2011 08 24

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Contents

Feature Cast for 2011-08-24

(00:00:17.435) Intro

(00:02:44.224) Hacker Word of the Week: flowchart

(00:03:40.797) Inner Chapter: Travel

  • Giving that next week I will be taking my first European trip
    • Talking about the experience of travel from a hackish and a professional point of view
      • Seemed like an excellent topic to spend some time considering
    • In my experience, travel is a not uncommon part of working as a programmer
    • It is often an aspect that some hackers seek out, whether it is through work
      • Or as a personal pursuit, just for satisfying the curiosity to see new places and people
    • On the career programmer advancement path, after a certain point it becomes inevitable
    • Often senior developers and technical managers are called on to visit clients
      • Both current and prospective, as face-to-face meetings tend to be more effective
      • In accomplishing any goals that require demonstrating credibility and commitment
    • In large enough organizations, travel may also be required when projects span
      • More than one office or site
    • Flying out to spend time with colleagues around critical project milestones
      • Can make the usual remote tools for collaborating together
    • For my part, I have had an uneasy relationship with travel at best
    • Most of the experiences I have had traveling for my job
      • Have coincided with higher than usual demands on my time all around
    • In my consulting days this meant that I was traveling on top of sixty to eight hour weeks
    • These jaunts were both for business development, landing new clients
      • And working with other offices within the company
    • When I left that job when the bubble burst in the nineties, I tried to avoid future gigs
      • That required any travel though this wasn't always possible
    • The next time I had to do quite a bit of travel
      • The work hours, outside of a couple of key funding goals for the startup employing me
      • Were relatively sane though there was a bit of blurring between work and play
    • On more than one occasion, especially after I had been promoted
      • Out of development into executive management
      • I would be invited along with the core management team to kick off early on a Friday to play golf
    • This wasn't as stuffy as it may sound, it really was a lot of fun
      • But in retrospect does raise questions in my mind about whether this
        • Observed proper boundaries between work and personal life
    • The travel often had a similar feeling, as much as it was for developing new opportunities
    • The founder and head of the company was pretty casual outside of business meetings while on the road
      • Which was enjoyable at the time but again a bit questionable afterwards
      • In terms of whether enough focus and professionalism was exerted with all prospective clients
    • In other jobs, the travel wasn't as much of a problem except in terms of professionalism or balance
      • But rarely involved any amount of interest or enthusiasm on my part
    • This meant that my faith in my employer's decision that sending me some place
      • Was not especially strong vs. what I could accomplish through other means
      • Like email correspondence, phone calls and even video meetings
    • I don't mean to give the impression that I was and am universally down on travel for work
    • There were plenty of times when I very much enjoyed myself
    • Rather, for me flying off somewhere for a work reason is interwoven with reasons for skepticism
    • Thinking through the advantages and opportunities around heading off for some place new
      • Is useful for me right now to help cultivate a healthy optimism for what I can accomplish
      • And to re-visit the experience of travel while trying to set aside biases
        • From past experience that may not apply to the present situation
  • Usually the decision to shell out for air fare, lodging and incidentals
    • Is part of a larger calculus made by an employer
      • That may not take the wishes of an employee into account
    • Again this may be revealing the biases I've already tried to lay bare
    • Certainly there are those whose views run counter, who welcome the opportunity
      • To light out for foreign horizons, whatever the reason
    • I happen to find that it is easier all around when the reasons for a trip
      • Are well communicated and make sense in general
    • Being sent to a client or a vendor as an olive branch or an act of desperation
      • Makes the additional burdens required by the journey out and back
        • That much harder to bear
    • Conversely, when there is a shared enthusiasm for the trip
      • It can help buffer against the hassles and irritations that sometimes arise
    • Attitude commonly affects how we view the efforts asked of us
      • What makes travel different is that there are so many more variables thrown up in the air
    • Dealing with a change in schedule, personnel or facilities is one thing
      • When we are safely ensconced in our normal work environment and routines
    • Of course there are exceptions at the extremes, when a company is at the start or end of its life
    • Being tasked with travel pretty much literally involves an uprooting
    • There is little of the known and comfortable to fall back on
      • In dealing with any contingencies that arise
    • I am sure there are some hackers and pros who do not require at least some minimal consistency
      • Like hired guns of old who relish being thrown into a fray with little time for preparation
    • I suspect most of us need some minimal set of constants in order to maintain
      • The required flexibility and adaptability to deal with what our careers throw our way
    • In the absence of those known factors, sharing a faith that the purpose of some trip
      • Is worthwhile for the individual and the organization can go a long way
      • Just as doubts about the reasoning can make an uncertain situation worse
    • I know it may not always be reasonable for travel to be in support of personal fulfillment
      • Like having a training budget and lighting off for a class that fosters new, valuable skills
      • Or to align perfectly with what the employee feels is the best tactical or strategic move
    • When weighing whether travel is a net plus or minus on job satisfaction
      • Or when considering future opportunities that may ask for more than occasional travel
        • That question of alignment of interests, of shared trust can be useful
        • When maybe the logistics don't themselves tip the scales one way or the other
  • BREAK
  • In my last Inner Chapter, I mentioned the sense of dislocation
    • Common to travel and adjusting to new employment
    • For all my talk of hassles and how attitude can magnify or minimize them
      • I find the larger balance of any sojourn is dominated by feeling out of place
    • I try to see that as something to enjoy, to appreciate the differences
      • Larger and small that come with a change of scenery
    • The farther I go, the more I try to tally up how where I find myself
      • Is unlike the day to day experiences I take for granted back home
    • Some of the enjoyment of being in a unusual setting surrounded by strange people and customs
      • Is seeing how well I can adapt, figuring out how to make my way despite the differences
    • Usually the perception of differences is exaggerated
      • Like when dealing with local transit, whether that's mass transit or otherwise
    • I routinely use the Metro here in DC so tend to gravitated towards any form of commuter rail
      • Wherever I tend to go, just to be able to directly compare the differences
      • And to see how easy or hard it is to navigate a different set of rules
    • The fact that there are consistent rules makes it like a form of systems hacking
    • How is payment handled, is it with regular currency or via some sort of transit card?
    • Are costs assessed based on distance or do they differ depending on peak hours?
    • When riding the local rails or buses, there are also the subtle differences
      • Such as how local etiquette tends to run, especially with boarding and disembarking
    • I like to see if I can make myself as indistinguishable from every day riders as I can
      • By the end of any given trip
    • Returning to the same places, like New York or the bay area lets me build up a stock of experience
      • That lets me more quickly blend into the crowd of commuters each time I go
    • No doubt to a local I am always identifiable as an out of town visitor
      • But I feel like my goal makes me into a more courteous one at least
      • Observing the local conventions and courtesies, disrupting the commute as little as possible
    • Staying someplace long enough or visiting there frequently enough affords the opportunity
      • To go beyond just adapting to the small differences in getting by and around
    • Being dislocated is a great chance to appreciate differences in points of view
    • Having a local guide can greatly help, especially if such a person
      • Is themselves traveled at least a little
    • Being able to pause with a local friend, perhaps over a meal or a drink
      • Outside of any business or project-related reasons for a trip can be a great chance
        • To simple share some observations from the respective home of each
    • We rarely realize how much we take for granted
      • Until we are involved in explaining the idiosyncrasies of our home town
      • In comparison to some place we are visiting
    • That experience of course can be had without travel, just by being open to playing guide or host
      • To a co-worker, business acquaintance or collaborator who is visiting from out of town
  • However we make sense of that feeling of dislocation
    • Being aware of it on return affords an opportunity
      • Look at our usual environs with different eyes
    • At its simplest, this may a renewed appreciation
      • For the things with which we've grown comfortable
    • Occasionally it may lead to a deeper change in attitude
      • Such as the realization of how much better something is at home
      • Or how much it could be improved by importing a little of that foreign sensibility
    • I'll bring it back to my personal experiences getting around within New York as a visitor
      • Versus the day to day experience when I am home in DC
    • Say what you will about how insane any kind of driving is in New York, let alone that of their cabbies
      • The fact that the yellow taxis are so abundant and recognizable makes hailing one
        • Quite a bit easier than the more mixed and smaller fleet in DC
    • The last time I was in New York, the yellow cabs had recently been fitted with credit card readers
      • Making the decision to catch a ride versus other options really just one of time and cost
    • To take a cab trip in DC you have to be sure to have cash on you
      • Or build in extra time to get cash which may erode the benefits of a taxi
    • I don't know much of the relevant politics in either city around how taxis are regulated
      • But simply as a customer of each, I know which I find more convenient and useful
    • Just the experience of taking cabs in New York for the first time
      • Made me more aware of the opportunity to do so in DC, for all the differences
    • Part of bring those experiences home again is realizing how adapting when out of our comfort zone
      • May be useful to new experiences in our usual surroundings
    • There may be things we have to try when on the road just because of local differences
      • That might be a first introduction to something we never thought to try at home
        • Like the simple act of hailing a cab as opposed to walking, biking or using mass transit
  • BREAK
  • The disruption to routine that often accompanies hopping on a plane or a train
    • Can be as much an opportunity in itself, along with the limits inherent in living out of a suitcase
    • Being on the road can be an excellent excuse to go offline
    • Granted, ubiquitous mobile broadband and devices capable of sharing those connections
      • Make this less about logistics of access as about a change in focus
    • I know when I am on a trip I have certain goals I need to accomplish
      • That may not leave room for staying as on top of the usual correspondence
        • Or especially reading all of news feeds and social networking as when I am home
    • Often I like to disconnect so I have more time to head out into a different city
      • To check out the local offerings whether that is food, culture or for me especially beer
    • Most folks are understanding of how travel interferes with our usual turn around times in responses
    • I'd say the most important things can still be tended to
      • But otherwise there is good reason to put less important things on hold
    • This often means there is a back log waiting when travel is done
    • I know there is one school of thought that takes this kind of disconnection to an extreme
      • Where any messages sent while on the road are summarily dismissed
    • The reasoning is that anything that is important will be re-sent later
      • And whatever isn't worth the effort to do so probably wasn't that important
    • For all but the most important matters, I suppose that can work
      • Though not all people may be entirely understanding of this sort of dumping of messages
    • I think it takes some sensitive to the projects and issues that may be affected
    • I am not suggesting we be entirely beholden to our various inboxes when it isn't feasible to be so
    • Rather I am urging some thought as to how others may perceive this disconnection
      • When they themselves are still embedded in their usual routine and environs
    • I tend to try to scale back as much as I can get away with
      • Especially on those things that don't involve another person waiting on a reply
    • On my last couple of trips to New York, I enjoyed not feeling like I need to keep up on everything
      • That I had a good reason for just marking most or all items read
  • My next trip will perhaps mark a new chapter for me
    • It will be my first trip overseas, to Europe
    • I've been out of the country, before, but not in some time
    • Even then, as much as traveling to small Caribbean islands was a frequent experience in my childhood
      • We never really were more than a few hours from someplace more closely resembling home
    • I will be on a plane for eight and a half hours as I traverse the Atlantic for the first time
    • I have to imagine the sense of dislocation I feel when just jetting around my own country
      • May be immensely greater for the realization of how far from home I'll be
    • I hope that the opportunities for experience and growth will be that much greater
    • The travel I've already done this Summer and will be doing this month and later in the year
      • Have included trips I've looked forward to more than any others in my career
    • They have afforded me amazing networking, growth and learning opportunities
      • That very few other occasions have managed to match
    • I have acted on another aspect not just of travel but of making heavier use of expense reports
      • That should have occurred to me much, much sooner
    • Not that I carry a balance on my personal credit card
      • But being, as my wife puts it, a grown-assed man with good credit and the limit that comes with
        • I don't hesitate to front any work outlays that come my way, including travel
    • I had a simple cash reward set up on my card but switched it to one that earns miles
      • So that the more patience I have to beg of my wife
        • The more I am earning towards occasionally being able to treat her by bringing her along

(00:22:51.237) Outro

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