I'm surprised at how often it comes up, the issue of creating a "culture of awesome" where you work. And honestly, as much as I think of it in terms of the software profession, the path to getting there likely applies to most any business. I've been fortunate to be a part of some awesome teams, and they don't happen by accident. Some would argue you can't create it, but I disagree.
Yes, you probably reach a certain career band because you're good at managing people, process or product. That's awesome, and that's why you get paid the big bucks. Your wisdom is what makes you stand out. Still, my hope is that the wisdom comes with the acknowledgment that you do not in fact have all of the answers. It took me awhile to realize this.
A lot of things motivate us to not listen to people (which when you think about it, doesn't inspire a lot of confidence in our own staffing decisions). We often want to demonstrate control, we fear failure, or we just don't trust other people. But if we insist on having a hierarchy, then the one thing we can be sure of is that we don't have all of the answers because there aren't enough hours in the day to take all of the input. A lot of the time, others know better than we do. Strong leadership involves listening, and acting, on the information and opinions of others.
There is some feeling in our line of work that toxic conflict helps us arrive at a better place. I don't agree with this at all. That doesn't mean that there isn't a whole lot of room for people to challenge each other. This has the nice side effect that egos are kept in check.
Leaders create a framework that fosters these challenges. You have to make sure that people are free to express their concerns and different views without the threat of negative repercussions. It doesn't matter if someone is new or bordering on retirement. Good ideas come from all over. The worst thing that can happen is that someone takes a ridiculous position, and learns why it's ridiculous. The best thing that can happen is you save time and money, and deliver something better.
While some organizations will scrutinize the strangest little expenses, many never think much about the money they spend on humans. This is a catastrophic error. In software circles, many believe that people are interchangeable, ignoring the very wide range of capability and domain knowledge that travels with the person. As it turns out, people like to be recognized for their ability to do good work, but they also want to be paid for that work.
Know your market. In most places in the US right now, software is a sellers market. The good people will chase the money not because they're greedy, but because the basics of supply and demand drive them there. Hiring "C" players won't get you the results that "A" players will.
"We've always done it this way" is the innovation equivalent of ebola. It attacks quickly and turns you into a pile of goo in short order. It's not uncommon to be in a situation where everyone knows something isn't working, but no one does anything to change the outcome. What's that cliché about doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result?
Sometimes things aren't working, and you need to make a serious change to right the ship. It might mean tossing aside a process, reorganizing people, a totally new approach, and sometimes even letting go of people. Aside from the letting go of people part, there's a good chance that the big changes you need to make aren't that risky if you're already in the midst of a tragedy. The worst thing that can happen is you continue to be tragic, but more than likely, you'll end up a little more awesome.
I've been fortunate (or not, if you consider the layoffs and flameouts I've been in) to have worked in a really diverse set of companies, large and small. There isn't one that I can name that didn't have little hints and glimmers of greatness just begging to get out.
We often focus a great deal on roles and responsibilities, and try to put everyone in a neat little box with a clear and well defined label. This breeds a lot of "not my job" precedent, and it hides that fact that some people are really good at a lot of different things. Enable those people. Not everyone is a born leader, but almost everyone does have something meaningful to contribute. Find it! Figure out how to make it fit into what you need.
It's hard to believe that we've been in the new house now for three weeks. There really hasn't been any sense of routine or settlement yet, because we've had house guests, spring break and a lack of school, and of course the piles of boxes. We haven't even 100% vacated the rental yet, as we have a few things there and some cleaning to do.
Still, the nesting process is well under way, and it is starting to feel like a home. Today we cracked open some boxes, full of books and framed photos, that we haven't seen since July. I put up the canvas photos of Mt. Rainier, and some things in my office. It feels a little more comfortable every day, though we've been so active that we haven't really enjoyed it much.
Some things were ready right away, most notably the kitchen. Stuff keeps migrating between cabinets, but Diana had that room functional almost immediately. We still desperately need a light fixture in there, but we'll find something. Her sewing room is mostly functional, too. Simon's room is really comfortable, and I love the ceiling fan we bought him. Our room needs a fan, and some stuff on the walls and windows (and I want a big round rug to put under the end of the bed), but it's also comfortable.
I think the important thing is that I'm allowing myself to feel a sense of home, which is really not something I've had since probably before Stephanie and I split. I've equated that feeling with stagnation and some lesser state, for no really rational reason. There were so many years of uncertainty. Now the only thing that feels uncertain is my next job (since I'm doing contract work), but hopefully I can land something that is not contract, and very long-term. That would definitely put me at ease.
We had a stormy afternoon, but it was around 80 degrees. When I was out at the grocery store, I remembered how much better life feels when you're not messing with snow and cold. Then sprinkle in things like train whistles, water skiers on the lake behind your house, great neighbors, a zip line, and you know, it ain't all bad. Settling into a place to live is not a bad way to go.
I went through a slight Disney phase in college. Not super hardcore (contrary to the understanding of my former mother-in-law), but there was a series of films that were really great, in my view: Little Mermaid, Beauty & The Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King. These all seemed like they were written for the stage and made into animated movies. There was a part of me that was really moved by musical theater, even though at the time I had not seen very much of it, and the soundtracks for those movies really reminded me of the "big" shows at the time, like Phantom or Les Mis, only you could watch them on VHS tape.
I remember the summer before my senior year going to a theater in Mansfield one afternoon, before my radio shift at WYHT, to see Lion King. That opening scene completely blew my mind. To this day, it's so visually overpowering, and the music is brilliant. It seemed like Disney could do no wrong, and the formula certainly wasn't getting old.
But the machine definitely fell into decline after that. Mulan, Hercules, Hunchback, Tarzan... none of them did much for me. It was kind of sad even. By that time, my film interest had drifted more into the "indie blockbuster" realm, including stuff like Pulp Fiction, and anything by the Coens. But I still loved a good musical.
When Pixar delivered the first Toy Story, it was clear that animated story telling was not only viable, but ready for a new generation. Most of the Pixar films, even after it was wholly acquired by Disney, were completely awesome. But they also weren't musicals.
Then Frozen was released. Honestly, it wasn't even on my radar, because even though I love movies, I've had to deemphasize them due to time constraints in my post-childbirth life. I had seen the title, but didn't know anything about it. Then I noticed that the princesses were drawing enormous crowds at Epcot. Friends on Facebook were going to see it multiple times, voluntarily. My niece was appearing in Facebook videos performing the big song. Clearly something was up here... this was not a failure.
Finally, I ordered it on BluRay and got it the day it was released. After more than 19 years since Lion King, Disney finally made another musical that was an instant classic. It really is impressive. The music is completely amazing. I didn't even know that Kristen Bell, one of my favorite actresses, was one of the two leads, and that she totally has the pipes.
Even though we tend to visit the theme parks once a week, I'm not sure I would consider myself a Disney nerd these days. Still, there's no denying, they really have a phenomenon on their hands this time.
When I was in college, my advisor had on occasion done some favors for me, usually at minor cost, and made sure I understood that there was no need to pay him back. His logic was sound: "Eventually, you'll do the same for others."
A decade later, I found that he was right. Whether it was the kids I was coaching or my younger friends, it never seemed like a big deal to buy someone a meal or help them out with some kind of time consuming favor. It made sense that if I'm in a position where I can help someone, I should. Many others did the same for me. In a general sense, looking out for other people feels good, whether it's in the most serious of relationships or casual acquaintance. And frankly, it's feels good to receive help, too.
It's not purely a social thing, either. Professionally, this is critical in almost any line of work. It was a lot more common when most people were doing a lot of blue collar trade work, but somewhere along the line we reduced the transfer of knowledge in most other professions. I don't know if this is the result of people thinking it reduces their competitive edge or what, but it's totally counter to what, in my experience, yields higher success (working with smarter people should almost always work in your favor).
Today I did a couple of talks at a fantastic event run by the local user group. The event was totally free, and attended by more than 800 people. Sure, this kind of thing is always good for your reputation and networking, but to me it's also an investment in your profession. I complain a lot that it's hard to find good people to hire, so I'm obligated to help people get better at what they do.
Yeah, it all sounds very circle-of-life, but giving back something really is the thing that moves us forward. As I said, sharing knowledge or helping younger people out is critical, because at some point in your life, others did the same for you. The world gets better.
It's hard to believe CoasterBuzz Club is over a dozen years old (and the site is older than that). While it was really born out of a difficult situation, where I lost the big money ad provider after committing to a T-1 contract to my house for hosting, in the long run it has helped because of the unpredictable ad market in general.
But from the start, being a software developer and not wanting to be ghetto about the way I run things, I always wanted to automate the production of the membership cards. My solution was to get card stock with a custom die-cut punch in them. I've only ordered them twice, in quantities of thousands. I'm down to a few hundred, and while I still have the die, I don't know if I can find a local printer to use it to rattle off thousands more.
Believe it or not, the cost on those damn things was a little high, just over a dime I think, but I've been able to use the same laser printer for a dozen years to print on them. I have a slightly crappy Access front end where I just push a button and print. So now I have to ask myself if I keep this up or explore a new solution.
At first I entertained the idea that there should be some kind of print-at-home option, with a simple online verification for those worried about fraud. Oddly enough, some of the parks complained that it was fraud prone. I don't really agree with that, and certainly the only one who has something to lose is me.
I've also thought about doing plastic cards. This could in theory be the most elegant solution. The cards cost under a dime a piece in volume, which is less than I paid for the cards, but of course they require a special printer, and those start at a grand. I can play all kinds of games with the numbers to figure out a cost per card, but even once you get the printer paid for, the "ink" is expensive. Over the course of five years, I arrive at a cost per card of around 85 cents.
There is one other problem though, and that's the fact that I would have to write new code for printing. As anyone who has ever had to do that knows, coding to print is the single worst task you could have. It just sucks. That's a serious draw back.
I wish I had a staff to worry about this stuff. I'm in a career stage where delegating is better. :)
When we moved back to Cleveland, the first thing we did is replace all of the shitty faux-brass lighting and cheap fixtures in the house. I'm not sure why I lived there for eight years before and didn't do it, but it changed the look of the house dramatically. Here in the OC, we built the house with no lighting upgrades at all (because they were mostly a rip-off). Yes, that means that we've got some work to do.
There are a total of five super cheap fixtures in various hallway locations. I knew they would suck, but wow, as I sit here looking at one, they're hideous. They're good candidates for what everyone calls the "boob lights" at Home Depot. They have a brushed nickel base, and there's a "nipple" that caps them. I think they're under $30 for a pair, and we put up I think four or five of them in Cleveland.
We're struggling to find what we think we want for our kitchen. We got a pendant mount over the sink instead of more recessed cans (there are already five), but haven't found something to put there. We think we want a monorail-style set of pendants, two or maybe three, and probably red, so we can light the entire area from the sink to the end of the prep surface. We'll probably have to go to a lighting store. In the mean time, we scored some LED lighting to put under the cabinets on one side, and they're awesome. Well done, Ikea.
We did get most rooms pre-wired for fans (the bedrooms, office, loft and living room), but didn't actually get fans installed. Our thinking was that the wiring alone adds value to the house, but not knowing how the house heats and cools, it would be silly to just prematurely start putting fans in every room (though this seems like a common practice in Florida). After a few days, we learned that Simon's room got very warm starting in the afternoon, which makes sense since he's on the west side of the house and gets the afternoon sun. We bought him a fan right away, and I installed it this evening. Our bedroom may need one, but we want to find the right one. So far, I'm not sure the downstairs rooms need them.
I'm actually thinking a little about exterior lighting. I saw some neighbors had some epic pendant lights on their front porch, something I never considered. Maybe I should rethink that for the inevitable day we get a real tropical storm or hurricane, but they look cool. We'd like to do something interesting on the patio, too. I also think it might be neat to accent the exterior with a low voltage system of flood lights, but that's totally non-functional.
At this point, the optional stuff all has to wait, because I have spending fatigue. The cost of moving, a new fridge, a couch, paint, etc., is burning me out, and we have a lot of lingering medical bills to pay (individually purchased health insurance tends to suck). But since we hopefully are here for the long haul, there will be plenty of time for these projects. For now, I mostly want to enjoy what we've got.
We haven't quite been in the new house for a week yet, but I do feel myself gradually getting comfortable with it. We have unfinished painting projects, and we've yet to get any photos on the wall, but we're heading in the right direction. While there's still work to do there, I'm really happy with my office/mancave.
The weird thing is that I feel a certain reluctance to really embrace this as my home. Home is a different concept than where you live. For many years, home is what I associated with safety and stability. In 2009, I threw out that association when we moved to Seattle. Discovering how awesome Seattle was, I started to feel that the sense of home, and the associated perception of safety and stability, had tied me down in a way that made me feel embarrassed and ashamed. I really felt like I missed out on something I can't quite describe. I still carry that with me, especially after going back to the house I couldn't sell (even if that was not motivated by "home" at all).
Settling in here, finally, after five moves in the last four and a half years, means accepting some level of stability, and I have to work out in my head that it doesn't mean stagnation. A little bit of consistency is good for Simon. I'm mostly confident that there's enough work around here, and even if there isn't, remote work is getting to be more common. For at least the next few years, it's unlikely I'll face a negative equity or depreciation slide, so we could move if there was a really good reason. Perhaps most obviously, it took some nuts to move down here for a contract gig in the first place, and that's about as non-safe as it gets.
I'm trying though. I think as the weeks go on, I'll be able to embrace the sense of home. We seem to have a lot of engaging neighbors, we hear train whistles, there's a zip line down the street and we have our very own palm trees. It's a pretty cool place to live, not a weakness.
One of the most fascinating aspects of our culture to me is implied social contracts. These vary wildly in scope and application, from potentially good things like basic manners to extremely toxic things like racism. Take the breadth of these social contracts as applied to a "normal" person, and then look at them through the eyes of someone who falls in the autism spectrum, and you may even find yourself questioning the value of some of these arrangements yourself.
I think the hardest thing to explain to people about autism is that many kids (and indeed adults) don't process things in the same way that everyone else does. Social contracts in particular become tricky, because there's little interest in adhering to them if they don't obviously serve a purpose. For example, even at a very young age, a child will typically throw a tantrum and look for a response from the caregiver, because that's socially the interaction that is expected. An "autism meltdown" isn't cured by the response, and has to run its course.
I can relate. As an adult, for example, I find chit chat about the weather with strangers as completely unnecessary. Psychologically, I understand that it often happens because people aren't always comfortable sharing silence.
There's a double edged sword, for sure. I think we can all agree that manners and being polite to people is a good thing. But think about some of the more obsolete social contracts, like looking down on people of a different color, or even the classic aristocratic required respect arrangements. The problem is that someone who is wired differently may reject both varieties.
Friday was the big moving day, and by big I mean we moved five miles from our rental to our actual house. It's so strange to have a house again that I'm not renting. I'm still a little nervous about tying up equity in a house, but at least for now it seems to make sense.
First though, the financial hilarities continue, even though we've closed on the house. The first lender that the builder had us apply with, you may recall, wouldn't loan us money. But guess what, they bought the loan within days of closing. It is nice from a cash flow standpoint to be spending hundreds of dollars less on where we live, that is for sure.
The movers were, as I've come to expect now, total asshats. They scratched stuff up, lost parts of lamps, threw the mattress of our guest bed on the frame without actually assembling it. Diana has the fun task of trying to get some money back from them. But at least the whole thing was done, start to finish, in four hours. We've had car loads of stuff that we moved ourselves before and after, and honestly Diana did most of that.
The only real drama we had started after the movers left. The gas guy got here late in the afternoon, making us kind of nervous. The cable guy was on time, but was completely useless when my cable modem wouldn't connect. He made the excuse that he couldn't support it because it wasn't the cable company's which is bullshit, and I wonder if there aren't actually FCC rules that prohibit that as an excuse. I talked to someone on the phone who got me half way, but no connection. I called the next morning, and the person I talked to got us up and running. Strangely, the neighbors have a big box on the side of the house covering the connections, we don't. Going to have to call about that.
We made an Ikea run to try to cover some loose ends... curtains for Simon's room, hand towel hooks, etc., but were shocked to find most stuff we really wanted was not in stock. That's unusual for Ikea. We did get some new shelves to house the DVD collection, which seems weird to unbox after having it be essentially hidden the last eight months. We got out for a nice lunch, too.
Diana had the kitchen operational almost immediately, as well as Simon's room. I got my office ("The Lab") mostly functional by late Saturday night. The living room TV stuff didn't see setup time until Sunday morning. Diana has a ways to go in her sewing room. Our bedroom is functional, but we're making a painting detour. The secondary color looks too baby blue, so we're going to eat the cost of the paint (like we have a choice) and go with the darker blue we already have on the one wall (and two of the walls in my office).
Probably the biggest thing to make the place feel like a home is all of the photos and stuff, which have also been in boxes since the move to Florida. We're planning to get all kinds of additional photos printed and framed as well. I want to have a wider variety of photos in my office.
I dug in and got the irrigation system set right, because the installers had it running every night, and without regard to the rain sensor. That could have been expensive, and there's a restriction to one day a week anyway. I adjusted a few sprinkler heads that were pointing in suboptimal directions (including my office window). It's so strange to have sprinklers.
Last night we did a family walk to the somewhat disjointed area that is the house models and some recreation areas, including the pool and clubhouse. They just installed a zip line over there, and let me tell you, it's the most awesome thing ever. Simon likes it, but when it hits the end, for some reason he kind of just lets go with his noodle arms and falls off. We'll need to practice.
We already have guests, as my in-laws are here doing a Florida tour. Fortunately the guest room is good enough for guests. It's nice to have some people around, even if they have to dodge some boxes here and there.
I'm still thinking a lot about what it means to have a home, which may sound kind of weird, but it has been awhile since I've felt that I was somewhere not transient. I hope we're here for a good many years, but I honestly don't know what the future looks like. A part of me might even be hesitant to commit to the idea of committing to a place to live. I'm not sure why. Still working that out.
I need to buy a grill now.
I did this last year, and it's the closest thing to a virtual annual photo book I could do. (The actual photo books are insanely time consuming to make.) So from March 5, 2013, to March 4, 2014, here's a quick look around at Simon's big year.
He wouldn't be my kid if he didn't get to visit Cedar Point in the middle of winter.
Diana was on the moms panel for Great Wolf Lodge, and we had many adventures there, learning to swim and play in the water.
Snow in late March? Yep, and our house in Brunswick, Ohio had a great hill in the back for sledding.
We had some indoor water park fun at Cedar Point's Castaway Bay as well. We took a break in the action for some snacks.
We were members of the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, and definitely got our money's worth.
Once Cedar Point was finally open, we did the media event for GateKeeper, where Simon added to his collection of many lanyards.
Simon's first ride on Sky Ride, or as Mom calls it, "The Buckets!"
Jr. Gemini was Simon's first exposure to roller coaster addiction.
Once we moved to Florida, the boy found theme park ecstasy, living a few miles from Walt Disney World. This day, it was lunch at Pizza Planet at Disney Hollywood Studios.
Simon's new BFF and favorite babysitter took us to see the ducks at the former Peabody Hotel.
Thumbs up to fun times!
Reading about trucks is exhausting! Simon brought this book everywhere for awhile.
Finally, Simon met a real Blue Man at his first Blue Man Group show at Universal Orlando.
When Halloween came around, Diana put together this amazing pirate costume.
The fall and holiday season meant lots of visits to "the construction house." This is one of Simon's first photos in his new room.
One of Simon's favorite rides at Magic Kingdom is the People Mover.
Simon attended his first IAAPA trade show. Here he's sitting in one of the Gravity Group's sweet cars.
Right after Thanksgiving, Simon took Grammy to Magic Kingdom and the other parks to see the lights.
Simon is too young to volunteer at Give Kids The World Village, but he's the right age to help Kara marathon the carousel for a fundraiser.
Back at Magic Kingdom, we caught a ride on a beautiful January day on Goofy's Barnstormer roller coaster.
February brought Simon's second cruise, where he learned the joys of ice cream. Lots and lots of ice cream!
We finally made it out to the Kennedy Space Center, where we saw the Space Shuttle Atlantis.
Night out with Daddy at Epcot, means sitting in China for dinner.
We ended his year finally closing on the new headquarters for Team Puzzoni.
Four years ago tonight, Diana and I were sitting in the Coho Cafe in Issaquah, Washington, facing the very real condition that we were going to be parents in a little more than 12 hours.
The day of Simon's birth was such a sleep-deprived birth, which is one of the reasons I wrote it down as fast as possible. In the four years since, being his parents has been easier and harder at the same time.
As with any aspect of your life, it's easy to get bogged down in being a parent. In recent months, we finally got the formal information around Simon's diagnosis for Sensory Processing Disorder and Autism Spectrum Disorder. Neither problem is for sure necessarily a long-term detriment, but it definitely adds extra layers of complexity to helping him develop.
That said, the difficulty does not outweigh the joy that Simon brings on most days. I love the way this kid loves to be outside and moving (a "symptom" of SPD, actually). Being in Florida has been good to a boy who preferred to walk as soon as he could, and he hasn't seen a stroller in more than a year. He has no problem dragging his Grammy around Disney World, walking more than 8 miles in a day.
Simon's sense of discovery is developing as fast as his language skills. Right now he wants to describe everything he encounters no matter how mundane it might be, even if he doesn't have all of the words. The biggest leap he has made in the last year, and really just the last few months, is his transformation into a conversationalist. He wants to talk to anyone who will listen and converse.
And what comes with conversation? Personality. Simon is loaded with personality. He loves to giggle over all kinds of things, and he's developing his own catch phrases, like, "What's going on here?" and, "That's OK, Dad." The best part though is that when he's sleepy and happy, he's quite the cuddle monkey. It's another thing that he didn't do as much in his early years, but now he'll be perfectly happy to crash with you in the beanbag chair or spread out on the couch under a blanket with you.
More than anything, it's his capacity to love that makes him a great contributor to the world. There's nothing more awesome than meeting up with him somewhere, and he runs with excitement to greet you. And it's not just family, but even new people he meets, especially kids. While he certainly has more than his share of defiant moments, he's also quite the warm soul.
And as of tomorrow, Simon is 25% of the way toward driving age. Yikes.
I've been really stressed out the last few weeks. A lot of it had to do with the final weeks and days of getting the financing done for the house. Some had to do with the issues, most of them minor, with the house construction. I've found myself frustrated and short with Simon, as his behavior has been difficult every few days and I'm not dealing with it in an effective manner. I think I'm also dreading the June end of my contract, not because I won't be able to find work, but because I kind of like what I'm doing and the people I work with.
All of that negative energy takes its toll. When I stop to gain a little perspective, I always realize that these are not really big problems, but I infrequently have that perspective in the moment. I've been trying to find a little peace, though I haven't really looked in any particular place for it. Today, it found me.
We were at the new house this evening, doing a little bit of work. I went out to the patio, which is currently inhabited by a couple of cheap camp chairs, and I sat down. It was the first time I really got a feel for the neighborhood noise, which is fairly natural most of the time. Then I heard the distant sound of a steam train whistle, obviously from Magic Kingdom.
My brain tripped like a scene from The Matrix, rushing me squarely in one of the deck chairs on the patio of a Lighthouse Point cottage, at Cedar Point. I could feel the breeze off of Sandusky Bay. I could almost see Mean Streak, and hear its trains climbing the lift. It was so rich and vivid of a memory, and it was filled with so many friends, lovers, wives and even my little boy. The sound of the CP&LE Railroad, as it turns out, connects me to my new home where I can hear the Walt Disney World Railroad.
It's so easy to get bogged down by life sometimes. While I'm often critical of people who are so tied to the past that they can't move forward, there's no question that memories and familiarity can provide great comfort. Today I got all of that from the sound of a train whistle. It makes me happy that I might hear it every day.