Archive: January, 2020

It's not the death that worries me, it's the prioritization of life

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, January 14, 2020, 5:45 PM | comments: 0

Last weekend, a long-time blogger and educator specializing in the software stack that I've been around died at the age of 50. If that weren't weird enough, his last blog post appeared after he died. He had some great courses on Pluralsight. It's weird to think that any one blog post you make could be your last.

At the conference last week, I caught up with a former coworker that I had not seen in a decade. We had a lot of war stories to trade, mostly around the shared experience that strong business leaders are rare in software, from the executive level down to individual developers. This puts people in our career band, the managers between the makers and the C-suite, in a hard place as we serve two different audiences and act as the glue (or often lubricant) that makes it all work. It can be a thankless job, but we get enough out of it that we feel like it's worth it. Sometimes the big success is big when you've got it right on both sides, other times not so much. I suppose that's true for any job.

But being 40-somethings, approximately half way between wearing diapers and wearing diapers, we're acutely aware of the clock. I'd like to think that I've been at peace with my own demise for a long time. There isn't much point in fearing what you can't stop. What you can do is prioritize the time that you have to optimize for a meaningful and excellent life. That's the thing that stresses me out.

First you think in terms of relationships, and hopefully you start with your relationship with yourself. I probably spend too much time self-loathing for various reasons, but I'm at least self-aware of what's good or bad. I got lucky and scored a partner that is about as perfect as one gets. She's supportive, an amazing parent and my equal. This is the part I'm pretty good with. I'm spending that time right. I would lump parenting into the relationship bucket too, but once you start that, you can't really bail on it.

Work, whether it's the thing you do for money or the way you spend time to improve the world in some way, that all takes on a different meaning when you're optimizing for a good life. Sometimes you do crap work for a ton of money, or meaningful work for free, but it always feels like there's a priority aligned to it. For example, I once started a small team from scratch and built up a product that initially couldn't scale beyond a few users, and that felt good. Another time, I worked at a giant company where our team built a system that processed 100 million transactions per month. You bet that felt good. Another time I worked for a health insurance company trying to make their process better, and it was soul-sucking and terrible. I worked for an agency for like two months that wanted me to lie to customers. That didn't feel good either.

But most work probably lies somewhere in between. Our circumstances sometimes dictate that we have to do whatever it takes, which can certainly force the meaning curve. If we get lucky, we can often make our own story and have choices. But you never really know when you're taking your last shot, and you hope that the one in front of you is the right one.

I can't go to the Cleveland!

posted by Jeff | Friday, January 10, 2020, 5:40 PM | comments: 0

I'm back at CLE after the conference. CodeMash is so good, and I guess it's surprising just because you wouldn't expect a great conference to be in a winter-bound tourist area an hour away from Cleveland. Again this year, the quality of the people and content was amazing.

I had to drive through a light monsoon back to the airport, but it was easy compared to the worsening conditions two years ago as a mini-blizzard approached. But I was struck with the grayness and lack of color. As I was rolling up in the rental car shuttle, all I could think about is how badly I wanted to hibernate somewhere and take a nap. The memory was connected 100 different ways... college, high school, all of my jobs while living in Brunswick... all with a feeling of gloom and hibernation. I can't help but question: Are the unhappy memories a product of circumstances, or environment? I'm sure it's at least partly environment, because I had a lot of happy summer memories, but there are 36 winters worth of cold there too.

Objectively, Cleveland has had its shares of ups and downs. I remember the silly campaign, "New York is the Big Apple, but Cleveland is a plum." But it was a big deal when we scored the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame, and downtown had a (very) gradual renaissance that continues today. "White flight" gutted the parts of the city neighborhoods, and then later the reinvestment in those neighborhoods happened. The former Continental Airlines made the city a hub, but now the airport is half-empty, the "commuter" concourse closed. And while the Cavs finally had their championship moment, the Browns permanently suck.

What has always struck me though, was how loyal people were to the city. I was certainly a cheerleader for it back in the day. I still want it to succeed.

But I think that maybe I just outgrew it or something. I mean, I did leave Cleveland twice. After living in Seattle and Orlando, maybe I just felt like I'd been had, or completely self-unaware. Moving out of town really never occurred to me until the 2008 when the recession started to creep in and there was no work. The only other time I even considered moving a possibility was when I went to a conference in Portland, Oregon, way back when I was 25. Even that feeling quickly left me.

This is the first time I've been back in town since the Steel Vengeance opening at Cedar Point in 2018. That trip was suboptimal because, you guessed it, weather, and I was only there for 26 hours. The time before that was this conference the same year. I think we went for Cedar Point in 2016, and also in 2014 when we basically missed out because of the Great Water Main Break. It's like every time we come back, something borders on disaster.

I don't hate Cleveland, I just don't know what to do with it.

Hashtag conference life

posted by Jeff | Thursday, January 9, 2020, 5:30 PM | comments: 0

Wrapping up on the third day of conference activities at CodeMash in Sandusky, Ohio. Let me first say that it's a staggeringly great conference that goes deep, it's diverse in experience, people and technologies, and it's run by a non-profit. As a speaker, there's nothing to worry about except to show up. That's pretty great. This is my second time speaking at it, and I can't say enough good things about it. It started out many years ago as a small, regional, off-season thing, and now it's huge.

The first two days are long-form sessions, then the last two days are your typical hour-long deals. As a speaker, it's all included for me (they cover the room, too!), but I'm pretty sure the number of attendees doubles for the second half. This year I ended up kind of half-assing the long sessions, because I couldn't really clear all of my work obligations. I regret that, but it did give me time to finish up the deck for my talk, which was definitely not presentable when I landed at CLE. In fact, I really just got it to a good state an hour ago.

With tomorrow left, I'm mentally already pretty spent. There's a lot of content to take in, and then you fill up the in between times with conversations with people from all over. If you find time to talk to any of the vendors (which I've tried to pay more attention to this year, given my career stage), then you add that too. If that weren't enough, I'm trying to catch up with people from my old Ohio network, because so many are here. It's one of the few big driveable events around here.

The one positive about it being rural Ohio in winter is that it's not like there's a bunch of other things to distract you. Vegas conferences are kind of too much, the opposite extreme, where by the second day, you're kind of done with it all just because of what's outside the venue. Three days for these things is the sweet spot almost anywhere.

I'm satisfied, but ready to go home. The dry air I think gave me a sore throat, and Kalahari, where the conference is, has pretty bad beds. Today is also Diana's birthday, 50th no less, and no matter how many times she told me to go to this, I still hate missing the day. It'll be nice to see my little boy, too.

Making stuff in the down time

posted by Jeff | Sunday, January 5, 2020, 1:12 PM | comments: 0

The last two weeks were kind of like a forced vacation (I know, poor me). With the holidays falling on Wednesdays, I took the Mondays off as well, but in many ways I effectively took most of the two weeks off because few others were working. I did have some HR stuff, documentation and writing to do, but I probably put in at most 20 hours between the four "work" days. This caused me some anxiety, because as is often the case around the new year, you're setting goals and agendas for the coming year, and I couldn't really do that work. It's not really even that we have unlimited PTO, because companies that accrue it often force you to use it at the end of the year anyway.

I was able to focus some of that time into relaxation (and anxiety mitigation), including a nice little party on New Year's Eve that involved some nerds, sparklers, lasers and a fog machine. Outside of that, I poured some energy into my hosted forum project, and got a lot done. The software part is like 95% done, which is to say I can take money and make it work right now. That's exciting. The harder part is that there's a lot of polish and selling to do, which is frankly harder than writing code. I wrote a ton of documentation, and that's in good shape, but no real marketing piece just yet. I also have to write some boilerplate privacy policy and terms, which is even more boring. Once I get that all wrapped up, maybe next weekend, I'll advertise it and see what happens.

As I've said before, I'm looking for gravy income, mostly. If I can score 10 recurring customers before the end of the year, that would make me happy. Of course, I wouldn't shy away from 100 either, but that would create some interesting problems. The real intent though is just to prove that I can build something from scratch that's useful. I plan to move the PointBuzz forums into the system at some point, which will be great because it will allow us to keep the forums current and decouple them from the rest of the site, so they can change independently.

There's something deeply satisfying about sitting behind a computer that you built, writing code that does useful things (including collect money), automating the deployment and instrumentation of it all. Sure, you get this working in a team at work, but there's something different about doing it yourself, for fun. I guess some people build furniture or work on antique cars, but I make software.