Credo work: That was religious.

All-Star Carter Family/Jimmie Rodgers Revival
All-Star Carter Family/Jimmie Rodgers Revival

Back when I still went to bars in Atlanta, on one particular evening, I ended up at legendary music venue Eddie’s Attic listening to Michelle Malone.  I’ve seen two of her live shows, and I along with other obsessed fans can tell you that she is a R.O.C.K. G.O.D.D.E.S.S.  As a Rock Goddess, she was especially on fire the night that I saw her play for the 2nd time.  One song she played was particularly memorable, although I didn’t know the name.  The audience was feeling it, the band was feeling it, and so was I.  When the song finished, there was this vacuum of air in the room created by the energy of the music, the band and the audience.  We were all dripping with sweat.  A breathless Michelle Malone looked out into the audience and said in her deep, sultry, rock goddessy-voice, “well…that was religious,” and the audience went nuts screaming, applauding and stomping on the floor.  I consider that show one of my peak experiences as a concert goer.


In continuing with working on building my own credo for software, I’m starting to really get to the heart of the matter as I ponder “religious experiences” with peaks, plateaus and valley’s in the context of making software.  I almost skipped this section because I wasn’t sure this would really fit in with looking at software.  As I was debating this in my mind, my friend, Lanette, was in town, and I mentioned it to her.  “Oh, there’s religion here.” She said. “What do you believe in strongly enough to sacrifice your standing in the community?” she asked.


We all end up with our own strong beliefs about software eventually.  It’s those “a-ha” moments or the sad lessons from “death march” projects that ultimately show us what works for making software and what doesn’t.  These experiences are the peaks, plateaus or valleys of our working life and we earn them.  I would even go so far as to say that it’s not just the practical experience we have in software but the lessons we bring from outside into software that also shape us as software makers.  Connecting our experiences with what we learn from them ultimately results in beliefs we feel strongly about, and when we talk about these beliefs with others they become an expression of who we are.


Here are a few posts that, to me, look like they revolve around a deep realization or experience the writer has had in connection to the making of software.  If you read them, think about whether each one is a peak, a plateau or a valley.


Word Count: A Happy Surprise by Elisabeth Hendrickson

Selenium Meetup West Coast Style by Lanette Creamer

Off the Beaten Track by Trish Khoo

Against Kanban by Chris McMahon


After reading through the posts, I went back through my own looking for one where I was taking a strong stand.  Even though I consider myself an opinionated person, this was more challenging than I thought it would be, but I ended up choosing “My Post About Gender and Diversity.”  When I wrote that post, I very much felt backed into a corner.  This wasn’t a post I ever would have written if I hadn’t felt unfairly pushed into it (there’s no excuse for that, not even a great post), but I guess that’s life, and ultimately, I’m quite proud of what I wrote.


Working through these has given me the desire to uncover more of my beliefs and to write about them.  I’m also thinking about peak or plateau experiences I’ve had as a way to round out some of the negative experiences.  I love Elisabeth’s post because she has this great peak experience that justifies opinions she already had.


If you’d like to consider your own experiences and how they connect to your beliefs, here are a few questions to get you started:


Have you ever had an ecstatic experience while working with software?
Have you ever made deep realizations about the way you work or about the work that makes you happiest?  Have you ever realized that you needed to change course with something you were doing in a big way?


Credo Work: Grasshopper Redux

English: Illustration of the Aesop's Fable: Th...
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After writing my autobiography, it is time to pick a central theme and write a parable from it.  For some reason, this post where I’m writing about art, metrics and data visualization keeps coming back to me.  I also have these images of a Grasshopper playing the fiddle in my head.  Without further ado, a bit of Grasshopper redux:


A long time ago, on a cold, dark, Winter’s night, someone knocked on the door to the Ant family’s home.  The knocking was so hard, the door shook on its hinges.  “Oh, it must be the wind!” cried Sister Ant.  The banging started again.  “It’s a duck!!!” shouted little Brother Ant.  He had been obsessed with ducks all winter and was excited at the prospect of a duck visitation.  Winter was always a very long and boring time for the ant children.  “Go to the bedroom you two,” said Father Ant.  He wasn’t quite sure what was afoot, but knew that a knock on the door in the dead of winter could not be a good thing.  Mother Ant took the two children to the family’s small bedroom.


Father Ant opened the door and looked up at the shivering grasshopper on his doorstep.  Immediately, his eyes turned cold, “And what do you want?” said Father Ant.
“P-P-P-P-Please Sir!!! Just a warm place for the night.  I’ll be m-m-m-m-movin’ on in the morning.”
“Right.  As I recall, you spent the summer dancing and singing when all of us Ants were busy stockpiling food and making sure our houses were ship-shape for winter.  Would you say that’s a fair assessment.”
“Y-y-y-yes, but it’s so c-c-c-c-c-c-cold and my f-f-f-f-f-f-eet are b-b-b-lue!”
The ant glanced down at the grasshopper’s feet which were indeed blue.
“Hmm…yes…”the ant said aloud as he rubbed his shiny, black chin. It’s true that ants are a hard working lot, but that doesn’t mean they are completely heartless.  Father Ant decided to make the Grasshopper an offer.
“Well, you’ll have to earn your stay for the night.  Have you got any money or anything useful to trade?” asked Father Ant.  The grasshopper looked forlornly at his blue toes and exhaled.  “N-n-no sir.  Not really. I’ve just got me fiddle and I won’t be sellin’ that.”
Father Ant felt the small, warm hand of Brother Ant slip into his.  Brother Ant tugged on his father’s arm as if he wanted to tell a secret, “Daddy is that the music player?” he whispered into Father Ant’s ear.
“Why yes, and look what he’s come to now.”
Brother Ant tugged on his arm again, “Please, Daddy, can he play us some music!  Please!!!
Father Ant’s eye softened as he gazed down at his wee son and thought of how dark and boring winter was for the children.  They had all worked so hard during the summer. He looked at the shivering Grasshopper in his tattered cloak and bare feet.
“Oh all, right then.” he said to the Grasshopper, “You can stay the night if you play us some music.”


The Grasshopper stayed with the Ants for not one night, but two.  On the first night, he played all of their favorite songs including a song he made up for Brother about a duck.  On the 2nd night, he taught the children how to sing all of their favorite songs.  Father Ant was so happy that the children now had a way to amuse themselves that he referred the Grasshopper to some of the other Ant families.  Thus, the Grasshopper built up a business of helping the Ants keep themselves and their children amused during the Winter and making up new songs for everyone to learn during the summer.  Winter became a much happier time for the Ants and the Grasshopper’s toes were always green instead of blue.


The Lesson:   Marrying what makes us joyful during our downtime with what we do to pay the rent can help us all sing a little more.


It’s the middle of Winter up here in the Northern Hemisphere.  Excuse me while I pour myself a drink and dance around my living room, listening to the fiddle in Fishermen’s Blues one more time.

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Credo Work: My Digital Autobiography


In my quest to build my own software credo, I’m starting out with writing an autobiography of my career in software.  In this post, I’ll describe what I’ve done and a few things that I learned about myself in the process.


When I was in 6th grade, a teacher had me write an autobiography.  It was a brain dump of pen and ink in chronological order.  Although this is still a great way to write an autobiography and is one of the steps that I took, there a couple of new ways to augment what you do online.  If and when you do the brain dump method, it’s worth going back to identify peaks, valleys and plateaus.


The “My Maps” capability of google maps allowed me to create a google map of my software career.  It includes places where I’ve worked, and places that shaped my ideas about software such as the elementary school were I placed “Oregon Trail.”  My google map spans 1 province, 2 hemispheres, 3 continents and a few states.


It’s also useful to create a temporal reference, and it’s now easy to create and share timelines online.  I put some of my important evens into a timeline with Timeglider


As my guide for this process, I’m using a resource from the Unitarian bookstore called, “Building Your Own Theology” by Richard S. Gilbert.  It suggests a few activities you can do after you’ve “spilled the beans” to help pull out some information that may have gotten lost in the volume of data:

  • Where did events take place in space
  • Who were the 3 or 4 people that helped you the most or meant the most to you
  • Which software communities have had a lasting impact on your development
  • Important decisions you’ve made
  • Happiest and Saddest Experiences
  • Master themes

3 or 4 people who have had the greatest impact on my software career in no particular order

Mark Burgess
Mark was my mentor and boss at Equifax.  He gave me confidence that I could write code, and stuck with me through my crazy experimental project.  He knew everything about Unix and showed me.  I have yet to meet anyone who knows half as much about the command line as Mark does.  Since I consider Unix one of the great loves of my life, this is a big deal.


Steve Leitner
Steve had the greatest management attitude I’ve ever seen.  He said to me, “You hire the smartest people you can find, trust them and things will be alright.”  He made me feel set up to be successful.  The fact that he saw me as a “cool kid” made me believe in myself as a cool kid. He is a tinkerer, and always had some interesting side project going on such as creating an iPhone app.  When the iPhone came out and I said they were too expensive for me to have one, he told me that I should look at things like that as an educational investment.   Steve is living proof that it is possible to be a great boss without helicoptering or micromanaging.


Dr. Lauren Hacker
Lauren taught me C++ and went beyond to help me when I was having a hard time with Physics II.  If it hadn’t been for Lauren helping me in physics, I would not have passed my CS degree.  She helped me write some pretty tough programs.  Lots of people in class hated her crazy assignments, but they ended up being more like the real world. They were my initiation into the chaotic reality of building software in an agile environment.


Mark Hrynczak
Mark and I worked side by side together at Atlassian.  Aside from having a great understanding of what real teamwork involves, Mark is a truly great tester.  He taught me all about follow through in testing and I think of him every time I go one step further in finding a bug or testing something out. He taught me to scream “Hurray!!!” every time I find a bug or someone else does. He’s also recently written a terrific blog post on security testing.  We both tested the hell out of Confluence together and would celebrate the end of every week with a Coopers and a “Cheers!” Here’s to you dude!


Dr. Orlando Karam

Dr. Karam shepherded me through my Masters thesis project at Southern Poly.  I also took his Summer class on game programming which is one of the most fun classes I’ve ever had.  You know the fun teacher who really knows his shit and will push you a little harder than you think you can go while still telling jokes?  That’s Dr. Karam.

(This is the absolute smallest list I can make and the truth is, I’ve had lots of help from lots of great folks.)

Communities that have had a lasting impact on my software development

My blog & twitter network
There’s no way to overstate the support I’ve gotten through friends I’ve made with blogging and twitter.  You guys know who you are and how much I appreciate you.  This support network has helped reinforce my confidence.  It’s made me a better writer, software developer & tester.  When I’m feeling burned out it keeps me inspired and interested.  It also helps me see what’s true if I end up surrounded by dysfunction as we all do at one time or another.

The Agile Community
As a pragmatist and someone obsessed with “getting shit done,” I’ve always been happy around the Agile community.  While the word “agile” itself has become ubiquitous and means many things to many people, I’ve found that other people I know who love agile typically care about how they treat people, how the software treats people and they also have a tendency to find ways of cutting through bullshit in order to get the software out the door.  While not every person who does those things self-identifies as an “Agilist,” and I’ve also met some real assholes who identify themselves as Agile, for the most part, I’m down with agile and the people in it.

AST-ers and CASTafarians
This is an organization that cares deeply about moving testing forward and their conference was a revelatory experience for me.  I’ve gotten a lot of support from the people in this group and they’ve been there for me when I’ve found myself in a dark corner.


Important Decisions I’ve Made
Going back to school for Computer Science
Learning how to use the VI text editor even when no one at school knew what it was

It is OK and “A good thing” to open your computer, switch out parts or even break something if you learn from it.
Pursuing my distributed research project even when I only vaguely knew why I was doing it
Pursuing data visualization over concurrency for my masters
Moving to Australia and then back to the U.S.

Happiest and Saddest Experiences
Putting together my master’s thesis and doing the research
Writing about Art and Making software on the porch of the Durango Library with Zeger von Hese
Getting my paper accepted at PNSQC and the whole process of writing the paper, presenting it and then taking it “on tour”
Finding out that something I’ve written has helped someone out or inspired them
(I’ve pickled the sad ones and shoved them way back on the top shelf of my closet.)

Master themes of my Career

Unix is one of the great loves of my life.

Treating people well has to come first.  It has to come before process.  It has to come before the code.
I’ve found confidence with building software and I’ve fought to keep that confidence in tact.
I take huge risks even if I have no assurance that things will work out.
If I’m not doing something I think is creative and artistic, I am not happy
Too often, I’ve tried to make side-steps work instead of going for what I really want.
My best accomplishments happen when I have enough downtime to get creative.
I am more successful when I have a large goal to work towards and support in obtaining it


I’ve learned quite a lot from this exercise in autobiography and not just about myself.  Hopefully some of the ideas above will inspire you to pursue your own autobiography.  It’s worth mentioning that although we didn’t plan this and we are posting independently, Michael Larsen is also in the midst of blogging about his autobiography.

Next up in our credo work is “A Software Parable”