Anonymity / Authenticity – why not both?

March 14, 2011 § 1 Comment

I was reading this ReadWriteWeb article about Moot’s point of view on anonymity online, which is obviously to come down on the side of anonymity. It compares this to the opposing point of view, which is that signing your name to something increases authenticity.

Is it not blindingly obvious that both are true? For certain things, maintaining your anonymity is beneficial and allows you to express your opinions without fear of reprisal. For other things, signing your name to your opinion forces you to put a certain amount of thought into your sentiment and be prepared to defend it.

So, while using my Facebook account to comment on TechCrunch (just like posting on my technical blog under my real name) is fine, you’re not going to see me regularly posting on 4Chan or even Reddit under my real name, because sometimes I want to sign my name, and sometimes I don’t.

Passion, excellence, and genius

October 11, 2010 § Leave a comment

I’m still plodding my way through the Passionate Programmer

Why isn’t the average developer more passionate? My friend Billy Boebel recently changed jobs, and expressed to me his desire to get out from under what he was doing, to change jobs, to work on new projects, and in doing so, to rediscover his passion. I get it – I’ve done it myself – you probably have as well. Why do we lose that passion, though?

As a child, trying to hack together a passable version of Space Invaders on the VIC20 my dad had brought home, I knew what passion for programming was. I spent hours pouring over BASIC code trying to figure out just how to make that program work, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

As a teenager, I spent days (probably weeks) with a Quick C compiler running on a 286-20 trying to figure out the optimum way to solve a maze for a programming challenge. I never even had any intention of entering the challenge, but had heard about it and thought it sounded interesting. I knew what passion for programming was then.

Exploring those problems, finding solutions, and truly making magic happen – how can you not be passionate about that? Yet, somehow, we lose it. We get bored, and we do the minimum required. We stop seeking out new technologies, we stop caring about new ways of doing things. It seems that in order to rediscover that passion, you pretty much have to quit your job and start a new job, which inspires a burst of creativity and a desire to learn something new. I’ve done that several times over my career, and have always just attributed it to my own tendency to get bored and wander off in search of the next shiny thing to play with.

Is that the fault of the developer, though? Honestly, I’ve always thought it was. I thought it was just normal to get bored after 6 months, or a year, or maybe even two, but that sooner or later, it was just the natural progression of things for developers to move on to the next job.

Then I read something by Karl Seguin that made me stop and think about this a bit more. I’ve had one job that I stayed at for 6 years – a virtual eternity as far as developer jobs go. I stayed because there weren’t constraints on how to do things. I certainly wasn’t just let go in a research lab to work on whatever I felt like – I had business objectives, and goals, and deadlines. The thing that I didn’t have, though, was constraints. I was given the leeway to solve problems in what I felt was the most efficient manner, and because of this was able to devise a great many creative, effective solutions to the problems I was given. The problems don’t even need to be that interesting as long as the flexibility is given to make the solution interesting. (By the way, I give most of the credit for creating, maintaining, and defending this environment to Mark McWilliams – thanks Mark!).

So what are you working on now? Is it boring? Is it boring, or are you making it boring? Are you making it boring, or are you being forced by your organization to make it boring?

I think the question we should really be asking ourselves is “Why aren’t we doing genius quality work instead?”

Impermanence, habits, and living forever

October 2, 2010 § Leave a comment

I came across this really interesting article on NPR about how habits affects your perception of reality.

Things titled “How to Live Forever” tend to catch my attention – I wish that Transhumanism was viewed more as a critical area of scientific focus rather than with the derision it seems to usually receive from the public. I’ve written about this before, but anyway…

The article has little to do with living forever, and more to do with experiencing life as it happens. Much of our lives are spent floating through without truly experiencing it. Right now, as I type this, at 9am on a Sunday morning, I haven’t stopped to think about where my fingers are falling on the keyboard. I’m not listening to the soft snores of my baby daughter in the swing next to me, nor am I paying attention to the sound of the swing itself as it lulls her to sleep. I’m not noticing the soft fur of my dog as he sleeps pressed up against my leg. I’m not paying attention to the birds chirping outside my open window while the cool morning air wafts through my house. I’m instead waiting for my Sharepoint deployment to finish (Sharepoint deployments are slow!) while I try to pour some thoughts into this blog post. I’m not experiencing life; I’m going through the motions.

When you listen to a song, you experience something that unfolds in and extends in time. We experience the song as a unified temporally-extended whole, even though, from a certain standpoint, we are confined only to the sounds we here right now at this instant. How can the past sounds, and the sounds that have not yet played, structure what I now hear? Answer: I don’t hear sounds. I don’t live in a world of points. I experience a vector quantity. I hear phrases, musical ideas rushing forth and thrusting forward. I know where the ball is going to land, not because it has landed already, but because I perceive its arc.

Buddhism teaches that life itself is impermanence, in fact, this is the first of the Three Characteristics.

All things are impermanent. This is one of the most fundamental teachings of the Buddha and the second to last sentence he uttered before he died: “All phenomena are impermanent! Work out your salvation with diligence!” In his last words, he said everything you need to know to do insight practices. Things come and go. Nothing lasts for even an instant! Absolute transience is truly the fundamental nature of experiential reality.

To go even further with Buddhism, the second of the Four Noble Truths is that the origin of suffering is attachment.

The origin of suffering is attachment to transient things and the ignorance thereof. Transient things do not only include the physical objects that surround us, but also ideas, and -in a greater sense- all objects of our perception. Ignorance is the lack of understanding of how our mind is attached to impermanent things. The reasons for suffering are desire, passion, ardour, pursuit of wealth and prestige, striving for fame and popularity, or in short: craving and clinging. Because the objects of our attachment are transient, their loss is inevitable, thus suffering will necessarily follow. Objects of attachment also include the idea of a “self” which is a delusion, because there is no abiding self. What we call “self” is just an imagined entity, and we are merely a part of the ceaseless becoming of the universe.

Realizing that being attached to something that doesn’t actually exist, because everything is impermanent, will put you well down the path to enlightenment.

If you don’t enjoy life, extending it to forever seems largely useless. So, although my Sharepoint deployment still isn’t working, and I have a thousand things on my todo list that I haven’t quite gotten to, my sons are up and it’s Saturday morning. We’re going to watch some cartoons…

Planning your career

September 12, 2010 § 1 Comment

Recently, my friend Richard Branham lent me his copy of The Passionate Programmer by Chad Fowler.

The book was published by Pragmatic Life. I’ve talked a bit about the Pragmatic Programmers before – mostly referencing their online magazine (here and here), which of course has many more issues since then.

Chad Fowler, of course, has done too many things to reiterate, but if Agile development, Ruby, or Android are on your radar at all, I’d recommend adding him to your reading.

Anyway, hopefully I’ll gain some inspiration from the book. I’ve languished for the last several months, largely losing my interest in work. Home life had some impact on that, of course (new babies will do that), but I felt it was time to attack work with renewed vigor and, well, passion.

Chad discusses making decision to actively shape your career and not simply letting circumstances choose your career for you. I felt a few statements were particularly relevant to me and my current situation, and thought I’d share them.

…A well-rounded software professional has seen many angles of the industry: product development, IT support, internal business systems development, and government work. The more domains you’ve seen and the more technical architectures you’ve slogged through, the more prepared you are to make the right decisions on tougher projects. Staying in a single company, working your way up the ranks, is a limiting environment in which to grow as a developer…

…I was stagnating. I had reassured myself that I wasn’t pigeon-holing myself based on the fact that the corporation was so large that I could do a number of different jobs in a seemingly limitless list of locations. But I ultimately stayed in the same place doing the same kind of work.

I remember talking to a friend about potentially moving out of this company, and he said, “Is it your destiny to work at $big_company for the rest of your life?” Hell no it wasn’t! So, I quickly found another job and left.

This movement marked the clear beginning of a nonlinear jump in my success in the software industry. I saw new domains, I worked on harder problems, and I was rewarded more heavily than ever before. It was scary at times, but when I decided to be less fear-driven and conservative in my career choice, the shape and tone of my career-my life-changed for the better.

My friend Mike Klinefelter talks about something he calls “leap learning”, which means to make large, sweeping changes rather than incremental ones. This has the benefit of introducing new ways of doing things that you wouldn’t have tried if you stuck to slow, safe, incremental changes. Doing so is often uncomfortable and scary, and sometimes it can have as many (or more!) disastrous outcomes as positive ones. On the other hand, the potential for reward, for improved efficiency, for more betterness is unparalleled.

So I choose to be uncomfortable and scared for a possibility of passion and excellence. It may not work out, but I’m sure going to enjoy the ride.

100 ways to live a better life

October 5, 2009 § Leave a comment

Take a minute to read this:

How much are you working?

August 28, 2009 § Leave a comment

I seem to be running into this attitude lately that if you have time to spend with your family, or to work on another business, or to write a blog, or to just relax and enjoy your life, then clearly you should be doing more work. Now, I actually like to work. Recently I even posted about how I have increased my workload to take advantage of my natural tendency to procrastinate.

WillProgramForFoodObviously, working is important. Your job will often naturally take priority in your life. If you don’t work, or don’t put the effort into your job, you’ll lose it. Then you’ll run out of money, and you’ll lose your house, and your family will leave you for someone who will actually take care of them, and you’ll be eating out of dumpsters and wearing the same shirt every day.

Why are we working, though? I work for a lot of reasons. I work to provide for my family. I work to buy crap that I don’t need. I work to go places that I don’t really need to go. I work because I enjoy what I do. I work to apply my creativity and ability, to create new things, to make software that makes life easier for people.

There’s a balance that you need to find, though. Slow down – take some time for yourself. Stop working all the time to cover up for the fact that the rest of your life is empty. You don’t need to work all the time. You don’t need to check your work email the minute you get home to make sure you didn’t miss something. It’s ok to take your crackberry off your hip and just set it down.

…I want to think a little bit about Balance in life. Many of us say that is what we seek: balance.

For most of us that means finding some amount of family time or personal time or fun time to act as a counterweight to the part of our life that counts as obligation.

For some it means finding time for social service as a counterweight to self service. And so many people who spend most of the week working hard to make a living then want to spend at least part of their time giving back in some way, whether that is coaching a Little League or soccer team, serving as a scout leader or a mentor, joining an organization like Kiwanis or the Lions, or engaging in some other service activity, like working for this congregation.

That balance feels good. That counterweight lends something special to the lives of those who take such action.

But while that brings balance into life, I want to suggest that it does not necessarily bring harmony into life, and it is really harmony that is the better ideal.

I want to say that I believe that balance in life is a wonderful, even necessary prerequisite for harmony in life. At least, that is true for most of us. But the Buddhist message is that harmony is not necessarily tied to balance, because true harmony–genuine, real harmony—is not about time and is not about externals. It is about what takes place within us no matter how balanced or unbalanced either our lives are or the world around us is.

I have not yet reached a stage of enlightenment wherein I can maintain harmony without balance. For me (and I suspect, many of you), balance is certainly a prerequisite to achieving harmony.

So, we only have so many hours in a day, and we can procrastinate some things away, but at the end of the day, if you have too much work to do to find balance, what are you going to do? Do you continue on the path you’re on – throwing more and more of yourself into your work, keeping yourself busy enough that you don’t have to think about what you’re giving up and what your life is missing? Or do you slow down, reflect upon your life, and evaluate what is truly important to you?

Procrastination is bad . . . right?

August 21, 2009 § 1 Comment

Procrastination Flowchart

Procrastination Flowchart

Do you even need to ask? Legions of parents, school counselors, bosses, and other authority figures have driven this home ad nauseum over the years, haven’t they? Don’t procrastinate, do your work, schedule your time, set priorities, stick to a schedule, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

Just read this article on Clearly procrastination is bad, leading to everything from alcoholism to obesity to poor health. Procrastination is a learned behavior – a behavior that requires therapy to overcome. Of course, that’s pretty much what I’d expect a school counselor or a pop psychologist to say.

So, as I’m sure you’ve already deduced from my combative tone, I think this is not only wrong – it’s completely wrong.

Why do we procrastinate? We’re told it’s because we avoid uncomfortable tasks, or because of an inability to make a decision, or even because we enjoy the risk, much like those addicted to adrenaline or gambling. Does that describe you? It doesn’t describe me.

We’re told that the cure for procrastination is to do less, to schedule better, to “buckle down” and get it done. Has that ever worked for you? It’s never worked for me.

You know what I’ve found that works for me? Do more. Not a little more – a lot more.

Procrastination is something I’ve come to terms with. I am a procrastinator. I say it not as an alcoholic would admit their alcoholism, but with a certain amount of pride. I’ve learned how to put off doing tasks that aren’t important. I’ve learned to prioritize and avoid doing things that I can avoid doing.

So, the problem with reducing the amount of things I have to do, with trying to schedule my time better, with just “buckling-down” is that I will procrastinate regardless. Whether I have 500 tasks that need to be taken care of, or 5 tasks that need to be taken care of, I will put off something. If I have 500 things to do, I can put off 90% of them without causing any significant issues. On the other hand, the less tasks I have on my todo list, the less of them can be avoided without causing real problems.

I’m not the only one – John Perry agrees with me, and hey, if I can find one person on the internet that agrees with my point of view, obviously I must be right.

So turn your weakness into a strength; embrace, love it, be a procrastinator.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a ton of things to do that I’ve been putting off.

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