Lonely Working Distributed

Recently I wrote about having connections with my distributed team. Part of that was because people have assumed it must be lonely working from home without seeing people. It’s been rare that I’ve ever felt this way much because of my team but also because I have a great network of family and friends I can do things with and have conversations with outside of work.

Listening yesterday to the Distributed podcast episode with Leo Widrich, they talked some about loneliness. His recommendation was basically what I have, strong work relationships and a good support network at home. Overall the episode was really good and has given me more to think about.

Leo talked about dealing with stresses and how they build up over time. We all have ways to deal with it through auto-regulation like my go to: eating. Instead we need to deal with it through self-regulation. Having a partner or group you can talk with can help the process. This is something I need to look into more and do a better job at dealing instead of distracting myself or eating.

Lately I’ve been going through some stresses again and need to work through them, but also be a better partner for those involved in these with me and be sure I’m there to hear them and help them.

Each of these Distributed podcast episodes have been good so far, but this one has been my favourite and given me things to learn more on. I recommend giving it a listen.

Distributed Team

Recently I was telling someone about my job for the first time. We were talking about how we communicate and how there is almost always someone else online working no matter when you are. They said something along the lines of that it must be like talking to some random stranger.

While that’s true some of the time thankfully because Automattic hires great people there is never a worry involved if I have to message someone I’ve never spoken to before. I’ve yet to have someone be unapproachable or find it hard to talk with them. This isn’t something unique to a distributed work environment either. We have close to 1000 employees, even if we were all in the same office building I wouldn’t know everyone.

There are also many people at the company who I know well and have built good relationships with. These are typically the people I work directly with, and especially my team, or those who have been on my team at some point. With them especially it doesn’t feel much different than people I’ve worked with side by side.

Partially this is because we do get to spend time together in person each year, but also because we talk regularly in our day to day work. Each year we have a team specific meet up where we all travel to one location and work together for almost a week. Then each year there is also the company wide meetup where we have time to spend together as a team as well. The next one is coming up very soon and I can’t wait to see my team again.

While we don’t get to do things the same as people who work in a office together, it isn’t that different, we just have to find different ways to do it. We don’t eat cake together in the break room for everyones birthday, but we do regularly celebrate each others milestone moments in life.

Recently a team member became a Grand Parent for the first time and we got to be there with them and see pictures almost instantly. I’m about to become a Grand Parent for the first time myself and we’ll get to go down this path together and support each other. It took me a while to come to terms that I was really going to have a Grand child and she already helped me come around and see the blessing it will be.

As I’ve written about I’m working on getting back into shape and I share my milestones in that with my team as well. They cheer me on, motivate me, and even push me to keep going and do better. One team member when it had been a couple days since I’d ran went on a run themselves and shared it pushing me to go too. We’re doing it together even though we’re far apart.

Learning to play tennis and I’ve had team members who play giving me tips, and are challenging me to matches if we can make it work when we are together soon.

One of the hard times is when a team member is having a hard time. You badly want to be there for them, close to help, and it is harder being far apart. Thankfully it’s easier than ever to arrange deliveries or ship things to people. Even if it is just a distraction from what is going on in their lives.

Even being distributed I consider my team friends and I’m so glad to be able to work with them. Very much looking forward to getting some in person time again soon.

My favourite way to relax

My favourite way to relax

Tomorrow morning I start back to work after a week off. Previously I had a bad habit of at least checking in on work a few times while I was supposed to be away. This time though I disconnected almost entirely. Not even coming into Slack to socialize with my team.

We spent most of our week in Moncton, around a three hour drive away. It was pretty close compared to some of our last few trips but it was exactly what was needed. We rented an Airbnb with close family. It was exactly what I needed.

We had a great mix of fun and relaxation. We visited TreeGo which is a ropes course is a mix of obstacles and zip lines. It was one of my favourite parts of the trip but physically exhausting. Luckily the next day we headed to the beach.

The beach is our families happy place and this beach is one of the best around. We’ve had our family pictures taken there a few times. The water is pretty warm for the Atlantic Ocean, the sand is beautiful, and the water is nice and calm. Was able to out and play with the kids, but also relax.

Out on the water with the kids playing around, the sun high and warm in the sky, I was able to lay back and just float on my back. The water blocking out most of the noise around, the water calm and warm, and my eyes closed. So extremely peaceful. The only thing that I worried about was the life guards thinking I was in trouble without moving. I could have lay there for hours I think.

This morning I went for a 30km bike ride and the the heat was intense. The last 5km were rough and extremely hot. We ended up heading to the lake in the afternoon which allowed me to to relax and rest my tired legs. I was able to float there but the fresh water is not the same as salt water which makes it easier to stay up.

It was a wonderful way to end a vacation but looking forward to lots of summer left to spend some time on the water with my family and friends.

Work, family, basketball

Work, family, basketball

Seems like a lot of the posts I end up writing these days are either about work, family, or basketball. That makes a lot of sense because that is basically my life and I’m happy with all of it.

There is a really nice balance with everything right now that hasn’t always been present. I’ve written about this elusive balance a few times over the years and I believe it’s helped me get to this point. Starting back in the summer of 2014 when I really started looking for and going after what I wanted. Then in the fall of that year when I was in the heat of it, essentially working two jobs in an attempt to get there. Then the summer after I started my new job, life and work seemed to occupy the most time still. 

For a while I had running. That was my dedicated time for myself where I was spending hours every week with just my thoughts and the trails, but as I fell out of that habit any free time I had, I filled up with less productive things. I still need to make time for my health and make that a habit again, but I’m so happy with the overall aspects of life right now.

My job is fantastic, family life is busy but full of love and happiness, and I have found a hobby that I enjoy, is fulfilling, and I can share with my family, basketball. It’s funny Jen wrote a bit about it this morning as I was thinking over the ideas for this post. Noah’s love for playing basketball has really gotten us all into it. For me it is back into it, but everyone else truly enjoys it now as well.

For many years I stopped following basketball but as Noah got more and more into it, and I started helping coach the two teams he plays for, we started watching more. We go to live games at the local University watching the Axemen and Axewomen play. We follow the Raptors pretty closely, but even if they aren’t playing most nights I find some game to watch. 

It’s entertainment yes, but working with Noah and his team and helping them develop it is also very fulfilling. I played a lot of basketball when I was growing up, but never in a real team environment. So being involved in a team sport and seeing the importance of everyone working together, even at their young age, really helps me see connections to this and work.

Having a strong team means helping everyone develop their individual skills, but also having them work together as a team to make each other stronger. Each team member has a role to play and it will likely change over time and situations. As a coach or team lead you help the members develop their skills and to find their role in the team.

Noah plays on two teams and his role is different on each team right now. On our club team, seeing this is his second year at the U10 level, he has more experience than others, a strong drive, and can score. In yesterdays game we were a couple people short and needed someone to score. Noah ended up scoring 27 points out of teams 48 for the game to help the win. On his other team, everyone is pretty much at the same level. Lots of people can score and others have more advanced ball handling skills, but Noah with his speed and determination can play darn good man to man defence. So in those games he may not always score as many points but instead prevent the other team from scoring while his teammates get the baskets. 

With my recent role change at work, and the team changes that happened in conjunction with it, I’m still trying to see where my role is with my team. We have a solid group where everyone has areas they are really strong in. We work together and help each other with problems which helps everyone learn and get stronger. Some people are really great with domain names, some with CSS, and some do a great job at staying up to date with new products or changes and help everyone else learn about them. I’m one of the more experienced on the team because I’ve been with the company longer than most. My recent experience leading a team and the skills and knowledge I learned there can be a strength. Maybe my role is that of a player coach, where I’m doing the same work as everyone else and using my experience to help others on the team continue to grow and develop.

For now, I’m really happy with all aspects of my life and seem to have found the balance I was chasing after for a long time. Life has a way of changing things up and causing things to rearrange but like always we’ll roll with those changes keep making things better. 

Four years at Automattic

Four years at Automattic

Today marks four years since I joined Automattic full time. 🎉As I mentioned last year this is the longest time I’ve ever stayed with a company and now we’re just extending that record.

There was a point this year where I briefly thought about looking for a move though. For over two years now I was in the role of Team Lead where I learned a lot, had some good success, but also had some areas I really struggled as well. It is a busy role that has a lot of responsibility and I’m not sure I was ever successful in all aspects of the role at the same time. There was much of the role that I really enjoyed. Working with my direct team and trying to help them grow and get better was by far my favourite. Being surrounded by the others in the lead group was also such a positive thing. They kept me honest, helped push me, but were also always there for support as well.

Automattic has grown a lot and as that happen things change and roles change. For the last while it felt like I was needing to spend more of my time on the aspects of the lead role that were not tasks that I derived energy from and that caused a drain.

Thankfully I didn’t have to look elsewhere. Automattic doesn’t see the lead role as a promotion, it is simply a different role. That means when I went into the role I didn’t get a pay raise and so, while there were many factors I weighed and went back and forth on in my head when looking at my options, salary and pay didn’t have to factor in. It made it much easier to focus on where I wanted and where I could best spend my energy. 

In the end a few months back I talked with my lead and let them know I’d like to start making plans for me to step out of the lead role. It was a relatively painless process for me, though it did accelerate a couple other organizational team changes internally. Now I’m still on Team Jupiter, but it looks a bit different, there were a few folks I had worked with before came back to the team, some people who were on the team went to another team, and there were some new folks added to the mix. Though the people have changed it is still a great team.

My days now are spent once again directly helping customers for the majority of time. Though differently than when I was a lead I can still help others grow and get better at the Happiness Engineer role. When I come across a conversation with a customer that I may have handled differently, or where it seems to have hit an area someone is not as familiar with I can share that feedback directly with the other person involved. In turn I can get the same type feedback and improve myself. 

The past two months have energized me again. Working with customers is something I really enjoy, but I also still have time that I can contribute and work on other projects as well. One of the things I loved most about the lead role is I felt like I could have a big impact in that role. That hasn’t changed with the new role. I still see so much I can do to help myself, our customers, my colleagues, and the company be successful. 

Dial-up Internet

Dial-up Internet

Sometimes I miss the beautiful singing of dial-up modems communicating with each other and negotiating the terms of their courtship.

A brief thread in Slack at work had us joking about old technology, even though some of it isn’t all that old, but it had me try to be poetic about the days of dial-up internet. The sound really does hold some nostalgia for me. I remember the first time I heard a modem dial-up and connect with another computer on the other end. At that point, I didn’t understand what was going on and how it was working, but listening and then seeing information slowly appear on the screen from out on the Internet was special.

My career in support and technology started by providing support over the phone for an Internet Service Provider. People would call us up when they were having problems dialing up and connecting. Init strings, disabling call waiting, removing those splitters and dollar store phone cord, and uninstall and reinstall dial-up networking, were all familiar things we’d do so people could hear that sound.

The Internet has changed so much since then but people are still using it to connect, and I’m still earning my living by helping them to do it. It’s just a little less noisy.

Writing, Creating, and Personal Perspective

Writing, Creating, and Personal Perspective

This morning while sitting at a coffee shop reading a bit of His Whole Life by Elizabeth Hay. I’ve had it on my shelf for a while now and slowly getting through it. Not because I don’t enjoy it, I just haven’t made the time to read lately. This is the second book by the author I have read. I found the first, Alone in the Classroom, on clearance table at a book store and bought it based on a review on the back of the book saying it reminded the reviewer of Annie Proulx. She authored the book The Shipping News which I very much enjoy.

Anyway, this paragraph really hit me for this morning.

If you like different points of view, and Jim did, then you like old magazines. They open doors into other worlds and you slip in so easily. He used the typewriter too. Typing with two fingers THE SKY IS BLUE, he discovered he had made it so, even though it was raining outside and was supposed to rain all day.

Writing is a big part of my job and I’ve been working at improving it, I want to be a better writer. To be able to create new worlds people can feel a part of, or that I could get lost in myself, is a remarkable thing to be able to accomplish. While I believe I can and will improve the technical aspects of my writing, I don’t believe I have the creativity needed to imagine characters and their surroundings out of my own mind. Maybe some of that could come with practise and by reading more, but I’m not convinced I’d ever get there.

For a brief while I thought about writing some short stories loosely based on some past adventures I found myself in as a child and teenager. At least I wouldn’t have to completely make up the people and have a place to start from. Even as I reminisce and type out the facts for myself I can’t describe the details enough to really draw people in or allow them to slip into the story.

Writing probably isn’t the outlet for me. Maybe it is more about creating something in general. Previously I built digital things. Programming web applications, or little tools to make things easier. That was creating something new, but I don’t do it very often anymore. Is that what I’m missing? Maybe there’s a personal side project I can come up with and find time to work on to create something new again. Even better can I find away to incorporate this to my work?

There has been lots written about moving from an individual contributor role to a leadership or management one. When most of my day was spent directly with customers and helping them I was Engineering Happiness and problem solving. Most of the time these were short term problems where were resolved while talking with the customer or shortly afterwards. There was that instant gratification of completing that. While self employed and building things for clients there was something tangible at the end and clear progress along the way. These were usually smaller projects not big complex systems. There were tests I could run and in short time see if changes I made were working. In my current role there isn’t typically that instant gratification anymore. Challenges being worked on are longer and not always as easy to see and measure the results.

Perhaps this, like many things, is all about perspective and I need to find a new one or adjust mine again. Find those gratifications and better see things I can help create in a different way. As an example I’m struggling through now, instead of getting the specifications for a new tool or project and creating it, I need to put the thought into what the specifications are and communicate them in a way that it can be built. There is obviously so much more for me to learn, work on, and grow.

2017 Automattic Grand Meetup

2017 Automattic Grand Meetup

Another Automattic Grand Meetup has come and gone. It is always such an amazing, overwhelming, stressful, fun, exciting, unique, and tiring experience. This year was no exception to that.

Shortly before the meetup the team I’m on added three new people. That is exciting, always fun to get to meet and hangout with more awesome Automatticians. However this made our team fairly big and with more people going to be hired soon we split our team in half. That’s the sad part 🙁 Some of this wonderful group of people I’ve gotten to know are now moving on to form their own team. They’ll certainly thrive as a team and individuals, but still tough knowing we won’t be working quite as close together and on the next team meetup they won’t be with us. Luckily we were still able to spend time together this trip.

Another first for this meetup is the first one Jen was coming along too. Getting to work and travel so closely with her is another one of the things I’ll never take for granted working with Automattic. We didn’t get to spend a lot of time together because we are on different teams and the week is so busy, but we made the most of the time we did have. In the beginning we made sure our flight was in early enough that we were able to go visit the water front in Vancouver and made our way to a beach as well. The day before we had left home we went to the shore here and Jen put her feet in the ocean. We did the same thing the very next day except in the Pacific! We also got in some walks in the mornings, chats at night before we both exhaustively fell on our pillows, and with big group we took the gondola up to the top of the Whistler mountains!

We took most of my old team, some of Jen’s team, and one of my buddies from when I first joined the company. Couldn’t ask for a better group to share this experience with. We took the Peak to Peak Gondola trip which takes you up the mountain, then across to a neighbouring peak, then back down again. The views, the air, and the company were all 💯!

Getting to share meals, work, and a new home room concept with all my colleagues, allowed me to meet many new people I hadn’t yet. My Meetamattician score is at a high of 52% of the company being met. Some of those were pretty quick conversations though.

This year I was particularly nervous as we were trying to keep support open  for our customers at a much larger scale than we ever had in the past. We had many Happiness Engineers doing their regular job for part of the meetup, and a whole host of others throughout the company join us as well. We started and finished the week in great shape thanks to all their hard work. It was such a cool experience having everyone pull together and work in person.

Being part of this company leaves me thankful just about every day. There are stressful parts, and parts that aren’t always so fun, but the people, the work, and the company all make it so worth while. Can’t wait to find out where we will get together next year to do it all over again!

Avoidance

This morning Jen called our  youngest Noah out to talk to him for a bit before school. The school library says he has a book out which is overdue but none of us can remember the name of the book and we aren’t able to find the book here in the house. She asked him when he goes to the library today to ask the Librarian if she is able to write the name of the book down so we have a better idea what we are looking for.

Noah wasn’t thrilled with this and was getting visibly upset and coming up with reasons why he couldn’t do this. She’ll get mad at me, I won’t have time, and I might forget. He would just prefer not to deal with the situation or let someone else deal with it for him.

In situations like this Jen and I sometimes compare the kids to us. Who do they get this trait from? Before she could say anything I said to her, this is from me!

When I was really young we moved around a lot. New schools, new houses, lots of change. One morning when I was about five years old at a relatively new school I was dropped off late by my Mother. If I recall properly we were coming from a friends home, maybe in between moves to our own place. It was snowing out a bit and I was embarrassed about being late, I also didn’t want to deal with the conflict and having the teacher  or principal be upset. So instead of going into the school I decided to try following the car tire tracks in the little bit of snow that was on the roads back home.

Luckily after some time wandering around a nice family noticed this lost little boy walking past their house a few times and stopped to talk to me. They picked me up and took me to the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) station who in turn took me to school.

Recently I’ve been listening to an audio book on project management called Project Management For You by Cesar Abeid who happens to be a co-worker of mine as well. He has a section in the book about conflicts and how to deal with them. One of the options is avoidance. When listening to that section it really struck home with me, as that is the way I would most prefer to deal with conflict in most situations, not only in project management.

 

In his book Cesar talks about avoidance being an OK method to use in relation to conflict if the stakes are low. In my example above trying to find my way home by myself made the stakes high. I should most certainly not have used this technique at that time and just dealt with the conflict head on.

In my son’s Noah’s example above the stakes are low. If we left it alone we may find the book and get it returned. However we’ve tried that and so far the book hasn’t shown up so now it is time to deal with it.

When it comes to my professional life, and even home life, I have to push myself out of my comfort zone lots of times to deal with conflict. If there is a tough conversation I need to have with a team member I would much prefer to put it off and see if it will resolve itself. In most cases though the best plan is to address it head on and get it dealt with. It’s my job to help everyone excel at that career, so if I don’t address something which could be detrimental to their career, I’m doing a disservice to them, the rest of the team, and the company itself. The stakes are high in a situation like this so it does no good to avoid the conflict.