John Roderick walks on to stage, plugs in, and thumps the bass. It’s
the first time he’s ever heard the bass growl through an amplifier,
and he’s only played bass for a day. Not that bass, any bass. Five
seconds later, he is playing bass, with Harvey Danger, on national
television, and rocking it.
Check out the bass amp behind him: “Get well Aaron.” The real bass
player flew home sick and went straight to the hospital. Rather than
cancel the show, John stepped up to the bass after playing keyboard in
I’ve played bass for half of my life, pretty seriously for a good
chunk of that half, and I still can’t sing and play at the same time.
A younger developer complained about our project managers and business
analysts. They never took his ideas seriously, but those same
ideas were golden when spoken by respected team leader. To add a
bit of insult, they usually talked to the team leader immediately
after discounting his input.
He sat across the lunch table, clothed in a bacon themed t-shirt,
flabbergasted by their mistrust of his judgment.
“Have you considered wearing a shirt with buttons and a collar,
leather shoes, and a matching belt?”
Three eyebrows raised, one each on him and our two comparably young
“Like it or not, people judge each other based on looks, and if you
dress like a college kid with virtually zero professional experience,
that’s the way people are going to treat you. Two options spring to
mind: change the way you look or thoroughly destroy their preconceived
notions through stellar results. And not just good results, but
consistent and stunningly fantastic results that can’t be attributed
to luck. Please, perform at that level. But consider getting some
khakis and oxford shirts, because they’ll start working their magic
tomorrow while you build your stunningly fantastic track record over
the coming weeks and months.”
I then shared how tragically uncool I was while working my first
internship. Baby-faced and a full 20 years younger than the average
employee in our division, I knew my looks could easily work against
me. I grew a collection of pleated khaki pants, dress shirts,
and polos. It was a bit like my uniform from Bishop Miege High
School, but I also wore a belt and leather shoes that didn’t come with
a swoosh or reflective panels stitched in.
A case study examining the power of clothes appears in
Robert Cialdini’s Influence:
There’s a guy who violates the law by crosses the street against the
traffic light. Half of the time in a freshly pressed suit, and half
of the time in dirty cotton trousers and a faded t-shirt.
Like the children of Hamelin who crowded after the Pied Piper,
three and a half times as many people swept into traffic behind
the suited jaywalker.
Influence, Chapter 6, Robert Cialdini
We haven’t evolved beyond instinctive human nature. Much of our trust
in looks is wrapped up with the tribe mentalities that kept us alive for
thousands of years. You can read more about that in chapter 7 of Olivia Fox Carbane’s The Charisma Myth.
Note that clothing is a double edged sword in IT. Some programmers
may refuse to acknowledge your skills if you’re dressed too nicely,
but if you’re just upgrading to buttons and a collar you should be
I’ve never cruised before. I don’t get excited about beaches, boats,
or the ocean, so cruises cost a lot of money for 24x7 access to food
and quiet time to read. I caught a thread on reddit concerning the
death of nights and weekends for tech
A few tech workers commented that cruises were the only way they found
peace on vacation, because most problems can be solved by
the crew in the office if it costs $10/minute to talk to the guy
vacationing on a boat. Concerning food, “either/or” was not a part of
the lexicon, but “and” was:
I’m tempted to catch an off season deal and embark while wearing old
man style pants with elastic waistbands just for the sport of it all.
We have our own steak and lobster moments. Python or Ruby? Both.
Emacs or vim? Both. Java or C#? Both. Debian or Red Hat? Both.
MySQL or Postgres? Postgres.
If there are zero additional constraints or prejudices coloring such a
question, the best options are to flip a coin and get busy working or
run a small experiment with both to form a stronger foundation for a
real decision. We aren’t getting married to any technology, and each
choice is both excellent and terrible depending on the problem at hand.
Should I learn Python or Ruby for freelancing?
Both. Or neither. Clients either have a technology in mind already
or they will be confused and scared that specific technologies come up
in the proposal process at all. The Rails shop that needs an extra
hand wants a coder that knows Rails. The dentist that needs an
appointment reminder system does not care about programming and
programming languages as long as his missed appointment ratio looks
better by the end of the quarter.
Most importantly, recall that my opinion in this matter is worth
My opinion about barbell rows is as follows: **** barbell
rows. Really. **** them. Stop wasting time worrying about barbell rows
and get your deadlift up to 500. By then you’ll have your own opinion
and you won’t have to worry about mine.
Louis C. K. cranks out fresh comedy like it’s his job. Probably
because it is his job. It wasn’t always his job, though. He spent 15
years churning through a crappy, awful routine that he hated.
His words, not mine, I’ve never seen that material.
George Carlin inspired Louis to get into comedy in the first place, and it
was George again who inspired Louis to level up his comedy chops.
Well I just decided every year I’d be working on this year’s special
and I’d do the special, and I’d just chuck out the material, and I’d
start again with nothing. [George Carlin, as told by Louis C.K.]
The same Louis that makes us laugh with fresh, new material sat in his
car after hearing George’s methodology, and “it made me literally cry,
that I could never do that. I was telling the same jokes for 15 years.”
Do you have 15 years of experience, or 1 year of experience 15 times over?
Or ten, or five? How does intern you pale in comparison to senior
software developer you? We don’t ever throw away all of our old
skills, but we must constantly build upon them and selectively throw
out the tired and broken tools that sustained us in the past.
I know people that cut their teeth building DBase applications, but
they aren’t building DBase applications anymore.
What are you proud of this year that didn’t exist last year?
I was 15 years old when I first went
in Kansas City. We ate there before the Sadie Hawkins dance, so
the ladies of the group had decided on our dinner venue. Mustering
all of my culinary fortitude, I ordered the Teriyaki Chicken. So brave.
Our family ate fish during Lent, and only after it was battered and
fried. Raw fish wasn’t really food in our world, and it took seven
more years before I was ready to try sushi. People I trust told me it
was delicious. Who was I to question raw food when my steak isn’t
much more than raw?
It’s wonderful, and I only regret waiting so long to try it.
Steak lovers look with disgust while people with lesser palates drown
dry and gray chunks of beef with steak sauce, or worse, ketchup. I
imagine sushi aficionados feel the same about some of the elaborate
deep fried creations that we submerge completely in soy sauce.
Months ago I sat down to relax with a movie. Netflix kept my top
recommendation slot filled with “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” because it
knows I love food and food related things. I’d surely learn something
about great sushi, and I’d bump Jiro out of the top spot for a new recommendation.
It’s wonderful, and I only regret waiting so long to watch it.
This is not a movie about sushi. This is a movie about excellence
that uses sushi as a vehicle.
Even for those who don’t like sushi in the least, this movie is
fantastic for anyone that wants to achieve excellence in their chosen
work. I’m not a dancer, but the words of Twyla Tharp
Habit still rang true. Jiro’s words, too, will
Once you decide on your occupation, you must immerse yourself in your
work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about
your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s
the secret of success and is the key to being regarded honorably.
Netflix and Amazon Prime members, you can watch this movie for free as
a part of your subscription.
I ran cross country for a couple of years in high school. Not well,
but I did it. I’ve since learned that diet and consistent training
outside of the season would have greatly improved my chances of
success, but that’s water under the bridge.
Every Monday afternoon we’d warm up, jog past the school
entrance, down Reinhardt Drive, and assemble at the corner of Howe and
52nd Place. For a group of kids that normally measured progress in
one mile increments, we were in for a particularly rough work out
measured not in miles, but in hills.
Hill work breaks down pretty neatly:
Sprint up the biggest hill available to you
Jog back down at an easy pace. Don’t run, don’t walk.
If not dead, go to 1
I exited that loop before dying, but we’ve already established that I
wasn’t a fantastic team member.
There was a bit of good cop/bad cop dynamic going on with our coaches.
The head coach would scowl his scowl of disapproval (your mom was
right when she said your face can freeze that way) and occasionally
yell that we needed to push up the hill hard. Coach Anderson was much
more likely to tell us to take it easy on the way back down.
Why the emphasis on an easy jog back down the hill? Wasn’t this a
work day? Sure, but we were pegging our ability to move oxygen
through our body and convert it to energy, and the run up the hill is
where we would get the most benefit. Better to really rest on the way
down and go all out on the way up than to do both poorly.
Recent studies concerning interval and Tabata training
claim that regular short sessions of intense work punctuated by even
shorter rest periods are, minute for minute, far more effective at
keeping us healthy and growing our capability for converting oxygen
into work than equally regular long sessions of distance and endurance training.
I’ve long felt the same way about work. Work hard when you’re
working, and rest when you’re not. Don’t fool yourself into thinking
that a 12 hour day 5 days a week with “easy” 4 to 8 hour days on the
weekend are doing you and your company a comparatively amazing amount
of good. The burden of proof is certainly on you if you insist that
hours equal productivity. Track how much time you’re really
working, how many bugs you’re writing. I’d love a real time widget
that would pop up when my typos per minute rose significantly above
average, as that’s a pretty good indicator of fatigue for me.
The 40 hour work week came into fashion for a scientifically studied
reason, and it wasn’t for your comfort.
Work hard when you’re working.
I recently had a self imposed 12 hour work day spent developing some
lab material for a workshop. I’d been making decent progress in fits
and starts, but the workshop was coming up quick, so I applied caffeine
liberally and cranked through a ton of work in short order. The work
was good, and I felt fantastic about my progress. I had grand plans
of an early bedtime so I’d be effective the next day.
A bit of misfortune changed those plans, and I ended up working
through most of that next night. It was intense. It was focused. It
was fruitful. It got a little stupid toward the end. Typos shot
through the roof, as did hardcoding values, as did copy and paste
coding. A younger me would have plowed through, bestowing upon the
team a pile of code that would be trouble.
I was done. Caffeine had extracted my maximum sustained effort. I
sprinted up the hill as long as I could, and it was time for a gentle descent.
Jog. Don’t Run, Don’t Walk
Work hard when you’re working. Rest when you’re not. Rest well, rest
actively. Plowing through the better half of a bag of Reese Peanut
Butter Cups and vegging out in front of Arrested Development is
probably not the rest you deserve, even if it is the rest you want,
and even if I’ve done this very thing and other things like it several
times in my life.
Sleep well and make time for activities away from the keyboard to give
your subconscious time to do what it does best: work on tricky problems
without you. Solitary real world activities seem to work best for me:
painting a room, plumbing, building stuff like desks and shelves, and
even cooking. (It’s the eating of things cooked where I’m at risk of
You’re probably different. Maybe it’ll be yoga, meditation, wrenching
on cars, or practicing music. Find your non-programming activity that
keeps your brain active while giving your programming muscles a rest.
I went home after my two day sprint, and I landed in bed for a long
time. I didn’t play video games, and I didn’t surf reddit. I slept.
It was gloriously comfortable, and I felt recharged when I woke up.
After a day of cutting in paint around the house I was ready to get
back into emacs and create.