Imagine that you have to hire someone for work. A quick search online reveals all kinds of interesting things about them, none of them good. You learn that the job candidate has been sued for all kinds of things, has been accused of having affairs, made racist statements in public, and seems to have a habit of calling people names on the Internet. Presumably, you'd never hire this person, right?
I think you know where I'm going with this.
Science has been pretty clear about space for a very long time. We know the world is round, if only because we have humans floating around the world right now. You may have even seen live video of a dummy in a space suit orbiting the earth in a sports car put there by a big rocket. Decades ago, we put people on the moon, and three guys got close and nearly didn't come home. Given all of this observation and reality, what exactly would compel you to believe that the earth is actually flat?
There's a woman who posts all kinds of blatantly incorrect things about food online, and once insisted a conspiracy among airlines for pumping nitrogen into the cabin air (hint: the atmosphere is 78% nitrogen). People defended her anyway. Gwyneth Paltrow has a company that sells stuff of no scientific worth and apparently suggests putting things into your vagina for strange reasons in the name of "health." An entire group of people still insist that autism is linked to vaccines, despite there being zero science to make that link. And yet, people will believe these non-scientists, just because it reinforces what they want to be true.
Another thing that drives me nuts is the cult-like thing around people who sell stuff via multi-level marketing companies. Because of math, we can very clearly deduce that MLM product sales mostly benefit the company that sells them, and a few people at the top. John Oliver does a nice job with the math. Yet, people who go all in insist that they have a "business" (no, you're a contractor at best), they have work freedom (no, you still have to do work), there's no limit to the earning potential (no, see the aforementioned math), they're changing the world (no, you're just selling product). The reality is something totally different.
Why do people completely block out the most obvious perceptions? If self-awareness is a cornerstone of success and happiness, is it really self-serving to chuck the reality out like this?
Our middle cat, Gideon, has a big cancerous tumor on his right hind leg. His general lab work is all solid, and it doesn't seem to have spread anywhere else, but it's big enough that the vet wouldn't attempt an amputation. Next he'll see a specialist who mostly will try to determine if they can get enough tissue around the tumor while taking the leg to extend his life, but the potential for the cost to get extraordinary is high. It puts us in the crappy place we often have to be when it comes to our pets, having to decide when the right time is for them to go.
Gideon is the second of Diana's three cats. He's also the one with the most nicknames, many of them rooted in the fact he once weighed almost 20 pounds (Tubby Lovin', Big Sexy, Big Papa, Black Panther, Thunder Paws, Basement Cat... it goes on). While he was overweight, it's important to note that he's just a big cat to begin with. That's why his sad little squeaky meow is so funny. Giant cat, tiny voice.
He's also the one who would often be on high alert when there were strangers outside. He also seemed to know when Diana's neighbor was being murdered in her old neighborhood. Otherwise, he's always been a bit of a fraidy-cat. It took years before he would let me give him love. I'd pick him up and he'd kind of gloss over as if to be pretending he was somewhere else. Eventually he started to tolerate it and purr now and then. For Diana, he would climb up on her at night practically suffocating her, waking us both up with that motor of his.
I think we're trying to mentally prepare for the inevitable outcome, but it sucks. He's our gentle giant. Right now, he limps a little, and certainly isn't high energy. It's an aggressive form of cancer. It's hard to shift into that mode of thinking about what a great cat he's been and all of the adventures he had with us, because he's still here.
This was unexpected, but one of my former volleyball kids, Casey, has leukemia. It sounds like the diagnosis came quickly and obviously it was unexpected. She's about to start several weeks of treatment. Casey is the daughter of one of my assistant coaches, and I also coached one of her sisters, so collectively, they're among my favorite people originally from the Cleveland area.
I believe they'll be starting a GoFundMe to help with incidental costs, but regardless, please keep the Biltz family in your thoughts. Casey was a great kid when I coached her, one of my favorite DS's, and her family has been nothing but awesome to me. She was a great kid and I'm sure a great adult.
We had the privilege of seeing Waitress last night, and I loved it. Pretty great music, amazing cast, really beautifully imagined scene design, and the story was a variation on one of my favorite themes, the coming of age story. In this case, it's the part where you realize that the only way to have a better life is to choose it. Sometimes you just need something to happen to you to make that realization, or there is some path to take to get there. Spoiler alert: I probably wouldn't suggest having an affair with your married gynecologist while pregnant as a first step, but you know, it just depends.
The story presents the hardest part about choosing a better life, in that it may not be totally obvious that you can make that choice. I can relate to that, because it took me a very long time to make the now obvious observation that I could move away from the place I had spent three decades in search of something else. My damage there was that I simply wasn't open to it. It's not even that I objected to the idea, I just wasn't looking for anything that might be different.
I'm completely sensitive to the socioeconomic barriers of economic advancement, but when it comes to better work and career, the one sure way to not advance in any way is to not try. I might be somewhat left leaning, but it's hard for me to empathize with anyone who is unwilling to pursue something better. We get that here locally, where people will work for Disney in a crappy, front-line, low-skill job for a decade and can't understand why that kind of work will never make them comfortable. And hey, I've been there... I worked in radio and retail right after college. I made it work by living with my then-girlfriend and living in a tiny apartment, looking for the work that would yield better outcomes (an entire career change, as it turned out). I had to choose to do that, because it wouldn't happen by accident.
This certainly happens with interpersonal relationships, too. No one enters them with the intent of failure, but if we're being honest, all relationships either end in a break-up or death. To me, that's reason enough not to see time as a reason to stay in a relationship that isn't good. That's probably harder than the job angle, and I'm a terrible person to judge. I guess I'm lucky because at least I could still be friends with ex's, but I wasn't usually the one to say or see that, "This isn't working for me."
There's no doubt that we often find ourselves in circumstances that suck. It's often not our fault, and it's not fair. But we can't move forward without choosing to. It's the first step to change, and sometimes we need someone or something to remind us of that.
Last weekend, I gave a talk at Orlando Code Camp (fifth straight year... share your knowledge, developers!), and while talking about system design, I heard myself say something to the effect of, "It's part art, part science." I know I've said that countless times about writing code, and I really do mean it, but art is something you really feel. I really feel solid code and application design, but it certainly can't move me to tears the way actual art can.
In another life, I imagined myself an artist. As a friend of mine jokes, I still do, because I have a visible piercing. My college pursuits leaned entirely toward the creative, because I double-majored in radio/TV and journalism, with the latter emphasizing more editorial writing than anything. I even minored in theater for a year. All of my energy was poured into creative stuff, and that continued for four years after school. While the world of the Internet has certainly involved creativity, it's not at the same level.
There is something inside of me that has a strong desire to create something, or be a collaborator in something entirely creative. Every time I go see a show, and think about all of the artists and others that worked to make it happen. I watch the special features for a movie and I envy the people who are sad when they're done shooting. I see someone build a door and paint it, and I feel like even that's an interesting creative endeavor.
I need to figure out how to prioritize creative endeavors. That part of my life is going unfulfilled.
Tonight I met a friend and his wife for dinner after talking a bit at the speaker party for an event we're both speaking at tomorrow. I'm still struck by the fact that there are so many people I connect with at best once a year and we can talk for hours. In any case, they're going to be parents soon, and we talked about how that can change things. He's originally Canadian, so his take on American politics are interesting. We also swap stories about running software development shops. With all of these things, I'm struck by one thing that we kept coming back to: It's hard to willingly be challenged by others in a healthy way.
In charting our career growth, we acknowledge that a lot of it comes in the ability to raise others (which not surprisingly is why we speak at tech conferences). Where that becomes tricky is the desire to leverage the knowledge we have, but know when it's OK to be challenged. While this in part comes back to my general theme of leadership with humility, leaving yourself open to challenge is really, really hard. I'm sure it's even harder for people who have more Type-A tendencies.
If wisdom should bring you anything, it's the idea that you rarely have all of the answers. But no matter how hard we try, human beings still have pride, and it's a natural defense mechanism to create a blockade against things that may force you to reconsider your position on virtually anything. I mean, how else can you explain the extreme partisanship that people engage in?
As a manager, I struggle with this every day. Sometimes I do have the right answers, backed by experience. Other times, not so much, and it's not always easy to know which bucket I'm falling into. But it's also hard when you consider any political or social issue. And if that weren't bad enough, our culture now considers the ability to change your mind as a weakness.
I can't solve the cultural issue, but I can do right by the people I interact with and be the guy who listens and allows others to challenge what I think. It doesn't mean I will, or am obligated, to change my mind, but being inflexible and convinced that I have all the answers is a life-limiting endeavor.
It was encouraging today to see the massive protests among teenagers across the country with regard to gun violence. Regardless of where you may fall politically on the issue, it's good to see engagement like this. It means the upcoming generation is getting involved in ways that, frankly, few recent generations have. Democracy is only as good as the involvement of its constituents, and for several decades now, we've been getting the government we deserve because of our apathy.
This wasn't just social media outrage, this was people getting out and expressing their frustration, demanding to be heard. The last few years have been like that in most demographics, and it's encouraging to see it in youth. However, if you were paying attention in November, 2016, you could also see why people were a bit disenchanted.
Say what you will about the suitability of the president or his former opponent, but there isn't any reliable polling data that suggests the federal government's legislative or executive action of the last year (what little there actually was) represents any kind of majority. How can that happen? Obviously, money and campaign finance pay a part in that, and US intelligence agencies believe there was significant Russian propaganda involved, but at the end of the day, I mostly believe that we are where we are because of voter apathy. I don't know how else you allow an immoral, racist, sexual assaulter gameshow host become president. It's absurd.
So these kids, they have the best of intentions, but as they turn 18, their intentions aren't meaningful if they don't vote. Civil engagement is the only way anything can change. It's odd, because people are reasonably willing to do this at the local level, when they want to see a new school get built or a traffic light installed, but insist that the feds do the right thing, and then walk away... it doesn't make sense.
I feel bad for my son's generation in that they've got a lot of shit to clean up. Despite the age of school-aged children, I'm impressed with their sense of urgency. I believe they can succeed where we failed, but only if they vote.
I read with amusement a New York Times piece about a tour of Silicon Valley folks traveling around the Midwest and finding it was cheaper and ripe with opportunity in terms of real estate and talent. It's amusing because everything about the Internet is rooted in the idea that there is no geography, and the barrier to entry is less expensive than ever. So why is there this whole system of venture capital and throwing money at founders who throw free snacks and dry cleaning at their people in the most expensive real estate market ever? (That was rhetorical, but the answer is because people are more interested in unicorn fortune making exit events than they are sustainable businesses.)
I finally got to visit the valley in November, when I went with part of my team to do a hackathon at Intuit headquarters. We drove around parts of Menlo Park, Palo Alto and Mountain View. It's a nice area. It reminds me of the Seattle suburbs and maybe the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio. It's staggering though that you'll pay more than $1,800 per square foot for a house in Palo Alto. For reference, that's 15 times what you'll pay here in the burbs of Orlando, for a house that wasn't built 50 years ago. If you're a software developer, your salary will only be about 35% higher in the valley versus here, so draw whatever quality of life conclusions you want.
Still, there's this inefficient system of venture capitalists putting money into things that mostly fail, and mostly have no lasting impact on the world. It strikes me as wasteful. I've worked for two product-oriented startups, and one was funded by related businesses, the second is completely bootstrapped. More importantly, the second is a completely distributed company, so there's no real estate to fund and the talent can live quite literally anywhere. Do you want to pay 35% more for your engineers than you would elsewhere? Hire them in the valley. Heck, interns apparently get paid $80k there.
I've said it before, but the percentage of technology work that takes place in the valley versus the rest of the world is relatively small. Assuming for a minute that you really need top tier talent to do some kind of really hard work, why do they need to live there? I worked for a big "classic" technology company in Seattle, and that was about the ceiling for my tolerance in housing expense.
I admit, there's a certain vibe about places where a bunch of technologically inclined people live and work. I felt it in Redmond and even on the far east side where I lived. But from a purely economic standpoint, it's expensive with little gain if you're a company setting up shop. Of the almost-five years I've lived in Orange County, Florida, four of those years I worked remotely. The last year has been with a brilliant startup, with great people in five states, and before that a Tampa-based company that is overflowing with really excellent, smart people located all over the country. Both are growing, sustainable businesses. And hey, we even have beard-wearing, single-speed bike riding, IPA-drinking hipsters here!
Location is something you say three times when you're opening a retail business, but if it's a technology company, meh, it shouldn't matter.
I've had a couple of conversations recently about what it means to be a good leader in business. It's an important topic for me, because while I've flirted with entrepreneurship, ultimately I don't know if I could commit to it because I'm uncomfortable with the idea of being on the hook for other peoples' livelihood (read: their paychecks). So I'm kind of resigned to working for others, and I've made some pretty horrible choices during the wandering phase of my career. Over time I feel like I've collected a fair amount of data about what to look for. I should probably write a book about it at some point, from a software development angle, of course.
Maybe we need to define what it means to be a successful leader. The truth is, we all know about CEO's that failed and generally sucked, and there are a great many leaders in small to medium-sized business that keep getting paid for years even though they clearly aren't good at what they do. Success isn't really measured by the ability to get paid or stay in business. To me, it's measured by the quality of your product, your people, your longevity and your outcomes.
The first and most important quality among leaders is not unique to business leadership. In those roles as in life, you absolutely must be self-aware. If you can't approach everything with the humility of knowing what your weaknesses are, I don't think you can be truly successful. This is hard for me, maybe because of my undiagnosed ASD tendencies (other people just seem so wrong all of the time!), but that I can admit it might itself mean I'm self-aware.
I used to think that Type A personalities were better suited to business leadership than Type B, but I've met a number of people that have completely squished that theory. One CEO in particular that I've learned a lot from, without even working for him, is definitely more B. I do think Type A's are more driven to leadership, but I don't think they're better leaders for it.
Self-awareness plays a big role in knowing personal limitations, and how and when to collaborate. The best leaders have vision, set direction and hold people accountable, but they mostly delegate. They're leaders that guide, not direct. That admirable CEO replaced one that wanted to get hands on everything, and as the company grew, he became less effective in his micromanagement. Of course, he wasn't self-aware of this. Mid-level managers are the worst about this, because they can't timebox work, and expect everyone else to disregard time in the same way, making everyone miserable. Knowing where you stop and others start begins with hiring really smart people and letting them run with things that they're better at.
I think too much is made of the difference between leaders who are visionaries and those who are operators. Both types, think Steve Jobs vs. Tim Cook, can be successful if they lead with self-awareness around their limitations. I think Jobs was mischaracterized as being a control freak, but was he? His vision was extraordinary, but he needed a Cook to understand supply chain to make the vision happen. Conversely, Cook isn't the visionary, but Johnny Ive and his inner circle can be.
The one additional quality that I think defines success is to see what isn't there. That's probably the rarest of qualities. How do you know what's missing if you can't see it? Is there a market that you're missing, or a pivot you can make that will redirect you toward success? Humans are creatures of habit, so I give anyone a pass who can't do this. It's certainly one of my shortcomings, and you might have already guessed that I overcome it by giving others the opportunity to see what I can't.
If the various books I've read on leadership fail at anything, it's that they never talk about the self-awareness and humility. These qualities are often associated with a lack of confidence or weakness, and that's a load of crap. The thing that always gives me confidence, and confidence in those I work with, is the ability to challenge each other in a respectful way. I get it every day both with my boss and the people who report to me. I'm not saying ego is always a non-factor, but most of the time we reach conclusions that get us moving in the right direction.
Being Simon's dad is not always easy, to say the least, but I see it as being one of the most important things that I'll ever do. It was a really challenging year, as we've had to navigate ADHD, the skin picking and challenges in school. On the flip side, we've seen some deeply emotional feelings from the kid, and some intense connections. And now he's 8!
We're starting to get to that point where I start to wonder when he won't want us to tuck him in at night. I remember puberty hitting me at 11, and that's only three years from now for him. He's a picky eater like I was, he wants to be in front of a computer like I did, and sometimes, it's clear to me that he isn't always struggling in school, he just doesn't care to do what he's supposed to. Fortunately, he's often charming, and he clearly gets that from Diana.
I don't know when Simon will realize that living around theme parks is not normal for most people. As part of the Legoland passes we had last year, we were also able to go on the Orlando Eye as often as we wanted to.
The picking problem got pretty bad this year, and it has taken a lot of months to try to get some healing going. Earlier in the year, it was mostly just him picking the pads of his fingers, and so we put gloves on him. Later came the arm and leg picking, which required a lot of long sleeves and pants, for months. We still don't quite have that beat.
We did three cruises again this year... but Simon only did two. Already in second grade, it's hard to pull him out of school for any length of time. This was our 12th cruise, a super chill 5-night with two stops at Castaway Cay, the best beach days you'll ever have. He wanted us to wear the matching Orlando United shirts, as we have on previous trips.
I'm not ashamed... one thing we do hard like tourists is Dolewhip. This wonderful substance makes any difficult day easier. If it's busy at Magic Kingdom, we'll get it at the Polynesian Village Resort. It's also available during some of the festivals at Epcot, and at Animal Kingdom.
My friend Mike is a bona fide roller coaster engineer, so when he offered to show Simon around the new ride at Fun Spot, of course we had to take him up on it. This was my junior ride operator's dream come true. It made his summer. The ride had not tested yet at that point, but he was able to flip the transfer track, which might has well have been like running the ride to him.
As I mentioned, we had Legoland passes last year, and they have pretty much the perfect water park for young children. Simon can do lazy rivers like a boss.
If you don't count a number of trips to see Blue Man Group, Simon had not been to Universal Orlando since he was 10 months old. A friend hooked us up with some comps, and we spontaneously took him on a lap of both parks. Finally, after 16 years, I got that credit on Pteranadon Flyers. Surprisingly, he got a lot of stuff too, in part because he didn't know what to expect. We had firsts together on Kong and Transformers, but he also did the Jurassic Park River Adventure, Forbidden Journey and The Mummy. Another year or two, and I suspect we might need to get passes there as well.
In the three days before Hurricane Irma, we might have had our best days at Walt Disney World ever. We were walking around Epcot with virtually no one there. Simon finally started riding Test Track earlier in the years, and he became a little obsessed with it. This night, the ride was down for light rain, but this amazing cast member, Kiersten, walked him into the ride and around the various queue and loading areas for a private tour. Her kindness and patience for his questions (which aren't always very clear) was fantastic. He was devastated when, a few months later, we learned she had transferred elsewhere. She really left an impression on him.
The hurricane prep didn't end there. The next day, we were at Magic Kingdom, where he got a front row ride with his friend Aiden on Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, at what one would consider a "not busy" version of the park.
During the storm proper, which peaked around 3 a.m., we put the boy to bed in the closet, because the side of the storm that often carries tornadoes was going to roll through overnight, and really, it's already so damn noisy that I'm not convinced anyone would react quickly. For him it was just another adventure. I didn't sleep much.
Whatever inner coaster nerd is left in me, this will forever be the year that Simon finally started riding Space Mountain. We're no longer restricted to the weakest rides at Magic Kingdom, because with this, he has now done them all. The final WDW holdouts are Rock-n-Rollercoaster and Expedition Everest.
Lego is a part of our thing, and so are rockets, since we can see launches all of the time from home. In this case, we combine the two with a Lego Saturn V rocket. He can't understand why they used to throw away almost the entire rocket. He doesn't get that landed boosters are a recent thing.
This is a new favorite. During the longer show runs at Diana's work, she works more and Simon and I do more "boys' night" stuff. This was a Sunday night before a holiday, so we stayed out a little later at Magic Kingdom, then ended the night with Dolewhip at the Poly. It was a perfect night after a number in a row where his behavior was less than ideal. I like to hang on to those nicer moments.
Fun fact: Over the years, I've taken many of the personality tests out there, and I've always straddled the line between introvert and extrovert. From what I've read, that's unusual, because people tend to fall firmly in one camp or another. So it's surprising then that I feel like I'm socially deprived right now. It's unfamiliar territory.
Lion King is in town right now, so that means that Diana is working a ton at our wonderful theater facility. This is awesome because I love where she works, she loves where she works, and with so many hours, she makes a serious contribution to the family income. But it's a little tough for me, just because I don't have my partner around as much in the evenings after work. I wouldn't have it any other way. In some ways I'm jealous of the awesomeness that is her environment.
After something like 15 years of friendship, my BFF lives only 2.5 miles away. In all kinds of weirdness, we have mirror images of the same house, we both have Tesla's in the family, we'll soon both have solar power. But since I don't work downtown, even voluntarily, and she's on the road more now for work, we don't really see each other that much. It's kind of a failing on both of our parts, but some of it is just the reality of our situations. It still blows.
I have a surprising number of friends from Cleveland-Sandusky-Detroit down here, but I'm not good at seeing them either. Sometimes I just don't feel right about bugging them. One friend just took on the role of president of Come Out With Pride Orlando, and I see his involvement, and think, fuck, what I am I even doing with my time?
Since we moved, we don't see our neighbors as much. I love our new house, but we had a pretty good thing going over there. Sure, line of sight, we're only one kilometer away from our previous address, but we don't spontaneously roll down to neighbors, where our kids hang out and play, we drink some wine, and enjoy good company. It's still possible, it just requires more planning. We have some pretty cool neighbors in the new place, but we don't really know them that well yet, so those relationships haven't totally developed yet.
Work, well, I have a rule. Historically, I've avoided even having anyone in my reporting line, up or down, as Facebook friends. I feel like it's important to have some kind of firewall in those cases, though in a small company, that means I'm excluding pretty much everyone. But that's frustrating, because I really like the people I work with. On the plus side, all of the people I worked with at my last job are fair game, but I don't keep in touch with them very well. That's totally on me. I endure some self-loathing in that respect, because I really liked those people, and I suck at keeping in touch.
Diana works with some amazing people that I really like, but while I see them often when we go to shows as guests, that's the extent to which I know them. Beyond that, many have been at our house when we've had parties.
One of my issues is that my personality is such that I don't have a lot of capacity for trivial relationships. I want to engage with people on a meaningful level. I want to know what makes them tick, and I secretly want them to care about what I'm about. I'm genuinely shocked when people take an interest in what I do, which is odd because I tend to ask people a lot of questions about their lives when I first meet them. To that end, when I meet someone new, I don't fucking care about the weather... who are you?
One of the obvious remedies to my deprivation is to have a party. We've been in the new place now for four months, and we haven't done that yet. I guess we need to get something on the books and make it happen. But I also need to expend more energy on maintaining all of those existing relationships that are spread around. We're all "busy and important," but it doesn't mean we can't make plans.
One of the things that I do monthly is email everyone in our small company an update on the overall state of our development efforts. Sure, we're a software company, but outside of the actual developers, there isn't always a ton of deep understanding about what the technical endeavors are about or why we're doing what we do. I like to think a little over-communication is OK.
For the last year, we've been trying to finish up an effort to launch a fundamental change to the way the app works, which was technically challenging to an extent, but the extended time had a lot more to do with also maintaining the usual, daily business needs and unexpected things (not to mention hiring quality people). But a few weeks ago, we put our first customer on the v2 platform, and this week we put on two more. All of that effort is starting to pay off with its intended benefits, and we stay ahead of our growth curve.
It's a moment worth celebrating, though things have been moving so fast that I really haven't taken a breath to realize the achievement. I'm definitely feeling it though... I'm quite literally sleeping better than I had been. It's sinking in.
I'm really proud of the work we did. For me personally, the achievement isn't so much the technical outcome, but being patient enough to hire the right folks, managing expectations and doing my best to guide the process. I deflect most of the credit to the team, as they're the ones who executed on the vision. This is exactly what I left a fairly comfortable gig in a consulting company for: Responsibility for long-term product development. It's extraordinarily satisfying.
Being a remote company, our folks are scattered around, but we'll have most everyone in town early in the summer. We will absolutely celebrate then.