Where the Rubber Duck Meets the Road

I swear a good part of my day is spent listening to developers make a case for why something can't be done—it's too hard, it will take too long, it will introduce another bug, it will require convoluted code or introduce a tremendous amount of technical debt—and then synthesizing their argument and making a case to the product owner or the engineering director that the work should be altered, put off, or just axed entirely... only to find that when I've successfully argued the case, the developer has just gone and done the work after all. This usually involves a shrug and a, "oh, it turned out to be easier/not as bad as I thought" or "after I thought about it some more, I came up with an approach that would work."

While I do occasionally wince and wonder if my product owner and boss think I'm an idiot, for the most part I don't mind as long as the work ends up getting done, and done well—and I suspect the product owner and my boss feel the same. I consider it part of my job to be a rubber duck (I like to think that the advantage I have over that inanimate object is that I ask questions), and to represent the concerns of the developers up the chain. Sometimes I end up doing the latter when the former has already planted the seed that solves the problem.

I think if there's any efficiency to be gained in this process, it's to have some kind of formula for how long to wait before raising the issue up the chain. I don't have one yet—I mostly judge each case based on the level of panic or anger coming from the developer, how well I know him or her, how likely not doing the work is to be a major problem, and how likely just talking about it is to lead to a solution. At that point I factor in my own level of panic, and make a decision about whether to speak up.

--

I'm not sure if this observation or others like it will be of any use to anyone, but I've been thinking that I want to capture more of these random thoughts about what my job entails and what it means to be good at it, for my own edification if for no one else's. It can sometimes be difficult to describe what I do all day and why it's valuable, especially to people who work at companies where Engineering Managers are engineers who are also responsible for assigning work, reporting status, and writing annual reviews in addition to coding at least 80% of the time. As one of the developers who works for me says, "I think we've proven that that model is not the one we should be following, and this model [one in which I know how to code, how to discuss code, and when to jump in and write code or fix bugs, but in which coding could never be considered a significant part of my job] works best."

Posted by Lori in management report and work at 12:20 PM on January 27, 2015 | Permalink

Resolution Reading

I don't spend as much time as I used to browsing for myself at bookstores anymore—when we do go, I often look for something more substantial than Captain Underpants that the Beaner might like—but it is my habit to buy three or four books at a time when I do. Not sure why; I usually just find a bunch of things that look interesting and can't decide among them, so I get them all. The next thing that usually happens is I read one of them, and the rest stay in a pile on or under my nightstand, gathering dust, until I eventually put them on the bookshelf.

We went to the Penn Bookstore after dinner a few days before Christmas, and I again picked out four books that looked interesting. I knew that we were going away for our "just us" family vacation for a couple days after Christmas, and I knew that what I most wanted out of that vacation was to just sit quietly and read, so I resolved to take all four books with me and spend as much time reading them as possible.

I ended up reading the first book, Where'd You Go, Bernadette, in the 36 hours or so after I bought it. It was a wacky, charming, fun read in a modern format (it's mostly told via e-mail exchanges, notes, receipts, magazine articles, and other hand-written and digital detritus, with occasional commentary from Bernadette's teenage daughter). It had been in the normal adult fiction section, but it reminded me of Counting by 7s, which I picked up in the kids' section a few months ago while looking for books for the Beaner and ended up buying for myself after reading the first chapter. Might have been the young, brainy narrators that connected the two books in my mind. Both are entertaining and worth reading; Counting is the more heartwarming of the two books (mostly because it's almost ALL heartwarming), but I think I appreciated Bernadette's quirks more, as well as its detours into art and architecture. I'd have to think a bit about which had more to say about getting along (or not) with one's fellow human beings.

Books I bought on Saturday to read over the holiday break. Not shown: Where'd You Go, Bernadette?, which I finished on Sunday. Very entertaining. (This photo inspired by megan brooks )

Next up was The Bat, which I picked up because of its designation as "The First Inspector Harry Hole Novel." I can't remember exactly when I bought The Snowman—it's one of the books gathering dust under my nightstand at the moment—but I remember that I did because I recognized the author (he wrote Doctor Proctor's Fart Powder, which I bought for the Beaner one day in hopes of earning extra Awesome Mom stars, which I did), and because I love a good detective novel. Also because I'm a sucker for Scandinavians. Anyway! Seeing The Bat made me realize that I'd bought The Snowman somewhat randomly, without checking its order in the series. Better start at the beginning, I figured.

So, what to say about The Bat. Hm. Well, I didn't love it. On the plus side, I learned a bit about Australian and Aboriginal culture and history. On the minus side, it was so masculine that I couldn't really relate to the hero, and it wandered in a way that I didn't find particularly compelling. (Compare anything by Tana French, whose works wander all over the damn place and yet always make you feel like you are getting somewhere. I highly recommend listening to the audiobook versions of her novels, which is how I consumed them.) In the end I was glad to get through it and move on to the next book. I left it on a bookshelf in one of the awesome reading rooms in the place we stayed over the holidays and was delighted to find that it was gone the next day. Hope whoever picked it up enjoys it more than I did.

The very night I finished The Bat, I started on Reconstructing Amelia, which I'd bought because Entertainment Weekly was quoted on its cover comparing it to Gone Girl, which I really enjoyed when I read it a couple years ago. (I saw the movie with my sister over Thanksgiving and I realized I'd forgotten just enough to make re-reading the book interesting, so I plan to do that again soon.)

Now that I think of it, Reconstructing Amelia was an interesting amalgam of the first two books, considering that Bernadette was about reconstructing the events that led to a disappearance, and The Bat was about solving a murder. Reconstructing Amelia is about determining whether a suicide was really a suicide or something very different, and it also mines emails, texts, handwritten notes, and other records to solve the mystery. I read it much more avidly than The Bat, and finished it within a couple days. It was modern not just in form but in subject, giving a glimpse into 21st century mean-girl culture (in the parts about the daughter)... while at the same giving me a sort of Wall Street-ish throwback feeling (in the parts about the mother). It was played completely straight, which made for a few "yeah, right" moments and uncomfortable coincidences—it was easier to suspend belief in the nuttily hyperbolic Bernadette—but on the whole was worth buying and reading well into the wee hours.

Finally, there's A Tale for the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki, which I... yeah, I loved it. I really loved My Year of Meats, which I picked up at the Denver airport back in 1999 and recommended to my friend Josie, who wrote to say you are so Jane Takagi-Little! after she read it. I think it was Emily Bazelon who recommended A Tale for the Time Being during the cocktail chatter segment of The Political Gabfest a few weeks ago, and I made a note of it because OMG! Ruth Ozeki wrote another book! Even though I didn't love Ozeki's second book, All Over Creation, the way I loved My Year of Meats (which is not to say I didn't enjoy it and wouldn't recommend it), I was alert for the mention of Ozeki's name and willing to read whatever she wrote next.

I almost don't want to describe this book at all and just say go read it. I will say that in writing this post, it occurs to me that Time Being has elements in common with both Bernadette and Amelia, and yet it is so completely different and novel. Imagine mixing in the mean-girl hazing of Amelia with the wacky neighbors of Bernadette, and even the cross-cultural exploration of The Bat—with the element of mystery common in all three—and you still don't have Time Being. You need a mix of youth and real, actual maturity (not just age); a large dose of Zen philosophy and practice; and a notion that time is flexible (or some appreciation of quantum mechanics), too. It's really a wonder of a novel, and one that obviously stuck with me. Maybe it will stick with you, too. (Go read it!)

Posted by Lori in books at 8:37 PM on January 12, 2015 | Permalink

User 591,003 of 250 million

So it turns out that Joe is reading. :-) The back and forth we've had over Twitter and through the post I just linked his name to brought to mind a couple things:

One is that I still have my private Twitter account from when I first joined in January 2007, back when Twitter was just a website with a text entry box following the question "What are you doing?", and I found it kind of creepy. I didn't want to announce what I was doing all the time, and I already had a micro-blog I called 255 Characters or Less (yes, I know it's fewer; I was using the vernacular!) where I wrote random thoughts that were short enough to fit in a pager message, so it didn't occur to me to post those thoughts in answer to the What are you doing? query. So I kept the account private, and over time used it as a place to share thoughts with people I actually knew in person, not just anyone who had a web browser.

In late 2008 I took a position that involved some developer evangelism, which required me to have a more public presence on Twitter. I didn't want to open up the private account where I'd already shared some personal stuff, so I created an account specifically for my professional persona and prepended my original Twitter handle with the name of the company. When I left that company a year later after learning that the startup culture wasn't really for me (nor was working remotely anymore), I renamed the account @wwlorihc—whateverwhateverlorihc—because I couldn't think what else to call it, and I didn't have another gig lined up yet.

That account has continued to be my public persona, and as Twitter evolved to be the micro-blogging platform that I'd been wanting when I started 255 Characters or Less, I stopped posting to that and started posting more frequently to @wwlorihc. The original account still exists, though, and I kind of wish I could merge my identities and just be the @lorihc I've been known as pretty much everywhere since Adobe IT assigned that e-mail address to me post-Macromedia merger in January 2006. To do that, though, I'd have to make @lorihc public and refer all my current @wwlorihc followers to it, which I'm on the fence about, or explicitly shut down @lorihc and then rename @wwlorihc to @lorihc, which feels kind of risky (though I might just be having domain squatting flashbacks).

Anyway, the reason I thought of the two-Twitter-account dilemma in conjunction with Joe (@artlung, btw) is because [a] he started the conversation about my blog post on the private Twitter account, and I had to remember how to log into that account from the Twitter app after a recent phone upgrade, and [b] his post in response to mine got into the issue of privacy and oversharing ("I begin to wonder about what information we allow to disseminate inside private entities and to our friends and not-friends").

Which brings me to Thing #2: An article in (on?) Quartz called Read what happens when a bunch of over-30s find out how Millennials handle their money. I highly recommend it, despite its link bait-style title; it's fast and funny, and I will wait while you read it.

OK, done? I am older than the Venmo line, fwiw, and I believe Joe is too, which may explain our discomfort with sharing too much personal information despite having been early adopters of that original medium of Internet oversharing, blogging. (I suspect we were both denizens of Usenet and other Internet media before blogging was A Thing—and way before not blogging was A Thing—though I don't remember sharing a lot of personal information that way... unless you consider the best bike routes to ride around Washington, DC or the fact that I was searching for a copy of The Jon Butcher Axis' first album to replace the one my former roommate's boyfriend maybe-accidentally stole to be personally-identifying info, or PII as it's known around my current workplace.)

Which, speaking of my workplace, where we were talking this morning about the tremendous amount of "reporting" that gets done around here without actually delivering any great insights or action items, brings me to another thought: Maybe soon we will all be drowning in so much data—maybe we already are drowning in all this data we've been creating with our posting and liking and online shopping and banking and Facebooking and tweeting and whatnot—that we may regain some anonymity. It probably won't erase my reluctance to let go of a Twitter account that's older than 99.966% all other Twitter accounts, though; it's my one shot at relative FIRST! fame. ;-)

Posted by Lori in privacy at 12:36 PM on January 8, 2015 | Permalink

Traction or Distraction?

Started back at the beginning—Week 1, Day 1—of the 10K Runner program on Friday. I probably could have started at week 5, which I usually do after a running break, but after a couple hockey injuries and being sick the week of Christmas, I figured it couldn't hurt to ease my way back in slowly. I did Day 2 this morning and forgot to take my inhaler first, and I was wheezing by the end. Technically the chest cold is over, but the goo and the shortness of breath... they linger.

Anyway, I'm starting on the treadmill for now because it takes less effort to go down to the basement in shorts than it does to dress for winter weather, and I need as few hurdles standing between me and a run as possible. Hoping to get back outside before long, though, as I prefer the mental stimulation of running outdoors to staring at the same items on the workbench across from me in the basement for an entire workout.

It was my experience last hockey season that I played better on the days when I ran in the morning; we'll see if that's still the case now that I'm blobbier and more out of shape, as I have not one but two hockey games this evening (one for the Freeze, and one with Al for an in-house league).

Managed to get in some yard cleanup in yesterday morning's drizzle and sleet before the sky opened up to a full-on downpour. Didn't make it to the back yard, sadly—just got the leaves in the alley and picked up the trash that had ended up everywhere when some animal gnawed through our neighbor's trash bags—but it's a start.

[I am mostly talking about the things I have accomplished this weekend and the things I have left to do because I am trying not to think about something work-related on a Sunday. (That's what I get for checking my work e-mail first thing on a Sunday morning.) It would have sucked just as much to get that email on a Monday morning, but least then it wouldn't have ruined a non-work day.]

Saw Big Hero 6 with Al and the Beaner last night (they had seen it together once before). The animation was really good, and I liked the comic book style and the concept of San Fransokyo. Still trying to get Al to watch Gone Girl with me (I read the book last year and saw the movie with my sister a couple months ago), but since it requires waiting until the Beaner goes to bed, and he's been finding ways to stretch his 9:30pm bedtime during the holiday break, we haven't been able to squeeze it in. I suspect Al doesn't really want to see it and thinks reading the Wikipedia article about it is sufficient.

Posted by Lori in me, me, me and sports and work at 3:26 PM on January 4, 2015 | Permalink

I'm an introvert. You are a wonderful person and I like you. But now please shush.
Jonathan Rauch