I’m just back from the YOW! conference series in Sydney/Brisbane/Melbourne, and boy howdy there is a lot to unpack from that trip. It was remarkable experience that I’m going to be processing for weeks to come.
In the last SIGAVDI I talked about how I had a lot of fear and intimidation going into this trip. That only got stronger as I arrived. I found myself profoundly lonely in Sydney, and feeling very small and out of place among rooms full of Big Important Software Thinkers. Even if I could call a few of those thinkers friends, it was still very intimidating.
Being there really brought home how fear-driven a lot of my career has been. Looking around at people who have shepherded large teams and massive architectural changes at companies like Netflix, IBM, etc. I realized: I’ve played it safe and deprived myself of experiences as a result.
For instance, years ago when I was interviewing for Google, I let a small local company snap me up instead. They asked “what can we do to get you to stop talking to Google?” and they accepted my terms and I got to be a big fish in a small pond. Instead of being surrounded by the scary, challenging new-ness of brilliant people and very large problems.
I have a lot of good memories from that team. But it’s a pattern I’ve followed. From there I went on to a three-person startup. Then consulting, and finally working as a pair consultant and educator. At each step I’ve been more isolated. I’ve had fewer and fewer smart people around me to challenge me.
I tried too early to play “authority”, to find safety from insecurity in having Opinions instead of relentless curiosity. I regret it.
My unhappiness came to a head on day 1 of the Sydney conference, when I gave what was (in my personal opinion) a terrible performance of my #NOCODE talk. I got rattled by some technical issues, and I gave a talk that was stilted and passionless. Afterwards I went back to my hotel room and cried for a while. It felt like the straw that broke the camels back, and all of my pent up anxiety and unhappiness came pouring out.
Over the next few days I had some conversations with friends both old and new, which really helped to recenter me. I seriously considered asking if I could switch my talk, but at the last minute I found a new uniting thread that had been hiding in plain site. I reorganized and partially rewrote the talk in a space of three hours, and rediscovered my enthusiasm for the topic. After I stepped off the stage in Brisbane I had a spring in my step and I knew I was back.
Traveling from city to city with a group of world-class software professionals is a fascinating experience. One of the strongest impressions I came away with is just how badly I need to be around people smarter than me in order to fully realize my own potential. Isolation isn’t good for me, no matter how much I once idealized the image of sitting on a hill contemplating the industry.
I’m also more committed than ever to my personal mission of bringing a soul to the software industry. I believe this is my place of leverage for improving the world. I’ve come home with a redoubled imperative to be visible, to be engaged with the community. As I jotted down while I was still in Australia: I want to reflect a vision of a developer as “engaged, embodied, richly interdependent with other humans. Emotionally present and rooted in love. Endlessly curious. Insatiably hungry for connection and symmathesy. Wide-eyed and delighted with the varieties of technical differentiation. Empathetic and vulnerable. Giggling at the novelty of what we do. Richly tangled in art, in culture, in relationships. Someone who uses code as a medium of connection.”
I think the biggest difference for me after YOW! is that I’ve confronted my fears of being small and lost in a crowd of smarter and more authoritative experts. I’m OK with being small. I’m OK with not having answers. I want to drop my preconceptions and assumptions about what’s “right” in programming, and just learn.
During his keynote at YOW!, Kent Beck spoke about his “3X” model: how businesses go through “explore”, “expand”, and “extract” phases. “Explore” is all about throwing out cheap, idea after cheap low-risk idea, waiting to see which one has traction. “Expand” is about rapid growth and confronting the existential threats that will end a new venture before it gets off the ground. “Extract” is about having a lot to lose, and working carefully to optimize the business and increase vital stats by small percentages.
Each phase requires different priorities and carries different risks. “Rules” of business that work well in one phase become antipatterns in another.
Another of my realizations from this trip is that in my personal business I’ve been stuck in the “extract” phase for a long time, and I don’t enjoy it. This isn’t exactly a brand-new revelation, but Kent’s talk really brought it home to me with greater clarity. Not everyone is a natural extractor. I’m able to do it, but it doesn’t flow and it cramps my style.
I’m going to be looking for ways to turn over the “extract” aspects of my business to someone (or some organization) that is better at it. I’m not sure if I’m more comfortable with “explore” or “expand”, or even how those map to my coaching and education business. But unloading the extraction portion should give me more space to find out.
If you have ideas (or even a proposal) for this divestiture, I’d love to hear it! I am in the “explore” phase for factoring-out my extraction 😉
OK, let’s see how I did with the intentions I set two weeks (or so) ago:
Fly to AustraliaNailed it. See Australian thingsYep. Tweak, practice, and deliver my #NOCODE talk to a brand new audience
- Deliver another lesson in the Flawless Ruby course (currently in closed alpha) Nope.
- Add show notes to MOOM Q&A #6 with Justin Weiss. Also nope.
Considering I basically ignored my TODO list once I got to Australia, I’m pretty happy with how much I got done on the way there and back.
What was awesome:
- Meat pies.
- Dancing to live-coded jam sessions with Sam Aaron, Kent Beck, Chad Fowler, and Chris Ford.
- Not having even more time in Australia.
What I’m up to this week:
- Get the last Tim Riley RubyTapas episode wrapped up and delivered.
- Topic or script review meetings with awesome upcoming guests including Adam Fernung, Brittany Martin, Sean Griffin, Paul Stefan Ort, Brandon Hays, Jordan Raine, Alex Piechowsky, Bethany Haubert, and Louisa Barrett (whew!)
- Do some expectation management around RubyTapas schedule during the holiday season.
- Attend my local poetry slam (tonight!)
- Get my dance on.
- Attend one local users group (this is a stretch goal, because wow this week is busy)
That’s plenty for one update. As always, don’t forget to write back!