The morning time is the best time for writing.  Without a doubt.  I'll pop open the laptop and open the text editor, and things will just start coming out.  Most of it is garbage and I'd never post it anywhere, but some of it's not bad, especially when I have an idea that moves me.  Like this one, for example. It calmed me while exciting me, and I think that's a killer combination. Whether or not I translated that into something that makes sense, you can decide, I guess.  Probably not, though. I tend to ramble.

You gotta play to win

I think I've just had an epiphany about myself. I need to figure out the handful of things that I really enjoy and can really excel at, and build my position and career around those things. I thinks it's silly to spend a god awful amount of time scrabbling to better myself at something that I hate just so I can say I'm good at it, when I can easily surround myself with people who balance out those things and can do them instead.

For example: sales. I'm never going to be a veteran salesman. I just don't have the tenacity and good natured communication skills to cold call people to drum up business. I don't have the patience or the stomach to continually check in on leads and make contact with people who hate hearing from me. So I'm not going to. I'll be a salesman for my work in another way, by building awesome and easy to use products that help the people who do sales sell them to our customers.

I need to focus on feature ideas, product, and the road map. Those are my core competencies. I'm also good at public speaking, for whatever reason, so I think I can be a good voice for the company. And by this, I don't necessarily mean in a board room or in a meeting room, showing a product to a flock of stakeholders.  I mean giving a talk to other tech people as part of an event or standing on a milk crate on Fountain Square preaching the pitfalls of premature optimization to random citizens.

That last one was a joke.

Never date yourself, I don't think

In seriousness though, this goes beyond work. I know I normally talk about professional topics, but complementing your situation with other people personally is just as important. Dating specifically: you don't want to be dating a female (or male) version of yourself. You need someone who can be strong when you are weak. Who can be thoughtful when you're acting stupid. Who can make breakfast when you're hungover. If you find that person, marry them. Or at least pretend you're charming so they stay for a while.

I'll probably never win an award for my design work and I doubt I'll land any huge accounts. And that's okay with me. My personal desire to be better than everyone at everything doesn't help anyone. In fact, I'd say it hurts. I need to let people who want to excel at those things do it, and push myself to be the best at what I love.  And then we all win.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Side Project Hell


That's a prime word I would use if I was held at gun point and told to describe how my side projects are going. Normally, sans the threat if imminent death, I would say my side projects are growing organically and on the verge if completion.  Not really accurate. Full of shit, mostly.

I've preached again and again how vital it is to a web developer to have side projects, to flex your mental muscles. And it's true, that stuff is critical. And it makes you awesome. But it seems like I get 80% of the way through a project, get sidetracked with work or something else, and never finish. Damn it.

I always say to myself, "John, you're so damn good looking."  And that's a topic for another post. But then I say, "Johnny, what if you had 500 bucks coming in every month in passive income?" And I think, well damn you, me, why don't you have that?? I feel like I start a new ambitious side project every 2 months with grand intentions of seeing it through. Arg.

So, what then do we do?

So, what's the answer to this perplexing dilemma?  I know I ain't the only web dev who has a graveyard of near-towards-completed projects out there, shaming me. Taunting me. Giving me the finger.

Part of the problem, I think, is that we work on side projects to try something new and exciting.  Like Node + Express.  Or Angular + Rails.  WHATEVER it may be.  And you realize, after say, 3/4 of the work is done, that you either love the tech and want to use it at work, or you decide you really don't love it and don't want to use it.  Either way, you've lost the 'newness' of the whole experience.  It just becomes either an extension of your regular work, or it becomes a pain in the ass.

So, the answer, I think, is to either A) be a grownup and finish a project.  Get pretty goddam serious about it and just bear through it. The feeling of newness is great, but the feeling of getting your first customer on your own is 20x greater.  And, B) work on some of your side projects in your favorite language/framework/tech.  Like Django.  If we all did our side projects in Django, I think we'd have a 100% conversion rate.

Think about it.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Drive Yourself Crazy

I couldn’t find my car this morning.  I got up for my 5:30am workout, headed out to the parking garage, and my car was not where I normally park it.  It was gone.  I pressed the lock button a few times on the key fob and mildly scanned the level where I expected my car to be.  It wasn’t there.  My mind, still mostly asleep at 5:05 in the morning, started to pick up speed.  ‘Oh, shit.’

That’s when I realized, I haven’t been in or even seen my car in over 60 hours.

I had come home later in the afternoon on Easter Sunday and decided to play it safe and park in the basement level of the garage.  Sometimes the top level, reserved for residents in my building, gets full and you have to exit the garage and circle the block to try again.  Not wanting to mess with that scenario, I went burrowing.  I was initially confused, thinking my car was towed. But then I was thrilled.  I realized that I never worry about my commute ever.  I live downtown and I work downtown.  I have a bunch of friends and coworkers that live downtown.  I can shop, drink, eat, work, exercise, get accosted by bums, and everything else you would want to do.  All within 15 blocks of my apartment.

The number one complaint I hear from my suburban dwelling compatriots is the commute to work.  An hour each way.  HOLY SHIT.  If I spent 2 hours of my day in a car 5 days a week, I’d go crazy.  Do you know how much more stuff you can get done with TWO EXTRA HOURS IN YOUR DAY? I can waltz home from work, make and eat dinner, and watch an episode of Psych on Netflix, and you’re still in your car. Driving.


If not for a handful of things, I could live without a car.

Living in an urban core is an adjustment at first. There are no yards. I do not have an entire house to myself. If I want to lay in the grass I have to seek it out.  I don’t get the privilege of mowing my lawn, shoveling my driveway, cleaning my gutters, or yelling at neighborhood kids for riding their bikes on my lawn.

But then living downtown becomes ridiculously awesome. If you can focus on living your life all the time, instead of traveling from one place to the next, life changes pretty dramatically.

I realize that where you live is a highly personal and highly opinionated choice.  You like lawns and minivans and the illusion of home ownership (the bank owns your house, btw). I hope you enjoy it! I’ll be downtown, spending $20 on gas a month, sitting at my rooftop pool, drinking a beer, never worrying about carpools or DD’s or traffic.

Plus, you should see these calves from my daily walk.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Teach a gal (or guy) to fish

One of the more rewarding parts about being a not-even-slightly renowned web developer is getting to share that skill.  For the past few months, I’ve been an instructor with the organization Girl Develop It Cincinnati.  I’ve been teaching classes of mostly women intro courses in HTML/CSS and JavaScript/jQuery.  It’s been awesome as hell.

I got into it through this wild child named Erin Kidwell, who runs the chapter here in Cincy.  She could see that I was loudmouthed, boastful, and cocky. Or, perfectly suited for molding young minds in the fine art of web dev.  I TA'd for another instructor first, then she took the muzzle off me and I went at it.

What they get, those lucky ducks.

Web development is a tough nut to crack. And if you’re a women, it’s a tougher nut.  I’m not going to tiptoe around the fact that we do sort of run a boys club.  No one thinks it’s because we don’t want women around, it’s just seen as 'a guy thing' for the most part.  I don’t know why that is.  I could speculate, but I don’t feel like it.  That is also not to say that there aren’t plenty of female engineers, programmers, coders, and widget-wielders.  There are.  But that number pales in comparison to how many dudes are in the club. It’s a little musky in here, is all I can say.

Anyway, the benefit comes in a couple of ways.  One, it’s inclusive of women. It gets them into a place where they can ask questions, learn in their own style, and be surrounded for the most part by other women doing the same thing. From my own limited perspective, this works great for women. They are great collaborators and sharers.

Two, it’s cheap as shit.  $80 for four 2-hour sessions and one supplemental session on a Sunday morning.  Plus, as long as you’re a student you can email me any time with questions that I try to answer as promptly as possible.

Three, it’s just a great way to get out of the house, get out of the ordinary, and do something fun and useful. Tons of the gals tell me they are in the class to beef up their resume, or to work on their blog, or to help with the company website, or they are designers looking to move to the web.  It’s great. They are taking the reins.

Note: I have no idea what women are thinking about anything.

What I get out of all this

From my experience, teaching is ironically the best learning tool.  You might think you need to be an expert in the field to be a great teacher, and I think the converse is true.  As someone who spends 95% of my time on back-end web dev, teaching specifically for the front-end has taught me a ton.  I have to actually think about how and why something works well enough to be able to explain it to complete novices.

It’s not any easier for me to explain python to a beginner than it is to explain some CSS that I just learned that same day.  Actually, with new concepts still fresh in my mind, it’s a bit easier to verbalize.  Make sense? No? Good!

It's also a great social tool.  I really believe that we build our lives on experiences, meeting new people, and learning new crap.  That's exactly what this is.  I learn every week from these gals. I meet people with different perspectives, lives, views, hairstyles, etc. It's rad.

All in all, teaching has been a great thing for me.  I recommend anyone and everyone with the inclination to be the center of attention for a couple of hours at a time to stand up there and teach some people about web dev.  There’s been a huge push for people to learn programming, and for most people it’s a lot easier to learn in an interactive environment than it is to learn on their computer in their basement.  I don’t know if that’s actually statistically true, but it sounds accurate.

So, get your ass out there and teach.  Or, if you need to learn, get your ass out there and learn.  Here are some links to help you get started: