Once upon a time, about 3 years ago, I was a musical theatre actress. Yes, believe it or not, I haven’t always been a Developer Evangelist. While social media may make you believe that I’ve always spent my days coding, giving talks around the world, creating content, and organizing meet-ups… the truth is, if you met me 3 years ago, I spent most of my days auditioning, doing song & dance numbers on stage, taking lots of production photos, and organizing my 13+ hour days of a day job & rehearsal so I didn’t die of exhaustion. 💀
The world of theatre and the world of tech are vastly different. For one, you actually get paid a competitive wage for the amount of work you put into your technical roles (okay, open source is another story, but you know what I mean). Also, there are far more women in the theatre world (especially musical theatre world) than men… a stark contrast to what we see in most engineering organizations/tech companies in general. Also, people tend to dance and break into song much less frequently, but I digress…
So, you’ve just been promoted to the dark side of management but you don’t know how to lead your minions? Here are a few tips on keeping your plebeians in line.
Make Your Minions Do the Dirty Work
You shouldn’t worry yourself about work that’s underneath you, you get paid way to much. You’ve hired coder monkeys to handle everything from downed servers at 3am to documentation to those pesky clients. All you have to do is sit back and make sure they don’t lose focus.
We sold L2, the firm I founded in 2010, today to Gartner (NYSE: IT). The transaction is, undeniably, a good / great thing for the employees and shareholders of L2 and should / will be a win for Gartner. Some thoughts four hours post-closing.
Deals are hard to get done. Really. Fucking. Hard. We had substantial interest from several suitors, yet closing the deal felt similar to landing an F-15, low on fuel, on an aircraft carrier, at night, in stormy seas. My job was to get the plane on the flat top (close the deal) while others kept the carrier (business) moving, and the plane kept getting waved off. Deal people (high-priced bankers, lawyers, private equity) are rich for a reason, as it takes skills, perseverance, and an iron stomach. I haven’t felt this stressed since the financial crisis. This was a better flavor of stress — fear of something great not happening — whereas the stress I felt in 2008 was just fear. But still, stress.
Most families have one — that relative who makes the cake, or bakes the pie or cookies that everybody wants on holidays. In my family, it’s my mother Shelby. No matter how hard we try to recreate her recipe for pecan bars, they never end up tasting as good as hers. They make people swoon.
I’ve always wondered about this phenomenon, since baking is essentially just following instructions. You measure out the amounts, set the right temperature, and take things out of the oven when the timer goes off. It’s like a lab experiment. There are even beakers and thermometers made specially to help bakers be more precise.
So what’s the difference between an adequate cake and a great one? Not precision, but vagueness.
Ask the master baker why they’re doing what they’re doing, and you’ll get a vague answer: “Oh, I just add a pinch of this or that.” Ask any artist how they work and at some point you bump up against mystery.
I used to think this was a way of protecting trade secrets. But now I suspect it’s because any truly effective process is always partly undefined.
Appliance designers have caught on to this. You can now buy rice cookers that use fuzzy logic, programming that lets computers think in shades of gray between 1 and 0. Fuzzy logic adjusts for things like external temperature and humidity, just as a human being might.
Quantum computers, which have the potential to be orders of magnitude more powerful than any computer around today, are built around the concept of vagueness. They can not only think in values between 1 and 0, but can think in 1s and 0s at the same time. Quantum computers can, in essence, hold two contradictory ideas in their head at the same time. The result is better, more nuanced decisions.
In late 2006, the much younger and more naïve 21-year-old version of me graduated from the University of Melbourne. I was full of optimism, elated by hope that the career I was about to embark upon would bring me a deep personal satisfaction in life. Between 24 and 29 years of age, I took home on average about $250,000 per year. In 2016, at 31, I took home exactly zero dollars.
For a lot of people, seeing an annual payment summary like this with their own name on it would probably trigger a rush of adrenaline equivalent to skydiving from ten thousand feet. They’d probably be thinking: “Hey, I’ve done well for myself!”
I remember seeing this and feeling nothing. Not because I thought it wasn’t enough, or because I felt like I didn’t deserve it. I worked tirelessly and endlessly over those years. Fifteen-hour days were the norm. Six days a week was usual. No, it wasn’t any of that. It was because I felt like I had sold out my own personal beliefs. To understand this more, I need to tell you a bit more about me, where I came from and what I believe in.
Imagine standing in a wind tunnel: you’re doing your best just to keep upright, the noise is overwhelming, and you can’t really see, hear or make sense of whatever someone is shouting at you. That’s how busy people operate, day in and day out. Days jammed with meetings, email, there’s always something they need to urgently respond to, get on that conference call, finish yet another presentation. Have you ever tried scheduling fun with busy people?
I was this person. I lived on busy: I had three careers going in parallel, a family, and a deluge of emails spilling out of my inbox daily, so much so, I couldn’t even force myself to put the phone down in the evening. It’s just that, well.. Life was happening to me. I wasn’t happening to life.
Rustin Coburn is a serial entrepreneur, having started over ten companies since his early twenties, some of which failed. He sat down with the Eyesight Collective to explain how he dealt with some of these failures.
Rustin has been one of the most influential people in my life since he and I first met for a beer in Boulder this past summer. He carries himself with a sense of confidence and modesty that is hard to miss when he walks in a room, and never fails to inspire my team and I every time we get together.
At the age of 35, Rustin is a serial entrepreneur, having started over ten companies since his early twenties. Currently, he is the Founder of Bellwether, rated one of Business Insider’s Coolest Companies, as it is a coffee and whiskey bar, clothing store, and co-working space all in one. Additionally, he commutes monthly from Denver to Salt Lake City where he is the Director of New Business and Strategy at Super Top Secret, a creative agency with an impressive list of clients that is constantly growing.
Nathan, Chandler and I cruised down to Bellwether on a warm Monday evening where Rustin got in the hot-seat and nearly brought us to tears with his moving and inspirational story. Over a decade ago, Rustin and his best friends started DVLP clothing, one of the most forward-thinking streetwear brands of the early 2000’s, turning heads at trade shows all over the country every week. Then, in 2008, the stock market crashed, and the entire US economy crashed, causing their team and their company to completely fall apart.
I am writing to remember what I learned in the last 12 months of our life traveling to 37 countries. I originally wrote this letter of stream of thoughts to myself, but I’ll take the risk of publishing it. I hope it’s as helpful to you as it is to me.
The word gratitude seems too small to describe how fortunate and thankful we are for our gap year.