Jack Kinsella on learning a programming language with a spaced repetition system:
Knowing thousands of commands saves time otherwise spent looking up reference materials. You instantly recall previous solutions when faced with a problem, and dozen of possibilities spring to mind when architecting a system. You will read other people’s code rapidly, confident in your understanding. The closest analogy is fluency in a natural language. You will speak code.
I’ve started applying this with all of my current work. Some of those finicky GIT commands and SQL syntax have already been committed to long term memory. I’ve used Anki before with language learning, but sort of fell of the band wagon. This is by far the best method for learning anything for the long haul. The commitment to daily review is the tricky part, though.
I’ve been thinking a lot about my work recently. I’ve had this idea, as many millennials do, that work should mean something. It should give back in some capacity, right? Starting from my first job at a small software company through all of the various jobs that I’ve had, it’s always needed to “matter”. I found it difficult to go to work at different places if the company’s main line of business that directly affected my work was something I either didn’t like or didn’t agree with. For example, when I worked in a call center, I found it very difficult to show up every day. I would hear about families that were unable to stay in their homes due to the economic recession in 2008 and 2009. I eventually transitioned into a similarly meaningless role to make the backlog of work faster for all of the loan modification applications. I won’t even mention the terrible manager that I had while I was there. Nor will I mention the girl1 that I was after during that two and a half years of my life. It was a difficult season to say the least.
I took on various software development roles and grew my skills in SQL Server, C#, web development, desktop development, server administration, business process improvement, and others. In all of these roles, I grew more adept at being good at my job, but not really good at a singular skill. My salary increased, as did the hours and the responsibility. According to American standards I should be happy. According to the American dream, I should be living the good life. If this was the case, you’d think I’d be happy. Why then is there so much discontent with my work? I spend most of my waking hours at a computer doing work that, for the most part I enjoy, yet I get to the end of my work day and feel empty. I’m sure I’m not alone in this. At 31 years of age, I was sold the same message throughout my childhood and formative years. It is a simple well-meaning message, but it has crippling consequences.
You can do whatever you want. Follow your passion.
These words are the subject of and included in many thousands of books. In most cases, the messenger is wanting to help kids dream big and do what makes them happy. This simultaneously liberating and shackling. I can do anything?! I can do anything…? Wow. If I can be and do anything, what should I do? There are so many so options… I don’t want my contribution to the world to be shallow, right? If I reflect a bit on my roles as a software developer, I never really stuck to one aspect of development. I hopped around to different languages and different aspects of the software development industry. I have the following on my resume as of right now:
HTML & CSS
A very small amount of shell scripting with PowerShell and *Nix systems
Am I really good at any one of those? I couldn’t interview for a senior level position confidently even though I have somewhere in the neighborhood of 5-7 years of experience as a software developer. In my effort to do work that really matters and has some substance, I’ve been on a journey of not really mastering one skill. So the paradox of following my passion (because that’s why I’m here on the Earth, right?) actually creates a shallow career rather than one that has depth and eventually matters. Here’s the point: I’ve spent so much time trying out new languages and different skill sets; is it any wonder that it’s been difficult to find satisfaction in a job? Isn’t it frustrating to be constantly on the steepest learning curve of a new “thing” perpetually? This is basically where I’ve been for the past few years. The way that I see it, I’ve been basically ebbing and flowing between the trough of sorrow and the wiggles of false hope for several years.
So, now that all of this debbie-downer talk is over, here’s the direction I’m headed. Any one of those skills would be fine to pick. I’m smart enough to be really really good at any one of them. Once I’ve decided on one, moving in that direction for a long period of time is going to be the new approach. Becoming very skilled at one or maybe a few very related skills, I believe, will eventually provide the sort of “giving back” that I’ve desired from my career.
I think the challenge that everyone faces that has followed the simple message from above is a perpetual search for the one job that will finally make that person come alive. It’s a unicorn. It posits that if your current job isn’t “doing it for you”, then you should move on and follow your passion to the next big thing. The problem with this advice is that you never reap the benefits of being a craftsman at one particular trade whether that be software, marketing, teaching, or humanitarian work. In the baby-boomer era, men and women stayed at single companies not for just 2-3 years at a time, but for their entire careers. I have one friend whose father was hired at JC Penny at age 18 and worked there until he retired. My own father has been a CPA for his entire post-military career. I’m not necessarily advising anyone do what these two men did, but at some level this is highly admirable. Which path takes more character? Career hopping every year or two, or sticking with one long enough to gain enough experience and credibility to come home from a work day and not be frustrated by the constant trough of sorrow?
The girl ran away for about a year, and she is now my lovely wife. So at least that panned out well 🙂 ↩
I totally know how it goes. You’re sitting down to work on a project, but after 10 or 20 minutes you hit a roadblock. What then? Do you instinctively reach for your phone to check Facebook? Do you switch over to the Twitter app or check your email inbox real quick? Or do you stay focused?
When you are trying to focus on deep work, don’t give up after 15 minutes. Stick with it for an hour.
I’m a new evangelist for long periods of times for focus, but making time to fiddle around with stuff that doesn’t require a serious amount of focus has been essential to my work. More on this later…
Bradley Chambers on dialing back our connectedness:
I’ve not completely disconnected, but I’m reducing the amount of time I am connected.
Oddly enough, I read this after my own decision to dial down the amount of input that I have. I’m not on Twitter/Facebook/Instagram much, but just gazing into the iPhone screen for hours each day was enough to make me dial back to a Blackberry for a week. I’ll be curious to hear his thoughts on how it turns out.
The iPhone/Blackberry experiment is over. I went from Monday morning until about Friday afternoon with no iPhone. I turned it on maybe twice to get some information that wasn’t available anywhere else and promptly turned it back off. As promised here are some thoughts on the week.
It was definitely a challenge and a mindset change to not have so much information readily available in my pocket. Most of my day is spent either downloading or uploading code, documents, emails, etc. via the internet, but I’ve realized there is so much distraction in such a small form factor. It’s just so darn convenient that it was a bit difficult to adjust. The ease with which I can get almost any type or amount of information on a smart phone is unfathomable. The Blackberry effectively has no browser which means it has no ability to get that information. It couldn’t even load up Google… This was probably for the best. Forced information diet at least from that medium.
I did miss the music that I have on my iPhone. When I got in the car or sat down to work, I missed the ability to put my headphones in and get in the zone. I suppose I could have downloaded some of my iTunes library to a computer while at work, but that thought didn’t cross my mind until just now. It was somewhat nice to drive for an hour one day with nothing but road noise.
I missed the way I’ve been able to interact with the content on the screen. I made the mistake of poking the Blackberry screen in order to get it to do something more than a few times. I also missed being able to fire up a quick game while sitting in the waiting room for a doctor’s appointment. I did start up Brickbreaker a few times, though. The distraction factor of “get me away from ‘8216;boring’ right now” simply wasn’t as easily available and this made all the difference
The most interesting observation that I made during my down week was that, although I felt less connected, I didn’t really feel like I was missing out. The thought crossed my mind a couple of times, but most of the interaction that I participate in during a regular day could also be handled through another device. I did drift toward that at times during the week, but I was conscious of it which made all the difference. When I was forced to move to my iPad or computer to do the same thing that I used to do on my iPhone, it was more of a conscious choice instead of just a automatic response to move toward my iPhone. I’ll take this as a good thing. Being mindful of my device and information consumption was a good outcome for my little experiment. Now, it’s time to carry those lessons forward.
I’m trying an experiment this week. I have taken the SIM card out of my iPhone and put it into the Blackberry that I’ve had for years. I keep the Blackberry around for international travel as it is unlocked and can accept just about any GSM SIM. I’m not sure what prompted this decision, but yesterday as I was fiddling with extra cables in my desk and reducing the amount of clutter there, I decided to pull it out, charge it up, and make it my primary cellular device. Yesterday and for many years before I’ve tried to reduce the clutter in my life, and I’m wondering if the iPhone is a part of that clutter. Tim Ferriss advocates an information diet in his very popular The 4-Hour Workweek, and I’ve binged and purged since reading his thoughts on this topic. Because the iPhone is a portal to a ridiculously large amount of information, it might be nice to reduce the load for awhile.
The Blackberry on the other hand, has a total of 5-7 “apps” that will be able to replace the existing ones on my iPhone:
It’s nice that the Blackberry is unlocked, and after 6 years of usage, it’s actually still a decent phone. So sad that they went out of business. The iPhone screamed onto the scene and completely decimated the smart phone market. I’m sure I will be considerably slower in typing text messages, but I don’t get that many anyway, so I think I’ll be alright. Phone calls may be coming back into my life, who knows?!
Part of me really doesn’t want this to work as I’ll have an excuse to discontinue the experiment. It is the Christmas season after all, so maybe this will be a great time to really turn off and enjoy the season for what it is. I’ve been telling all of our family that we should unplug from the consumerism (at least for the adults), and remember what this season is about. Keeping the Christ in Christmas is a silly phrase, but I don’t want to focused on all of the gift giving. Let’s be honest: there are very, very few people that are thinking about Jesus while they are spending gobs of money that they don’t have. One step further? How many of us actually remember what we got last year? I remember one large item as it was picked out by me. My parents gave me and my brothers cash last year as it was a difficult holiday season for them. I remember having so much fun picking out my Tom Bihn Smart Alec backpack and all of it’s matching accessories. I still have fun picking stuff out from that website.
Another part of me does want a reduction in iOS consumption mostly because it will be a severe reduction in my mobile plan cost. It will also hopefully reduce the amount of information that goes into my brain. I’m on my phone quite a bit. Being off of it for awhile will be a good thing.
I’ll report back in a week or so and let everyone know how this little experiment is going and whether I think it’s a good idea or not. I had the phone ready to rock right before bedtime last night, and I’ve already had two incidents this morning (yep, before 6am) that my brain will have to work around.
I grabbed my standard white Apple earpods for my walk this morning. No music could be listened to on the Blackberry. :/
As I opened up Editorial to write this morning, I wasn’t quite sure if I’d sent yesterday’s daily muse to Day One. I normally check my iPhone for this. :/
There are a number of things that I think that I will miss. We’ll see if that pans or not. It will be interesting to compare the “think I’ll miss” list to the “actually miss” list.
Federico Viticci on the evolution of the iPad as a primary computing device:
The problem that Apple needs to solve with iOS 9 for iPad is complex. How can Apple make good of the post-PC promise with features that are drastically different from what came before – without the overhead and inherent complexity of forty years of desktop computers – but also capable of addressing modern user needs and workflows?
I have a Windows 8.1 PC that I use for work. As a software engineer on the Microsoft platform, I don’t have any other choice, but it does the job. When I get done with my work day, it’s refreshing to go to “work” on my iPad with a platform that doesn’t require registry manipulation in order to make some aspect of the application work the way it should be design.
One of my favorite charts is the Pareto. It’s incredibly useful for triaging your life. That’s not an exaggeration. I use it all the time. For example, let’s solve late arrivals to work. Solve the issues with the most occurrences for the most ROI. If one solves the first three issues of traffic, child care, and public transportation, she can reduce the number of late arrivals to work by 78%. As an employer there’s not much she can do to solve the traffic issues apart from making large contributions to the new roads budget and hope that someday the roads will be wide enough to account for all of the traffic that is headed to her office. Childcare could be helped by offering employees a discount at a facility close to her office. Public transportation could be helped by larger budgets as well. This would allow for more frequent cycles for buses, trains, and light rails. The point is that if she solve these three issues, you can reduce late arrivals to work by a very large margin.
I’m sure Apple went through a similar process when evaluating the target audience for iOS1. As an ecosystem, I’d say it covers 68%-80% of the computing tasks in the world. This covers the first standard deviation all the way to the third Pareto point. What do most people in most cases do on their devices whether they be desktop/laptop or mobile?
Messaging (email, Facebook, text, WhatsApp, etc.)
General Internet browsing
If you think about your daily usage with any sort of device (laptops and desktops included), these are 68%-80% of your activities. The most common computer users are not developers. They are not tech-y. They want their devices to work. They want them automatically backed up. They don’t want to fiddle with them. For most people in most cases iOS should be your go to when selecting an operating system for your devices. I’m not talking about just your mobile devices. I’m talking about all devices. As I get older, the more I fit into this category. At one point it was fun to experiment with all of the options. At times it still is, but for most people in most cases, iOS fits this description very well.
As an operating system, iOS is behind every other operating system in the world. It’s clearly not as capable, but is that hindrance to using it for your primary devices? You can’t drag and drop. You can just now multi-task on an iPad. Heck, you couldn’t even copy and paste until two years into the iOS product life cycle. Now that it’s growing up and is soon to be in its ninth iteration, we’re getting a more mature operating system. Is that what we want, though? Do we really want a full-blown Mac OS X or Windows 10 on our handheld and ultra-portable devices? If you’re on vacation, do you want to be fiddling with the registry and pLists because your photos application crashed after visiting the Great Wall of China? Nope. It should just work. It should just work all the time. In all of its simplicity and “lack”, I want iOS. It’s what most people want.
From a hardware standpoint, peripherals just get in the way. There are edge cases for all of these, but most people don’t need Das Keyboard. Most people don’t print photos of their daily activities anymore. Most people would throw their mouse in the trash for a chance to touch the screen instead. You can type a bit slower on an iOS device than you can on a traditional keyboard, but no matter. You don’t have to lug around all of the technical baggage that comes with a complicated operating system like OS X or Windows 10. Let’s face it. No one really wants to use either of these. Definitely not Windows 10.
One of Apple’s original marketing slogans was “it just works”. I’d argue that other companies can and should have this mentality when it comes to their devices, but for now iOS is the best competitor in the market. I no longer have a computer for personal use. I have a work issued computer, but I very rarely use that for personal tasks. I use it create Pareto’s and standard deviations. I’m on my iPad Air 2 with ClamCase or my iPhone. Between those two, I can do just about everything. Anything else that I think need to do is not nearly as important as I make it out to be in my mind. There’s no need for an additional device floating around in my backpack that takes up unnecessary weight. There’s no reason to cart around another device that is going to cause undue troubleshooting while what I really want to do is spend time with my family or enjoy a sunset.