2011 03 31

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Contents

Feature Cast for 2001-03-31

(00:00:17.318) Intro

(00:03:21.851) Hacker Word of the Week: flamage

(00:03:52.253) Inner Chapter: Personal Growth

  • I thought the occasion of starting a new job would be a good opportunity
    • To discuss the experience of personal growth
    • This podcast has outlasted three jobs and is now continuing into a fourth
    • More than just six years, marking the time out by such broad changes
      • Reveals it is a decent span in terms of direct experiences on which to reflect
    • I've already discussed topics brushing on growth
    • The idea of effecting change is also in some ways related
    • All of these operate on different scales though
      • From the project oriented to organization wide
    • That goes for size as well as time
    • The one constant in all of these ideas of marking change over time
      • Is the individual, you or me
    • Taking stock and thinking about our own way ahead
      • Not just for climbing a single hill or reaching the next mile marker
      • Is useful for ensuring you are planting the roots of our own satisfaction
        • In the most fertile ground possible
    • For the first portion of our lives, we take growth for granted
    • Formal education encourages, enables and supports becoming an engaged adult
    • Even skipping formal tutelage, youth is defined by experimentation
      • Yielding both success and failure that contribute to the shape of who we become
    • Growth need not stall out as we grow older
      • But may require a greater degree of intent and contemplation
    • As I often do since I took studying it back up a little over a year ago
      • I find myself relating personal and professional experiences
        • To my practice of Tai Chi
    • Class and my solo practice are microcosms on which it is much easier
      • To focus a lot of attention to understand how they work
    • In the last class, my teacher asked us why a student might quit
      • Which spurred a conversation that had a lot to do with
        • Being aware of how much we are actually growing
        • Even if it feels like we are standing still
    • He further shared a story of one of the hardest working students
      • Of the grandmaster who taught his teacher
    • By judging progress against the grand master
      • The perception was of no growth
        • Completely forgetting that even a teacher, presumed to be of advanced skill and experience
        • Is still working to evolve and improve
    • Focusing on the relative difference in ability framed perception incorrectly
    • Understanding that the gap will remain more or less constant
      • A better way to gauge progress would be to try to be aware of a teacher's or partner's growth
        • Which could then form a reflection of our own
  • Growth requires direction, knowing where to go
    • A peer mentor very early on in my career gave me this bit of advice
    • If you don't know what you want to do, where you want to be
      • You have no hope of getting there
    • It is very easy to wander without purpose
      • Without even realizing that is what you are doing
    • While you are aimlessly knocking about
      • The chances that your are growing in any meaningful way are close to none
    • Practically speaking you won't be taking advantage of good opportunities
      • When they come along because you won't have a good perspective
        • On whether the pursuit would benefit your progress or not
    • I understand that this can be the toughest question to answer
    • In job interviews, the stock question of where you see yourself in five years
      • Totally speaks to this difficulty, asking you to reveal desires, motives, goals
        • As much as speculate about the probably circumstances in which you'll find yourself
    • Not only is it OK to re-visit the question of direction
      • If you do not do so, you'll probably end up adrift of where you need to be
    • I had an old teacher who used to say it isn't worth worrying about your exact path
      • As long as you are headed in the right direction
    • The implication is that you need to constantly navigate on the ground
      • Stopping to occasionally take your bearings
    • When getting a bead on life goals and personal aspirations
      • Those will be subject to change as a consequence of experience thus far
    • From this fluid, feedback loop the core challenge arises
    • To grow, you need to have some direction in mind
      • But as you do so you may find your evolution changes where you want to go
    • Being reactive to local, changing conditions leaves room for serendipity too
    • The idea of charting a course as you go with a more loose goal in mind
      • Allows you to take advantage of the unexpected as much as the planned
    • I recently read Dan Gillmor's latest book, "Mediactive"
    • Among his various pieces of advice on how to be thoughtful producers and consumers of media
      • He suggested we should periodically reassess our assumptions
    • Listing them out explicitly, as just a bulleted list of ten or so items
      • Is very useful for that sort of regular re-visit and re-think
    • Dan's examples happen to coincide with my own reading and thought
      • As he often covers the technology beat
        • So mentions among other things the associations between certain technologies, like Windows
        • And their stability, finesse, speed, and other attributes
    • This is good advice on the question of direction, too
      • And can help suss out where growth to a certain point has affected where it is you want to go
    • Maybe a useful exercise in this vein is to answer that five year question
      • And hang onto that information to reconsider it at a year or three out
  • Even knowing where you want to go, fear and risk can hold you back
    • I knew I wanted to move more into public policy a year or so back
    • Being a sole provider for my family, I felt I needed to wait
    • Once my sons were old enough, my wife would be able to return to work
    • Even a modest job, just working in retail, would mean
      • The sum of our two salaries would be pretty much equivalent to what I had been earning
        • As a senior developer, responsible for building and leading teams
    • In my last job, I began to feel very frustrated, almost trapped
    • Clearly I'd had my fill of start ups, tackling the same challenges
      • More about organization growth and market traction than technology
        • Over and over again
    • As long as my income was the only money coming into out home
      • I thought I had to keep plugging away in the realm of entrepreneurs
    • At a point where I was feeling especially depressed at this prospect
      • Not through any fault of my family but out of my sense of obligation
        • Of not wanting to put them through undue sacrifice on my behalf
      • I attend a talk give by chef Jose Andres
    • Vint Cerf was interviewing Andres at one of the odder Google public talks I attended
    • The title was What Does Light Taste Like, a nod to Andres interesting experiments
      • In what he himself does not call molecular gastronomy
        • But prefers to talk about simply as getting at the pure sensation of food
    • He's an inspiring man, in many ways
      • Especially when he spoke of his aid and relief efforts in Haiti
    • His goal was to leave behind sustainable tools and knowledge, working with local materials
    • That is pretty enlightened thinking versus what we hear of traditional aid
    • During the Q&A session, one young person asked him for advice in the restaurant business
    • He was very honest about how hard it can be, especially for someone like him
      • Who establishes wholly new restaurants
    • What he told her was to find ways to lower her risks
    • He didn't elaborate much, but the message was clear
      • That what you need to do is to find ways to lower the cost of failure
    • That stuck with me as it resonates with an important mind set for coding
      • Especially highly experimental and unproven ideas
    • I couldn't put that in effect until this latest job change, really
    • As I previously explained, I thought this meant moving from a single income family
      • To a double income family when we could do so without sacrifice
    • Going to a not-for-profit involved a substantial adjustment
    • Being motivated to make that work with the household budget
      • Led me to realize the places I could really bring down our costs
        • Mostly in being more modest in our personal and family savings
    • The first ideas I had, about cancelling our cable TV package or clipping grocery coupons
      • Would not have made the needed difference
    • When you have the opportunity to make a change that lets you grow
      • Being creative in finding ways to making the transition work for you
  • Growing in new directions may feel lonely at times, leading to discouragement
    • We have been dealing with quite a few issues with my older son's move to middle school
    • One thing that came to light when we were asking after some of his grade school friends
      • Is that he has stopped hanging out with them
    • Part of his reasoning is that he's tired of constantly re-hashing Harry Potter and Star Wars
    • This is a kid who has crushed every Cory Doctorow book I've lent him so far
    • His tastes in reading are clearly expanding at the expense of old friendships
    • I can see a parallel with my own job change
    • For a variety of reasons, I was intentionally withdrawn at my last job
    • All the same, I enjoyed hanging out with my former coworkers
    • Changing jobs, pursuing what I feel is necessary for me to keep developing professional & personally
      • There were certainly moments where I was concerned
        • About how I'd get along socially with my new coworkers
    • One thing that has really helped me overcome that
      • Is to realize that most of the new people around me
        • Are here for very much the same reason I am
    • In my old situation, very few people had read most of the stories I had in my daily news grazing
    • Frequently that was frustrating or tiring as I'd relate some tidbit
      • But not really be able to fully engage in informed discussion
    • At the new gig, my experience has been the polar opposite
    • There is a lot of overlap in what were are all following online
      • Which makes the bits each of us finds the others haven't read that much more interesting
    • The level at which we can chew over some new wrinkle in a bit of public policy
      • Makes me feel like I am stretching much more
        • Picking up at least as much information from my new colleagues as I am sharing with them
  • It can be hard to assess growth due to very slow accumulation of changes
    • I touched on this in my intro with the story about the Tai Chi grandmaster
      • And his senior most student
    • When a large course correction like a job change or other significant milestone hoves into view
      • It can provide a very food chance for some needed reflection
    • Especially events that happen more than once, like moving from one employer to another
      • Provide some constants that help really highlight the differences
    • The discontinuities like these can also present openings
      • To push change a little bit further
    • If you follow me on any social networks, you may have seen my update
      • About leveling up my wardrobe this past weekend
    • What seems like a silly remark points to a sometimes awkward experience
    • Making more than subtle changes in your appearance or style can be trying
    • People you work with day in and day out get accustomed to your looks and habits
    • Entering into a new set of circumstances affords you the ability to reset expectations
    • Granted for me the choice wasn't entirely voluntary
      • As working with academics, federal leaders, and policy makers comes with certain expectations
    • I don't have to wear a suit every day but will get more use out if it than most hackers do
    • No doubt I could have gotten away with the minimum change, swapping khakis for blue jeans
    • Instead I wanted to explore a bit more, seeing if I could translate an idea of a certain style
      • Into clothes I'd be comfortable and proud to wear every day
    • So far I haven't developed any allergic reactions to proper slacks
      • Nor have my new coworkers had any unusual or overt reactions
    • Growth isn't always about the retrospective, sometimes it opens the way for charging a head a bit
  • As much as a sense of direction is key, growth cannot be forced
    • You might have a general idea of what you want to get out of various aspects of your life
      • Especially your career or the hackish pursuits you indulge
    • More often than not, the most you can actively do is to be patient
      • And to cultivate a keen eye and ear for where you can get a bit closer
        • To where you think you'd next like to be
    • I've been attending all kinds of events in the space related to my new job for years
    • That included cultivating contacts at a lot of likely future employers
    • The chance to move into this new space didn't occur in response to anything I did directly
    • A friend I had made through a public event, based on work I did as a volunteer
      • Yielded an off hand mention of a job opening in which I might be interested
    • No amount of wanting that to happen could short circuit
      • All the internal and external growth that was necessary
        • To realize this new phase of my life and career
        • One I hope lasts at least as long as the last fifteen years of software development

(00:21:25.355) Outro

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