ReCode Journey: Getting off the Coding Couch

I started going back to the gym this past week. The workouts were miserable. I felt weak, I felt a little lost and didn’t have much motivation during my workouts. I had been going regularly, but I had stopped going for a number of reasons and I cursed myself with each set as I struggled through each exercise. Recently, I had read an article that it takes a lot less time to “get out of shape” from weight lifting than it does for cardio exercise. After this week, I couldn’t agree more. But when it comes to “getting out of shape” with coding, I felt even worse. Almost like I had never coded before. Well, almost. (more…)

Scared of Repeating a Milestone

I recently reached a big milestone in my weight loss journey. I lost 10% of my original starting weight since I joined Weight Watchers. A big achievement indeed, and made possible through a lot of work on my diet, planning, and exercise. But this achievement has some nervousness attached to it as well. It is because I have reached this weight milestone before, a few times, and each time I fell off the wagon and went back to where I was. So as I make this achievement again, I am scared that history will repeat itself and I will, again, revert back to where I was. So what do I do to keep myself motivated and moving forward?

First, it is important to celebrate the achievement. It is a true accomplishment, but my pitfall is that I never stop celebrating. I take a long extended pause from the program and then get discouraged when I put a little weight back on and then give up entirely, frustrated at the futility of it all. So while celebrating achievement is wonderful, it is a milestone, not the end of the journey. Part of making this stick is to set up and commit to my next goal. I already have set up that goal and now I need to track and perform towards that to blow past this repeated achievement to achieve something that I haven’t done before.

There is also the emotional self-fulfilling prophecy when I put on a pair of smaller jeans or shirts and I look at myself in the mirror and am convinced that I should relish this moment, because it will go away. I buy those jeans and shirts as “goal” clothes, anticipating the day where they fit well and I can look at myself in them and be proud. But, again, that is just one goal and I need to go out and get the next set of “goal” clothes and keep the progress moving forward and keep the momentum going forward. Entering into the end of the year with Christmas and New Year’s will make this an even bigger challenge, but it is also something that I can use to prove to myself that my determination will not be stunted.

And so what if I achieved this before? The reaction that people have had seeing me after a couple of months has been wonderful. “Wow! You look great!” “You look so awesome!” “Look at you!” These are all things I have heard this week, and I tell myself deep down, “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”

Cynicism and Technology Careers

The tech world is one of great duplicity and extremes. On one side is a profound optimism on how technology can inspire and change the world and ourselves to achieve great things. On the other however, is a paralyzing cynicism that cripples people on the inside, and with others, can find a painful outlet in forum and social media comments that ignite flame wars and make the Internet a depressing place to be at times.

Over time, I have found that I have gone from being the eternal technology optimist to feeling crippled by cynicism. It is a journey that I was part driver and part captive passenger, but ultimately wound up at my current location, and want to find a way out. Part of that is to look back and try to piece together some of the things that got me to where I am. As I do this, there are five things that struck me as themes that apply to me, and may be valuable to others. (more…)

Google Glass Open Beta

So as some of you know, I was able to get an invitation for Google Glass last December. Yesterday, Google announced that they are opening the Explorer’s program to the general public as an open beta. The price is still the same, $1,500, but now the only limitation is hardware availability. I posted on the blog with more information and links to my courses that I recently completed.

Generally, the technology is cool, but the “Glasshole” stigma is real. I don’t want to be hidden by technology, and I don’t want technology to be the first thing that someone sees when they interact with me. So while the technology has some great specific uses, I’m not quite convinced it is appropriate to wear 24/7. Just like you wouldn’t want to have your cell phone out all the time throughout the day.

The courses I created at are interesting. Part of my job as an instructor is to present things in a balanced way. While I have used Glass in public situations, I am not using it in my daily life. It just isn’t right for me, or perhaps I am just not ready for it. You can make the argument either way. Regardless, creating courses on new technology is a lot of fun, and being able to absorb something new and help teach others on how it works is an amazing job and something that I find incredibly fulfilling.

I’d love to hear what you think of Glass, so ping me @sfdesigner and share your thoughts.

IFTIDK: If This, Then I Don’t Know

I have been hearing a lot of the IFTTT workflow where you are able to take inputs, evaluate them in a programmer-esque logical way and then perform an action based on that evaluation. I can see a lot of advantages of being able to manage data streams and organize a disparate number of inputs and put them into a workflow. With so many technologies spanning across multiple ecosystems and companies, the IFTTT workflow serves as a “meta” service that can tie everything together.

But recently, I have been seeing posts and articles that are taking it further by integrating IFTTT deeper into their lives. For example, a recent article on Engadget’s popular IRL series, talks about using it to automatically post photos to Flikr and other integrate other services together. But when I saw this it struck me as incredibly mechanical and impersonal. If I want to share something, shouldn’t that require me taking the time to make the effort?

There was a recent episode of Mad Men where one of the characters was chastised for having their assistant buy the presents, cards, flowers, or other gifts for their spouse or loved one. In a way, IFTTT is a digital personal assistant, but does giving the reins over to an automated process take the humanness out of it? If I use IFTTT to post on social media, is it from me, or my automated workflow? What part of “me” have I put into it?

We are inundated by tons of new information and sources of data, more so each day. I enjoy putting my personal mark on what I post or have it come from my own fingers or interactions with it instead of just “having something take care of it” for me. I use tools to help send information between things, but it passes by my eyes, and I am the one that presses, “OK”.

Product Management: Get Past the Data

I want to open this with an apology. To every engineer, customer, designer and partner I have worked with before as a product manager: I’m sorry.

I’m sorry for giving you canned answers. I’m sorry for not listening. I’m sorry for not relying on your instincts. I’m sorry for not putting faith in your expertise.

Admitting you had a problem, is, as they say, the first step towards recovery. I have recently been exposed to accounts of these flaws from people being in a situation where he or she had to be on the other side of the table. Being the recipient of product management is frustrating and in some ways paralyzing and demoralizing.

The phrase, “I’m going to do what is right, based on data” is a statement that should be eliminated from any conversation. It is one that I have used myself because it is used when you are in a position where you aren’t a subject matter expert, but need to show a position of strength. The problem though is that product management is the most pure form of partnership. You are responsible for everything, but own nothing.

But if you are going to be that true partner, you need to dive in deep. Not just understand the user, but to be the user. This is where there is a lot of grey area in the field, because not everyone can be an expert on everything. It has, however, helped me in so many ways and I have navigated my career based on roles, products and technologies that I use, not just know about.

While I was a product manager, there were a few tenets that I tried to adhere to. If I have to rely entirely on data to make decisions, I need to get out. The things that have worked best for me have been when I feel deep inside what I believe is right and back that up with data. Data-first product management is cold. It lacks emotion, empathy, and the spirit that a user brings to it. It ignores the human element of what makes a product great.

With any product, that intuition comes from many sources, not just the product manager. For everyone that you partner with, all of their “human-ness” needs to flow into the product manager, so that the instinct isn’t just based on one source.

Because the responsibility for success rides on the product manager, the result can sometimes lead to arrogant behavior. Phrases like “I know” enter into the conversation too often, because the basis for that statement is founded on data research. But it has a devastating effect on relationships and actually turns away people that you ultimately need to work with to succeed.

When I hear that, I immediately try to respond with, “I don’t care what you know, I want to know what you feel.” feelings are personal and are based on experiences in addition to data. Feelings are relatable and open to discussion. They aren’t infallible, which leads to risk, but also greater rewards.

The products I have managed I have approached first as a user, because I was a user. I used that experience as a leading indicator for where I needed to go. Focus and pinpointing the course were based on data. It was when I moved to products that I didn’t know as well that I started to falter, because I wasn’t funneling the collective experience of everyone I was working with and for to build that instinct to take me forward.

The notion that the product manager is the CEO of a product is bunk. You are not ordained with authority, and you are not positioned as a single leader of a team. You are one of many that synthesizes the experiences of your users, team and yourself into a belief–a feeling, that drives you forward to do what is right based on your human perceptions, not just data.

“I need to update by blog” and other geek procrastinations

Something I say a lot, and hear a lot from fellow geeks is: “I wish I had time to update my blog”. I have been guilty of this for a very long time, and even now, I’m writing a post, but it will be posted in an old theme that really doesn’t capture who I am right now.

Why is it that geeks put these things off? When I look back at other things that I put off, there is a theme: configuration. Anything that requires me to configure something, be it a new printer, a new wireless router, restoring a computer that needs to be reset or reformatted—they are all things that I tend to put off.

Personally, I think that the difference is between the act of “doing” something, versus setting something up to do something. I prefer to do something, but hate the act of doing stuff to actually make that happen. As a result, I find myself blocked from actually doing things, which then gets me down and then I get discouraged. So while it may not be exciting, I need to take the time to enable myself to do things so I can allow myself to actually do as much as possible.