My endless list, black hole, and manager feedback

Meeting notes from our 2nd meeting in 2019-W15.

Howdy!

Last week we were lucky enough to meet, eat, and talk a second time. Participation doubled in size!

This time we talked about (mostly):

  • Professions
  • The black hole image
  • Manager feedback

That last one occupied the bulk of our time, as you may imagine.

Professions

What would you do if you didn’t do what you do for a living?

We have an inside joke with my wife. Whenever I see something I like, I immediately say: “If I wasn’t a programmer, I would be a musician”. The following day I go: “If I wasn’t a programmer, I would probably be a chef”.

That’s been going on for as long as we known each other. That is 25 years now.

The list has grown huge over the years. I always wondered how it would feel like if I tried a different profession. Are there easy and difficult ones? Is there a hidden routine that would make me unhappy? When you look at a successful music band, for example, you see glamour. You can imagine yourself on the stage.

What’s not shown, though? Maybe the amount of energy and work to become a successful musician or singer? Maybe creative professions like that can become a boring routine? Maybe I’d love playing my songs, but I’d hate traveling to 10 different countries within a month during a tour? Who knows? What about other professions? What does it take or mean to be a chef?

The black hole image

We all saw Katie Bouman‘s name all over the place. We’ve read about the imaging algorithms. We’ve watched How to take a picture of a black hole | TED Talk.

The Event Horizon Telescope team did amazing work! Seeing how a black hole looks (or something close to how it looks) is an amazing feat! I am humbled by it and so glad I was alive when this happened.

I will not repeat most of the things you’ve already read or watched elsewhere. I will only mention a small piece of trivia that impressed me.

Each telescope, that makes up the one huge virtual telescope, collects data over a long period. The data go in hard drives. They then send the disks to the MIT Haystack Observatory using commercial transportation. That’s where they are cross-correlated and analyzed.

One might think that would be an Internet activity. Maybe a constant stream of information. I guess that’s not efficient even by today’s standards. It’s more efficient to ship the hard disks. Instead of the Internet, they are using the Sneakernet.

Another quick one is the EU funding this effort with a total of 44€ as it seems. I like that. The EU is not only about politics. It’s also about science and scientific research & freedom.

Manager feedback

Oh my. This is a huge topic. Our discussion was super great. It started with an example of feedback from a manager to a direct report. The example was about a feedback delivery that was not very good.

The manager didn’t focus on a behavior, its impact, and helping the direct report to find ways to improve.

The direct report didn’t accept the feedback gracefully, but instead reacted.

This gave us the opportunity to discuss different feedback delivery and acceptance methods.

One that I’ve used a lot during my managerial career follows a very simple pattern:

  • Ask before you give feedback
  • Describe the behavior
  • Describe the impact (good or bad)
  • Ask how they can improve (if it’s bad)

This is something I’ve used with my teams, and I have received great reviews for it. I also realized it works once you give it a few tries. It’s not easy at first. You need to give it time, and there’s a specific approach to prepare your team for this change in your behavior as a manager. It works, though.

You can learn more and try it yourself by listening to Giving Effective Feedback – Part 1 (Hall Of Fame Guidance) | Manager Tools.

Now, like I said, there are hundreds of books, podcasts, seminars, and trainings out there about giving feedback. There’s even a tendency to dismiss giving feedback altogether lately. The truth is, no one way is panacea. There are a few fundamental truths, though, that hold no matter the method. Oh, by the way, the articles that start with encouraging you to dismiss giving feedback altogether, end by just proposing an alternative method. Giving feedback will always be something a mentor/leader/teacher needs to do.

Also, disclaimer, I don’t have any affiliation with Manager Tools. I don’t even fully agree with everything that’s being suggested. What I really like, though, is almost every podcast has a list of steps and actions you can try. You can try it with your team, and see how it goes. It even has a list of steps you can take to prepare your team for your new experiment.

Wrap up

Before I leave you, I wanted to drop a quote by Richard Dawkins:

We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively outnumbers the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here. We privileged few, who won the lottery of birth against all odds, how dare we whine at our inevitable return to that prior state from which the vast majority have never stirred?

I learned about it listening to The Greatest Show On Earth by Nightwish, from their Endless Forms Most Beautiful. I think their longest song? Check it out on Spotify.

I will leave you with that. Thanks for reading. Consider coming to our next meeting this Thursday, 18 April, at 1pm at coho.

1st meeting 2019-W14

Howdy!

This is the first post that has a few notes from our first meeting on Tuesday, 2 April 2019 at coho.

Actually, before I go into what we have touched, I wanted to drop two links about topics I wanted to bring up, but didn’t get the chance to do so:

Things we have touched

Podcast qualities

I started listening to podcasts again. What drives me back to that habit is a new walking routine to and back from my office. That’s 10km in total, so plenty of time to listen to podcasts and audiobooks.

What drives me nuts sometimes is the quality of some of the podcasts. It’s usually when there are guests at the show. The host has a great sound quality because they have optimized their setup. The guest though has a really crappy sound quality. Whenever they talk, and you happen to be in some noisy heavy traffic road, you don’t hear anything.

Sitting all day

All office, IT, programming/designing/devops/you-name-it professions have a big negative side. You sit all day, almost still. That has a detrimental effect on our health.

How do you overcome that? Walking, doing some sport, improving your ergonomic environment (like standing vs sitting), what else?

I have found walking or biking to the office helps because it’s part of commuting. It’s not a chore like finishing your work, and still having to go out to do something about standing still all day. That needs extra motivation.

Sure, one would think not dying early is a strong motivator. Unfortunately the results of not moving don’t come immediately. When you see them, it’s almost too late or at least hard to reverse.

What else do you do to improve the situation?

On being at the office vs being remote

We talked about having a tech lead position, and being at the office. If everyone comes to you, you can’t finish what you are doing. Often heading back home or starting your day at home does wonders. You are able to focus more and get things done.

When you are fully remote though you still have to meet with your team face to face. It’s nice to do that as often as possible. Meeting people in the same space, helps the asynchronous remote relationships in a tremendous way.

It’s not the same when you speak to a handle or even an avatar, compared to having met that person in the same space. Every word you type reads in a different way.

I’ve recently read It doesn’t have to be crazy at work which shows how a remote culture, among other things, can help be calm at work.

I hate JavaScript

I know. This will not gain me more friends. Everyone is all about JavaScript nowadays. JS this. JS that.

I can’t hide though. Reading and writing JavaScript is horrendous. At least for me it is. If you love programming languages that are human centric, like Ruby for example, you may agree. Or not.

Granted, you can still write beautiful code in JavaScript, but you have to try really hard.

So, we chatted a bit about that, and the fact a large number of new or even old projects transition to TypeScript.

DevOps

We tried to agree on what DevOps is. Not sure we managed to do so. Everyone seems to have a different definition.

I guess things evolve. Maybe what DevOps meant 5 years ago, is different now.

In any case, we’ve mentioned a few interesting things. The discussion started when we wondered if a service that started with a typical metal infrastructure, needs to be migrated over to one of the cloud services out there that hide the metal. Instead of dealing with servers, you deal with resources.

We discussed Terraform by HashiCorp and what it does. From their site, the TL;DR is:

Write, Plan, and Create Infrastructure as Code
HashiCorp Terraform enables you to safely and predictably create, change, and improve infrastructure. It is an open source tool that codifies APIs into declarative configuration files that can be shared amongst team members, treated as code, edited, reviewed, and versioned.

Document decisions

As we were diving back in the day, and first principles, I took a note of something that is useful no matter what you do:

Always document your decisions. Document the alternative plans you have discussed and why you have rejected them. Why did you decide a specific plan? It will save you great pain in the future when you will not remember anything about why a decision was made.

This is usually triggered by a new person joining, and starting questioning the status quo. I believe we should question the status quo. It’s also good to know how to answer the questions. Why did we choose to go down a specific direction? What were the alternatives? Does the original decision still make sense? Maybe we should revisit the alternative plans.

Conceptual compression

We were discussing the merits of knowing what’s happening near the metal when you create your deployment infrastructure. Compared to just using some abstract service like AWS or Heroku. An interesting all times classic question arose. Should you know the metal before using the abstract? Many would argue yes. However DHH argues, not necessarily.

Wrap up

That’s it for now, folks. We’ll continue this experiment once a week for the rest of April, and do one blog post per meeting.

Our next one is on Thursday, 11 April 2019, at 13:00, at coho. Again, bring your own sandwich and topics to discuss.

When we have anyone not speaking Greek, we use English.

Please join us. If you would like to RSVP, just shoot us an email.

Have anything to say about our meeting notes here? Please do so in the comments below.

Cheers for now!